On Being a Woman on the Streets

A teacher once told me a story of a man who decided to follow her home. She stopped by a house nearby, relying on the kindness of strangers to pretend that she lived there so that she could call for help. Unlike many, she escaped.

Within her tale, she uttered,

“I was not walking as confident as I should have been.”

I’m sure that, in telling this anecdote, she did not expect that this would be the sentence that most resonated with me. That this sentence would echo in my mind almost a decade later. That this sentence would be the reason that I policed myself to walk “confidently” when alone.

“In January 2018, SSH commissioned a 2,000-person, nationally representative survey on sexual harassment and assault, conducted by GfK. It found that nationwide, 81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime.” (Stop Street Harassment)

Yet how does one walk confidently knowing the statistics? Why should one walk with confidence to prevent an occurrence that should not exist? I didn’t know it at the time, but I internalized a mindset that blamed the victim. Despite a clear perpetrator, my teacher blamed herself, and, in that room, there was no presence available that altered the narrative. Perhaps if someone asked, “What does that have to do with anything?” the line would be long forgotten. In a room filled with skeptical students – ones who constantly challenged authority – no one thought to question. Does that reflect how we viewed such instances? Tragic yet preventable by the victim? Maybe. Or did we take this statement at face-value because it derived from the victim?

I imagine telling this story to my students, and with the most certainty, I can say that they would interrupt my telling once I mentioned walking up to a stranger’s home. They would not take kindly to this. Probably because they are more educated in “stranger danger” than my cohort. Whether this increased awareness is beneficial is certainly debatable (Are we desensitizing our youth? Or are we merely preparing them?), I want to focus on those who are similar to me. What can we make of experiences related to assault and harassment prior to the recent rise of the #MeToo Movement?

Although it was not as overt, most of the conversations about similar cases that I heard while growing up would be chalked up to “boys will be boys” or questioning of the victim’s appearance. I can’t speak for all, but I would like to believe that many of my peers outgrew this outdated (and heavily problematic) mindset. However, unlearning takes time. You have to work towards it, chiseling the misconceptions away, hoping that you do not remove something important. Yet even after all the chiseling, you are still left with the foundation provided. There will be ideologies that remain – ones that you might have to continue to combat.

I suppose that is where I am. As progressive as I believe to be, there are times where I find myself reverting to harmful stereotypes concerning my body and its agency. When I walk alone at night, I check my posture. Stand up straight. Look ahead. Be confident. My walk to my car is not a runway and I am tired of insisting that there is an audience. At times it feels as if I am justifying a possible unwanted encounter – this happened because you did not walk in confidence. Instead of telling a story about a lack of confidence, how about omitting the predator?

Once when working at retail, I had a customer enraged that his jeans were not on sale – reading is a fundamental skill, but one not yet possessed by the neanderthals. In a fit of rage, he called me a bitch and promised to be waiting for me outside, after my shift. Was I not confident enough when I explained the store’s promotion? Should I have been more assertive when he demanded a manager and I pulled, “I am the manager?” Unfortunately these are the questions that begin to form – but a more substantial question would be, why does this man believe that this an acceptable reaction to a misunderstanding? Is this how he communicates with other women? His threat remained unfulfilled, but I was shaken for a bit. Afraid that such a moment would repeat and that the next individual would be one who stood by their word. Needless to say, it was difficult to remain “confident.”

To address my earlier questions, I think we need a change in this narrative. Omitting certain details while stressing on others. Any successful author knows that revision is crucial before sharing a story. Sure, speaking without a filter can have its benefits (yet with our current president, I would beg to differ), but we have to remember that when we speak, it is not often for ourselves. We speak to be heard, so shouldn’t we keep our audience in mind? When speaking to those who might be susceptible, like I was years ago in that classroom, we should be delicate with our words, especially when dealing with fragile issues. It might seem like I am blaming my teacher. I’m not. Her thinking did not develop on its own. And that is where I think the problem lies. There is a difference between being the wronged and being in the wrong. I may not always walk confidently when I am on my own (could you blame me?), but I can confidently say that a walk does not translate to treatment.

Undressing my Wardrobe

The first shirt that I wore that showed off my figure was a red and white striped shirt that was like a crew neck with a button up underneath. I wore it to go out to eat with my family. And although I looked like a walking candy cane,  I remember my dad complimenting me and commenting on the fact that I should begin to dress more like this, more like a girl. Other than that outfit, I typically bought jeans from the boys’ department – carpenter, baggy, and just plain questionable. Not because they were “meant for boys,” but because of the prints on them: green graffiti lettering covering all the pockets. My shirts mainly ranged from 2XL to 3XL, and since I was very slender, I was always drowning in my outfits.

At the time, swimming was not an option. I wanted to remain unseen, succumbing to the ocean’s depths. I suppose my insecurities began around puberty, when I noticed that everyone’s body was changing yet mine seemed to be a bit behind. I didn’t feel comfortable, and perhaps I was trying to hide my body from the scrutiny of others.

When I wore clothing that complimented my frame, I was just reminded on why it should remain hidden. Once, in seventh grade, I wore a spaghetti tank top. Scandalous. The principal promptly approached me about my “inappropriate” attire. My mustard tank top possessed the power to distract boys from their studies. I was an unwanted condiment, and my principal made this very clear. The way he spoke to me marked the beginning of me mistaking my body for a sexual object.

That same day, I was performing a skit in drama class that I was really proud of, and all my drama teacher could remark upon was my potential in being a model. Rather than reflect upon my script, I noticed everyone’s eyes peer at my body. These incidents led me to believe that wearing clothes my size would amp up my sex appeal, so it was only natural for me to begin ditching my large clothes for tighter clothes as my interest in boys increased.

I had a black long sleeve shirt that I loved. It was very form fitting, and due to this, it was one of the few garments that I felt feminine in. Yet my middle school seemed to have a difficult time accepting the female form. When wearing the shirt, I was called to the social worker’s office at school and was interrogated about my eating habits, remarking upon how thin I looked. Feeling insecure and uncomfortable, I squirmed in my seat. At that moment, I remember wishing that I had opted for my trusty 3XL button up with a graphic of three guys break-dancing instead (fashion was never my forte). Her comment about my weight once again reminded me that my body had yet to experience the changes expected of me. She then asked if I wore black because I felt depressed. Depressed? I was wearing black to be the complete opposite! The year was 2007 but I was already emitting 2016 Kim Kardashian (just take a gander at her all black outfits of 2017. Was she ever accused of being depressed, or was she simply dubbed fashion qwueen?). Not to mention, did this woman even hold a degree? Is schooling needed for someone to make such an idiotic assumption? Was she hoping that I would respond, “Yes, black, the absence of color, symbolizes the absence of joy that I have in my life?”

Needless to say, after that meeting, I never wore that shirt again and went back to wearing baggier clothes as I entered high school.

When I first entered, I was often teased about my choices in clothing. This led to a constant battle that I was desperately attempting to win. Clothing became my armor in the war of words. When I was teased about my awkward physique – I searched for clothes that would compliment my figure, even if that meant constantly tugging down my dress. At 5’10, everything I wore fit awkwardly. If it was a good length, covering each and every inch of leg, it was also far too baggy because of how slim I was. If it fit my body perfectly and hugged my developing curves, it would be way too short. Wanting to prove my femininity, at least what I believed it to be, I typically opted for the latter during high school.

In addition to feeling out of place among my peers, this feeling traveled home. Among my sister and mother, I was the only one in the house who seemed interested in stereotypical girl things. I wanted to wear makeup, I wanted dresses, I wanted to be seen and admired. Due to this, I often found myself torn. I wanted to fit in at home, so I tried to reject outward notions of femininity, but I wanted to be desirable outside the home so I tried to over exert my false notion of femininity.

The clothes got tighter because I wanted to show off what little physique I had. My dad who once complimented my tight clothes now disagreed with almost everything I wore. He despised my V-necks, preaching to me about how boys thought, adding onto my misconception that my clothing defined my sexuality. Naturally, the more he resisted, the more I wanted those types of outfits: in my head, his disagreements confirmed that I was no longer a girl, but a woman. I was conflicted. I wanted to be seen as feminine by others, especially boys, but at the same time, I was not really interested in relationships or intimacy. In negotiating my identity, clothing was the currency. The less fabric I had, the more womanly I felt.

This roller coaster continued throughout college. Wanting to be comfortable, since I worked and attended school full-time, I would often opt for practically over style. However, a massive part of me would make sure that my outfits were still flattering – afraid that constantly appearing in leggings and big cardigans would engulf the very existence of my femininity. Wanting to appear as an intellectual among my peers, I also stayed away from clothing that might be too revealing. An idea planted in my mind from high school -the more exposed a woman is, the less exuberant her intelligence. As silly as it sounds, that was a battle I fought everyday.

It was not until recently that I have come to peace with my femininity and sexuality. The two are not interchangeable and do not go hand in hand. I am a woman, but that does not mean I have to dress or behave a certain way. The fact that I like to wear a pencil skirt, or a bodycon dress does not diminish my intelligence, or make me slutty. The fact that I also like wearing over-sized bombers and crewnecks does not make me less of a woman.  Rather than drowning my body in triple x’s, or displaying my body as a commodity in super super smalls, I have found a happy medium. This is all figuratively speaking because I now own clothes in almost every size. My body is not a taboo that must remain hidden, nor an object that needs appraisal. I now dress in what I feel comfortable and confident in, which varies day by day. It was never my outfits that needed changing; it was me.

Unapologetically Pulling the Trigger

I was going to need a few more Hypnotiqs to fall for this guy’s shit. . .

For New Year’s, my boyfriend and I decided to visit the Poconos for a little getaway, with a possible potential of snow (joke was on me since a week after we returned, a bomb-cyclone visited NYC and now I am sick of the snow). During our first night, we attended a live performance from a band, yet during the performance, I had a nagging itch (and certainly not one that made me want to dance). The band seemed innocent, a bunch of elderly men singing covers of love songs for honeymooners so buzzed that they probably thought Stevie Wonder was actually performing, but it wasn’t the inability to hit every note that bothered me. It was the lead singer.

“How is everyone feeling tonight?”

Slow, quiet applause (I assumed that this meant content. Perhaps louder and faster applause would have implied happiness. Or maybe, and this is what my clap meant, I am hesitant to let you know so show me your vocals first and then I will decide).

“Alright, alright. Fellas I want all of you who is with a lady tonight to raise your hand.”

A bunch of people raise their hand enthusiastically (a teacher’s dream).

“Okay, okay. I want you to take your hand, and put it on your lady. And – and,” licking his lips as his right hand moves towards his left shoulder. Slowly, he moves his hand to his chest, “And place it right here.”

Laughter from the audience. Annoyance from me. Perhaps I was not buzzed enough to find the humor in this. I reminded myself that I was in a resort that was geared towards couples, until I heard:

“Mhmm. Mhmm. Oh, oh. So-sorry. I didn’t mean to touch myself,” he chuckled as he reached for the microphone to begin singing. In case my retelling is not clear, he pretended to be aroused as he instructed the men in the room to synchronize grope their women.

At the moment, I felt like I was being hypersensitive when I realized how uncomfortable the entire gesture made me feel. I looked around the room and none of the other women appeared bothered, so I attempted to shrug it off and continue listening to the music. Notice how I said attempted? I could not shake the discomfort, and the more I tried to neglect the feeling, the angrier I felt myself becoming.

Throughout the entire performance, he would begin each song with a disturbing monologue. It seemed like it was getting progressively worse. For instance, the last thing that I heard him say was during his attempt to get the women in the room to scream “Hallelujah” since you know, Uptown Funk wanted to give it to us.

“Girls hit ya . . .” he sang as he pointed the microphone to the audience.

“Hallelujah” (and I have never heard a sadder one).

“Aw come on, I need better than that. Girls hit ya . . .”

He was met with the same response. So naturally he did not give up and continue singing the song, instead he resorted to his comedic talent (that someone once made the mistake of telling him he had):

“Fellas, I know you gonna make your wives hit that Hallelujah tonight. Yo-you know, even if they still aren’t sure what’s going on.”

I grabbed my coat. My boyfriend and I left. At first, I apologized to him. I felt bad because there were so many couples watching the performance yet I was the only woman who seemed to be so offended that I had to remove myself.

But what was I apologizing for? I did not cause a scene, although looking back on it now, I would have certainly been justified for doing so. I was afraid that I would be judged and labeled as a prude because, as I have heard before, I “wasn’t able to take a joke” at the moment. Yet the last time I checked, jokes were meant to be funny. Instead, I was being exposed to misogynistic microagressions that were meant to be presented in the form of a joke. I am tired of uncomfortably laughing at jokes like this because I am afraid of offending the person who is subjecting me to them. If the person feels like their “joke” is appropriate enough to tell, my response should be appropriate enough to experience – without any apologies. Through allowing comments like this, we are allowing these microaggressions to thrive and develop into the gruesome aggressions that we read about daily. Through providing our ears, we are allowing an unwanted visitor to enter our homes and become a tenant. It is 2018, we should no longer be oblivious as to who our visitors are! I will no longer subject myself to anything that makes me feel that I am less than because I wasn’t born with a penis.

Some people reading may be chuckling and thinking that I am overreacting, that I am simply some man-hating feminist who has been triggered. Which you are absolutely right. I am a feminist. I do hate men, but only because I hate people as a whole (this is partially a joke in case you, the reader, are also getting triggered). What is so bad about being triggered? To be triggered, I have to care enough about something. To be triggered, I have to be aware of my surroundings. Being triggered is what allowed me to pull the trigger and walk out of that shit performance.

I googled the band while I was writing the article, and while I can not say that I am surprised, I am disgusted that what I experienced is his signature material. I am not surprised because just like originally I feared, countless of women, and even men, may have felt uncomfortable yet chose to laugh because it was easier. Seeing the laughter, the singer continued to deliver his comedic gold. However, if more people expressed their discomfort,  I am sure that he would find that when he rubs his gold, he would simply find pyrite. Finding a piece of shit on the floor and concealing it in shiny wrapping paper does not make it any less of shit, rather it is more telling of the person who attempted to disguise it. He may not be aware that his “jokes” are offensive, but the very fact that he doesn’t know this, reveals that he is no more of a man than he is a comedian.

 

No Homo(sexual), Yes Homosocial!

In Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Introduction for Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, she defines homosocial as “a word occasionally used in history and social sciences, where it describes social bonds between persons of the same sex; its neologism, obviously formed by analogy with ‘homosexual’ and just as obviously meant to be distinguished from ‘homosexual’” (2466). In short, homosocial describes same-sex relationships that are not sexual or romantic. Sedgwick elaborates that homosocial categories are “applied to such activities as ‘male bonding,’ which may, as in our society, be characterized by intense homophobia, fear and hatred of homosexuality” (2466). Although homosocial relationships are strictly platonic, it nevertheless causes anxieties related to homosexual behavior. Upon reading this, I had the following flashbacks of high school: Continue reading

Thoughts on Michel Foucault

In Part Two of The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, An Introduction, Foucault provides an expected history of sexuality. For Foucault, the relationship between discourse and sexuality is significant and hence becomes the focus of his argument. Through disagreeing with the repressive hypothesis (sex, except for the means of production is a taboo and should therefore not be discussed), Foucault claims that discourse on sex has intensified since the 18th century. Now this notion may not be shocking, considering that sex is found almost anywhere: Continue reading

Pretty Ugly People [Who Forever Remain Ugly]

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Pretty Ugly People (2008)

So the film begins with an animated version of Lucy (Missi Pyle) who discusses her group of friends during college. We soon learn that Lucy is overweight and that she is narrating from her death, as she claims to be dead with an animated grave stone (we will later learn that this death is only symbolic of the old-overweight Lucy’s death, how horrifyingly cliché).

Continue reading

Roadkill

I saw a dead pigeon on the side of the road.

 

She dresses to impress him,

Hoping that her clothes are nice and pressed

So that this time he will not press her

Leaving an impression on her skin

While she is still trying to disguise the last print.

An imprint

For each time she did something wrong

And she is still trying to know what that something

Was that had made her ears ring

As she cried to sleep

Trying to remember what made him think she was ever beautiful

When all she sees are the ugly imprints

Found on her skin.

 

I saw a dead pigeon on the side of the road.

Dismantled and deprived

Of any chance of flight.

 

He came out to his family

Hoping that this would be

The day that he could finally be free

To be who he was without paying a fee,

Forgetting that nothing in this life comes free.

He hoped that his parents would accept him,

Only to realize that his family’s tolerance applied to everyone except him.

 

I saw a dead pigeon on the side of the road.

Discarded and denounced

Because he was not an image that people wanted to see.

 

She understood the concept of consent

Which is why the constant

“No,” remains in her head

As he undraped her and raped her.

Yet she is told that she “was asking for it.”

How is it possible to ask for what you do not want?

Her outfit was ‘too provocative,’ allowing him to be proactive.

Now she is a slut

Told that she should have kept her legs shut.

No need for legal enforcement, because her outfit was endorsement for force meant upon her.

 

I saw a dead pigeon on the side of the road.

Dishonored and defamed

As everyone walked by.

 

He was shot for walking with his hands

In his pocket. Believed to be a dangerous threat

Because he was black.

The closest he ever came to a gun was

When the bullet pierced through him.

And the closest he ever came to corrupt was

When death ruptured him.

 

I saw a dead pigeon on the side of the road.

Disarmed and denied

Any chance of life.

 

I saw a dead pigeon on the side of the road today:

Dismantled and deprived,

Discarded and denounced,

Dishonored and defamed,

Disarmed and denied.

I paused at this image,

At the sight of the dead pigeon

Smashed onto the pavement by a car,

The perpetrator gone

While the image remained.

 

How many more dead pigeons do we need to see

Before we can stand and say that it is not okay?