They wanted me to be strong. But not stronger than them.

All of my life I’ve been told to speak up, be heard, be strong, be independent, think for myself, be my own person.

But what they really meant was spoken in a smaller, underlying voice. A voice that I wasn’t meant to hear as much as I was meant to feel.

They said these things loudly and proudly, but what they really meant was:

Speak up as long as you want what we want. And if you don’t, then don’t speak.

Be heard. But only when it’s convenient to us, your elders. Your superiors.

Be strong. But not so strong that you overpower us. That you become more than us.

Be independent. But only in certain matters. You must still rely on us for your sense of self. We will define that for you.

Think for yourself. Here, I will tell you what to think about. I will tell you when you are thinking outside this box, and you will stop.

Be your own person. As long as you know that you still belong to me. To us. To these people who know you but don’t know anything about you.

Well, today we stand at the precipice of a fearsome new world, and I refuse to keep these voices in my head any longer. I am not a girl who can be molded and shaped into the perfect little entity that will accept your toxic orders whispered in that voice that isn’t a voice. I am a living, breathing woman, and I belong to no one but myself.

I was raised in a strange time where our mothers were a mixture of women who thought our place was still the kitchen, and those that knew that we deserved to fly from the cages of our past. I was raised first by a woman who pounded into me that a man should take care of me, and then a woman who forced me to see that I could make my own money.

But this world, filled with both weak and strong people, still subconsciously ingrained in me that my thoughts were not mine but theirs. It still tried to make me align to its wishes and dreams. And when I didn’t, it made me feel guilt, shame, and remorse for wanting something different than them.

Later, my people were shocked when I found a man who did the same. They were surprised that he had fooled them as deeply as he fooled me. Because they could not see their own manipulations, they were blind to his.

Years after my escape from him, I recognize the difference even as I realize that my people still have those manipulations in place. He knew what he was doing. They do not.

But these people in my life are not intentionally affecting my personality and drive. They are products of the world around them. They were formed in the image of those that raised them. And I am of a generation that questions and researches and denies anything we do not discover for ourselves.

They did not raise me to be this woman. They do not know what to do with me. They love me. But they also do not understand me. Nor do they want to.

They see me as toxic. (That is an actual word used to describe my opinions.) Ungrateful. They don’t see that I was built to fight. I was born into a world where I knew that things were wrong, but I was not given the tools to fight for what was right. I was told to sit quietly when men spoke, to listen respectfully when my elders questioned my skill because of my gender. I was told that I could be a teacher, or a writer, but never an engineer. “Teach engineers,” they said.

Be anything, as long as it fits what we picture for you. Wear more dresses. Don’t swear. Buy more make up. Don’t wear your hair in a ponytail so often. Stand up straight. Blend in. Don’t make waves. Don’t speak until you’re spoken to. Obey. Obey us. Don’t challenge us.

Well, I am here to tell you that today, this day. This moment. Whenever and wherever you are reading this. I am done living for them. I am living for me.

And if they want to know me, they can introduce themselves. Just like everyone else.