No.

Any interaction where you are an unwilling participant is an insult to your soul.

If someone wants to tell you something you don’t want to hear you are not obligated to listen. This includes things like: gossip, a story about a terrible thing that happened, a personal attack, a rude joke. You are not obligated to listen. You can say no, or walk away.

If someone wants to show you something you find terrible you are not obligated to look. This includes things like a photo, a movie, or a TV show that goes against your values.

If someone wants to hug you, you are not obligated to hug them. This is true even if you have hugged them before or even if they are relative or friend.

Your time, your attention, your energy, your physical space are yours. You do not have to share them with anyone, for any reason, at any time. The moment you realize you feel uncomfortable you are allowed to leave the situation.

If you feel confident that you can explain to them how you feel and that they will respect your feelings and stop, you can. But otherwise you owe them no explanation.

This is especially true if you feel they will attempt to make the situation worse by continuing to treat you in a manner that you do not like.

This is especially relevant if you notice any sense of fear or social obligation. If you feel obliged to continue the interaction or relationship because of a sense that you must (to keep the peace, to be “a good girl”, to keep the other person happy) or a sense of fear (he will retaliate in some way, possibly violent) then this is not a healthy relationship. Leave. If someone cannot interact with you in a healthy manner, you are not obligated to continue the interaction. Boundaries are essential for your mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

If someone is saying that you deserve to be treated badly, leave.

Your time / energy / attention are yours. Every interaction must be mutually beneficial. If one person stays under duress (guilt is just as dangerous as being physically held) then it is not a healthy relationship. You owe it to your soul to leave.

What it means to be in a female body

TW, CW: verbal and sexual assault.

I am grateful for the #MeToo movement for letting me know that I am not alone, that my experiences as a female, in a female body, are normal.  Well – they aren’t normal.  They involve verbal and physical sexual assault and abuse.  Repeatedly.  But it lets me know that this is something that has happened and is happening to all women, and that the only thing that has allowed this to continue is secrecy. 

Men have assumed their behavior is normal.  Women have assumed men’s behavior is normal.  It isn’t normal. It isn’t healthy. It isn’t safe.

I am lucky that I have not been attacked.  I am lucky that I have not been forcibly raped. 

But I have been raped.

Rape is not always about force. It is any time there is sexual penetration without consent.  It can be with a boyfriend you have dated for many years.  It can be with a new guy, a potential boyfriend. It can be with a husband.  There doesn’t have to be force. It doesn’t have to be a stranger. It is any time you have sex when you don’t want to have sex. Period.

I will not go into much detail about the time a boyfriend raped me. It didn’t feel like rape at the time. It was the first time we’d had sex. I wasn’t ready. He thought I was. He didn’t ask. We’d fooled around before. But I wasn’t ready to make that next step.  Next thing I knew he’d put his penis inside me. So I didn’t get to decide.  It was happening. I didn’t want it, but it was too late.

It wasn’t like I was a virgin. But I’d not had sex with him before. We hadn’t talked about when we wanted to cross that line.

That is rape. Even though the sex wasn’t forced, it wasn’t welcome. He made me think that I’d asked for it, that I wanted it. But it wasn’t just him – it was years and years of other boyfriends teaching me (and other women) that my body was not my own. That I was a thing for them to use.

There are microaggresions – forceful words, ideas, thoughts – where guys program women into thinking they are things, they are objects of desire, they are objects – period.  We are repeatedly taught through words and actions and stories that we exist only to please men – that we do not have value on our own. This is a form of mind-rape, where we are taught to submit.

Even women’s fiction teaches women this, over and over, that their only purpose in life is to have a man – any man. That is her happy ending – to have a husband, a house, a family – and nothing else. This is programming.

So what does it mean to be in a female body?

It means that you have to think about what you wear when you go on a date. I learned early on that boys thought it was OK to start taking off my clothing without my permission. They would search for buttons and clasps while we were kissing. They didn’t ask.  I hadn’t said it was OK.  I hadn’t said that I wanted “to go past first base”. I started wearing difficult clothing to make them stop. Saying no wasn’t enough. I had a pair of pants that buttoned on the side, at the pockets.  This was unusual – and the guy was trying to undress me without my permission.  He stopped and asked how to undo my pants and I told him I had not said that was what I wanted.  He was frustrated and confused.  He had never thought to ask a woman what she wanted.  It was always about what he wanted.

On another date with a different guy I had on my favorite shirt. It was a beautiful green, long sleeves, really comfortable.  But it had snap buttons.  He started undressing me and I said no. He was confused. There was a lot of discussion, and I said I didn’t want to have sex. We’d just met – this was our first date. He said that I shouldn’t have worn a shirt with snap buttons then. That was a sign (to him) that I wanted to have sex.

They are not alone.  This is normal behavior of men towards women.  People in male bodies don’t experience this. They don’t go on dates and worry about if things will progress further than they want.  Most guys want things to progress to a “home run”. 

On the first date.

Without any talking about it.

Without any discussion at all.

I went out with a guy to a movie. When we got back to his dorm room, he wanted to have sex.  This was our first (and last) date.  He was surprised that I said no. His argument as to why we should have sex – he’d paid for the movie.  It was owed him, he thought.  As if I was a $10 whore.  As if I owed him sex. When I said no, he asked he could at least jerk off between my breasts. I said no.

Note that he was only interested in his sexual pleasure – not mine.  Note that only his needs were important.

Another guy, another first and last date, didn’t undress me but pulled out his penis and began jerking off while we were kissing. I said I was uncomfortable with him doing that and he put it back. We kissed a little more and he began jerking off again. I walked away, and he said that he’d finish up thinking about me.

This is disturbing behavior.  This isn’t OK.

I feel lucky that I have always been able to get away from these experiences without being raped. Some men don’t take no for an answer.  I know that women have been forced to have sex – under duress, under guilt, under wheedling and whining with the classic “blue balls” sob story. Guilt-trip sex is rape.

Women are taught over and over to please, to take care of others.

Women are taught that to be “good” we must put our needs and wishes second.

Men know this, and they use it against us.

Sometimes the problems aren’t so dramatic, but they still are scarring. They are still wrong. They are still abusive.

I’ve had a boss say “while you’re down there” – smirking and glancing at his crotch while I was getting something out of a cabinet.  He was standing up right next to me.  This was at a Record Bar in Eastgate Mall, in Chattanooga. The store was open to the public. He thought it was perfectly normal to ask me to give him a blow job. At work. We weren’t dating. He was married.

This was right before the term “sexual harassment” was normalized. Another employee turned him and the assistant manager (also male) in for sexual harassment against her. They were so confused about it. They didn’t think they had done anything wrong, ever.  The assistant manager even called me at home to ask me to call corporate to put in the good word for them – to say they weren’t guilty.

By the way – the assistant manager had asked me to be part of a threesome with him and his wife.

These two men thought this was all normal.

Sometimes sexual assault isn’t so obvious.  I had a male boss who thought it was OK to come up behind me while I was at my counter at JoAnn’s fabric store in Cool Springs and “goose” me.  I was in a tight space, with the counter in front of me, not room to move away. He would poke me on my sides to tickle me. I had not asked for this. I didn’t want this. I told him to stop. I understood in the back of my mind that this could mean I’d get low marks on my performance review.

That too is sexual harassment and assault.

Any unwanted physical contact isn’t OK.

So now guys are wondering what is OK. They say they are afraid of us now. They are afraid of lawsuits and criminal records. They are afraid of us damaging their reputations.

To this I say, good. We’ve been afraid of men for thousands of years. We’ve been threatened, coerced, and psychologically assaulted by men for too long. And what has continued this assault is secrecy. No longer.

Yes, not all men. Some men are good. But the chances of being harmed are high, and we’ve gotten scarred.  Being out in public is like playing a game of Russian roulette – where women are always the losers.

Then there are situations where it isn’t so obvious.

Men think it is normal to dump their emotional baggage on me while I’m at work, assuming that because I’m a woman I want to hear them complain about all the things going wrong in their lives. They don’t talk to other men like this.

I have worked behind a desk for most of my life – in retail and in other service industries. I’m not a counselor or a therapist but they treat me as if I am one.  This relationship is not two-way. They don’t want to hear about my life. This is not a friendship.  They want to use me as their emotional garbage dump, just because I am female. This is exhausting.  It is yet another way men condition women to be their servants, to be their objects.

Women are taught to beware of their surroundings at all times to protect against attack. Just walking across a mall parking lot can be as dangerous as walking in the wilderness. Being attacked by a bear and a man require the same precautions. I could go on and on about how our “normal” isn’t normal, and how men do not grasp how much some men (and sometimes they themselves) complicate the lives of women.  But I won’t right now.

I now live my life in my own power.

I now live my life in truth.

I now am a powerful, truthful, and whole woman.

So be it.

Little Ben

Little Ben shimmied into his man suit to go to the arena. He”d learned the hard way that he had to or people would step on him – sometimes literally. They just didn’t take him seriously most of the time.

Maybe it was his age. Maybe it was his joyful spirit. They just didn’t like being around someone who refused to get drawn into their glum gravity. His cheeriness in the face of their crankiness was disconcerting. It reminded them that they had a choice to be cranky, that it wasn’t automatic, or fate.

It was like sobriety – drunks don’t like to hang around those in recovery. It reminded them that there was a way out. They felt embarrassed, or shamed, by his presence. And while it would be easy to go along to get along, he chose not to. It had taken too much work to get where he was to fall back into bad habits again.

Fortune cookie.

They tried to teach us. They put their words into every bag, inside every fortune cookie. You ordered the meal and the cookie came along with. Maybe you opened the cookie. Maybe you read the fortune. And just maybe, if you were lucky, you had the insight to turn it over. It was right there, on the back. A word, in Chinese, with the translation. Collect enough and you had a sort of makeshift dictionary. You got fed in body and mind that way.

They had given us a chance, but so many of us ignored it, or overlooked it. So many of us did that all the time anyway, with everything. But not anymore. No longer do we have a luxury of being the Masters of our own destiny. No longer do we have the luxury of ignoring the signs that had been around us all these many years. For now, we are the minority. Now, we are the ones who have to meekly ask if the shop owner speaks our language. Now we have to go to tiny shops and strip malls in questionable neighborhoods to find a box of Cap’n Crunch or Jif peanut butter. Because now we are all Chinese. Now, English is a second language for all of us, and hot dogs have been replaced by Hunan cuisine.

There wasn’t a war. It wasn’t sudden. But the invasion happened all the same. They were here all along, quietly working, quietly saving, quietly planning. Their strategy was so subtle, so long range, that we didn’t even notice it. We thought they were OK with a second or even third-class existence. It seemed like a good system for everyone. We let them live here, let them own property, let them open up shops. We thought their ways were exotic if we thought of them at all. We certainly didn’t think of them as a threat. Sure, they assimilated, flew under the radar. They changed their names that we couldn’t (or wouldn’t) pronounce into ones like Jack, or Susie, or Joe. They put away their own clothes and adopted the anonymous uniform of America, all jeans and T-shirts, but never went so far as to debase themselves with sweatpants and singlets, not even in private. Even they would not stoop that low in playinf the game to fool us into not noticing them. Because that is what they were doing. They couldn’t change their skin or hair or eyes (though some did with lightening cream or bleach or even surgery to remove the epicanthic fold) so they blended in with all the other little ways that made us experience them as background noise. Hell, they could’ve been from Mars, looked like little green men as far as we’d pay attention if they only wore our costume and took our names. It was that lack of attention that was coming back to haunt us now.

(Written early July 2019)

Artist FAQ

What I’m doing is called sketching, or urban sketching. I’d love to talk with you about it but then I’d miss out on time to sketch, so I made this handout for you. Thanks for understanding.

I use watercolor pencils.  I sketch dry and add water later. There are other ways to use watercolor pencils – this is just the way I like to use them.  You can see the finished sketch @betsybeadhead

Yes, I am an artist. Anybody is if they make art. Being creative is part of being a human being.  I also work a full-time job. I don’t get paid to be an artist.  I still make art, because it makes me happy.

You may say “I can’t even draw a straight line.” That is not an excuse to not make art. Get a ruler. Or notice that how little in nature is composed of straight lines. Straight lines are boring anyway.

Nobody’s art looks great at the beginning. It takes years of practice to be good at it. That is not a reason to not make art. If you want to get better at anything, you have to practice it.  Making art is just like learning how to play the piano.  Make a “play date” with yourself – schedule time to make art.

You can get books from the library (subjects: sketching, urban sketching, art journaling) and learn how to do this. You can also take a class for free through the Nashville library system. You can get a free library card even if you don’t live in Davidson County.  You don’t need a card to attend a class.

The fact that you are interested in what I’m doing means you too are an artist. Go make art!

30 habits for happiness

Be kind

Eat well

Exercise

Meditate

Be honest

Dream big

Be patient

Judge less

Smile often

Love yourself

Forgive easily

Show gratitude

Think positively

Drink lots of water

Believe in yourself

Keep an open mind

Put your needs first

Don’t make excuses

Speak well of others

Listen to understand

Choose faith over fear

Make the most of now

Exercise self-discipline

Look on the bright side

Avoid social comparison

See failure as opportunity

Don’t take opinions to heart

Select friends that lift you up

Let go of what can’t be changed

Have a healthy sleeping pattern.

(I didn’t write this. I don’t know who did. But it still needs to be shared.)

New rules, old door.

There was no knocker on this door.

There was no doorbell either.

It was opened by appointment only, so it did no good to just show up – or to be late or early. It was on time or nothing.

It hadn’t always been this way. But she’d read about rules for the queen of England. You couldn’t touch her unless she initiated contact. Not a handshake, not a pat on the back – nothing. She was the one who would reach out first. It seemed like a good rule for everybody – not just monarchs. It would certainly start very instances of sexual harassment.

She’d first thought it was a good idea for just women, but then thought it would be a good rule for everybody. Men had been harassed too. Men had been victims too. And whether the encounter was between people of the opposite sex or the same didn’t matter. Boundaries and consent mattered for everybody, all the time. Even if an interaction had occurred before. Even if you were married, or family. Every time you touch somebody there must be consent.

The guys who acted badly – maybe they had never been taught otherwise. Nobody has said “No, that isn’t right”, so they assume it is OK. This is not blaming women… but how can men know how we feel if we don’t tell them? They do not have the same lived experience. They can’t empathize with being groped, ogled, cat-called. They don’t hear “Hey baby, why don’t you smile?” Or “That dress looks hot” or “while you’re down there” with a smirk and a glance to the crotch to a female coworker who is digging something out of a cabinet at their feet. They don’t hear or experience this, and they are told that having a woman, a “piece” (not a whole, just that part, not a person), is what makes them a man.

It was time for new rules for an old door.

It was time for things to change.

Nobody got through unless she invited them.

Ever.

No matter who they were.

(written early June, 2019)