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The moment a girl becomes a woman: a story of psychological abuse - Part 1

I observed women around me falling over and over again. I did not think that at some point in my life I might fall too.
Greece, Southern Europe

Story by Maria Sotiropoulou. Edited by Melaina Dyck
Published on April 9, 2021. Reading time: 4 minutes

This story is also available in de es it

From a very young age, I listened to stories about powerful women. Encouraged by the words of my mother, I grew up with the perception that I should never let anything or anyone break me. In my mind, I carried an image of how an independent woman should look: a woman who stands on her feet and faces every obstacle and enemy.

Growing up, I slowly began to understand that life is neither a fairy tale nor a film of empowered women in a male-dominated space.  I observed women around me falling over and over again, no matter how hard they tried. However, I did not let this clip the wings of my own aspirations and dreams. Most importantly, I did not think that at some point in my life I might fall too. I had yet to realize that the glamorized image in my mind did not reflect reality.

Many have tried to warn me–and they still do–that the field of politics in which I want to work in is male-dominated. When I started working with my organization,[1] I was quite pro-active. Due to my naïveté and lack of awareness of the industry, I ended up ignoring various red flags—something we tend to do when we are excited and frightened at the same time.  This is especially true in situations with unequal relationships where one party holds a position of power and authority.

The world of powerful people in suits, political discourses and public engagement enchanted me early on in my student years. I took every opportunity that came my way, without taking into account that some things are “given on your plate” more easily than is actually the case. I believed that I was on the right path, as I perceived each given opportunity as a step closer to my dreams. Of course, each step also came with its own challenges, but I took those as for granted and normal, as later I would receive the prize I earned. Or so I thought.

No one warned me that these difficulties would include manipulative, patronizing, and sexist attitudes. I assumed that for each step taken, I would have a "mentor" looking after me, showing me what is right and wrong, ethical and unethical. And most importantly, I accepted judgmental words as ordinary within that space; as “just the way it's done.”

From bitter comments about my appearance and my femininity, to the fact that with a strong and extroverted personality people said that I would give “everything in my power” in order to get what I wanted, all those terrible words I merely understood as an innocent "teasing" and "friendly advice."

After a while, it dawned on me that the advice of my “mentor” was not always legitimate. I started to take initiatives on my own, following the path I had mapped out myself, without always asking for specific advice. I did not want to fit into the mold someone else had created.

But this became a turning point in my life, which unfortunately I had not predicted. I was expected to always do my best, but never to surpass my “mentor.” I did not know how bad it would become.

Read Part 2 of this story

Read a version of Maria's story published in Greek

 [1] Due to potential backlash, the name of the organization has been omitted.

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Maria Sotiropoulou

Maria Sotiropoulou

Born in Greece, I was an energetic and extroverted person ever since my childhood, being passionate about foreign languages and debating. Holding a Bachelor's degree in Political Science, I am currently completing my Master's in European Studies at KU Leuven, focusing on European Governance and External Relations. My interests consist of foreign and European politics, governance, integration, gender equality, and women’s rights.

Topic: Gender

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