“You are so aggressive…”
It comes after the conversations with men and women, in classrooms, at work, at parties, in my private intimate moments. No one calls me irrational or illogical, my logic is impossibly clean and difficult to escape from so they switch tactics and tell me that I am unloveable because of my voice.
I played Apples to Apples one night, I was the only working class kid in the room, and this is the first time I met a former boyfriend’s friends. Spunky was my adjective, one of the men protested when I didn’t pick the Little Mermaid
“Little Mermaid, you gotta kidding me! Homegirl gives up her voice for some dude, ain’t nothin’ spunky ’bout that”
“Ugh, fucking second wave feminism”
“This has nothing to do with second wave feminism, this is basic reasoning.”
This moment would come to define our relationship which will end when he calls my voice, passion and activism “grating.” It won’t end before one of the strongest women I know, a little sister to me, says “I love you but I can’t watch what he is doing to you anymore.”
He told me I couldn’t get a PhD, I walked him through the honors thesis I didn’t get to write because there were three deaths in my family my senior year and I was busy single handedly trying to keep the progress made for poor kids alive. “Teaching is better for you, but not for me, I’ll do TFA and then get involved at a high level,” he said this and his friends supported it and that’s why I am not in my 3rd year of my PhD program doing research, which is why there are fewer women at the high levels of all industries. I’m one of the lucky ones, I figured this out and found someone supportive.
The sentiment was echoed this year when my mentor from STEP refused to write me a letter of recommendation for my Phd, telling me I needed to stay in teaching, even though it is damaging my body. I found out this week that he is recruiting my male colleague who has less experience than I do to leave teaching. I’ve been demeaned, sexually harassed, ignored, and dismissed as a female teacher. In graduate school my male colleagues sometimes had to say: “she has a point” to force people to let me talk. This kind of thing almost never happened in the academy in history. Some of my friends have even worse stories, including bosses who called them little girls, and master teachers who undermined them in front of students. All of us have had our clothes commented on. I have a friend whose students joke about him looking homeless, I dress very professionally everyday and I have never had an evaluation that didn’t involve commentary on my appearance. These are more than just unfair, they are ways if excluding females and teaching us our place. More than once I’ve had people tell me that I’d “learn” and “calm down” and when I don’t they tell me I will be excluded. It’s a highly effective form of policing.
I was a leader in the community
a highly trained researcher in a male dominated field. People called me a bitch and people called me inspiring, and younger women asked me to mentor them. I get called a bitch a lot, or a polite variation, no one denies that I’m right, they just call me a bitch and make jokes about how I will be a cat lady, which are true and don’t bother me or my fiancé
When I was 8 a young boy called my mom a whore because she worked, I beat him up, severely. Another boy told me I needed to learn my place and I beat him up too and after that no one in my neighborhood said anything about my voice. I’m not proud of this, I was limited in my ways of dealing with conflict but it is what happened. After elementary school, I never felt silenced or punished for speaking. I never felt that being a woman was incongruent with my strength and I never tried to hide my femininity except for the period in which I was covering up the scars from back home and covering up the fact that I was becoming a woman quicker than I wanted to and in very obvious ways. No one questioned my authority in high school, I had earned it. In any case, I wasn’t someone you wanted to start a fight with, I didn’t fight anyone anymore, I just made simple phone calls.
I have been a victim of sexual violence and violence at the hands of men, in fact, most of my childhood was defined by this. My mom is half deaf because she was pushed down a flight of stairs in front of me when I was a toddler, I’ve had a gun held to my head, and violence and sexual assault were normal in my house. I started having sex early, because like a lot of girls I know, I was seeking love from anywhere. Now you know one of the many reasons why poor girls have kids so young and go into sex work. I was one mistake away from stripping, I never forget that. I was just lucky that I had a voice, albeit an unpolished, rough and angry one. And I’ve always stood up for people. I don’t know if it’s because of my life experience or raising kids or just who I am but there is nothing that I hate more than someone who hurts the innocent, that is my definition of evil. Unlike everyone else in college I didn’t go through some sort of crisis where I thought evil was relative, I’ve known it, personally.
I always find it odd that we find it socially acceptable that some men think it is fun to offend people. Oh, he’s trying to be offensive! Why do we raise our boys to think it is fun to hurt people? Have you ever noticed that they always get super upset when you do challenge them in the same tone? This is an exclusive privilege, the right to hurt people without consequence. The rest of us think all day about our words and tone. We are policed constantly. I don’t have a single girlfriend that hasn’t had a significant other attempt to silence her, either by calling her crazy or by calling her a bitch or saying she’s unattractive. I’ve watched female teachers be silenced by their male students. The pressure is real, immense and systematic. Turn on TV tonight and count the times a woman is silenced. If you turn it into a drinking game, you will be very drunk.
The thing about experiencing violence is that it can do two things, often in varying degrees. It can silence you and it can make you absolutely fearless. While it is happening, while you are in the torture and you haven’t figured out how to get out, you will do what you have to survive. I always find it fascinating when people who have a lot of privilege say things like:
“If that child was being abused, why didn’t they tell anyone?”
“If it was rape why didn’t she fight him?”
The reason you don’t say anything is because you are afraid that the consequences for you speaking are far worse and abusive, oppressive people always make sure to reinforce that message systematically. People who haven’t experienced this always assume they would have handled it differently, but most of you would not, you would do what you had to to live. But once you are out, you will never be afraid again. I’ve already experienced a fate worse than death, so now I fear nothing, which is why I find it so funny when someone assumes that telling me that “people don’t like” it when I speak is somehow going to shut me up. You can’t do anything to me that’s hasn’t already been done and I made it through that and thrived, so I am unstoppable. ;