They Teach You Pain.

A freestyle poem about learning pain as a young girl and unwittingly teaching it forward once you grow up.

Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia

I must have been a very young girl because I remember it seeming horrific;

that my mother would pay someone to pluck out the hair from her eyebrows, one by one.

Until they looked like they were drawn on perfectly.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” I asked her.

I can’t even feel it.‘ She said casually.

Because they teach you pain.

They tell you the importance of being beautiful and show you how beauty involves ripping the hair out of your skin.

My mother taught me how to eat at parties so I could be thin and still social.

She taught me how to squeeze into shoes that hurt and smile through the evening.

Because they teach you pain.

And if you refuse to learn,

They use these words to describe you.

Bossy. Arrogant. Overconfident.

Because you’re guilty of speaking your mind as a girl.

They tell you not to be too smart.

Or the boys won’t like you.

People won’t like you.

Use your eyelashes more than your voice.

They teach you silence.

They tell you that sex is going to hurt and feel terrible; they scare you with it so you wouldn’t think to desire it.

I remember I was twelve and I asked my aunt about her first time,

“It hurt so much I screamed,” she said.

I never could forget those words. We’d all heard them. My friends, my sisters and I, all young women dreading the idea of sex.

Because they teach you to expect pain.

They caution you to build boundaries around yourself so strong you alienate yourself from your own body.

Before you know what you were protected, you already know there is something to protect. I knew rape was something that could happen to me before I knew what sex was.

And before it ever could happen, I already knew of the shame.

The shame you’re supposed to be silence about.

And persevere.

Because they teach you to bear the pain.

My former partner’s mother once sat next to me on a warm afternoon,

And while she sipped tea out of the white china, she told me:

Women are like the sky, they subsume everything. They take everything. To be a woman is to persevere.

They teach you your strength comes from how much you can bear in silence.

That’s really why she gave me that little speech; she knew her son was beating me and she wanted me to see that as being a martyr in the name of womanhood and hold my silence in the prestige of that position.

Because they teach you pain is a virtue.

And bearing it makes you special.

They cast you in these roles.

The goddess.

The martyr.

The mother.

The meek.

The object of beauty.

And before you know it you’re bound inside these boxes and beating yourself up for not fitting into any of the ideals they picked out for you.

You still go on about your life.

You do the things you are meant to do.

Work. Life. Love.

One day you’re sitting in front of a lighted mirror at the salon and a lady is plucking your eyebrows.

Your mind is preoccupied by that e-mail you have to send, that payment that still hasn’t come in and those mushrooms you have to prepare.

You lean back in the chair.

And you see a child staring at you in horror.

A little girl.

So little that the sight of having your hair torn out of your face must seem horrific to her.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” She asks..

I can’t even feel it.‘ I tell her without even thinking about it.

Because they teach you pain.

And sooner or later, you learn it.

One thought on “They Teach You Pain.

  1. A really well written poem on the extremes of patriarchy. We all conditioned like this is small ways I think, at some level. I was taught to make my own way and I think this discussion must continue and move on to skills need to unlearn conditioning. It’s possible if one realizes martyrdom isn’t strength at all. And speaking on this is a step forward. May this journey continue in your writing.


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