Sunday, October 5, 2014

While baking cake

My girl was royally pissed off while mixing the icing for her brother's cake. With good reason. An unsettling thing happened to her yesterday. She had given out a pair of boots to have the zippers fixed in the morning, and dashed out at 5 pm to pick them up. She was in a rush as she was still in the midst of baking her epic cake for her brother's birthday, so she planned to take a taxi there and back. As she stood on the corner of our block, looking for a cab, a van drove up next to her and two men, middle aged, started calling out all manner of vulgarities to her and yelling, "How much? How much?" She ignored them and eventually they drove off.

But when she came home, she was steaming. As she came through the door, she said, "Some people in this world are just assholes." I asked her what happened and she told me. My heart skipped a beat, because I know all the stories of predators grabbing women and throwing them into the back of vans never to be seen again. I said urgently that if a van ever stopped next to her like that again to put a lot of distance between her and the van, and she said, "Of course, Mom, I know that. But why is okay for those assholes to speak to me like that?"

It's definitely not okay, I said and tried to suggest she not take it in. But she persisted, visibly upset, her eyes welling with tears. "Why should I even have to deal with that?" she insisted. "Why is it on me to not take it in while they go on doing that horrible shit to women?" And then she said, "I'm not crying because I'm sad, I'm crying because I'm just so angry!" I stopped trying to offer platitudes and just went to her and put my hand on her shoulder, knowing I didn't have any words that would make this feel remotely okay. She went back to mixing the cake frosting and presently she said, "The thing is, I knew not to say anything to them because I knew they might be really crazy assholes and it might make it worse but why should women even have to deal with this!" She was really, really furious, more so than I've seen her before.

Late last night, as she sat on the bus back to school, and as I waited for her to message me that she was safely home, she texted me that I wasn't to worry that the men in the van had made her feel in any way differently about herself. "I still know my worth even among all the assholes," she said but added that it was the helpless feeling that made her so angry, the sense that she had no choice but to take their despicable behavior. I wished so hard that I could do or say something meaningful but the truth is I have no answers, no idea how to frame this to make it less upsetting for my child. I realize that she has become more conscious of and politicized about these issues of late and is increasingly less willing to shrug and say well that's just the way the world is. And she is right—it isn't okay and it shouldn't feel okay.

Here is a bitterly funny link on the subject at hand that a dear friend sent me this morning.




18 comments:

  1. I think all women know exactly how she felt. That anger which boils up and makes you wish (no matter how much of a pacifist you are) that you could somehow smash them, do anything to make them stop, to turn the ugliness back onto them. Women should NOT ever have to feel this way. I wonder if it will ever change.

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    1. Ms. Moon, I felt so at a loss to come up with anything that would truly change the situation in a macro sense. And yet I can't just accept that we have to accept this.

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    2. I think that the new inititiaves are in the right direction - teach your sons not to act this way AND to stand up to other men who are acting this way. Notions of masculinity need to shift.

      When I was in Jordan, if a man leered at me or any such thing, all the people on the street would turn on him and shout that's not how to treat people. It was a beautiful thing and I think it could happen here too. Think of y'all's sons and how they would never tolerate such behavior near them.

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  2. I am so so sorry but mostly so upset that your daughter had this experience. Sadly, I believe most women of color will one day get asked "how much"... And from this stems most of my rage issues that I am trying to control. Because it is, she is right, it is unacceptable what some men think they have a right to do or say to us. My stepmom, like you, was very worried because this happens to me way to much (even with her, even in a cab once) and a few years ago I started confronting those men. Loudly, harshly. She was worried until she saw me doing it and then she said she was impressed. Would I do it late at night alone in a street or a subway. No. Will I do it midday. Yes.

    But again. This is unacceptable. And good for your daughter for not being ashamed but for being mad.
    This world.

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    1. Miss A, I hesitated to tell her to confront the men because I don't want it to escalate the situation. But does it feel worse when you don't fight back? I don't know the answer here. I know your mother, above all else, just wanted to keep you safe. Thank you for this comment and for the solidarity.

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    2. I agree too about the confrontation - I think it totally depends on the situation. One of the best moments for me was in Morocco when men would constantly make sexual comments to me, and on my last night I was DONE. So a man was too close and aggressive and so I confronted him. I shouted and he backed off and then I raised my fists and ran towards him. He ran off in total confusion. People on the street saw this and older men told me I responded correctly, but then why didn't THEY tell the young men to stop?

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    3. I don't know what I would tell my daughter if I had one. My sister was raised in fear of this escalating and I see how much it has affected her handling of these issues. I have never, ever had anything happen to me because I confronted these men. Quite the opposite. The last time it happened was a few nights ago and he apologized. It just feels wrong that we've been taught to ignore it and to suppress our rightful anger because of what may happen to us. And so we are constantly victims of men who were not taught to leave us alone.

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  3. She is right, and so are you and I can only agree with the other sentiments here. She is also physically unharmed. Will the world change? One `can hope and work toward creating examples that teach humans not to be racist, sexist, ableist, etc. I also wonder how the mothers, sisters or wives of those men would feel if they knew what they'd done on the street...

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    1. e, now there's a thought. Maybe our response should simple be "What would your mother/wife/sister/daughter think if they could see you now?"

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  4. Where I live there have been several cases of "flashing". Women cannot go to local hiking trails without this in the back of their mind. Now get this... A suspect was recently apprehended and has a history. He raped an 80 year old woman. He served his time and was released. After he was charged for the flashing incidents he was released again with a promise to appear. He is now free to walk about (with a promise not to go to parks!) and is awaiting trial.
    My biggest problem is not these sicko predators but the powers that be that let them loose.

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  5. It's horrible -- and perhaps even more horrible when we just become inured to it. I think it's good to be really angry about such things. It's essential for change -- that sort of very righteous anger. That being said, this video might help her to laugh and be pissed off:

    https://screen.yahoo.com/women-catcalled-men-002257987.html

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    1. Elizabeth, this has happened to me all my life, just as it happens to all women, less now, of course, that I am older. But you know, I was inured. I have not felt so righteously angry about this till now, because it now affects my daughter. Thanks for the videos! It does help to leaven the anger with bitter laughter!

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  6. This is the kind of anger all women carry inside, some of us have it buried so deep, we break out in a rash at times not knowing why. Show me a mother who feels her daughter is safe out on the town at night. Show me a mother who sleeps soundly when her daughter is travelling after dark. There was a time when I was convinced it was up to us women to reclaim the night, the street, the safety of our neighbourhoods. It's not our failure that it hasn't happened.

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    1. Sabine, you are so right! Why should women walk around feeling less safe in parks, at night on the street, coming home late. As the mother of girls, we worry all the time, even when it is not at the surface. We walk around with the knowledge that our access to and enjoyment of the entirety of the world comes with a risk, most especially when we are young. I want to keep my girl safe; does that mean I have to teach her to operate with an awareness of these limits? So unfair.

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  7. I don't know why this brought a lump to my throat this morning. Of course I feel so sad for your beautiful girl (any girl) having to deal with that. Or maybe it's the loss of that fierce anger I felt when I was young replaced now with disgusted acceptance. Some people are just assholes.

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    1. Oh Yolie, I know exactly what you mean. Is acceptance of what is the same as defeat? Or is it rising above? I don't know.

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  8. How horrible. I just wonder what makes some guys do things like that. Maybe they think it's a sort of savage compliment, or maybe they're just not thinking at all. (More likely.) Anyway, I hope she can use the experience positively somehow, to fuel her feminist energies.

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