[storytime] An Abridged List of Lies I Was Taught as a Child

  • Money and success will make you happy.
  • Being beautiful is an obligation.
  • Being fat is the worst thing that could happen to you.
  • College will be a magical la-la land where you will finally be happy.
  • Men don’t like strong, opinionated women.
  • Being gay is wrong.
  • Never ask a guy out.
  • Never have sex with someone you’re not dating seriously.
  • Casual sex will make you depressed, and a slut.
  • Intelligent people are better than nonintelligent people.
  • Your parents know best.
  • Family comes before friends.
  • You should be willing to sacrifice anything for your family.
  • Fitting in is important.
  • If you’re upset, you’re probably being too sensitive.
  • Your friends should come from your cultural/ethnic/religious group.
  • If a guy likes you, he will let you know. And if he doesn’t, he’s a wimp anyway.
  • Your career should be as high-powered as possible.
  • Your husband should make as much or more money than you.
  • It’s okay to let men do things for you rather than learning how to do them yourself.
  • Never, ever trust another woman. She will stab you in the back at the first opportunity.
  • If someone doesn’t like you, you should probably ask yourself what you’re doing wrong.
  • If your boyfriend is unhappy, you should try to make him happy.
  • Politics doesn’t matter anyway.
  • Everyone can tell how many men a woman has slept with just by looking at her.
  • Your clothing should always “flatter” your figure.
  • Sex can only be one of two things: Dangerous, or Special and to be saved for The Right Person.
  • Getting ahead is more important than sticking to your principles.
  • You can always just choose to be happy.

I learned these things as a child and a teenager. Now I’m an adult and I finally get to reeducate myself. A decolonization of the mind, so to speak.

Most of these lessons have been proven false by experience and common sense.

What lies were you taught as a child?

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[Guest Post] The Evolution of ‘El Tigre’: A Feminist Discovers the ‘Beauty’ Aisle at Walgreens

Here’s a guest post from my friend Emily.

I have stretchmarks, acne scars, oddly shaped eyebrows, a decades-long nail biting habit, rough spots on my feet, and hair that is generally nice, but tends to be boring.

So, given that I’m not a girl who spends a quarter of her paycheck on creams, gels, goos, brushes, tweezers, and other body products, I had just lived with my imperfections—accompanied by a self-hatred and guilt worthy of any Jew joke you can make out of it.

So steeped in the hot water of my own shame was I that I didn’t even want to go to the gym for fear of wearing tight clothes (in public!) that showcase my lumps, bumps, and the outline of my underwear. So, the pounds slowly marched further on, till I was 50 pounds overweight, which really shows on a 5’4 frame.

Then I put my big girl panties on and got over it.

I realized that the only way to look the way I wanted to look (so maybe I’m a little vain), feel the way I want to feel, and be as healthy as I want to be was to GO TO THE GYM. I also realized that I had to do it for myself and no one else.

That decided, I bought some gym clothes, signed myself up for a spot in the torture chamber (gym), and hauled my needs-its-own-zipcode ass up on a treadmill. I’m not even halfway to my goal, but I’ve lost more than ten pounds, which is better than nothing.

And I felt SO much better about myself. I can like… run and stuff. If I clench my stomach, I can feel abs. They are hiding, snuggled deep down under the remnants of Papa Johns and chocolate, but they’re there. I know I’ll find them one day.

Then I looked at the rest of the things on my laundry list of self-pity, shame, and loathing and realized I could fix them too. I got what was probably the third manicure of my life (after my bat mitzvah manicure, and one before a family vacation years ago), which helped me stop biting my nails. I’ve gone over a month without biting them, and I have long claws now (so watch yourself).

I actually marched myself to a salon wherein I allowed someone to pour hot wax on my face and slowly rip out my eyebrows, And even though I won’t doing that EVER AGAIN, I now know what eyebrow shape best suits my face and keeps me from looking like an angry troll doll. (And I found some tweezers).

And speaking of trolls: I got a little hair cut, I stopped washing my hair so often, and I bought some leave-in conditioner which has smoothed the frays and brought out a shine I didn’t know was possible without flashbulbs going off.

As for the stretchmarks, I once again donned my big girl panties and waltzed back into the beauty aisle I had spurned and misunderstood before. BioOil is now my personal savior, as it has turned my stretchmarks—formerly livid red lines—into meek little white squiggles that know better than to show up again.

And all of this isn’t to say that I’m some beauty queen who will get a boob job, rhinoplasty, and a pedicure. No. No one will ever touch my feet (it feels weird and I’m very ticklish). My eyebrows will still attempt to belie my Russian ancestry. I still have a few many more hours to clock at the gym.

But I feel a lot better about myself.

I had always shunned the beauty aisle from the get-go because of its ridiculous name. Oh, I can go to the soup aisle and pick up some soup; I can go to the bread aisle and pick up a loaf of wheat; I can go to the beauty aisle and buy beauty? Hell no. But after a little growing up and some experimentation, I realized that it’s not vain, or stupid, or shallow, or anti-feminist to want to look nice or feel good about yourself as long as you’re doing it to make yourself happier. I’m still not an object to be ogled. I’m not doing this to satisfy what my gender studies classes have told me is the “male gaze.”

My bright red nail polish makes me feel more confident and powerful, like I can go sit in a boardroom and tap my claws against the table as I intimidate a bunch of people—or something.

My new nickname for myself: El Tigre.

Emily Davidson is a loudmouth from the State of Tennessee who enjoys talking about politics and correcting other people’s grammar. A Senior majoring in American Studies at Northwestern University, she has many accomplishments that she would love to brag about. She loves reading, books, literature, and belles-lettres as well as science, history, and the color purple. She writes about feminism, religion, and politics.

[Guest Post] Thank You, Todd Akin

One of my blog’s readers, who wishes to use the pseudonym Dubs, asked me to publish this guest post. Trigger warning for sexual assault.

I can’t keep quiet any more.  Thank you, Todd Akin.

And less sarcastically, for inspiring me to finally write my first public piece, thank you Eve Ensler, quoted from her response to Representative Akin here:

You used the expression “legitimate” rape as if to imply there were such a thing as “illegitimate” rape. Let me try to explain to you what that does to the minds, hearts and souls of the millions of women on this planet who experience rape. It is a form of re-rape. The underlying assumption of your statement is that women and their experiences are not to be trusted. That their understanding of rape must be qualified by some higher, wiser authority. It delegitimizes and undermines and belittles the horror, invasion, desecration they experienced. It makes them feel as alone and powerless as they did at the moment of rape.

I, like many of the women I know (and many of the women YOU know, whether you know it or not), am a survivor of rape. I am a survivor of several rapes. It is not an easy thing to say, to any one at any time, let alone to try and say it to the entirety of your Facebook community, where this post originated. But here’s my story. (For those of you who avoid such things, trigger warning & naughty language ahead.)

I was 25. I was out with a friend. We’ll call her B. She was something of a Bad Idea Bear… the little devil on my shoulder that would convince me to do things that my little angel knew I’d regret in the morning. Clearly, my choices were my own, but she definitely helped me make them.

I was in the midst of a rough divorce, and she was determined to help me regain my self-esteem and confidence with men. We were at a bar, both flirting with the bartender, hereafter known as Dog.

Dog is graciously providing us with deeply discounted drinks, and I’m enjoying the attention. B is cheering me on. Dog’s shift is over, and he convinces a now rather unsober me-and-B duo to join him at this great piano bar. Off we go, staggering away in his car. (Are you keeping count of how many mistakes I’ve made yet, and how this is all terribly my fault, and I brought it all on myself?  Exactly… keep counting, there’s more coming…) At the piano bar, I don’t remember much, except that it was such a classy joint, they only served beer and wine, and I don’t drink beer.  Dog insisted on choosing a great red wine for me, despite my assertion that red wines give me migraines, but not wanting to be rude, I acquiesced. When the piano bar closed down, Dog convinced B and me to head to his place to keep the party going. I vaguely remember staggering into a cab, and feeling utter shame at what the patrons and the staff must think of me, and I think I caught a look of sympathy from either a doorman or another bartender who caught me once as I tripped.

We get to Dog’s place, and I’m in the head lolling stage of my drunk.  B & Dog are still conversing amiably (in retrospect, I believe they were probably both functional alcoholics).  At one point, I remember thinking how smooth I was, because I was able to hide the fact that I was vomiting by just swallowing. Anyone else who’s had that thought knows–you actually haven’t been smooth. B helped me to the bathroom to clean me up. (I was still cleaning pink stains out of the stitching on my leather coat weeks later…red wine, remember?).

After that embarrassment cleared, Dog guided us into his bedroom. All 3 of us laying on the bed just drunkenly talking and being… drunk. At some point kissing started, in which B was involved. When Dog started getting more aggressive, she stands up and says “Nope, I don’t want any part of that.” and walks out of the room.

(The bitch fucking left me there–after he had shown that he was sexually aggressive and didn’t give a fuck about consent. She fucking left me alone with him.)

I remember telling him I didn’t mind making out and stuff, but I didn’t want sex. I said no. I was drunk, I wasn’t in complete control of myself. I put myself in really compromising situations with untrustworthy people. I fucking said no. Did I stab him? Did I push him off?  Did I scream and yell and cry? Or did I just lay there, and wait for him to be done with me, since clearly he didn’t care about my opinion anyway? Roll over, go to sleep, and do the walk of shame in the morning. One more notch in the slut shame hall of fame.

A few days later, I was talking to B about our random drunken escapades and drunken regrets. I told her “Yeah, so that night with Dog? Not that I’m going to press charges or anything, but it really could be construed as rape. I did tell him I didn’t want to have sex… he just pushed right on anyway.”

Did I mention that B is a rape survivor herself? But hers was “legitimate.” Home invasion, serial rapist. Nationwide coverage. Big trial, conviction, the whole bit.

I stepped in a land mine. “HOW DARE YOU COMPARE WHAT I WENT THROUGH TO A DRUNKEN ONE NIGHT STAND REGRET?!?!” She immediately regaled me with full details of what happened to her. Admittedly, it was horrific. But suddenly, because she had suffered horrendously, I wasn’t allowed bodily autonomy.

It wasn’t until about a year ago that I could admit to myself that I had been raped at all without qualifying it with “could be construed as” (I muttered the magical word NO!, but it was still my fault). I am an imperfect victim, I am quite sure many will say I brought it on myself (when I told my own mother, her response was “Hopefully with time, you can forgive yourself.”). But at the end of the day, whether I put myself in a risky position or not, a man felt entitled to use my body in a way I did not consent to. When I confided in a friend, I was promptly told that my experience of violation was ILLEGITIMATE.

You want to know how to make a person who already feels worthless feel any smaller? Just let her know that the abuse of her person isn’t worth being concerned about.

I’ve talked to my friends a lot lately. You know that statistic about 1 in 4 women have been raped or molested? It’s bullshit. It’s more like 3.5/4. Chances are, your wife, your mother, your sister, your friends, your daughters–at least some of them have been sexually assaulted. They just don’t tell you because it’s shameful. They don’t tell you, because they don’t want you to tell them that it was their fucking fault. They don’t tell you because women aren’t allowed to know what violation of their own bodies feels like. But we know.  And if we trust you enough, some day we’ll tell you. And when enough of us speak up about how much we’ve been hurt, hopefully you’ll stop passing laws that hurt us.

Recently laid off from the IT sector after over 10 years, Dubs is a somewhat unwilling though not unhappy stay-at-home mother of two, both boys, both under the age of 4. A self-proclaimed “mommy who says fuck… a lot”, she is a new contributor to the blogosphere and is using the new-found free time that unemployment brings to begin finding her voice and to use it loudly to fight some of the injustice in this world. Once her toddlers require a little less of her brain space, time and energy, Dubs hopes to return to school so she can heal the world one mind at a time as a therapist.

[storytime] These Streets Are Mine: On Street Harassment

I got sexually harassed today.

Actually, it happens all the time. Like, almost every time I venture out on the city streets for longer than ten minutes. It’s kinda like when you have to drive in the city and you can never find a good parking spot, or when you’re stuck behind a group of sluggish tourists on the street.

You know, annoying stuff that happens when you live in the city.

Except this is different. Because this only affects people who are (or appear to be) women, and because this is a conscious, purposeful attempt to make us feel unsafe and violated. It is not a compliment. It is not “boys being boys.” It is harassment.

This time, I’m on a dark El platform at 10 PM. I’d just been out with a friend and had a great time. I’m wearing a nice dress, same one I wore to work, not that it’s any of your business. An old man calls something to me from 10 yards away; I ignore him.

A few minutes later he ambles over, passes in front of me so close as to brush against me, and says, “Mhm.”

He stands on the other side of me until the train comes and gets into the same car as me. He doesn’t get a seat near me because there are too many people, but I see him looking over.

I slowly reach into my bag and pull out my pepper spray, letting it dangle from my fingers. And I look up with a face of stone, and he knows that I know what he did.

I am attractive. You can think I’m vain for saying that, but I don’t really care what you think. It’s hard not to know you’re attractive when you’ve been told from birth. My parents always say, “You’re so beautiful, you can get any guy you want if you just stop being in such a bad mood all the time.” They say, “Make sure you have a guy walk you home.” They say, “Try to find a job where your boss is a man. It’ll be easier that way.”

In the past, when I had friends who didn’t get it, they did it too. They thought I couldn’t possibly have any trouble in my love life. They thought I couldn’t possibly have a problem with the number on the scale.

Beauty carries a lot of privilege in our society–and, really, in any human society, although standards of beauty vary. But, unlike most kinds of societal privilege, this one comes at a cost. I’m not particularly interested in debating who has it worse, but suffice it to say that I would rather not have strange men brushing up against me when I’m trying to take the train home at night.

And no. I will not demand that my male friends take me home; that’s not their job. I will not dress in ugly, baggy clothing. I will not stop leaving my apartment in the evenings. I will not stop taking public transportation. I will not stop walking down these streets, because these streets are mine.

I’m not afraid. Not because I have no reason to be, but because I couldn’t keep living if I were. I can’t keep crossing the street every time I see a man. I can’t keep wincing visibly every time I hear their slurred come-ons. I can’t keep tugging at my clothes in front of the mirror, trying to figure out how to cover up what I never chose to have in the first place.

I’m not afraid. I’m angry.

A while back, the writer Norah Vincent dressed as a man for a year and a half and wrote about her experience. This is what she said about the first time she went out in drag:

I had lived in that neighbourhood for years, walking its streets, where men lurk outside of bodegas, on stoops and in doorways much of the day. As a woman, you couldn’t walk down those streets invisibly. You were an object of desire or at least semiprurient interest to the men who waited there, even if you weren’t pretty. But that night in drag, we walked by those same stoops and doorways and bodegas. We walked by those same groups of men. Only this time they didn’t stare. On the contrary, when they met my eyes they looked away immediately and concertedly, and never looked back. It was astounding, the difference, the respect they showed me by not looking at me, by purposely not staring.

They can choose to look away from women, too. But our society teaches them that women are there for their eyes.

There are things I can do. And I’m not talking about the “don’t go out alone” types of things. I find that anger deters these pathetic men more than anything else. They don’t want a woman who’s going to cause trouble, who’s going to whip around and snarl, hit, tell them to fuck off. They don’t want a woman sitting straight up, glaring, with a can of pepper spray ready in her hand.

Nine of out ten of them will stop at that.

As for the other one, well, I suppose that’s a risk I have to take if I’m going to fight for my right to walk down the fucking street.

Just like any man can do.

For more information: Hollaback and Stop Street Harassment

Depression Personified

This is a work of fiction. Trigger warning for depression and abuse.

And again.

Everything starts to swirl in my mind again, tears pool in my eyes. Everything about me is shit–my writing, my activism, my appearance, my personality. I cry everywhere–in the office, in the bathroom, on the train, in bed.

Just yesterday I had been able to see clearly. Now that haze is back and everything turns to grey because of it.

He has me by the wrist now, his long nails digging into my skin and leaving red half-moons, just like I used to do.

He jerks my hand towards him, makes me caress his face with it. His eyes seem as black as his hair in that moment. They pop against the smooth porcelain of his skin, cold under my unwilling fingers.

His thin lips twist into an ironic smile.

“You thought we were done,” he says in a low, throaty voice.

I don’t deny it.

“You told all your friends how happy you were to be through with me.”

Can’t deny that either.

He grabs me by the shoulders and pulls me in, putting both hands on my face and tilting it towards his. If you ignore my facial expression it would probably look romantic. But don’t be fooled.

When I’m with him I feel as black as his eyes. I see myself reflected in them. Looking into them is like looking into a cave or an abyss–you don’t know where they end.

I could probably wriggle out of his grip if I tried hard enough. He’s not even holding me that tightly. But I can’t find the will, and he knows.

His eyes narrow and I know he’s not done.

“Here’s the thing.”

I let out a sigh and try to look away, but he’s still holding my face in his hands, stronger than I thought.

“I decide when we’re through. Not you. Because I own you.”

I can never quite believe that someone so beautiful could be so cruel.

“I can come back for you whenever I want. I’ve been choosing not to because I thought you needed a little break. So let this be your reminder.”

He runs one hand through my hair, gathering it up into his fist. He tugs on it, not enough to hurt, but enough to keep me still. We stare each other down–him with his calmly brutal black eyes, me with my terrified, wet hazel ones.

Then suddenly he pulls me into an embrace that feels almost real, if not for its coldness. I’m taken aback. It’s one of the only times he’s shown me anything resembling care. Or love.

I keep shivering long after he’s gone, but gradually the fire relights in my heart.

Some people have real problems.