being a woman.

The two men, both handsome and in their early 60s
Walk out of room 3
The patient and his doctor.
My doctor, the surgeon I work for.
I stand between them to the left of my doctor
Ready to steer him in the direction of the next patient
When the man asks him,
“Did you go to Berkeley?”
“No,” my surgeon replies.
“I did,” I say without thinking about it. I have not yet spoken to this patient
but I did feel his eyes on me when my back was to him
while I was taking notes during his appointment.
“Oh really?” he asks. Eyes widen, brighten, slide down my body.
He looks over my head, though we are actually the same height, to contact the eyes of my doctor.
“All the pretty ones go to Cal, huh?”
Both men laugh, their eyes caught on each other. The moment holds. I feel their new warmth for each other. They do not look at me.
I stand between them. My body the girl-shaped chunk of frozen metal that forms this new link.
My body the needle that pricks both of their index fingers and invites them to leak into each other and make a pact of it.
This moment of male bonding brought to you by
Pretty blond girl in blue scrubs
Standing between you in silence.

This is a man’s world.
I’m reminded of it every day — once, twice, no three times.
It’s as simple as walking down the street and being grabbed around the waist, breath hot in my ear whispering whatever desire you care for.
It’s as subtle as this moment I describe, nothing compared to other more violent and extreme examples of sexism I have experienced, but a moment that was about me but still somehow did not involve me, which had everything to do with my gender.
It’s as complex as being aware in so many moments that I am vulnerable, looking for an exit in every room that I am alone with a man in, sitting in the back of the cab every time with one hand on the door handle, circling the parking lot looking for a spot under a streetlight, texting a friend with my whereabouts when I date someone new, knowing from experience that I am a woman and therefore will likely be attacked.

And we are being attacked.
Women are being raped.
1 in 5 they say, but I say much higher.
Women are suffering at the hands of men.
That’s why we walk with heads down.
That’s why we don’t smile despite your obnoxious requests for us to
Your request for my smile has made me not use it for fear that if I do, it will crack my face into a million pieces I can’t recover.
Your dissection of my face has made me stand before the mirror and run my fingers over my features and wonder why they invite your advances and if there is anything I can do about it.
Your poorly disguised surprise at my knowledge of Bernoulli’s equation, of Bach cello suites, of biochemical formulas makes me wonder if I should be surprised at the infinity I find in my own curiosity.
That’s why we women hold each other and cry for each other and ignore you and avoid you and run away when you want to buy us a drink and look at you with eyes wide like an animal about to be gunned down, like a fish caught in a net, like a woman afraid of a man.
I don’t think all men are bad.
I know plenty of good guys.
But someone’s doing all of that raping.
It’s happening because there’s a bigger problem at hand.
A problem more subtle than a vicious attack.
It’s not a stranger hiding in the shadows.
Or a creep in a white van.
It’s men you know, I know. It’s men who feel out of control so they try to create control by holding down someone else. It’s men who feel entitled to something that was never theirs so they grab whoever’s hair is closest. It’s men who are not given an outlet for the emotions that choke them and make them scratch at their face and howl in the night so they assault us.

We live in a culture of fear.
Fear that affects both women and men.
Men are afraid of being intimate with women because they have not been taught how to do so safely.
Women are afraid of being intimate with men because they have not been taught how to do so safely.
Nobody has decided what normal behavior looks like.

What does normal behavior look like from men?
What can normal behavior look like from men who get off to women choking on dick because that’s what porn has shoved down their throats?
What can normal behavior look like from men who are bred to own and raised to be catered to and inundated with images perfectly tailored to what they’re told they like?
What can normal behavior look like from men who are expected to be strong and stoic and hold the door and call first and make the move and pay for dinner and never have the chance to tell us how they feel and by that point it’s too late, they already have a gun?

What does normal behavior look like from women?
What can normal behavior look like from women who can’t win?
What can normal behavior look like from women who are told to expect a man who does everything for them but also that they should be independent?
What can normal behavior look like from women who are told that it was their fault and their skirt was too short and they were too pretty and their smile said they wanted it and they’re weak and boys will be boys and they drank too much?
What can we expect from women?
How can we expect them to go on?
But we do.
Women who survive these horrors
Women you know
Women we are
Walk down the street at night
Go on blind dates
Look people in the eyes
Love them
We are not broken
We’re stronger than anyone I know.

So I ask. What does it mean to be a woman?
What does it mean to be a man?
Just by virtue of having vaginas,
Are we meant to have to protect ourselves with both hands?
Is having tits and an ass
Consent to be harassed?
Are long hair
And make-up
Painted nails and
Shaved stuff
Enough to validate a rape?
Every day, society reminds me that the answer is yes.
The only way we can do better is if we come up with a different answer.

So let’s start the conversation.
If a man makes you uncomfortable, tell him.
If a woman has unreasonable expectations, tell her.
Even if it’s your friend.
Ask the one who interests you what lights her up.
Don’t assume.
Can we treat each other like people?

And. If you try to talk to us
Or get our attention at the bar
If you ask to buy us a drink
Or walk us to our car
That’s fine, that’s your right.
But if we say no?
Why don’t you practice not being offended.
Why don’t you shrug and say okay that’s fine
Because when you think about it from our perspective
We have no idea what’s in your mind.
It may be about getting to know us
It may have nothing to do with sex
But when we’re alone with you my friend
You’re a threat.
And all we can think of is, “I am next.”