Never, not once, does it occur to me that other humans should police their appearance in accordance with the behavior, or possible behavior, of my sons.
I love my sons. With my entire body and soul and heart. I love them more than I love myself.
But fuck all of that. Entirely.
A mom wrote a letter to the editor of the Notre Dame student paper decrying leggings. She feels women should stop wearing them. Because men.
In the interest of transparency, I’ll share with you that I was assaulted while wearing leggings. By two men. (Boys really. They were teens.) Two men I thought were friends. And while they assaulted me, they told me it was my fault.
Because I wore leggings.
I will be goddamned before I tell my sons that they are free to act like predators because of the way someone else dresses. That they are free to act like assholes because of someone else’s appearance. That they are free to act like an orange faced bag of shit because of how someone else’s body moves.
Recognizing and eliminating injustice begins with bodily autonomy.
Again. For the people in the back.
Recognizing and eliminating injustice begins with bodily autonomy.
If we are ok with women being ridiculed for their clothing choices, it is easier to accept their assaults.
If we are ok with transgender people being ridiculed for looking different, it is easier to accept their assaults.
If we are ok with the disabled being ridiculed for their body differences, it is easier to accept their assaults.
When we other them, when we place human beings into categories that are different from the categories we find ourselves in, and when we begin to think of those categories as less than our own, we chip away at their humanity.
We chip away at our humanity.
We are all human beings. And we need to unpack this bullshit. And fast.
This is why black and brown bodies are in danger. Why the police are called on them for just existing. This is why women are taught, from the time they are kids, to always be on the defense from sexual assault. Rather than men being taught, from the time they are boys, what active and enthusiastic consent looks and sounds like. This is why transgender and nonbinary people struggle to just safely fucking pee in public bathrooms. Why the disabled have to battle every day through an existence that is designed around limited access for them.
It is all rooted in bodies. How we treat them. How we view them. How we shame them.
We learn at the feet of our own selves. We learn to hate our own appearances. And it’s a trauma that we perpetuate every time we shame someone else. No matter how small it seems.
We are perpetuating some toxic garbage on the bodies of fellow humans every day.
This isn’t about leggings.
It will never be just about leggings.
And I will never entertain the notion that I should be out here teaching my children that what another human being wears is a signal of entitlement. That the clothing another human being chooses gives my sons access to that human’s body.
I haven’t crocheted lately. Or embroidered. Or even doodled.
I bought myself a planner that has coloring pages within it. I colored one picture the day I brought it home. Since then it has remained colorless. Void of creativity.
Everything weighs so heavily on me. And I know a lot of that has to do with depression. But more so it has to do with the world and the ways in which it keeps closing in on me.
Every day, people talk about my body as if it isn’t real to them. As if there isn’t a heart that beats or arms that hug or eyes that cry when their proclamations spill down in toxic waves of cold detachment.
My body is regulated.
My healthcare choices. My birth control choices. My medication choices.
It can be grabbed and groped and leered at and then debated. People can decide if I deserved what I got and if I should wear what I choose.
What it looks like is for the benefit of others. Never for the benefit of me. I buy into notions of beauty and poise and aesthetics without even recognizing what I am doing. Another woman comes along and points out the absurdity of women being made to believe they have to have no body hair and I bite my lip. I lose what she says after that because my brain begins calculating the hours I’ve lost to shaving beneath hot streams of water, from ankle to armpit and everything in between, for years of my life.
And still to this day.
I won’t give up on it because of her comment.
There’s still a part of me that wants to have some semblance of control over my self. That wants to believe that a choice I made was really ever mine to make.
I want to feel connected to it. To have some type of ownership over it. I want to believe that I’m the only one who makes decisions about this body that I feel I know so intimately, yet view through lenses that someone else has fitted over my eyes.
I know it’s not just me. It isn’t just about my body.
Even more than mine, it’s happening to the bodies of women of color, trans bodies, the bodies of young black men.
And so there are no words or pictures. The well of creativity has run dry.
All the water it held is being used to put out fires.
Relentless, widespread fires.
Stoked by the anger of men desperate for power and fed by the bodies of anyone who challenges them.
I’d spent that summer working for a small veterinarian. Cleaning cages. Feeding animals. Answering phones. Light cleaning. I’d come in on Saturdays to help out. Then on Sundays to work alone. They were technically closed but someone had to be there in case of an emergency.
One Saturday, they needed assistance while putting a dog to sleep. And I knew then the job was not for me.
My father brought me up to the local pet food store. This was prior to the national chains really taking off. We owned several dogs, and the store was just blocks from our home, so he’d become good friends with the owner. I had a brief interview and was hired, at the age of 15, for my second job. One that would accommodate my school hours and not ask me to deal with euthanizing animals.
I was trained on the register. On signing people up for a rewards program. I was taught about all the various products the store carried. The owner believed in natural products, and really pushed people to invest in higher quality food products for their pets. He kept a huge list of rescue organizations specific to different breeds at the front of the store because he believed in adoption and refused to sell animals. He taught me about restocking and inventory and providing exceptional customer service.
He also taught me how he liked his shoulder and back massage.
The stock room was in the basement of the store. He showed me where everything was kept and was clear that I was not expected to pick up or carry the fifty pound bags of dog food up the stairs to the store when they needed restocking. He would always take care of that.
And then I would give him a massage.
He always restocked at night. When the store was quieter. Customers were less likely to come in. But even if they did, the massage took place in the back of the store. Back behind all the shelving. Back where there were no windows. He’d hear the bell above the front door as it opened and stood up quickly from his chair to go attend to the customer.
Nobody ever saw.
And I never said a word.
I hated every second of it. My skin would crawl. I’d get nauseous. I hated the scratch of his sweater beneath my fingers. I hated the skin between his collar and the base of his hairline. A constant fear that my fingers might slip and touch that skin, might cause him to think I enjoyed this or wanted to provide something more than a back and neck rub, ate away at the air in my lungs. I loathed the back of his head. There were nights I went home with my face aching from cringing and my fingers aching from squeezing.
I thought at times that if I really was good at it, if I really made his shoulders feel better, it might end quicker.
I stood there almost every time that I had to work until closing and, when I could no longer stand to look at the back of his head, I stared up at the ceiling willing someone to come into the store with the power and energy of every single cell in my body.
But I never said a word.
Because I needed that job. I was young. I thought maybe this was just what one had to do in order to keep a job. I’d spent my life being silent and quiet and shy and working at keeping my father, my abuser, from getting angry. Or angrier. And this guy was his friend.
I didn’t always stay silent, though.
Three jobs later . . .
This time I’m nineteen and working at a motorcycle shop that contained a clothing boutique. My father was gone. My boyfriend had left me. I was free and single and surrounded by men on a daily basis. I started experimenting sexually with a much older man I worked with. A man everyone there warned me against, but who did things to me none of the boys I dated previously had ever done. I was feeling bold and brave.
I wore short skirts and tight shirts. Thigh highs and high heels. All of which were encouraged. This was a motorcycle shop, first and foremost, and sex would help sell t-shirts and leather jackets to all those guys who sidled over to say hi and ask my name while their hogs got oil changes.
My stock was stored back with the parts behind the parts counter. All of it on shelves. Some of which were seven feet tall. I needed a ladder to reach that stock. And Ben always managed to appear when I sneaked back there to restock. Just to see if I needed help.
The only help he provided to me was when I had to climb the ladder.
“I’ll keep that steady for you,” he’d say with a smile.
Though he never held the ladder.
His hands always landed on the backs of my legs. Upper thighs. Not quite all the way under my skirt.
But not quite below the hem of it either.
it took a few weeks, but this time, I felt more empowered. I felt braver. This time, I said something.
I went to the general manager. A man who’d always been kind to me and made me laugh. I told him what had been going on. I told him I didn’t want it happening anymore, but that I didn’t feel comfortable telling Ben when the two of us were alone in the tightness of a stockroom aisle. Hidden behind high shelves.
I told him I wanted him to speak to Ben. And that I didn’t want to have to discuss it with Ben.
The general manager seemed sympathetic. And concerned. He would take care of this, he assured me.
The next time I worked a shift with Ben, he cornered me in the stock room.
He wasn’t loud. But he was adamant. I was wrong about the whole thing. He was a married man and he needed this job and I misunderstood the whole thing.
He kept at it until I apologized to him. Only after I apologized was I allowed to pass him and exit the stock room to get back to work.
With the eyes of Ben, and all the other parts guys he took turns whispering to, watching me from across the store.
We keep telling these stories. We keep responding to cries of, “Why now? Why is she only speaking up now?” We keep explaining what it means to be at the mercy of a man who holds power. What it means to want to keep your job. Not just keep your job, but keep it and be able to work in relative comfort and safety.
Harvey Weinstein is a high profile example, in an industry I can bet is teeming with examples just as horrific. Or worse.
But sometimes Harvey is the guy in the pet store. Or the bike shop. Or the local accounting firm.
Harvey Weinstein attacked and threatened in pricey hotel rooms around the world.
But often the attacks and threats and gropes and grabs take place desk-side. In musty stock rooms. Beside frying oil.
We go home tired and wrung out and sometimes those feelings have nothing to do with the physical labor of the job itself and everything to do with the fight to maintain our personal space and our dignity and our safety.
This is not an issue for women to resolve.
Men need to answer some questions.
Like, why they think this is ok. Why they aren’t recognizing how inappropriate and abusive this behavior is. Why they think they are entitled to treat women like this.
Years later Jacob hired my younger male cousin. And years after that I worked up the nerve to ask if he ever gave Jacob a back rub or shoulder massage. The look on his face prior to him responding verbally was enough to let me know he’d never been asked.
I’d like to ask Jacob why.
And when they’re done answering all the questions that begin with, “Why . . . ,” men need to answer all the ones that begin with “How?”
How are they going to confront this in their communities? How are they going to ensure it doesn’t happen to any woman?
Not just their daughters, wives, sisters.
How are they going to work on this issue?
Because this is not an issue for women to resolve.
Which I find unusual because I don’t consider myself secretive. They aren’t terribly scandalous secrets. Just parts of my soul that I keep to myself.
Because no matter how long we’ve been together, and despite what we’ve been through, this is all a house of cards. There’s no guarantee that any passing breeze won’t whip the foundation out from below. That I may reveal the wrong thing and cause the sort of tsunami no woman can control.
He’s never hit me. Never raised a hand to me.
But he could. And I don’t ever forget that. I’ve even warned him. The first several years especially I would remind him from time to time.
I will leave you if you hit me.
They are my kids.
He’s their father. He’s a good father. And not just in the earns a living for us way. Though he does work his ass off for us.
I mean in the ways that count. If one of his kids finds a new hobby, he’s all in. Something breaks? He’ll fix it. He brings home little surprises for them. There were times we had no money, but he still brought home surprises because he talked so much to others about his kids that if they had something to give away, they’d seek him out.
Here, the boys might like this.
Boxes of baseball cards and a beat up gaming chair. Headphones or some candy.
He goes to their games and events and jokes with their friends.
But they’re still my kids.
I refer to them that way when we argue.
He’s communicated to me how much that bothers him. Yet, I still call them mine. In a voice that cannot be mistaken.
It feels like an incantation. Some type of magical spell I cast over them. If they’re mine, it keeps them safe.
From whom, you wonder? I often wonder the same. And if I’m being honest . . .
From anyone, really. But yes, even from him.
I don’t believe him when he says I’m attractive.
I don’t believe any man who tells me that.
How can I be? I don’t look anything like the women in the ads, in the magazines, in the movies, in porn, in TV shows, on runways, on billboards, or anywhere else that women are on display.
That’s the ideal, right? The long legs and flat stomachs and perky tits. Fuck, I remember being in elementary school and reading the Little House series of books for the first time. I remember the way Laura watched as her mother and aunts readied themselves for a dance. Cinching corsets and bragging that Pa’s hands could still meet around his wife’s waist.
I remember the disappointment I felt alongside Laura as she grew into a young woman who lamented her appearance. She would never be willowy or pale or thin. Even then, Laura in the 1800’s and I in the fourth grade, we recognized the other category we were pushed into, beyond our control, for not meeting or exceeding society’s standard of the ideal woman.
So no, I don’t believe him.
If the house is messy, it’s my fault. I take it all on, the guilt and feelings of not measuring up somehow. In some way. Even when I worked two jobs and volunteered as class mom to two kids in school so that I could feel I was still a part of their day, I’d come home and beat myself up that the house wasn’t more organized.
Clearly I couldn’t have it all.
That disarray revealed all the cracks in my facade. And weakness will never do. Not when you’re a woman trying to prove that somehow, some fucking way, you’ve got it all covered and dammit you’ve earned it.
No matter what it is.
I always feel I have to prove I’ve earned it.
The fact that he’s never asked me to . . . doesn’t seem to matter.
A detailed response to this question posted on Facebook:
What are ways that you have difficulty trusting the men in your life that objectively have earned your trust?
This isn’t about overtly horrible men, or even average men. Specifically how has your experience of misogyny made it difficult for you to form trusting bonds with men that you WANT to trust? What is your experience with that phenomenon? How does it make you feel? How does it affect your relationship to those men?
ONLY people who experience misogyny – and it’s on you to decide if you feel you qualify because some non-binary people do – should respond to this challenge.
It feels like an avalanche. That’s what I told my best friend last night. It’s like an avalanche and when it happens, it buries me.
When it happens, it feels as if there beneath a pile of snow, a piece of myself dies. That there’s no getting out from under it all. I give up beneath the weight and whatever finally emerges is a colorless ghost of what remains below.
I’m trying not to think in those terms anymore. I told her I really want to try to instead imagine that as soon as the avalanche runs its course, I begin scraping away. And maybe my fingers leave streaks of blood across the white of the snow and ice. But I emerge, whole, ready to keep trudging along and fight my way to the top. Holding tight to all the things that make me who I am, no matter how far away the top always seems.
I’d never described shame in these terms before.
Mainly because it isn’t something I ever talk about. With her or anyone else. Even in therapy.
My therapist knows it is something I struggle with. But I’ve never shared details about the things that invite that avalanche. The desires and emotions that feel like screams against a snowy, fragile mountainside.
I don’t know how it got to this point. I only know that radical acceptance feels like the only answer.
I support you. I want you to have that. That sounds wonderful for you.
I told my husband once that those are the only words I want to hear. When I share some part of myself with someone, those are the only words I want to hear in return. Anything less, anything different, and I’m awash. I’m rolling backwards down that mountainside.
Buried once again.
I’m the girl in a corner somewhere being screamed at, spittle flying because the many ways I’m a disappointment, and a failure, and a slut, and a cunt, can’t even be described in any manner that’s calm. They have to be shouted with a vitriol that’s physical and dripping with disgust.
Those words, that screaming, never happen in any way in my life now. Nobody treats me that way now.
I climb halfway up a slippery, frozen mountainside just to admit something I desire. Something that isn’t what society may say is normal.
I finally voice it. Not in shouts, but in whispers.
I support you. I want you to have that. That sounds wonderful for you.
If that isn’t the echo that answers my whisper, if those words aren’t on the wind that rolls back in reply, it begins.
An avalanche of shame that buries me anew.
I’m trying to imagine that as soon as the avalanche runs its course, I begin scraping away. And maybe my fingers leave streaks of blood across the white of the snow and ice. But I emerge, whole, ready to keep trudging along and fight my way to the top.
Holding tight to all the things that make me who I am, no matter how far away the top always seems.
I’m trying to keep whispering. No matter what rolls back down the mountainside.
You’re here, he says. You keep coming back. Let’s acknowledge the bravery in that.
I nod. Silent.
How does it feel for you to hear that?
I’m not brave enough to answer.
A friend mentioned fearlessness to me today and it hit me. That word doesn’t even exist in my vocabulary.
Those adjectives are fake storefronts propped up in an effort to convince anyone approaching that there isn’t a paper shack hidden behind, ready to blow over in a breeze. The truth is I keep going back to therapy out of desperation.
I keep going back for my kids.
I keep going back because I’m afraid of the alternative.
I keep going back because I don’t have insurance and they accept sliding scale fees.
Because so long as I feel as if I’m doing something, anything, to get better, I’ll hopefully keep putting one foot in front of another.
Because I don’t feel like I have a choice.
That word fearlessness especially worries me. Maybe because my anxiety tends to translate into feelings of fear for me. So I would never ever use that word to describe myself.
I think I have sporadic moments of bravery and I think I can be tenacious. Calling for my first appointment took six months of working up the nerve after a two and a half year depression that rendered me barely able to answer a text, let alone ask for help.
Moments of bravery.
I’m determined to see this through until there’s a moment where I feel like I’ve done it. Like I’ve made sense of most of what I’m struggling with. I know there is never a finite end to working on all this stuff.
Well, except for death.
But I am hopeful there will come a time where I feel as if I’ve got enough tools in the toolbox, so to speak, that I can move forward without therapy.
Or at least without so much of it.
All of that, for me, comes from a place of fear. The fear that if I fall into a deep depression again I won’t make it out. Ever. Or alive.
Another friend and I discussed self-acceptance.
Refusing to compromise one’s identity.
That, to me, is where fearlessness and bravery take flight.
We met last year. Actually, our kids met and hit it off. But it wasn’t long before we did, too. She has a very calming presence about her that I like being around. We make each other laugh.
We were friends for a few weeks before I realized she was pregnant. I suspected it, but one does not ask a woman if she’s pregnant without first independently verifying she’s actually pregnant.
Unless you don’t really care to be friends.
The thing is, she’s so petite that it was hard to tell she was pregnant unless she wore a certain outfit.
Plus, she was so active.
Keeping up with her three daughters. Playing basketball with my two younger sons. Chasing my youngest and her youngest as she pretended to be a monster.
We talked about arranging their marriage so we could be family. Both of us agreeing nobody wants to deal with unpleasant in-laws.
I started teaching her to crochet. She found plans for a shawl she wanted to make and use as a nursing cover. I started making it for her baby shower.
We talked about names for her son.
Until just before Christmas, only 3 weeks shy of her due date, when she went into labor. She arrived at the hospital and they sent her across the street to her doctor. There they performed an ultrasound and informed her that her baby passed away.
She delivered her silent son later that day.
The new year began. After the holidays, spent explaining to her daughters what happened, and after the funeral, she did what any mother does in that situation.
She got up. She played with her girls, though there were less giggles. We didn’t laugh as much together. She seemed tired a lot of the time, but who could blame her? I couldn’t imagine the Herculean effort it took her, every single day, to just . . . rise.
But, as weeks turned into months, the low energy and sadness became pain.
And I imagine in the beginning maybe she believed it just another symptom of grief. A tangible manifestation of the ache her heart felt for her son.
Until we all noticed.
I can’t stop thinking about my friend.
Of how she went from chasing down preschoolers to shuffling along like a grandmother. In hospice.
She became hunched. She had trouble sitting down and standing back up. Days went by where she couldn’t get out of bed.
She held her arms crossed in front of her chest. Her hands curled in front of her shoulders.
She couldn’t use them anymore.
I can’t stop thinking about my friend.
Especially the day she turned to me, stoic and quiet, and said, “I feel like I might die any day now. Because I’ve never felt so sick and I don’t know what’s wrong.”
We jumped to help her with the kids, even as we all, her friends, whispered behind her back.
What could we do?
Who could we call?
There had to be someone who could help.
She went to the hospital and they sent her home. She went to a doctor but they couldn’t track down the name of the doctor she’d seen in the hospital. She called another doctor and, after speaking with a nurse of her concerns, was told, “We don’t prescribe narcotics here.”
I can’t stop thinking about my friend.
The way she cried because she didn’t want narcotics.
She wanted to know what was wrong with her.
But that’s what happens in America when your husband is unemployed and you’re uninsured and you’re black and you’re female and you’re sick . . . take your pick.
She’s all of that.
She’s also my friend and a mother and daughter and she went from being an energetic 29 year old to being an invalid in a matter of weeks. She started swelling. Her ankles and fingers and face. We made her sit and put her feet up and placed bags of frozen peas on her ankles.
All the while feeling as if our hands were also curled in on themselves. As if we were powerless.
A national spectacle unfolds before our eyes. Government representatives who don’t seem human. Not for the choices they make, but for the way they repeatedly set themselves apart from the very humans they swore to represent.
They don’t know us.
They don’t even see us.
As we fret and care for our loved ones, they don’t even know we’re there.
I once saw posts from a page on Facebook devoted to crochet about one of the page founders having a serious medical event that required him to be hospitalized in critical condition. Fans of the page clamored to ask if a fund had been set up yet to help out.
The man’s partner finally responded, informing everyone that they live in Canada.
Crowd funding not needed. At all.
But that’s how we do it here. We hear of medical catastrophe and everyone starts sending money. Whatever we can to those who need it most. To those we most love.
“You don’t have the right to spend my money on other people’s health care!” I hear people yelling. They forget, I guess, that they do it all the time. That they donate to friends and loved ones who suddenly fall ill.
Today, the House voted to pass a shit storm along to the American people.
People they don’t see. People they don’t care about in any sense of the word, no matter what steaming pile of bullshit falls from their mouths.
And I can’t stop thinking about my friend.
Discharged yesterday, after a week in the hospital. Because her husband finally took her there when things got bad. Because someone there finally took the time to see her and said, “You’re not leaving until we get some answers.”
Once again, she came home with empty arms and a broken heart.
Along with a lifelong, debilitating disease that will require extensive physical therapy, medications, and specialists.
Those in power don’t see her.
But I do.
I’m sure we’ll crowd fund at some point. It doesn’t matter what fucked up political party you pledge your misguided allegiance to, you still pay for the healthcare of others.