Tracing Words: A Personal Exploration of Growth

I remember the day I was not allowed to hang-out with “the boys” anymore. We were all set to head out into the woods behind my house when my father called…

“Stay here to the house.”
“Because I said so.”
“But Loomus and UJ are going. Why can’t I?”
“Did you hear what I said?”
“It’s not fair.”
“You heard what I said.”
“Please can I go? Please?”

It was the day I had become a “girl”—at least in my father’s eyes. Sure, I had always been a girl biologically but up until that day I was a girl known as a “tom-boy” and that was okay with him. Now, however, the tables had turned, time had shifted, and I was no longer expected to carry on the way I once did. No more bruised legs and dirty fingernails. No more coming in at night smelling of fetid body odor and having a disheveled appearance.

I was a girl now. Better get used to it.

That day in a small, country, community my life appeared to have gone from limitless to limited.

“The boys” went on without me.


When we are born into this world we are as blank slates—unaware of the color of our skin, the texture of our hair, the anatomy of our bodies, the family to which we belong or the culture of the society that we are to exist in. Even so, without that knowledge, we remain cognizant of the fact that we are now surrounded by a light that expects us to “be” that which was determined before our conception. But what we are to “be” is locked in the mysteries of the lessons taught to us by those responsible for our survival. In their hands lie the powers of words and messages that will lay the foundation for how we develop independence and/or subjectivity in this world. Likewise, they control the outward and inner manifestation of our personas in the years to come.

Over the past fifteen years, through personal readings and various Women’s Studies courses, I have learned a great deal about the construct of societies and how they operate through patriarchal institutions. Yet, when I explore the systems that perpetuate these ongoing problems, I often think about the way individuals are programmed to participate in society’s exploitation of women, minorities, and the poor through their immediate and extended families. How do the lessons that have been impressed upon us as “truth,” create inequality in our everyday life? How do we emerge from our homes as armored soldiers equipped with the weapons to destroy those who do not fit the “norm” of this world?

As a Black woman whose life has been, (at varying stages), silenced, victimized, haunted and reaffirmed by words of my family, I question how much I may have used their utterances to formulate my “independent” insights and perspectives, and how much it may have influenced my feminist/womanist education and writings. It is not enough anymore to simply speak of how patriarchal institutions have discolored our society, but to understand how I may have contributed to this eradication by using the messages and lessons from which I was planted, watered, and grown.

To be truly effective in addressing the issues that instigate my writings concerning the complex structures of our culture, I must first identify and acknowledge the words that I received from my childhood, and seek to understand how they may have prejudiced my writings in an affirmative or destructive way. Lastly I must ask myself…

Are my words truly creating change or merely regurgitating the same unconscious inequality that I protest so boldly against?

Alice J. Rollins is an aspiring freelance writer and blogger who holds an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from DePaul University. Her areas of interest include African American women’s spirituality, feminist/womanist pedagogy and politics of migration.

She is currently based in Chicago, IL. Email her at:

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