Two months past, the alien arc of a fox cranium with muted bone and slick teeth rests along the grain of a moose hide. Under both is a jungle gym platform which I am next to, and everything is surrounded by kindergartners. I am a volunteer Critter Lady and we are all excited and sniffling cold noses in the pale morning.
Ever the observant creatures with tiny attentions, one of them noted my ankle brace. “What happened?” “Oh, I tripped hiking, it’s just a little sprained.” A perfectly timed chorus of six little voices in unison replied, “AWww.”
That “AWww” is sympathy. It is aerated and bittersweet, gently sifting out between ribs like a puff of ash in front of a bellows. It finely settles to a thin skin, tracing every irregularity of the other’s pain.
One month past, a male colleague said, “The only way men learn control is for women to cover up. Rape culture does not exist. If a woman is out running in a sports-bra and something happens to her…well…” he pointedly took off his glasses and emphatically shrugged.
I work in a medical facility.
With a gym not three yards from his office.
I turned and walked out the door.
This is called misogyny and it is rusted steel wool in one’s mouth.
As children, we seem to have innate sympathy always at the ready. A flower dying, an ant inadvertently squashed, a stranger’s busted ankle. “What happened to this moose? Did it die or did you kill it?” We feel harm for the harmed. Why then when our deciduous teeth fall, do our canines grow back so ready to dismember another?
I am struggling with rage and whether there is guidance within it. Anger can certainly prop us up. It is a strong shelter when our hearts need a break from breaking. Where do we go from there? How do we step out of the reciprocation equation and the deep desire to cause equal pain to those we find deserving? Should we step away at all?
My anger says:
Rape is the fault of the rapist. Always. You may have your morality any flavor you’d like, but you don’t get to apply it to every person that walks in front of you. You don’t get to substitute beliefs based in Love as sheep’s clothing for the wolf of feeling power or superiority over another. You don’t get to casually say that someone is deserving of violence and aggression for them merely existing. For them performing an inaction of which you happen to be in the periphery.
For you do realize you’ve been fed a subjective lie, right? You are fully capable as an adult to stop for a minute and ask if the justification for violence you’re feeling is properly directed. You can ask how it would feel to have someone want to, say, throw gasoline on you and light a match because you’re wearing dumpy cargo shorts and your neck is hairy.
You’re asking for it.
It’s not my fault looking at you made me set you aflame. I can’t be held accountable.
You’re asphyxiating on the smoke from that limp cotton blend. Do you wish I had empathy for you as a human being? Do you wish I had respect for you instead of viewing you as a non-entity so vapid you deserve harm? Do you see the flames reflecting in my eyes as I hold you down, screaming?
If you are thinking, “Damn, so torture-y”. Good. That uneasy feeling of darkness is minuscule compared to the trauma of being held down and raped, groped, and harassed just for existing with a vagina. I am one of the few that has eeked out so far with no life-altering aggressions from men. The only reason I believe this is so, is being almost six feet tall with the build of a former college basketball player. All the more reason I will stand up for my sisters and throw the match myself.
I am angry because of my sympathy. I am angry that something as simple as the Golden Rule seems like such a hard concept for adults. Do not rape lest ye be raped. Then too, is the backside of this innocent tenet “an eye for an eye”? Is traumatic force the only way to communicate to those that wield it? I am left with more questions than answers. There is no pushing someone to volunteer to see a different perspective. Healthcare provider by day, raging misogynist by night; I have no say.
I do however have an appeal to the warm-hearted men of the world -like my boss who quickly had a conversation with the colleague- misogyny will only be fully quelled with your help. Women’s anger and frustrations fall on deaf ears of those who think we are possessions. They will at least shut up when you challenge them, so please, challenge. Roll your eyes and tell them their one-liners about sluts and derogatory comments aren’t welcome.
There is some frustration feeling that “we need men,” but being unashamed in vulnerability, asking for help, and taking care of one another should reach across gender. We are not damsels in distress, we are women with blood running down our legs, babies strapped to our backs, and still strength in reserve to demand respect for both of these natures and all that being female encompasses. (I won’t say I am referencing emotional intelligence. Small girls and small boys both cry and have deep wells of emotion. Boys are just told to repress it and girls given space to feel. This alone goes a long way to the problems we are facing.)
It is almost as if a different language exists between the men believing rape is never their fault, and what women want them to understand. The other men in the room need to be the translators for this dialogue. We must work together on this and my gratitude is thick for the men in my life that do so. Men, help the women you love and those you see in need. Women, let us lock arms and fall in stride together. If I am too afraid to shout my anger, then at the least here I am a smoldering coal, waiting to pour the gasoline.