I once went on a date with a guy who, when I told him we were moving a little fast, said he thought his role was to hit the accelerator, and I would be the one to brake and steer. I should have ruled the date DOA and left immediately, but of course I did not walk away. I dated him for days after that.
In October of 2006, I was sexually assaulted in a Manhattan bar and in a friend’s apartment afterwards. The situation was complicated by alcohol and my undiagnosed mono but mostly it was complicated by a guy walking a hiccuping, stumbling girl from bar to bar not knowing that being totally incapacitated (and mine were more like rolling blackouts–I would have flashes of time like a strobe light on a slow timer, so I could tell him “whoa how did we get here? I don’t remember that at all) meant I was not capable of consenting. I joked with him in the morning. I joked with my aunt the next day. I joked on this blog right after that. It was not funny.
When I was 12 and riding the metro to summer Shakespeare camp a man with a bicycle started hitting on me in a low voice as we waited for the train. I told him I was 12. He said oh well. And kept talking.
During my trip to India I was walking on the street in front of my guest house when two guys on a motorcycle zoomed by and circled back to grab my ass. They barely slowed down.
I learned to say no abruptly. I was walking with a date and he saw a woman dancing in a bar. He asked what would happen if he just smacked my ass right there on the street. And I ran. I ran into the subway and I made it into a car and I blasted a song I can no longer listen to all the way home. He asked me to meet him a few days later so he could explain and I went even though his stupid remark had galvanized my already-brewing indifference and I no longer wanted to date him. I did not learn to say no perfectly.
I say all this to say the last two days have been miserable. I have been nearly submerged by physical sensations I remember from years of being whistled at, called to, groped and harassed. Person after person quoting line after line from the world’s worst candidate’s blathering grotesquerie. These days have been miserable for a lot of women, whether like me they didn’t learn to say no for years, or they were beset by men who didn’t know to ask for a yes, or worse, knew and didn’t care.
And then there’s the added indignity that GOP and media talking heads alike sat by and endured every racist, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, derogatory attack Trump has thrown but THIS ONE, the one that threatens us as possessions, as your wives and daughters, that starts the deluge? It comes on the heels of a dual-pronged insult that the media weighed before deciding calling a beautiful woman fat was worse than calling her “housekeeping”. Because the value of Alicia Machado that needed defending was her beauty, not her race?
I would like women to be in charge of everything, please. More specifically, feminists, because despite the myths that tortured lackwits like to perpetuate, feminism is supposed to be a philosophy of inclusion. If anyone deserves it, everyone deserves it. (We do this imperfectly, particularly at its intersections with race and class, and we should do better). So we will not take everything from you, men, provided you learn to share. We may take your jobs. We need to work on our corporate takeover skills. But maybe our deficiency there is actually deliberate. Leading a big company is something a lot of men do while cheating on their wives or abusing their employees, neglecting their families and expecting them to be satisfied with perks and societal standing. A lot of business guys are total assholes. Maybe you can keep that.
Maybe we can be satisfied with the entire legislature, executive and eventually, judicial branch. We will be in charge of the accelerator for social programs and education and healthcare and veterans affairs. Maybe you can steer. Though I confess it is difficult for me to think of a single legislative priority men could push for that women would not have already covered. You will not be allowed to propose or fund abstinence education. You will not be allowed to restrict our access to abortion. You will not be allowed to fund military expansion at the expense of infrastructure. You will not say a word about our breastfeeding or our bathrooms. You will not utter the phrase “boys will be boys” while excusing rapists from your courtroom to go home to their enabling parents. We will not need you to draw our attention to police brutality or mass incarceration because our attention is there already.
I suggest you get really good at child rearing and domestic shit, men. Get invested in your local PTA to channel all those ambitions and need to be useful. Raise your kids. Find space elsewhere. Women have had to manage and funnel and subdue our desires for years. Hundreds of them. You can do it too.
This week in the writing center I worked with three young women searching for a feminist toehold in the Odyssey. I walked them through close-reading an excerpt and making an argument for what that passage contributed to the work as a whole. And once they got that down, I challenged them to speculate on what this new understanding offered the reader.
They had not yet learned that asserting women’s place in academia, in the canon, often means reinterpreting works so revered as to be set in stone. It means being irreverent, it means being skeptical. For if you can find evidence for your argument that Homer was actually trying to say women are more dynamic and powerful than men know, that men should recognize women’s intrinsic complexity and worth, if he was saying that thousands of years ago?
None of you have any excuse.
Lest you walk away from this believing that something is being taken from you, I remind you instead that something has been given to you. You have the opportunity to speak up and make the world safer for women. Challenge your buddies. Challenge your rivals. Challenge sexist advertising and policy and catcalling and legislation. Challenge it. And if you are the one who needs to be challenged, challenge your damn self. Ask yourself why you only heed a call to arms when it’s issued on behalf of your wives and daughters and mothers and sisters. Vote for women. Support their candidacies. Support their legislation. Believe them when they tell you they have been groped or stalked or assaulted.
I am a wife and a daughter and a sister but when my skin crawls and my body aches and my mind shuts down, it’s not because of the men in my life.
It’s because there are men on my subway, at my corner, in my world. It’s because I’m a woman.