I've been seeing a lot of articles and memes and stories circulating around Facebook lately about the realities of being a woman. On how often we are catcalled. On how often we are threatened, both subtly and overtly. On what we should and shouldn't do in such situations.
This is an article I read last week. And this is the article I read today. And apparently they were enough to push me into blogging myself instead of everything just rolling around inside my head like it has been doing. I've talked about it with friends, and with Mark. And I've experienced so much of what these articles talk about.
I've been catcalled from a car while sitting at a bus stop. Wearing a bulky coat and winter hat.
I've been blatantly propositioned while my then-husband was in the same bar.
I've been slapped on the ass by a stranger while I was working, just because he wanted to get my attention.
I've been grabbed by the arm in a bar and told I wasn't leaving.
I've politely refused a drink and been badgered about why I didn't want a drink.
I've had a man beg me to come up to his hotel room, "just for five minutes."
I've been followed onto a train by a strange man, who proceeded to sit directly behind me and talk in sexually suggestive terms about me on the phone.
I've had to explain why I didn't want to go home with someone. Because my husband was waiting. Because my boyfriend was waiting.
And you know what I did in most of those situations? Like the woman in the second article, I smiled. I was nice. I did my best to appease and disengage. Because sometimes I worry about what would happen if I'm rude, or dismissive, or if I just ignore it. Because even though I'm stronger than I look, I'm not as strong as a man. Mainly I did it because it's easier, and it's safer, to just smile. Less confrontation. Move on. Pick your battles.
To tell the truth, though, I hate being the quiet little nice girl sometimes. I hate smiling at men who harass me, or invade my personal space, or who assume I want to sleep with them because they want to sleep with me. I hate not being able to slap the face of the guy who slapped my ass.
Believe me, I know most men aren't like this. I know most men are not stalkers or harassers and would never ever hurt a woman. They do their best to make the women in their lives feel safe and secure. I'm unendingly grateful to have so many wonderful men like this as part of my life.
It's not that I feel unsafe around men. I don't. I don't know how I could function if I did. I don't think that all men are out to get me, because obviously they aren't. I don't think I'm a victim waiting to happen. I have countless positive, normal interactions with men I don't know who never once act inappropriately. In fact, I've almost always (until the past few years) had more male friends than female. I don't spend my life feeling unsafe and threatened.
The problem is that there are men out there who aren't wonderful, who think that women are their right, who believe that certain women can't be raped, who don't care about boundaries or respect or "no means no." And that's not acceptable.
I've been lucky, I suppose. I haven't been physically hurt.
But, it's been close. And, sadly, infuriatingly, the scariest situations I've ever been in came from being near my ex-husband. In every other situation, I at least felt in control. I wasn't alone. I was in a visually public place. I had an exit. I didn't feel unsafe.
But when I was going through my divorce, it was mostly done in private, alone, with very few escape routes. And I will tell you very honestly that I was scared nearly every time I was alone with him. My friends were worried for me. My boyfriend was worried for me.
I've danced around this subject before, but I haven't really talked about it because I'm still a little scared. Or ashamed.
But I'm also angry.
I'm angry at the man who believed that you couldn't rape a prostitute. That you couldn't rape your wife. That those two stations in life negated any right to say no.
I'm angry at the man who punched a wall when I wouldn't let him touch my breasts. Who wouldn't leave me alone to change and instead called my name so I would turn around, just so he could ogle me and say, "I just said your name so I could see your boobs. They look bigger." Who cornered me and forced a kiss on me, then told me I "could do better." Who throughout our marriage continually harassed me to send him naked pictures of myself, even after I'd say I didn't want to. Who made me feel guilty every time I said no to him.
I'm angry at the man who made me feel unsafe in my own house. Who, even though we were getting divorced, believed it was his right to know where I was going, what I was doing, and what I had said to people. Who stalked me. Who wrote that he missed the "good old days when you could stone your wife to death."
I'm angry because I married the exact kind of man who I always wanted to avoid. I married a man who does not respect women, who believes women are less than men, who believes that women can deserve violence, if it's what they have coming to them. (According to him, being slapped around would have taught me a lesson.)
I let that man in my life and in my bed and I hate that. I hate that a man I trusted and knew for over nine years was the only one to ever make me feel weak and afraid. No stranger has ever made me feel as violated or used as he did. And I really, really hate that.
I wish I could say there's a bright side to these experiences. But I'm not sure there is. The bright side is that he's 500 miles away from me. The bright side is he's out of my life and almost everything that reminds me of him is out of my apartment. The bright side is I desperately hope I learned my lesson. The bright side is that maybe one day this won't bother me as much as it still obviously does.
Maybe the bright side is that it makes me angry enough to talk about, and that maybe talking about it will help someone else.
That's about the best I've got for the bright side of this particular blog. I suppose it's enough.