First off before I get started let me say this: I didn’t start out privileged but I am now. It’s the privilege that comes with long fought years of things not being quite right until one’s made such a world for one’s self that it’s easy to forget the struggle until the moment the struggle literally tries to hit you in the face.
I read through the #yesallwomen hashtags yesterday and this morning–impossible to look away really, as they keep coming in. Each one has a story or multiple stories behind it. And as I read them I remembered.
1 out of 6 women face assault. I faced it three times with three different men/boys at three different times in my life in three different ways. Even if you go on your guard against one form of assault another can literally creep up behind you. The last one who tried to make my life hell was in 1991 — so that’s a long time that I’ve been free. Some women never get those decades of freedom. My life pre-1991 was so typical of women’s experience that mentioning it, writing about it, felt trite and typical and expected — so often I shy away from those stories because they’ve been told over and over again.
I grew up with a wicked stepfather who was angry that he’d been saddled with me. But so many of us do that our expression of that sorrow is too common place. Too done. Too yesterday. When I was in junior high a couple of good looking brothers from the high school tried to rape me. They lived across the street from me on a military base. But because I was cute and no actual vaginas were penetrated with cocks while filming this movie, my experience doesn’t exist as trauma in the American vernacular. Instead? It’s just growing up. When I was nineteen I dated an asshole who was the junior wicked stepfather in training and thankfully I woke up from the trance before it was too late. But not before he tore me down. Not before the assault, the pregnancy, the abortion. Not before he hit me on such a regular basis that I was numb to his blows being violence. Not before he’d convinced me that I was too fat and too pathetic for regular love and that I was lucky to have him. A miracle of love broke me free. A miracle of women’s studies classes broke me free. A miracle of publishing a poem and being paid for it broke me free.
It was not until I read Lidia Yuknavitch’s beautiful memoir masterpiece, Chronology of Water that I began respecting my experience and wanting to write it down for me , if not for others. It’s also telling that when my college was picking a book in common for the school to read, and I recommended this one, that they instead went with The Book Thief: A young adult novel set in World War 2 written by a white man just like the last book we read in common. Because WW2? Yeah, it’s a safer space than the American family. Than the experience of American daughters.
I’m privileged too because I’m a little fat. Which in my case probably cut down some of the more overt misogyny in the cat calling business. It left me with misogyny’s twin brother: invisibility. Given the choices, I’d take invisibility any day.
I am older now. Age is a privilege. I am Obi-Wan Kenobi reluctant to enter the fray because I know where this leads. I know the anger. The fire in the belly. I know the feeling of escape, the need for escape I will feel. It’s hard to walk through this world as a feminist and just breathe in the fresh air and enjoy the path because being a feminist means that you see everything in your path. You hear the sounds the predators make. You smell the fire miles away. You taste the death in the air. It’s no way to live blindly, peacefully, ignorant. We older feminists too often look smugly at our youth and think, ‘they’ll learn’ when we should be thinking ‘fuck, why am I complacent? Why did I give in?’
I have a daughter who is nine years old. I get to revel in her wonder and her experiment of the world. I am there to tell her– to witness to her– that she can do anything. I am there when she realizes there have been no women presidents and no women on the Dodger’s. She’s already been told she acts ‘too smart’ for the boys. That she’ll have to be quiet to get a boyfriend someday. I have to answer to this bullshit and try not to give her bullshit answers. How do mothers explain to their daughters without sounding like crushing defeat that their lives will be a battle for self preservation? Of body? Of spirit?
She is with me in the car listening to NPR when we hear of the UCSB shootings. She wants this random, not so randomness explained. What is a sorority? Why was that guy mad at the girls? Why were the girls mean to him? Because even on NPR this is the conversation: what did you do to deserve this? Even here you have to go beneath….because explaining misogyny on the radio would look like bias. Because the real bias is the norm.
I can’t bring myself to read the comment sections of articles about the shootings, about guns, about the mainstream denial that rape culture exists. It hurts my soul too much. I’ve already walked through that wall of fire too many times. There are still marks on my skin. I have to turn it off. I know what it comes down to though: either you see your actions and the collective actions of the world as interconnected (feminism) or you don’t (mainstream patriarchy). Either you are caught up in the details of how many men and women were killed or you recognize that white male privilege demands a body count in the first place. Either you walk outside and smell the global warming in the air and realize that the degradation of Mother Earth is just the largest metaphor ever for destruction of the feminine, or you walk around oblivious to the connection.
Either you recognize that some men and women’s choices are a part of their social conditioning and not active choices or you don’t.
I’m a college instructor. I arguably just finished the hardest semester of my teaching career. Perhaps it’s because I see too many connections. Without going into detail, I teach at a college without Women’s Studies courses and an administration that doesn’t understand the need. I teach at a college where each semester older women with boyfriends and husbands come back to school, are empowered by education and see their relationships crumble as they learn that the men who wanted them to go back so they could earn ‘extra money’ didn’t realize that reading would make them think. I teach at a college where male students complain that there are too many women on the reading list if there’s more than one female author but female students never make the same complaint in the opposite. I teach at a college where male students can say “I can’t relate because it was written by a woman and why does she have to give us details that we don’t want to know.” I teach at a college where female students have to endure male students and male identified female students talk about taking away their rights to abortion. I teach at a college where white male students who’ve plagiarized run to the dean to say I’m being unfair to their futures while students of color who’ve plagiarized acknowledged their wrong doing. I teach at a college where a male student threatened me for giving him an F–behavior he admittedly never used on his male teachers.
So #yesallwomen I’m in this fight too–whether I want to be or not.
And the hope? That bottom of the box?
I live in a world of my own creation with friends and family who get it. I have a good father. A good husband. A good son. I even have a good employer willing to hear me out even if they don’t understand the fight. Even if they haven’t realized they are part of the problem. I live in a world where I have met other women with similar fights and similar stories who together are calling bullshit on it all — from our forced swallowing of East Coast establishment writing as ‘the’ art, to the more literal rapist down the street. We see you. We know who you are. You can no longer make us feel bad about ourselves. I live in a world where women enjoy and don’t apologize for pleasure. I live in a world without a church, without a male deity. I live in as much freedom as I can muster. It’s taken years, decades, but my address is freedom.
Until I realize #yesallwomen , that that ‘all’ includes me. Includes my daughter. Includes this very planet. And that the fear I’ve tried to throw off like shackles is really never that far away.