Tonight I am sitting with my rage, waiting for it to say something intelligible and leave me alone. This particular rage and I have been acquainted since I was about 12 or 13, and as I’ve grown older, it’s grown stronger even though I’ve tried to work through it.
I’m not going to lie: this blog is to give a voice to this rage in an effort to let it go. I tell you this upfront as a gesture of consideration. It will not hurt my feelings at all if you do not want to continue reading. However, I hope you do.
Yesterday, my boss Cristina and I were stand-up paddling through these beautiful mangrove forests when we happened upon two dudes, probably in their late 40s, early 50s?, who were lazing about in the current, also on stand up paddleboards, only these guys were lying down. When they saw us, everything about their demeanor changed, and instantly they began that jibberjabber flirt-talk men do when they think they might have an opportunity to get laid: hey, you girls look like pros/can we follow you?/what kind of wood is your paddle there..?/look, they’ve got a cooler maybe they’ll give us something to eat…/…wait…where are you going..?/can you teach me? It was like a pre-lyric David Lee Roth monologue.
We were nice enough and kind of jokey back, but when they stood up and started paddling after us, I thought to myself: when does this stop? When do I get to enjoy my life without having to protect myself against men’s assaults, even if they’re tired and pointless like these guys?
The sad truth is that the answer is: probably never. And it has nothing to do with what I look like; I’m pretty average looks-wise although I’m great with makeup and style and this tends to confuse people. It’s just that I’m a woman and I’m often by myself therefore I’m constantly having my fuckability quotient measured by strange men and every now and again I’ll get a full-blown survey of how sexually willing I am. The survey, as women know, is rarely direct but often manifests as a series of inane loaded questions or poorly-disguised body language or a certain look on the face that is both predatory and similar to a lost boy looking for his mother. It’s kind of remarkable, that look, now that I consider it. It’s sort of dangerous on the surface but frightened underneath. I see the same look in dogs before they trust you and also in certain more intelligent birds, like macaws.
Right now, I can name–just off the top of my head–five women I know who were either raped or sexually assaulted by their fathers, grandfathers, or brothers. One of these women, by the time she was seven years old, was being sold to her father’s friends. By her dad. Who was “getting it for free.”
I can name another three—no, four; no, five–who were raped by strangers or “friends.” Wait. I just thought of another one. So, six. Hold up. Make that 7; I forgot about my friend who went on a canoe ride with two boys during a camp out. She later ended up trying to kill herself. But I digress. One of these women, who I consider to be one of my best friends of all time even though we hardly see each other anymore, took her “friend” to the student court at Carolina, but even though both parties testified that she had said “no,” the student court found him not guilty of date rape–to this day, we don’t know specifically why. If I remember properly, it was something about not wanting to ruin his reputation for life for something that happened between two adults and drinking had been involved?
These are not women I met in a survivor’s meeting or some place where a higher concentration of sexual abuse survivors is likely to occur. These are women I’ve met in the course of my everyday life.
During the last two years of my teaching career, when I asked students to write a personal essay (and I can guarantee you the essay topic was something unrelated to sex, something like “explain the social influences on your language use” or some typically Freshman Comp type of prompt), at least one female in each class wrote about being molested by Mom’s Boyfriend or New Stepdad or NeighborMan or about a friend who had been victimized by a man in her small circle of the world. I did not include any of these students in my previous numbers.
Girls who have been raped or molested tend to become promiscuous as a way to gain some false sense of sexual power. Of course, promiscuous girls are outcast from society in one way or another; this ostracism (and murder and persecution) is socially acceptable and often condoned by religion and other ways of thinking that allow moral superiority. So, the girl is getting robbed twice, and culture tries to convince her it’s her fault that she got herself in that position. This molestation-promiscuity causality has been documented in psychological research, and I’ve seen it first hand from teaching high school and community college.
In the last three weeks of my job at CFCC, one of my favorite students–who had to take a night job at the juvenile detention hall to help pay bills–came to class late, shaking, and on the verge of tears because he had been on the floor when a teenage girl–who had been raped first by her father and then by the therapist who was appointed to help her–tried to murder herself. “She’s just so messed up,” he said. “It’s like…you know…just crazy.”
One in four. Girls sexually molested. That’s the official number. So it’s not like it’s unusual or uncommon. It’s not. It’s normal and it’s rampant, and it’s not the sick pervert with Coke-bottle glasses lurking around the elementary school bus stop. It’s the therapist. And the sixth grade teacher. And the guy on your intramural soccer team. And your dad. And although those doofs on the standup paddleboards were probably harmless, they approached me on a day when, after 38 years of dealing with this shit, I’ve had enough of being in the “object” position with men. All my life people, especially women and women in my family, have reassured me by saying “that’s just how it is,” but deep in my heart I can’t believe that it’s okay.
One time, when I was married, my husband and I stopped so he could pee in some backwater stereotypical Deliverance town in eastern Kentucky. When he came out of the bathroom, he was ghost-white and had this look on his face like something horrible had happened.
“Are you okay?” I said.
“There was a guy in there. Peeing when I was, and he looked at me.”
“Well, okay.” I couldn’t figure out why another guy looking at him was such cause for alarm.
“No, Marlowe. I mean, he looked at me.” And then my husband looked down at his pants and back into my eyes.
“You mean he looked at your penis?”
He nodded. “Like he was checking me out. He made a face at me like this,” and then he made a face like I’ve seen four hundred thousand times in bars and church and hospitals and cabs and work. It was the one where the head kind of tilts sideways and an eyebrow arches just a smidge and that ugliness passes through the eyes as if to say do you have any idea what I could do to you?
“Honey,” I said. “Welcome to the life of a woman.”
And I suppose I was doing okay just dealing with it until yesterday, when something in me snapped. It’s like this rage I’ve felt at just the day-to-day dealing with being a female in a man’s world–and I know there are many women who do not share my view; many women I know seem to move about the cabin oblivious to gender dynamics; I envy them–suddenly, this rage had to be dealt with, spoken about. So, here it is.
1) Quit fucking me with your eyes. I know what you’re doing because I am watching you do it.
2) Also quit running your sexual energy through me because you can’t or won’t or don’t care enough to control yourself. And quit doing that to my girlfriends, too, you jerk.
3) Quit talking about my friends and my coworkers and teenage girls and my family members as if you own them, or bought them, or threw them away when you were done. I knew what you were doing even when you yourself wouldn’t admit what your actions were really all about.
4) If you’re middle aged and alone and can’t keep a relationship going, you are probably still a teenage boy in your mind and you haven’t even figured out yet that you objectify women. Either that or you’ve watched too much porn and your mind is afflicted. Either way, you’re at square one, so good luck with that.
So here’s what gets me: I used to teach at a community college, where, statistically, 1 in 4 of those young women, who were ostensibly trying to become educated and better herself, were walking down the hall as molestation survivors. Year after year I heard stories about men in our department, about men in other departments, who came on to them, who blatantly ogled them in office hours, who made veiled and unveiled sexual comments to them and about them and around them, and the constant line of defense was: but they’re grown adults. And trust me, it did not help the general attitude that most of these young women were wearing Ugg boots and shorts that were barely bigger than underwear. You would think that by now, in 2012, people would no longer be using the but-did-you-see-what-she-was-wearing blame-the-victim line, but they do. Same shit in the Middle East: women have to wear those black gowns because their ankles are too tempting to the men, who will then simply have to rape them because the men can’t control themselves. So, yes, I worked with a bunch of middle aged men with master’s degrees who could not control themselves at work. Of course, I was quickly cast in the role of Feminazi Wet Blanket because I don’t find that sort of regard toward women–and by that I mean the treatment of them as sex objects for your entertainment at best and at worst as your inherent and implied property–and so I just did my job and never said anything to the guys and bitched about it with my office mate when our door was shut and locked.
Did the other women on the faculty and I talk about the fact that good-looking boys ended up in our classes? Of course we did. There are good looking boys everywhere. But does that mean I’m going to stand by my office or in front of my classroom and crush them with my mental vagina? No. As a matter of fact, I just disgusted myself with my own imagery.
My theory here is that this subconscious and conscious domination of women, whether it’s overt or covert is not the issue, relates to the idea of Mother Nature. I strongly suspect that men’s forward thrust into the rainforests, into slashing and draining and sucking the life out of the Everglades, into stripping the hilltops and pillaging the redwood forests is somehow psychologically linked to the need to dominate women. Far-fetched? A slightly batty feminist conspiracy theory? Perhaps. Honestly, it may be.
But my connection here is to the male need to destroy what is wild in women. Our whole earthly culture, to varying degrees, is bound and determined to get women to behave in appropriate and socially acceptable ways. Abandoned baby girls in China, the Middle East, vaginal mutilation, sex slavery, girls in Virginia nightclubs getting roofied, my mother’s generation who was sold on the Good Girl’s American Dream and then they were traded in for 30-somethings after the children had grown and they didn’t have any job skills or training on how to manage money.
In the Everglades, there’s a long, long history of men who tried to drain it and pave it and “make it useful to man.” Its life drained out, it caught itself on fire, and it took several people, the most famous of whom is Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, to fight to save it. To rehabilitate it and, yes, God yes, leave it alone. Wild women do fine on their own. Really, we do. Stoneman Douglas, later, was christened The Grandmother of the Everglades and she is now its most venerated savior. “Let it do what it does,” she said, “and get out of its way.”
Good advice, Marjorie. For Mother Nature, and all her daughters.
My rage is spent. I think all it wanted to cry out to the world was leave us alone to savor what is wild in us. That thing that you want, let it go, you keep messing with our bodies and think you’ll find it in there. You never will. It’s in our spirit, and you can alter that, but you can never posses it.
nighty night, beloveds. And for all my beloveds who are survivors–men and women, and you know who you are–there will be special prayers for you tonight. Here is to your wildness, may you relocate it within yourself and be free at last.