Suburban Snapshots

What I Need Men to Understand Before My Daughter Is Grown

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Men, I have to confess that I've been getting really upset with you lately. It mostly happens on the internet but sometimes even in my own home. I get especially mad when you get mad at me for being mad. You follow? But even as I mutter terrible things about you under my breath and resist posting retorts after reading yet another comment on some item about Trump or Kesha or Susan Sarandon's breasts, I understand that you can't understand where my anger comes from. You haven't been taught. You've lived as men your entire lives! I know you have your own struggles; you get mixed messages on whether or not housework is manly, you're under the impression that sending dick pics is the key to a woman's heart, your workouts are suddenly military-themed. It's weird out there for you, I see it.

Your mom may have never pulled you aside to give you the talk about what life is like for her. Your mom's life was probably really good, she was full of love and felt loved, she poured her energy into seeing you through, even puberty. But she didn't tell you some stuff, and it might have helped you to hear it. I'm going to tell you my stuff. These are some of the things I remember from the 42-years I've walked this planet with a lower half full of ovaries and folds. These are things that for most of my life I accepted as part of being a girl, "just how it goes." Daily things, seemingly small things, tiny events in an overall really good life.

I had my body critiqued and commented on by everyone from my grandfather to bullies in every grade. The first time I walked past a group of men on a New York City street who applauded my rear-end instead of mocking it, I felt truly grateful. I was thrilled that in the world outside of teenage suburban boys were men who liked the way I was built. They catcalled me for an entire block. The last time this happened, a carload of men shouted at me from open windows as I walked down the street with my husband. It was last summer, and I asked Steve to stop in a coffee shop until the car was no longer driving next to us in slow traffic. I'm older and I know better than to be grateful for it now.

In high school my best friend's boyfriend would relentlessly lift up my skirt, no matter where we were. I laughed it off, I hated him. Another boy would jab his fingers into the crotch of my clothing when he'd walk behind me up the school stairs. I started timing my pace to avoid him.

There was the guy in college my roommate wanted to hook me up with, who dove on top of me as soon as she'd left the room. I don't think he would have hurt me but I was uncomfortable, and grateful that my roommate forgot her keys and came back through the door a few minutes later.

Twice I saw two different men parked on a popular walking route to the high school, masturbating as they watched us go by in packs. Over the three years I rode the train to work I'd see many more men fondling themselves, including one whose rhythm I felt on my lower back for a second until I realized what was happening and exited the train three stops early.

Out shopping with my sister on a busy Saturday, a man in a large, black pick up stopped us to ask for directions. My sister helpfully offered them up, but I noticed that he was naked from the waist down and pulled her away.

There was the time I was out for a walk in broad daylight, in a "safe" suburb, and was followed by a man who landed an aggressive handful of my rear-end. And there was after that, when I showered and went to the police, and the officer reprimanded me for not walking in immediately after the assault. I'd just wanted to get home.

Last week I sat at a bar in a restaurant waiting for a girlfriend. The man to my left was alone, busy on his phone, and the older man to his left was staring at me. After a minute the older man said to the younger, "Hey! Since you're here alone tonight you should fuck her!" and gestured my way. I pretended not to notice, then beat myself up for staying quiet.

Those are just the ones that stand out in my memory. What I'm getting at is that women being angry isn't new, there's not some trend in man-hating that's a result of Obama or Beyoncé or Facebook. Some of us are just tired of being confused, ashamed, and non-confrontational. We're frustrated by ignorance. We have faith in you, we love you, and it's hard to see you get it so wrong sometimes.

We have lifetimes of these experiences and worse, much worse, and we've made lives for ourselves including and in spite of those events. You may bristle at the term "rape culture" as much as I'm irked by 8-year-old athletes being called "studs," but it's not a condemnation of you personally. You want to understand, you think you're pretty evolved and it offends you when someone insinuates otherwise.

I think you're getting there, and I need you to keep working at it. See, I'm on a deadline. I've got a daughter to send out into this world.

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