A brief reflection on being a girl

Story by Ella Banken

“Me, with the emphatic nametag on the right, and my lifelong friend Soroa on the left. This is us, at eight years old, presenting our science fair project on batteries. Two awesome girls, then and now.” // Photo courtesy of Ella Banken

Getting picked last for capture-the-flag among my 11 male cousins every time.

Not being allowed to help clean the gutters.

Being teased for drinking a “ladies’ beer”.

Receiving the recommendation to do “girl push-ups” during P.E. fitness testing in middle school.

The little comments and actions stack up over the years.

Two years ago I moved into my first home. It was definitely a “college house.” After years of rowdy tenants, it had seen better days. We covered the most gruesome wall splotches with posters and suffocated the vague cat smell with fruit-scented candles. Occasionally the dryer would catch on fire or the kitchen sink would overflow with wastewater, but we made it work, and we kept re-signing the lease.

The front of the house was almost completely obstructed by a wildly out of control laurel bush. Based on the Christmas lights that the shrub had grown around, it hadn’t been pruned — or touched at all — in years. The base of the beast was littered with trash, some with vintage-looking labels that really confirmed how long it had been. The dirt was studded with broken glass and cigarette butts.

This was not an attractive shrub. It was so ugly and out of control, that many passersby have mistaken the bush for a recycling can. We’ve been woken up late at night to the sound of a White Claw hitting the side of the house, and then finding a home in the bush.

“The beast of a bush, before my roommate Lauren and I took it out.” // Photo courtesy of Ella Banken

In our lease agreement, it was outlined that all yard work was the tenants responsibility. So we decided that it was time for the bush to go.

As soon as we wrapped up our last finals, we got to work.

Six hours later, the bush had been vanquished. Two less-than-neat piles of severed limbs and stumps were displayed in the yard. We sat in the grass-covered in dirt and sap and scarfed down burgers from Boomer’s. The project wasn’t finished, but we took a moment to rest our arms, admire the house’s newly uncovered facade and compliment each other on a job well done.

We made plans to grow wildflowers and mint, and give the dirt patch a second chance at life.

After making several trips to the dump the next day to finally lay the bush to rest, we stopped at a garden supply store. The dirt under the laurel closely resembled ash, so we decided to buy some topsoil to give our new seedlings a fighting chance at life.

As we perused the mounds of dirt, we estimated how much we would need to cover the patch. We figured that half a cubic yard of dirt would be sufficient, but we wanted to talk about pricing options with an employee.

We approached a woman wearing a vest that clearly indicated her employment and explained the situation, asking about the choices of soil quantity we could buy. She inquired about our project, and then said a line that made my confidence falter.

“OK, let’s do some girl math to figure this out,” she said.

This comment stung for multiple reasons.

First, I knew that my roommate and I were perfectly capable of calculating the amount of dirt that we needed to purchase. We had both triumphed over algebra, defeated geometry and conquered calculus. We knew what we were doing and we didn’t need accommodation.

But the comment also stung, because it was a woman who said it to us. When I think about the women in my life, I am amazed at their strength and resiliency. I know that they can do anything they put their minds to, and they don’t need to modify their actions to be successful.

Looking back on that moment, I wish I had said something. It’s the sort of situation that you scheme up comebacks for while you’re in the shower, you know?

Instead of ignoring the comment, I could have said, “you mean regular math?” or any other variation of “hey, girls can do math too.”

Instead, we laughed uncomfortably and left without buying the dirt.

“The happy face of a girl who dug out decades worth of broken glass and cigarettes, and planted flowers instead.” // Photo courtesy of Ella Banken

“As a young reporter in one of my first jobs, I was frustrated that hometown friends (fortunately, not my parents) weren’t interested in hearing about my work, just about my love life and likelihood of marriage soon. I got a button that said, “Unhooked and Happy.” The publisher of the community paper saw it on my purse and laughed and said, “It should say “Unhooked and pregnant! That would be funny!” No one said anything, including me, but it still rankles me decades later.”

-Peggy Watt

“I was in my early 30s and was overseeing sales and marketing of six hotels as Regional Group Sales and Marketing Director. I was in a discussion with the general manager of one of the hotels that was not doing well about all the changes and policies that he will need to do to improve sales for the hotel. This GM chose to say “When I was running hotels, you were still in diapers.” He proceeded to spread a nasty rumor that I got my position by sleeping with my bosses! When I found out about it, I was very upset and told my bosses about it — all men. They all thought it was very amusing and laughed about it. Mind you, they were great bosses who were very respectful of me. Although this happened 20 years ago, I still felt that my sacrifices and hard work to prove my capabilities were erased by rumors and innuendo. [I] don’t think it would happen to a man if he was in my position. This happened in Malaysia, so I think it’s an issue for women internationally and still happening now.”

-Angela Seow-Scott Yuan Huay

“I used to work at a hardware store. There have been so many times where a customer (most of the time an older white man) would come in and either completely ignore any advice I gave. He would ask to speak with one of my male coworkers, who would repeat the same thing I told them, making me feel worthless at times. We would also have a few men that would come into the store and make inappropriate comments a lot and it got to the point with one guy where if I was working and he came in, I would hide in our break room until they left because they made me so uncomfortable. One man in particular would make inappropriate comments to me in front of his young daughter, too, which broke my heart. When I became a manager there as well, some of my older, male coworkers wouldn’t listen to me when I would try to do my job and assign tasks to them or would try to tell me how to do the job I had been doing for much longer than them.”

-Sara Bourgeau

“There are a lot of little things, but the main thing I can think of happened a couple years ago. It was when Christine Blasey Ford came out against Brett Kavanaugh, and it’s all people were talking about. Some people close to me made jokes about it and dismissed her testimony. I’ve been in a situation that is kind of gray in terms of whether it was sexual assault or not, and it made me feel like if I spoke up about what happened to me, they wouldn’t listen. It made me feel like, because I am a woman, my voice doesn’t matter. I began to realize that because I’m a woman, my voice is more easily brushed off by a lot of people. This had a huge impact on me when I started at Western a few months later, because I was going into journalism, a profession that requires me using my voice to bring important issues to light.”


Klipsun is an award-winning student magazine of Western Washington University

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