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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group


How to Come Together, Unleash Our Power, and Change the Game

Abby Wambach; read by the author

Macmillan Audio



You Were Always the Wolf

Old Rule: Stay on the path.

New Rule: Create your own path.

Like most little girls, I was taught to keep my head down, stay on the path, and get my job done. I was freaking Little Red Riding Hood.

You know the fairy tale—it’s just one iteration of the warning stories girls are told the world over. Little Red Riding Hood heads off through the woods having been given strict instructions: Stay on the path. Don’t talk to anybody. Keep your head down and hidden beneath your Handmaid’s Tale cape.

And she follows the rules … at first. But then she dares to get a little curious and she ventures off the path. That’s, of course, when she encounters the Big Bad Wolf and all hell breaks loose.

The message of these stories is clear:

Follow the rules.

Don’t be curious.

Don’t say too much.

Don’t expect more.

Otherwise bad things will happen.

But when I look out into the world, as well as back on my life, it becomes clear to me that those stories aren’t true. Every good thing that has come to me—and the women I respect—has happened when we dared to venture off the path.

* * *

When I was young, I was told: Good girls wear dresses.

I hated wearing dresses.

I’d look at myself in the mirror when I was wearing a dress and the pit in my stomach would rise to my throat. I’d stare at myself and think: I don’t like how this looks or how this feels. This is not me.

I felt the need to hold my breath from the second that dress went on until the second I pulled it off. It felt like I was in costume, hiding who I really was in order to fit in, to be good.

Don’t we all have a costume we wear to cover our wolf?

The question of my childhood was: Why can’t I wear what I want to wear?

When I got to my all-girls high school, the rules seemed to change.

I remember sitting in classrooms witnessing the complete character shifts of some of my friends. Girls who were quiet with our guy friends became animated and opinionated in our all-girls environment. Girls who seldom ate a thing around the boys started chowing down during our lunch periods. And it wasn’t just the way we acted and ate that changed without boys around. How we dressed changed, too. At our school, we dressed for comfort, not attention. We learned that girls do not have to dress for boys. We can dress for ourselves. We can wear on the outside how we feel on the inside. We can choose our own comfort even if it makes other people uncomfortable.

* * *

I dated boys in high school, because my religious upbringing and culture taught me that this was what girls were supposed to do. Boys were fine, I guess. It wasn’t until I felt that spark of infatuation with a girl that I realized love is supposed to be more than just fine. Out of fear of losing my family, I decided that being openly gay wasn’t an option for me. This broke my heart.

The question of my teenage years was: Why can’t I love who I want to love?

I tried to keep this part of myself buried for as long as I could. Then, during my senior year in high school, I experienced real love for the first time. This love felt as critical and necessary as air, as food, as shelter. I began my first gay relationship like many gay people did back then—in secret. The secrecy felt equal parts enraging and intoxicating. I couldn’t tell anyone, so I felt afraid and isolated from my family and friends. But I also learned that real love is a human need and that if I denied myself of it, the wolf inside me would die. Trembling—and secretly for a long while—I chose love. I chose myself.

* * *

Later, I began to dream of becoming a professional soccer player. The problem was that women’s professional soccer was so new and overlooked that I didn’t even know it existed. So I’d watch the U.S. Men’s National Team play and think: But I could do that. I want to do that.

The question of my twenties was: Why can’t I become what I want to become?

Little did I know that behind the scenes, women were creating the opportunities that I would one day seize and build my career upon. Women were fighting for Title IX, building professional women’s leagues, and striking to ensure a livable wage for the emerging women’s national soccer team. By the time I left college, women I’d never met had begun to clear the path I’d walk.

Those women did not Little Red Riding Hood their way through life. There was no path for them, so they made a new one. They laid that new path—brick by brick—for generations of wolves to follow. They created things for me that I didn’t even know I needed. They spent their lives and careers building something that many of them knew they’d never get to take advantage of—but they did it anyway.

If I could go back and tell my younger self one thing it would be this:


You were never Little Red Riding Hood.

You were always the Wolf.

There is a wolf inside of every woman. Her wolf is who she was made to be before the world told her who to be. Her wolf is her talent, her power, her dreams, her voice, her curiosity, her courage, her dignity, her choices—her truest identity.


Wear what you want.

Love who you love.

Become what you imagine.

Create what you need.

You were never Little Red Riding Hood.

You were always the Wolf.

Copyright © 2019 by Abby Wambach.