Claire Hoffert

“Girls aren’t as strong as boys.”

Most of my childhood seemed to be a way to prove that statement false. In third grade, I arm wrestled every girl and boy in my grade until I became the arm wrestling champion of elementary school. I played tag with boys during recess, boxed my best male friend under the tutelage of my older brother and ran as fast as I could during Capture the Flag in the park across the street from my house. I read books that described resilient female heroines, persevering past mental and physical barriers.

In seventh grade, I ended up as one of two girls remaining in a game of dodgeball against eight athletic boys. My middle school nemesis taunted us and told us to surrender since there was no way we could win. We looked at each other, walked to the dividing line and unfurled our anger at being sorely underestimated. She hit my rival and I knocked over the pin to win us the game.

My inner resolution to prove my equality to male counterparts expressed my need to declare to the world that boys could not control me. Men could not overpower me. I thought I was invincible. Even now, I feel the weight of the need to prove myself through demonstrating my physical strength.

It was only until my own assault that I began to understand my own vulnerability and physical weakness. I remember his bruising hold on my arms, his fingernails driving into my skin, the terror I felt the moment he grabbed me from behind. And the power I had felt since elementary school, the power I thought I had, vanished. That moment stole my mental ability to stand up for myself and push back against the command he had over me. By demonstrating his dominant physical power over me, he continued the historic tilt of the balance of power between men and women back toward himself. The balance that had never been equal.

Now, I think about the seconds I had. What would have happened if I had kept a cool head, fought back instead of solely using self-defense? I don’t know. Would it have helped me feel strong or given me strength or catalyzed my aggressor? Regardless, I do know that one encounter, that one memory of my own vulnerability, doesn’t define me. He may have had the physical advantage in that moment, but my strength is so much more: it is physical, yes, but it is also the courage to overcome adversity, and the resolve to stand straight and fight back. As I walk down the street or hop into a taxi or simply occupy my own body, I won’t let physical overpowering steal my body and make me cower. Maybe boys aren’t as strong as girls. Standing straight, I will fight back.