Womanhood (As a Brown Woman)

Womanhood (As a Brown Woman)

As many other women have written about before, sexism sucks. The wage gap, the stereotypes, and the hierarchical differences. All women go through the same and unique struggles, even more so when race comes into the picture. Women of color are some of the most discriminated groups in our society today, as we are the minority of both gender and race—the intersectionality of the characteristics I display and engender changes society’s point of view of me. As a brown woman, I have been stereotyped, discriminated against, and objectified simply because I have two X chromosomes and my body has more hair than most.

The Beginning

As soon as a child exits the safety of their mother’s womb and enters the world, breaking their nine-month silence with an ear-shattering wail, they are placed into one of two categories: male or female. Each category has its designated colors: blue for boys and pink for girls. We think nothing of it; it’s tradition, how it’s always been. I was born in Fridley, Minnesota on September 9, 2004. As I was sorted into the female category that day, many parts of my life were suddenly predetermined. To fit society’s norms, I was to be dressed in pink frills anddolls such as Barbies to play with dresses, given and to grow my hair long. To fit cultural norms, I wore saris(1) and lehengas(2) for Mandir(3), wore my hair in a braid all the time, sat with my legs covered and never with my legs open, and stayed behind to clean the altar while the boys ran off to play. I thought nothing of it; that’s how it’s always been.

Entering grade school meant a sudden introduction into social hierarchies and interactions with adults and children who were not my family– all without the guidance and supervision of my parents. I remember walking into a classroom environment for the first time, wearing my pink fluffy coat and sniffling madly from crying as I had just been bribed to get out of my parent’s car with apple juice (an ingenious bribe, I might add). I was holding a stranger’s hand, being led to a seat that had my name on it. I did not understand how they magically knew my name, nor did I question it. All I understood was that these strangers were powerful and not my parents. I distinctly remember being the only brown child in this class, which I did not question. I had no reason to yet. I was so excited, yet so scared, to be in this new environment. I’d never had other kids to play with and I suddenly had a whole gaggle of new friends to choose from. Or, so I thought. I could not understand why the boys never wanted to play with me or why the girls–already forming their cliques– did not invite me to play with their dolls. I could not understand why I was being isolated when I was the same as all of them: a kid.

Most of us girls remember having a crush on the fastest boy in class solely based on his speed and not any other factors. However, when I tried to race against this same boy, the boy’s buddies, with skinned knees and dirt on their faces, would throw wood chips my way and taunt me with, “You run like a girl! You can’t beat him”! I never got to find out if they were right because I wasn’t even allowed to.

As children, we are innocent. We are gullible. Susceptible to many ideas and concepts and ignorant to others. I remember rumors that if you kissed someone of the same sex before you turned 18, you would give birth to a child with genitalia on its head. I, of course, did not know how children were conceived and believed every word. I remember being told by the older girls that the only way I could fit in was to get lip gloss and a boyfriend as quickly as I could, even though I was sorely underage for such activities. I accepted it all. That must have just been how it was, I reasoned.

In these elementary years, as I moved around from school to school due to my parents’ rocky marriage, I stayed quite gullible and innocent despite the bullying directed towards my racial traits and the more subtle discrimination of my gender. In the Catholic schooling system I was in, I wasn’t allowed to get into sports because my school did not have a female team (I didn’t understand why we couldn’t all play together). I focused on reading and writing, as the science and mathematics study areas were for the boys (who never actually looked like they were studying).

During this time of my life, my parents weren’t really a resource to me. I didn’t rely on them for help with confusing social problems like bullying and racial discrimination because they were going through a tough time. They had had a child while they were still mentally unprepared for the challenges marriage and childcare come with.

When I look back on pictures of myself in elementary school, I see someone I don’t know. Who was she? How did she stay hopeful and innocent for so long despite everything she went through? I wouldn’t be able to answer that. I’m not her anymore.


On June 7, 2014, my parents relocated us to Hawai’i for my father’s new job (with the underlying hope that it would help their marriage, which it did). By the time I moved, I was a hopeless stereotype. I was a girl. Unathletic, loved pink, commonly used “like a girl” negatively, knew every song on the radio by heart even though I didn’t understand their meanings, and believed that God’s way was the only way due to Catholic schooling (a major contribution to my ignorance of the world and my stereotypical behavior). I was just about entering fourth grade when I moved. But that move changed my life. School was so different; I was rarely made fun of for being Indian, the girls and boys played together, and everyone was just all-around happier.

Being in a minority-ruled community(4)was eye-opening, especially when everyone is full of neverending aloha(5). Moving made me realize I had become someone I was unfamiliar with; I had lost touch with my culture and was following a religion because I thought it was the only option. Because it was part of Hawai’i’s school curriculum, I had the opportunity to learn about Hawaiian culture and traditions, which were so different than everything I was taught in Catholic school back home. I was taught traditional hula and how it told a story, taught the meaning behind our state’s anthem “Hawai’i Pono’i” and shown what having pride in one’s own culture truly means. I learned olelos(6) and chants with deep meaning. I learned about the three genders in Hawaiian culture. I witnessed passion for the first time. It was exhilarating to be a part of it. It began my true psychosocial development and contributed greatly to who I am today.

Middle school was a huge change from elementary. Classmates were separated into different groups with different teachers, we were required to find our classes on campus on our own, and we had to make new friends. The biggest change, which I had never encountered before, was wearing a uniform. It was a bright blue t-shirt with the Hilo Intermediate School logo plastered across the chest. Luckily, I was smart and ordered a bigger size, giving me some freedom in my movement. I remember putting that shirt on every day, picking out one of the five I had purchased, each with its persistent sweat stains and unpleasant texture. Throwing on a pair of jeans or a skirt, my jacket, and off to school. Quick and simple. Until it wasn’t.

October 8, 2018.

That was the night everything changed. A new moon, the symbol of new beginnings, was out. I was at my friend Austin’s house. She had just moved from Texas, so as fellow Hawai’i transplants, we quickly became friends. I loved that house. It was massive, complete with a koi pond in the back. We were setting up to watch a movie with her brother, surrounded by fluffy blankets and that Texas southern drawl spilling out of their lips. We had chosen to settle for a comedy movie, and her brother was scrolling through the options. I remember feeling a drip between my legs, something I’d only ever experienced as a kid; I thought I was starting to wet myself. I excused myself to the restroom and hurriedly locked the door, hoping to spare myself embarrassment. When I sat down to use the toilet, I jumped in shock and saw a dark red streak adorning my underwear. I sat there for a few minutes, wondering what my next move would be. What the f*ck was going on??? Why was there BLOOD in my underwear? I felt more drips, realizing that the bleeding was not over. I grabbed toilet paper, trying to alleviate the bleeding by applying pressure, but it just kept coming. An epiphany popped into my head after a few more panicked breaths. I remembered a subject my mom had briefly touched on when I had asked her randomly how my mom did not get pregnant every time my father kissed her, as I thought that I was conceived from their wedding kiss. She had told me about a time in every girl’s life when she became one with the moon. What did my mom say this was called again? Maybe I should call her. I snatched up my phone, took some deep breaths, and dialed my mom’s number.

     “Mom?” I began with a poorly concealed shaky breath.

     “Yes, baba?” She answered sweetly.

     “I think… I think I started my period.”

She laughed for a bit. I looked at the floor confused.

     “What? What’s so funny?”

     “I’m proud of you, that’s all. Welcome to womanhood, pet. Do you want me to come over?”

     “Yes please…” I hugged my phone a little.

     “Okay. Be there in five. Love you.”

     “Love you too, mama.” I hung up the phone, reassured.

Obviously, I couldn’t just sit there till she came over. I had to text my friend, who was patiently waiting outside with her brother, that I had blood pouring out of my vagina. I texted, hoping she had anything to soak up the blood. Thankfully, she had already suspected what was happening and slid a pad under the bathroom door and kicked her brother out of the room. After a little bit of struggle, I put the pad on and my mother and father arrived with a gift basket of chocolate and pads.

I thought that the struggle was finally over. It would all go away as a funny little night. How wrong I was. My normal routine of picking a random shirt and pair of jeans started to change. I noticed my jeans were tighter around my hips, and my school’s logo on my chest was getting more and more stretched out every time I put it on. I was going through puberty. My chest was growing, and my hips were widening. Even more hair was growing in strange places on my body, and I started to get bright red spots on my face. Everyone was going through it. We were all involuntarily changing. Growing up. Becoming men and women. I used to curse the day that blood stained my underwear that first time. It was a sign of change. That something was changing inside of me, and I’d never be able to return to who or how I was before. It scared me, yes.

What scared me wasn’t the physical changes but people’s responses to these changes. I could not decide the size of my breasts nor the width of my hips, so why did they look differently at me? I had to wear higher necklines, looser clothes, anything to hide what my body was changing into–A woman. I was ashamed, highly aware of the two mounds of flesh now sitting upon my chest. I felt every shoulder I accidentally bumped into in the crowded halls, every bounce when I walked down the stairs, eyes that stole a glance whenever I wore the wrong shirt and the soreness of an undersized bra after a long day.

Sex ed was the beginning of my awakening. It was when I started to notice gender differences and hierarchies. I noticed how briefly the topic of a woman’s period and women’s anatomy was covered, even though the class was full of other girls. I wanted to learn more about why I was the way I was and how my body worked, but instead, we learned in depth what the different types of drugs were and how to properly roll a condom onto a wooden prop. I started noticing how girls had to slip their pads into their sleeves when they used the restroom as if menstruation was a big secret that we had to hide. I even noticed that in commercials for pads, they would use blue liquid to show how absorbent a product was, which was the same color for urine in diapers and stains on paper towels, which made no sense to me because they used red liquid when it came to bandaid ads.

Throughout middle and high school, I noticed how, even in the simple things, there was this weird divide. All the models in stores were these unrealistically skinny women whom I looked nothing like, and yet everyone was trying to be like. I noticed some of my girlfriends eating less or frequenting the bathroom after lunchtime, or starting to wear heavy makeup to school. I noticed that my skinnier friends who wore makeup were getting the guys they wanted, so I started believing that was the formula for fitting in and getting to where I wanted. I didn’t know individuality was an option.

High school was the most challenging of years regarding body image. I remember feeling like I had lost my girlish and feminine side because of the changes I had been through and because I didn’t fit the stereotypes and standards anymore. In my freshman and sophomore years, I wore only hoodies, loose pants, and shirts. I hid my body as much as I could, insecure and feeling like a balloon. In junior year, I started shedding the hoodies, and by senior year, I was finally confident enough to wear lower-cut and tighter clothes. I dressed how I wanted and gained an abundance of confidence, learning what clothes and styles I liked on my body. I had gained my individuality and learned that being a woman doesn’t have to be about fitting into a premade mold or expectation. I learned about sexuality and the different genders. I could be into who I want, whatever the gender and what I want, even if it were advertised originally towards men.



Then, I moved from home and started college back at my roots: Minnesota. Let me say, low confidence has nothing on paranoia. I had been quite sheltered in Hawai’i. Everyone was nice and wore their hearts on their sleeves. Harassment was unthinkable. But then I moved here and started getting cat-called on my way to school, a phenomenon I had never experienced in all my years of living in Hawai’i. It scared me. I’d never felt so dirty. I wanted to hide away and go straight back to the styles of my freshman year. The first few months of living here, I did. I wore unflattering clothes and didn’t look anyone in the eye. I tried to be invisible. I understood why women felt oppressed and why they hid their pads all those years ago, and why we used blue liquid in pad commercials. It was because we were afraid. Afraid of feeling shameful for something we could not control. I noticed it in how all the women at my bus stop would crowd into one side of the shelter and glued an eye on the man passing by.

I couldn’t ignore the difference of being a minority again, either. I remember attending my nephew’s first hockey game, being the only brown family, and being asked if we were in the right place. I could not believe how scarce it was to see people of color when, my whole life, things had been the other way around! I used to be surrounded by life and color, but the cultural shift of Minnesota was truly something to adjust to after so long.

After about a month of this lifestyle, I decided that I would not submit. I realized I was a brown woman. I can bear life for crying out loud! Why should I be afraid of the “what ifs” and “could happen”? I wasn’t going to let a man’s snide comment determine how I feel about myself or how I dress. A man at the bus stop once told me I “had it going on.” I do. But I didn’t want to hear it from someone like him. Nor any of the other hecklers and hasslers of the city.

“I like your hair, shawty,” or “Don’t ignore me,” or “Are you lost baby”?

Just a sample of the things men have said to me in passing as if it was the most casual remark and not a sentence that would make my skin crawl and my fists tighten.

I AM a woman. I can be feminine or masculine. I can put on as much makeup as I want, dress in whatever fashion I desire, pursue any career I work towards, hold my pad in my hand as I walk to the bathroom, overdress when the occasion does not so near as call for it, gain weight, lose weight, be as loud as I want, sit with my legs open, stay single for the rest of my life, dye my hair, love a woman or a man, choose whether or not I want to have a child, and so on.

I have gone from being an innocent child to a lost stereotypical girl to an insecure, maturing adolescent into a proud woman. I believe that a woman’s struggles should not be hidden or shameful, including menstrual issues, abortion rights, and sexual wellness. Hiding or ignoring these issues contributes to sexism and a patriarchal agenda. Why are there bans on a woman’s right to abort and laws regulating prostitution? A woman should have sole decision over what happens to her body, not a board of Senators and conglomerates made mostly of men. Growing up in the collectivistic environment in Hawai’i and now the individualistic society of the continental United States, I can see why women have been fighting for their rights for so long. It’s easy to ignore a problem when you don’t experience it. After years of being discriminated against as an Indian, being called names like Bigfoot and Chewbacca, and, as a girl, being told to lose weight and fit a certain beauty standard, I am breaking out of the mold, showing the authentic me. I am proud of the woman I am. I don’t want to list how I fit in with society and the norm but to celebrate my uniqueness and how it contributes to my individuality and womanhood.

1 : Traditional Indian garment, meticulously wrapped around the body

2 : Traditional Indian garment, ankle-length skirt and top

3 : Hindu temple/ house of worship

4 : Ironically, while being in a minority-majority community, I was a minority at my school as there was only one other Indian girl there.

5 : meaning love, or a greeting.

6 : a Hawaiian story, usually with a meaningful moral

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