On men, power, and a yearning for something better

small_woman_symbolI wrote this all in a rush of words about a year and a half ago, just to get it out of my system for myself.  I think perhaps it’s time I shared it, as it remains as pertinent as ever.  #metoo

  –C.M.D

I’ve got this very particular kind of yearning going on.  Expansive.  A yearning in just about every area of my life, small and large and in-between.  I had an unpleasant epiphany that I am not sure I have the energy to write out, about men and power and women.  I realized that even though I consider myself lucky to have never been assaulted, some of my most embarrassing moments as a young girl were because of men and their behavior — and I finally realized they were not my fault.  Because they were not overtly sexual or “abuse” it never occurred to me to frame these encounters this way, but a great blog post on Cup of Jo and an excellent piece by Jia Tolentino in the New Yorker on how men implicate their victims in their acts made me rethink things.

“…one of the cruellest things about these acts is the way that they entangle, and attempt to contaminate, all of the best things about you. If you’re sweet and friendly, you’ll think that it’s your fault for accommodating the situation. If you’re tough, well, you might as well decide that it’s no big deal. If you’re a gentle person, then he knew you were weak. If you’re talented, he thought of you as an equal. If you’re ambitious, you wanted it. If you’re savvy, you knew it was coming. If you’re affectionate, you seemed like you were asking for it all along. If you make dirty jokes or have a good time at parties, then why get moralistic? If you’re smart, there’s got to be some way to rationalize this.”

–Jia Tolentino

Joanna Goddard mentioned that every woman has these kinds of moments, and that we all seem to consider them “nothing” because they are so pervasive in our daily lives.  Her account of being a harassed and kissed by her boss at only 14 years old made me cast farther back in my memory than I ever have when thinking about whether I have had issues with men being inappropriate (until now I have only considered my life as an adult).  I was so surprised to realize that yes, I have, and that they are some of the most embarrassing moments of my childhood.  That I was sweet and shy was not my fault — what kind of man thinks it is appropriate to tease a 5 year old about having hair on her legs?  Are they already supposed to be hairless, the better to attract?  To be sexy?  I was mortified, petrified, and so, so ashamed of my body, for reasons I did not understand. And I hated every moment that I had to sit in that truck next to that man.  Why is the ability of a man to say whatever comes into his head so much more valuable, more legitimate a need, than the comfort and perception of safety of the woman (or girl) he feels the need to speak to?  Likewise I was uncomfortable and embarrassed to be asked about Morro Bay by a man in Home Depot.  I had never been to Morro Bay — the jaunty hat I was wearing was a souvenir I was given, and I liked that it was a sailor hat.  I hated being approached by a stranger, and hated being put on the spot.  He felt large and loud and looming.  I don’t think I ever wore that hat again.  Typing it out or trying to describe that encounter… it seems relatively innocuous.  But I think there is something to gut feelings, and in hindsight… well, he was certainly not offering to help me find my parents.  And that is not including all the microaggressions that are just “nothing” to us.  The older men who have called me diminutive names.  The harassment I got from boys my age in school.  The boy in 2nd grade who would chase me around the playground, for example, so instead of playing I spent my recesses hanging around the yard duty (who did nothing to stop him from hassling me).  The boy in 5th and 6th grade who would taunt me with ”monkey legs” during P.E., who left me, again, mortified about my body.  But insults and harassment mean a boy “likes you.”  If you complain, you’re told “boys will be boys,” and what’s the harm?  Is it any surprise that we grow into women who don’t speak up?

It is somehow terrible to realize and freeing to consider — that these embarrassments were not because I was too shy, or to naive to get the joke, or too sensitive, or overreacting.  The women I was so sad for in the Weinstein bombshell — those articles that made me feel ill — they are all of us.  I am part of that.  I am a women that blames myself.  It is so insidious and cruel, to turn the best things in us into liabilities, into faults, into reasons why we deserved what we got, what we get. And in a twisted way, it almost makes me feel more helpless.  To know that, albeit in comparatively small ways, men have successfully made me feel small.  And they have made me feel responsible for that smallness.

I don’t know what the answers are. I want so desperately to believe we have come a long way, that things are better than they were, but then I see the way these courageous women are belittled when they speak up.  “Why did she wait so long to say something?” “Why did she accept a settlement?” “She must have been in it for the money.” “She was asking for it.” “Welcome to Hollywood.” I am left with such melancholy, that there is so little regard for half the world’s population.  That I am a part of that half.  I should be respected as a person, regardless of whose daughter or sister or friend or wife I am.  I should not only matter in the context of the men I am related to.  Add this yearning to the rest of the pile.  I am a pile of aching yearnings, big and small.  I am yearning for something better.