I got really mad a few weeks back when someone told me to “stop being such a girl.” Looking back, I’m not sure whether I was more offended by the implication that I was weak or that somehow girls were an inferior sex, but nevertheless, hell hath no fury like me scorned.

What does it mean to be a girl? Well, it means a hell of a lot.

It means growing and bearing children, dealing with a monthly hell akin to witnessing a the murder of your own organs, managing your hormones and being expected to expertly manage the hormones of others.

But more than the physical, it means living in a world that has always viewed you as the Worst Half, as the loser. Being successful, even in industries that embrace women, is always done in spite of gender and not irrelevant of it. We couldn’t vote until outrageously recently, have limited ability to secure leadership positions, and still get paid less than men (at an unnamed job, I was paid half of what someone managing significantly less than I was, and performed his job objectively worse, even after I negotiated several raises).

Being a girl also implies that you’re weak, don’t deserve to have feelings, and should ignore how you’re treated. The strong are those that ignore their humanity and embrace the cold reality that life isn’t fair. They are the ones who manage without emotion and bump along in some sort of psychopathic stride. They are out for #1 and are calculating in their approach to life. Well, sorry if it “makes me a girl,” but I am one, and given the alternative, I’d prefer to be.

As women, we are ridiculed, catcalled, treated as disposable, and objectified from ages as young as 7 or 8. We are constantly measured by our appearances as the sole metric for our value, and to stand up for ourselves paints us as bitches. The world has dramatically changed since the 1950s when women were expected to stay home and cook, but we’ve reached a new stage of sexism that’s almost too sinister and silent to claim as real, which makes it all the more dangerous. Now there’s just this underlying hum that peppers every meeting or relationship, the eerie sense that you’re being viewed as not good enough, and the creeping sensation that you notice it only because you’re crazy or too sensitive.

Girls, we have the capability of being so powerful, but we give our power away because we’re afraid of what the alternative looks like. We are quiet when we know better, we stay at jobs that treat us as “less than,” we stay in relationships that are damaging and abusive, we elect not to raise our hands because of the looks we might get.

I know we’ve all heard about “leaning in,” and that’s important. But you know what? We shouldn’t have to lean. We should be standing in the middle of the conversation and contributing everything we’re capable of. When someone tells us to stop acting like a girl, we should be responding that we’re acting like a human, and welcome to the fucking race. Because speaking as someone who has never let her gender get in the way of her success, I’m still impacted every day by the veil society has draped over my face.

And I’m taking it the fuck off.

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