I have been struggling lately with being a woman. I have been struggling lately with being a woman and I have been a woman for almost 25 years.
I should rephrase: I have been struggling lately with being a woman and seeing how women are treated worldwide. It is difficult to put into words my fear, sadness, and (I dislike using this word) my unbridled hatred for the people who disrespect, objectify, and abuse women.
I am outspoken on equal rights. Maybe because I have a loud voice or maybe because of the time I threw a chair across the room in my college dorm when someone told me that gays shouldn’t have equal rights because the bible said so. I cannot…can-not stress enough how jeopardized my heart rate becomes when I have to deal with people who refuse to recognize basic human rights. It does not compute. I do not understand why women are paid less than men in the United States in 2015. I do not understand why women’s personal property (their bodies) is up for debate on a public stage like a Roman gladiator slaughter. I do not understand people who do not understand equality. Where do you come from? Why do you hate people?
I also do not understand men who take pleasure in making women feel small and helpless. Around the world women are stoned or beaten to death for actions as small as leaving their homes without a male from their family to escort them. The thing no one wants to talk about -including myself- is female genital mutilation. Women are put through this torturous and horrific process still. Malala Yousafzai, my favorite woman in the entire world right now was shot in the face by the Taliban just because she wanted her and her friends to go to school.
So when I recently had several uncomfortable run-ins with men in Berlin, it does not seem to compare to what atrocities happen to women around the world. But this is how it starts. It starts with feeling threatened to leave your home, always being on guard if you make it outside, and grows from there into a mental and physical manifestation of fear. Fear of being a woman. And the fear of myself when I get so angry. I have had a few moments of men getting in my face when I’m leaving the subway alone at night or walking through a park and I immediately get right back in their faces and have my night ruined. One instant, however, was so over the top that I still cannot believe it happened.
I was in a major square a few weeks ago at noon. The middle of the day in a crowded tourist area. I was walking by a fountain and found a nice bench beneath a row of trees to sit on and eat my lunch. I had my headphones in and my sunglasses on. I was not looking for human contact. I was in a really good mood because I had gotten my to-do list of un-fun errands done and was excited to start rehearsal that night for an upcoming project. I sat down, reached into my bag, and when I looked up there was a man standing over me. He was dressed well, smiling, and asking me something. I took out my headphones and asked, “What?”. He asked me in German, “How are you?” I asked in English, “Do you need directions for something?” and his next question was the question that has continuously put me over the edge. It is the most intrusive, manipulative, and irrelevant question women are asked by men who are absolute losers:
“Where are you from?”
My go-to response is “Don’t worry about it”. Although sometimes I will opt for one of my friend’s fabulous retorts: Earth.
I took my own words that time and put my headphones back in. That answer was not acceptable as it usually isn’t and this is the point where the absolute losers who ask this question either stand there and stare at you like the psychos they are or press on. This particular absolute loser pressed forward. Our mostly one-sided conversation continued with him asking me again and again and saying things like, “Why do you have to be like that?” “I’m just trying to be nice”. No, you are not trying to be nice. You are trying to exhibit your power over me.
I continuously asked him to stop…please stop….I’m asking you to stop….
I stayed very calm and kept an even tone, which is unusual for me. He was so determined to get an answer from me that he stood there acting friendly and incredulously asking me why I wouldn’t be nice to him and blocked my way when I moved down the bench to get up and leave.
I had been looking at my phone avoiding as much contact as possible and finally looked up and said, “You shouldn’t do this to women”. And then I started to get angry. In that moment it wasn’t about me. I was going to be fine, I was sitting in a crowded area (although no one helped me) in daylight and I was not going to be broken by this piece of shit human being. But what about someone who had been assaulted before and had this happen? What kind of fear would come up in them if this guy cornered them? Would he break them? What about someone who couldn’t shake this off as easily as I could? This was about every woman who has to go through this daily in the form of catcalls, butt pinches on the subway, offhand comments about women being unstable or crazy, to being beaten for having an opinion. That oppressive tone and physical stance that asks to your face in a “friendly” manner, “Where are you from?” but says quietly from their body language, “I would sexually or physically you if no one was around”.
“You shouldn’t do this to women. It makes them uncomfortable. You are making me uncomfortable. I have asked you several times to leave me alone and you are still here bothering me.” He laughed it off like the sociopath he was and that’s when I told him I was going to call the police. He laughed again and asked me why. I repeated myself and added, “you fucking creep” at the end of the sentence.
His face dropped with his voice and he said, “What did you just say to me?” I told him again I was going to call the police. He raised his voice and said, “No! After that, what did you call me?” I continued in a monotone voice that I was going to call the police. He moved closer to me if that was even possible and yelled in my face, “What did you call me!”. And I finally broke and screamed back, “I called you a FUCKING CREEP beacuse you are a FUCKING. CREEP.”
He stumbled backwards and yelled, “I’m a fucking creep?! Yeah, call the police, they won’t help you, you fucking bitch. How can you call me a fucking creep? Who do you think you are? You know what go fuck yourself!” He walked backwards screaming at me, flipping me off and continued to say, “Go fuck off”. I started laughing and said, “You came up to me, YOU fuck off”.
And with that, he was gone. Off into the crowd to find another woman to make him feel like a man since I obviously could not help him with that.
I was infuriated and I was scared. I was in no way, shape, or form scared of him as he was a small disgusting creature in my eyes, but I was scared of the feelings it brought out in me. This was one of quite a few similar encounters I had had and I would leave them feeling so filled with rage. I was having nightmares and being overly aggressive with people because I felt like I needed to defend myself against attacks. I walk home from the subway with my keys in my fist and often times debate in my head, which would be the most effective of them: the long sturdy one or the thin, but sharper one. What a world…I have to walk home at night having this conversation of which keys I would use if someone attacked me. I said to a friend privately that if I had had a weapon, I would have killed that guy. That isn’t me. I am not a violent person. I am kind, sympathetic, supportive, and soft. But I was having visuals of myself punching these men and kicking them and screaming at them. I was no better than them.
What that guy did to me that day wasn’t just an assault of my space and privacy, it was a mental assault. He turned me into a monster. He made me into someone who would cause physical harm to another person and I was neither raised that way nor have I chosen to live my life that way.
I’m trying to channel that anger into kickboxing, meditation, and knowledge. As I mentioned earlier, Malala Yousafzai is a modern day saint. She is outspoken for women’s rights and women’s education and has nothing, but kind and constructive things to say. Even after the Taliban began to threaten her she said that she would never even hit them with her shoe because then she would be as bad as they are. And after they shot her she publicly forgave them. She harbors no hate in her body.
I’m trying. I am trying to hard to not be angry at the world and its treatment of women. Today I watched a documentary called “The Power of Women” that the BBC did this year. It starts with Hillary Clinton’s women’s meeting in China in 1995 and following up with subsequent female secretaries of state and other outspoken women from around the world who have fought and continue to fight for the RIGHT to not be raped, beaten, sold, trafficked, etc… It is very difficult to watch, but shows how incredibly far we need to go in this world to protect our sisters against the brutality they face daily.
A few days after my public brawl I was coming home late and alone on the subway. Per usual I groped for my keys in my bag to put between my fist and when I got to the top of the stairs from the platform to the main area of the station, I saw across from me at the top of a different staircase a man with a woman backed up against the wall yelling at her. Her eyes downcast and her arms folded, while he pointed his finger in her face. When she looked away from him, he grabbed her face and violently pulled it towards him. I immediately stopped my pace and had seen enough. Without thinking I began to storm towards them with no plan of action, but knowing it had to be stopped. I thought I could get the guy who ran the convenient store to call the police or come out and get the guy to calm down. And then a German woman who was probably about my age came up the staircase near them, saw what was happening, ripped out her earbuds and got in the guy’s face. She pointed her finger in his face the way he had done to the woman and asserted her power. No fear. I allowed myself a huge wave of happiness. It was still not ok and was extremely disturbing, but to see a woman throw herself in front of another woman to protect her warmed my heart. We have to be there for each other. It was an amazing moment.
Small moments like that are what will change how women are treated. Watching the documentary and all of its horrors gave me a lifetime of things I want to be fixed in this world. Gay rights has also been right on the same level for me. So today, after I had finished “The Power of Women” and cried my eyes out about the state of our world, I ran through the rain to catch a subway to an English bookstore where I knew I could get Hillary Clinton’s autobiography. I also stumbled upon Tina Fey’s and decided I deserved a nice big laugh from another strong woman.
I carried my two powerful women to the subway in my bag feeling strangely protected. I heard my phone beep and opened a message from my friend that said:
GAY MARRIAGE IS LEGAL IN THE USA
I stood there in the rain and re-read the text not believing it could be true. I wrote back asking if it was true and she said yes…and then my phone died. I looked around like a fool looking for someone I could celebrate this moment with. This was not how I envisioned hearing this announcement. I wanted to be with a bunch of people screaming, crying, cheering, and everything in between. I RAN home, threw open my computer and burst out crying…ugly crying reserved for when you are alone as I was. This is something I was starting to think I would not see in my lifetime. I hoped I would, but tried to be realistic as to not have my expectations crushed. I have not been proud to be an American lately and today gave me a feeling that I have longed for and missed. Today was a step forward. It’s ridiculous that it took this long, but it is a victory nonetheless. Hours later I feel like I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster and the joy I feel for the people I know and love in my country who have fought for this moment is unparalleled. It makes me hopeful that America may one day live back up to it’s potential of being a great nation. This day is glorious in this respect and a day to be celebrated. It is a day that so many of us have waited for and protested for and today we won. But I am still plagued with the images and stories of the women who I watched earlier. And I hope that the next step in equality will be ours. This is a time to celebrate, but it is also the momentum that needs to keep being pushing forward. We can’t stop now because there is so much more to accomplish at home and abroad and I hope that leaders will move the process along quickly to bring equality to everyone. Everywhere.
***just logged onto wordpress to post this and their banner today is a rainbow…Joy.