Let me mean different things

When I move to New York after college, I work at a restaurant where I meet a man who “works in publishing.” He’s an editor who comes into the restaurant alone to read book reviews and to meet with one of his authors. I tell him I want to work in publishing. He gives me a copy of an anthology he edited, invites me to a reading.

The reading is in the Rare Book Room at The Strand, and it is Intimate. When I walk in and sit down, one of the authors featured in the collection turns to me and asks me who I know at the event. “I’m a friend of the editor,” I say.

Her eyes narrow.

“No,” I want to protest, “The only thing I’ve ever given him is more water, a napkin, a spoon. The only thing he’s ever given me is a copy of this book. I liked your story in it.”

before the reading 3
(One good thing about coming of age with digital camera technology is that I know exactly what I was wearing that day. I took a picture right before I left the house with the camera in my laptop. I stood on a chair in order to capture the whole look: a poofy pink skirt with a brown cotton jacket.

I’d decided to document my outfit because I wanted to remember the occasion –– my first literary event in New York City! –– and because I thought I looked like a cupcake in a crumpled paper bag. Hardly the outfit of a seductress.)

But I am 22, and sometimes my body means things I don’t want it to.

I want to ask the author, a stately woman with blond hair and pearls if she remembers her body being a hurdle to personhood, a threat to her safety. “When does it stop?” I want to ask. Instead, I read her mind. She is thinking about age-appropriate women who become ex-wives and the young women who “take” their places. She is thinking that men’s preference for younger women is really the preference to dominate.

She is thinking, in short, all the same things I think, but she can’t see past my body, and she thinks I am the problem –– or at least, complicit.

My face feels hot during the reading. I get my book signed by all the authors in attendance, trying to think of interesting things to say about each of their stories as I stand over them at the signing table. All of the authors are men, except for the woman who thinks I am bad. I leave quickly.

The next day the editor emails me to thank me for attending the reading. He says he hopes “we’ll have more time to talk, next time.”

I wait 12 days to write back. I re-read the email over and over, trying to figure out if his tone is flirtatious, before deciding that it’s not. In my reply, I try to sound like the professional I dream of being. I ask if would be possible for me to ask him some questions about his “career trajectory” and any advice he has “for someone hoping to work in [his] field.”

He writes me an encouraging email, saying that summer is a difficult time for job hunting, but he thinks something good will come up for me soon. He offers to talk to me at the restaurant or at his “family apartment” in the city (something rich people who live in Connecticut have, I learn).

I am working when he comes to the restaurant, so he suggests his apartment as the most logical place to meet. I spend the rest of my shift wondering if I should go or not. I text Devin to ask what he would do and he says he would go. I think about how Devin’s body has never been anything but safe, and I am sad and a little angry.

(This, I think, is the hardest part about dating a straight White man: the window into an alternate existence, always just out of reach.)

The career counselors from my college said, “Network, network, network!”

I said, “How?” and followed their advice.

1. Find someone who has your dream job.
2. Invite them to get coffee.
3. Ask them about how they got their job, and see if they’ll help you get a job.

The career counselors never mentioned that it might be harder for some of us to do this kind of networking. A college graduate is a college graduate is a college graduate, their “career tips” implied. I believed them at first.

I spend the rest of my shift filling tiny to-go containers with salad dressing, answering the phones, refilling water glasses, and smiling at the customers. The whole time I am making a list.

+ He’s never been creepy.
But all our interactions have been in public.
+ His emails are business-y.
But why did the female writer look at me like that? Maybe she knows something I don’t.
+ Oh please. He probably suggested the apartment because he’s clueless. Maybe he’s hard of hearing.
Or maybe not.

My shift ends and, despite my daydreams of visiting an apartment overlooking Central Park and launching my career with a firm handshake, I can’t make myself go.

Instead I
• walk  to a street-level restaurant “overlooking” a subway entrance
• stare at greasy croissants in a pastry case
eavesdrop on millionaire women 
• think about how patriarchy means circumscribed.

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Let me mean different things

Free Passes

This week I read Dahlia Grossman-Heinze take down rape culture in two posts (one about Woody Allen, the other about Harvey Weinstein), and it got me thinking.

Do you ever wonder what our lives would be like if predatory, abusive men didn’t get a free pass?

I was only 3 years old when Woody Allen’s sexual abuse made headlines. I was 8 when he married his stepdaughter. All of this was common knowledge, and he got to keep making movies and winning awards. In high school, I thought he was brilliant and hilarious. I wanted to grow up to be Annie Hall. Nobody told me that he didn’t deserve my admiration, even though plenty of people knew.

Same with Bill Cosby, who got to host Kids Say the Darndest Things, even though his history of sexual assault was an open secret in Hollywood.
.

And same with R. Kelly, who got to release everyone’s favorite party anthem “Ignition (Remix)” in 2002 even though he illegally married a 15-year-old in 1994 and has been accused of raping teenage girls countless times, beginning in 1996.

Even Bill Clinton. I know it’s controversial to mention him in our bipartisan political context, but even the most dyed-in-the-wool Democrats have to admit that he was, at best, a creepy boss who took advantage of unfair power dynamics––both in having sex with subordinates and later discrediting them in the media, long enough for their lives to be ruined even if the truth came out eventually.

There are so many men I grew up admiring only to learn later that they had a history of disrespecting or outright abusing people like me. I think about how their crimes were known and their reputations were untarnished. Then, I think about how they are still out there, succeeding, largely undiminished by their “scandals.” I wonder how many other, younger men are still getting free passes. And I wonder how long it will take for us to stop giving them out.

Free Passes

Happy Birthday, Bethany!

This summer I visited a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and the first thing she said to me was, “How do you know ArchedEyebrow?,” which thrilled me because I love Bethany Rutter, and I think everyone should know her.

And since the internet told me that today is her birthday, I decided to answer that question for the world wide web.

bethany rutter

Bethany in front of the Brooklyn Museum, spring 2015

I met Bethany at a wedding, waiting in line for appetizers––they had these little food stations featuring different cuisines in addition to a seated dinner and multiple desserts. It was food heaven (or as I like to call it, heaven. Because if it’s true we get to create our own version of heaven, mine will consist of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, kitchens, and restaurants).

Back to the wedding buffet…

When I met Bethany, I was spending a lot of time with super cool women who unfortunately had terrible relationships with food (like a lot, if not most, women living in our patriarchal, body-hating society), so social eating situations made me apprehensive. (It’s hard for me to hear people make negative weight-related comments about food, especially when I’m about to eat, and all I want to do is enjoy it!) I didn’t realize how much I had come to expect fatphobic food talk before every meal until I heard Bethany exclaim, “This is delightful!”

We bonded over how excited we were to try everything, and honestly, that interaction was enough for me to love her. But that wasn’t all! She was also wearing a dress I still daydream about. And she was the wedding DJ. And she played ***Flawless by Beyoncé for me, so by the end of the wedding, I had a major friend crush.

She lives in London, so I wasn’t sure if I would get to see her again, but somehow we ended up going to see the Kara Walker exhibit in the Domino sugar factory before she flew home. All of the art was made of refined sugar and represented Black bodies, and at the exhibit, there were lots of non-Black people doing awful things to the sculptures (like taking photos in front of the art while making lewd or violent poses). Bethany took in the scene and said, “Someone should take pictures or make a video to expose all the racist things people are doing.”

I decided on the spot that we were destined to be friends, even if she did live across the Atlantic. (Later we learned Kara Walker had been filming us all along because she’s brilliant.)

It’s been two years since that dreamy wedding, and I’ve only found more reasons to love Bethany, including her fabulous fashion blog, her hilarious twitter, her sense of fun, and the way she doesn’t just stand with her arms crossed when she sees something unjust (see, for example, her “You Look Great!” campaign in response to one of the worst examples of fat-shaming harassment I’ve ever heard of).

edama me

arched sushi

Happy birthday, Bethany! I’m so glad you exist.

 

Happy Birthday, Bethany!

click, click, click: fighting fatphobia edition

In fourth grade I wrote my first petition, asking the principal for benches near the playground so kids could have a more comfortable place to read during recess. (I don’t know how I convinced other kids to sign it because there wasn’t exactly a recess book club, but the petition was successful, and I read on a blue bench for the rest of the year.)

As you can tell, I wasn’t what you would consider an athletic child. When I did exercise, it was in structured environments like gym class or cheerleading practice, and that’s the kind of exercise environment I still prefer. Put me in a class with a person telling me what to do and I’m happy. I don’t really care what the class is as long as I don’t have to figure out what to do by myself. It’s like, I like to move; I just don’t really know how.

Even though I enjoy them, I’m ambivalent about recommending exercise classes because there’s one part I hate and would never want other people to endure. It happens about halfway through class, and I think most instructors consider it a pep talk. I call it the Lalalala-I-can’t-hear-you portion because it is usually just fatphobia disguised as encouragement. Often it includes references to bikinis and summer and “working hard to look good!”

Once, during the most intense part of a class, the teacher broke with body-shaming tradition and asked, “Do you feel strong?”

Did I? No one had ever asked me before.

It made me think about all the ways I’ve been taught that as a woman, my most important job is to be pretty and how beauty is conflated with thinness in our society. What if I’d been taught to focus on how I felt rather than how I looked? What if I’d been praised for being strong instead of “cute”? How different would my life be?

The sad thing is, I can’t even imagine.

I’ve written before about deciding to love my body, resist negative messages, and challenge the underlying assumptions of fatphobia. It’s an ongoing process because I encounter countless messages designed to make me feel bad about my body or fear gaining weight, and I can’t just go through life yelling “Lalala, I can’t hear you!” Thankfully, there are lots of positive messages for people who want to question our fat=bad, diet=good culture. You just have to know where to look. Here are a few links to pieces I’ve found especially interesting.

nayyirah waheed quote  Graphic found via Pinterest


READ

Most of what I’ve read about fat positivity is written from the perspective of someone who has overcome insecurities, but Jo’s post about being fat and struggling to love your body is in the present tense, and her willingness to focus on process rather than triumph makes it not just inspiring but useful.

“it would be so great if naming this thing would make it go away, but it doesn’t. i’ve had it pinned down, i’ve had it named, for years now yet i still crumble under the weight of the gaze that is disgusted by me. as women, the gaze is rarely pleased with us for a million different reasons…but if you are woman who is fat, a woman like me, the gaze is actively DISGUSTED by you. you can’t imagine how much it fucks you up to know the gaze does not approve in such a fundamental way, unless you can imagine it. unless you are living it.”

 

LISTEN

This American Life did an episode about “rethink[ing] the way we see being fat.” The whole episode is excellent, but if you only have time for one act, I suggest Elna Baker’s story about her drastic weight loss, which demonstrates how harmful fatphobia can be––even when you “succeed” at becoming thin.

Here’s something I never tell people. I still take phentermine. I take it for a few months at a time a year, or sometimes it feels like half of the year. I can’t get it prescribed anymore, so I buy it in Mexico or online, though the online stuff is fake and doesn’t work as well.

I have a shirt that says, ‘I’m allergic to mornings.’ Everyone who knows me knows I have problems sleeping at night. I am usually up until 4:00 AM. I say I have insomnia. Really, I am awake because I am on speed. And I am on speed, because I need to stay thin. I need to stay thin so I can get what I want.

I know how this sounds. I know exactly how messed up it is. But I also feel like…we won’t really get anywhere unless I admit it.”

 

GIVE (TO YOUR DOCTOR)

Annika Burnett’s “Doctors Don’t Like Fat People” has a depressing title that makes me want to burn everything down, but it’s an open letter from a med school student challenging anti-fat bias in her own training and in medicine in general. Take comfort in knowing that someday she’ll be an M.D. with patients of her own and that she’s not waiting until then to change things.

All too frequently in medicine, the terms ‘fat’ and ‘unhealthy’ are mistakenly collapsed. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the relationship between body weight and overall health status is not so clear (to read more from folks beginning to challenge this paradigm, check out here and here). Yes, obesity is a risk factor for many diseases. So are age, race, gender and family history. It is unclear whether and to what extent we can choose our body size any more than we can choose those characteristics.

Still, even if being fat were entirely a matter of willpower and even if fat definitively meant unhealthy, would that give us an excuse to treat fat patients poorly? When has hostility ever been conducive to taking care of a patient? Creating a clinical environment so antagonistic that fat patients are afraid to access care is not helping anybody.”

 

AND MAYBE GET SOME NEW CLOTHES?

That’s what Arianna Rebolini did after she realized that she had a closet that was antithetical to the way she wanted to feel about–and in–her body.

“I was beginning every single day with a terrible task — facing a closet that told me my body wasn’t right, and choosing which way I’d like to be made physically uncomfortable that day. My clothes were undoing years of work toward accepting my body as-is, coaxing me into old beliefs. Like: Discomfort was what I deserved for having gained weight. Like: Anger and unhappiness would motivate me to lose weight. Like: Happiness and nice things and self-esteem were for people who haven’t gained weight. I’d decided years ago those beliefs were empty; it was time to ditch the last thing pulling me toward them.”

click, click, click: fighting fatphobia edition

Carolina

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

“I wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up, but since women couldn’t do that, I went to secretary school,” Abbita (short for abuelita) explained, when I called to interview her for a homework assignment about feminism. I’d been nervous to call, afraid she’d say feminism was a crazy American import or that it was un-Christian and ruining “the family” or that she was disappointed in me. Instead she told me about how she had worked for Licenciado Müller, a lawyer who helped women get divorced in Chihuahua. Abbita, whose real name was Carolina, said she loved her job because she cared about helping those women and because her boss trusted her judgment.

I never knew about any of this because she stopped working after she and my grandfather got married, but hearing this story illuminated the parts of her life I did know in a new way. It was the light turning on in a room I’d only explored with a flashlight.

All my life I’d heard about how she had been on her school’s basketball team. The girls wore long skirts as part of their uniform, but she joined the team in secret and had to hide it from her family because playing sports––even in giant skirts––was not ladylike. It was a quiet act of resistance. Like most of what she did.

My grandmother would often tell me the story of a woman who got married in the city and was soon forced by her husband to move to a little house with a dirt floor in the mountains, completely isolated from her friends and family. She would get angry telling this story and say that she supported the woman leaving her husband because the way he treated her was wrong. When I was little, I thought this was just one of those stories that grandmas tell (“This one again?”). I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal to her. Now I can imagine how desperate I would feel if I lost control of my life from one day to the next, can imagine how many women my grandmother knew who never regained it.

Whenever a woman she knew got married, Abbita would give her a little bit of money in secret because she believed it was essential that women have a way to escape bad marriages. This too seemed melodramatic to me (“Por si el marido le sale malo” sounded like something from a novela, and when I heard about my grandmother’s bridal safety-net tactics, I laughed and thought, “Too much Televisa.”)

In my own life, I’ve noticed that it is very taboo to talk about divorce if you’re married, but I don’t think I could be married if divorce weren’t legal and accessible to women. I don’t mean to imply that I take my relationship with Devin lightly, but I think marriage fundamentally changes when it is not an obligation. When I decided to get married, I didn’t have to give up my name or my rights. I didn’t have to give up my job or my dreams. I didn’t become someone’s property. I believe that Devin and I choose to be together even though we are free to leave. I believe we have the kind of marriage women like my grandmother fought for.

On the day of my cousin Vanessa’s wedding, Abbita told me a story. “I was never interested in cooking, but when I married your grandfather, I thought I should learn. He said, ‘No! Don’t take a cooking class. You should learn to play the piano,’ and he got me a piano. In the end, I didn’t learn to cook or play the piano. All I did was have babies. What kind of a life is that?”

Of course, that isn’t all she did. She did lots of things, like finding a way to own and manage properties and teaching me how to read and write and becoming so well-known for her wit that people would ask her to write their greeting cards and building relationships so strong that her children and grandchildren would fight over who got to sleep in the extra twin bed she kept in her room.

Still, I know she would have liked to do other things, too. It’s no coincidence that all of her daughters have Master’s degrees or that she gave each of her grandchildren a small sum of money when we turned 18 and said, “This is your money. You can do whatever you want with it.” She believed fiercely in independence. She took as much of it as she could and made sure we were free to have more.

Abbita didn’t go around exclaiming “I’m a feminist!,” but when I asked her to explain if she was, she had a quick answer: “Machismo means men are in charge, but feminism doesn’t mean women should be in charge. Do you know the saying ‘Behind every great man is a great woman’? Well, I don’t think anyone should be behind anyone. To me, feminism means that we all walk together, hand-in-hand.”

I think about myself at 21, nervous to call her, worried that I would have to defend feminism to my grandmother, wondering if there were any books I could give her to explain it in a way she could understand. I was so silly, thinking I’d discovered feminism when she had taught it to me all along.

Carolina

What I Want To Say

In my life I have seen women shamed for choosing to have an abortion, and I have seen women shamed for getting pregnant or having babies when they “weren’t supposed to.”

I have seen women shamed for having more babies than they can “afford” (as though a baby is a commodity!). I have seen women shamed for being “selfish” and choosing not to have children.

I have seen women shamed for working instead of “staying home with the kids.” I have seen women shamed for demanding that their unpaid labor is valued and compensated by the men who benefit from it.

It is obvious to me that our choices are always under attack.

I refuse to join the chorus.

What I want to say to the women in my life is this: I love you, and I trust you to make the best choices for yourself.

I know you can’t get pregnant by yourself, and I hope all your sexual experiences are happy, safe, and wanted.

I support your right to become a parent. I support your right not to.

I support your right to raise your children in a safe environment with access to food, water, shelter, and all the other things that all humans deserve. I support your right to live a happy life with family, community, and fulfillment even if you never have children.

Your life matters to me.

No matter what choices you make regarding your reproduction, I will never judge or vilify you.

I support you.

What I Want To Say

Gone Girl

I watched the movie Gone Girl, and it was extremely triggering for me. (This post deals with sexual assault and domestic violence, so you may not want to read it. And of course, don’t read it if you don’t want any movie spoilers.)

I started writing this as soon as I left the movie theater. Since then, I’ve talked to a few friends who urged me to read the book before forming an opinion, but I decided against it. In my opinion, it’s important to consider the movie as a stand-alone piece because many, if not most, of the movie-watchers will never read the book. When I was watching the movie, I also found myself thinking about how it would be perceived by someone who doesn’t know the facts on gendered violence and has never taken a Women’s Studies class. This post is meant to offer cultural context for the movie.

If you saw this movie and walked out thinking, “What a crazy bitch” (as I heard many people say as we left the theater) and found the story even slightly plausible, I urge you to consider the facts.

The scenario portrayed in Gone Girl is extremely unlikely whereas the reverse is not. I know it’s “just a movie,” but movies shape the way we view the world, and I sincerely worry that this piece of popular culture will prompt people to doubt survivors and even keep wimyn from leaving abusive relationships or put them in further danger.

The movie is based on a supremely flawed premise that upholds victim-blaming, abuse-denying individuals who call wimyn brave enough to report sexual assault liars and discredit survivors of abuse by painting them as mentally unstable. The movie even features a womyn getting pregnant in order to control a man. It is like someone took a checklist of all the most awful things people say to cast doubt on wimyn who have endured horrible situations and based a movie on the premise that they were true. Sadly, the assault and abuse of wimyn is very real, and it’s very rare that people lie about it. Consider the following:

Until 1920 it was not illegal for husbands to hit their wives in the United States, and it wasn’t until 1970 that it was treated as a serious crime (source).

Until 1993 it was not a crime for husbands to rape their wives in all 50 states (source).

To date, more American wimyn have been killed by their boyfriends or husbands than Americans have been killed by the attacks on September 11th or in the ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (source).

Major news outlets respond by lamenting the jail time rapists must serve and cast doubt on victims, even when the assault is caught on tape and the rapists are found guilty in court (source).

We live in a culture where some people think it’s funny to dress up as a man who hit his partner until she was unconscious (and was also caught on camera) and drag around a doll for Halloween (source).

As for the trope of wimyn getting pregnant and having kids as a way to control men and “steal their money” for 18 years, do you know hard it is to be pregnant? To give birth? To be responsible for a human being? Do you really think people would choose to parent as revenge? And why is birth control seen as a “wimyn’s issue” anyway? If men are really concerned about this, they should always wear a condom (duh) and invest in male birth control.

We have domestic violence shelters for a reason. We have nail polish to detect “date rape” drugs for a reason. We teach girls that walking alone after dark is dangerous for a reason. My grandmother believed it was essential for wimyn to have a way to escape bad marriages for a reason. My mom made me take a wimyn’s self-defense class the second I got to college for a reason. That class was offered at my college for a reason. The term “rape culture” exists for a reason.

UV_RapeCulture_V4
Source: weareultraviolet.org

Let’s not forget what world we live in as we get caught up in a thriller.

Gone Girl