Not My Story to Tell

If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death. — Version of the story from Daniel Quinn’s The Story of B

I’ve been struggling with what my voice is in the story of sexual abuse, misogyny, and patriarchal societal systems. I wasn’t a victim of incest and sexual abuse- that was my sister. I wasn’t raped- that was my mother, my sister, my friend. Those are their stories, and to not talk about them was to protect them, to not talk about them was to protect their privacy. But then, what’s my voice? What can I add to the discussion?

Yesterday, I actually said to my sister. “I’ve had a pretty ‘normal’ experience as a woman.” By normal, I was implying safe, not assaulted too blatantly, not raped. How sad is that? That the list below is a list made by a woman, who thinks she’s managed to get this far without experiencing serious bodily harm.

But here’s a brief summary of my experiences that until this current introspection, I just lumped in with being normal, in no particular order:

  • Writing a thesis in university, on how a woman’s fear of violence impacts their recreational decisions.
  • Changing my route home because there is a creepy guy who always catcalls, tells me to smile.
  • Having men follow me when I walk by myself — day or night. Too many times to itemize.
  • Walking with keys between my fingers ‘just in case’
  • Being given a can of mace to carry on campus ‘just in case’
  • Leaving a mall and driving home, only to discover a note on the windshield. Pulled over to read it. “ I’ve removed something from your engine. Leave your underwear at the bottom of the lampost outside the main entrance — do not drive away.” Actually felt lucky that I hadn’t noticed the note when I was still in the parking lot.
  • Going home with a guy who I’d had a huge crush on, only to find out the next morning, from my roommate, that his friend had been under the bed with a tape recorder and the tape was circulating throughout the men’s dorm. That was all really upsetting. But the worst part of it was being judged by my female roommate for letting this happen to me.
  • Pretending to talk on the cell phone while passing intimidating people.
  • Being told by one of my guy friends, that when he is walking and about to pass a woman walking on her own, he intentionally gives her a wide berth and smiles politely, as he knows he looks large and intimidating.
  • Having my ass and breasts grabbed in a crowded market in Morocco by a man dressed in immaculate white flowing robes.
  • Overhearing a conversation (regrettably jokingly on my boyfriends part, seriously on the other man’s part about how many camels I was worth)
  • Being Operations Manager of a $1M + retail operation, and having sales reps walk into the shop and start talking to my new male employee who I was training, rather than me, assuming they were in charge.
  • Had a boyfriend who woke up angry at me because I slept with my back to him.
  • Finding out that my sister had been abused by our birth father, and discovering that when I went back to university, every one of my friends who I shared her story with, had a similar story in their family.
  • Getting a letter from my birth father saying “this too shall pass”.
  • Having my stove repaired, the repairman is explaining what the issue to me is, my male friend knocks on the door, comes in, and the repairman turns his back on me and starts re-explaining to my friend.

and that’s just off the top of my head.

I think that every woman has a litany of experiences that they can add to this list. My intention for making the list, was not to cry ‘poor me’, but to acknowledge that as a 46-year-old woman, my experience of normal involves a lot of normalized sexism, misogyny, and fear.

Science has proven that the boiling frog syndrome is not an accurate metaphor and that if the frog has the means to get out, they will.