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Ask a Raging Feminist: I was treated differently because of my sex when...

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

'But you're a girl' — 10 feminists share the very first time they were treated differently because of their gender

Almost everybody has that moment — the one when you realize you're being treated differently because of your gender. Maybe you got a leg up, or perhaps you realized you were being denied an opportunity because of it. One thing is for sure — those moments stick with us.

We asked a handful of Raging Feminists what their aha moment was — the one that made them realize that just because they identified (and the world saw them as) a certain way, they were treated differently.

What's the first moment you felt you were treated differently because of your gender?

"I was in first grade, and we had a contest to stand on one foot. It came down to me and one of the boys in class. I lasted longer than him, yet he won! When I asked why, the teacher literally told me it was because he's a boy. I was a feisty 6-year-old, though, and argued. 'Cuz that is just not right." — Leigh Shulman

"For me, it was probably the first time I was caught swearing. I was 12 or so and was talking to my friends about some preteen drama, and I said, 'Holy s***.' After my friends left, my mom pulled me aside and said that she had heard me and that guys didn’t like girls who swore so much. I remember trying to figure out why I should care about what guys think and why my mom thought I would care. It may have been my first notable eye roll as well." — Ijeoma Oluo

"I was about 4 and at day care. I went down a slide, and my Superman undies showed. Suddenly a swarm of children collected around me and told me I had 'the wrong underwear on' and that I must want to be a boy. When I said I liked my Superman undies, I remember a slightly older boy shaking his head and saying, 'But you're a girl, and you should like girl things.' Then he handed me a dolly." — Ki Russell

More: Ask a Raging Feminist: Should Miley Cyrus still call herself a feminist?

"When we were kids, my younger brother and I used to fight all the time. Really fight! Punching, kicking, wrestling, the whole nine, and usually over what to watch on television. Every time we fought, my dad would warn me to be nicer to my brother because he was a boy, and one day he would get stronger than me, and I would start losing the fights. But since I would always be older than him, of course I'd always be bigger and stronger. I'll never forget the day that my brother first beat me in a fight. Pretty fitting that my introduction to being a woman was being pinned on the ground, powerless to change the channel away from an old syndicated Davy Crockett episode." — Ashley Black

"When I opted to do regular push-ups instead of modified push-ups for the Marine Corps fitness test in elementary school — 45, by the way! — I scored the highest that year. Everyone was confused, and I was labeled a/conformed to being a tomboy for the rest of my childhood." — Allison Smartt

"Although I'm sure the first moment was much earlier, the most prominent memory of being treated differently because of my gender occurred when I was 17 and pregnant. While I did not expect an outpouring of excitement over the news of my teenage pregnancy, I did expect the adults in my life to treat a pregnant young woman like a human. But as a teenage girl, my pregnancy bump became the spark that illuminated the sexism, anger and ignorance that society would use in an attempt to limit my future and stigmatize me into until I landed the leading role in their next cautionary tale. 'No, girls who get pregnant don't go to college. No, girls who have babies cannot succeed.' At the time, I may have been surrounded by adults and professionals meant to support me, but it was much easier to further marginalize a young mom of color than to use their power to shape a culture where girls like me are treated with dignity and respect. Instead, I was reminded that my child's father would leave me or that teen motherhood meant both of our lives were destined for failure. It was at 17 that I realized the way our society treated and continues to treat young women like me is a direct reflection of how women and mothers are undervalued as strong, ambitious and industrious members of society." — Natasha Vianna

"I was 7 or 8 and asked to do chores that my brother was not expected to do, like clear the dinner table. I refused to move unless he got up as well. But I was lucky to be in a home where I could do that; many kids aren't. And chores today are still incredibly gendered." — Soraya Chemaly

More: Ask a Raging Feminist: Would you try the new 'female Viagra'?

"I was early to develop — breasts popped out at around 10, and my period soon thereafter — and though this seems not so unusual today, in the early 1990s, my family freaked out. They took me to two different doctors, and I never felt so separate from my body and so much hatred towards it until years later, when I became anorexic in order to slow down the maturation process. Why was my body doing this to me? I remember one moment — and this is when I felt my gender would change how I experienced the world — I was outside in a tank top, and my neighbor, a teenage boy, came up to me and stared at my chest and said, 'Wow, I can't believe you're the same Jill.' You would think I'm making this up, because it sums up the mind-body split that entrenches Western culture, but it happened. From then on, my parents said it was better that I not play outside anymore. And so began my love/hate relationship with being in this female body and all the attention that comes with it.  — Jill Di Donato

"Waiting at the bus stop, age 13. Slow realization that I was not safe — and that while the boys I knew might grow big enough to be safe(r), I would not." — Sarah Buttenwieser

"I remember the first time I was sexually harassed. I was a very nerdy and unpopular girl in junior high school. One day I was standing in a classroom, and a more popular boy unexpectedly pinched me on the butt. My reaction was to turn slowly and glare at him with arctic coldness. He laughed weakly and said, 'I thought it would make you jump.'

I replied, 'Well, it didn't.'

I like to think that cured him of behavior like that for life, but I'm often unreasonably optimistic." — Celeste Lindell

More: Ask a Raging Feminist: What answers does Donald Trump owe women?

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