Tag Archives: women

The Complexities of Shame

28 Apr

I learned something about myself this week: I am ashamed of my body. Now this isn’t a fishing expedition. This isn’t to get people to come out of the woodwork with all kinds of positive reinforcements. That isn’t what this is about. And, honestly, it has nothing to do with how I look in a lot of ways. It is, I think, largely about the fact that in my never-ending intellectual quest to understand my role in this world as a female, I have neglected to take care of myself…or, I guess more specifically, to engage in self-care…by which I mean to place importance on my own sense of empowerment, my own autonomy over my sexuality, and, perhaps most importantly, my own definition of it. Let me explain.

Earlier this week I was at a store buying a bra. As you ladies know, buying a bra is no easy task  – especially when it involves procuring support for a pair of boobs that have not been sized in years in advance of wearing a backless dress. Wearing a bra in the right size for you is a life-changer. Believe me. I feel like a brand new woman today. That’s not the point. So there I was at this fancy lingerie store with my good friend. I have never been to a fancy lingerie store as the main event; I’ve always been the sidekick. I have never thought that fancy lingerie was really “my thing,” whatever that means. We were in the changing room and the lovely woman who was helping me kept bringing me in all these different bras to try on. I kept putting on bra after bra and while my friend kept looking and telling me how good this one looked, or how pretty that one was, or how sexy I looked I just stood there, staring, feeling like I was wearing a costume. I felt like a little kid dressing up in her mom’s high heels and lipstick, prancing around the house like an absolute diva. (I never actually did this but I feel like it’s a thing that happens?) I just kept standing, staring at myself in these beautiful things, understanding that if I saw someone else in them I would think how incredibly beautiful and sexy she looked. How in control of her sexuality. But when I looked at myself I just felt…silly. I felt like I was trying to be someone who I am not. It was like, if there was a touch of cleavage showing then I had undone all the hard work I had put in over the years. All the effort of getting people to see me as a human and not a sex object. But part of being human, I think, is sometimes feeling sexy. And understanding that it doesn’t always have a negative connotation.

So obviously I got to thinking about it.

And thinking.

And thinking.

And it dawned on me. All of the years of the wrong people calling me sexy for all the wrong reasons, in all the wrong places, with all the wrong intentions had eroded my ability to understand that being sexy can, in theory, be empowering. I see that other women can do it, and I don’t look at them and think that somehow they are doing something wrong, that they are abandoning the cause, or whatever. I just don’t get how they do it. But this isn’t about women at large. This is about me. This is about me and the ways that I have internalized all the years of being a woman, or, I suppose more accurately, all of the years I’ve spent feeling like a sex object. And this is not to say that I feel like that all the time. That is by no means the case. A lot of times I just feel like a person. But often, not always but often, when my being female is made apparent to me, it is made apparent in a disempowering and hyper-sexualized manner. To the point that sometimes I just want to throw down everything I have, grab a bullhorn, and scream, for everyone to hear,

I AM NOT HERE FOR YOU! I DID NOT WAKE UP FOR YOU! I DID NOT GET DRESSED FOR YOU! AND I AM CERTAINLY NOT WALKING DOWN THIS STREET FOR YOU!

I would love it if my experience, and I can only speak for myself although I imagine there are plenty of other women out there who feel similarly if not the same way, was less like this. I wish I could brush off some of the bullshit and find my sexuality empowering. But I think the thing is that my sexuality has for so long been used as a weapon against me, been used as a way to make me feel small and less whole, that I don’t even know how to trust it. It’s like a separate part of me, almost. Like a lot of times when my sexuality is pointed out, I become less Rebekah the  Woman and more Rebekah the Object. And surprise surprise, I don’t like to be Rebekah the Object.

I mean, okay, so get this. Just now, I decided to look up the word “sexuality” on the Internet to make sure that I was using exactly the word I wanted and this is the definition I was given:

a capacity for sexual feelings

And its use in a sentence:

she began to understand the power of her sexuality

The power of it.

That is what I am talking about. Sexuality as a weapon. Or as something that is not easy to control by its posessor. Something that can, if not properly tended to, control her. Either use it to your advantage or it gets used against you but there is no opting out of the game. You can’t just say

Nah, I’m cool with just being in the world, going through my day and then unleashing my sexuality for the person, or people, I wish to share it with.

And, as I am sure you have all guessed, the significance of the “she” in that sentence was not lost on me. Of course she began to understand. And you know how she figured it out? Probably because someone showed her by using her sexuality to disempower her in some way. She realized the usefulness of it. What she could do with it. And that’s where I get a little bit lost. Somewhere in here, in all of this, to me, reads something of a manipulation. I try to go through life as something of a straight-shooter. People more or less know where they stand with me. I don’t keep my feelings quiet, and when I do manage to keep my mouth shut my facial expressions and body language always out me. So my issue is that there is something slick, something calculating, something unsavory about the way we talk about sexuality.  I know it doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t always have to be a con. But sometimes it feels like that’s the way we talk about it to such a degree that it just becomes what it is in practice. And it’s like, sexuality is its own separate being as opposed to a part, with so many other parts, of a complex human.

But back to the dressing room. There I was, in that dressing room, trying to find a bra that wouldn’t draw more attention to my chest. A bra that wouldn’t give me more cleavage. A bra that wouldn’t undo all the hard work I’ve done to prove that I am well rounded. Hard work that has made me everything but. And, it’s like, I know that now we say that

strong is sexy

and

smart is sexy

and somehow sexy is supposed to be empowering, and meanwhile everything about high school dress codes and cat callers on the street and rape victim blaming and sexist comments and rape as a fucking war crime tells us that our sexuality, our sexiness, is something to be hidden and contained and something we should be shamed for, or hurt because of. Except for sometimes. Mostly in private. And how do we balance that? How is it our best friend and our mortal enemy all at the same time and how do we, on so many occasions, not have ownership of it? It’s like this weird, fucked up commodity that we can trade in, but only on occasion and with permission, and people may or may not try to make us feel badly about it. And sometimes that just seeps in. And some of us feel like maybe it’s best to try not to trade in it at all. But we’re not allowed to do that, either. It’s almost like we can’t do anything right.

So I don’t know. Maybe shame is the wrong word. Maybe feeling shame just plays into the whole damn thing. I guess what it is more than anything is that I just want to feel whole and autonomous and in a world where we have control over very little, I would like to be the only one – barring tragedy – with control over my body. And of course, it isn’t that I don’t want people to find me sexy. It’s just that I want the idea of being sexy to feel less unbalanced, less like something I use to get something, I want it to be more holistic. I want the idea of sexy, from the jump, to extend beyond just the physical rather than that having to be an add-on. And I know some of you are saying that it can be, and maybe you have found a way, but I don’t know. I just think it is too complicated, and so many of those complications  don’t stem from us. Rather they are learned behaviors given to us by society at large.

Clearly I’m still working this out.

I remember someone, after watching me do something kind, told me how sexy he thought that was. And for the first time in a while, since my ex was around probably, I felt good about being sexy. I felt like it was because of who I am rather than what I look like. And that’s something I can get behind. It’s about sexiness as a whole being, rather than sexiness as an entity apart. And I guess I wish it was always like that. Because I think my friends are sexy and, while they are all beautiful and handsome in their own ways, it is more because they are caring and smart and giving and funny and complicated and team players and all those other things that make them incredible humans.

I guess, in short, I like it when it feels well-rounded, all-inclusive. Because what I find sexy is someone who is smart, with a big laugh and a bigger heart, who is engaged in the world around them and also in a constant state of self-improvement. Because the physical stuff fades, eventually. Gravity does its work. But the rest of it, that takes longer to erode if you put the work in.

But for me, and as it concerns me, when it is just the physicality of it – that just doesn’t feel like mine anymore. I don’t feel like I own that. It’s been taken from me too many times. And maybe that’s why the shame sneaks in.

(And please, don’t anyone send me text messages saying you think I’m sexy. That’s not the point. And then I’ll feel like a shitty writer and that would ruin my day. Don’t ruin my day. It’s nice out.)

Men are from Mars

15 Mar

Almost a month ago now I wrote a post called “I Thought We Were Friends.” It was something that had been knocking around in my head for quite some time. In publishing it I felt somewhat relieved but also, and perhaps more powerfully, exposed and anxious. I was afraid that some people who read it would, rightfully, feel implicated in my words. I was concerned about shedding light on something that I had been hiding for a very long time, something that I tried to act as though I was somehow above. Let me explain.

I am a feminist. I wear that badge proudly. And as a feminist, albeit one that understands her feminism more off of a general engagement with the world around her and the ever-important conversations with peers as opposed to a deep understanding of the theories of various feminist waves, I go through the world with a certain understanding of myself in it. That feeling is, in part, one of a want for safety and equality, with a deep understanding that I cannot, currently, expect either of those things. It is also a feeling, self-imposed perhaps, that I ought to be strong. That I should be beyond all of the trappings of being raised female in this culture. That I should somehow be a finished product, beyond it all. How absurd. But even in the knowledge that I expect miracles from myself, I cannot help but feel like something of a failure when I fall into old habits. Old habits that are examined and discussed ad nauseam but that I never feel entirely capable of kicking.

I remember back in high school and on into college, having conversations with girl friends about boys. I remember so many conversations, more than I could ever count, about guys being so persistent that we just went along with things. We went along with things because it seemed easier to say okay than to stand up for ourselves not because it would necessarily be horrible in the moment  – although we all know it could have been – but because maybe those boys, those boys that were pressuring us into things, even things as harmless as a kiss, might not like us anymore.

They might not like me.

And who am I kidding? I still have these conversations. Regularly. And what’s crazy about it is that no matter how many times I have these conversations, it still takes us a while to get to the inevitable part, the part where we went along with something we weren’t into. And it’s like, a lightbulb goes off every single time. That feeling of

Oh, shit, you too?!

And it’s surprising but it shouldn’t be. And it’s embarrassing but it shouldn’t be. The idea that all these years later we are still doing what we used to do as teenagers. The idea that we haven’t learned anything, gotten stronger, gotten to the point where it isn’t about what is easy in the moment, but what we can live with tomorrow and the next day and the next day. The belief that we should be immune to the social forces that swirl around us from birth. That we should, in our feminism and in our knowledge about power dynamics and the patriarchy and the support from our friends and (if we’re lucky) our families, be above it all is so overwhelming but can also be disempowering. Every failure feels so much more monumental because it’s like,

Fuck, I should have known better. I’ve been here before. I know how this goes.

It’s like a regression. I woke up a strong, self-reliant, intelligent woman and somehow, through the course of the day, became someone unwilling to rock the boat. I somehow became someone who went from speaking her mind to sparing someone else’s feelings at the expense of her own. And for what? So he can wake up with his ego in tact and I can beat myself up about an unwanted encounter, and my weakness in the moment, for months? Because, in all honesty, my anger and disappointment with myself goes on for months. But at least he still likes me, right? Give me a break.

I guess I am writing this because this experience is somewhat universal. I am not even close to the only one. And I am not saying that this is solely a female experience, either. Just that the forces that surround us daily mean that our experiences as women, as a “minority,” are tied into social and institutionalized forces, forces that keep us from separating ourselves as individuals, as people deserving of respect, from the learned feeling that we should accommodate others, especially males. That we should protect their feelings and their egos and then we should keep quiet because this is not a conversation we have out loud. Because we are taught, on the other end, that it is shameful. Don’t rock the boat, but don’t be a slut. If you find yourself there, you have no one to blame but yourself. You gave him the idea, you should go along with it. Don’t be a tease.

And what’s crazy is that a lot of times it isn’t his fault either. We are masterful at keeping quiet in the moment and licking our wounds alone. He might never even know. He might never even know that he read the moment wrong because we will never tell him. And for so many people if we were to say what we say to our friends, that we did it because it seemed easier and less awkward and less hurtful than saying no, he also would have wished it never happened. He also would feel some amount of shame. But we are selfish and we keep all the shame for ourselves.

I wrote this because, following my last post, I got two responses. One response was from women and one response was from men. Overwhelmingly, the women in my life were like

Holy shit yes! This! I have been there!

And the men, all well-intentioned people that I love, were like

I am worried about you. I don’t want you to become bitter. It’s because of the career you are in, the bar that you work at, the people you surround yourself with.

But it isn’t any of those things. It is because we – men and women – occupy such different worlds. So much more different than I knew previous to the publication of that post. My experience is not unique, not by a long shot. It is universal. But the fact that men overwhelmingly had no idea that it happened, that it was real, spoke volumes to me. That because I wrote it it became about me rather than about us was huge. I felt some sort of comfort in the fact that I am not alone. But the chasm is so overwhelmingly huge! Because the men I spoke with were people who I love and who were willing to have an open conversation, people who entered the conversation ready to listen and absorb. They weren’t trying to teach me, they were trying to learn. And people, not just men, but people in general, aren’t all like that. Which makes this even crazier. I can’t imagine what people unwilling to listen thought, how wide the gap is between us and them. Sometimes I feel like we have been quiet for so long that no one can hear us anymore. And I honestly don’t know how to begin to fix that.

Roosh Lives in His Mom’s Basement

6 Feb

People. This is just so good. SO GOOD.

So have you been reading about that guy Roosh? The self-proclaimed pick-up artist who organized all those pro-rape rallies and then cancelled them because he could no longer protect attendees from “unattractive women and their enablers?” Obviously he is a total scumbag. Anyway, so you know how we are all always joking about those anonymous male internet posters who actually live in their mother’s basements and have no friends? Well guess what?

ROOSH LIVES IN HIS MOTHER’S BASEMENT! IN REAL LIFE!

No really.

To be fair I’m not sure whether or not he has friends but I am going to guess no. Or, if he does have friends (and the word “friend” does not include people who just blindly follow all of his hate-filled misogynist rhetoric), that they also live in their mom’s basements and they all video conference and breath really heavy through their noses. People do that, right?

So the Daily Mail staked out Roosh’s mom’s house in Silver Spring, Maryland and took a few pictures of him answering the door to some cops who he had summoned there to complain about all the threats he was getting as a result of his publication of a supposedly satirical article (so not satirical at all) advocating for the legalization of rape on private property. Because if it is legal, then it isn’t rape, right? Semantics, after all. And now Anonymous has launched a doxxing campaign of Roosh and his followers.

Okay so there is some fucked up shit here. People shouldn’t stake out other people’s mom’s houses. Even if those people are complete and total dick heads who should have their Internet privileges taken away. (Could you imagine if we took people’s internet privileges away?) And people also shouldn’t dox other people, even if the proposed doxxees have initiated their own doxxing campaigns against people they don’t like. There is a lot to be said for taking the high road. And as much as I sort of love Anonymous for operating in the grey oftentimes on behalf of victims of rape, sexual assault and online sexual harassment, a lot of their tactics are, well, problematic. But of course so is the sexism and victim-blaming that is rooted in our society as well as in our legal system – from law enforcement on up. It all makes me crazy.

But – regardless of our feelings about the tactics used to uncover this information – we now have rock solid confirmation that Roosh actually is the total loser we all thought.

Roosh lives in his mom’s basement. So in theory when he “picks up” a woman (which I want to say I bet never happens but sadly I think that is probably untrue) using his methods of degradation and negging and whatever the fuck else those idiots are doing these days, he has to spring for a hotel, get her to take his sorry ass back to her place, or bring her to his mom’s basement where I guarantee you he has a single bed and a Transformer’s comforter. (No intended offense to the Transformers. They are, in fact, more than meets the eye.)

So to all you pick-up artists in training: your guru clearly uses his right hand a lot more than he is letting on. Or else he has soundproofed his mom’s basement. Or maybe he waits until his mom goes out with her friends or to run errands before he watches porn on his 12 computer screens or sneaks someone in through his window. It doesn’t matter. He lives in his mom’s basement. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

 

 

 

The Dreaded Question

24 Jan

Why are you so angry?!

 

I get asked this question a lot. Infrequently when I am actually angry. A few weeks ago my coworker and I had a little bit of a rush. Nothing serious, but enough for me to put on my “make all the drinks as fast as you can” face. That face is blank. That face is not making jokes, it is not having pleasant conversation, it is making you your tequila and pineapple (ew, gross) while taking an order and checking an ID. That face is efficient. In the midst of taking an order and alerting someone that I would be with them in a minute, this dude who is a friend of my coworker tried to hand me his cell phone attached to the charger for me to plug in for him. I looked at him and, quite politely I thought and while wearing my can’t you tell I am working?! face I said to him,

Sure. Just as soon as I finish all of the tasks that make me money.

He looked stunned. I walked over to the register and said to my coworker

I think I might have scared your friend.

We looked down at the bar and there he was, sitting there holding his cell phone with the charger still attached looking forlornly at the place where I was previously standing. I have to admit I felt a little bad. Not badly enough to go talk to him about it because (a) I was busy, (b) you all should know better than to ask a busy bartender to plug in your phone because none of us actually give a fuck as to whether or not you can receive text messages and we also are not your secretary and (c) don’t they sell those little external chargers and don’t they cost roughly the same as the bar tab you just ran up? My coworker and I had a little chuckle and when it calmed down a bit I figured I would smooth things out with his friend. I cleaned the area around him and made a few smart and witty observations about some idiot wearing a pocket protector as part of his Saturday night get-up. He seemed more or less amused. I got a smile out of him, anyway. I skipped back to my coworker to tell him about how I had made everything great again at which point he giggled and said

Yo he was like, why is she so angry?!

UGH! So here’s the thing. It wasn’t like, why was she so angry that time when I acted as though I was the only person in the bar and requested she do me a favor that I wouldn’t pay her for when she had like 15 orders in her head and was, in fact, at the very moment that I asked her in the midst of actually taking one of those orders? Because I wasn’t actually angry in that moment, if we’re being accurate. I was ever-so-slightly irritated (it takes a lot more than that to register on the anger meter these days). But I can see why he would perhaps perceive it that way. What he was asking was why is she so angry. Like, as a person, all the time. And it made me think back to all of the other times people, read: men, have asked me why I am so angry when I was simply telling them no. Here are a few times when I have been called angry when I have, in fact, not been angry:

That time I said no to an invitation to go out to dinner. I am simply not interested and besides, you asked me out after your 5th whisky neat and I am at work, sober and I am thinking about being in my bed, alone (okay, fine, my cats will be curled up at the bottom of it but whatever).

This one time I refused to serve this smarmy asshole a drink. I was angry the last time he came in when I was standing at the bar in my running clothes talking to my friend and, without recognizing me, decided to sit practically on top of me and drape his arms all over me. That was not the first time that happened, either. And if we’re being honest I was actually quite happy to ask him to leave. I’m pretty sure I was smiling.

And while we’re on the subject, all the times I am not smiling. I like smiling. I do not, however, smile all the time. First of all, I am fairly certain my face actually would freeze like that and how awkward would that be if someone told me something horrible had happened and I was staring at them with a stupid grin on my face? And secondly, no one smiles all the time. People smile when they are laughing and having fun. They do not smile when they are doing things like taking out the trash, walking to the gym, or serving the never-ending wall of people in constant need of beverage refills. And just because a person is not smiling does not mean that person is angry. They could be feeling all sorts of other things: sadness, non-smiling happiness, contentedness, nothing at all. They could be thinking. They could just not give a shit about you one way or the other. And please, while we are here, never say the following thing:

Smile, sweetie, it’s not that bad.

Maybe it wasn’t that bad before but it is now.

Here’s another important thing, though. Sometimes I am angry and that is okay, too. There are a lot of things to be angry about. But the way that men ask that question

Why are you so angry??

Reads the same as

Why are you so emotional??

Or better yet,

Why are you so irrational??

It is disempowering and makes it feel as though our lived experience is somehow less important, less real, or as if we are less capable of engaging with our own lives. What we are angry about is petty. It is a woman’s problem, not a real one. (It goes without saying that any extreme response to something means we are on our period and therefore can not be taken seriously.) I was actually one time put in real, actual danger involving a man with a gun and then, weeks later when recapping fallout from the experience was asked why I am so angry. Why?! Why am I angry?! Because I could have been shot! With a gun! And died! Fuck yeah I am angry! I am angry about that experience and why it happened and what happened after but that does not make me angry as a human being all the time and it also is a completely and totally rational response to a really scary experience that is in the past and is therefore not something to be actively afraid of. I mean, what? Am I supposed to be all

Nah, it’s all good, bro. No worries.

Now that is what I call irrational. Because it is decidedly not all good and there are worries.

So let’s just recap: Just because I am not smiling does not mean I am angry. I might just be busy, or thinking, or whatever. When I tell you no, it does not mean I am angry. It simply means no. Let’s move on. And when I am angry, there is good reason for it. And you shouldn’t have to ask why I am angry because I will tell you in no uncertain terms exactly why. It will be very clear. And it will be just as justified, or unjustified, and rational, or irrational, as when a man is angry. Crazy, right?

No, Doree Lewak. Just No.

20 Aug

I.

It was about 2:30 in the morning on a Wednesday and I was covering a shift at my local bar.  My customer’s glasses were all filled so I decided to take a quick walk across the street to read the handwritten sign left on the front door of my (now-shuttered) favorite coffee shop.  I walked down the ramp, eyes glued on my destination, when it happened.  The whistles.  The kissy noises.  The comments about my shorts, my boots, my legs, my hair, my body, my face, my value.  I looked over and saw the driver of a garbage truck looking at me with a foul little sneer on his face.  Before I even had time to think the expletives started exploding from my mouth.  I was in the middle of the avenue in the middle of the night, arm outstretched, finger pointing, telling him whatever the hell it was that traveled quickest from my brain to my vocal chords and out of my mouth.  I can’t imagine it is much worth repeating.  I took out my phone, took a photograph of the truck’s license plate and went back to work.

II.

My friend and I decided to go for a walk.  As we made our way down 5th Avenue we were forced onto the street by some sidewalk construction.  While walking past an especially freaky-looking piece of heavy machinery we heard it from just above our heads.  The whistles.  The kissy noises.  The comments about our shorts, our boots, our legs, our hair, our bodies, our faces, our value.  As we walked past the cab of the truck, another wave of bullshit washed over us.  My friend took out her phone, took a photograph of the truck’s license plate and we went back to our walk.

III.

I went on the internet yesterday and came across this article, written by Doree Lewak of the New York Post titled “Hey ladies – catcalls are flattering! Deal with it!”  I would like to just say two things here before we get going.  (1) I am not a reader of The Post, I just clicked on the link this one time because I am a sucker and (2) the Wikipedia page about Doree Lewak that I linked describes her as a humorist, something I wholeheartedly disagree with.  Now, let us carry on.

In Lewak’s article, she talks about what summer means to her:

“…heat, hemlines and hard hats.  It’s the time of year when I can parade around in a skimpy dress with strategic cutouts that would make my mom wince.”

But Lewak doesn’t just dress this way for herself, no ma’am.  She looks forward to the opportunity to

“brazenly walk past a construction site, anticipating that whistle and ‘Hey, mama!’ catcall. Works every time — my ego and I can’t fit through the door!”

Do you want to experience that feeling of validation?  Well, just follow Lewak’s advice.

“Walking confidently past a mass of men, making eye contact and flashing a smile shows you as you are: self-possessed and playful. The wolf whistles that follow will send your ego soaring.”

And how!  Maybe buried underneath all the rage and disempowerment I felt at being objectified by complete strangers in the middle of the night, and in the middle of the afternoon, was my rising confidence.  Oh wait, no, on second thought I am pretty sure it was actually just fear.  Fear that responding to these men might send them over the edge or that not responding to them might cause them to hurl their own version of hateful vitriol in my direction.  There is no blueprint for how this goes.  Each circumstance is different.  And, sad as this is to say, I almost consider myself a professional at handling street harassment.  I think I could practically put it on my resume.  I assess my environment — are there people around, is it light out, are there easy exits, is there a business I can walk into, do I know the neighborhood — before I decide whether or not to respond.  If it seems unsafe, I scowl and walk on.  But if I am about 90% certain everything will be okay, I take the risk and speak my mind or I whip out my phone and take a photograph.  Ms. Lewak is correct when she says that “feminism is” (at least in part) “about self-empowerment,” but I think she needs to do a little bit of reading and figure out what the word “empowerment” actually means before she starts throwing it around and aligning herself with the feminist movement.  There is nothing empowering about being yelled at from the cab of a garbage truck or a piece of heavy machinery or anything else for that matter.

Oh, and about that.  Belle Knox?  Really?  Belle Knox is an incredible young woman and I have the utmost respect for her.  I think she is having a huge impact on the way we see, and talk about, pornography and the sex industry at large and that is incredibly important and long fucking overdue.  But there is a serious difference between a woman on a street and a woman in a professional working environment.  Belle Knox is, when adult films work the way they are supposed to, in control of her environment.  There are safety protocols.  She knows what is going to happen and, perhaps most importantly for this particular argument, she is consenting to the activities she is engaging in and if she becomes uncomfortable, she can say stop.  And that matters.  When I, any of my friends, and yes, Miriam Weeks (AKA Belle Knox), walk down the street and we get hollered at, we are not consenting to that.  If we become uncomfortable, we cannot necessarily make it stop.  We are not safe.  We have to assess our environments to make sure that our response to harassment does not put us in a physically dangerous situation.

I am sorry that Ms. Lewak thinks all the rest of us somehow got it wrong.  That what many of us see as hurtful, demeaning, frightening and dehumanizing is actually something we should embrace and, yes, even court.  You know what?  Fine.  Doree Lewak is welcome to go about her life, finding her worth in the “primal” utterances of strangers on the streets.  But perhaps she shouldn’t tell the rest of us how to feel.  Or maybe she should read the comments on her own article.  Maybe she should read Diana’s comment:

“But telling other women to “get over it” and respond to catcalls (i.e. street harassment) like you do is deeply inappropriate. For some women—particularly women of colour and women living in poor neighbourhoods, who are at a higher risk of catcalls turning into actual physical violence—street harassment is an issue of safety, not preference. There are tons of blogs by WoC documenting this exact phenomenon. I can’t imagine that they appreciate you giving permission on their behalf to the catcallers who make their streets unsafe.”

Or Astoria Grey’s,

“That’s really great that you have had such a positive experience and enjoy the street harassment you receive. Maybe it has something to do with being 20 years old when you received your first ‘cat call.’ You were probably in a much better space for receiving attention about your body than I was when it started happening to me. Growing up in NYC, my street harassment began at a much younger age. Men telling me to look at them with my beautiful eyes, or to smile more, or commenting on the length of my shorts. It made me feel exposed and vulnerable and not in control of my own body. I still cringe at how these remarks made me feel and can still make me feel nearly 15 years after they began.”

Or Nicole Leigh’s,

“I was 11. My friend and I used to walk by the highway the boarded our neighborhood and we’d count how many men would scream at us from their cars on our walk to meet each other. And we BOTH looked 11. None of us developed early or anything. “

Maybe then she will realize that what she sees as empowering is actually dangerous and damaging for the majority of us.  So, Doree, next time you go for a run and some guy starts running “with” you for 5 blocks because he thinks you’re hot, let me know how empowered, flattered and safe you feel.  Because that happens and it is scary as fuck.

Street Harassment: The Close Proximity Whisper

13 May

Okay, ladies, I’m sure you’ve all experienced this:

You’re walking down the street doing what you always do which is minding your own goddamn business and going about your day when you see a man walking towards you.  You notice him looking but he says nothing, doesn’t exactly ogle but his eyes linger on you a little too long for optimal comfort.  As he gets closer you brace yourself for the upcoming comment, the kissy noises, that terrible clicking sound.  Nothing.  You think you’re home free but then, just as he passes you he leans in and whispers ever so quietly,

“God bless.”

You can feel his breath on your face and the hair stands up on the back of your neck.  You turn around, angry, but he is already halfway down the block making his way to where ever he is headed.  No one around noticed a thing.  He’s in the clear.

If I had to rate types of non-physical assault style street harassment from one to ten, ten being my least favorite, I think that approach would get the crown.  It is worse than the passing car, the obvious stare, the invitations to go out, the whistles from rooftops.  For me, the close proximity whisper is one of the most invasive forms of harassment.  In the United States, we have such an engrained idea of personal space that when someone invades it there is no ignoring it.  That person made the choice to enter into my space, he knew it would make me uncomfortable and he didn’t care.  The feeling of his breath on my skin only adds insult to injury.  It is one step away from him putting a hand on me.  It is infuriating, disempowering, and disgusting.

The close proximity whisper is something that has been driving me crazy for a long time.  I almost forget that it even happens until one day some dude whispers “smile baby” in my ear and I go through the fucking roof.  But he didn’t touch me and there is no opportunity for a strong worded retort, really. It always takes too long for me to register what has happened and by the time I do my only option is to scream like a banshee at some asshole’s receding back.  The reason I thought of this now is that the other night this happened to me only it was on a crowded train and it was terrible.

So I was with a friend of mine and we were heading to Crown Heights to visit his friend at the bar she works in.  When we got onto the train it was relatively empty but we opted to stand.  I have been standing a lot lately.  It’s a thing.  Anyway, we were standing in the little door alcove on the wrong side of the train (AKA the side the doors open on) so every time we stopped somewhere we would split up; he would stand to one side of the doors and me to the other.  We’d reconvene in the middle once everyone got aboard.  When we stopped at Atlantic Avenue the train got swamped.  We couldn’t meet in the middle again so he stayed to his side and I stayed to mine. Right next to me was a really tall (this is all relative considering I am pushing 5’4″) man somewhere in his late forties if I had to guess.  The second the doors closed he leaned over and, right in my ear whispered,

“Are you a mommy?”

It took me a second to understand what he had said.  It was Mother’s Day after all.  I gave him a small smile and said no and then resumed staring blankly in front of me, my left arm grasping the subway poll, my right hand resting on my left shoulder, as much of a protective stance as I could muster considering I had no room to move.  He leaned forward again,

“You look too young to be a mommy.”

I glanced over at him, raised my eyebrows and did a very slight head nod in an attempt to acknowledge he had said something to me without inviting him to say anything else.  A moment later his hand “slipped” off whatever he was holding and hit me in the chest, landing hard on my breastbone.  I instinctively checked to make sure my necklace didn’t vanish — it hadn’t but it wouldn’t be surprising to me if it had because people just love to steal shit from me — and felt thankful I had the foresight to cover my boobs with my arm.  I glanced over at my friend who had been looking at me protectively, not sure exactly what to do and, I imagined, taking cues from my behavior.  The man apologized.  I shot my eyes up to him without turning my body in his direction.  Then, seconds later, as we approached a stop he put his hand on my shoulder, leaned in much to close and whispered,

“Have a wonderful day.”

He was all up in my space.  He was touching my arm.  I thought maybe he was getting off at that stop and felt a momentary rush of relief but the train doors opened and he made no move to exit.  At that moment my friend called over the heads of the half dozen people in between us and asked if I wanted to get off and walk.

Fuck yes.

We got off the train.  I didn’t look back to see the man’s reaction when he realized that I was traveling with someone and that someone happened to be years younger and much more solid than him.  My friend and I talked about it for a minute, him not knowing the man had touched me because he was unable to see through all the people.  From his vantage point all he could see was some guy whispering in my ear and to him, that was enough to want to get me out of the situation. I put it out of my head for the remainder of the night but now I am thinking about it.  And here is what I am thinking.

It is bad enough to have someone whisper in your ear and keep moving but to have that person violate your personal space and continue to stand there is totally fucked.  It put me in an incredibly uncomfortable situation, one that I could not extricate myself from.  It’s like, there I was, stuck with all these people around me and then this guy who was just toeing the line, seeing how far he could push it.  I was bound, in a way, by the manners we as women have been taught.  I didn’t want to sharply tell him to stop, as I normally would if I could walk away, and then be stuck standing next to him, with the eyes of all the other passengers on me.  I didn’t know what their reactions would be, whether they would support me or think I was a loon.  I mean, all he was doing, really, was talking.  And the first touch could easily have been excused as an accident.  I started feeling like the best course of action was to keep my eyes down and my mouth shut, to not draw attention and maybe it would just stop on its own.  (In my personal experience, this reaction never really has the desired effect.)    I didn’t want to have to defend my reaction to a bunch of people who might not support me and then remain there, shamed.  I thought if I just stood there, more or less unmoving, as nonreactive as possible, he would back off but he didn’t.  He just kept toeing the line, kept inviting me into this seemingly innocent, but incredibly invasive, private conversation that I had absolutely no interest in participating in.

It’s a weird thing, to step out of your own tendencies.  I am pretty outspoken about this sort of thing, normally.  Especially when I am in New York.  That might sound like a weird thing but this is my home, I have lived here for a long time and I know when I should say something and when I shouldn’t.  Before I react strongly to a comment, I note the time of day, where I am, whether or not there are people around. At 4am I keep my mouth shut, but in the afternoon, in a parking lot stuffed with cars, I will say my piece.  I take the shock and awe approach.  I am especially good with words when I am angry and I think that the mouth I have takes casual harassers by surprise.  It gives me the chance to tell them about themselves and march off before they regroup and think long enough to come up with something better than “bitch!” But being stuck in a subway car, pinned in place by the sheer quantity of people, can really make you revert back to socialized habits.

Anyway, a lot of times I think back on things and figure out how I could have handled it differently, better.  There’s always something.  But in this particular case, even with the luxury of space and a few days time, I cannot for the life of me figure out how I could have behaved differently.  I didn’t feel unsafe, really.  What I did feel was the society in which I was raised, one that teaches girls to keep quiet.  I thought about all the times people have told me that it is unsafe for me to speak my mind, that it isn’t worth it.  But I can’t stop thinking about how this guy won. How by not telling him what he was doing, I was complicit in it, I was saying it was okay.  Sure, I got off early, sure, it was clear that I didn’t want to be near him, but I don’t know.  It is very possible that me telling him to back the fuck off, as much as he could considering the circumstances, would have set him off, or would have fallen on deaf ears, but I also could have been the first person to say it and maybe, hopefully, the last person he did it to.

Being a woman is hard.

Rebekah vs. Rob, (Documented) Battle #2

17 Jan

So you know how sometimes on bad television shows one of the male characters will say something along the lines of “I could have any woman I want?”  And you think to yourself two things: (a) what a stupid line and (b) could you imagine if people actually said that?  Well you know what I found out a few weeks ago?  They do!  And it is just as ridiculous and amusing and untrue as you might assume!

So remember that time I wrote that blog that I never thought I would have had to write about bringing your own booze into the bar?  And how, you know, you probably shouldn’t bring your own booze into the bar?  Well, it just so happens that the star of that post is definitely my least favorite customer ever and might actually also hold the title of person I like least in the world.  Well, of the people I’ve met, that is.  So he gets to star in not one but two blog posts! His name is Rob.  Rob is just like, not nice.  He thinks he loves women but he actually hates us.  He doesn’t respect us, he thinks we are all stupid and, as I learned the other day, he thinks he is irresistible.  Men, am I right?

So my issues with this guy goes back years.  He is one of those guys who just harasses women.  He thinks he is god’s gift and therefore that anyone in possession of breasts and a vagina is lucky if he decides to give them the time of day.  Only the thing is, he is loud, obnoxious, and extremely fond of chanting which is something that I honestly thought went out of style when people outgrew fraternity membership.  Apparently I was wrong, again.  So, whatever, he incorrectly thinks he’s a ladies man.  Okay that wouldn’t be so bad except that whenever he is in my bar I have to watch him like a hawk to make sure he doesn’t make women uncomfortable.  As an aside, I think that the mark of a good bar is one in which women, either alone or in groups, feel safe and comfortable coming in and hanging out.  I love nothing more than to see a few single ladies at the bar, not out to meet anyone, just there to chat with the bartender or read their book or watch sports or whatever.  If you have women flying solo, I think you are doing something right.  At my bar, we do occasionally have women there alone and I really don’t want to lose that because some asshat decides that she is reading her book only to pass the time until he comes and impresses her with his wit, good looks, and intellect.  But that’s what Rob thinks.  Women are just going about their lives preparing for the moment when they meet him.  His excellence.  The sexiest and most awesome-est man alive.  It would be maddening if it weren’t so hilarious.

I could practically write a book about how much I don’t like Rob.  I have been hoping against hope that Rob would just melt away or at least move to the Bronx or something.  It seemed like no matter what he did — call me a cunt, annoy women enough that they mouthed the word “help” to me to get him away from them, ask for buybacks, try to sneak away without paying on the regular — he never seemed to get kicked out.  And then he snuck booze in and I was like “this is finally the moment!”  And he had the nerve to not only pretend he didn’t sneak booze in, but to subsequently go over my head and call my boss and tell her how unreasonable I was for accusing him of sneaking the booze in because he would never, ever do that.  Only he did do it.  I don’t like, go around the bar planting bottles of illicit vodka in the bags and coat pockets of people I don’t like.  I’m just observant. Anyway.  That was a lot of build up for the following story:

So last Thursday I approached the bar on my way to start my night shift and I heard it.  From the street.  The voice.  The chanting and the yelling and the general obnoxiousness.  I walked into the bar, happily greeting the people I enjoy (which, honestly, is like 95% of the people) and then I arrived at him and he was  all “hello, Rebekah” in a tone that made it abundantly clear that he felt like he could do whatever the fuck he wanted and I just stared back.  I then proceeded behind the bar and told my coworkers that, after 8pm when I took over, he was not getting served because he was the ass who brought his own liquor in.  They both essentially responded with the same thing:

It was that guy?!?  I wish I had known because he is such a fucking douchebag.

Eventually he came up to the bar to order a drink from me.   I told him he wasn’t getting served.  A heated conversation followed which I will not recount for you.  He then had the nerve to walk over to my coworker and order a drink from her, in secret, because obviously I would never notice.  Except what he didn’t know is that when I am working I have super sonic hearing!  (Also, she told me.)

Me:  You tried to order a drink from my coworker? What part of you are not getting served do you not understand?
Rob:  I did not.
Me:  You are such a liar!  She just told me you did and also, I heard you.  You know what? Just leave.  You know where the door is.

But I guess he didn’t actually know where the door was because he wouldn’t leave.  He wouldn’t leave because he is a fucking idiot who thinks that the world was made for him.  And then he tried to argue with me about it which is never a good idea.  Not only do I hold a grudge, and not only do I never forget when people are disrespectful shitbags to me and the place I work, but I also HATE when I ask politely for someone to leave and they fight about it.  This is my house, motherfucker.  Get out of my face.  But oh, he spends so much money in the bar and he has been coming for years and how dare I and all the other shit.  I decided to spell it out for him.  I explained to him exactly why I don’t want him in the bar.  Not only did he bring his own booze in, but he lied about it and tried to get me in trouble.  He called me a cunt and a bitch a few years back for standing up for one of the many women he harassed over the years.  He feels entitled to buybacks and whenever we have new bartenders he always tries to take advantage of them.  He chases customers out with this chanting and his general obnoxiousness and, oh yea, he always tries to walk away without paying for his drinks.  He got very caught up on the part about harassing women and that’s when he said it.

I could have any woman in the world I want.

I think that I actually might have spit in his face accidentally when I explosively laughed.  Seriously.  It was SO funny.  I then responded with probably my favorite line that I have ever said ever in my entire life:

There are 13 women in the bar right now and only one of them would fuck you and she is your fiance.  I am still trying to figure out how much you paid her to agree to that arrangement.

Meanwhile, his poor fiance was sitting at the end of the bar by herself waiting for him to stop parading around the bar with this stupid trophy that he had won for winning in fantasy football.  I told him that he should just stop making an ass of himself and leave and maybe he should speak to his fiance who he had not acknowledged the entire time she sat at the end of the bar waiting for his sorry ass.  He then said the following thing:

Rob:  Why don’t you talk to her?  I talk to her every day.
Me:  You’re engaged to her!  Jesus, what is wrong with you?!

He then, and I kid you not, asked my coworker out on a date.  While his fiance was sitting like 4 stools away.  And when my coworker said “I thought you were engaged” he actually had the nerve to say “who told you that?”

It’s like, what?!  These people exist?  And they walk around amongst us as if they are normal?!  Man oh man.  Eventually he left.  But not until he gave me a piece of his itsy-bitsy mind.  It took me from like 8 to about 10:30 to get his sorry ass out the door.  He just wouldn’t leave because he thinks he is entitled to be anywhere he fucking pleases.  Oh and, in the meantime, he tried calling, texting and facetiming my boss from the backyard while she was downstairs in the office to bitch about how I wouldn’t serve him.  Being in a room with this guy and his overly inflated ego should be considered a form of torture.  No joke.

Luckily for you this story has a happy ending.  He again called me a cunt (people love that word) and he is no longer welcome in the bar.  As far as I know, anyway.  This guy has like 9 miserable lives so I’m fairly certain he will weasel his way back in which means more stories for you!  Finally, Rob comes in handy.