Why My Feminism isn’t About You

Better livingI’m supposed to be cleaning the house today. The BF has a sports thing he’s doing, and I have several days off in a row. I’ve just finished one major writing project and am that little lull before I’m ready to tackle a new one.

I’ve also been doing a bunch of research on the 1950s as part of the background I need for a new series I’m contemplating: think of it as Ward and June Cleaver meets the X-Files.  With the emphasis on homemaking for ‘the little woman’ of that era, I might be feeling a bit guilty about the state my own home is in.

So right. Today seemed like the perfect day to tackle the house, which is long overdue for a major spring cleaning. The kind where you put on your favorite playlist, crank the music and PURGE your house of all the useless crap that has accumulated for decades, trimming it down to the bare minimum in the hopes that you will find that external hard drive you misplaced last year and now desperately need. Instead, I woke to the internet discussion of the Elliot Rogers shootings in Santa Barbara yesterday. And the ‘mansplaining‘ that had already begun.

In many ways, the need of some men to stand up for Elliot Rogers and claim that he was right to take out his frustrations on not being able to get a date by shooting up a sorority house full of women is more shocking than the fact that once again, we have *another* campus shooting here in the US because a mentally unstable person had easy access to weapons that allowed him to commit mass murder.

I began reading the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen. I read this well-thought out article by skepchick on the Alpha Male/Retribution syndrome and how Rogers’s rage will be blamed on his mental illness alone and not the growing number of Men’s Rights and women-hate groups on the internet fomenting his anger. Yes, Rogers was mentally ill. So yet again, we have an example of a mentally unstable person gaining access to a gun and killing large numbers of people with it. I don’t dispute this.

What concerns me is the amount of sympathy that Rogers got post-shooting, The numbers of men who took to the Twitterverse to cheer him on and applaud his shooting spree. “Damn right, blonde bitches, that’s what you get for friendzoning us” and “If a girl had just given the guy a little pussy, none of this had to happen” being two of the most chilling comments I came across.

I read the effing *brilliant* post by Chuck Wendig titled Not All Men, But Still Too Many Men in which Wendig tackles the problem head on for what it is–the utter insanity of men’s privilege and sense of entitlement when they already have it. More than anything, I am conscious of the double standards still perpetrated, in fact, even promoted by the GOP, that women are second class citizens who must be controlled and monitored like small children because their wanton actions might trigger unfortunate behavior in otherwise ‘nice’ boys.

DeLorean_Back to the FutureLike the GOP, growing louder in its religious and social cage-rattling in an effort to keep their base hopped-up and voting blindly for them (despite the fact that their economic policies are ruinous for anyone except the 1%–don’t get me started), it seems the closer women get to true equality, the more we get laws governing our bodies passed by men who want to keep us in ‘our’ place, or deny us equal pay, or erode the civil liberties we fought hard to establish. For every young woman out there, I’d like to tell you this: civil rights aren’t a battle fought and won and something you can just accept from now on. They are something that must be defended every day. If certain political parties could figure out a way to do it, they would strip voting rights from us, too.

One of the fun facts I discovered during my research was that up until the late 1960s, it was impossible for a woman to rent a car in the US without the written permission of a male relative. Presumably, this was to prevent women from leaving their husbands without their knowledge, denying them the right of a headstart away from someone who may have terrified them.

But I digress.

Shortly after the Steubenville rape case (and please, don’t get me started on the Football Culture/Rape Culture in this country. An openly gay NFL player will bring down the sport but rapists, murderers, and players who RUN A DOGFIGHTING RING are scarcely acknowledged? Give me an effin’ break.), a very good friend of mine posted an open letter to her son on consent. This was one of many conversations she’d had with her son over the years on his responsibilities for his actions and expectations when it comes to the people he chooses to date, and the letter was posted by The Good Men Project. It has since been reposted and shared so many times that I’ve lost track of the current stats (and have asked my friend to share them here with me), and has been translated into other languages. The GMP invited my friend to be a regular contributor to their site, and she was asked if she’d be interviewed on television.

She declined both offers.

Why? Read the comments on that post. For every woman thanking her for speaking up, for speaking to her son about such an important matter, three or four men chimed in with complaints that she didn’t address the comparatively small number of men who are raped and molested by women. Okay, that occurs. No one is denying that. But that is not what the letter was about. The letter was about a parent taking responsibility for educating her son about what constitutes sexual consent between two people, and to have a stridently vocal group try to usurp the discussion away from its true purpose was disheartening to say the least. Not because these voices didn’t deserve to be heard–but because some of these voices tried to make it seem as though the subject at hand–the rape of women by young men either through lack of respect or as a kind of sport–was somehow not a real or significant problem. Worse, however, in my opinion, was the number of men who wrote in saying that she should be turned in to child services for emotionally crippling her son by even *having* this discussion. Men who likened her to a monster. Trolls who called for her death and predicted dire ends for her children. My friend responded with courtesy, intelligence, and patience to these comments, but eventually she couldn’t take it any more. And I don’t blame her. The comments enraged me. No one should have to put themselves through that every day.

Redhead bondageSo when I wake up to find that mansplaining is in full force for Elliot Rogers today, by groups who advocate making women submit to the will of a man by making them bleed, I felt compelled to share with you some of my personal experiences on being a single woman in the US. I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m just saying how it is.

During orientation for college, the women in the audience were advised not to go anywhere after four pm in less than groups of two or three because of the rape problem on campus. Women were getting raped in the stacks at the library, and this was treated as a matter of course, something to be aware of, like a pothole in the street.

When I was in college, my chemistry tutor hit on me during our very first tutoring session together. I guess I should have realized something was up when he wanted to hold the tutoring session in his dorm room seated on his bed, but hey, I was young and naive. I thought he was there to tutor me in inorganic chemistry, not human biology. I was so incapable of dealing with this situation, it was so outside the ability of my teenage self to handle it appropriately, I ended up dropping out of chemistry and taking it another quarter.

Also while in college, a professor (whom I found out later had a reputation for being a rake), cornered me between two pieces of lab equipment while I was working on a project, pressing up against me from behind so that his dick was noticeable against my ass. I was a little older and wiser by this time. I pretended to be excessively startled by his sudden, silent presence, elbowing him sharply in the ribs and stomping on his instep before innocently turning and saying, “Oh dear! You surprised me! Perhaps you shouldn’t stand that close.”

Fortunately, he wasn’t *my* professor, or else I suspect I would have failed that class.

I acquired a stalker my junior year of college. I’d been out on *two* dates with a guy before I figured out he wasn’t the nice, funny, upstanding young man he’d pretended to be. In fact, he’d lied to me about everything that he said he was. He broke into my car and stole my schedule because he didn’t believe me when I said I had to be in class instead of going out with him. He became angry when I refused to pick up on his hints that he needed a place to live, or that, on our second date, he brought up the subject of marriage. He privately chastised me for ‘canceling’ our second date when all that I’d really done was suggest we meet for dinner instead of lunch as I had to go to the library. And when I refused to let him in my apartment after the end of our second date, when I told him I thought it would be best if we didn’t see each other any more as I had to keep school my first priority, I almost became a date-rape statistic. Almost.

I was forced to move, to change my appearance, to take an unlisted phone number. The fact that I could be so *wrong* about a person scared me–I no longer trusted my judgement. I made a conscious decision not to date for years. About the time I’d decided maybe it was time to give dating a chance again, I received a letter from the father of one of my best friends. Recently a widower, he felt this was the right time to tell me that he’d always admired me and that he would like to date me. Um, yeah, no. Bad timing there, dude. I went back into my self-imposed exile for another couple of years, disturbed by the fact that I could no longer enjoy my happy childhood memories of going over to my friend’s house. I was creeped out, to say the least.

When I was in my early twenties, I was followed on the interstate for over 150 miles by a man in a car that sped up whenever I did and slowed down whenever I did. I’d pulled into a rest stop earlier to get my packed lunch, never getting out of the car. I didn’t realize this guy was following me until I noticed that he’d pulled up beside me at the rest stop, and he’d never gotten out of his car, either. When I got back on the interstate, we began an hours long cat-and-mouse game that had me gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles trying to figure out how to safely lose him before I ran out of gas. This was before cell phones, so short of getting off the interstate and driving to a police station, I didn’t know what to do. What I ended up doing was speeding up until he was racing me, then slamming on the brakes and taking an exit as he passed it. I drove the back roads the rest of the way home sick with terror that he’d find me on them and I’d be at his mercy.

For the man who drove alongside me on the highway honking his horn until I looked over at him, so he could wave his dick at me, I asked my German Shepherd to sit up from where she was sleeping in the backseat. She sprang up like a spring-loaded weapon, and he hit the brakes and took the next exit.

When a man ran me off the interstate at night because I honked at him for tailgating me and flashing his high beams in my rearview mirror, I ended up zooming backward up a major interstate until I could flip the car around in an illegal U-turn and take the exit I’d just passed.

And I will never forget the night I was on-call and decided to dash into the grocery store around 7 pm to grab a few items for dinner. I say ‘dash’ because wearing a pager and planning to cook a meal is just asking for it to go off, especially when you’re stuck in line at the grocery store. So I pulled up, leapt out of the car, ran across the lot, dashed around the store picking up items on the fly, and trotted back out to the car.

When I exited the store, a pickup truck on the far side of the parking lot turned on its headlights. No big deal, someone leaving the store, right?

When I reached my car, the pickup truck was pulling up beside me.

By the time I jumped in the car and hit the lock button, a man was standing at my driver’s side door, looking at me with the expression of a tiger who’d just missed the gazelle at the watering hole.

Military Working DogsIt shook me to the core. I don’t go to the store at night by myself anymore unless I have the dog with me. And you know, there may be a reason why I keep getting German Shepherds. It’s why shows like CSI make me uneasy, as I see them as a blueprint for men who set traps for women. It’s why I always pay attention to where I park, why I carry my keys between my fingers like a shiv, why I took self-defense classes, why I don’t take up jogging. I have never been beautiful. The only thing that makes me a target is that I am female and alone. And I know that my risk of attack won’t go down with age because its never been about being young and pretty. It’s about being a target. Vulnerable. A soft-bellied gazelle that someone who wants to pretend he’s a big jungle cat can terrify and abuse.

I don’t even think about it anymore, except to warn the daughters of friends that they need to pay attention to their surroundings and that they need to be prepared to defend themselves. But daily I am appalled at the casual comments of hate my friends and colleagues report at the hands of the men who are supposed to love them. Men who belittle their creativity, their actions, hell, their very existence. Men who berate them when they try to cook healthier meals, who shove them in parking lots, who demean their opinions, their looks, their goals. I used to not be able to understand why someone just didn’t walk away from that kind of abuse, but as a single middle-aged woman, I can now understand how the fear of poverty or being without health insurance can be greater than the fear of someone’s unkind words. After all, it’s just words, right?

No, it’s your very soul. And you deserve better. And part of this culture of shaming women into believing that they deserve to be treated this way is to ensure that she’s there cooking your dinner for you when you get home from work.

I am a terrible cook. Thank god my boyfriend does most of the cooking, or I’d live off Cap’n Crunch. Thank god, too, that he believes in mutual respect, intelligent discourse, believes in my writing, and never belittles anything that I hope or aspire to. I’m a very lucky woman, living as a I do in a Red State (where daily someone is trying to pass a law to make me less of a person than I am), to find someone like him. Because if you look at my track record here, you can see why I almost lost hope of ever finding this kind of adult relationship. Believe me, it’s better than anything I can dream up in one of my romance stories.

The thing is, I don’t think my experiences are unusual. I think they are frighteningly typical of the average American woman. And that is wrong on so many levels.

One more thought before I go. I came across this article by Dr. Jill McDevitt, a sexologist. She sums up the current thought toward women and sex very succinctly. It is no longer damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s dead if you do, dead if you don’t. Read some of the comments and reactions Dr. McDevitt describes in the case of a woman who put herself out there online performing a sexual act and then was driven to commit suicide because of it.

Wow. Chew on that one a bit.

Right. Well, I’ve got a house to clean, folks.

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Why My Feminism isn’t About You

  1. Sad isn’t it? I’m almost 52 years old and I can relate to nearly every experience you have had. Being catcalled and leered at and yelled at when I was young and attractive scared the ever loving crap out of me. I did whatever I could to make myself as invisible as possible by the time I was in college. Knowing it’s worse in other cultures does not excuse what a mess this one is. I’m amazed by young women today who just seem to think that things will never go back to how they were in the past – but the apathy of the young is exactly what’s going to allow it to happen. This onslaught of attempts at once again having men control women’s bodies and their right to reproductive and health care is stunning to say the least. That it’s actually happening without the outcry that should be accompanying it is frankly very frightening. Bread and Circuses.

    Your friend sounds like a wonderful woman and I’m sorry that she was subjected to rants of fools. If only their were more mothers and fathers out there that seriously took on the responsibility of raising a good man. Amy Lane’s post today about her oldest son’s reaction to the shooting is proof that there are good parents out there, but these kinds of events are sobering because they effect all of us in such a negative way.

    Love reading your blog Sarah even though I don’t comment as often as I would like! I too need to clean house today. UGH! Hope you have a great few days off. I know and I, for one, really need this holiday break 😀

    • The thing is, it never occurred to me to report any of these events to anyone. Hell, I didn’t even realize there were so many until I began listing them in my head. It never occurred to me because I assumed I’d be blamed–that I shouldn’t have been out driving alone, that I shouldn’t have gone on a date, that I should have realized that I was behaving provocatively toward someone I didn’t even realize was in the room until he groped me from behind.

      I saw Amy Lane’s post on Facebook. Good for him–good for both of them, actually. She can tell herself she’s done something right to have raised a young man capable of saying this is wrong, and he’s tired of it all, and that perhaps we should stop showing HEROES killing villains if we want to start seeing change. Yes, to all of it. What a great guy.

      I’m looking askance at the clock and realizing it’s a bit late in the day to start tearing the house apart now. We’re doing the cookout thing this evening, so maybe the Spring Clean of 2014 will have to wait until tomorrow to kick off! *red-face* Still, I really felt like I needed to get this off my chest. 🙂
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Why My Feminism isn’t About YouMy Profile

  2. LTTP: This. GOD, this.

    I’m 46, and work out with a 23 year old male, ex-Marine. He has no idea what to do with me when I get aggressive, or when I ask about throat-punching.

    He can’t begin to imagine my everyday fears, much less that it’s not about looks, it’s vulnerability.

    I’m serious, he’s confused. He’s also sweet, and that mindset is repulsive to him.

    The owner of the place is a 28 year old woman. She has no compunction showing me kick-ass moves, and then cooing over cute shoes.

    I’m so glad I’m no longer young enough for men to tell me to smile when I’m out living my life. I had no idea how much that terrified me.

    • He can’t begin to imagine my everyday fears, much less that it’s not about looks, it’s vulnerability.

      This. I think it really boils down to the fact that the majority of men, even the nicest, most empathetic, have no idea what it feels like to have to be vigilant where ever we go. I know men have their own set of pressures and issues, but this isn’t one of them for most men.

      On the other hand, a friend of mine told me her teenaged son was beaten up at a gas station when they first moved to the area because he ‘looked gay’. Sad commentary, that. More than anything, it would seem, it’s about appearing vulnerable.
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Why My Feminism isn’t About YouMy Profile

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