girl.investigates

because everything has a story

Month: January 2017

Don’t Fucking Touch Me

Things feel a little unstable lately. The progress women have made in the last few centuries has been great, but our place in society still feels a little unsure. On paper, a woman could be president. But in reality, in this swirling muck of attitudes and politics? I’m not so sure. The things Hillary did to get her where she is today, those things kept her from office. What I want to know, is could she have made it to the nomination without doing all those things? I don’t know what it takes to be a woman in politics but I’m sure it’s no cakewalk.

Now I’m worried about tomorrow. About next week. About what will happen in the coming months and years. So when my mom asked me if I wanted to go to the Women’s March in Washington with her, I said Hell Yes, capital H and Y. So we fly to capitol D. C. this weekend. Saturday, we march. Not just for women, but for anyone whose voice is not heard. Anyone who has been the object of hate or fear. We go with anyone willing to stand with us. Together.

When I signed up for the march, I knew I wanted to write something about it, but I have a difficult time writing about gender. I remember, back in my college days, there was always competition between my college and a rival school. Through all the trash talk that floated around on social media, a particular bit of it stands out in my memory. It was an image being posted and shared and reposted by people I knew at the rival school. The image was split in two with a girl supposedly from each school. The one from my school was bookish, with glasses, and not attractively dressed. A t-shirt, maybe, and no make-up. Then the girl from the rival school, all exposed curves and glowing, fake-tanned skin. That was what they were proud of, that their school had ‘hotter girls.’

I’m not in college anymore. I’d like to think I live in a different world these days. Still, I can’t help noticing all the little moments where women are portrayed as objects instead of individuals. The messages that a woman’s value is based on her attractiveness. The unspoken, perhaps unconscious, belief that men are entitled to women, to sex, maybe even to ownership of their woman. I’m lucky. I haven’t personally experienced violence in this vein, or even any particularly serious form of misogyny. For me, it’s always been little things. But the little things give a glimpse of the attitudes underneath.

I remember walking one night to meet my partner for a beer. I was alone on the street, but it was a nice neighborhood so I wasn’t worried. I used to live a few blocks away and I’d been walking to this bar for years. It was always one of my favorites. The owners were both kickass ladies who decided they wanted to open a laid-back neighborhood bar together. In the past, I’ve always had a great experience there, although I was usually just stopping by for a pint on my way home after work. I hadn’t been there on the weekends much. I was almost there when I saw a man on the street walking towards me, sort of dancing and swaying. He looked drunk, but it was Halloween weekend so it wasn’t exactly surprising. I stepped to the side to go around him. He stepped into my path, still swaying.

“Don’t touch me.” It came out of my mouth a warning. He took another step toward me and put his hand on my back, swaying, trying to dance with me, pressing his body against mine. I turned on him with a rage that I didn’t know was in me. “Don’t fucking touch me.” There were years of anger in those words. He was so surprised he almost fell over, perhaps unprepared for my vitriol. He hurried away so quickly I almost started laughing. I don’t think I’m that scary. I walked to the bar, trying to shake off the swirl of feelings it set off, not sure if I was angry or amused.

When I got there none of the owners were working and I ordered from a guy I didn’t know. I don’t know why, but I told the him about it, when he asked me how my night was going. He told me to tell him if I had any trouble with anyone else. He would ‘take care of it.’

He didn’t get it. His response was, to me, just a different side of the same bullshit coin. I don’t want to be touched by random men. I don’t want to be protected by random men. I want to be treated with respect. But I can’t be mad at him for wanting to help even if it was misguided. It’s not his fault that this happened. I just don’t like the idea that I need to be protected. I want to be able to protect myself. The point, which I think his response misses, is that this shouldn’t happen. I didn’t say anything more though, and I took my beer and sat down with my partner to try and relax and have a good time. Then I started listening to the music they were playing. It was that very particular kind of hip hop, and the words… bitch, hoe, pussy, they kept grabbing my attention. I became more and more upset, sitting there listening to music that treats women as if their sole purpose is to be sexually objectified.

So I went back to that bartender, the one who knew I was having a rough night, and I asked him if they had any control over the music. This guy who had been jumping to my defense ten minutes before looked at me like I was the biggest pain in his ass. “Well we play hip hop, that’s really just the character of the bar.” I didn’t know that the character of the bar was to participate in a culture that encourages people to treat women like objects. The culture that makes a man think he can just grab a woman on the street and touch her right after she says “don’t touch me.” I don’t know how I could be any more clear. Don’t. Touch. Me.

It was worse than what actually happened, hearing that music. Being brushed off when I voiced a problem with it. This music promoted the same way of thinking that had led someone to completely disrespect what I wanted. He was just having a good time. He never thought about what I wanted or didn’t want. That’s the attitude I believe we need to find, hidden in our subconscious, and try to change. The attitude that women are things to be taken. That it’s okay to touch someone sexually without regard for what she wants. Having these two things happen in sequence like this, it just made it so clear to me that they are related. Do I even need to mention that the number one played song today on Spotify in the U.S. contains the lyrics Yeah, hey, huh, switchin’ my hoes like my flows and Introduce me your bitch ass wifey and we know she sluttin? I don’t think that misogynistic lyrics are causing all sexism. I don’t think that not playing hip hop in a bar is going to solve the problem. I just believe that they are part of the same fabric and we can’t dismiss the fact that the music we choose contributes to our culture. We can’t just ignore it and say it’s not a big deal. It matters.

And what also matters, is how we talk about women. Especially how people in positions of influence like, oh let’s say, the president, talk about women. As it stands, more than a few concerning things have been said about women recently. In fact, the things that have been said about Hillary Clinton, and all the shit that Trump has said about women in general, are not just concerning. They’re fucked up. Something needs to be said. So here I am, yelling at the top of my proverbial lungs. Don’t fucking touch me. Don’t touch my rights. Don’t deny me any of the basic dignities that should be granted to every person, regardless of the boxes they might happen to check on the census. I can only hope that if we make enough noise on Saturday, this message might be heard. We may not be able to drown out the sexist bullshit floating around out there but we can do our part to counteract it. I’m here, ready to do everything I can to keep us moving in the right direction. Sometimes that’s all we can do.

 

Throwing Coals

I dislike it when people I don’t know walk next to me. You know when you come to a crosswalk at the same time and there’s that awkward moment when it goes green? It has to be decided who will walk in front and who will wait. Sometimes you both start walking and end up at the same speed, walking next to each other. Maybe this says something about me, I don’t know, but it makes me uncomfortable. The barrier that separates strangers from one another on the street seems thinned somehow. We’re walking together, after all. Should we talk? Acknowledge one another? Usually I just try to speed off, or if that doesn’t work I make some pretext to stop. I would try talking to them but this is Seattle. Talking to strangers? We don’t do that around here.

A while back, when I was still perpetually stressed-out and angry from my job, I went for a walk up the hill on my lunch break. I ended up walking alongside a building that has a long hallway that parallels the path outside. There’s the hallway on one side and sidewalk on the other and only glass separating them. I saw out of the corner of my eye that there was someone keeping step with me, just inside of the glass. Annoyed, I sped up. But they sped up too. I was really irritated then, wondering why this person was following me. I stopped but they stopped too!

You might see where this is going, even if I didn’t at the time. I looked over to see the person committing this terrible social infraction and realized it was my own image, reflected in the glass. I was like a dog that growls at itself in a mirror. I was mad at my own reflection.

I’m going to quote Buddha here because I think this says it better than I can: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” I believe that anger is a waste of energy. Anger doesn’t solve my problems, it just makes me see them less clearly. Yet, there I was, throwing coals at my own reflection. And, whether you’re angry at a person on the street or mad at your own reflection, it really comes to the same thing. The only result is your own increase in blood pressure. Our reactions have more impact on ourselves than on anyone else.

The story of a girl getting angry at her reflected image has more in it than is seen at first glance. That moment stuck with me. I think there’s something in it, some truth underneath, like the workings of a clock hidden under its face. It’s a little story in itself and, as Patrick Rothfuss wrote, “All the truth in the world is held in stories.” I guess the real question is: why was I so angry? What was it in my life that made me so unhappy that I walked around hating everyone and everything? Well, hindsight is 20/20, although I think I could have told you at the time what the problem was. They call it burn out. You work yourself into the ground day-in, day-out, until you use up all your energy and collapse. Your flame goes out. I’d used myself up months before and all I had left was my exhaustion and my anger.

I’m not sure that anger is something you can turn off, even once you realize it’s not getting you anywhere. I knew, at the time, that getting angry at someone on the street was a waste of energy. Still, telling myself to calm down didn’t make me one iota less angry. Sometimes there’s just anger in your lungs and you can’t help but breathe it out on everything around you. You can try and talk yourself down or take deep breaths or run it off but sometimes you just have to wait for another day. That day, I was mad. Mad at the people on the street, mad at my coworkers, and mad at my own reflection. At myself. I stood there looking at my own image and some part of me realized that I didn’t like the person I was becoming. And I couldn’t just stop being unhappy by some feat of willpower or realization, it was my life that needed to change first. That’s the part we have control over. We can change our environment, pick our friends, find a new job. We can change up the background and see what it does to the person in the midst of it.

Back then my background was making me into someone I didn’t want to be.  I was flat on my back, exhausted, nothing left of my energy but dying embers. I should have known then, while I stared at my reflection, that it was over. I couldn’t stay at my job any longer. But I didn’t see it then. I had an inkling, but it was months before the realization would fully bloom. Six months later I quit. Now I sit writing and I realize, I’m not angry anymore. Refreshed, recharged, I feel like a whole new person. I’m not that girl anymore, growling at her reflection. I have a new background now and I’m growing. I have a long ways yet before I reach my destination but I can see it now, just barely. Back then I was blinded by my unhappiness, but now I can just make out the edges, like the first distant glow of sunrise. I don’t know on what day my sun will rise but I know that, finally, I’m at least looking in the right direction.

Cheers,

Carol

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