By Emma Pascal.
I am becoming a woman.
I am progressively leaving teenage girlhood, as I enter an academic environment where I am expected to be an adult. In this new world, I can’t act as a seemingly clueless, smiling, lenient little girl anymore.
When I arrived in Menton in September, the word woman felt heavy and boring to me. It was much easier to be a girl. It felt youthful, naïve, sexy, and very non-threatening. I like being a girl—but I didn’t like that it was all I knew how to play. Now, I know that women are not only capable, but beautiful, too.
This article is to thank the entire campus—both students and teachers—for the inspiration they have given me during this coming of age.
This campus has taught me what real equality and respect feel like.
My gender has never mattered less. My value here is determined by my work and intellect as a student. I am considered a friend in the community, before being an object of desire. This is the place where I have been the least exposed to sexist remarks and bias in my life. I have never felt so empowered to speak up, take the lead, and launch projects before. Because when I do, I feel valid. It feels natural.
It is also the safest place I’ve lived. I feel safe going out and having fun around (most) boys on campus. I have never had so many allies looking out for my safety, supporting each other and intervening, even if just in case. This community lets 1As know from the start that crimes will be punished.
I am sad to say that all of this is refreshing to me. I am surprised, as someone who until now thought she had grown up in the most progressive of environments. I grew up in among Swedish expatriates – and you only need to sit through one (1) lecture at Sciences Po to learn that Sweden is the best at all forms of equality, right? We still have work to do.
When I arrived here and saw the female majority on campus, I caught myself being slightly disappointed. I realized I still had a societal bias toward women, when I thought I had unlearned it years ago. I had been taught to value women as less fun and interesting, and it was still deeply ingrained in me. The past year has permanently taught me that a majority of girls in a room is not boring, or silent, or tame. There is no gendered difference when people know they can do anything.
Having a majority of girls around, combined with the culture of validity and respect for women described above, has created such an empowering space. I have discovered what female solidarity is. Here, girls do not compete for space and speaking time. There is no slut shaming. Simply the fact that such a healthy mindset can exist feels magical to me.
Good role models
I want to thank all the girls and women on campus who have been inspiring real-life models to me.
Women whose poems are worth publishing. Women who rap. Women who recite angry Palestinian poetry. Women who start debate clubs. Women who write about their natural hair and women who draw sharp arguments à la française. Women who study anthropology and women who quote Plato. Women who play basketball and women who dance. Women who stand up on the first day of class ever, and loudly state their political opinions on the hijab in France. Women with short hair and women with natural hair and women with shaved heads and women with the longest hair I’ve ever seen.
You’ve proven to me that women can do whatever men do, without having to mask any part of themselves. You’ve shown me that women are capable and legitimate. I want to support you all and see you grow, all of you.
I have learned that becoming a woman is not a bad thing. Becoming a woman is blossoming.
I want to thank the entire campus collectively, for proving to me that my expectations were way too low. You have created a healthy, empowering space where I have thrived. I have learned that women and girls can achieve anything, and that men are fully capable of being the excellent allies that they are here.
Thank you all for teaching me how equality is actually done.