Instead of being angry at them, I was angry at me. And for most of my life, I dealt with similar situations in the exact same way.
It was my fault. Always my fault. Because I was a girl.
Because I wore the wrong thing or said the wrong thing or led him to believe the wrong thing... It was my fault I didn't know how to say no. It was all me.
Girls suck, I thought. Girls are nothing but trouble. I suck, I thought. I am nothing but trouble. I can't trace back where these thoughts came from, only that I had them. That I resented myself and my peers for being female even with my "girls kick ass" tee-shirts and the bubble-lettered "boys suck" I wrote a thousand times on my binder inserts.
But I liked boys. I liked them so much I watched them skateboard. I watched them build the ramp I wasn't allowed to touch. If you can't join them watch them. If you can't join them, become their groupies. If you can't join them, let them touch you. Pretend like you're sleeping when they sneak into your body.
When you're young, you want to be liked. When you're young and you're a girl you want to be liked and everyone else wants to be liked and pretty soon there is a war to see who is most liked and pretty soon everybody loses. Everyone's a loser. I was a loser, too.
Because, "show me your tits" when you're young and don't know any better, seems like a compliment.
The only boss I ever really had pulled up my shirt on my first day of work. I was twenty-one and he was an old man and I stood there and let it happen. Laughed it off. Ha ha ha, you are so funny with your hands and my tits in them.
I can't even type that without feeling like I want to hide. And in the year I spent working for him, every day was much the same, some days worse than others. Some days much worse. Until finally, one day I walked out. We were in the middle of a conference call with the door locked and porn on the big screen TV in his office, something that routinely happened without me saying a word. I had convinced myself it didn't bother me, it shouldn't bother me because, hey, I liked porn. At home. Alone. Not with him. At work. In a room that was locked with a man and his nose thick with capillaries. He disgusted me and I disgusted me and when he wouldn't unlock the door to let me out I broke.
I spent the next two years in a shrink's office. Wrote a novel about a prostitute who gets to kill her pimp. A prostitute. Because that was how I saw myself.
That was the only way I could be confrontational: through writing.
It wasn't my fault. That's what I learned in therapy. That it wasn't my fault. But I didn't believe any of it until I had daughters of my own. Until I had a girl in my arms, female, did I suddenly, for the first time in my life, feel the need to defend myself. To show them so that I could show her that I was worth it and we were worth it and everybody was worth it.
Until I had daughters, I was angry with
myself women. I was afraid of myself women. Women were the enemy with their judgement and their beauty and their bodies. I didn't want to be one of them. I didn't want to be like the other girls. I heard the boys throw around words like "tease" and "drama." I didn't want to be a tease and I certainly didn't want to make drama. It was easier to laugh it off. Act strong. Let the boys steal my skateboard. Curse myself for trying to ride one in the first place.
When you can't say no, sometimes saying yes first is the only defense. Say YES before he asks. Say YES before he assumes. Say YES to everything! You are more fun that way! You are in control that way! No one can burn you or bring you down!
Which can be worse.
And yet. One of the greatest parts of being alive is learning how to wade through the various pools of retrospection. Time heals but more importantly it allows us the opportunity to forgive, to face . I'm not completely there yet but I'm working on it. I'm working on becoming a better woman. So that I can help my daughters navigate through what can be a confusing and degrading world. So that I can be there for my son when feminism crosses the line into man hate. Because that, in my opinion, is just as bad.
When I was first pregnant, I wanted a boy. I wanted all boys. I wanted Fable to be a boy because I didn't want a daughter. I had already experienced one teenage girl's coming of age. I resented my femininity on too many occasions. My stupid boobs, body.
If I had another son I could still be one of the boys.
With a daughter, I would have to change. I would have to respect myself for her: Fable, story with a moral, who helped pave the way for me to better understand myself, the mother, the woman, the girl... who knew how to help everyone but herself. She was my heart and I knew there was nothing I could do to protect her. All I could do was teach her how to build her own shield.
But first I would have to learn how to build my own.
When I go back through the archives of this blog, it's like a switch flipped. The tone changed. My mother always tells me that Fable brought the sun, dried up all my angst, and she did. But it wasn't until I was pregnant with Bo and Revi that I started to figure it out: myself and why for so many years I sat on my hands. Kept quiet. Let it ride.
Perhaps it was the hormones on overdrive or the exhaustion, but at ten weeks pregnant with what I would soon find out to be daughters, I was able to fearlessly confront someone for cheating me out of something. It was just a man and he was just cutting in front of me in line but I did it. I said something. For the first time in my life I told him NO. I told him no so hard and so loud that an employee had to split us up. It was magical. It was out-of-body. It was me defending myself after twenty-nine years of acquiescence. I was saying NO. With authority. To a man who was trying to take advantage of my smallness. And compared to him, I was small. He told me so with his eyes and his body nudging me back.
"SIR. I was here first."
So THIS! BAM!
I had an inner strength. Two inner strengths! Dude might have been bigger than me but I HAD THREE VAGINAS, BITCH! I had four biceps forming in my center. And (duh, self) two of my own.
When Archer was a baby, I wrote about being a masculist. And I was. For him. Because I hated the way men were depicted in beer commercials just as much as I hated that women were always portrayed as these "things" that danced around them in bikinis. I still do. I hate that there are men out there who make terrible choices. I hate that there are boys that will grow up to make them too. I hate that there are women out there who make terrible choices. And girls that will grow up to make them too.
It's a lot of responsibility, being a person; male, female, we all want things from each other. We all demand things from each other. We all cross the line. Cut in line. Brush up against each other in line. To err is human. To want is human. And yet. Sometimes being "human" is not a good enough excuse for pushing or grabbing, groping, hurting. Motherhood may not have turned me into the badass I always wished I was but giving birth to three girls in three years certainly flipped a switch in me. Hard.
And it wasn't until now, in a home surrounded by daughters, in a community composed almost solely of women, strong, sensational women, to own a term that for so many years I refused.
Because contrary to years of personal belief, feminism isn't about man-hate but woman-love. It isn't about demanding a front row seat but a fair and just place in line. Because when we stand up to those who push us down, we stand up for so much more than ourselves. I know that now.