There are approximately 1,000 different verbal, philosophical tussles occurring in society on any given day, fueled by online rhetoric and arguments that spill into the real world. One of the most interesting to me is the #BlackLivesMatter movement. While there are dozens of angles to explore, the one I want to highlight right now is my own internal struggle with it. And that struggle is – are white people allowed to participate?
When I hear about a white woman leading a workshop aiming to educate on racism, it leaves a weird taste in my mouth. Although I have extremely strong emotions and beliefs on the issue of racism in our country, I just can’t bring myself to stick a #BlackLivesMatter sign in my front yard. I keep hearing this voice in the back of my head: “Where the fuck do you get off? You have no idea what it’s like.” Because I don’t. And I won’t. Ever.
Questlove wrote a moving piece about his place in the world a couple of years ago that gave me a bit of a hint. But I still won’t ever know what it feels like to spend your life on eggshells, lest you scare the white lady in the elevator. Years ago, I was pulled over in a very tony Dallas neighborhood solely because I had a black man in my car. I was incensed, but I remember my friend having the attitude of, “Yeah, you don’t know the half of it.”
So why I am even talking about this? Because I’m finding myself on the other side of this debate in an area that I do know very much about: what it’s like to be a woman.
Before I go any further, let me acknowledge that the struggles of black women go far beyond what I’ve experienced. I won’t try to parse that because, well, exactly what I mention above. It’s an experience I have no context for. But I can confidently say that everything past this sentence should be tripled for black women. I want them to speak up and write their own posts, because they are perspectives I can’t convey. And if you want to read more on this subject, I suggest starting here.
I’ve been bombarded with messages from infancy that my worth lies only in my body, whether it is as a sex object or a procreation vessel. Questlove wrote that he’s spent his life as a black man trying to convince others he’s not threatening. I have spent my life as a woman trying to convince others I’m more than just a vagina. Oh sure, we’ve come a long way baby. At least publicly. But we continue to be “surprised” every month or so by a person or company who’s made a stunningly tone-deaf statement/action that in actuality shows the truth of where we still are.
If you need concrete examples of this, welcome back to Earth from the Martian rock you’ve been living under. Time and time again, we are shown what society really thinks of women and the value it places on us. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the insidious abuse inflicted on us by our government. But really, there isn’t an area of society in which we aren’t maligned, each of which could take up its own post.
The featured taco for September at Austin-based Torchy’s Tacos – beloved by many in the state, including myself – is the Tipsy Chick, billed now as “The Freshest Breast on the Block” but at one point was advertised on its Facebook cover photo with, “Everyone loves a Tipsy Chick.” Awesome endorsement there, fellas.
Really though, that’s standard advertising—messaging that has become so ingrained in our culture that we barely notice it anymore. It’s nothing compared to these pillars of society, two Asheville coffee shop owners who secretly ran a blog and podcast that were misogynistic at best, borderline-criminal at worst. Though their attitude perhaps sheds some light on why exactly 1 in 4 college women have been sexually assaulted on campus (I’m one of them.) UT Austin, with one of the largest student populations in the country, fared slightly better with 1 in 5. Go Austin!
Thing is, it took me 10 minutes to find those examples, just in one day. There will be more tomorrow. And more after that. Ad infinitum. There are sites that try to keep a handle on the most blatant and call it out – Jezebel, Feministing, and Broadly to name a few – but it’s exhausting and depressing and soul-eating. We try extremely hard for Graceless not to be “rant-y.” Because it’s not fun to do, sure, but also because you tire your readers out. There are only so many things in the world one can be angry about before losing all hope.
This is the atmosphere I find myself in—one in which I feel continually like a piece of flesh on display; one in which I can’t comfortably walk to my car alone after dark; one in which fellow male peers call me ‘little girl’; one in which complete strangers lecture me on the finer points of an audible call at a football game; one in which a man I worked for called me a “stupid annoying bitch” in front of a well-known Vanity Fair photographer. (I’ll save details of that last one for a future post.) A woman’s world is full of battles across a wide variety of fronts. We don’t get a lot of time to relax before the next wave hits, and there’s never a hint as to which direction it will come from today.
Such is the backdrop against which I found myself the other night, when I annoyed several men on Facebook with a comment about the incongruity of two celebrities being married. I suppose I could have phrased my post differently, because it was inferred that I was calling Christina Hendrick’s husband ugly. I was not. I was commenting on the visual dissonance of a couple who doesn’t match at first glance. But that really doesn’t even matter. Amidst a background of endless, battering misogyny, I had to defend myself for thinking a guy was mousy. Against a backdrop of Shit People Say to Women Directors, it seems that indignation has much worthier targets.
I spent the better part of a day trying to parse why this bothered me so much. I think what it comes down to is that men, even the most well-meaning among you, have absolutely no clue what it’s like to be a woman. No idea what it’s like to live your life viewed as a lesser human. And what’s most supremely important to remember is that we won’t escape that, at least in my lifetime. We’re going to try our damnedest, but when all’s said and done, I will still need an app to make me feel comfortable walking home alone. I will still need to make a daily effort to call myself Wonder Woman and develop a posture that discourages others from fucking with me. I will still see the female body used to sell all manner of crap. And I will still make less money than a man for doing the same job, usually more capably.
So when I make a flip comment about a movie star, and men say they’re offended or I’m not holding myself to a fair standard – you know, I really don’t give a shit. Even if I were to make an explicit effort to objectify and deride men regularly, it would not approach the amount of bullshit women face on an hourly basis. As Jules says to Vincent in Pulp Fiction, “Ain’t the same fuckin’ ballpark, ain’t the same league, ain’t even the same fuckin’ sport.”
Amy Schumer nailed everything at the Emmys Sunday, including her backstage comments about bringing her own lube to celebrate afterwards. But what really got me was her comment during her onstage time with Amy Poehler: “Let’s not forget what tonight is really about. Celebrating hilarious women and letting the Internet weigh in on who looks worse.”
We’re never going to escape that. My mousy man comment seems so small in comparison.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Carlo