Growing up, I played every sport possible and walked around with a puffed-up chest and bragged about my athletic abilities. My sisters and I were part of a neighborhood all-girls football team that gave me more confidence than my pre-teen girlhood should have allowed. For instance, when a boy threw a rock at my sister’s face because he was mad he couldn’t play with us, our entire team chased him through the neighborhood to make him answer for what he did. Erin has a scar near her eye to this day, and it reminds me of how brave I felt going after someone who had done something so vile to a girl.
But once boys noticed we were girls who they could kiss or hold hands with, that brave part of me disappeared for a while and morphed into something else. The first boy who told me he loved me manipulated me into having sex with him when I was 14. A year later, I was raising a baby girl, and was no longer the rugged, young athlete whose strong legs and sturdy arms gave way to her confidence and self-esteem. I internalized the sexist messages of female stereotypes and began to shrink back in class, at my part-time job, and in my role as a mother.
As a teenage mom, I flinched with each progressing year as people began to dismiss me as a screw-up who ruined her future. Teachers, adult friends of my parents, and even our priest looked at me with indifference — but only after bestowing a shameful glance or disparaging comment my way. Slowly, I stopped being that girl who once stood up to a kid she cornered in a backyard.
It took a lot of work to force myself to finish college and secure a position as an English teacher. Though I had opinions during faculty meetings, I kept them to myself — until one day, when I raised my hand, leaned in to the moment, and said what I was thinking. Our principal, a man I truly respected, called me brilliant for the first time. That gave me the boost I needed to speak up more often; I soon became known as “that opinionated teacher.” I haven’t been held back since.
When a district representative asked for teachers who wanted to pursue administration and earn a Master’s degree, I raised my hand again. In my second year of classes, a professor asked why I wanted to become a principal. I responded that leadership found me, and I wasn’t going to shy away from it any longer.
Raising my hand that first time and being appreciated for my thoughts made me unafraid to share my opinions the next time someone asked for them. My chest doesn’t puff up for my physical prowess anymore. Instead, I’ve come to treasure my brain, my intellect and my good ideas. That’s even better.