02 June 2014

3 as a little girl i always played first lady, never president

a regrettable, albeit understandable, failure of imagination.

sally ride went into space so i knew i could do that. but, as the president was never a woman, the best i could hope was to be his wife.

when i started reading about jackie's life it was partly because she wasn't stupid but had learned to sublimate her smarts. an essential, or so it seemed to me, life skill.

a teacher had once forbidden me from talking in class or raising my hand. it was, she said, more important that the boys should learn.

when i kept talking, she took me to the principal's office and made me call my grandmother and confess to her that i was being a naughty girl. (my gran- my savior- told me she loved me and that i could anticipate a huge hug after school.)

the girls were separated from the boys and taken to a neighboring classroom where we were shown slides of naked women, told we would begin bleeding at any moment and that it was our job to thwart the advances of boys from then on.

(the boys, they informed us later in whispers, watched an episode of teenaged mutant ninja turtles and ate snacks sent by someone's mother.)

when i was learning to drive, the instructor told all the girls in the class to always look under their cars to make sure a lurker wasn't hiding beneath and to carry the car key between the knuckles of the index and middle fingers of their right hands, so they could wield it like a knife blade in case of attack.

15 years later, walking in chicago at night, i'd be halfway home before i'd notice that, in my coat pocket, my house key had found its way between the knuckles of the index and middle fingers of my right hand and was waiting, like a blade.

i wasn't a feminist because i thought feminism meant burning bras and being angry. people would say, oh of course you're a feminist and i'd pooh-pooh it, trilling, oh no no, i wear dresses and lipstick and am a whimsical, jubilant girl. i buy my bras at h+m.

i wasn't an idiot, but i was ignorant.

truth is, i didn't know what feminism was.

didn't know it meant that we are all equal.

that i didn't know makes me angry.

as does the fact that so many still don't.

this is called "the click", i believe. the moment that, as a woman, you realize that being a woman means something.

it means that there are fewer representations of you in the government and in business. fewer people like you being interviewed on television or in the papers. fewer "experts" of your gender.

it is the moment you realize that the television network whose programming most accurately reflects the gender make-up of your country is the CW.

that when movies you can relate to are released, they will be called "chick flicks." that if you're a female writer writing a book with a female protagonist, the book you write will be "chick lit." that if you have a blog where you write about your life, you are "a lady blogger."

"the click" is the moment you realize you will never ever be a writer. you will always be a "woman writer." and the book you eventually publish will likely be covered in the color pink.

were i forced to point to a particular moment and say "that was the click right there" it would be when i got a pixie and my employer, when i asked him to be patient while i collected some information essential to my doing my job, commented that i'd become an assertive dyke in the 12 hours since i'd gotten my hair cut.

soon after, i was in the street crying on the telephone to my mother, who told me how she'd once been propositioned by a colleague, and it was like an alternate universe to which i'd been willfully blind came into sudden full and horrifying view.

the problem with "the click" is that once you see, you can't un-see. and once you've seen, so much looks unutterably gross.

because it isn't right.

it isn't right that, after a day spent in the jfk library, while i was on the phone with my mother, a random dude on the street whose compliments i failed to appreciate told me i shouldn't go out "looking like that" if i didn't want men to comment. (by which he meant wearing riding boots??)

or that, at a cafe, someone asked my friend nina whether she was married and whether or not she could have children.

it isn't right that someone i'd considered a mentor recently asked if i would help him "continue his line."

or that so many women i know have had uncomfortable episodes on public transit where they were touched or verbally harassed.

this is not right. it is not alright. nor is the silence these things provoke. present in the very fact that i wrote this to go on my "professional" website then wasn't brave enough to put it there.

i've never had a boss who didn't comment on my looks.

and yet there is a fear in writing that down, in writing it now. the sense that it is safer to stay silent than risk that they'll see, that i'll get in trouble, that i will be seen as being in the wrong for writing about a wrong.

(it's hard not to apologize. so incredibly difficult to refrain from calling people to account with an opening salvo of "i'm sorry but...")


jmillewitz said...


Linda said...

love, love, love.

Linda said...

PS.. you have had some shit bosses.