I Am Not a Rule Breaker

By Emily Vo

Emily is the recipient of our Youth Scholarship Essay Contest for the 9th and 10th grade. They are a sophomore at Cleveland STEM High School in Seattle.

Their essay below is in response to the prompt created by the WAESN Youth Advisory Board (YAB): Tell us about a time you broke the rules and why. Emily’s essay was selected by a vote of the WAESN YAB.

I am not a rule breaker. Goody two-shoes, teacher’s pet, coward. Whatever you could think of, it all described me. I never speak out of line, I complete everything on time, and I follow all directions given to me. I remember the last day of 5th grade. I sat there, asking my teacher who his favorite student was. Everyone knew who he would answer; me. It was obvious. I am not a rule breaker, but I have broken one of the biggest rules, one fed to me since I was born. I broke the rule of being a girl.

Being a girl is a series of unspoken guidelines. They guide you on how to act, how to talk, how to dress. Girls are pink. Girls are feminine. Girls wear dresses and skirts and paint their nails all day. This is not an essay on how I don’t follow those stereotypes, on how I am a girl who loves “boy things.” I follow those rules. My favorite color is pink, I only wear mini skirts, and one of my biggest hobbies is beauty. The issue is that I follow them when I’m not even a girl at all. I didn’t break the rules of being a girl, I broke the rule of being a girl.

The rules of being a girl have become more lenient. You can like blue, you can play sports, you can dress masculine. You can do all that and most wouldn’t bat an eye because you are still a girl. Even though you don’t fill out the checklist, you still follow the very title of it: Being a girl. I have flipped it. I have all the boxes checked out, and yet, I scribbled the title, and now nobody knows what label I belong in.

There is not just one singular time I have done this. I break the rule by existing. With every breath I take I have to justify my identity like a child caught doing something they were told not to. With every introduction, I am reminded that the rules say to use she/her and strictly she/her, not all the pronouns. That wasn’t allowed. With every skirt I put on, I am reminded that I will always look like a girl in a stranger’s mind. I will always be a girl to them. 

But with every breath, with every justification, I can see it making sense in their minds. I can see myself starting to open the blinds in their eyes to allow people a new light in. With every introduction, I can see others realize that you are allowed to be more than what you are given. I can see people relax, knowing they are not the only ones that have broken the rules. I have too. With every skirt I put on I can see how the line between femininity and being a girl gets blurred more and more until people wearing skirts aren’t just girls and girls aren’t just people who wear skirts. 

I am not a rule breaker. I continue following the directions that are given to me. I continue to stay in line. I continue being everything I was before. But I live with knowing that I am constantly fighting against a world divided into two as a third competitor that both are against. I live with knowing that there is a rule out there that I am chipping away at with a little hammer. And one day, someday, it will break.

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