Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Misogyny is Not Always a Lion's Roar

Misogyny is not always a lion's roar...  Sometimes, it starts as a whisper.

I come from the last generation of women who were taught to always be polite.  I can even remember taking actual etiquette classes as a child as part of Girl Scouts! I liked it and found it to be fun. I enjoyed being complimented on my nice manners, and I liked (and still do) that I could get a long with most any sort of person. I'm not saying its a bad thing to be polite and get along with everyone.

However, intertwined in the DNA of women my age and older, is this unsaid thing: He might touch you and you might not like it. But be polite. Who knows WHAT will happen if you are rude?

At age fourteen, I entered the food and beverage industry as a waitress.  I don't think anybody ever actually said to me, "Men are going to grope you as part of their daily lunch experience, just ignore it." But I was somehow prepared for it.  A hand drifting up my leg and landing on my rear end as I scribbled out someone's biscuit and gravy order was just so normal to me at the time, I don't even specifically recall the first incident. It happened SO many times during my years in that industry, I only remember maybe ten specific incidents of it. The rest of the times my legs, crotch, shoulders, and breasts were grazed or grabbed while I took orders or delivered foods, just blur together in my mind as sort of a skin crawling feeling.

One incident that I do recall though, I was actually pouring coffee for a man when he dragged his hand up my leg, it startled me, and I dumped the coffee on his hand. It was purely accidental.

I apologized to him.

The only time I ever actually complained to a manager about being
sexually harassed by a customer was because this customer's behavior toward me was so excessive, it was actually bothering other customers. So I told a manager. (By the way, I was fifteen years deep in the industry by the time I complained one time.)

I was also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by the time I started waitressing. In fact, it was long in my past by then; my rape, defiling, and utter loss of innocence. I had never told. It was a distant memory, and if I thought of it at all, I thought of it like a movie I had watched, or a story I'd heard about someone else. So maybe that's another reason why I didn't find it weird that so many men felt like a dollar tip included a grope, and that was just normal!

Looking at the world through a different lens now, what really makes me feel the most ill about thinking back on that dingy little grab ass diner was what a late bloomer I was. At fourteen, I looked every bit of eleven. There was NO HINT of womanliness about me.  There was nothing to suggest that I might be interested in surrendering agency of my own body to a stranger. There was explicitly NOTHING about me that said, "Yes." It should never have seemed normal for anyone to touch me while they waited for their grilled cheese sandwiches.

Not to them, and, my God, not to me.

I did't start seeing the world that I live in differently until I was several years into being the mother of a son.

My son's father and I aren't what you'd call super fashionable people.  I mean, we both like to look presentable, but neither of us spend a ton of money or time on clothes.  Low maintenance people, we are.  But, somehow, we had this kid that we fondly refer to as a fashionista. By age two, he was dressing himself and picking out his own clothes when we'd clothes shop. He had this fashion sense and love of that sort of thing that his father and I just couldn't relate to, but it was fun having a son that cared about that sort of stuff and could dress himself!

Jacob would often discuss my own wardrobe with me, pick out clothes for me, or critique my wardrobe choices. It was a fun little game we'd share. Dress your "fashion don't" mom. I eventually got the hang of this whole fashion thing and settled into a personal style Jacob liked.

Fast forward, and Jacob's dad remarried.  He married a lady who dressed entirely different than me. My son said to me once that he wished that she would dress how I dress. 

That statement was quite literally a turning point in my life.

Now, I fully understand this was likely just a stress reaction to having a new step parent. However, looking down into the sweet little face of a six year old boy who presumed to criticize the dress of a grown woman, or try to force one woman into the mold of another...  Something about it rubbed me entirely wrong.

Misogyny is not always a lion's roar...  Sometimes, it starts as a whisper.

I told my son in no uncertain terms that what his stepmother, what I, what any woman chooses to clothe herself in is HER choice, and not of his concern. We had a long talk, and have had a number of long talks since, that mommy should not have been letting him have a say in my wardrobe.  It's taken time to undo something that I personally was guilty of instilling in him. It made me feel gross to know I'd entirely by accident, taught my son that his opinion of a female matters more than her own.

Fast forward again to fall 2016. I was babysitting for two little girls at the time. One of them, age three, loved both my kids and played with them as if they were her own siblings when they were home from school. The other, age 18 mos, was comfortable with my daughter, but obviously uncomfortable with my son. She was a child who, other than her own dad, spent the majority of her time around female energy, and that was just what she was most comfortable with at that time in her life.

My son has always been tremendous with younger kids when I babysit. They tend to love him and he is always an awesome helper. He's kind and understanding in situations where other kids his age might tend to be impatient. And, this little girl, well...  She was just the most precious little soul you could ever know. It was only natural he'd want to play with her too!

But, she was simply not interested.

Even at such a young age, she knew she needed to stay out of his room, avoid his toys, and leave him alone if she didn't want to be his friend. I never once had to tell her that. She naturally avoided my son.

One attempt to befriend her on his part did not upset me. However, I explained to him to leave her alone and let her decide if and when she wanted to become his friend. But, second attempt frustrated me. And after I saw repeated attempts to get her to play with him, I became angry with my son.

Misogyny is not always a lion's roar...  Sometimes, it starts as a whisper.

If I transferred what my son was doing into the scenario of an adult male, repeatedly pestering an adult female, who was being polite, but obviously disinterested, I would not be OK with it. It would be stalking. I would worry about her safety. Something would have to be done.

In no way shape or form then, could I let it slide in the case of an eighteen month old child.

I adore my son. I love him, and down deep in my heart and soul, I know he's a wonderful human being.  Everyone who knows him shares this belief, including that little girl's mother! It's just important to me to keep him that way. Its my job to offset the lessons the world has taught him. 

What's my point here? I'm not exactly sure, really. I guess my point is that we have to be aware. We have to understand why the #metoo movement is important. Sitting here actively imagining if my daughter were eighteen and starting her first waitressing gig, and a man's hand went up her leg, she would LOSE HER MIND. I firmly believe that. She would NEVER intrinsically believe it was somehow normal for a stranger to invade her most private space. That's why it matters.  That's why it's important to just do away with the "boys will be boys" mentality.

For those of you, (ladies especially) who question the validity of
the alarming number of victims coming forward only now, years, sometimes decades, after the fact...  I hear you...  I understand you...  We were taught to be polite. It seems normal to you, so it doesn't feel like abuse. We weren't taught, our mothers weren't taught, our grandmothers were not taught, that our bodies belong to us and us ALONE. The cloud for you has not lifted yet. I know there are VERY FEW if any of you who've never felt a man's touch that you did not invite, but you don't feel like a victim.

The #metoo movement is important because it is changing the world. The cloud is lifting for more and more of us to shake our heads and go, no more, jerk off. Keep your damn hands off me, and DEFINITELY keep your damn hands off my daughter.  That's it, it doesn't have to be more than that, but it needs to not be less than that.  It's not normal to touch women without a DEFINITE YES, and I don't have to be polite about it. I know that now, and at one time I honestly did not. More and more people are getting it now, and that's why it matters.