By Katie Stewart |

A few years ago, I attended an open mic in Waco. There was a poet in her early thirties talking about her space — about her unwillingness to follow suit and to be “small” in the world. I can’t remember all of the words of her poem, but her message never left me.

I grew up in a household where, as a young girl, I was expected to be all things the poet at the open mic defied. I was expected to be small, quiet, not take up too much space and to make sure I was out of the way. As I grew older, I began to reject these ideas that expected me to diminish myself simply because I’m a woman. However, these expectations manifested themselves when I would be in the grocery store, local coffee shop or in line somewhere to check out I would constantly apologize for being in the way even when the situation didn’t merit an apology at all.

I am naturally a petite person, but no longer will I be quiet just to satisfy the expectations of the average woman. I refuse to be average, and I refuse to be small. It’s time for me to claim my space.

These social expectations that derive from patriarchal tradition and religion-based principles are simply sexist. Why are young girls taught to aim to be small, petite and out of the way? Who does that satisfy: themselves or others?

When I came to Baylor as a non-traditional student, I noticed some girls would deny my space. I noticed the tribe of the same sorority shirt or the exact same style dispersed between the four girls walking in a row. It was expected that I, walking alone, should step off the sidewalk and let the four dominate the space. Sometimes I gave way, but I don’t anymore. I have been trained to get out of the way from my social upbringing, but I am a student just the same and have every right to remain on the sidewalk. It’s time for me to claim my space.

More women are claiming their space, and I’m so grateful for it. Inspired by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, I chose to believe that more and more women are claiming their seat at the table. Why should we wait for our turn to speak or to request promotions when our counterparts are unapologetically grabbing and gunning for what they want?

It may seem in some ways that we have progressed into a world that allows women to be heard and to claim their space with social movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, addressing the need to speak out against our hush-hush outlook on sexual assault. However, I think we have quite a way to go. With newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, women are still struggling to claim their space, to be heard and to not feel the need to sit down and be quiet.

In claiming my space, I started small. I addressed my attitude about space in the classroom and then I grew to be more confident in social settings. We all have an allotted amount of space, and I am not giving up my space for someone simply to seem like I’m taking up less space. Be proud of your space — own it — because it’s yours.

If women cannot be confident in the space we occupy, then we cannot change social expectations, political perspectives or the world. And ladies, we can change the world. It’s time for you to claim your space.