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.

We women are not seen (poem)

We women
are not seen
as sovereign
but subject.

We women
are not seen
as full members
of society.

We are seen
as animals
as pets
as property.

While legally
we have the right
to vote
we have very little else.

Our bodies are seen
as things
to be owned
to be used
by others,
but not as our own.

We are seen as playmates
and not people.

It is as if we are members
of some foreign country
exiled from our homeland
surrounded by people
who have not granted us
full citizenship.

In short,
we women
are not seen.

Why do women have to cover?

Why don’t Muslims cover up men’s eyes rather than cover up women’s bodies? Why don’t they make some sort of headband/facemask combination that forces their eyes downward and makes it possible for them to only see a few feet in front of them while they walk? It would make life difficult for them but it would certainly stop them from accidentally becoming aroused by women and being unable to control themselves and feeling like they have to attack them.

They must think that women are very powerful and that men have no power at all. Merely by existing, merely by showing an elbow or a calf, a woman can cause a man to lose his self-control. If he has so little self-control then doesn’t this mean he has no self-control? Why do women have to cover themselves up for modesty when it is the fault of someone else if they cross a line?

If I am an omnivore, should I stop eating meat in front of vegetarians for fear that it will make them start eating animals? This is the same issue. It is saying that my actions control another person’s actions.

The Muslim faith is not alone in this. There are sections of the Orthodox Jewish faith that have women not only cover their heads because their hair is seen as sensuous, but the women have to shave their heads as well. The idea is that by shaving their heads (at least monthly) there is no chance that a hair will accidentally show – and thus accidentally weaken a man’s resolve.

I have a strong belief that the original intent of Islam and of Orthodoxy was not to control women, and to reduce men into knee-jerk autopilot sex machines. I believe that both faiths originally respected both genders. I have a suspicion that over the many years since the faiths’ inceptions some radical detours have been made by well-meaning, but control-happy people (namely, men).

How about we stop coddling men by making policies that say that women are responsible for men’s behaviors? How about we stop saying “boys will be boys”? How about we expect men to have self-control, and not feel the need to disturb (and I’m putting it lightly) women?

Poem – why is it that?

Why is it that

a woman who shaves her head is a feminist,
but a woman who covers her head is oppressed?

Why is it that

a woman who wears pants modern and hip
but if she wears a skirt she’s old-fashioned and uncool?

Why is it that

if she starts her own business she’s a trendsetter
but if she’s a stay-at-home Mom she’s a fuddy-duddy?

It goes on.

She’s too fat, too skinny
has too many clothes on, or not enough…

Women are seen as
things
to be looked at
to be judged, classified, compared
instead of as
people
to be allowed to live and grow and feel
as we are called.

It is done to us
and then we do it
to ourselves,
like adult children
of abusers.

It is about freedom of choice.
It isn’t a choice
if there’s only one option.

Day off?

I was listing to a Jewish podcast where the speaker referred to Shabbat as a day off. He said that God says “Hey I love you so much, why don’t you take the day off?”And then take the same day off next week off too.”

The person who was speaking was male. I’m starting to understand why in Orthodox Judaism one of the morning prayers is giving thanks to God that you were not born female.

Shabbat is not a day off if you are female.

Shabbat is making up for all the extra work you had to do the week before. On Shabbat you’re not allowed to cook. This means you have to cook twice as much the day before. You can prepare for this throughout the week but ultimately it means you have to do twice as much work in order to “take the day off”. The house has to be clean and everything prepared by sunset on Friday night. No work is allowed until sunset on Saturday night. It is like preparing for a major holiday every week.

It is similar to when the Jews were wandering in the desert. They were expected to gather twice as much manna on Friday because there would not be any provided on Saturday. Gathering twice as much or working twice as hard is the same thing. So it’s not really a “day off” so much as a day of recovery from all the extra work you had to do to prepare for your “day off”.

Poem – Women are not things.

Women are people first.
We are not things.
We are not toys or tools.
We aren’t something to use.
We do not exist for your pleasure or fantasies.

Our bodies are just the vehicles our souls ride in.

We do not care if our bodies are
too tall,
too short,
too fat,
too bony
for you.

We do not care if our hair is
too dark,
too straight,
too kinky
for you.

We aren’t for you, you see.
We are for ourselves,
first and foremost.

We are our own guardians,
our own nurturers,
our own teachers.

We do not define
ourselves
in relationship
to you.

We do not need your permission
to vote,
to drive,
to work,
to feel.

We do not need your permission
to be,
period.

We are not
objects to be objectified,
possessions to be possessed,
or fantasies to be fulfilled.

We are people, pure and simple,
and if you don’t
start treating
us
like that
then you are missing out
on half
the human race.

Stop trying to
get our numbers
and
get into our pants.

Start trying to
know us
as fellow travelers
on this Earth,
at this time,
with you.

Choice – not coercion. On defining women by relationship to others.

Women are defined by who they are connected to. Meeting new people, you’ll hear these questions – “Are you married?” or “Do you have children?” Both questions seek to define the woman by who and how she is related to others. Women are rarely seen as valid citizens, much less as people, if they are not connected. A woman who tries to define herself on her own merit and ability is in for a hard time.

Romance novels teach women an overwhelmingly unrealistic life goal of finding and keeping a spouse. Men don’t get this script. Ever. Men don’t fill themselves with a diet of definition by relationship to others. Men read about adventure, and superheros, and strength. The characters, their role models, are strong and independent. Women read about being swept off their feet. Men are active, and women are passive. Women’s lives are things that happen to them, acted on by others.

There are countless books for women and young girls about how to find and keep a mate – whether it is a boyfriend or a husband. There are specialized ones if the woman is over 35, where it is seen as more difficult to land a choice selection. The books are framed in the language of strategy and the hunt. Women have to seek out men, because otherwise they will be left out, and left wanting.

There are no books for men like this, and there are no books telling women how to live a happy life without a spouse, thank you very much. If you are single you are seen lesser-than. “Spinster” is not equal to “bachelor”. It should be. Being single, of either gender, needs to be viewed as a valid life choice, and not a failure. It is better to be single and happy than married and miserable.

Single women who wish to remain that way often go into nursing, teaching, or library services. All of these jobs pay enough money that a woman doesn’t have to have a spouse to support her. Yet all of these jobs are nurturing jobs. They involve taking care of and helping other people. So a woman is still defined by her relationship to others, whether she is single or not.

It wasn’t that long ago that women who got married lost their names. They were described as Mrs. John Smith – never as Mrs. Jane Smith. It was as if John suddenly developed a female alternate persona. It was never that the woman gained status, it was as if she just disappeared. By removing her first name and differentiating her by just her title of Mrs., she lost her identity as a unique person.

How often are women who have children referred to by the children’s names? She is “Sally’s Mom” – Sally is never seen as Jane’s daughter.

I bring these points up because sometimes you have to see injustice and imbalance before you can fix it. There is nothing wrong with being married, or having children. There is everything wrong with making those choices no longer choices, but mandatory. There is everything wrong with overt and covert social pressure to make women define themselves by getting married and having children. These are not life events that should be entered into lightly. These choices will affect a woman’s entire life. Women should marry or have children out of choice, not coercion, and know that they will be accepted if they choose not to do either of these things.

Bad mood.

People try to blame women’s bad moods on their hormones, or the moon, or that they didn’t get enough sleep, or exercise, or healthy food. They never do this to men. It is that they are saying women can’t be anything other than happy and content and placid all the time. If they are upset or angry it is the result of something they did or didn’t do.

It never is the result of being talked down to, being belittled, being ignored, or overlooked.

Women are treated like children. We are treated as if we are incapable of making decisions, running households, running our own lives.

A female scientist is seen as an anomaly, a showpiece. She isn’t taken seriously. She is a woman first, a scientist second. Trade the word scientist for engineer, diplomat, doctor. It is all the same. Her gender is more important than her ability. Her hairstyle and clothing choices are questioned more than her skills.

How much of women’s anger comes from being treated as women, and not as people? How much from not being allowed to be who we want to be, but instead forced to fit into a socially acceptable mold?

A lot of anger comes from pain, and a lot of pain comes from being repressed, suppressed, oppressed.

I dare any man to go a month shaving half his body hair off every day, wearing hose that always bunches up in the wrong places, and shoes that destroy your feet and make it impossible to walk confidently.

And that is just taking care of the physical pain.

We need a “Black like Me” but for women. If men understood what it was like to be women, they’d get it. They’d stop blaming our moods on stupid things.

How much of women’s anger comes from dealing with men who treat them as less than OK? Who treat them as sexual objects? Who treat them as things?

Sure, we are in bad moods sometimes. It has little to do with what we have done, but what has been done to us.