Ophelia’s Revenge

There once was a precious, courageous, little girl. Her big blue eyes never missed a bat. She could see farther and deeper than most adults. When she would outsmart them, from deep in her belly would roar an innocent, high-pitched laughter.

Unfortunately, her laughter and her wisdom were so often muted. Her tiny toes tiptoed around the dark, treacherous place she called home, cringing with every creak, anticipating his next attack. The man who dwelled in her mother’s bed, not entirely a man, but part monster.

This little girl was a soldier. She had a sworn duty to protect herself and her younger siblings from the monster. Her mother worked long hours and a lot of overtime just to pay the bills, so she was in charge of taking care of them. She wasn’t the “typical” nurturing little girl who liked to play house. She was an awful cook, and she’d rather read a book than play with dolls, but they all survived, thanks to the little girl.

This was no easy task, mind you. The little sister seemed to rattle the monster no matter what she did, and then a whirlwind of anger would wreck the home, breaking everything and everyone in sight. Once, the beast had the sister by the throat, snickering “I will kill you!” The little girl called the police and the beast never tried that again. Something about the little girl frightened the beast, perhaps he could sense her strength…or maybe it was her crazy father.

When the little girl went to her father’s house it was like an escape, from one hell to another. Her grandmother didn’t relish children, she was cold toward the girl and her father. As an authoritarian German woman, she pushed her to do well in school. It was so much responsibility and pressure for one child to bear.

The girl was smart though. She had a way out. She dreamed of becoming a lawyer since she was five years old and her parents were divorced. The path to a better life began with school. School was predictable. The rules made sense, they were fair. There were kind, loving adults who praised her good work.  

She lived in a small town on the Hudson River, about two hours north of New York City. Beautiful Victorian houses and large farmhouses decorated the valley, and hidden in its grooves, under large pine trees, were tiny houses and trailers, like the one her family lived in.

She went to a decent school. Many of her peers came from normal homes, with two parents, without scream fests and mind games. Their parents were doctors, professors, and lawyers. Some of her peers were even ancestors of the wealthy settlers that came to the town long ago.

She was never first-chair in the band because her peers got private lessons, but often second because she spent so much time practicing. Her peers had access to better technology and materials for their projects.  Some of her peers had parents who taught at a renowned private school nearby, and they got to sit in on their lectures. They didn’t have to go home and live in terror every day, and she still competed well with them.

Of course, there were bullies too. Mean girls would make fun of her non-brand clothes. Teachers asked her how she would be a lawyer and a mother. There were scheduling conflicts and counselors urging her to take easier science and math placements or justify why she wanted to take such challenging classes. Questions that boys were not asked.

Nonetheless, she persevered, she survived childhood and she graduated salutatorian from her high school. She held close to a 4.0 average in college and passed the bar at the age of twenty-four. Her first job post-graduation was in retail, since she didn’t have any family connections, and after her law school was sued for skewing numbers on post-graduation employment rates. She eventually landed a  government job in worker’s compensation with a starting salary of 40,000, not even enough to pay the interest on her student loans.

   Now she works as a hearing officer, making 80,000, still not as much as her male co-workers in litigation. Litigation lawyers have the highest salaries and biggest bonuses at her firm, and they are all men. The females and minorities are at the government jobs with significantly lower salaries. At the litigation dinners, she is the only woman. The air smells of ego and cologne. Loud brass voices and puffy chests tower over her. She sips her drink and listens to them rating the female lawyer’s attractiveness. She feels so out of place, so violated, but she nods and smiles.

This is the status quo in her field, the delicate tickles on her wrist, the unwanted hands on the small of her back, as to escort her into a room. As if she didn’t know the way. As if she didn’t get this far without them helping her. As if she hasn’t fought more battles than they could imagine, and won, on her own! Once after winning a hearing, she hears one of her co-workers loudly professing that she had only won because the judge thought she was cute, not because she had a better argument.

She did everything she was supposed to and more. She conquered beasts in her home, in academia, and she continues to fight them after she accomplished her dream of becoming a lawyer. But she will never back down, she will never tire. She has fought all her life and will continue to fight until the battle is won. She has penetrated the walls of the patriarchy and is dismembering them from within. I am the little sister who angered the beast and Lord, I aim to be again.

This is just one woman’s story, but the more we share, the more we’ll find this is every woman’s story, and the infection runs deep, carved into the veins of society. Until the remedy is found, let our voices continue to echo out, beyond the borders that have silenced us for so long, causing a crack that will eventually tear down that wall.

Helena Bonham Carter as Ophelia, in Hamlet

“Lord, we know what we are, but not what we may be”-Ophelia

 

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