Monday, October 16, 2017

Being a girl

Photo courtesy of Ian D. Keating/Flickr

Last night, after reading stories about Harvey Weinstein and Mayim Bialik's New York Time's Op-Ed and then criticism of Bialik's Op-Ed– I felt agitated. Disgusted, too. Angry. But I had this itchy feeling that I get under my skin when I'm trying to find clarity on an issue and can't quite sort out my thoughts.

I started writing in my journal* hoping to figure out why it was I felt so angry and frustrated about everything I was reading. Part of it, of course, was that someone could amass so much influence and wealth while systematically and habitually abusing women for three decades. It's disgusting and disturbing. But it's not new, is it? We can't honestly say that we're surprised that someone would leverage their name and their money and their power to take advantage of a person or a situation, can we? 

It's infuriating, but not because it's anything new. Maybe it's that bang-our-head-against-the-wall fury we feel when these stories are unearthed every few weeks or few months or few years. Now do you understand why women feel so angry? Now do you understand why women feel so marginalized? Now do you understand why women feel so vulnerable? Now do you get it? 



Except that even now as we're tar-and-feathering one Jabba-the-Hut-sized lothorio parading himself as a champion for women, there are others doing the exact same thing at this exact moment. And who will continue doing the exact same thing. Because we don't demand more of our CEOs, presidents, generals, heroes, leaders.

Even as I'm writing now I'm recalling another Washington Post story from the past couple weeks– this one about an Air Force Colonel who trapped a female subordinate in an office and forcibly kissed her after months of sending her lewd and harassing texts (including a video of himself masturbating). Instead of being courtmartialed, sent to prison and being registered as a sex offender, he was disciplined for "minor offenses."

And you could click the "related links" in this story or the Weinstein story or the Cosby story or the Fox News stories or the stories about sexual harassment at Uber or the stories of sexual assault at [insert name of NCAA men's sports team here] back to the dawn of the internet and still not scratch the surface of the problem.

And these are only the stories of the wealthy, influential and famous. This doesn't even account for the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of incidences we will probably never know about. The ones involving regular people going about their regular lives. 

Remember Nabra Hassanen, the 17-year-old Muslim girl beaten to death just miles from my house? The man suspected of killer her was indicted today, not only for her murder, but also for rape

My Facebook feed today is filled with "Me too's." All these women I know posting that they've been sexually harassed or assaulted. I'm certain there are plenty more who chose not to raise their hands. And I'm angry for them. Angry that they feel their hands were held to the flames of just ... nonstop, endless, forever assault and that the only possible way they felt they could change the status quo was to face the demon yet again. The one they don't get to escape from ever. 

Who are we as a society that this is what we require of our most vulnerable?

I've hesitated about posting a "Me, too." Not because I'm all that shy about exposing my fleshy underbelly, but because I'm not sure my experiences quite qualify. Maybe they're on the spectrum. Maybe that's enough. I'm not sure. 

This again is where I lack clarity. But feel that itch. Right under my skin.

Last night I found myself writing in my journal, "I feel dispossessed of my body." I'm not really sure where that comes from. Only that I've felt that way for years. That I really feel uncomfortable in this body. That it's not really mine. That I'd prefer not to acknowledge it or deal with it in any way. That way nobody needs to have an opinion about it, least of all me. 

It's not about feeling like I'm in the wrong body. It's not a self-esteem thing. Just that when I'm alone, out in the world, I feel like a balloon head with all its thoughts and ideas floating above a body that isn't about thoughts and ideas. And that I'd rather just be the balloon head.

I've gone down a rabbit hole, I realize.

It's these memories that pop up. Like being nicknamed "Piggy Sue" and "Fridge" (after William "Refrigerator" Perry) when I was little. Little, little. How my hair was always too wild and untamable. And that time those boys in elementary school followed me, barking as I walked home from school. And how these guys in high school called me a feminazi– which somehow made me feel less attractive, less feminine, which probably means I wasn't a feminazi, but a high school girl, like so many other high school girls, who was profoundly disappointed by high school boys. How by college I had the sinking feeling that while I'd go out of my way to validate men, they weren't going to go out of their way to validate me. I had the sense that men see the world as theirs already. That I saw the world as something I needed to fight to have a piece of. How I got to a certain point in life– maybe mid-high school– and I had this thought that what made me attractive was that I was a certain type of shape. Like it all came down to geometry. 

I know, I know, this doesn't make any sense. 

I can and will only speak for myself. But I thought of this analogy the other day while trying to get to the bone of my thinking. It was this: That I feel like a rock that's been tossed around the ocean for millennia. That my whole sense of self has been shaped by the perceptions of the things I've bumped into and scraped against. 

That's probably not particularly original. Or even enlightening. 

But it feels kind of true to me. 

So when it comes to conversations about sexuality, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, my attitudes about it, its affect on me– that's where I stand. I've been thrown around waves of our day and age for almost 36 years and the result is I don't spend much time in front of mirrors, I hate selfies, I hate (most) pictures of myself, and even if I do like the images of myself I hesitate to share them for fear of what sharing them might say about me. 

It's less about disliking how I look– I feel like I'm a pretty standard-issue person– but that I hate the idea that I have to look any particular way. And that people react to it. And that people might have an opinion about it. And that it might put me in a vulnerable position.

I was subbing recently, making small talk with another sub. I mentioned I had two kids. The sub (a male) reacted in surprise and commented that I didn't look as if I'd had two kids and made some mention about my body looking one way or another and I wanted to disappear. I wanted him to stop talking. I understand he meant to be flattering. But instead I felt flustered. 

I understand it was probably an innocuous moment. No big deal. But for me, it felt hugely uncomfortable. 

I feel uncomfortable, too, reading reactions to Mayim Bialik's piece. It's not that I'm a diehard "Blossom" fan or a diehard" Big Bang Theory" fan. But she went out on a limb, wrote from her heart and from her truth and I admire that. As imperfect as it might have been. And it frustrates me that so many people were so quick to be critical of her. You know, because she is us, too. A woman who has shaped how she moves about this Earth by her experiences with all the others on it. I get that. Me too.

I admire the women sharing about the harassment and the trauma they've faced. They're brave and resilient– even though maybe they just think they're regular people. I hope it makes an impact.

But it's an enormous ocean we're all in here. 

Last week in middle school, I reconnected with my feminazi roots. A couple of boys were teasing another boy because a girl had scored a goal on him playing soccer in gym. Not only were they flabbergasted that a girl could be good at soccer, but it was a "shocking" enough incident to antagonize another person with. 

I felt the blood rising. "Seriously, guys? Why is it an insult that a girl scored on him?"

Their response: "Because she's a girl."

I found myself gearing for a fight, like I might have at 14 or 15. But they were back on their phones. I'd lost them already. 

Forgive me for feeling a little cynical. 

*Which will never not make me think of Paul Rudd in this scene of "Wet Hot American Summer."

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