Your Grand-daddy told you-- not to work on Sunday -- that it’s a sin. My Grandma said to find pleasure in all that I do and nothing will be work. Your Grand-daddy told you -- that God’s curse on Cain -- is the Black man’s bane. My Grandma said to judge each man for who he is and not for what I see. Your Grand-daddy told you-- that life is hard and happiness is impossible to find. My Grandma said to chase my dreams because it’s the chase, not the catch, that makes us happy. Your Grand-daddy told you -- women take care of men -- answer their every need, it’s their job. My Grandma said to find a man who’ll respect me for exactly who I am. Your Grand-daddy told you -- to be a good boy -- obey the rules -- always do what you’re told. My Grandma said to do what’s right -- if the rules don’t work then fight to change them. Your Grand-daddy told you -- his word was law -- and now he’s gone, so who do you listen to? My Grandma said -- she’d be gone one day but if I looked inside I’d always find my way. My Grandma said there’d be men like you who’d want me to be something I’m not. Grandma said to stand my ground. . . What did your Grand-daddy tell you to do?
I had a short piece posted yesterday. You should go read it. Triggered in the age of Trump. Like this site, the page is moderated, so contain your vitriol.
It takes more to be a woman in the world than it does a man. Everyone knows that. Right? It just does. I was out with a friend recently and she said the first thing she asked our boss about me was is she pretty? It made me sad. Not is she smart? Will she be a good fit? But is she pretty.
He told her that I was. And now I wonder if that’s what got me the job. I’m pretty enough.
Years ago, while working someplace else, I remember the boss saying to me, we can’t hire that woman (about a random applicant), she’s not pretty enough—and she’s too old. It didn’t matter that the applicant had years of experience, a stellar reputation, glowing recommendations. She wasn’t attractive enough. She wasn’t young enough. Her piercing blue eyes haunt me. Oh, sure, sure, laws have been in place to stop this practice. But then people just lie. She wasn’t a good fit. Or in a right to work state, like Virginia, just nope, sorry.
It gives one pause. Even as an ardent feminist, I have learned that to survive I must girl. I must play the game. I’m not good at games. Well, some games I am—I made it to a level 20 wizard (chaotic-neutral) before my fellow D&D-ers (all male) insisted I could no longer play, I could be Dungeon Master instead. Rule: don’t dis the smart girl, the fantasy writer, and not let her play, and then let her play god. Yeah. I only got to do that once, none of them survived the first cave. Bastards. Dragons can be your friends; especially if you are a fantasy-writing-dungeon-master for a bunch of man-boys. It’s not girling well, but being a woman. A woman knows when to girl and when to not.
Every girl who ever played a video game knows what it’s like to play with the boys. The rules are different. A girl can’t be part of the boys’ club. She has to be shamed, whored, harassed. Blamed somehow for being good. Ostracized.
Life-games are very similar—I have to girl to be successful. Polished, painted nails, make-up, hair gymnastics (for me it’s that—my hair is as fiercely independent as I am, some days more so), jewelry, heels, low cut tops, push-up bras, pants or skirts that fit in all the right places. I have to demure—which in woman-speak means I need to bite my tongue. Don’t cuss. Cussing is a guy thing (don’t tell Helen Miren, she’s my hero, because fuck that). I have to drop my eyes, not seem too assertive, not too competitive, not too manly. Be sweet. My dad, who may have been a bit of a misogynist (with a feminist wife and three daughters, he was mostly quiet about it), used to say to me, “Mel, you have to dial it back. I think you have too much testosterone. Women aren’t supposed to be brilliant or assertive. Your job is to look good. And you do, so maybe take some estrogen or something. Be pleasing. Smile at the boys, let them win. Be a girl.”
I did one of those goofy tests on Facebook recently, a gender test. It pegged me as “casually feminine.” I’m ok with that. I’m casual about it. I’ve dabbled at other things. I, apparently, have too much testosterone to be completely feminine—which in my mind makes me a woman, not a girl. Even Facebook knows. I don’t let the boys win; you have to earn that shit. I don’t submissively drop my eyes. I don’t submit. I’ll not, like a good girl, go gently into that good night (and if the night was indeed good, I won’t have any rage left, will I?). But I will rage against the dying of the light, even though my words have forked lightning.
I’ve learned that certain girl-things appeal to me as a woman. I like looking good; it gives me power. It gives me the room. I like heels and jewelry. I like that I can change my face with a shadow here and a highlight there. Glasses with tint, glasses without. I can change the whole tone of a conversation by simply holding the ear piece in my mouth. It’s provocative. I can’t see shit, but that’s not really the point. I like being provocative; tongue on glasses/phallic symbol (because everything in the boys’ club is a phallic symbol), bat my eyes—and then nail them with smart. Of course, then, and only then, does a woman demure. Peace dragons in caves who will kill you with their kindness—it’s a girl thing. Yeah, I don’t think those boys ever played D&D again. All they had to do to get by her was give her a hug…but nope out with the phallic-symbol swords (see there it is again)! Death to all dragons. Roll high! – or, you know, use a healing roll rather than a damaging one. She hugged them all to death. I feel, in retrospect, that she too was casually feminine. She girled them.
Girling is a dangerous job if you take yourself too seriously. It’s good to have a dragon or two in your corner, or at least glasses with an earpiece you can suck on whilst staring demurely into the middle distance. In order to girl successfully, you have to be a woman, secure in who you are, indoctrinated into and completely rejecting the system of good ol’ boys rule, or rather boys rule the world at all. It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable with that gir
I do know some men who have mastered the art of girling. It’s a relaxed, I’m-comfortable-in-my-skin sort of look. They cut their eyes at you, melt you at twenty paces with a smile. They ooze sexy. But they’re few and far between (I have a short list of such men, I’d name them, but I’m guessing you can too). I think women girl better because we’ve been trained to use the wiles we have, use our sensuality to make our way in the world. Men, or man-boys, are trained not to. That makes me sad. I am allowed to accentuate all that is provocative about me physically and intellectually. Men are expected to fight their way to the top. If I have learned nothing else in my life, I have learned that to girl well you have to have a dragon inside, you have to be willing to be casually feminine—and that puts you on top. Consciously girling is to be comfortable in your own skin, comfortable enough to play with the presentation. It is to know how to own your dragon. I think I like that definition, maybe I’ll submit it to Meriam-Webster.
I have received many dick pics and several comments about said Dick pics in the last several days. And I have given it considerable thought, as a feminist, as a woman, as the victim of a crime (committed 40+yrs ago). I have something to say about it.
Many people interpret these pictures as “come-ons,” as flirtatious, as though it is a compliment that these men, members of the patriarchy, are giving me such special attention. These men are white, black, brown; this attitude apparently transcends the standard race barrier.
But what is this attitude if not an invitation? It is harassment, it is an internet version of assault. Why do these men send pictures of their genitals to a woman who writes about rape? How does that make any sense?
Well, it makes a lot of sense, actually. It is to put her in her place, makes an effort to remove the power she has gained in her world. To remind her of the patriarchy. Just like rape, this is about power: I can still assault you, I can still have the power to invade your private space, I can steal your control and power any time I want. Because I am a man.
Well, guess what, no you can’t. I have not survived—excelled—in my life because I let men like you intimidate me. I feel sorry for you that you are so insecure that you find it necessary to mark your territory, at least in your own mind. I am not your territory. You can not own me.
What these images do for me is remind me that I must fight on. I must tell my truth. I must face and stand up to the insidious nature of a culture entrenched in a patriarchal cesspool. I must be the change I want to see.
I want to see empowered women. I want to see the decline and fall of the patriarchy. I want to see a brighter tomorrow that allows attractive young women to walk in the woods alone, or with a male friend and feel safe. I want her to not feel the need to question a man’s intent or trustworthiness before taking that walk.
Something I still find it necessary to do.
I am lucky, some would say blessed, that I have men in my life whom I trust. I feel safe with. A whole crowd of them. And I will walk in the woods with them as a group, or individually. I will. It is their presence in my world that gives me hope that tomorrow can be better, that not all men live in a cesspool.
Recently, my youngest son, he’s 24, was talking to me about a song. Mongo Jerry’s, In The Summertime. I started bopping, singing in my head. My son was horrified. You like that song? How can you like that song? If her daddy’s rich take her out for a meal. If her daddy’s poor just do what you feel.
I stopped humming.
That’s, like, the worst, most sexist song, I’ve ever heard! He said.
I had considered embedding it into the blog, but I won’t contribute to that. Google is your friend. I’m guessing my dick-pic-ers love Mongo Jerry. I’m guessing every woman reading, every woman in my age group, started with the catchy Chh chu -chh, uh. It’s catchy, it’s message is awful. Awful.
My son made me proud, gave me hope.
I have had men I went to high school with apologize to me for men. How messed up is that? They give me hope. Some asked, are these guys we knew in school? Yes, they are. I hear the questions reverberating in their brains: how did I not know that they were rapists? How did I not see? What could I have done differently? You can start being different today. That’s what you can do. You can ensure that what happened to me doesn’t happen to your daughters and granddaughters.
Dick-pics have not been the only response. Surprisingly, women have responded with, why would you tell that story? In one instance, a friend has stopped speaking to me and won’t look me in the eye. It was forty years ago. I have moved on. And I tell that story because it is the elephant in the room. If women can not discuss this with other women, who may have similar experiences, how will we ever talk to men? How will we convince the criminal justice system to even look at rape kits?
Dick-pics aren’t the problem, they are a symptom of rape culture. And I will continue to call it out.
“Many years ago I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation dreamed of. We dreamed of such an America…and we fought and often died for that dream…” (Kurt Vonnegut, 2005, pg 71).
Oh, Kurt, I miss ya. A voice of comfort; a voice that I echo in all my sorrow. I too was innocent. Bad things happen, you pick yourself up and carry on, because it’s a personal moment, from heartbreak to rape. It’s personal. Dust yourself off. The world is a bigger place than that, and I have my country. A place I can always make better.
But I can’t. Can I?
I am active politically, boots on the ground. I am active online, fingers always working the keyboard. Let’s fix this, let’s rise above. But how, Kurt, how do I do that now? Where are the words of wisdom tucked in your wit and charm?
I am a woman without a country. I woke with a Kristofferson tune running through my head:
I’m in the mood that I was born in
And my skin was feeling tight.
Defeated. I am defeated. Trapped in an alternate universe that causes me to want to break out of my very skin.
Alone in a wilderness I don’t recognize. How do I get back to America? At least an America I sort of recognize. At least the place of dreams deferred. A place that held tomorrow’s promise. I don’t know where that is anymore. It’s gone.
And I am still here. Alone. Defeated. That’s how I feel. What can I do? How do I do it? I am surrounded by people who sing the praises of the man in the White House. Who are they? How do they live in my country?
The day the senate changed the rule, went nuclear for the supreme court nominee and bombs were dropped in Syria my country died. No one was hurt, it was a seventy-four-million-dollar show. And my heart broke.
I turned the music up: Cat Stevens, John Prine, Willie Nelson, Billie Holiday, Bruce Springsteen.
Block it out.
But I can’t can I?
Every song talked to me. Every song, another stab in my heart. I tried to find things to be busy: write, do astrology, walk, exercise, take pictures. Be the artist, writer, astrologer; be anything that will make me not political. I cannot find that place. I start thinking about old escapes.
I cannot find my center, for it dwells deep in my soul. I am, at my core, an American. I bristle when people tell me I can’t be a patriot because I am not a veteran. Really? So the man who goes AWOL is a patriot, but someone who has marched, protested, written letters, worked for politicians, volunteered—surely that’s not a patriot!
Shattered. Hands trembling, eyes watering. Frozen in my inability to fix it. Kurt, can ya hear me? Can you be my library angel? If I open this book will the right words jump out at me? …
“Hey, you know, I got some pages. Are you still typing? And she sure is” (57).
Kurt, I hate you! I don’t know the right words to say. I have other things in my life—huge things. Partner stuff. Kid stuff. Friend stuff. Student stuff. Can’t someone else do this now? I don’t have any words left that aren’t tear-stained:
“It so happens that idealism enough for everyone is not made of pink clouds. It is the law! It is the U. S. Constitution” (98).
Oh, Kurt, Kurt, I’m a model—not that sharp. I’m a poet, my words are pretty but not too deep.
“If I were writing about a tragic situation, it wouldn’t be necessary to time it to make sure the things work. You can’t really misfire with a tragic scene. It’s bound to be moving if all the right elements are present” (128).
Damn you, Kurt. You’re good at this library angel thing, aren’t ya?
Youtube: Step! We gaily on we go. Heel for heel and toe for toe. Arm and Arm and row and row.
Ok, so it’s not a political song, but damn it! Kurt stay on the page. Let me wallow!
Arm in arm, row and row — are you out there? Are you with me? Can we do this arm in arm?
“Who was the wisest person I ever met in my entire life?” (134).
You Kurt, you. I must go now and write up the minutes for the Democratic Committee, we’ll talk again.
Vonnegut, Kurt. (2005) A Man Without a Country. New York: Random house.
Why are you always talking about that feminist shit? And rape, it’s not every woman; it’s not you.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard this. Can Not Count. And I smile politely and say nothing. In my head I am screaming, how the fuck do you know that? What the fuck would you know about it? Nothing? Right. Yes, every woman. But I say nothing and continue to post. It’s intrusive I’m told. Really? Probably not as intrusive as rape, just sayin’.
When I was fourteen, back when climbing trees and skipping stones were still a part of my world, my mother enrolled me in finishing school. Apparently, I wasn’t done right. Well, at least that’s what my mother thought. The boys in the woods had other ideas. As boys often do. Rape would probably be a strong word, molested might be better. At fourteen. But I wasn’t feminine enough, not—girly—enough. I needed finishing. So the boys in the woods finished me or gave it their best fifteen-second go.
I stopped climbing trees and skipping stones. Well, I stuck to trees in my own backyard, with an overly protective German Shepard sleeping below, saving me from the dangers of the boys who liked me.
The boys who picked on me liked me. That’s what I was told as they pulled my long red hair, slapped my ass, or snapped my bra. They liked me. Perhaps I wasn’t complete enough to see that, being just fourteen. Yeah, never mind. About that… I’m not sure I’m on board with that plan. In fact, you know what? Fuck you.
I started wearing makeup when I was fourteen and heels. I learned in finishing school that that’s what young women did. And there’s a lot to be said for a woman with long legs in heels. Just ask the boys in the woods. Not that I wore heels in the woods, but I went to school in them. I walked in the dark to the bus stop at 5:30 in the morning with the boys from the woods trailing behind, sneering. They were normal; it was me, I was not finished. I needed special schooling to be a girl.
And so I learned what finished girls did.
I entered beauty contests. And won, I made the grade, if not finished, I was at least enough. I posed for artists with and without my clothes, or theirs. It’s amazing what a little makeup can do for age (I am learning that works in reverse too which is actually kind of cool). I wasn’t exactly a girly-girl, but I was a quick study and learned batting my eyes could take me places. Maybe that meant I was finally finished. I hoped so. It’s hard on the ego to be incomplete.
I was finished enough at fifteen that the boys in the woods became bolder, or possibly just more experienced. And rape would be an understatement, five boys, one girl. I’ll leave the details to your imagination. I had left behind my tomboy ways that likely would have protected me, I was finished. They left me naked, bruised, and bleeding in the woods. Because they liked me. What they did was finish me, initiate me into the world of women. Yes, all women.
So did the smarmy middle-aged men leering at me in dressing rooms. Taking me to parties I was not old enough to be at. Offering me money. Refusing to let me out of a room, or to take me home. They liked me—finished me—made me complete. Without the attention of aggressive men who liked a woman, how could she be complete?
So when I hear someone say, don’t equate harassment with rape, I bristle because I am finished: complete unto myself, done with that attitude. Had I stood up to the daily harassment, had I known that was an option, I probably would not have ended up in the woods alone for hours, dazed. But I didn’t know. Finished girls don’t, they are trained to accept that sort of behavior as normal. Harassment is rape’s little, more socially-acceptable, brother. And I am still harassed every day. If I complain? Call someone out? Well, what are you doing looking so good?
Um, genetics? Should I dress in rags to keep you at bay? Pretty sure that has never prevented a rape. Should I not feel good about myself? I’ve got news for you, I don’t dress for you. At all. I look good for me.
I didn’t report the rape. I didn’t tell anyone. Ever. Not with any specificity or details, until now. Most women don’t, there’s a sort of what’s the point attitude. And at fifteen, after years of hearing violence equated to, if not love, at least like. Being raped meant I was finally finished, a girl in the club.
My visceral reaction to the man in the White House has deep roots. I knew men like that, was trapped in rooms by men like that. Men who thought I was a toy. Men who said they liked me. So, when I heard, “just grab them by the pussy,” I was fourteen again; then fifteen; then tied up and trapped by a man who wanted me to pose for a “gentleman’s” magazine. I was molested, raped, and harassed all over again.
And again when he won the election.
Why do I post about rape and feminism? Because, yes every woman. Every fucking woman. Yes me. Yes, every woman you know. And when he was elected the boys in the woods and the smarmy men in the modeling world all got a green light. If she objects, smack her, she isn’t finished enough to understand this. If she is pretty it is her obligation to comply. And I am so fucking finished.
I post flattering pictures of myself on Facebook and Twitter (thank you, talented photographers in my world). I’m told, “I’m asking for it.” I’m asking for it? What does that even mean? What am I asking for? We’re back to good genetics, aren’t we?
Why should I bow to you? Why should I hide away because you can’t control yourself? I receive inappropriate pictures, commonly referred to as Dick-pics, a couple of times a week. I have men email me and inbox me regularly. Reg-u-lar-ly. They invite me to do all sorts lewd and inappropriate things. Pictures with suggestions about what I could do for the man pictured, or at least his little bits. My first reaction is always, I’ll Lorena Bobbitt you, that’s what I’ll do—hang on—let me get my magnifying glass.
If I make any response other than a cyber-sexy one (which I don’t, so stop at the hand), I’m a bitch. I’m too smart for my own good. Fuck you, I am smart, and I happen to be what many, apparently, consider attractive. Most of the women I know are smart—smarter than most men. And they all dress to look good because that makes them FEEL good. Got it? Good.
Welcome to the twenty-first century. Women have power and know how to use it. Women are educated. Women have learned that we need to band together, there is power in numbers, together we can. It’s that same lesson we learned when we started going to bars, don’t go alone, always take a friend—even if you just met her five minutes ago. The most common place for a woman to be raped is in the bathroom, fewer clothes to rip off. There’s safety in numbers. Dear patriarchy, you taught us well. We own this game now.
So every time we hear the voice of the man in the White House, every time his face scrolls through a Facebook feed, millions of us are reliving rapes. We are triggered by the most powerful man in the world. Think about that. Think about how you feed or have fed this culture, and make amends. Finish it right. If a woman is posting or telling rape stories it is because she is trying to protect someone else from living her nightmare, she’s trying to keep some young woman out of the club. If she looks good and is attractive, if she posts pictures that are appealing it is because she is saying fuck you, you will not win. I am in control of my own destiny. And I am complete; the boys in the woods and the White House can rot in hell. I am finished with a culture that encourages violence against women. I am finished being the girl from finishing school. And I feel like I am not alone in that. So be aware of the beast you have awakened, and know the future is female.
Note: this piece is in no way a reflection of the man I wrote about yesterday. No way.