It Starts When You’re Always Afraid, the remix

I asked some folks to help me come up with some concrete examples of how women’s lives are different than men’s and JR and the Shill got back to me before I started this post.

The Shill starts off with the broad stuff (ha, nice pun. This is all broad stuff!):

Men are never asked to think about balancing a career and family

Men are not constantly being told what their actions mean (when you decide to get married vs stay single, keep your name or change it, have a baby or not, etc etc etc) and how they feel about them. Constantly being told that (from the fucking media, your friends, your family, TV — whatever!) takes its toll. Men just don’t think about the same things we do — and they are not made to feel bad about not being able to do everything (see domestic porn like Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple, etc).

This is harder than I thought — I’m going to think on it some more. It’s all very wishy-washy and I know you’re looking for concrete examples.

Perhaps for another post: we’re also struggling with what it means to be a man — and right now we don’t know. We’ve done a very poor job shifting from provider to partner and while I want a partner, I also want a man — not some masculine girl (and I use girl deliberately here).

JR has good concrete ways she sees her life being different from Elias’s and other men’s:

well, i do walk around with a key in between my knuckles in case anyone tries any funny business and i have to jab out their eye.

and, when i was in college they outfitted all the girls with whistle key chains, and i remember through a series of events one night when i was waiting for the bus and i didn’t have my keys and felt totally vulnerable.

and, when down the street in college there were a series of rapes – males raping women, big shock – and i had to walk to the library every night – keys poised.

also, there was a man in my neighborhood recently torturing and sexually assaulting women (sometimes during the day), 7 or 8 in total, including one he kidnapped, raped, and beat to a bloody pulp. elias had to walk me to yoga 2 blocks away during those few weeks – he walked home alone, i did not.

men don’t know when to say when in yoga class. i always get nervous when men are in the class, because they think they can do everything…IT’S NOT COMPETITIVE but they find a way to make it competitive.

okay – not all of them, but a lot of them.

Here are the ones I came up with right off the top of my head:

I have never been to a bar alone. I’ve never just thought “I could use a drink” or “god I need to get drunk” and sat down at a bar by myself and started knocking them back.

For that matter, I’ve been to the park alone once in my entire life that I remember. Otherwise, I’ve always gone with friends or with the dog. I’ve never been to the park alone in Nashville.

I’ve had car repair become significantly cheaper when I said that I would have to call my “fiancee” and talk to him about it and could they please tell me exactly what was wrong with the car so I could check with him.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to take my shirt off at the park because I can’t imagine my naked body not being sexualized by observers.

I’ve had someone report back to the Butcher about how much my lunch cost, because he (the reporter, not the Butcher) felt I was wasting “the Butcher’s” money.

I’ve had men stroke my hair and pinch my nipples and grab my shirt and demand hugs; men who, by far, didn’t know me well enough to do that.

In high school, there were three girls in my calculus class. We were forced to sit at the front of the class where we could “learn better.” What kind of lesson was imparted by leering, I’m not sure.

When I’m talking to a man I don’t know, I’m often interrupted and not let to finish my thought, though any attempt to cut him off in similar rude fashion is ignored.

We’ve already talked about the man in the bar problem, this belief that women talking alone must be interrupted and refocused on the most insecure man in the room and I’ve had this happen plenty.

I don’t see men’s friends or even acquaintances making sure that they present themselves correctly to women (ha, or we’d have a lot more men beating the shit out of rapists), but women spend a lot of time policing and critiquing other women’s behavior and how they present themselves to men.

The Shill makes a similar point:

(Talking about older women criticizing younger women) The older women needed to feel validated about the sacrifices they made and feel safe in knowing that the decisions they made were the right ones. The problem with all of this is that answers are different for everybody. You can’t tell somebody what college to go to, what type of job to get, what type of work to do, who and when to marry, when to have a baby, what to do once you have it — because the answers are different. Experiences, psyches and motivations are different. And these decisions are logical AND emotional. They are sometimes unexpected and scary — sometimes they might seem daunting but when you’re faced with them, the answer is simple. Some women have people to talk to, some make decisions alone. You can say — the optimal time, biologically, to have children is ages 27-32 but if someone’s ready at 25 or 35 — why is it the business of other women? Why isn’t it the business of the woman and her partner?

(Sorry to rely so heavily on the children thing — but it’s the easiest and most obvious way these things play out, and it’s being rubbed in my face constantly these days.)

Ultimately, this is just the shit women do to each other. It doesn’t even surprise me anymore.

Here’s a way we live differently — the Legal Eagle will never be in a situation where he wonders if he’s being taken seriously based on his clothes. I do wear skirts to work on occasion, but I don’t wear them to important meetings.

That’s just a start. This is one of those Jay-Z type remixes, where y’all are welcome to take the stuff and make of it what you will.

It Starts When You’re Always Afraid

W. has asked how it is that men and women live differently in the world. It’s a fair enough question. I often look at y’all and think, “wow, you don’t even know how lucky you are.” Well, if you don’t know how you’re hogging all the good shit, how can I expect you to make some god-damn room for me?

So, I’m going to say the hardest part right up front here, so you can get it out of the way. The biggest privilege you have is that you get to hog all the good shit and not have to think about you don’t ever have to share or how we want it, too. You don’t have to hear us.

And worse than that, when you want to dismiss us, you do it by disparaging us in ways we can’t even defend ourselves against. I do have a cunt. If a bitch is a loud, pissy woman, then I am a bitch. If all a whore is just a woman who won’t have sex with you, then I am a whore. If I’m unavailable to all of you, I’m frigid. If I love another woman, I am a fucking dyke. What can I say in response to those words?

“No I’m not”? But I am. Me and my mom and your mom and your sisters and your daughters and your lovers and your wives. When you say those things, you mean all of us. You may not think you do, but we know it. We are all always just one pissed-off man away from being reduced to our genitals.

The thing that really gets me is the way you never have to think about your body if you don’t want and yet, because of you, I can never forget mine. And not only that, but those words, the ways in which you so casually dismiss me, they make me feel like a stranger in my own body, like my body is not a place for me to inhabit, but a place you own, that I just haunt, as ineffectual as any other ghost.

(And, it’s for exactly this reason that I am becoming more and more rabidly pro-abortion–yeah, I said ‘pro-abortion’ motherfuckers–a woman ought to be under no obligation to play host to unwelcome guests. Under no other circumstances would we tolerate an uninvited guest moving into our home and we should not be forced by the government to do it in this case. If the government can’t force me to put up a soldier in my house, how dare it insist I put up a human in my uterus?)

This brings me to the second (the first being that our very bodily incarnation is seen, rhetorically, as some kind of appropriate insult), but closely intertwined way we live lives very different from yours: We don’t trust you. We trust particular individuals of you, more or less, but in general, we don’t trust you not to hurt us.

Here’s why. You’ve raped or almost raped one in six of us and two-thirds of us knew you when you did it. When we love you, we have a one in three chance that you’re going to beat us up at least once.

I think feminism or its less radical cousin, anti-misogyny, would be a lot easier for y’all if there were some clear-cut bad guys. If we knew that all guys with green eyes were dangerous patriarchal bullshit jackasses, and I presented you with a list of grievances and a way for you to draw some circle that included you and me and excluded him, I know I could convince you to stand with me against him. Maybe you think you need that list of grievances about the patriarchy anyway. If so, you can start here.

But the biggest problem between us, and the thing I think that cripples us women so severely that we sometimes can barely function is that we are constantly struggling to find ways to love you, wholly and completely and openly, to count on you and have you count on us, to grow old with you, to raise you and entertain you and be entertained by you while protecting ourselves from you. We want to love you and be safe with you and be safe from you.

It doesn’t work.

Obviously, not all men are rapists or abusers. Most of you are good, decent, loving, caring people. But the problem is that the snakes among you seem just like you. And when we misjudge, it’s our fault.

We shouldn’t have gotten in the car. We shouldn’t have gotten drunk. We shouldn’t have been out so late. We shouldn’t have been out alone. We should have a roommate, a chaperone, a body guard. What do we expect, living in that neighborhood? Why don’t we have a dog? A gun? A fortress? What did we expect, leading you on like that? Dressed like that? Looking like that?

Most rape prevention folks will tell you that rape is not about sex, that it’s about violence. It’s really not quite (and yet really is) about both of those things. It’s again, about whether I inhabit my body or if I just haunt it. Rape is the extreme end of a continuum that starts at “slut” moves through “cunt” and has to do with whether it’s me or you who decides how my body is perceived, either as the physical manifestation of me or as house you can inhabit whenever the mood strikes you, while taunting that ghost (me) in the corner.

Rape, and rape prevention, is always on us. But it has almost everything to do with you and nothing to do with us. The only way we can assure we won’t be raped is to lock ourselves in the bathroom our whole lives.

But there’s lots you can do to assure we won’t be raped. For starters, don’t fucking rape us.

Most of you have that down.

The second thing you can do is stop rewarding bullshit behavior. If your friend tells you he “gives it to her right in the ass whether she likes it or not,” don’t go paint his fucking house or help him get his boat in the water or let him buy you beers. Don’t sit around looking at each other like “Will the rest of you think I’m a pussy if I speak out?”

Because, seriously, that’s my third thing–if someone calls you a pussy or a little bitch, he’s insulting you with me, with my body, with your mom’s body, your sister’s your favorite cousin’s, your sweet lover’s; those bodies belong to women too precious for you to be rewarding that bullshit with your silence.

Warning to All Louisiana Food Lovin’ Dog Owners

If you give your dog the last little bit of your jambalaya to eat, it may cause her to start drooling uncontrollably, right on your leg.

Though she is now sniffing the carpet, looking for any last little bits of rice, so I’m going to assume she really liked it.

America, I know I often speak of my great admiration for Mrs. Wigglebottom, but let me tell you a tangentially related story.

Once, I was up at my parents’ house and my dad said, “One of these pepper plants out in the back yard is hot and one is sweet. Go see which is which.”

So, I waited until he went to work and Mrs. Wigglebottom and I went outside and picked a pepper (just a pepper, not a peck of pickled peppers) and bit into it and found it to be yummy and bit in a little more and just about died, eyes watering, mouth drooling, I tossed the devil pepper aside.

“Ooo Mooozzzeezz Willlillwobbommm! Onnt ead dad!” I said, but it was too late, she’d already scarfed it down.

We went on to the next plant (anyone with a basic understanding of genetics should just stop reading now; you already know what happens) and, assuming that that pepper must be the sweet one, popped half of it in my mouth and tossed the other half to the dog.

She and I then both looked at each other with the same question running through our minds, “Why, why did I do that to us?” That fucker was hotter than the first!

Anyway, seeing her drooling all over from the jambalaya just reminded me of that.

Three Important Things I Learned this Weekend

1. Women wear their garter belts under their underpants, thus allowing them to still go to the bathroom with ease. I have been doing it all wrong.

2. On my car, there is a little arrow next to the icon of a gas tank on my gas gauge that points in the direction of my actual gas tank opening. I am embarrassed to admit how many times I pull up to the gas station the wrong way because I’m still, in my head, in the Cavalier.

3. There is a reason Odin spends much of the Havamal talking about right relations between guests and hosts and no time telling you the make-up of the powerful spells he knows, even though, by the time you get to that part–after he’s told you the most successful ways to behave and which sexual conquests of his have gone well and which have not, you kind of get a sense of the Old Poet stepping back from the intimacy you’ve shared up until that moment and saying in a loud voice that both draws you in and excludes you from empathizing with him, “I know I hung from the wind-swept tree, nine whole nights”–that’s what you wish more than anything he was going to share.

And the way those three last words hang in the air, you know you’re switching from practical mundane advice to impractical cosmic advice.

But back to the practical mundane. A reason, I think, that Odin (or the poet of the Havamal, whichever you’re comfortable with) spends so much time on the right relations between guest and host is that there’s so much room for things to go so wrong.

Both guest and host mush have a clear sense of their obligations to each other for things to work. If we head over to the OED, we can see why. Guest and host are practically the same word. Both have a clear foundation in the concept of stranger.

Strangers entering each other’s homes to share the most intimate ordinary rituals… that’s some powerful boundary crossing. No wonder Odin, who never met a boundary that could hold him, is so fascinated by it.