Once upon a time there was a girl–a woman on the outside, but on the inside, just a girl–and she was sad. Her life–like everyone’s–had been a series of ups and downs, and this was decidedly a down period. Unemployed, depressed, and unable to see a happy future for herself, she read self-help books, gave herself tarot readings, read her horoscope and the I Ching, tentatively started a blog, filed her unemployment paperwork–reminded each time that for the first time ever she’d been fired from what she’d only a month previously referred to as her “dream job.” Boys and girls, our heroine was in a funk.
One day she read somewhere that in order to get what she wanted, she needed to know what she wanted. Sounds simple enough, but it wasn’t. So she created a sort of electronic totem and poured into it everything she could imagine that her life could be. For Home, Work, Love, Health…for every aspect of her life, she created a place with words and images describing her perfect life and tied it all together and left it there to do its work.
Within a month or so, things began to change. Small changes at first, hints of changes. Coincidences. Portents. The Universe seemed to be telling her “Something BIG is about to happen. Get ready.”
She didn’t feel ready. But she went out into the world and one night she met a man and knew when she saw the back of his head (though she’d only met him in passing once before) who he was and that she would now go and introduce herself to him.
It was his eyes struck her first, or maybe his wide, joyful smile as she shook his hand. Or maybe it was sheer chemistry. But while they talked only briefly, she went to bed that night thinking of him, wondering. Telling herself to stop being a silly girl. But she looked for him the next day, saw him across a hotel lobby, and felt a twinge of something like hope. And felt silly all over again.
The next night she met him again, and when they spoke, her heart vibrated in her chest. They moved among dozens of people as if in a dance, each always aware of the other’s presence in the room. She knew his exact location every second and when they came together to share a toast or a joke, their eyes met and she saw fire there–a fire meant for her. It was clear to them both and anyone else who was paying attention:
Something BIG was happening.
[To be continued.]
A year ago this month (October 4, 2011) I was among about 300 people who showed up to occupy Westlake Center in Seattle. That night I was among the 40 or so who resolved to consummate our occupation by camping overnight there on the concrete, some of us with only a thin blanket dropped off by a local mission. I had my tent and sleeping bag and a sense that I was about to become a part of something big. For the next several days I spent every waking hour and several largely sleepless nights at Westlake doing my part, and after about a week I came home and collapsed for the next two. I had learned a lot about myself and about how and where I fit into the solution. And part of that was learning how hard it can be for a woman’s voice to be heard among men.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the second among three ways I would learn this lesson in a single year. Strange when you think that I’d lived 46 years previously without really giving it much thought.
The setting for my first classroom that year–last year, 2011–was my job. After fifteen-or-so years I’d made my way back into management and was fairly happy leading a team of writers who seemed to like having me for their boss. One of the reasons for that was that I fought for them (in conference rooms where I was usually the only woman), which meant that I sometimes showed emotion. This is not to say that I yelled or cried or anything like that–only that if you were in the room, it was apparent that I felt passionately about my team and our work and how it was presented…and if I disagreed, I said so, and if I didn’t like something, I said so, and no, I’m not shy and demure, and yes, my boss did make me a little weepy one time when we were alone, I admit, BUT! When it became a “thing” that people didn’t want to “upset” me or felt they’d had “run ins” with me or whatever and I got put on official “emotion” notice, well then I realized that my problem was not (entirely) the level of emotion people were seeing from me. I looked at how these men reacted to me (vs. one another)–listened to the words they used to describe me or to explain to me why my personal style challenged them and it became clear that my biggest issue was that I was a woman in a company full of men who don’t know how to deal with a woman who hasn’t learned to “get along” in a male-dominated corporate environment. For that reason, among others, I gave up my job, and though I like and respect my former co-workers for the most part, I believe that I left behind a culture that is not particularly welcoming to women in leadership positions.
Lastly: Early this year I attended a writing conference as a professional. The panel seemed well-balanced, at first, which is sometimes a problem at this particular con (and many others), with two men and two women. Then it emerged that the other woman–the moderator–had to cancel, and at the behest of one of my co-panelists, I took over as mod. Now, I have been attending conventions as a professional for many years, and I have seen panelists take over the show and trample everyone else into the ground. This wasn’t like that. The same guy who nominated me for moderator proceeded to moderate the panel, talking over me, calling on members of the audience, encouraging participation from the other male at the table. He had decided at some point that I didn’t have anything to add, and he figured he’d man up and give the audience what they paid for, I suppose. He wasn’t a total asshole about it. He was just louder than I was. More aggressive. More forceful. And I wasn’t willing to be rude in front of an audience.
If you’ve ever been in a situation at all like this one, you know how long it takes for an hour to pass. I’m pretty sure I bit my tongue until it bled, and when I walked out I told my boyfriend, “I think I just became an Angry Feminist.”
It’s not that I think this guy was an outright misogynist. I don’t. I’d have to paint nearly everyone in that room with the same brush, because not one of them seemed to have a clue what I was going through. This guy probably thinks of himself as progressive. And that’s the problem. It’s the everyday misogyny that has become so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even notice it. Until we do, and then it’s like pregnant women or VW Beetles*: You can’t stop seeing it.
I don’t regret any of these experiences, and I’m grateful for them as a whole, because they helped bring me to the place I am today where I’ve decided that I really do have things to say and want people to hear my voice. I know that no one set out to silence me in any of the situations I described above. At my job, they just didn’t expect me to care about things that to them seemed trivial. On the panel, a guy asserted his dominance the way we’ve taught him he ought to. At Occupy, I stood surrounded by men and boys who had no concerns about whether their voices would be heard, and many talked over me while calling themselves progressive, but to their credit, some did listen when I said, “Hey, we don’t all speak so loudly or walk so tall, so listen for the quieter voices among you.”
My homecoming was finding a voice I wasn’t afraid to use. That meant creating a persona and removing the personal and professional from the philosophical to some degree. But it also meant becoming more real than I have ever been before. And each of you have been a part of that process. You who read and comment and help me make sense of all the BS. I won’t always get it right, but damn, I’m enjoying the education.
*I am not comparing pregnant women to VW Beetles. Not that it wouldn’t be apt in some cases. Like when I was pregnant.
…would not have been this blog.
This is the post where I talk about how this site got its name. It’s not a very long story, so I’ll also ramble a bit about other stuff, like the fact that I haven’t posted in over a week because I went on a road trip to California. I fully intended to write at least one post during that time, but it just was not in the cards. I’m not as young as I used to be, friends, and though traveling with a carload of women–all menstruating, by the way, except me (no uterus!)–is a blast in many ways, it takes a LOT out of me. I had as much energy as it took to do my share of the driving and then sit on the beach while everyone else frolicked in the surf like sea nymphs. (I’d have done some frolicking myself, despite my exhaustion, had we made it to So. Cal., but bad traffic cost us a day, and the water in central CA is COLD.) So, yeah. No writing while I was gone, but we did see seals, otters, pelicans, sea lions, and every type of road kill on your Roadkill Bingo card. And when I wasn’t driving, I rode shotgun and made the youngsters ride in the back. Age has its privileges.
Back to the title of this blog. It might have been very much like this one despite the name–although most certainly without all the sammiches. As I said before, I started a couple of other blogs, which are still out there, but this one had been simmering on the back burner of my mind for a while. I just didn’t know what to call it. I worked hard to come up with a good title. I scribbled on legal pads, made mind maps, brainstormed with my boyfriend, but nothing stuck. Then one day I decided to hell with it, I’m going to put something together and I’ll come up with the title later. When I found the perfect header graphic and put it in place, I thought I’d play with some fonts, so without even thinking about it I typed in a working title. You guessed it: Make Me a Sammich. I giggled at myself, and then cocked my head to one side, and then the other, like a dog when it’s trying to figure out a difficult math problem, and then I squinted at it, and kind of twisted my mouth in that way I do when I’m trying to decide whether I can really get away with something that just might be too clever for my own good. Then I giggled again and smirked and nodded and that was that.
In case this is your first time on the Internet, the phrase “make me a sammich” or the more formal “make me a sandwich” is what we on the tubes call a “meme.” Some memes are about kittens who say funny things and spell badly. Others are about Ryan Gosling. This one, the one that gave my blog its name, is about how women were basically created by God to make sandwiches for men.
I’m going to do a whole post on this meme, but you get the basic idea, right? So, my co-opting Mr. Rockwell’s Rosie eating her lunch after a long morning of kicking ass, along with the meme-phrase “make me a sammich,” is basically my way of telling people who come here what they’re in for in what I hope is a humorous-yet-irreverent way that pokes fun at stupidity while shaking a mustard-covered finger at misogyny. Or something. And maybe this blog would have been similar under a different name, but it seems to me that a sort of alchemy occurred when Rosie and the infamous sammich converged and Make Me a Sammich was born. It’s taken on a life of its own, and I’m just along for the ride now.
I call shotgun!
PS: Welcome to all the new folks! I’m still reeling from my 15 minutes Freshly Pressed on WordPress, and I never did get caught up on replying to comments. I was without Internet for TWO DAYS (or at least parts of two days) when it when up, and right after that I had to leave on this road trip. Crazy timing all around, but I’m going to make a concerted effort to get in there and respond to everyone because that’s just polite! In the meantime, thanks so much for reading and commenting and following.
As we say goodbye to National Grilled Cheese Sandwich month and hello to National Sammich Month, I want to take the opportunity to tell you briefly about my personal relationship with grilled cheese sandwiches. You see, when I was a tiny, little girl…so tiny that the world was still a place of only beauty and wonder and no Bad Things, I believed that grilled cheese sandwiches were a special invention made just for ME.
Back in those days of yore, my dad (before he was a professional bass fisherman or a preacher or even a dad) was a pool shark. In Los Angeles, California, where he made his living in the pool halls as a young man, he was known as “Sixth Street Jerry.” In Long Beach, where he also played from time to time (and where he met my mom–in a pool hall), they called him “L.A. Jerry.” One of my earliest memories is going to the pool hall with my parents, where my dad would shoot pool (which I remember only vaguely) and my mom and I would sit in a booth with red seats and I would order a Girl Cheese Sandwich with fries (because that was the point of the whole expedition as far as I was concerned).
Of course, I had no idea why the waitress and all the adults made such a fuss over the whole thing. I just wanted my sandwich. And my French fries! But I imagine them now doing that thing grownups do where we know the kid’s about to do that cute thing they do, and they say, “Watch! Listen! Okay, Rosie, what do you want to eat?”
“GIRL CHEESE!” I’d holler, and they’d all “aww” and titter and pat me on the head.
And yes, I assumed that if my dad wanted a sandwich like mine, he’d have to ask for a Boy Cheese Sandwich, but he never did that I recall. Sixth Street Jerry was too busy bringing home the pork rinds, baby.
These days grilled cheese sammiches are still a favorite, and one of my comfort foods (along with mac & cheese), and I still occasionally refer to them as feminine without ever checking under their bread to find out whether I’m right. That probably makes me a sammich sexist, for which I’m deeply sorry, and will surely pay in the afterlife. Till then, Girl Cheese Sammiches for all my friends!
National Sammich Month starts TOMORROW! What’s your favorite sandwich?
PS: I apologize for that terrifying image above. I really wanted to use an appetizing photo of a nice, melty grilled cheese to make your mouth water, but then I found ^that^, and come on, how could I resist? It would have been wrong–possibly immoral or even illegal–for me to not use that image in this article. So, to make up for it, here’s a photo of me just before I learned to say “Girl cheese sammich, please!” Love ya!
Trigger warning for discussion of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence.
NOTE: This piece goes to some dark places where humor just doesn’t live. I’ll forgive you if you don’t read it, but I think it’s important because it’s about some of the really awful stuff that happens to girls and women in the U.S. and around the world. It’s my personal story of serial abuse and…social conditioning, for lack of a better phrase. This blog is my way of countering misogynistic attitudes and messages, and this story is nearly everything that led me to the place I stand as I begin it.
By the barrage of bullshit coming from every form of media every day. By all the anger and violence toward women. By all the ways the world has told me my entire life that my gender was the lesser of two. Subtle messages, and constant, between the lines, that said I was lucky to be born so late in the century—the 20th century, for heaven’s sake!—that these battles had long ago been fought and soundly won. Suffragettes had suffered, bras had burned by the thousands, armpits and legs had gone unshaven for my freedoms. We are woman, hear us roar.
Subtle messages like some stuff is “for” girls and other stuff is “for” boys. Like boys get into trouble and girls are good and polite. Like girls are supposed bait the proverbial hook to “catch” a boy, and boys are supposed to avoid being “caught.” Like a boy’s job is to “score,” and a girl’s job is to play defense.
And there were less subtle messages, too. These messages, these moments, do not define my life. But they do serve as an outline when I consider what a hostile world this is for girls and women.
- By age 9 I had been molested multiple times by multiple pedophiles. Relatives, family friends, neighbors… It turns out you don’t have to look very far to find a pedophile in this world. I learned too much too soon and I had no idea what to do with the information. I was troubled after the first incident (series of incidents) at age 4, and pretty confused by the second at 5, downright scared by the third at 6. By 9 I wasn’t even surprised anymore, and they somehow knew that I was the perfect victim. A family “friend” was visiting regularly at this point and playing his little games and I hated it but I felt powerless to stop him. I was so terrified of the trouble I’d be in if my mom found out that I worked myself into a state of utter emotional turmoil until one day when she came to yell at me about something completely unrelated I lost it—screamed and shook and sobbed until she finally dragged the truth out of me.
- When I was 10 and on my way to the local shopping center (back in the days when parents let 10-year-olds walk anywhere unattended) on a stretch of empty highway between my housing development and the mall walking against traffic like I’d been taught, an old Ford truck passed me and pulled over a little way up the road. I told myself I was imagining things when I saw the driver watching me in his rearview mirror. And when I came up alongside his truck across the two barren lanes of traffic he opened the truck door. He was completely naked, and flopped one leg lazily out as he masturbated, staring at me. I had been down this road before and I was fucking terrified. I turned and ran as fast as I could past empty houses to my street and stopped at my friend’s house, hysterical. Her mother laughed. I was really starting to get the feeling it was just me.
- As a pre-teen, it wouldn’t be long before the neighborhood boys would introduce me to “pantsing,” or forcible removal of my pants and underwear by multiple boys, each one stronger than me, in front my friends. This is wrong on so many levels, but let’s just cover a few: 1) I knew damned well that I didn’t like it when the boys ganged up and took my pants off. 2) As humiliating as it was, I never cried. I learned very early on that to complain about it was to invite ridicule not just from the boys, but from the girls. There I’d be, the solitary person in the room who thought it was a Big Deal when clearly it wasn’t and what was wrong with me, anyway. 3) As an adult, when I talk to other women about it, we all agree that it was terrifying and humiliating and tantamount to bullying at least and sexual assault at worst, and none of us knows why we didn’t (couldn’t) tell someone and make it stop. (Does this still go on? Google shows me laughing people in their underwear.)
- At 12 I was raped by a 14-year-old neighborhood kid who was known for being a bad boy. I lived in a poor suburb of Sacramento and us kids built forts in our backyards to entertain ourselves in the summertime. Me and two girl friends were in the fort behind my next-door neighbor’s house with the bad boy smoking pot. My girl friends left. I never saw it coming. One moment we were sitting there smoking a joint, the next I was on the ground and he was lying on top of my saying, “Shut up or I’ll hit you in the head with this hammer.” I clenched every muscle in my body until he finished. I don’t think he enjoyed it. He walked with me to my backdoor, and I think it was locked. He said something to me. I don’t remember what. I walked in the front door and through the living room, which was dark. My mom and brothers were watching tv. I put my hand up to my face as I walked through and hoped my mom wouldn’t see me–that I was crying, or had been, or what a mess my makeup was, or something. I don’t remember thinking anything but how can I get through this room. Then she asked if I was ok and just like when I was 9 I lost it and she had to drag the truth out of me one more time. I cringe when I remember the ensuing horror show that was my neighborhood’s reaction, the investigation and lawyer prep, and the trial that I dreaded for months and which ended in a verdict that validated the public defender’s stuttered accusations: “Isn’t it true that you cried rape because you were afraid you were pregnant?”
Even he seemed to understand on some level that the whole thing was a setup. I was only 12 and had never had consensual sex , so they’d have a hard time making me look like a slut, but they could cast doubt on me, question what possible motive I might have to falsely accuse the poor defendant (who admitted to having sex and later served time for statutory rape, meaning his only crime was sex with a minor), the fact that no one heard me scream (because I really wanted that ball-peen hammer to the temple), whether I did or did not seem, to the people they interviewed, to be distraught enough in the days following the incident. What’s amazing to me about writing this is that I don’t remember anyone fighting for me other than my mom and my cousin D who left my house in the dark of that night with a baseball bat as I sat in the kitchen sobbing (he came back frustrated with a clean bat). I know there must have been someone, but I have this sense when I look back that I was the one on trial; that I was the poor sap with the crappy public defender.
- When I was 14 I went to my first kegger. My mom thought I was going to “a little get-together.” I got drunk and passed out. The next day someone told me that two guys had screwed me while I was unconscious. No one thought this was particularly wrong. Everyone was drunk. They were just being guys. I just tried not to think about it. It probably wasn’t the last time. I try not to think about that, either.
- Given all this, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I became a promiscuous teen. You know that girl in high school everyone calls “slut”? That was me. I started out looking for what sex was supposed to be (True Love!), but what it amounted to was giving in to every guy I had a crush on because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. It was what they wanted, so if I did, they’d like me, right? Instead every guy at my school had the idea that I should sleep with him because I’d slept with one or more of his friends.
- By 16 I was “in love” with a guy who barely tolerated me, but now and then he’d be nice to me and I’d fall all over myself to do anything he wanted—including servicing him in front of his friends. I followed him around like a dog, and he treated me like one. Miserable, on the street (a habitual runaway) going from one bad situation to another, one night I sat soaking wet in a convenience store parking lot and a family of Mormons rescued me and took me in for a couple of weeks. It was a bit like hitting a reset button as I saw what life was like in a completely new environment. Soon I was ready to “turn over a new leaf,” as my dad put it when he made arrangements for me to go to Dallas, Texas and live with his stepfather, an elderly judge who had no idea what to do with a teenage girl and whose strategy for dealing with disagreements consisted of sitting there laughing at me as I grew increasingly frustrated with him. Angry and bored out of my mind in the middle of summer I went out looking for interesting people to meet. On one of my first outings, outside a drug store, a man pulled up next to me in his car and stopped, one hand on the wheel and the other massaging his penis. About a week later, when two young black men pulled over and chatted me up, I was flattered, and after a bit of coaxing (with one of them showing me his ID and both promising I’d come to no harm, we were going to have a grand time) I got in their car. And we partied. For a few hours, it was a fascinating experience. They took me home and someone’s sister fawned over me. I met a bunch of little kids. Then we went out to a bar where every single head turned toward me like that scene from Blues Brothers and a man on the way in muttered something about “y’all bringin’ Snow White around here” under his breath as he glanced nervously up and down the road. There was music and alcohol. There were drugs. Then it was back to the apartment where everyone was fast asleep and it was time for me to put up. I begged and pleaded, but I didn’t fight. I cried as quietly as I could (so as not to wake up Sis and the kids) and later when he dropped me off at yet another convenience store, I called home and my drunk uncle was over and answered the phone and called me a fucking cunt. The next thing I remember is several people pulling me off the pay phone as I did my best to beat it to death with the receiver, screaming my rage. And the cops asking me why I didn’t use my knife. Against a man twice my size. Lucky for me, I forgot I even had one. I never got it—or anything—from the cops or the system. Somewhere, probably still in Dallas, a man who once went by the name of Charles Ray “Chuckie Ray” Smith might still be walking around free to rape at will, but is very likely dead and buried at the hands of someone’s loved one avenging something very like the crime he committed against me, for which he never even stood trial.All I can say about this list up to this point is Thank. Fucking. God. AIDS wasn’t a thing yet.
- Soon after that, I got pregnant, and not on accident. My life up to then had been a series of after-school specials from hell, and I wanted a change, but the change the adults in my life were serving up was not working for me. When an acceptable candidate made himself available, I counted the days from my period to maximum fertility and I made damned sure he put a baby in my belly. Then he bought me a ticket home to California and I didn’t see him again until my daughter was 9 (which was ok with me). I moved in with my mom, stepdad, and three younger brothers. One night just after dark I rode my brother’s bike over to my cousin’s house a few blocks away. When I saw a man up ahead that I knew for a FACT I had passed just moments ago, I knew he had come around the block for me. I had almost no time to think about it, and as I neared he reached out for my handlebars. Out of breath and utterly terrified, a sound erupted from my throat that I have never made before or since. The words I tried to say were, “GET AWAY FROM ME!” but I sounded wild, primal, like a crazy person. He jerked his hands back and said, “Okay, gah!” Like he was the victim.
- Life settled down a lot after my daughter was born. I focused on being a mother, and for a little while, that was enough. But I wanted my True Love. And when I was 18, I believed I’d found him. He was amazing. Handsome, successful, smart, funny, and 35 years old. My friends and I saw nothing wrong with that. We all wanted him. But he wanted me. I was the lucky winner. Within a year I’d moved back to Texas with him and was keeping his house and caring for his 12-year-old son along with my daughter, now about 2. I don’t even know anymore how long it took for things to get bad—maybe 6 months—but one night after a party I’d left early because he pissed me off, he came home and started in on me, first with his hands, and then with a paint scraper. All things being relative, he didn’t hurt me badly. Just badly enough that I knew damned well if I could get out of that room I’d never come back. He let me get my daughter from down the hall, and when someone knocked on the front door and he went to answer it, I took her and ran out the back. I ended up in a shelter and within a couple of days I went back to my abuser because I had no local support and no money to go anywhere else, and some well-meaning-but-misguided types advised me that it was his job (my abuser’s) to finance my return home to California. This bought me another month or so before his next blow-up, but this time we escaped without incident and didn’t go back. I showed up in the middle of the night on the front porch of my grandfather’s house in Waco and introduced myself. “Mr. Abney, I’m your granddaughter.” We stayed a few days, and he cashed his Social Security check and put us on a plane. I never saw him again.
- In many ways I feel like I experienced a lot of bad things so my daughter wouldn’t have to. I taught her right away that predators were out there and that she should never hesitate to scream, kick, run, and tell someone if anyone ever did something she didn’t like. And when, inevitably it now seems, she found herself in a situation where someone crossed the line, she knew that the boundary was hers to set and protect and she knew to tell someone.
- Jump ahead to my 30s, when I found myself single after a long period and in a new town. One night out drinking, I overindulged and passed out in someone’s apartment only to wake up with him on top of me doing his thing. All these years later, it was still that easy to wind up with someone’s penis inside me uninvited. Because I got too drunk and passed out. (For those of you still unclear on the concept: No means no. Unconscious and/or unable to form words means no. No matter who you are, you are not entitled to take your sexual pleasure/rage power-trip out on someone else’s body no matter what mistake they make.)
As I write this list—and I have long needed to—more and more incidents occur to me. Some I insert into the timeline. Others I don’t. Some seem trivial, hardly worth mentioning. Some I can’t write about. Some involve people I care about who might be hurt by the content. Even I am amazed seeing all this written down in one place. These events scarred me in a number of ways, I’m sure, and fed into each other, perpetuating a cycle. But they also taught me that my worth was tied up in the fact that I was a sexual object, and that worth wasn’t much. And that the world is a very hostile place, especially for girls and women.
I’m far from alone in these experiences. Get a group of five women together, and if they’re being honest, 3 or 4 of them will tell you they’ve lived through one or more of the above scenarios. Not to mention the one thing nearly every woman has experienced in one way or another (and many encounter all day, every day): unwanted sexual attention. Why do some men think it’s ok to approach women and bother them simply because they find them attractive? What’s with the entitlement? Because make no mistake, women who don’t respond well to this sort of attention often go from “beautiful” or “my future ex-wife” to “bitch” or even “cunt” in about two seconds flat. The fact that men are, by and large, bigger and stronger than women turns this scenario from annoying to terrifying in the same span, which brings me to the third lesson the bullet points above taught me: most men are stronger than I am and if they want something from me, they have the power to take it.
If you’re a woman, chances are you understand on some level what that feels like. If you’re a man, just give it some thought. Imagine that your counterparts on this planet are on average several inches taller and 50-150 pounds heavier than you and comparatively very strong. Now imagine that some of them are predators. And some of them seem harmless enough, but they just won’t leave you alone—and what if they’re not harmless? (I know small guys get bullied by big guys, but this is different. Imagine that fully half the population potentially wants something from you, be it your attention or something more, that they have no right to expect, and yet you’re the asshole if you don’t play along.)
Now. Sometimes I love attention from men. But when it’s respectful and when I clearly indicate that I want it. Guys, here is how you tell if a girl is interested: if she makes direct eye contact with you, smiles, and asks you questions, then she probably wouldn’t mind getting to know you. (If you’re British and you’re in America, you’re pretty much given an automatic green light. This is a half-joke.) If she’s mumbling, looking down, closing off her space to you, and gives short answers, she wants you to leave. She’s just been conditioned to think that she can’t say, “Get the fuck away from me.” There are LOTS OF WOMEN, I KNOW, WHO CAN SAY THAT. And who have every right. But I’m just not one of them. I can’t. I have to to think of myself first. I can’t worry that you, strange man in a bar, is going to flip out when I reject you harshly.
Jokes aside (see, feminists can be funny!), it ought to be a pretty simple concept: No means no.
Anyway, me. Throughout the grim timeline above many other things happened, most of them happier, some even wonderful. I lived my life and raised my daughter into a brilliant young woman and had flawed relationships and finally found my really, really for true love at 41*. But all that time I encountered even more of those subtle messages that seem a lot less subtle when people point them out. Like the very real fact that on average, women in the U.S. still earn a lot less money than men doing the same job; that until recently women in the U.S. paid higher insurance premiums than men; that among many men the word “woman” is an insult, and that boys and girls grow up hearing things like “stop crying like a little girl” so we can keep that cycle chugging along; that men who sleep around brag about it and get high-fives from their friends, but women who do the same are sluts or whores (and women who don’t put out are clearly frigid or just prudish or lesbians, and oh yeah, nothing wrong with a lesbian that a good stiff cock can’t fix); that the same behavior called “assertive” in men is termed “bitchy” in women. I could go on and on. And I will—just you wait.
And in all these years I have never called myself a feminist. Not because I wasn’t in favor of equality, but because I didn’t particularly want to be lumped in with those strident women (often referred to as Angry Feminists) who could never seem to shut up about what was sexist. That’s not to say I didn’t speak out when I saw inequity. I quit one of my first jobs (leaving behind a very angry resignation letter) after watching my manager pass up women who had worked there for years for promotion over and over again in favor of young men hired weeks before. I was outraged, you see. I seriously thought this kind of thing didn’t happen anymore.
Then I watched as the industry I’ve worked in for over two decades spawned a culture of misogyny and abuse that has largely gone unchallenged by the professional community. Online gaming servers are rife with everything from codified rape culture (i.e. game messages that actually say things like “You got raped by BigDog1999” and players being banned from their servers for complaining about it) to sexual harassment of women by male gamers written off by the community as “just the way it is” or “free speech” of all things. Only recently is some of this coming to light, with major influencers like Penny Arcade choosing to take the low road at pretty much every opportunity.
And I watched the Internet birth a subculture of misogynist trolls who seem to feed off a sense that they’re causing their female targets pain, anger, or even fear. Let a woman even announce that she plans, at sometime in the future, to release a video examining the roles of women in video games, and they pour out of the woodwork like cockroaches. Simply having an online presence as a woman can mean enduring a regular routine of insults and threats via Twitter, email, etc. Appear on television like my daughter and her roommates did once a few years ago, and the trolls flock to their keyboards to comment on your weight (fat bitches) your attractiveness (I wouldn’t fuck that with a rented dick) and whatever else their rotted little brains can conceive.
Now, at 47, I’m finally realizing—really realizing—that to be a girl or a woman in this country (and much of the world) is to be a member of a class still fighting for its civil rights, and also to be subject to a lot of really fucking difficult crap that someone who’s not a woman probably can’t understand. And not only do I identify as a feminist, I am becoming an Angry Feminist. I’m completely fed up with the double-standards, the condescension, the dirty politics, the constant barrage of media messages, the way we’ve been taught to be quiet and polite and how that keeps us from speaking up when we have something to say and the way some men take advantage of that fact to bulldoze us. And when we do speak up—when something really matters and we sit in a room full of men to make our cases—heaven forbid we should show any emotion.
Lucky for me, the quiet and polite training didn’t take. I’ve always had a habit of speaking my mind—but that hasn’t stopped some overbearing men from shouting me down (and some of these are men who probably consider themselves progressive if not feminist and certainly not sexist or misogynist). And I’m ready to talk about all this stuff. I don’t intend to take every single person I meet to task for every act or word that might be interpreted as sexist or damaging to girls and women, but if I think it’s important, I’ll write about it. You bet I will.
So, yeah. This is my story, the Bad Parts version, by way of explaining how I got here, to this place, to this website, and also because I think we have to talk about it—the good, the bad, the horrifying—if we want things to change. It took me nearly half a century to wake up, but here I am in my bathrobe, drinking my coffee, working out a plan for the next 50 years. I don’t care what names people call me or what assumptions they make. I don’t hate men. I love men. (Yes, some men have done terrible things to me, but far more have been my friends and family and colleagues and mentors and heroes.) But I have no tolerance for misogynists and misogynistic policies and attitudes which are so commonplace and accepted in these oh-so-superior and socially advanced United States that some men (and women!) engage in them without even realizing it. I want to help change that.
I recently saw a TEDTalk by Courtney Martin of Feministing.com (if you want to see misogyny in action, have a look at the comments) in which she talked about this overwhelm I’m feeling. That sense that there’s just too much wrong for one person to make a difference. Her advice is to “act in the face of overwhelm.” That’s what I’m doing. I will fight this war on as many fronts as I have to so that maybe my granddaughters won’t grow up thinking that the world views them as somehow less. So that media stops treating us as objects and our culture starts treating us like equal members of society. So we can walk down the street without feeling like prey.
NOTE: For those of you tempted to bring up the fact that men have it rough too and there are policies that are unfair to men, rest assured that I am aware. That’s not what this article, this conversation, this blog, is about. There are all kinds of inequities in the world. I know that. But in my country, the United States of America, a lot of rich white men and their corporate sponsors are making decisions about women’s health without involving women in the conversation. Teenage boys think it’s cool to talk about slappin’ bitches and hos. Rape is still a punchline and a sports analogy. That’s the conversation I’m having here, and this is my house. If you want to talk about misandry or the evils of feminism, go start your own blog.
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Related on Make Me a Sammich:
The sun is out and I’ve been up since dawn. For the past few days I’ve been working on a piece I hope to post here soon. It’s about as dark as things will ever get around here, and I feel as though I ought to get it out of the way so you’ll know what you’ve gotten yourself into. But before I do that, I thought I’d give you a brief history of me, the Good Parts version.
I’m a writer, artist, musician, mother. I’ve worked in the computer entertainment industry (video games, music software/hardware, technology) for over two decades and have also worked in publishing. I’m a card-carrying Geek Girl at 47 years old. I was an army brat, which meant we moved around a lot. I had three little brothers and I was the oldest. I did a lot of diapering and later, babysitting. I learned to play guitar at 8, which helped me make friends in new places. At 10 I appeared several times on a country & western music tv show (on UHF!<–age test) singing my little heart out in front of a full band. Later in life I joined my daughter to form a band which put out two albums and performed live for several years (we still perform together now and then). I’ve worked as a sales clerk, a ticket-taker, a phone rep, a pizza-slinger, and the manager of some of the best writers anywhere. I’ve been to England and to Scotland, where I stood on the shores of Loch Ness and attempted to lure Nessie with beef-flavored Doritos (no luck–note to try nacho cheese next time). My daughter and I once lived in Ireland for a month during which time we ate all the curry flavored ramen in the kingdom and played many hands of Rummy and watched Australian (or were they from New Zealand?) soaps while the rain poured.
I know there’s more, but I’ve gone on long enough. I’m looking forward to getting to know you. I’m keeping this blog fairly anonymous. If you know me, you’ll know me. If you don’t, it’s not important. Come along for the ride.
Once upon a time I started a blog. And then I started another one. And one more after that. Then this one. All in the span of one year. I don’t blame you if you don’t believe me or think I’m crazy. Sometimes I feel that way too. See? We already have something in common.
Some of the stuff I write in this blog will be lighthearted looks at the ridiculosity (I just made that up. It’s totally a word now.) that surrounds me as it relates to women and me in particular. Some of it will be rants designed to get stuff off my chest when I’m just so fed up I want to spit or vomit or something. And some of it will be really difficult stuff about my experience as a girl growing into a young woman in the United States of America. And I’ll have guest bloggers, too, I hope, who will help me–help all of us–figure out what to do about this mess we’re in right now with a bunch of rich white guys–elected by way of money from more rich white guys–trying to turn back the clock on women’s rights.
Welcome to Make Me a Sammich, a place to read and talk about being a woman in the USA in the 21st century.
I can already tell I’m going to like you.
Note to trolls: Just don’t. There’s almost nothing you can call me or threaten me with that I haven’t already been called or had done to me, so just take your little troll brain and go somewhere else.