By Nadia Kardan, Regular Contributor
I traveled to Greece in February to see an old friend of mine who was teaching in Athens on a Fulbright. I brought along another close friend who traveled with me from New York City. After days of sightseeing and lounging in restaurants, the three of us would gather in our friend’s home, eating desserts we picked up at a bakery in the city center, reminiscing, and forming new bonds and memories.
Every now and then, when I take a step back and comprehend the things my friends and I have done, I forget that our lives are nothing short of little miracles.
The three of us in Greece were young women, all under the age of twenty-five. We were self-sufficient, independent, teachers coming from and living in big cities. We had the ability to voice our opinions, to stand up for ourselves, to travel freely between countries by ourselves, and to live alone. We knew how to navigate new places. We knew how to take risks. Better yet, we had the confidence to take these risks in the first place.
Why shouldn’t we? We’re educated people. Why should I look at these abilities and deem them little miracles when they’re the basic result of a life built up with education and experience?
Well, they will always be little miracles to me: the lives my friends and I lead as free spirited, free thinking, self-sufficient women is one of the world’s rarities.
To be born into a developed nation is a gift. To be born into relative prosperity is a privilege owned by a small fraction of our world’s population.
It’s more than living in a nation that promises us an equal opportunity to education. Even in our country, we’re plagued with the realities of a wage gap, the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment, and the body and image issues women endure backed up by the media.
So I say it with the taste of vinegar in my mouth: it is a miracle that my friends and I have found the strength to be autonomous women. To acknowledge that such an existence is a privilege is to recognize one of the greatest injustices challenging our world today.
Being dehumanized and “othered” as a woman has come upon me in pieces that have so discretely made their way into my existence, that if I weren’t consciously making an effort to be aware of the oppression, I would have missed it. I would have easily embraced the countless number of catcalls as compliments. I would have let myself feel protected instead of offended by the employers and colleagues who had removed any feelings of power and decision making under the guise of looking out for me. I would have embraced remaining quiet and calm, because I would have believed it was true that men didn’t like women who were opinionated and assertive. I would have accepted being called crazy, in lieu of what I really am: bold, intelligent, and passionate.
It is so easy for girls and young women to fall into these traps of what I call secret sexism. They’re the false expectations designed for girl’s and women’s behavior that effectively derail her natural intellectual inclinations and development. They are the stereotypes reinforced by the media that so underrepresents women in leading or leadership roles.
How did I and how do I rise above them?
I started by turning the television off. I have hardly watched network TV since 2008, and I don’t miss it. I immersed myself in books, films, spirituality, travel, and friendship. I committed myself to creating genuine human connections with the people around me and framing my conversations on the wisdom I’ve garnered from the dozens of books I’ve absorbed.
In essence, I’ve allowed myself to discover who I am without the trappings of the expectations of society. I’ve stopped caring about who I should and shouldn’t be because I turn my back to the senseless media that has come to drive our society’s interests. In doing so, I’ve realized my own intellectual depth and my own worth. The fulfillment of my own intellectual and spiritual needs has given me eyes to see what true equality and justice looks like: it’s the ability to be seen as genuinely complex human being.
I’ve discovered as a young woman, that I so often am not seen as a genuinely complex human being. I am seen as a face. I am seen as a body. I am seen as a thing.
I’ve learned that to preserve my autonomy and my dignity, I must make a constant effort to express my humanity. To consistently express what should be obvious to any right minded individual is exhausting and yet, it is a sacrifice I make because I cannot stand for not being seen for who I am.
When I look at my friends and I, I don’t merely see young women who are the products of a government that has given us a right to work and to travel freely. I see us for the complex beings that we are and value us for the strength we, with no doubt, possess to be able to be who we are.
In many ways, it is a miracle to be able to rise above such a deeply embedded veil of oppression, predetermined standards, and expectations.
I only hope that all women are given the opportunities to discover such strength, for imagine what the world could be when both halves of a population feel empowered enough to be who they are.
Let's chat! What little miracles are you thankful for? What have you done lately to allow yourself to be EXACTLY who you are, without societal pressures? Share with us here!
Nadia holds a B.A. in English Literature from Rutgers University and a M.A. in English Education. She is a public schoolteacher, writes fiction, and is enamored with music, film, faith, and all things wonderful. She works and resides in New York City. Follow her @nskardan on Twitter.
image via 4alltravelers.com