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You and I Are a Miracle


#yesallwomen

by Brytani

You and I Are a Miracle | A Practical Wedding

Dear man of mine,

I have called you this for six years. I memorized the ridges and valleys of your hands, the hard knots in your legs, the soft stretches of your sides. I know all the expressions you make when you’re telling me a story and the way that you sound when you’re falling asleep. I can predict what inside joke you’re going to reference and beat you to it. By now we are an almost freakish combination of each other. You’ve gained my love for sci-fi and facts and I’ve taken your open acceptance of others.

But I fear now, even after all we’ve learned to share, that I can never make you understand the world I walk as a woman.

When you look at me, I think that you see my strength, my intelligence, and my self-confidence. I grew up close to a father and an older brother and almost always had boys for best friends. They taught me that the way to be happy was to accept myself and because I knew that they valued me as I was, I never doubted myself. I grew up believing that I was everything I needed to be. If it wasn’t for the boys who danced with me when I was single, wrote me funny notes when girls picked a fight with me, or came to get me when my car broke down in the middle of nowhere, I couldn’t have turned into me. I wouldn’t have become a woman brave enough love you and let you in.

Because you see, for all the boys who built me up, I can never forget the ones who tried to hurt me. They left wounds that you cannot easily see. So how can I help you see them?

If I could take you back to a sunny day when I walked home from elementary school with my best friend, you would find a middle school boy waiting behind the jungle gym to rip off my shirt. We hit him together until he was bored or bruised and he ran away. I didn’t think it was important, then. Just another bully.

I can’t forget when I was in sixth grade, riding the bus home, and an older boy reached for my hand, faking flirtation, and squeezed it until my knuckles ground against each other. I wanted to scream or cry but I just stared back at him.

Surely you would start to see after what happened in seventh grade on such a good day. My teacher asked me to run an errand, getting papers and supplies from some eighth grade teachers, and I was so excited to leave my classroom and roam the school. I was entering the eighth grade building when classes were ending and a boy I barely knew wrapped an arm around my waist and stole all my joy when he told me he’d fuck me anytime.

Or what about ninth grade when a boy in gym watched me stretch and whispered every day in my ear how he’d like to be between my legs. I wish I could let you feel my rage when I told my PE teacher that he was making sexual comments and how he refused to do anything until I told him what the boy said. I felt so weak when I couldn’t repeat the words and endured the punishment for months longer.

I can still feel fingers around my neck from when a boy pushed me against a wall, begging me to give in and show him that I liked him. I wondered then if he deserved to hurt me for withholding my feelings, but I’d already learned that no one would help me.

It happened again when I was fifteen. I was shaking because one of my best friends couldn’t stand that I didn’t want to date him. He was screaming at me that I was a selfish bitch and when my parents picked up the phone and overheard him, they couldn’t understand why I let someone talk to me that way.

I wish I could say that it ended somewhere or that I stopped feeling so powerless. I’m a girl who loves comics and video games and YA novels with kickass heroines. I was a martial artist and I know how to shoot a gun. I’ve got a tongue that can filet a person down to the soul. I am tough and even when I’m in over my head, I never show it.

Here is what scares me, though. I don’t laugh too loud, dress too provocatively, or speak carelessly to strangers. I choose every word deliberately, worried that I may make someone think that I care more than I do. I don’t get drunk in public or drink in the presence of new people. When I think about it, I wonder if I’m just a collection of fears and my virtues are nothing more than precautions.

When you look at me, you do see strength and you do see intelligence and self-confidence, but all that is armor carefully forged and at great cost.

If you could see me when I catch a man’s lingering stare in the grocery store or when someone comments on my body day after day at work, you wouldn’t recognize me. My armor doesn’t keep me from wanting to hide, or worse, murder with my bare hands. I am small and fragile and all my hopes are pinned on my ability to act unafraid.

If you could understand the chill I feel in my bones and the never-ending caution, you would know that the kind of love I have with you—all those vulnerable moments of perfect trust—are a miracle.

Brytani

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  • Anon

    Thank you for this heart-breaking post. I am a UCSB graduate so this recent horrible tragedy hits especially close to home. I also got out of a 6 year emotionally abusive relationship and wonder every day if I’ll ever be able to trust and love another partner again.

  • Lauren from NH

    Nothing to say but thank you. All women share in this truth.

    • scw

      “Nothing to say but thank you. All women share in this truth.”

      This. Also, I think I am going to show this post to FH.

  • http://lwdress.com Allie

    Bawling. When I see everyone coming together, bravely sharing their stories, it makes me happy that we have a community that can do that, but sad that so many (if not all) can relate.

  • Amanda Otto

    Brave and honest… and making me cry.

  • KB

    “Here is what scares me, though. I don’t laugh too loud, dress too provocatively, or speak carelessly to strangers. I choose every word deliberately, worried that I may make someone think that I care more than I do. I don’t get drunk in public or drink in the presence of new people. … If you could see me when I catch a man’s lingering stare in the grocery store or when someone comments on my body day after day at work, you wouldn’t recognize me.”
    This. I wonder what kind of person I would be if I didn’t have those internal checks – and what I would think of other people who do laugh too loud, dress too provocatively, or speak carelessly. I feel like we’d all be more honest, caring, and less cynical versions of ourselves if we didn’t need to self-edit because of the undercurrent of violence and misogynism that’s everywhere, subtle and overt, in men and women. We all deserve to be able to metaphorically run butt-naked down the street without consequence.

    • MC

      For me, taking an empowerment-based self-defense course (http://www.nwmaf.org/empowerment-model ) REALLY helped me live life from a place of joy and adventure and not fear. I took an Impact class that focused on learning verbal and physical self-defense skills while adrenalized, so the skills are in my body, like muscle memory. Knowing that I have the power and the fighting spirit to defend myself if it comes to that makes a huge difference. I know self-defense isn’t for everybody, but it’s been life-changing for me and many other women I know, so I thought I’d throw it out there.

  • MC

    Oof. Heartbreaking and beautiful and true. Reminds me of a Louis CK line where he talks about how astonishing it is that women even bother with men anymore considering that men are statistically the biggest threat to our safety. Also a good reminder that so, so many men are our allies in this, even if they will never understand our experiences exactly. We can’t be afraid to share our experiences with the men we love & trust – it makes our relationships and our community stronger in this fight.

    • JDrives

      I’m happy that bit of stand-up exists in the world. I think Louis C.K. did a good job of using humor to highlight a really true issue.

    • Cathi

      “We can’t be afraid to share our experiences with the men we love &
      trust – it makes our relationships and our community stronger in this
      fight.”

      Yes, yes, yes. We need our community, especially our lovely and decent men, to be just as vigilant. My husband went through what I think is a fairly standard process when it comes to first hearing women’s stories of harassment (“what? surely you’re exaggerating –> I believe you, but it can’t be common –> wow, a lot of my friends have these stories too –> holy crap, I see it happening everywhere”) and has made it his personal mission to stamp out catcalling/lewd remarks. It had never crossed his mind to every say/do that sort of thing, and he’s still incredulous that other men do this. By hearing my/friends’ stories of atrocious male behavior he’s become tuned in to our world, and now that he’s aware of things happening he’s prepared to call his fellow men out on it.

    • Emily

      I’ve wanted to say this about school shootings/mass shootings in public. It appears to me that boys between the ages of 14-30 are the most dangerous group out there. Race, class, etc not applicable.

      • MC

        Oh! Let me point you to this interview with alarming statistics that say exactly that: http://www.mediaed.org/toughguise2/april2014interview.html

        (It was published last month, so doesn’t include some of the recent shootings.)

        • Emily

          Thanks for the link; very interesting. I’m glad that someone is saying this. The point about how male privilege allows the shooters gender to get lost in generalizations hit home for me; here’s the sentence from the article: “I think it says a lot about the invisibility of privilege and how that plays out linguistically. Since men are the dominant gender, their dominance is often hidden behind universals: it’s all about disturbed or angry “people” committing unspeakable acts of violence.”

        • Lauren from NH

          Eye opening article/interview. Really gets past media talking points to unpack what is going on with these mass shootings on a cultural level. Thank you many times over!

  • Julia27

    “When you look at me, you do see strength and you do see intelligence and self-confidence, but all that is armor carefully forged and at great cost.”

    A truth most women know too well.

    • JDrives

      Yes. This line in particular cut me right to the quick.

  • Anon for this

    My husband is genderqueer (born male; for now, he prefers male pronouns and identifiers [hence, "husband"]), and from time to time he has considered transitioning/living as a woman. And what I think, EVERY TIME, is “Why would you give up your position of safety? Why would you willingly choose to be a gender, be in a position, where you can be killed just for what you are?”

    (To be clear, I absolutely, 100%, understand that the need to transition is just that — a NEED to be the person one was born as, and that need is deeper and greater than the potential threat that can arise from living as a woman. I totally understand that. And yet, from my position as someone who never walks to my car in the parking garage without being hyper-aware of my surroundings, as someone who always checks under the car and in the backseat as I approach it, as someone who always has her keys between her knuckles JUST IN CASE — it still looks like willingly giving up a position of power and safety to become someone who always wonders if *that* strange man is the WRONG strange man.)

  • js

    I have chills. This is both brilliant and heart-breaking. Someone stole my joy, a long time ago. I’m still rebuilding myself. There are parts of me now, even after therapy, that I still don’t recognize. Finding a love that heals helped. My daughter helps, every day I am strong for her. We should never stop talking about this, especially to the good men in our lives. She already knows this, but the author is very brave and not alone. I feel this way in my bones and it is exhausting sometimes.

  • Jessamarie

    I would have thought that reading this, and reading #yesallwomen posts this weekend would make me angry and sad, but instead all I can seem to feel is an overwhelming sense of hope and joy. I feel gratitude. All I can think is “My daughter will not have to grow up in the world that I did.” Thank you Brytani.

    • Emily

      I too, am hoping this is real momentum that is building. Let’s change this.

  • SJ

    “When I think about it, I wonder if I’m just a collection of fears and my virtues are nothing more than precautions.”
    THIS. Sweet tiny gods, THIS. I’ve been so afraid to look for more, to dare for more…this was so timely and honest and heartbreaking because it’s brave when it shouldn’t have to be. Thank you.

  • May

    OP, a bajillion times yes. My husband and I have been travelling this year and I have seen how we approach situations differently. I won’t walk down that sketchy alleyway, or talk to that guy, or take that taxi. He often laughingly refers to my “paranoia” and likens me to his mother. Finally one day, I lost it and yelled at him. “Don’t you see? It’s such a joke to you, but I am the one who keeps us safe. I am the one who stops bad things from happening to us.” Substitute “us” for “me” and you have every woman’s daily reality. My husband vowed to protect me but even he doesn’t fully realise just how long I have been protecting myself – and how long his sisters and friends and yes, even his “paranoid” mother have been doing the same thing.

    • KB

      Totally – it drives me insane when I’m with people (men mostly, but sometimes women) who laugh it off as “paranoia” when you’re exercising street smarts. For example – choosing not to use short-cuts with few people around, avoiding streets that are known to be shady/deserted/poorly lit, not answering the door when it’s a strange guy, not holding the door open for strangers in the building, not yelling at the cabbie who cuts you off in the crosswalk or tries to cheat you with the fare – the list goes on and on and on. Yeah, it’s true that anything or anyone can hurt you – but, honestly, it makes ME feel safer and it costs nothing for YOU except time and minor annoyance. The worst thing in the world would be to say, “I told you so” – or have to live with it if I wasn’t hear to say it.

      • Lawyerette510

        Ugh the answering the door for strangers, especially strange men part really resonates with me. My husband will just open the door without looking to see who is there or anything! We have a peephole, it’s not like he has to open the door… but it just doesn’t feel real for him that there is danger in just opening the door for an unknown/ unexpected knock…

    • Nina B

      When I studied abroad in London they told us as part of the orientation that men are pick-pocketed and mugged far more often than women, because women are more aware. It got me thinking about how sad that is. I don’t walk with headphones on because I want to hear if anyone is coming up behind me. I don’t say anything to anyone on the street because one time I said “good morning” in response to a man’s “good morning”… then he proceeded to stalk me for the next two months. I know every corner store and restaurant that is open late between the subway and my house so that I can duck inside if I feel unsafe, or run there if something happens. I make sure I’m sober before I leave a bar and I check in with all my friends when I get home. The list goes on.

    • jashshea

      I have this conversation w/my (male) friends and coworkers sometimes. I’ve never thought of myself as super observant and that’s probably accurate for most middle of the day, wander around the world moments for me. But when my hackles raise, I can tell you everything about everyone in a room from a millisecond glance (red shirt/blue socks/brown hair guy is sketchy; white shirt/green tie notices that redshirt is sketchy and will be ally if needed; blond girl with pink dress in potential bad situation if she has another cocktail).

      And until relatively recently, I never thought through WHY I could/would do that. It’s not like I’m a sleeper agent, just have years of experience being a chick. Pretty great as a parlour trick, but shitty when its a necessary survival skill.

    • Kat Robertson

      In college I read The Gift of Fear (pretty interesting, you can check it out here if you like: http://www.amazon.com/Other-Survival-Signals-Protect-Violence/dp/0440508835/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401229194&sr=8-1&keywords=the+gift+of+fear) and in it he talks about how men dismiss “women’s intuition”, but that in reality that intuition is intelligent reading of situations that we should absolutely listen to. It sucks that we live in a world where “women’s intuition” is developed because we are treated like shit a lot more often than men, but it was nice for it to be validated.

      • MC

        The Gift of Fear is AMAZING. Definitely recommend it for everyone.

    • KH_Tas

      Oh yes. My fiance didn’t understand, possibly still doesn’t understand, why I wasn’t keen on trying to reassure a tall, stocky, belligerently drunk man shouting on a sketchy street in a strange city. He is beginning to believe me when I say I won’t walk alone at night though

  • Laura C

    Because my armor is so successful, I don’t live the daily experience of fear and harassment so many women live. I just don’t, thanks to some combination of being 5’11”, possessing a boatload of race and class privilege, and whatever other x factor goes into it. It’s still armor and I am still aware that I need it, but when it’s ignored, I end up wondering if I experience that violation of my right to live my life without harassment, that assumption that I owe something to a random man on the street or in a bar, in a different way than other women. Because it’s not routine for me, it’s always a shock, something by which I’m freshly outraged. You think I’m going to dance with you, stranger in a bar, just because you grabbed my hand and tried to pull me off of my seat? You think you’re going to make me feel bad when I emphatically say no? Oh, you were “just trying to be friendly”? Well, I was just trying to sit here a week after surgery, seeing friends for the first time since getting engaged four days before that surgery. But you know what, I don’t owe you that explanation, and fuck you for trying to make yourself the victim here.

    You think I’m going to tell you my name just because you walked up to me and asked it, stranger on a street corner? And then you think you’re going to get anywhere by following me for a block on a crowded street? What does this do to other women for whom it brings up memories of being followed on an empty street? Because what it does for me is make me feel enough caution to postpone going to the ATM, but otherwise, I feel contempt for you, and a deep outrage that you feel like this is something that will work at any level.

    But these things are so rare in my life. Literally those two examples are all I can remember over the past 18 months. And yet still, I have this armor, I need this armor, and I know that for so many other women, the same effort at armoring themselves doesn’t have the same effects, for reasons entirely beyond any of our control.

    • Rora

      Laura C, you just gave me a small epiphany. Like you, I’ve been lucky in life and have experienced very little harassment and have had thankfully few negative encounters with men. Sometimes, strange society that we live in, it makes me feel guilty that I’ve somehow avoided the attacks other women have endured. And it also makes me feel like an outsider, to not have experiences to share or wisdom to contribute. But reading your comment, I realize that I still have the same armour that all of the women commenting here have. I know the rules about walking at night, about going on first dates, about giving out my number. It’s what we all learn as girls.

      • MDBethann

        When I was doing the online dating thing (because I HATED bars, clubs, and other “meat markets”), I was always careful to use “Beth” when I signed e-mails, listed my residence as “DC” even though I lived in the ‘burbs, didn’t give out my last name, and set up a completely different email account that didn’t use any part of my name so I would be hard to find by a creepy guy. I was also NEVER picked up at home or my office and always met the guys at the date location.

        I usually only get approached by homeless people asking for handouts, same as the other commuting pedestrians, but every once in awhile I get cat calls (though not often. I’m wondering if my glasses are a turn off?). But I’m still always uber careful and hyper aware because I know what COULD happen if I’m not. And I don’t remember being taught this by my parents; rather, they told me to use common sense and be careful. Heck, when I was single and traveling for business, I wore a gold ring on my left ring finger so random guys wouldn’t bother me.

        At the same time, I feel really lucky that my worst experience was in college: I was out with a group of friends and one of the guys (who I only knew slightly) was tipsy and his friends were teasing him. I was nice to him, which he unfortunately mistook for flirting and he thought I liked him. I grudgingly went to a dance with him (he asked & I was already going so I couldn’t think of a single “out”) and hung out with our mutual friends all evening. He got insulted & mad at me, and starting bad mouthing me as a flirt & a tease. Fortunately, I was drifting away from that group of friends anyway, but all I learned from that was to not be friendly to drunk guys and to be careful how friendly I was towards guys, because those with limited female friends might easily mistake friendly for flirting and then watch out.

        Which is a total shame – men and women should be able to be simply FRIENDS with no romantic strings attached. And no matter what, “I don’t like you that way” is not playing “hard to get” or “s/he’ll change her/his mind.” But yet, that’s what happens and it is totally wrong and totally sad.

    • Alyssa M

      What is sad, to me, is that you are “lucky” to have experienced two rather aggressive instances of misogyny in the last 18 months. Because, in a perfect world, a “lucky” woman would never experience an incident like that in her life… let alone at least once a year.

      • Laura C

        Good point. I’ve suspected, actually, that what my armor works best on is the small stuff, the daily grind of catcalls and harassment that keep so many women constantly aware of their fear. But it’s less likely to eliminate the medium stuff, because a man committed to that doesn’t care about any armor, however good it is.

  • lady brett

    this really hit home how i read these sort of stories from the perspective of the men they are addressed to. i don’t know if that’s from having socailized myself largely as a boy, or my monstrous luck, or extraordinary obliviousness, or the way i let things roll off my back (even when i probably shouldn’t – that’s my armor from the world). but somehow, as a woman, i always find these stories of how women navigate the world differently shocking, sickening – not the “oh, yes, this” that it seems other women see in it. so i hope that comes through to the men who haven’t experienced this in the way it comes through to me, having generally experienced very little of this.

    • Meg Keene

      I do too, to some extent. I actually think it’s because my armor got really strong really early, so most of the time *I* even forget it’s there. I’m not pitching this as any sort of ideal way to live, having to get really strong armor really early is pretty far from ideal. But.

  • Caitlin_DD

    “But I fear now, even after all we’ve learned to share, that I can never make you understand the world I walk as a woman.”
    This.

  • http://kara-tanoue.blogspot.com/ Kara T

    Thank you so much for this. I too struggle at times to explain this armor to my partner, who grew up in a house of all boys and was never told by his parents not to go outside after dark, even with the dog, who never had to hustle his little cousin along to get away from a pack of middle school boys shouting adulations for his ass, who’s never been stalked through a park to the point where he kicked off his shoes and ran for the nearest apartment building, never felt the need to double- and triple-check his work so that it has to be taken seriously by a male supervisor. It’s so hard to articulate this armor and to somehow share this fear that we, as women, must listen to everyday lest we fall to harm.

  • Sara

    I have friends that have had the same experiences you have Brytani, but for some reason I never have. As I was reading it, I thought of my girlfriends that told me of their experiences in near tears as I wondered why anyone wasn’t paying attention to me, and it wasn’t until reading some of these comments that I realized how high up my shield goes. As a woman that grew a large chest very early, I had guy friends that made comments but I remember being so rude and cutting that they didn’t do it again (to this day, the ones I’m still friends with are playful but respectful about me. Its hard to explain but the comments they do make are all in good fun and I don’t mind them from them). The guys I didn’t know tried to fluster me and as the sarcastic ‘bitch’ I was born as, I just cut them down. They tended to see me as ‘one of the guys’ rather than a girl. It didn’t even occur to me when I lived abroad that walking alone at night was not a good idea until someone ran up and grabbed me and then ran away. Even then, I just bizarrely wrote it off since I had to walk to my tutoring sessions and couldn’t change anything.

    But on the other hand, I was never asked out, never asked to a dance, didn’t have my first kiss until later than everyone else, don’t get drinks bought for me and still don’t get asked out. To this day, I’m more the type to write off guys as ‘creepy’ than threatening, and its not that I’m a physically strong person, but I somehow make myself imposing enough to scare people away. I’m not sure how to unbuild that shield and let new people in.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Yup. I used to think it was looks. Women who didn’t share in typical/”typical” experiences of being hit on, asked out, or victims of street harassment, including me, were ugly. Those were ways men expressed physical attraction, right? If they weren’t directed towards me, I wasn’t physically attractive.

      For a brief period, I thought it was pheramones.

      But I eventually reached Sara’s conclusion. There are tiny, subtle ways we walk, talk, move, carry ourselves that preempt certain sexual advances. Maybe a computer or someone thoroughly trained in body mechanics could explain it in detail, but it’s not something we’re conscious of. This has advantages. I can go to a bar and be left alone to read my book all evening. And disadvantages. Like being left alone even when I’ve gone out to meet people.

      • Emily

        I had a supervisor who once commented on “the sexy way I was driving.” That got him a huge look from me; if it had words it would have been “really? driving? That is the stupidest and creepiest thing I’ve heard in a while.” I never got another comment or anything further from him, but I did spend the next three years watching as he dated multiple co-workers with poor results.

        I didn’t realize at the time of the comment that he was fishing to see if something could start, but now I think he was and my non-verbal reaction (basically of “you are stupid”) stopped anything further.

        All of this to say that I agree with this statement fro above: “There are tiny, subtle ways we walk, talk, move, carry ourselves that preempt certain sexual advances.”

        I’m afraid this might be misread: I do not want to blame anyone or to claim that women need to change their behavior.

        • Amanda L

          I don’t read your post as you blaming anyone, but I wonder if you realize that him even commenting on ‘the sexy way you were driving’ is part of the problem. You shut it down before it got worse, but the fact that a man doesn’t just ask you out if he wants to ask you out, instead, he has to make a comment on your sexuality, is part of the problem. At least that’s what I believe.

          • Emily

            I agree with you, and I do get that his comment is part of the problem. What I learned over years of working for him and watching him was that when he made the comment, there was some small, naive, immature part of me that truly thought he found me special and was willing to do something inappropriate to express it. Luckily I was not willing to go anywhere near that in a work situation (and it was luck, to some extent, although I hope I am wiser now). After watching his behavior over years I realized that there was nothing special about me to him, I was interchangeable. So when I shut him down, he just moved on to the next one.

      • Bets

        “Women who didn’t share in typical/”typical” experiences of being hit
        on, asked out, or victims of street harassment, including me, were ugly. Those were ways men expressed physical attraction, right?”

        That’s what I’ve always thought, too, and still think, until reading some of these comments.

        “There are tiny, subtle ways we walk, talk, move, carry ourselves that preempt certain sexual advances.”

        I once hung out on an empty beach at dusk with a girlfriend, and we were approached by a group of creepy guys. My friend told them, firmly, that we did not want to talk, seconds after they tried to get our attention, and that was that. They went away.

      • Aubry

        Thank you for this. I never really associated my inability to get hit on (even when I wanted to be) as a really good defence against the everyday small attacks. I have a well tuned “F*&k off and Die” vibe, as I like to call it. In which I am 6’1″, have a black belt, and am a dancer with legs able to kick you in the face and have you move some distance away. I know this and don’t welcome general occurrences of interaction with men. But this has set me up well to have only a few memorably terrible encounters in my life.

        I also felt very unattractive and frustrated when I was single and looking last time around. I went to the bar on a few occasions looking to *ahem* make a new friend, and couldn’t even get a guy to talk to me if I went up and talked to him first. Well, none that are anywhere in my realm anyway (I attract old guys and super short, creepy spanish men apparently). I will now appreciate this ability more and welcome my very sweet soon-to-be husband who walked right through that vibe with an Alberta boy’s ignorance and flying (authentic and thoughtful) compliments.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

      Yes! I am married now because *I* made the moves on my now husband. I never got asked to dance either – instead randomly finding some guy grinding up on me and trying to grab my boobs, and thinking he had a right to do so. I had one boyfriend in high school, and I dumped him when all he was interested in was playing with my breasts.
      And then? I was single all through university. I had two hook-ups, which were literally only as far as kissing. I was one of the boys. I was rough and tumble. I drank them under the table and kept walking.

  • cschell

    Thank you for this. When I share my experiences of fear and harassment to the (mostly) wonderful men in my life I am usually told to “ignore it” or “no one can make you feel any way unless you let them.” Largely that is true, I continue with my life despite my fear, complete with passions, friends, family and ultimately optimism. However, your post has led me to realize what systematic violence has taken from me is a huge chunk of my joy. People who don’t know me very well describe me as stoic. For most of my childhood I was told by teachers and parents to smile more (that helped a lot). If not for the violence I experienced, which is hauntingly similar to yours, I might be able to express more unfettered joy as an adult. When a thief robs your house it is easy to explain, but where can I collect insurance for stolen joy?

  • Sarah

    I loved this. All so true.

    Also: A shout out to my husband (and hopefully many of our husbands) who sincerely tries to understand this…who recognizes and laments that I cannot go running by myself at dawn on the trail by our house even though we can together and he can alone; who mostly jokingly but (sadly) knowingly reminds me “don’t talk to strangers” when he leaves me in the car at the grocery store; who doesn’t ask too many questions when I accidentally flinch at his loving and/or benign touch; who doesn’t laugh at me TOO much when I scream at the top of my lungs when he comes into the bathroom when I’m in the shower; who understands that being afraid of the dark is not a childish phobia; who sometimes has to remember to check his paternalism (but at least he acknowledges that the dangers are real and that years of vigilance have caused a great deal of skittishness.

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    I do not know what to say. But I have a sudden desire to never let my daughter leave the house. And hug my husband for being one of the men I can trust, the one who holds my pieces together when they start to shake loose.

    • Meg Keene

      ((((()))))

      Not having a daughter (at least yet) I spend a lot of time thinking about raising good boys. Which sometimes seems like the most important task, really. Because… THIS.

      • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

        If we ever have a son he will definitely know better. I’m so grateful he’ll have his dad to look to as an example.

  • chamamama

    What has really helped me about this post and the comments, is understanding why I can’t fully trust my (male) partner to protect me. I get so angry that he doesn’t lock ALL the doors and close all the curtains at night – he will say he’s done it, and then I get up to check and there are still open doors/windows. He truly DOES NOT GET IT – that hyper vigilance, that anxiety that never leaves, that practical reality-check that underrides every single interaction with the outside world…he wants me to feel safe with him, but he doesn’t understand how important all those little things are – it’s not just about being able to beat the shit out of somebody who’s making an obvious threat…it’s about sensing potential danger before it makes itself known…its about prevention, and carrying yourself in the world. It’s about confidence, and vigilance, and making safety a number one priority, every single freaking second. How do you teach that? How do you ask that of someone who has been brought up to feel more security and entitlement than the disempowered? He gets so angry at his white-male privilege, but at the same time he’s stuck in it because its all he knows.

  • irsmitty

    I was just talking to my fiancé about this yesterday, trying to explain what it was like growing up with boys and men doing inappropriate things directed towards me, and in very few cases, physically to me. I think it upset him when I talked about living in fear and wearing masks in public to protect myself. He said that you can’t live your life constantly in fear, but at this point in my life, I cannot separate my fears from my cautiousness.

    As a child, I was always small for my age, but I started developing a bit earlier than my friends. I remember getting catcalls at the age of eleven from contractors working in my neighborhood. I learned to flatten my chest and wear longer shorts to avoid the whistles and stares. To this day, I still hate wearing shorts or dresses, anything that calls attention to my feminine shape. At twelve, my best friend and I would walk the neighborhood streets and tolerate comments from high school boys about our appearance. They call out, “How much?” and hold two fingers in a “v”, flicking their tongue between them. I had no idea what that meant at twelve years old. By thirteen, I stopped going outside, preferring to be a hermit rather than go outside and deal with boys and men ogling my teenage body.

    There are many times when I was growing up that I told boys that I had a boyfriend so that they would leave me alone, using the idea that I was another boy’s “property” to ward away unwanted attention. In senior history class, a boy shamed me in front of the rest of the class for raising my hand to answer questions too many times, claiming that I had a crush on the teacher. That made me seethe with anger and embarrassment, but then I began to just raise my hand in defiance. I was not going to let him or anyone else silence my mind when I’d already covered up my body.

    On summer break from college, I worked as a waitress, enduring leering eyes and knowing smiles, and the occasional squeeze or pat on my rear. I learned to avoid the bar, which was usually frequented with the worst offenders.

    I fear having a daughter in this world, but I am hopeful that she will not be subjected to the things that I was; that she will not be made to be less herself by what others do to her or say about her; and that she will love her body and mind for the miracles that they are and not allow anyone else to control what she does with either of them.

  • http://mnnjcooks.blogspot.com/ Jessica Nelson

    At first Brytani’s experiences didn’t directly resonate with me, but after thinking about it, I realized all my negative experiences with boys/men happened after I turned 18. I can think of two times when men touched me without my permission — both times on the street in a foreign country. Other than that, I’ve had men “accidentally” bump into me at bars, things like that, but usually any friends that I’m with (especially the male ones!) have defended me if that happens.
    Anyway, I think a relevant fact here is that I was homeschooled, with comparatively limited contact with peers (as in, usually 2-3 days a week rather than 5-6, without any of the bus rides or unsupervised passing periods or far corners of the playground where much of this stuff happens). I wonder if that helped me develop slightly more flexible armor as I grew older, based more on cautionary tales then actual personal experiences. (On the flip side, I do remember receiving an uninvited hug from a boy at church when I was 16-17 [because I had just burned myself on a candle], and telling him the hug “creeped me out.” That was probably a little harsh, lol.)
    So maybe this is an argument for single-sex education?? Not sure…

    • http://karenmadrone.wordpress.com/ Karen

      Both of my undergraduate colleges were women’s colleges. I picked them for many reasons and I’m sure underlying them was safety. I felt totally safe on both campuses and I knew I wouldn’t feel that way at a coed institution. Graduate school was a totally different situation. Also, having grown up next to Chicago and dealing with my mother’s boyfriends, I’ve developed quite a fu look that makes my intention known.

  • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

    Wow. Powerful.
    I have been incredibly lucky to have avoided much of this. Somehow. I sometimes blame my serious bitchy resting face.
    And I am so incredibly thankful to have so far avoided this happening in my life more than passingly. Because the few things that did happen have impacted me – how I dress in particular (I have always been large chested, and now the biggest ever while breastfeeding), I am incredibly self-conscious and so dress demurely for my own comfort. But its for my own comfort so I dont attract attention of the wrong sort. Which makes it dressing to avoid such things. And I completely dont see it anymore because its such a part of me.
    Shocking how many posts I find like this where I start off with “I’m so glad this never happened to me” and then I suddenly realise it did – I just block those memories out. Never as bad as yours, I have rarely ever felt truly unsafe in those moments.
    Thank you.

  • Bindi

    To be honest, I can’t agree with this perspective. I have been hurt by just as many women as men. I am not afraid of all men, and all men don’t deserve my fear. There are bad people in this world, but I am so at odds with this perspective that women as a whole are victims of men as a whole.

    • Anne

      I’m not sure what you mean by “this perspective” — the author described several instances in which specific men harassed her, and how those experiences have shaped her. I don’t think this post is about women being victims of men “as a whole,” but rather that a series of experiences being a victim of sexual harassment often makes one wary of one’s surroundings and affects how we interact with others. At least personally, I’ve only ever been sexually harassed by men. That doesn’t mean all men sexually harass women — my husband certainly doesn’t, or I wouldn’t be married to him, and neither do my male friends.

      But for example, I know (from past experience) that when I walk through a particular public square in the city where I live and I’m by myself, I will get inappropriate and unwanted attention from men. So I don’t walk though there anymore, even though it’s a shortcut on my way to work. That choice I make doesn’t mean I believe that women are victims of men as a whole; I walk past plenty of men every day who don’t sexually harass me. But does it make me more afraid of large groups of men when I’m alone? You bet.

  • Eh

    In the city I live in there has been a lot of discussion in the media about violence and harassment against women by men. A few months ago there was a report released that said that the city I live in is one of the least safe cities for women to live in Canada (yet it is one of the best for woman in regards to wages, being in upper management, health, etc.). This report was released around the same time women at one of the universities were commenting on the attitude that men had towards women (e.g., that they think it’s ok to call them “sluts” and “whores” and to “joke” about raping or killing woman). In the last year there have been a number of cases where husbands/boyfriends/sons have killed their wives/girlfriends/mothers. A few months ago I was on the bus at 6pm (e.g., end of rush hour so still busy, still light outside) when a man sexually assaulted a woman (this was a pretty extreme situation, but unwanted touching is not uncommon on city buses). I have been stalked walking down the street (the only time I have ever felt unsafe – the man who had been stalking me approached me and then would not leave me alone). There are regularly stories on the news about women getting attacked on bike paths and walking on sidewalks downtown on their way to work.

    My husband is super protective of me. The day I was stalked he wanted to leave work to pick me up. If he had a choice I wouldn’t take the bus. He knows that these are risks that I have to take every day so that I can enjoy my life and so I don’t have to live in fear.

  • Amanda L

    I stand with you. I have barely touched the topic with my husband of the slights I have endured. The boss who told me ‘I’ll never hire a woman for the job you want.’ The cute boy who put something in my drink and did unspeakable things to me. The co-worker who doesn’t understand why commenting on my appearance in any way, shape or form is unacceptable. #YesAllWomen

  • Fiona

    I love this so much….it doesn’t talk about the sexual assault component (which a big minority of us face) but the every day nonsense that ALL of us face. This is so beautifully put.

  • http://brokensaucer.blogspot.com/ sera

    When I read this yesterday, I shuddered, and needed time to process. So many of these things resonate with me and my own memories started flooding back. I wish I had developed your self-protected strength, your confidence. Instead, I developed a bitchiness which was part of my defense, and a self-confidence issue. One thing that I did endure – at 12 standing at the bus stop alone in a knee length skirt when a creep drove up and said “nice legs, now lets see your tits.” I rarely wore that skirt again and hid across the street in the trees while waiting for the bus for a long time after.
    But then there were the unwanted attentions that seemed harmless enough – the boy who threatened to commit suicide if I didn’t go out with him, I thought, what could I have done differently.
    And then allowing the verbal abuse of my ex-boyfriend for so many years because even when I’d stopped being attracted to him, I thought I couldn’t do any better.
    Now I’m so much more guarded. I can blame it on being older, married and actually not wanting to go out, but I can easily shut down conversations with male co-workers before anything confusing happens. I’m not “friends” with men the same way I thought I was when I was younger. And maybe I’m not friendly anymore either. This I blame a lot on me as well. Am I interesting anymore? Do I have anything to offer a conversation? I’d rather just make dinner and listen while everyone else talks. I miss speaking out, having something to say, being heard, I just don’t remember how to do it well anymore. The guard is up too high.

  • Kara E

    Thank you. I’m sorry you’ve had to walk this path.

    My 10 month old daughter is currently sleeping at my feet while I work. Part of me fears letting her out into the big nasty world out there, but I know I can’t protect her forever, even though I can generally protect myself these days, since I can barely protect her enough now (as evidenced by the scrape on her foot and the bruise on her forehead).

    Then…I look at her father and her uncles. I have seen them so very often go to bat for women (and men) being treated inappropriate. I can only hope (and pray!) that this discussion encourages more men like them to act honorably, not like jack*****s.

  • pixie_moxie

    this, its like you shared my life. Not the same but oh so similar. thank you for putting it into words

  • Beth R

    This is my third time reading through this post in as many days and it hit me harder this last time than the previous two. I shared this with my husband last night and he came over and hugged me and asked me if I
    felt the same way. Even though we’ve talked about this sort of thing before, it is still hard for him to believe or understand that it is a never-ending battle for most women. Even if I haven’t had someone’s hands around my neck, I still have my own list of experiences and I still build up my armor and walk with caution, even in my own neighborhood. I hate that every time I cross paths with a man, my first thought is – does he look dangerous? What action could I take to get away or draw attention if he attacks me? Will this be the day I get raped…?

  • Rachelle

    This. I struggle often with how far to push these conversations with the men in my life. It’s a serious subject, and I wish to be taken seriously when I bring it up. However, there is so much “it’s just a joke!” and “relax, it’s not like I’d ACTUALLY do anything” in response that it’s difficult to know where and how to push it. Even my wonderful husband the other day asked if I was a feminist, to which I responded “yes,” and to which he responded jokingly, “Well I’m a masculinist! We’ve been oppressed for far too long!” and I just didn’t even know where to begin. Yes, he was joking but I mean…..just no. *sigh* Just gotta keep on keeping on, I guess. Thank you for your bravery, and sharing this with us.

  • Kate

    I know I’m late to the party, but this is beautiful and true and while I haven’t had every single same experience, there’s enough overlap to know it’s a reality and that your story is not an outlier

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  • Kristen

    I just read this three times and tried to describe it to my fiancé and got choked up one sentence in. I cannot express how much this post meant to me. If I changed just a few personal details, this sounds exactly like me. Thank you for writing this.

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