Growing up, no one told me anything. The adults just did things around me, never thinking of how it would all affect me as I grew up in the midst of their mistakes. There was never one time- not once- when an adult sat me down and had a conversation with me about what was happening, what was going to happen, and how I was to handle it all.
No one told me that being born a girl didn’t mean I would automatically know how to be a woman.
No one explained what would happen to my body when I hit puberty and no one told me about my periods. Thank goodness for that fifth grade health video and for my love of books. I depended on them to prepare me for my teenage years and set me up for young adulthood.
But, no one told me books didn’t have all the answers.
Fifteen years later, it wasn’t a difficult decision to write and publish pieces of my journey and share them with the world for this had always been my destiny. I’d known it since I was five. Books were and always have been my language; they were how I found out about anything and they were how I related to the world around me.
Everything is a book.
It was difficult, however, for the world to hear from a woman who was and is, in no way, ashamed of anything- anything at all. I’d read enough about my body, the bodies of boys, and the sex you could have with them to see it all as just fact.
The earth is round.
The sun is hot.
It was all very black and white to me because I didn’t learn about life from the emotional experiences of others. I learned about life from the words printed on dead trees, bound and unabridged. I couldn’t understand how natural facts about natural behaviors could be so disturbing. And then, a stranger wrote to me, “A real woman would have kept her mouth shut.”
Then, I knew.
When I published my first memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen, in 2005, and told my life’s story from birth to twenty-five, it wasn’t the kidnap and rape I encountered at thirteen that enraged people. It wasn’t my mother beating me to a bloody pulp. It wasn’t my tales of being a teenage runaway and stripper or even the beating and near death experience I encountered at the hand of my son’s father. No.
None of this enraged anyone.
It was the consensual sex I had with men I’d known for years, men I still know, to this day. It was my freedom, my unabashed recollection of my free and willing choices, and my inability to give two and half shits about what anyone else had to say about my decisions and their consequences.
It was the liberation set forth by the sexual revolution of my mother’s generation that, decades later, enraged the masses. This after Masters and Johnson, after Steinem, after Kinsey- hell, this was after Lil’ Kim!
Needless to say, I learned a lot about sexism that year and every year since. I have learned a lot about slut shaming and dubious double standards in the past eight years, as well. And, slowly, I began to learn what it means to be a woman. But suddenly, I found myself falling into the trap set by us libertines.
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has been credited with saying, “Well behaved women seldom make history,” and I find this quote to be true but misunderstood, as I have misunderstood it since discovering it years ago. I was under the impression that in order to make waves in society, I couldn’t be well-behaved, that I had to, by any means necessary, behave badly.
No one told me this is not the truth.
I have learned that, as long as a woman works against the grain of expectation, she will always be hailed as badly behaved. Do and be what is unexpected. Do and be what they say you cannot. After convincing them you are one thing, show them you are another. Break out of the box in which they’ve placed you and lean against the boundaries they have set for you.
When you become more than society wants you to become, when you become better, you will anger them and they will no longer consider you well behaved.
And this is when you will make history.
It took me a while to get here, thirty-five years to be exact, but damn I’m glad I’ve arrived. And maybe if someone had told me, warned me about what was coming down the trough and how to handle it, my journey may have been less bumpy and the lessons may have been more easily learned. Maybe I wouldn’t have spent so much time obsessed with shock value and more time focused on my value.
But, what does it matter now?
There is a lot no one told me, but I am grateful for my journey and for the opportunity to share it. And, true to form, I am continuing to work against the grain and to do what I have been told I cannot. Only this time around, I am using my powers for good.
Today, I am working with friends at the United Nations and writing books strictly aimed at helping women and men, alike. Throughout this portion of my journey, I have found a greater purpose –– something no one could have told me about. And, with my new knowledge of what it really means to be a woman ill-behaved, I am breaking through strongholds with a love and care for mankind I hadn’t shared with the world, before. I am no longer finding out about life through the pages of books, but through the lives of others, all over the world, who are suffering.
And, now, I want to write for them, only.
No one could have warned me about this, the feeling you get when everything you’ve ever done in your entire life begins to make sense. I am living in a time when it all clicks and my experiences allow me to speak to and for those who have no voice.
It took me a very long time but, finally, I know how to be a woman and there is no book that could have taught me that. I understand the power of disruption and how to use it for my betterment and that of people I’ve never even met. I understand the importance of my words and the weight of my work. Finally, being a woman makes sense to me.
I am free to change my life.
I am free to change my mind.
I am free to change popular opinion.
I am free to change the world.
Let the outrage begin.
The New York Times best selling author of five titles, Karrine Steffans currently dedicates her time, works, and resources to social causes and volunteers them to such agencies as the United Nations and their International Labour Organization with special interest in Women’s Rights, Modern Day Slavery, and Trafficking.