Last weekend, as I was walking my dog, I was harassed on the street by men in a caravan of 5 landscaping trucks, in succession. FIVE FUCKING TRUCKS. EACH CONTAINING 3 OR 4 OGLING, BEEPING AND WHISTLING CREEPS. And it left me feeling like I needed a shower, and questioning what I was wearing (running tights and a loose-fitting coat, for the record)…and questioning why it’s my responsibility to dress differently or look ugly or feel ‘less than’ in order to walk my dog in the middle of the day without feeling vulnerable or wanting to scream in rage.
A well-respected author friend-of-a-friend read my book proposal and a few sample chapters and commented (in the context of lending a helpful voice of one author to another), in one breath praising my work, in the next, saying: “you shouldn’t curse…yogis don’t curse” and asked me whether I had confidence in myself. I read his subcontext: “be a nice little girl and more people will like you.” I left the meeting feeling complimented on my work but punched in the gut for being a woman and having the (erm) balls to speak my truth. What started as a genial meeting because this person LIKES MY WRITING, left me feeling less self-confident than I was going-in.
A data scientist; a nice, liberal, respectful man asked me recently, “how is it that you’re still single?” I know it was meant as a compliment, but the inherent statement: “you need a man to complete you” was ever-present. Am I to question my right to not want a boyfriend? Am I branded a pariah because I’m independent?
The unwritten rules: Don’t curse, you’ll come across as angry. Don’t be single, you’ll come across as a man-hater, a dyke, a psycho chick, a slut. Don’t wear clothing that makes you feel good about your body (nb: a body which, at 50, is in better shape than it was at 25!), you’ll come across as asking for it. Don’t be too smart or sassy or cheeky or snarky or insightful or you won’t fit in.
That incident last Sunday really shook me. I texted a close male friend who probably didn’t wholly understand what I was feeling; because how could he, a priviliged, well-educated, good-looking human who would never think of saying any of these things without considering their impact… But then again, he did have just the right response (essentially, it’s them, not you) so there was clearly something in his upbringing that worked (also nb: he didn’t grow up here). Maybe the incessant l’air du misogyny has permeated my what-used-to-be-thick-skin.
I also sense that living in this climate of #metoo has men afraid of being too human, lest the scary women-folk hone in on their vulnerabilities and call them out on their comfortable ingrained habits. There’s a communication quagmire and it’s alive and well and breeding unheeded in the swamps of our subconscious.
Here’s the thing…and I can’t speak for my whole gender, but certainly for some of them: We don’t all want roses and glittery jewels and a big house and fancy presents and expensive clothes and high-heeled Italian shoes. Some of us want meaning and connection and raw integrity and more hours out in the natural world and fun and memorable experiences and side-splitting laughter and mind-blowing sex, whether or not we choose to be in a long-term relationship.
We also want equal credit and equal chances, and the opportunity to be fabulously ourselves; and to be taken seriously and respected for our brains; and for our bodies to be appreciated but not objectified… And we want to be celebrated sometimes, but not just because we are beautiful but because we are US, and the thousands of smaller pieces of US that make us That Woman. We really want to be That (Super)Woman.
Yet at the same time, it’s exhausting to be all that, to live up to our own expectations and to the new reality’s expectations that every woman Must. Be. A. Superhero(ine). Every. Day. It’s exhausting to live up to the expectations of the Wonder Women we’re supposed to be out there in the world. It’s confusing to need to strive to be on this week’s Amazing Women list* while at the same time being yourself (which, if I’m honest, isn’t going to make anyone’s “amazing” list today, or possibly even this week).
Landscaping creep is going to go home after his shift, grab a beer from the fridge, put his feet up on the coffee table in front of the TV, and wait for his wife to cook dinner.
The author will go back to his wife, tell her of the nice tea and conversation he had with this aspiring writer.
Data scientist will continue to crunch his numbers, testing his further odds of getting a girlfriend this week (I’m clearly not suitable girlfriend material), quite possibly questioning his own vanilla-ness.
I’m over the dark cloud fogging the lenses with which I looked at the world this week. But it lingers: there’s this unfortunate gap between Wonder Woman and victim, one in which you must get out of bed every morning and decide which you’d like to be that day; the third option, Be Yourself, should be the easiest…but somehow, some days, that doesn’t seem to be enough.
*I googled “Amazing Women” and the top of the search results was Ukrainian mail-order brides. Ironic, that.
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