I pretty much ignored #yesallwomen. In retrospect, that was a mistake. I’m often guilty of a logical and, you know, human, failing of overreacting to efforts to draw parallels between struggles that I — arbiter of truth that I am — see as too disparate to compare meaningfully. I don’t enjoy being harassed on the street, intimidated in bars (or church basements, and btdubbs, thanks, church body, for collectively looking the other way as that went down), or, engaged sexually while I am unconscious. But I prefer it to, and find it qualitatively different from, being shot to death. Both things are shitty; each probably requires a different approach from our community, since clearly, however our society failed the various harassers and accouters screwing with #allwomen, it managed to instill upon #thosemen that shooting people to death is not okay.
It’s not just that it’s #notallmen who do that; it’s that it’s almost no men. Whereas, well, a lot of freaking men are engaging with some regularity in these other forms of crap behavior.I don’t want to rant about this phenomenon (again) — though, were you under the impression that I felt anything positive or neutral about unwanted body-centric attention, let me clear that up right now with a hearty eff that noise. Your penis notwithstanding, I do not want you to tell me anything, good or bad, about my body; what's more, I remain genuinely puzzled as to why you believe I would. I do not want you to ask me to date you on the street. I do not want to hear about it if my shirt rides up as I am walking and the sight of my bare skin upsets you or titilates you or triggers some resentment you have about women. This skin on my body in which I live is not about you, and it’s not about me thinking I’m God’s gift to Franklin Avenue. This is about my shirt being a poly blend and me having other things on my mind. LIKE I DO.
Having cleared that up, what I want to say is this:
To #yesallwomen. I can only know how this noise goes down for me: the specific ways it sucks and the things I want (in addition to, of course, a cessation of hostilities between my body and the strangers on the street who seem so invested in patrolling it). So, here’s what I wish we could say to each other, what I wish the #notallmen in my life would say to me.
Your body is not exceptional. Your body is not somehow marked, or unique, or at fault — either for being too sexy or transgressing some ideal of female sexuality. Your body is important, but mostly only to you, and never as important as you. Again, -- because often I feel that I am the only person in my life who believes this --Your body is of infinitely less significance than the human being it houses.Moreover, to the degree that your body signifies anything, that meaning is within your control. Whatever bullshit is running though the mind of that stranger or lover or cousin or boss when he or she comments on/gropes at/playfully slaps your body, that is going on solidly and entirely between his or her own damn ears. And it would be going on with any female body, real or imagined. No, it's not that you're so hot and they can't resist. It's that they are not exercising control, and blaming it on you is convenient and distracting.
I thought, when I was a child, that my body had messed up by virtue of not being sexually developed — that it somehow solicited the particular kind of “playful” (demeaning and humiliating) attention older boys afforded it, by virtue of being ridiculous: flatchested, asexual, all wrong. I believe that when I had a small waist and big breasts I would have some kind of credibility, that people would take me seriously. In retrospect, I have no idea what cognitive sleight of hand allowed me to make that error -- I guess, being seven, I confused being a commodity with holding capital. I learned pretty fast.
Later, I starved myself and fed myself, worked out and threw up and dressed, not in an effort to make myself sexually desirable, but to remove whatever it was about me that kept demanding a response from these men. Often this response was positive or neutral — at least, until I failed to respond in the way the commenter had imagined — but the fact that I’d somehow done it again, that I was trying to go to work or go for a run or go grocery shopping but just couldn’t keep by body quiet while I did so, had the same effect every time: I fucked up again. What is it about me? How small and generic do I have to make my body for people to see that there is a human being inside it?
Listen, #yesallwomen: it isn’t you. Your body is both completely fine, exactly as it is, and absolutely unworthy of comment. It is your vehicle to live in, and should you choose to make it a means of some sort of expression, that's your call. But if someone else is appropriating it when you’re trying to tell them about your day at work or trying to walk your kid home from school — however complimentary they think they are being, however G-rated the comment may be — that is their damage, and it has nothing to do with you. Carry on.To #notallmen: here is the thing. Those people who made you feel like you weren’t acceptable, like no one wanted you and you’d never have a girlfriend, because you listened to the wrong music or because you were too short or too skinny or ran too slow or talked to loud, were all equally stupid and wrong. Those people who marginalized you for your skin color or your weight or your poverty or whatever were equally wrong.
You are enough, and you are wanted, and you are valuable, even if your acne never went away or you never really mastered the kind of conversation that got girls to give you their number. Given the curious directions in which my own attractions veer, I probably had a huge crush on you in high school, or would have. You shouldn’t have had to feel shitty about yourself, because you are actually awesome and valuable.
But here’s the other thing. My body may be some kind of symbol to you —- you may, especially if you don’t know me, see me and think “woman”, and that meaning may generate feelings about worth and acceptance and virility and value. But that body is also where I live, and my I'm over here having my own story: one no more important than yours, but no less important, either. My body’s housing the protagonist of a narrative that has shit to do with you, and when you mistake me for a character in your story, guy on the street who I do not know, you’re basically changing the channel from my story, in which I am awesome and valuable, to your story, where you call the shots and I’m — what? A nice belly? An exposed bra slip? Someone you’d like to take home?
I think what you want, more than sex, is to feel accepted: to be able to put yourself out there and get away with it, and not get shot down. The problem is that I’m letting you get away with this, not because you’re so awesome or clever or sexy, not because your advances are finally welcome, but because you are making me feel ashamed and embarrassed and threatened.
Or may that is your intention in the first place — but I don’t think it is. I think it’s just convenient for you to ignore the fact that that is the outcome of what you are doing. That clever quip is not just furthering your narrative about you and Females. It is also making another human being, one who has interfered with your wellbeing not at all, feel like shit.
So, I can’t stop you from behaving badly -- freedom of speech and all that. But know, guy on the street, that when you are belittling me — and reducing a human being either to a part of her body or to that body and its potential value to you is belittling, even if what you are saying is a "complement" — you are responding to a rejection or wrongdoing that has nothing to do with me. You may know other women, and they may have done things that you don’t like, and you may see my body and think about those things, because my body is also female. But I never did anything to you. In fact, if you gave me a chance, I’d probably be on your side.
But we’ve got to stop meeting this way.