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It used to be that a woman's worth lied in her virginity, her purity; what men believed her to be. Growing up, that was all I ever heard. Don't date, don't be easy, a good man won't want to marry you if you aren't a virgin. Accepting your sexuality, as a woman, was the equivalent of blasphemy or committing some unspeakable crime. Yet when young boys went out and slept with 10, 20, 30 girls, they were considered conquistadors, gods; accomplished. It was damaging and confusing to grow up unable to ask questions and feeling like sex wasn't meant to satisfy me and even coming up with extensive lies so that the day I got married, my parents wouldn't be shamed because I wasn't a virgin. This twisted sense of our self-worth being measured by what men thought of us stopped me from coming forward the first time I was sexually assaulted, and the second time, and the third, and so forth. I always rationalized that letting anyone know would break my parents' hearts and that people would know I was worthless, unworthy of love or affection, damaged, unable to be repaired.
It took years for me to come to terms with my reality and when I gave birth to my daughter I knew she would never have to question the origin of a woman's worth. See, I learned that my worth is determined by me alone. It was not something that someone else could measure for me. It was not something that could be determined by a single person or a single factor. Because we are all worth so much more than we give ourselves credit for and it's hard to see because society is so focused on tearing us down rather than lifting us up. I saw this as a child, constantly being bullied and living in my own version of hell. Getting told that I lacked the physical features that men found appealing and growing so mentally warped that I found comfort in the fact that someone would want to repeatedly assault me.
For me, it was a cultural thing. Hispanic culture focuses a lot on a man's importance. Women are here to serve and uplift their men and in order to do so, we must meet certain standards of beauty, usefulness, and we must always retain this essence of purity. Men always spoke of how a beautiful woman appears virginal. Mothers and aunts always warned of how sex would change your physical appearance and everyone would know that you were no longer pure and therefore unworthy of marriage. It was something that my parents still have not fully shaken off despite living in the US for over 30 years. Even I believed these words to be true until I realized that no one ever questioned my supposed virgin status until I had a boyfriend. No one saw me as less pure after having been raped and molested because nobody knew. There was no magical sign that signaled a change in my physical appearance. What I had been told my entire life was just some myth used to scare girls into being ashamed of their sexuality.
I look at my daughter as she's sleeping and see a person. Someone who is still, mostly, a blank slate. Someone who has not yet been broken by the twisted nature of this world. I look at her and I ask myself, how do you determine a woman's worth. I look at her and I know there's no single answer to this question. All I can do is tell her, don't look to others when figuring out your value. Don't listen to anyone who tells you that who you are and what you can give to the world all depends on what men think of you. Know that you are beautiful, amazing, and unique. That's all that matters.