At first, it was just another one of his -isms. Then I really started thinking about it. How many times in my life have I literally and figuratively been ‘grabbed by the pussy’? Off the top of my head I can count at least four times. By men both known and unknown to me. Men I trusted and knew and men I didn’t. What I cannot count is how many times I have not felt safe in my body. And yet, nothing has actually “happened” to me.
Let me pause here.
The above was written about a week ago. What followed was a piece in which I listed all the different ways I’ve been figuratively and literally “grabbed by the pussy.” I wrote it, read it, edited it and rewrote it. Over and over. I didn’t know I need to write it but once it was written, I was surprised by my own near-desperate need to rant. In the piece, I wrote about how it’s 2016 and women are still tolerating this. I wrote about how, like my mother says, when it comes to mens’ behavior, we get what we tolerate. When I was finished writing, or maybe I should say, when I exhausted myself of the subject matter, I set it aside for a week. I let it sit. I almost let it go.
But somewhere in that week of sitting, two things came flying back to hit me in the face. The first: my own victim mentality. To assume that ‘pussy grabbing’ happens to us because we, as females, tolerate it? Wherever did I get that idea? That is certainly not what my mother meant. What she meant is that we do not have to tolerate a damn thing we don’t please. And it’s certainly not my fault or your fault or anyone’s fault other than the person who commits the offense. See, this is the problem with this problem: it is self-perpetuating only because boys will be boys and girls will be girls. Women have assumed too much responsibility for too long. We tend to do that. We’re used to it.
The second thing that came flying back at me? It was the thing that convinced me not to let this one go.
It happened on my flight back back to London last Sunday. I sat across the aisle from a group of drunk English men returning from Eastern Europe. “We’ve been drinking whiskey all day!” They boasted to no one in particular when boarding. Mid-flight when a mother and her toddler walked down the aisle and one of the drunks accidentally whacked the toddler on the head, he was horrified and slurred apologies profusely. Ten minutes later the pretty flight attendant walked by collecting trash said, “Are you finished already?” One of them hollered in response, “Nah, he lasts a long time, don’t worry…”
My blood pressure spiked. I’m sick and tired of men behaving like this and getting away with it. Yeah yeah, I get it, they were stupid and drunk. But even drunk people know right from wrong. Smacking a baby in the head is not okay. So why is it okay to yell rude, lewd sexual comments at a woman bringing you a continual supply of beer? To answer this question, here again I am fighting the temptation to blame the flight attendant for not speaking up herself. While I'm also berating myself for not speaking up, I'm forgetting about all the perfectly respectable sober men sitting right there who also, like me, did nothing. This is not about what we’re doing wrong as females because we aren’t doing anything wrong. It’s almost not really even about boys behaving badly anymore. It's about collective responsibility; who is and who isn't assuming their part.
No wonder women are tired. Tired of hearing about this and tired of living it. And yet, again, for me personally, nothing has actually “happened.” Nothing except, now that I think about it, my whole adult life has revolved around the fact that I am deeply frustrated by not just a patriarchal culture but the deep-seated idea (make whatever pun you will of it) that because I have a vagina my life is somehow subtly marginalized. That’s a nice way of saying that because I don’t have a cock, I’m the one who must give up her career, her dreams, her job, her opinion; I’m the one who — when she gets knocked up has the man tell her, “I’ll support you but you’ll be doing this 90% on your own.” How long have we been like this? On our own? I can’t think of one man in my life, gay, straight or otherwise who stands up or speaks out for womens’ rights.
It takes every ounce of strength for me not to erase that last sentence. Why? It makes me feel guilty—no, ashamed. As though perhaps that’s MY fault for not knowing enough brave men or men brave enough or simply one single man who can be bothered enough to speak up for women. That is, for me. For my sisters. For my beautiful, brave, inspiring female friends who are mothers, teachers, therapists, artists, caretakers.
When I started becoming more involved with the LGBT community, an entire universe unveiled itself to me. I had no idea what the LGBT community had been going through. How I did not know they were and still are being treated poorly and unfairly is simple: I’m not LGBT.
It’s in this way that I can sympathize with the straight male. How could the average man have any idea of what it’s like to go through their lives as though their genitalia were potentially up for grabs. What it’s like to stand on the bus and wonder if any of those people — bigger, stronger, faster than them — might want to do something with their body that they do not want done to them. What if men wondered more often: does this person respect me? Here and now and behind my back? Is my coworker of the opposite sex who is less experienced, less skilled and less senior being paid more than me?
It’s not their fault men are clueless as to what it feels like to be cornered in a dark room by someone three times their size and weight. I am not blaming, I’m sympathizing. Why? Because that’s what women do. We’re wired that way. Sympathy however, can only go so far. We have to start taking care of ourselves. No one’s going to do it for us. My mother taught me that, too. And so maybe now is the time we will, for once, stop taking care of everyone but ourselves.
((SIDE NOTE: In Japan male public officials are walking around wearing pregnant suits, learning what it feels like to be pregnant: on a bus, at the supermarket, hanging laundry. This is a good start. And there should be more exercises in female-oriented compassion. Imagine Donald Trump in a pregnant suit. Now there’s a pig flying if I ever saw one.))
I am not an angry person but I wake up fiery these days. Something inside me smolders when I read the news, I fume when I read Facebook. All before I even have coffee. I read this morning that the American Psychological Association has tips for coping with this campaign. I didn’t read the tips but catch myself wondering if they involve punching.
A few months ago when I was feeling really zen, I was thinking about why it is that Trump came to be where he is, running for president. Not why in the logical or practical sense but more in the, ‘what does this have to do with the emotional evolution of the human race?’ sense. I asked myself: for as much as I don’t like the guy, in what ways am I exactly like him, intolerant, ignorant and hateful? Perhaps his uninvited arrival into our waking world is a nightmarish calling of sorts: to take a good inner glimpse of our own personal Trump(s). But that was a few months ago. And well, the zen ship has sailed.
Nevertheless, I am grateful to The Donald. If it weren’t for his foul mouth and ill-will towards women, politics would have never been this personal. I am not looking to make peace. Not right now. That can come later. Right now, what I want is for women to matter. I want black, yellow, orange, brown and refugee lives to matter; LGBT equality; gun control. And if that means I have to rage, well, watch me. Read me. Hear me. Better yet, join me.