Running While Female

Today was the first long run of the first week of my first training for a half marathon. Five easy miles. Although five miles are never easy for me.

About 4 blocks from my house a guy on a bike wearing hard core racing spandex passed me. I smiled and gave a little wave. Because I smile and wave at everyone I pass, it just seems to be good exercising manners. His face lit up, he flashed me a huge grin. A couple of blocks later I’d forgotten about it.

Just gone the mile mark and I was trying to tell myself four more wouldn’t be so bad. A movement on my right caught my eye. I looked over into the smiling face of the guy from the bike suddenly running beside me. I did not smile back. It was around 9:45 am on a Sunday morning. There were plenty of people around, kids and parents on the playground at the top of the park, a young man taking shots at the basketball court, people walking dogs. And I was scared.

The guy was very fit, not struggling with the slow 11 minute pace the way I was. He stayed beside me or a few steps back. At the corner I sped up and made a right around him. For a little while I though he’d stopped following me. But he had not. Sometimes he was 30 feet behind, sometimes he was right next to me. I have no idea where he left the bike. As we circled around the park again he come up on my left, putting me between him and the curb and making me feel even more boxed in.

I wanted to tell him he was scaring me. I wanted to not give a shit that he was following me. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to call my husband. I wanted my wedding ring to increase in size, protecting me from…what? A guy taking a jog? I wanted to ignore the voice in my head saying my safety was threatened. I mean what was the guy really doing? Maybe he was just out for slow run. I wanted to not wonder if my smile and wave were too friendly back while he was on his bike.

But I did. I worried I had been flirting with him. Even though I knew I had not. I worried that my biker shorts and tank top were inappropriate. Even though they were not. I worried that I was being a weak, shrill woman who was making it all up. Even though I was not.

Who knew what his intentions were? I do not think he was going to hurt me. But he was making me uncomfortable and my reaction of tension and discomfort were clear.

Halfway along the side of the park there is a fire hydrant. I usually circle around it and return to the intersection where I hit two miles. I slowed until he was right next to me. And I quickly made the turn. About three quarters of a mile after he first pulled next to me he left me alone. I scanned my surroundings obsessively for another three quarters of a mile until I couldn’t help myself. I stopped with my back to a couple of trees in some shade and called my husband.

I felt like an idiot. A hysterical idiot. My husband and the boys were at a flea market and he asked if he should come pick me up. I didn’t know. I was scared to go home, scared he was still watching me. Scared in broad daylight surrounded by people. I decided to keep on going.

At four miles my husband called to tell me he was there in the car and he’d drive beside me home. I thanked him and waved him off. I finished the five miles. I did not see the man again.

About a month ago, after the Washington Post op-ed by George Will decrying sexual violence against women on college campuses as overblown, creating an atmosphere of victimhood as a prized and privileged status, the internet blew up with reactions that were all over the place. The ones that stuck with me were those written by women who agreed with Will.  I read responses from women who questioned why college girls always thought they were going to be raped. Women asked why did those girls think they would be so special that someone would want to sexually assault them. Women asked why other women were so hysterical.

The 2012 CDC finding that nearly one in five women will be raped in her lifetime? The statistic is nearly the same as a study commissioned by the Justice Department* in 2007 during the Bush administration. It is not a statistic conjured by a liberal administration or harpy feminists to further their agenda. It is real.

Women fear rape for many reasons. I do not  fear assault because I think I am special or desirable or that every guy is  inherently bad and a potential rapist. Sexual assault is a crime of violence and control, not desire. I have been taught for most of my life that women ask for it through their every action. I have been taught that if I am assaulted no one will believe me. The comments by women in response to Will’s article support that. When someone larger and stronger than me gets in my personal space I get scared.

So what the hell happened this morning?

I don’t think I was ever in real danger. Still, I changed my plans to run along the partially secluded path around a stream across from the park after the second mile. I don’t think the man’s intentions were bad. But he surely knew he was making me uncomfortable and he did not stop.

The bottom line is I am ashamed. For not telling him he was scaring me. For not demanding that he leave me alone. For letting my worry that I would offend him get in the way. For even questioning if I’d been flirting or if I was dressed wrong or if I was asking for it in any way. For feeling small and worthless. For still having dread in the pit of my stomach hours later. For already fearing Tuesday’s run.

I’m ashamed for feeling ashamed.

I expect more from myself. But I also expect more from that man, from any man.

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I was not doing anything wrong this morning.

 *Study found through this Slate article.

Jabba the Hutt and Lessons in Feminism

“Can we talk about Princess Leia?”

“Ok, but just for a sec because then it is time for songs and cuddles.”

T and I were snuggled up and chatting after looking through the most amazing Star Wars Pop Up Book.

“Why does Jabba the Hutt put a chain around her neck?”

“So she can’t escape.”

“But why does he do it?”

“Because he is a really bad and evil and despicable character. He made her into a slave. And that is evil. No person should belong to another person. That has happened for real and it is one of the most terrible things imaginable.”

“But why doesn’t he just put her in the Rancor monster pit like the other guy?”

“Do you want to keep talking about this? We can, but it is late and it will mean no songs tonight. Just talks and cuddles.”

“I want to talk about Leia.”

“Ok.” Deep Breath. “He likes to look at her.  He thinks she is beautiful and wants to keep her around to look at her. But she is just an object to him. What he is doing is bad.”

“What’s an object.”

“A thing. Like that lamp over there. If he treats her like an object he ignores that she is human. Listen, there are men out there who don’t think women can be as smart as them, or the same as them. They don’t think women are equal. This has gone on for a long time. But women fought back. Now women can vote. They can do whatever a man can do. But still, all men don’t believe women are equal and the same as them.”

He was quiet for a moment.

“Listen, T. If you are kind. If you try hard. If you treat girls with the same respect that you treat boys. No matter what I will be proud of you. The girls at your school? Except for the fact that they have vaginas and you have a penis they are exactly the same as you.”

“Ok.”

He was quiet for another moment.

“Why does Jabba the Hutt dress Princess Leia like that?”

“Because he likes to look at her body. He likes her more than just wanting to be her friend. Sometimes a person likes another person more than usual. Kind of like the way that Mommy and Daddy like each other. But what he is doing is wrong. You do not force someone to show you their body no matter how much you like them. That is a choice two people need to make together. And what a person’s body looks like shouldn’t matter. I love you. And I would love you exactly the same no matter what you look like. Because you are my son and I love the sweet person you are becoming.”

“Well. You love me, but you also love the way I look.”

Damn it. Kid isn’t even 5 and he is calling me out. I do love the way he looks. He is freaking adorable. But I see him through the rose colored glasses of a mother’s love. I truly would find him beautiful no matter what.

“Listen, what Jabba the Hutt does to Leia is despicable.”

“What does despicable mean?”

“Evil and terrible. Jabba the Hutt is wrong. We do not treat people like they are less than people. We do not take away their freedom. We do not look at them like objects.”

“Ok.”

“T. I need you to hear this. This is so important. Women are not there for you to look at. They are not there for men to enjoy. They are there for themselves. Do you think I am less than Daddy?”

“No.”

“Daddy is not in charge of me. I am not in charge of Daddy. We are partners and we are equal.”

“I know.”

“This stuff is really important.”

“I know.”

He looks at me.

“Does Jabba the Hutt make Leia dance?”

“Um. I don’t think so.”

“Ok. I’m done. You can go now.”

“We can talk about it more later if you want. Give me a kiss.”

“Ok. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

my boy

He has a good heart. It is our responsibility to nurture that heart and teach him how to be a good man.

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Be kind. Try hard. Treat girls with the same respect you treat boys.

I couldn’t be more sincere when I say that is all I want from my sons.

Princess Leia

T, “Mommy? Is Princess Leia your favorite?”

Me with deadly seriousness that should have served as a warning, “Why would Princess Leia be my favorite?”

T blithely unaware that he was inserting a knife into my heart, “Because she’s a girl!” He twisted the knife, “And a princess!”

Jesus fucking christ, where, oh where did I go wrong with this child?

“No. Princess Leia is not my favorite. Listen, dude. I don’t like people because they are girls. That is ridiculous. Just like I hope you don’t like people because they are boys. You would be missing out on so much. I don’t even like princesses. I don’t want to be a princess. Honestly, Leia is really cool. But she isn’t cool because she is a girl. She is cool because she keeps a level head in really tough situations and she doesn’t need anyone to save her, she can save herself. Dude, she kills Jabba the Hutt.”

——————————————–

For several years T’s favorite color has been purple. Suddenly he doesn’t like purple anymore. I asked him why. “Purple is a beautiful color. I don’t like beautiful colors. I like cool colors. Like black.” Yes, black is his new favorite color.

He doesn’t play with the girls in his class. He and his friends tell the girls that they are not allowed to play with them outside.

The gender role shit is coming from our culture fast and furious and there are not enough episodes of Doc McStuffins in the universe to stem the tide.

I’m frustrated and pissed off and really sad. But I’m not going to give up. I am going to question him every time he wants me to be the only girl when he plays Jake and the Neverland Pirates. I am going to push back when he assumes that the token girl in any piece of pop culture is my favorite. I am going to teach him about the Bechdel test. Both Z and I will show him it is fine to show emotion, to cry, to be affectionate. Just like it is fine to be strong and rough and tumble. We will teach him that everyone has all of those qualities inside them. That those qualities are not gender specific.

And we will be loud about it. We will be constant and unrelenting. We will have to be in order to compete with the messages he will get from school, from friends, from advertising and the media and pop culture. We will be fighting to teach him that women don’t need to fight amongst themselves to fill the single role of token female or girlfriend availible in a movie. Forget about in a movie, real life–in a workplace or group of friends. That women can actually take up more than 50% of those roles being they are more than 50% of the population.

I know that his exploration of gender norms is completely normal. I know a lot of people consider it to not be a big deal at all. But you know what? It shouldn’t be normal. It is a big deal to me, and I believe it should be a big deal to everyone. And normal or not it isn’t going to fly in our family.

boy with curl

This fetching curl hung out below his eye during dinner tonight. Man, I would kill for hair like his.

quiet C

C has been having a rough couple of days in the behavior department. This is the calm between the tantrums.

gray and white

Silhouette.

Privilege

About a decade ago Z’s friend informed us that in his mind women did not use the bathroom. Ever. I’d been recently diagnosed with IBS and this cracked me up and infuriated me equally. So I made it a point to fart in front of him as much as humanly possible. Because fuck you. I use the bathroom and it does not diminish me as a human.

I fart, I shit, I fantasize about strangers, I love sex, I swear, when I have an opinion I speak up.  

I don’t wear makeup. Or heals. Or skirts more than a couple times a year. I don’t blow dry my hair. I’ve never been waxed. I suck at flirting.

I shave my legs. I use moisturizer. I’m a sucker for face masks and ointments that promise to make me look younger. I get a couple of pedicures a year.

These choices make me who I am. They do not make me less of a woman. Or more of a woman.

The last post was a quick little sketch of a moment in my day. It was meant to be amusing (I hope) and honest and even though I was dealing with feminism and asking questions it was more of a superficial rumination.

But I’ve been thinking about the deeper implications ever since. Especially because of a valuable comment left by a friend of my sisters-in-law. Her comment would be familiar to anyone who has taken a women’s issues class, but how many of us is that really? And if I agree with what she said why was I so unsettled by it?

Privilege.

I was raised with white privilege. With socio-economic privilege. And I fooled myself into thinking gender privilege didn’t really exist because I was lucky enough to be raised by people who taught me there was no difference between me and my male counterparts. Yet at the same time the sexual politics in my house were….antiquated. Good girls wait, etc.

This dichotomy was confusing and ultimately infuriating to me. My self worth was impacted. I do not mean to throw my parents under the bus. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. We are all products of our generation. We are doing the best we can, now that I am a parent I understand that. I also understand I will make choices that will negatively impact my sons even though I will try my damndest not to. My parents gave me a huge gift by telling me I could be the President of the United States or an Astronaut or the first professional female baseball player.

Who I am is shaped by being privileged in all areas save gender. I am ashamed to admit this, I want that last bit of privilege. My objectification of males (and again I’m writing here about hetero interactions) is primarily for my enjoyment, but there is a fuck you in there, too. There is an “I get to do this, too” element.

To quote Ele: “I don’t think an average woman on the street ogling a man can so easily ignore his personhood, free will, or strength” I WANT to ignore a man I am objectifying’s personhood, his free will, and his strenght. Which is a shame. Which makes me a toddler throwing a tantrum. It is the easy way out-aspiring to the privilege that one population uses (subconsciously or not) to subjugate another population.

Because isn’t the goal to teach men that viewing women as “empty vessels” negates each woman’s personhood and free will? Isn’t the goal to raise a generation of men who are not squeamish about women taking a shit? Who do realize that women are sexual beings who fantasize right along with the best of them? Those two little things and a million others combine to form a picture of women who share much in common with and who are just as capable as men.

Z views me as his equal. He always has. He accepts the millions of contradictions that make me me. He does not care which traditional tenets of femininity I embrace and which I reject. Because he does not have a laundry list of what is required to be female. And it does not affect his ability to also see me as a sexual being or an object of desire.

He is constantly aware of gender politics in his day to day life-the fact that his students are nearly all women is hard to ignore. The other week he took part in an event on campus aimed at students. When I asked him how it was he said, “All dudes. The underlying message to the majority of participants-the women-is there is no room for you on the stage.”

As a woman who is scrambling for acceptance and validation from my male peers it is easy for me to have that sort of realization-there is only room for one woman in this movie or novel or workplace or there is no room for women at all. But for Z to get there? Z, a product of every privilege under the sun? I wish this wasn’t the case, but his views are extraordinary. It is no accident I married him. And I’m glad as hell that I get to raise our boys with him. Boys who will not grow to see attractive women as empty vessels who don’t shit and fart and love sex.

Let’s take a little dance break after the seriousness of that post. The fam went to the Halloween event at our zoo (the ZooBoo) on Sunday. C adored the dance party. T was a little more shy about the whole thing.

c doc office

C spiked a fever at the end of last week. By the time we made it to the doc’s office he was feeling much better.

T styles his shirt

T did some creative styling with his t-shirt.

Hot Piece of Tail on Clarendon Street

Welcome Home, Son was playing on my phone. I’d just crested the killer hill that is part of my walk home from class. I was feeling pretty damn content when this dude walked out of a house and down the sidewalk 20 feet in front of me.

I’m not usually a leg gal. And my ass of choice is no ass. This gentleman had me rethinking my stance on the lower extremities. He was over 6 feet, slender but muscular in tight jeans, work boots, and a SUNY ESF sweatshirt. It didn’t hurt that he was rather pasty with black hair which is my type. A couple houses down the street I noticed an old Ford F150 parked on the other side of the road and I prayed he would cross over to it. Watching him get into that truck would only enhance the fantasy that was playing in my head.

He crossed over and climbed into the truck.

Holy fucking shit, it has been a while since I have been that violently attracted to a stranger.

I like looking at people. As much as I tell T that looks don’t matter I really enjoy looking at beautiful people. Hell, it doesn’t have to be people. Beauty in general makes my life better. Everyday that I walk around I’m checking out those around me, drinking in those who I’m attracted to. I’m guessing that everyone else is doing the exact same thing.

Tonight our friend C was over for dinner and I told him and Z about Mr. F150. I asked what they thought about my blatant objectification of a man when compared to the outrage feminists (including me) express at the objectification of women.

C said he never heard a woman admit to having a fantasy about a stranger. I told him I’d put money on the fact that every women he knows does it.

My hypothesis was that hetero women don’t view the objects of their desire as less than them. And maybe that is the difference. I thought hetero males often consider the objects of their desire to be inferior. C and Z told me that wasn’t fair.

Now both C and Z are excellent humans. Z is one of the most strident feminists I know. C said that there isn’t consideration of the object of desire as less than or more than. Rather she is more of a vessel onto which a fantasy is superimposed. I guess that I agree I was doing the same thing. I didn’t want to know this dude’s name. I didn’t want to talk to him in real life. I am incredibly happily married. I just wanted to think dirty thoughts about him and his legs for a couple of minutes.

Does the problem with objectification begin when that 4th wall is broken? Is it when the catcalling begins? Neither C nor Z has catcalled a woman in their adult lives, which makes me pretty proud. I have been catcalled in my time. Not because I’m any great shakes, but because I’d wager every adult women in America has been. When I lived in Bed-Stuy it was a daily occurrence for every woman who walked those streets. And it did make me feel diminished. Less than. It also made me feel like I belonged in a neighborhood where I was a minority. I was targeted because of my femaleness, not the color of my skin.

So what do you think? Is it cool that I was hard core objectifying a stranger on my walk home? Is it just as bad as catcalling? Should women fess up to their constant thoughts about sex as they walk around in this world? Should we start catcalling men so they know how it makes us feel? I don’t really mean that, but I sort of do.

I think it is harmless to fantasize about each other, to objectify each other in our minds. I think it is human. The problem begins when we act on our thoughts. When we call out to the object of our desire, or lear, or stare it is an act of aggression. It isn’t a compliment. It isn’t harmless. It isn’t ok.

sick c

As soon as I touched this sweet boy after his nap I knew he was rocking a fever. 102.4 isn’t that bad, but he’s going to the doc’s tomorrow to be sure he doesn’t have an ear infection.

faker

T watched me snap a picture of C and asked me to take his as well. Then he carefully arranged himself and the blanket and closed his eyes all ready for his close up.

Radio Silence

It’s been a shit week. Started off with T informing me I was fat. There was a stressful and involved homework assignment I left to the last minute. A terrible therapy session. Yesterday I wrote 700 words about the it. But they were the wrong words. I deleted the post. Found out that someone I loved a very long time ago lost a person close to him, a person I rather adored. C got another cold. The hot water heater broke rather dramatically to the tune of nearly a grand. The boys went on a sleeping strike. Z and I haven’t spent time together in, oh, I don’t know how long. The anxiety has been…..constant.

sad C

C in this moment=how I’ve felt all week.

Many other people experienced real tragedy over the last few days. I’m just being a whiney brat. But it is why I haven’t been writing.

Today wasn’t so bad. Found out a friend from a million years ago sent a scoby to me. Sometime next week I should be trying to figure out how to brew my own kombucha. Was the room mother for T’s class and had fun with my boy. Except when he told two gals that the tree he was playing under was “No girls allowed”. Yes, I might have performed an impromptu monologue straight out of a women’s issues class. But other than that heartbreak it was delightful.

bumblebee

T’s Halloween costume arrived in the mail this afternoon. He is rocking this look. One of the cooler parts of parenthood? Six months ago I had no idea who Bumblebee was. Personally I still don’t give a shit about him, but because T adores him he has sort of crept into my heart a little.

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After a trip to Target to score Mommy more crazy lady drugs and the boys some more play doh (What? I don’t make my own play doh? I know! Call Child Protective Services!) I decided I was pretty much done with the week. Z wasn’t home for dinner. So we got take out, I told the boys we would pretend it was a picnic, cracked open a bottle of cider, and I threw in a Harry Potter Movie. T was pissed I made him take off the Bumblebee costume. But I was not born yesterday. And no, we don’t have a flatscreen TV. I realize we might be the only people on the planet. Someday I hope we join those living in the 21st century.

friday night

So there you have it. Rough week. Better Friday. Hey next week? Can we be friends?

Princess Underwear

T and I were in the toddler section of Target when I spotted them. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle underwear. I freaked out with excitement as I pointed them out to him. My Mom had scored some Transformer boxer briefs for him in the spring and he loves the hell out of those things, but all summer he had been asking for TMNT undies and I hadn’t been able to find any. He really didn’t need more unmentionables, but sometimes I’m a softie and I was all ready to buy them.

He grabbed a pack, but then his eyes drifted to the right. “Mom!” he shouted “They have Princess underwear! Can you believe it? Can I have some?”

I froze.

Writing about gender issues and T isn’t new for me. Z and I are committed to letting him explore what he enjoys without coloring his choices with gender bias. We are committed to that in theory, but we were both raised late 20th century America. We try to fight against gender expectations, but they are deeply ingrained in both of us.

After a few beats I told him he didn’t need any new underwear. “Anyway” I said, “The Princess underwear doesn’t really have room for a penis and testicles. It is made to fit vaginas.” As soon as the words came out of my mouth I regretted them. I wasn’t helping. I was making it about gender. “Why do vaginas fit in them?” he asked. “Vaginas take up less space. They don’t stick out in the same way that penises and testicals do.” “But what do vaginas really look like?”

Remember, we were standing in Target. It was a Sunday. There were a lot of people around.

“Um, how about we talk more about vaginas in the car?”

For the rest of the trip I tormented myself about the underwear. Should I have just put it in our cart? If I let him have it would the other kids make fun of him at school? Did I care about the whole thing more than he did?

As soon as I strapped him into his carseat he said, “Can we talk about vaginas?” I had no problem having the conversation with him. I don’t want him to think that our sex organs are shameful or embarrassing or secret. Of course, I don’t really want to talk about sexuality yet. I think he is a bit young to get it. And at this point sexuality doesn’t play into who he is. I mean, four year olds are not sexual beings.

So about the Princess undies. Z and I talked. We talked about navigating the tightrope of letting him be who he is while making sure we were not setting him up to be a target for teasing simply so we could self-righteously live our cultural and political beliefs. “Why don’t you ask his teacher what she thinks?” was Z’s suggestion.

His teacher assured me that no one at his school would make fun of him. She told me he was in a supportive environment. She said I should buy the underwear. On Wednesday of last week I picked him up from school and drove him to Target. He chose the underwear he wanted. I washed it as soon as we got home and let him decide which pair he would wear first. When Z joined him in his room to read a bedtime story T pointed out the undies. “Do you see my beautiful Princess underwear with Ariel on them? Aren’t they beautiful? Aren’t I beautiful?” Z told him he was.

But the next morning when I dropped him at school he asked me to not tell anyone about his underwear. “I don’t want them to make fun of me.” My heart sank. I thought I was discreet when having conversations concerning the undies. Did he hear me? Why did he think the kids would make fun of him? On my way out the door I told the teacher he was wearing them and he wanted to keep it quiet. She told me it wasn’t a problem.

He wore another pair on Friday. I put a third pair on him after bath time on Friday night. On Saturday morning I noticed he was wearing Transformer boxer briefs. “What happened to the Princesses?” I asked him. “I do Princesses for two days and then I do Transformers for two days.”

Later Z told me during stories on Friday night T kept grabbing at his undies. “Are you comfortable?” Z wanted to know. “They…just don’t…fit right” T complained as he continued to adjust them. That’s when he switched to the Transformers. “So stop beating yourself up over what you said about his penis fitting” Z told me. “Turns out you were right.”

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My sister told me that someone she knew posted a similar picture to FB last week. But it was Superman briefs made for boys and purchased for a little girl. The gal’s Mom couldn’t find Superman undies make for little girl bodies, so she got her daughter the briefs. Z and I talked about buying some princess fabric and fashioning boxer briefs out of them, but wouldn’t it be cool if all of the prints were available in the styles that properly fit both boys and girls?

t swing

Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith

Yesterday T decided to deal with the minor discomfort and rock the Princess underwear at school. He even told his teacher about them and how much he likes them.

nutty T

Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith 

The more I think about this the more I wish it could just be a non-issue. My beautiful and normal boy loves Transformers, Star Wars, Legos, TMNTs, Princesses, and Doc McStuffins.

(I mean, yes before we were parents we were sure that we’d prevent him from being exposed to all this commercial-plastic toy-cartoon junk. And for the millionth time I’ll say I sure was a better parent back before I had kids than I am now! I knew everything. So yeah, the reality is we let him consume pop culture junk. I’m not even going to bother with feeling bad about it.)

The truth is I’m glad his interests are so wide ranging. I’m glad he goes to a school that will support him as he is figuring out his place in the world. Frankly, I also look forward to a day when there isn’t a boy and girl section in the clothing and toy departments. Our kids deserve that.