From Feels to English, parts 1 and 2

I shouldn’t have gone to the bar. My Friday nights are about a nice pot of oolong and a little Jane Austen, not drinking with 24-year-old work friends. But they can be a real kick in the pants, as my mother would say. So I went.

All of them were late except for Zach, who’s always early because he likes to get a jump on the drinking. Zach gets the highest evals whenever the Dept. of Ed comes to count our beans, and word is it’s because of that young dood flirtiness that lady bean-counters go nuts for. Why can’t the DOE hire more dykes?

As Zach and I sat with our drinks (club soda for me because alcohol allergy) , our friend Sharee called me to say she’d had to park a mile away.

“Be careful,” I said. “Because I bet you’re walking in four-inch heels.”

“I’m all good!” she chirped. “I have a gun!”

We hung up. “She wasn’t kidding,” Zach said. “You know she’s a serious Republican, right?”

I knew. On paper, Sharee and I should despise each other — she’s hyper-armed, hyper-femme with rich parents and a Mitt Romney sticker on her car — but we enjoy hanging out as long as we don’t discuss anything substantive.  She may not like the idea of gay marriage, but she’s always excited to look at wedding gowns online with me.

“She’s young,” I reminded Zach.

“She’s 24!” he said. “And you know I’m an anarcho-Communist.”

“The age of reason is 26,” I replied, because it’s true.

Sharee’s problem is that she has no problems. She’s never been turned away from a doctor’s office because she didn’t have insurance; never taken an ice-cold shower because the heat got cut off; never had to choose between food and medicine; never waited in line at the Social Security Office; never suffered any of the million stinging privations and humiliations of living a real adult life without parents to fall back on. She’s earned almost nothing for herself, yet opposes any sort of social contract because somehow she knows; she just knows, she’s never going to be weak enough to need it. She doesn’t feel vulnerable, even though she’s  a young woman (of color!) who makes less than $35,000 a year as a public employee. She’s smart, she’s educated. And yet.

I’ve read Right-Wing Women. I get it. But some days, it’s all I can do not to say, “Romney sticker, huh? Hey, Sharee…do you have a pussy? Go ahead and check! I’ll wait.”

I said as much to Zach, who got irritated.

“The mistake people make,” he mansplained, “and I’m not saying you’re the only one — but the mistake some people make is, they think women only care about birth control and abortion. Women are full human beings, right? They care about EVERYTHING! Taxes, the economy, education, what-HAVE-you.”

Then Sharee showed up, all smiles and concealed weaponry, so we let it drop. I’m left with a gristly question: Am I wrong to think contraception and abortion laws SHOULD be vitally important to all women? Does this belief serve to narrow/marginalize women’s status, or is it true that without reproductive freedom, everything else is moot because a woman who can’t control the means of her own reproduction is not free? 

I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Maybe I shouldn’t care. I’m never going to need the Pill again. I don’t see young straight women fighting for my right to marry. But Friday night, I felt sad and old. Because it just felt like we’ve lost.

*I’m aware that this post is more of a beginning instead of my usual narrative arc. It feels like I left something on the stove. Please hold for Part 2.

OK, here it is:

Part 1 of this post left me feeling cold and void and dumb as a box of rocks. It didn’t say what I wanted to say because I couldn’t translate what I wanted to say from Feels to Standard Modern English.  So I asked my lovely online friend Moira if I we could spin and spiral together in Q-and-A format. Moira is an exited erstwhile member of transcult/sex-poz-landia who blogs at http://redressalert.tumblr.com. Here’s a partial transcript of our IM:

P: Frustrated by post. WTF am I trying to even saaaaaaaay.

M: It was a beginning…I thought the most developed part was the bit about how your friend doesn’t see herself as ever needing a social safety net. The implications of that are huge. More to explore there.

P: OK! What else what else.

M: The other place I’d expand is responding to Zach’s reversal.  Love that he’s an anarcho-commie, btw. That is perfect and hilarious.

P: YOU CAN’T BE ANARCHO-COMMIE IT MAKES NO SENSE. It’s probably some lefty-dood thing where he gets to have sex with ALL the laydeez. And OMG he totally reversed me. Vulcan mind trick. How he do that?!

M: He implied that your argument diminished the humanity of women and reduces us to our reproductive capability. In fact. the only thing that *does* that is the social control over reproduction. Which you’re arguing AGAINST!

P: I feel so dumb.

M: No, that’s part of it! You’re not dumb. It’s designed to make you flub and stutter. It’s a mindfuck.

P: I did stutter! I never stutter! Like, all of a sudden, I was on the defensive.

M: Yup. It’s like judo. Uses your own strength against you.

P: And yet I was the only non-drunk person at the table.

(Redacted: Here is where we talked about drinking a little).

P: What’s your take on young conservative women?

M: Preliminarily: It’s in some ways a mirror image of 3rd wavers. Very I-ndividual solutions. Your friend carries a gun so she’s “all good.” It’s a fallacy.

P: SHE is all good. Not WE.

M: Exactly. And it isn’t even true for her, as a supposed island. She’s (a) more likely to be assaulted by someone she trusts, and (b) can be overpowered and have her weapon used against her, just to name 2 things. That model is, “He’ll have to go find someone else to rape, instead of me.” And that’s when it works how it’s supposed to!

P: This is so what was in my feels. WHY COULDN’T I PUT THIS IN WURDS.

M: None of us are islands. It’s not a weakness, I grew up going to (redacted place of worship) every week — singing the same prayers, Alone, I don’t know the words. In a group, I know them all.

I’m so glad to know Moira. Go check her out!

 

 

A classic from Andrea Dworkin, who knew so much and still never lost hope.

http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/WarZoneChaptIIIE.html

“You can’t have equality or tenderness or intimacy as long as there is rape, because rape means terror. It means that part of the population lives in a state of terror and pretends–to please and pacify you–that it doesn’t. So there is no honesty. How can there be? Can you imagine what it is like to live as a woman day in and day out with the threat of rape? Or what it is like to live with the reality? I want to see you use those legendary bodies and that legendary strength and that legendary courage and the tenderness that you say you have in behalf of women; and that means against the rapists, against the pimps, and against the pornographers. It means something more than a personal renunciation. It means a systematic, political, active, public attack. And there has been very little of that.

I came here today because I don’t believe that rape is inevitable or natural. If I did, I would have no reason to be here. If I did, my political practice would be different than it is. Have you ever wondered why we are not just in armed combat against you? It’s not because there is a shortage of kitchen knives in this country. It is because we believe in your humanity, against all the evidence.”

Andrea Dworkin would have turned 65 today

Think of all the true and fearless things she wrote  in the midst of obscurity and poverty. Think of how she got nothing but abuse and contempt from misogynists and liberals alike, but never diluted her words in order to widen her audience.

That’s one reason her books are so hard to find: They contain too much truth about being a woman in this world.

The other reason: They contain too much hope about being a woman in this world. They describe other ways our lives could be. That’s threatening to men who want to keep our lives as they are.

If you haven’t seen her online library, here’s a link:

http://www.nostatusquo.com/ACLU/dworkin/OnlineLibrary.html

Evolution of a Lesbian Radfem, Part the Second

September 1988: I am 14, composed almost entirely of frizzy hair and socks. Because hair products haven’t yet gone beyond Aqua Net and Dippity Do, I am bullied and invisible by turns. One day, I catch the flu and lose several pounds. I feel light and airy. How much lighter and airier could I get? By spring, I weigh 86 pounds. My parents check me into a private psychiatric hospital , where I talk about my “control issues” and develop a huge crush on my female therapist. One day, a male orderly says I have big legs, so I throw pieces of my lunch under the table and lose a “level,” e.g. they confiscate my Walkman and I can no longer listen obsessively to my Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars cassette (“I quit/I give up/nothing’s good enough for anybody else/it seems“). When I get out, my family goes on a cruise to Barbados. The ship rocks back and forth with food, and I am the only person who eschews, rather than chews,* the midnight buffet. I feel powerful. I do not want to talk and I do not want to play shuffleboard. Neither does my mother. My father is furious. They are both unhappy with the suffocating constancy of bad wallpaper.

June 1989: I develop a huge crush on Dana, my outpatient therapist. I tell her I don’t know how to be a girl; I want to escape into the woods and never come back. I wrap and unwrap the fingers of my right hand around my left wrist to show her how thin I am. She lends me a scholarly book about women as “relational psychosocial auxiliaries” to men that makes a lot of sense after I look up “psychosocial” and “auxiliary” in Webster’s. I find other books: Geneen Roth’s Feeding the Hungry Heart, Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue, and everything I can find by Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Susan Brownmiller, Robin Morgan, Mary Daly. An old copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” proves simultaneously informative and titillating. Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse: ???. Marilyn French makes my head explode, so I give a copy of “The Women’s Room” to my mother. She doesn’t read it. But her mother, my grandmother already has — plus she subscribes to Ms. magazine; odd for a 65-year-old Mormon and military wife. Ms. magazine’s back page shows good advertisements that show women climbing mountains and ruling boardrooms, and bad ones that make women look like animals or something to eat. My grandfather rolls his eyes and says something about “strident bitches.”

July 1989: Sullen and inarticulate with everyone except my grandmother, I get sent to The Mormons in Mesa. The Mormons are my extended family — dozens of aunts and uncles and cousins who rise at 4:30 a.m. to pick vegetables for their End Of The World stashes. Stumbling through the cornfields, I sing 19th-century labor songs like “Solidarity Forever.” I really project. When I call God “She” — I’ve just read a book about patriarchal religion called “The Skeptical Feminist” — one of my eleven great-aunts freaks out. “What man has hurt you?” she asks. I don’t answer. It’s not like I can narrow it down. Hasn’t she read Marilyn French? The abortion wars are all over the news, all summer. I know enough to take it personally. When I go home, I start volunteering at Planned Parenthood even though I won’t have any kind of sex for another several years. As we seal envelopes together, one of the older volunteers asks me, if I’ve started my “moon time” yet. I don’t get it.

Sept. 1990: My parents divorce. The texture and flavor of their grief makes me think of Luminol sprayed on crime scenes — everything looks fine until OH DEAR GOD. I cannot stop eating. I drive to the drugstore for chocolate-covered cherries; jars of peanut butter; six-packs of soda — then eat in the car and throw up at home. My mouth tastes of chemicals. My gut cramps with laxatives. I’m 25 pounds heavier than I was in the hospital, and people are starting to express “concern” about my dating possibilities: Don’t I know men don’t like fat women? That if I keep on this way, I’m going to be unhappy? The difference between their concern now and their concern when I was thin is, they blame me. I am no longer fragile. I am offensive.

Shortly thereafter, I get hit with a severe bout of obsessive OCD. I have Bad Thoughts, primarily about religion and sex, and they scare me senseless. There is obviously something Very Wrong. I start praying and join Young Life (the evangelical high school youth organization). I try to live for Jesus; to have a clean mind and a spotless soul. I get baptized, but I also start cutting a lot of school because I can’t concentrate. I’m pretty sure Jesus is coming back soon. My best friend, Kaylee, has the most beautiful red hair I’ve ever seen and I want to be with her all the time. I hate her boyfriend. He’ s an idiot. I’m always having to wait for them to finish making out before Kaylee and I can go anywhere.

August 1992: I’m a freshman again, this time at a Southern Baptist university. I find myself looking up Women of the Bible and trying to figure out how they managed to be so righteous. I have a boyfriend two hours away in my hometown, primarily because a girl needs a boyfriend. A husband. Feminist books still buzz in my head, and I’m pretty liberal as far as students here go — I don’t, for example, think all Democrats are baby killers — but I feel terror at the thought of displeasing God. The OCD gets worse. Then I meet Amy, a walking collection of Darwinian estrogenic markers. My father says she looks like a TV star — and indeed, many years later when the WB network debuts, I’ll be reminded strongly of Amy’s perfectly symmetrical face. Every guy in our brother dorm goes nuts, in a Baptist gentleman sort of way. There are flowers, invitations, “God told me to marry you”s galore. I seethe and have no idea why.

Next, in Part Three!: I decide to marry a guy I’ve known for five months.

*Yeah, I know. Sorry.