TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of child abuse, attempted murder, disordered eating, and inappropriate sexual advances on a minor (the minor being me, not me being the one making the advances, I just want to be clear).
This is one of the custom blogs I do for my Facebook friends. I asked
“I kind of want to blog about some event from my life (sexual firsts, most embarrassing, near death, drug experiences, feminist ah-ha moments, etc) but I’m having trouble picking. Facebook friends, which ones would you like?”
Monica, Jena and Sarah wanted “feminist ah-ha moments.”
I know it was one of my own suggestions, but I was a little bit afraid that somebody would ask for that. As much as I am a feminist, I don’t exactly know when I decided to be one. I’m currently listening to Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman on audiobook, and I’m pretty sure she has a chapter entitled “I Am a Feminist.” I have no such chapter in my life. Only a series of incidents leading up to my final assessment that feminism is the answer for men and women both.
This is so long that I’m making it two posts. The lead up to my feminist turning point, and then the part where I was actually a feminist.
Age: Under 5
Incident: I have realized that divorce is a thing. Seems a little late, considering that my own parents separated before I was even conscious, but I have a great idea about what to do with my physically abusive grandfather. When I bring my great idea to my grandmother, she doesn’t see it that way. She explains that he makes all the money, and that if she divorces him, we won’t have anything.
When I bring up all the happy single mothers on TV, she reminds me that television is not an accurate representation of real life, and that most of those women have careers, which she doesn’t have. Because she is too busy being a mother to me, we have to “put up with it.” Besides, grandpa pays for my dance classes and my clothes and the food for our dogs. I wouldn’t want to lose any of that, would I?
Conclusion: The work mothers do has no value, the abuse women suffer is an incidental consequence of having no earning power, the way women get the things they want is through a precarious relationship with high earning men.
Incident: After a summer of neglect at the hands of my mother and her meth manufacturer boyfriend, he locks her out of the house in the middle of an argument, and attempts to choke me to death in order to prove his point. As much as I’ve been able piece together, she breaks a window and saves me, and we continue to live together as a family until a drug raid leaves me at the police station waiting for pick up by my grandma. Who refuses to speak about it to this day.
Conclusion: The things men do to you should be treated as if they did not happen.
Incident: My mother’s junkie friend runs his finger up my spine, from under my sundress to the back of my head and whispers that he likes my “peach fuzz.” We are in the kitchen with his entire family and my mom sitting at the table next to us. I scream, threaten violence, and probably try to attack him. Everyone laughs. I am told to “relax.”
Conclusion: The things men want to do to you are way more significant than anything else you had planned for yourself.
Incident: In third grade, all my friends stop talking to me. They are all boys, and over the summer girls have become disgusting without my being notified. I am devastated, and play by myself until a pair of girls lets me hang around with them, probably either out of pity or because I wouldn’t go away.
Conclusion: Women get left behind.
Incident: I have cleavage. I overhear two of the boys debating weather or not this makes me worth anything. It is one for: “Marina has the biggest boobs in our class.” One against: “But she’s the fattest, those don’t count.”
Conclusion: A woman is only the sum of her parts.
Incident: I haven’t been eating. At night, I run in circles in my room to burn calories, and when I do slip and eat something, I throw it up right away. Still, I can’t seem to manage to look very thin. Part of it might be the Ds on my chest. Part of it might be that I’m just a square of a person. (I only realized this second possibility recently when my mother was suffering from stage four cancer and going through chemo. She looked downright healthy despite being on a starvation diet similar to the one I was intentionally practicing at the time.)
But my work is paying off. Strange men on the bus try to take me home with them, or threaten to follow me home. My tits have a special power wherein I get free shit when I go to the mall. Boys on the other side of the street yell things like “hey, come over here” and I yell things back like “I bet you wish I would” because I am terrified of what would happen if we were actually on the same sidewalk.
Conclusion: My breasts can get men to do things for me.
Which brings me full circle again to the idea that it’s only through a precarious relationship with men that women can ever get what they want. As a child, I had to take punches, and put up with OCD weirdness, and spend half the night in the yard every once in awhile. In exchange I got my basic needs for food and shelter met, along with ballet classes and horseback riding lessons. At the time, I thought it was a raw deal. I’d never agree to a pact like that as an adult. After all, it was the 80s, I’d seen Diane Keaton on enough billboards to realize that a woman could work like a man could. Then I would be in charge of my own fucking destiny and I wouldn’t have to put up with any shit from anybody. So there.
My initial conclusion: that our household was fucked up, that there was a solution, and that it involved taking care of ourselves and not leaving that responsibility to a person who clearly didn’t enjoy having us around was the right idea. But over the course of the rest of my childhood, my personal experience as a girl brought me down to the place where I began to draw the conclusion that I was inherently less worthy than a man. My body did not belong to me, my anger was not valid, and by my very femaleness, I was marked for use by men as either a punching bag, or a plaything; this was inevitable.
Therefore, if I am going to have to have this oppositional relationship with men, I might as well get something for my trouble. If I am not allowed to determine my own fate, or even my own friends, I better use what I do have available, the very body I am denied ownership over, to get what I want while I can.
And that’s how you turn a girl into her mother in 12 short years.
I probably would have stayed like that, at war with men, even as I was emotionally dependent on them, or at least the concept of them, for my every conscious thought. Except that something totally unrelated happened: I decided I wanted to live.
I had been suicidal for years. There seemed to be no point to life, and honestly, the way I was living, there probably wasn’t one. But one day it occurred to me that I might not want to die. I’d never consciously thought about it before, but I had started to get the idea that maybe I could be a happy adult. It had become obvious that everything I’d been taught about being a person had been extremely fucked up, and not just subjectively wrong, but morally wrong as well.
If my parents were wrong, I thought, maybe I was right. Maybe I don’t wait for a dude to find me sexually attractive enough to take care of me, maybe I can cut out the middleman and take care of myself. It’s possible for there to be a reality where I could be worthy of regular food, of being spoken to instead of shouted at; maybe even where my talents could extend beyond getting free earrings from a kiosk clerk in the galleria. The idea of this potential future intrigued me, and I started to seriously consider what that kind of me would look like.
Marie Shear said “feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” At that moment, my own feminist revolution started with the radical notion that I might be a person.