Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus according to the book by John Gray. We may not be Martians or Venusians, but while men and women are both human beings, we are wildly different. I do not know how a man thinks. What he feels, how he feels and how he expresses those feelings. A man cannot know that about a woman either.
Our bodies, our hormones, our way of thinking, the experiences that we have growing up; these all form what it is to be a man or woman. Society has always had expectations and presumptions of both sexes. But for women, it is our bodies that puts us at an lifelong disadvantage.
In a normal childhood, a girl enjoys the first years of her life being safe. You are looked at and treated as the child you are. We are innocent and are allowed to be in that cocoon of safety. Most of the time. Until that one day arrives. That day comes at different times for all of us, but we all feel the same when it arrives. We want to go back to the cocoon where it is safe.
I was an early developer. At the age of ten I started my periods. My breasts started to develop. I didn't know then that the world would change. But it did. It felt like overnight. I was a child, but the way I was treated immediately became different.
The way that some adult men interacted with me changed. The way that they spoke to me. There was a change in their voices, an intonation that I did not understand. A unfamilar expression on their faces. A smile, but with a strange leer. I did not understand back then these men were flirting with me; a ten year old girl.
What I did understand was that feeling that I got when they did it. That uneasy "danger, danger" feeling that comes upon you. You know that something is not right, even if you do not understand why. Those are the first lessons a girl learns, a child learns in my case, how to extract yourself from an uncomfortable situation without letting them know that you are scared. How to remain polite when inside, you want to run.
There used to be a playground near my old house that I sometimes used to frequent. The street where I lived was full of old people, with no other children to play with and as a result, I often used to make my own entertainment.
I remember being around 11 when I went up to the nearby playground to read my book on the swings and have a go at the merry go round. It was only around the corner and I felt safe there. My mum had no qualms in letting me go. Whilst sat on the merry go round slowly spinning around, I remember a group of boys approaching me. 14, maybe 15 years old. They surrounded me. Talking about how I was young to get "titties" and asking if they could touch them.
I didn't understand. I was a child. But I felt the danger. I took advantage of one of the boys saying "leave her alone she's a kid" and ran.
When I got home I told my mum what had happened. She told me that it probably wasn't a good idea to go to that playground alone again. That we maybe should throw away that jumper. That was the first time I truly understood that the world I lived in had changed.
The change in your reality that you realise that you have suddenly become prey, in a world where half the population are men and as a result, the way that you look at, not just men, but the boys around you; changes too. It is inevitable.
You shouldn't have to feel that way at 11. But for me, that was the day that the world changed. My growing female body was now restricting me from going to places because of what may happen to me. Because I was female. Even though I was still a child, that label no longer meant that I was safe.
I learned too that it was my job to protect myself. Don't go places on your own. Don't wear that jumper, it will attract the wrong attention.
I remember being so excited when I was a little girl about becoming "a lady". I remember watching my mum getting ready on a Saturday night with her pretty dresses, makeup and lovely hair. How her womanly shape looked so amazing and how much I wanted to look like her. How my dad admired and complimented her. It all looked so exciting. What could be better?
Except now my growing body was something I no longer wanted. I wanted to still be a child. I didn't want boys leering at me in a playground, intimating things that I did not understand. I didn't want grown men speaking to me in a way that I knew wasn't right, but again I didn't understand quite why. I didn't want the breasts that attracted more and more attention.
I remember being in my first year in high school and an older boy telling me that because I already had "tits", it meant I was going to be a slag. I didn't know what that was. But it didn't sound good. Also, he was leering at me the way that adult men did.
The problems, as I called my breasts at that time had started growing early and as a result, I was a C cup by the the time I was 14. Any woman reading that will probably have the same reaction. Closing your eyes. Oh god. Because every woman knows that that is not a good thing.
By 14, the rest of my body was also catching up and I no longer looked like an early developing child. I looked like a woman. With a pretty dress, hair done and make up applied I could have looked similar to my own mum who I used to aspire to be when I saw her getting ready on a Saturday night. But I did not want that anymore.
But I was stuck in this body and as every girl learns, you have to just, deal with it. You learn how to build your defences. You learn the right responses. How to remove yourself from situations you don't want to be in.
As time goes on, you realise that your womanly shape, your curves, your breasts hold a power. A power that you understand that you have and try to weld; yet you do not fully understand how dangerous that power is. And that is isn't really power at all.
I'm reminded of the famous line from The Breakfast Club. If you don't, you're a prude. If you do, you're a whore. My growing body earned me many forms of the latter insult, despite having not even yet kissed a boy.
I raged against the injustice of it all. I had to be careful where I went, what I said, what I wore, how I acted. Boys were not held to the same standard. Although they were going through their own experiences of puberty and teenage years, which as I have said, I cannot understand as a woman as it is their experience alone, they were allowed to get away with so much under the clause that infuriated me beyond all else (and still does). Boys will be boys.
Boys will be boys I was told when I told a teacher about the name calling. Boys will be boys I was told by another teacher when two boys frequently tried to grab at my breasts. It's their hormones! I was told. Wear a larger shirt, they said. My shirt was not tight. But no shirt could have made my breasts disappear.
Looking back now, my mind boggles that these excuses were used to justify and allow this kind of behaviour. If you were to report a sexual assault to the police, I don't think a "he just couldn't help himself" would wash in a Court of law.
But would it? Because now I recall a case in Hull where the Defendant was found guilty of raping a sleeping woman and the Judge told him "She was a pretty girl and you fancied her. You simply could not resist".
Most women have stories similar to mine. The truth is that from the time a girl hits puberty to the day she dies, she is prey. The lifelong game we play is how to avoid the carnivores that would hurt us.
It is a game of life that we never signed up for. But has also prepared us, has strengthened us and has bonded us together. It is why we fight for our rights. For our single sex spaces. Why we hold on so strongly to the word woman. Because we know what it means. And what it takes to be one.