For All the Choices Given to the One Taken
By Tiffany Ho
I wrote this piece to emphasize the struggles of women in a male-dominated society. Throughout history, social justice leaders have fought both within the system and against it. In my piece, different women have to make a similar choice in how they choose to fight against discrimination.
The spraying sound was getting closer. Natalie was careful not to step on one of the white building’s loose tiles, as she crept behind the gothic pillars leading to the courtroom. A couple more steps, she thought. She found it. The vandalizer stood on the judge’s desk and, on the white wall behind, wrote, “Battle for Reproductive Fre—.” Freedom. Natalie completed the unfinished graffiti in her mind. How fitting that the insurgence movement would choose to vandalize the Arkansas state judicial building left in disrepair. Still, it’s illegal, Natalie thought, reaching into her back pocket for her gun. Her duty as a police officer was to uphold the law.
Natalie tracked her boss’s every move. She looked around at her coworkers: black suits, balding heads, identical cubicles. In her five years at an insurance office, Natalie witnessed multiple colleagues rise from manager to administrator. Today, it would be her turn to be one of the first female leaders of the company. In the corner of her eye, she saw her boss walking towards her.
“Natalie, have you seen Andrew? I’m waiting to surprise him.”
Natalie shook her head, and her boss went to talk with other employees. A surprise for Andrew? It was impossible. Her heart dropped and her hand slammed her keyboard. The chatter of her coworkers halted.
“Sorry, it wasn’t working. Everything’s fine!” She forced a smile.
Her coworkers snickered. “Women,” one of them whispered.
Later that day, at a little table on the roof adorned with fairy lights and lavender, Natalie shared a drink with her boyfriend Matt. The night sky glowed with the light from the distant city. If it were any other day, she would have been happy.
“I deserved that position. Andrew always leaves his work incomplete and he’s only been in the office for three years. I’m much more qualified,” Natalie seethed.
Matt patted her. “Don’t worry so much. There’s always two sides to a coin.”
Natalie glared at him. All she wanted was empathy and someone to rant to. He was not about to play devil’s advocate for men’s role in leadership again.
Seeing the look on her face, Matt quickly added, “No, no, no. I respect women. After all, I’m dating you. I believe that you completely deserved that position, but maybe he’s just a better fit in some aspects.”
“Matt, you can’t be serious.”
“Really Natalie? Don’t be so irrational. Maybe this is why he got the job. Don’t use gender discrimination to make up for your own pitfalls.”
Natalie threw her arms in the air. “It is about gender. You don’t see how isolated I feel when my mostly male coworkers laugh at me. You don’t understand how many additional projects I took on, just so my boss would look at me with some respect, while the male interns easily gained it. You don’t feel my inadequacy.”
Matt looked at her and sighed. “You know what, maybe you’re right, but let’s just calm down and go back inside. You can’t fix the way our society was built.”
Matt closed the door to the roof behind him, leaving Natalie gazing at the city beyond. I’ll prove them wrong and I’ll show them I can lead. I’ll change this system from the inside, through its own laws. She smiled to herself. I’ll become a police officer.
Natalie took a deep breath and pointed her gun at the insurgent. “Stop right there.”
The hooded figure whipped around. Dainty features lined her soft face, but her expression hardened when her eyes met Natalie’s.
“You’re a traitor,” she screamed at Natalie, echoing the cries of the protests around the country. “You’re following the law, but the law is unjust. We have to stick together.”
No, Natalie thought. I’m following the law to gain the respect and power to change our justice system for all women. “Hands up,” Natalie yelled, as she pointed her gun at the insurgent. Desperation flickered through the insurgent’s eyes.
“Don’t do this. Have you ever been shamed for being pregnant at eighteen?” The insurgent paused, fully turning to look at Natalie. “They say you’ll be an embarrassment to the community so then they send you away. But they won’t let you end the pregnancy either because then you’ll be a murderer. That was my life. Every choice I had and every piece of my dignity was stolen from me. We can’t let this persist. Please.”
Natalie released the breath she had been holding all this time. Behind the insurgent’s defiant stance was brokenness. She genuinely wanted change too, Natalie thought. But we won’t get anything done by breaking the law. They’ll just ignore our cries and silence us like they’ve done to the other insurgents.
The insurgent dropped the spray bottle and put her hands up. The echoes of the falling bottle reverberated through the whole chamber and the bottle rolled to Natalie’s feet. The decision was hers. What now, she thought.
Tiffany Ho is a class of 2020 Girls Write Now mentee based in Queens, NY.