They say that today we celebrate women.

They say that today we celebrate women, that we show each other what we have achieved.

We say, ‘Look! Look how far we have come. Look at the wars we have fought just to be able to stand in the same place as anybody else. Just to say, I own my body. Just to say, I own myself’

Such a simple thing. Such a freedom. Why did we have to ask for it, to go out and take it forcibly?

Why is this such a threat, even now?

Today, we will hold up the ones who were finally allowed to go to Space—who were finally given the nod to leave this atmosphere, the ones who invented things and who were forgotten in the credits, the ones who died so that their grand-daughters might be free—they didn’t know if it would work, but they knew what was not working and so they gave themselves; everything they had. Like the widow and her coins.

And look! Some of us are freer than we have ever been.

Some of us.

Look. Some of us can walk wherever we want, wear whatever we want, say whatever we want, love whomever we want, do with our lives whatever we want, fall down on our knees in front of whichever God we choose.

Say, ‘Yes.’

Say, ‘No.’

These words were not always ours to say.

Some of us still do not own them. Some of us still do not have those small, soft words in our mouths, and if we do, we could get killed for them.

A life for a ‘Yes’. A life for a ‘No.’

Imagine the terrible threat of such a small word in the mouth of a woman.

I didn’t know where this piece of writing would go today. I don’t know where my words will climb off the page. I don’t know who they will want to live with. Still, I write them for you.

On my right wrist, there is a soft blob of white foam. Like the eggs of a butterfly stuck to the naked part of a leaf. Have you ever seen that? When the first words started singing behind my eyes, I was washing the breakfast dishes and I stopped to write this down. I am so glad I could do that—just stop. Many of us can’t. Many of us just have to keep going.

After I leave you here in my words, I shall clean my house, teach my son, remember the things that I gave up, the things that I was not allowed to have.

And these things look different for all of us.

Some of us want to turn a tap and have clean water, want to have babies that will have a chance at life, want to own our own name, our own bodies, want to study for our fifth degree, want to stay home and be a mother, want to go out and work.

Some of us are not at home in our skin, in our bodies.

Some of us raise boys and we worry about the weight of the melanin in their skin, know that they carry a greater burden.

There is so much that I don’t have enough words for it.

I honour you.

This, I can do.

Woman, who just keeps on going. Who doesn’t have a PhD, who hasn’t finished school, who wasn’t given any words, or numbers, or science, or books. I see you. You are stronger than iron. Stronger than the ones who would hold you down, hold you back, take what is not theirs to take. Do not forget this! I hope that until we can free you, you will find a garden within your walls. They can’t find you there. This morning, I see you.

Woman, who has forgotten what it feels like to love, to be loved, to be adored, to be courted, to be looked at with deep love, with deep respect. Who chooses to stay, regardless. I see you. You are worth so much more. Until you taste your own freedom, whatever shape it takes, know this, you are beautiful, you are beautiful, you are beautiful. I see you.

Lady. Slut. Beauty. Chick. Clever. Skank. Intelligent. Stupid. Submissive. Rebellious. Ball-buster. Prostitute. Mother. Whore. Sister. Bitch. Daughter. Bossy. If you go out looking like that you are asking for it. Why did you let yourself go? Dye your hair. Stay natural. Demanding. Ungrateful. Demure. Virgin. Fat. Thin. Ugly. Money, what money could you possibly want? Isn’t your job a calling? Now that you are pregnant, you’ll want to give up your job. Pregnant. Why didn’t you take precautions? Abortion? Murderer! Miscarriage? What did you do wrong? You have no rights. Here, have some. No, those! Those are only for men. Hey there, your legs are so sexy I couldn’t hear what you said about the figures, the presentation? Smile more. Beautiful. Crone. Witch. Angel. Hag. Mother. Sister. Daughter. Wife. Girlfriend. Spouse. Partner. Widow. Trans. Why don’t you want it? Lesbian. Man-hater. I’ll show you. Marriage material. I wouldn’t touch her with a barge pole. I’ll fix you. If I can’t have you nobody can. I own you. I own my children. Dishonour. Unworthy. Who do you think you are?

Read it again. Read it again. Read it again.

We are all here. See us.

They will tell you that I am your enemy. They will tell me that you are mine.

It is a lie.

We are sisters. We are connected by a thin line of blood, by the womb.

We came from one.

You are not words. You are not a label. We are not our past. We are not even our future. We are not our children’s future, although we hold the key.

Woman.

That’s who you are.

With dreams, without dreams, with children, without children, with an education, without an education, married to a man, or not, married, or not, single, or not, divorced, or not, widowed, or not.

There are women all around you with worlds as big as hope inside their heads. Look for them. Call for them and they will find you!

Find the ones who you can tell every terrible thing to, every awful thing that you have ever done and who will still stay with you. They are out there.

I don’t care about what you do. I don’t care about who you think deserves the name God. I don’t care about who you love. I don’t care about the things you have done wrong, the things you have done right.

Tell me who you are when you are all alone. Tell me who you are inside your 5-year-old dreams. Tell me that you know deep inside that you are enough.

Tell me that you know you are worthy.

Call yourself every lovely thing. Start small, start slowly, but do it, please.

Know that some of us are still not free.

Some of us are still owned.

Some of us will never be free.

We have work to be done.

Our children’s children are waiting to be healed; are waiting to have their shackles removed.

Know that there was a time when women were equal.

Know that there was a time when women were set on fire.

Know that for many women that has never ended.

They are one word away from death.

I see you.

Wherever you are. I hope you can take your shoes off and stand on the earth, even if you do it inside your head. Take off your clothes, be naked, dive into the water, swim. Name your body parts. Say the words: breasts, vagina, vulva, clitoris. You are a body. You are a soul. Your body does NOT make another stray. They make themselves get lost. All these damn lies!

Find a beautiful word and hold it behind your eyes.

Eat whatever you want.

Ask the name of your God and listen to what they say.

Fall down on your knees and worship.

Know that you are loved.

Despite what they say, know that you don’t have to take what you were given.

You can change your mind about anything. Inside, you are free.

I am not your enemy. You are not mine.

Until we can come and break open the gates for you. Hold on, woman.

I see you.

© Liezel Graham 2021.

Photograph by Bruce Mars, on Unsplash.

A note about the picture… it spoke to me. I sat looking for the perfect one and there were many. How can I choose one image to represent all women?

I started free-writing and I couldn’t really stop. I can’t begin to put into words everything that I want to say.

I hope that this makes a small start.

We are not all free. Most of us will never achieve what we want, will never fully have what we deserve.

There is still work to be done!

I am sure that this piece will offend someone.

I am also sure that it will find a home with someone else.

I choose to live my life as a quiet rebel, so I’ll take that chance.

Wherever you are, whatever you do, I see you today.