i say “straight cis men are spoiled, that’s all. spoiled brats.”
my father bristles. “oh, so i can say the reverse of that? how would you feel if i called your entire gender something like that?”
like what? like bitch? like hysterical? like keep your voice down, don’t get crazy, don’t be one of those girls, come on, just say yes to me. like what? like needy, like over-emotional, like high maintenance?
i say, “i know what it feels like.”
he says, “men just want things and you’re pretending being denied those things doesn’t hurt.”
oh i know it hurts. but when i hurt, i hurt myself. i cut into the lip of my body and rip out all the good things. when i hurt, i blame myself. when boys around me hurt, they hurt me. come at me with fists and knives and screaming. trap me on trains while they shout names at me. lock me in the car when i try to leave. hold me down and ignore the begging.
i say, “it does. but, while women can be toxic and abusive, i find that denying a man something is like telling a spoiled child they can’t have a toy for being good.”
on my tongue are stories that don’t seem to break the pattern. stories i know other women have. men who wanted me because i was nice to them, men who wanted me because they were nice to me, men who turned equally quickly into beasts, howling about their lacking, how i owed them, how they could take advantage of me, how, like bread and water, they were starved of me. of course i should give in, how dare i let them go hungry, how selfish it was of me.
my father says, “when. there are tons of perfectly fine men and just as many bad women. you’ve worked in retail. you’ve complained about them.”
oh, yes. i’ve had my humanity dragged through the dirt by that-kind-of-haircut, by “speak to your manager”, by still-in-the-store-an-hour-after-closing. i’ve been screamed at and serenaded by swear words. i’ve had women look like they were about to pop a blood vessel.
none of those women ever followed me to a car. none of those women ever wrote down my name just to find me on facebook. none of those women ever followed me home, sniffed at my neck, told me how pretty i’d look naked. oh, i’m sure they wanted to kill me. but they didn’t make it about how much they’d debase me. it was a clean threat, a cold knife.
it’s a hard thing to explain. that i knew if these women went for me, it wasn’t because of my gender, and that made those threats differ. the same way that if they had been threatening me for being gay, it would have been scary. i was just in the wrong place when they hated me. they didn’t hate me because of my identity.
i clear my throat. “a spoiled woman wants what i’m not giving her, sure. but i can usually calm her down by helping and understanding. and we’re talking about the difference between being denied an object and being denied access to my body.”
my father snorts. “i think you’re blowing this out of proportion.”
there’s an entire group of men on reddit that we’ve just come to accept as thinking of women as objects. it’s not a small group, either, but what are you going to do. they write each other novels about how women are all animals who need to be controlled, how they’re “involuntarily celibate”, that we’ve denied them all. and how somehow, that denial is our fault. there’s been murders because men were mad they couldn’t have women. mass murders. serial murders. and so many of them were straight violence: not for the intention of killing, but of dragging out the sorrow of it. did you know rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power.
my mouth hurts. i tell him, “you should see how they act when you’re in a position of power above them.”
how they are when they find out a hispanic female got the job. how they are when it’s me, and i’m not even five foot three, and they know they can intimidate me. how it is when they raise voices over me, and sit on my desk, and come into my room without asking, and ask who i blew in order to get here, and ask to see my resume because obviously i was given the job for diversity and not my three years experience, and ask if i’d be their office affair, and stretch themselves to expand, like a balloon, filling, filling. how their voices pop, “stole my job,” “affirmative action is reverse racism,” “i’m going to bend her over one of these days and show her who’s boss.”
my father shrugs. “if it bothers you so much, stop listening to them.”
in three days from this conversation, one of my friends will text me that a guy pulled a knife on her in a bar because she said no. in two days from this conversation, i will have someone pull up my skirt. on the day of this conversation, three of my friends and i will get wine drunk and cackle over white boys texting and their dick pics and demands for love. when they say things like “you’re a slut and i fucking hate you and i hope you die” when she says no, we laugh. when my skirt comes up, i laugh. when my friend is at knifepoint, she laughs.
did you know laughter is a fear response.
to my father i say, “just watch. watch what happens when a woman says no.”
he shakes his head. “god, where do you even get this stuff?”
i want to live in a world where i got this from nowhere. where it’s just a figment. where i’ve never met men in the wild, only read about them, and their hands, and their ability to take things from me without feeling sorry. i want to live in a world where other women are confused about the accusations, haven’t experienced the same thing, or haven’t heard the same thing from the women close to them. i want to live in a world where it’s fake, because they treat us like it’s fake; instead of living where it’s this giant open secret like a blood boil, pulsing, a shush of things we’ve learned to answer with laughing, a big burn mark we’ve all been through but is somehow not counted as scarring. i want to live in a world where i’m making up my experiences for want of them; where i’ve never been kissed or touched or groped without my permission, where i don’t fear trains and enclosed spaces. the world i see so many men live in; where it might be a concern on their periphery, but not enough to warrant attention.
“you’d see it too,” i say through his words, “if you just stopped and listened.”