Street Harassment: Being “Nice”

WCP blogger Amanda Hess has a post up today detailing how responding in a polite fashion to more apparently benign forms of street harassment doesn’t deter but encourages it.

I experienced this type of outwardly friendly yet completely creepy behavior during the summer of 2008 when I still lived in Midwestern College Town. It was an absolutely beautiful day – not too hot, sun shining, light breeze – and I was walking down to the City Pool to enjoy myself. I was also visibly pregnant. It was a short and enjoyable walk; I had the option to drive, but no need.

As I was making my progress along a residential street, a middle aged man in a red pickup pulled up to me and offered me a ride. I don’t remember the precise exchange, but it boiled down to something like this:

He: [smiles] Can I give you a lift somewhere?
Me: [likewise friendly but wary] No thanks, I’m enjoying my walk.
He: [still smiling] Are you sure?
Me: [no longer smiling] I’m fine, thanks.

I sped up my pace a bit, made it more purposeful, and the man drove on. I changed my direction slightly, going first to a local coffee shop where I knew there would at least be people. I endlessly debated whether or not to report this incident to police, but my gut instinct was that they would just slough it off, as nothing identifiably bad had happened. I already had one dude thinking he knew better than me (as evidenced by the offer + “are you sure?”) – the last thing I needed was a (chances are) male cop added to the mix.

As I approached the coffee shop, the truck reappeared – he had apparently circled the block in order to continue following me.

It’s entirely possible that this man just thought he was being kind, practicing the sort of benevolent sexism present in all kinds of thinking about women: that we are to be protected, especially when pregnant, so far that if we’re out by ourselves, we can’t possibly be protected enough, so some dude had better hop to and assist, being all gentlemanly, etc. Trouble is, there’s no way for us to distinguish benevolent vs. malevolent intention until it’s too late.

It was abundantly clear that this man, while he may have had the best (if sexist) of intentions, was acting in a way that patently denied my agency and self-determination in favor of whatever random thought was in his head. That alone told me he was to be avoided at all costs.

But see? I was “nice”. I didn’t do all the things we’re told to do (be rude, put up a fight, shout for help) only after being conditioned to be polite or else. It didn’t “save” me, even though “nothing” happened. In fact, something did happen: that dude was demonstrating, yet again, that men’s desires trump women’s in every single case, no matter what mundane thing she has chosen to do. Even seemingly “innocent” encounters like this smack of patriarchial privilege, and serve to remind women of their designated place, which is certainly not making decisions for themselves to take a nice walk on a pretty day.

So I’m reading again.

Added a few links recently, chiefly to the new FWD blog collective that was linked at Shapely Prose (and many other places besides) and some German feminist blogs I read and/or have recently been introduced to.

Of particular merit is mo jour, who is not only marvelously astute but also wickedly funny. (Sorry this is only of use to those of you who might know a good bit of German, but who knows? This might be more people than I think.)

Quick Hit: Self Promo!

Just to let my ones of readers know: I’ve started blogging at Gender Goggles, by gracious allowance of eloriane and Crowfoot. My first post is up now. It’s kind of ranty, but then it was an unexpected, 1 a.m. composition.

I expect to have a little time to blog this next week, as I’m traveling home to visit my parents, and my mother will certainly be getting all the Shmoog-time she can. I anticipate some breathing room, at least for those eight days.

Why I <3 Twisty

I forget sometimes, and then TF delights the mental ear with tunes like this:

Am I glad that my mother didn’t think I was a blastocyst and a parasitic growth that she had to suffer through? Well, Lonni, I’m afraid my mother did think that I was a blastocyst and a parasitic growth that she had to suffer through. She still does. — Twisty Faster, “Invasion of the Babyists

Wherein Kate Harding tells my story for me

We are all still working on it. Even me, even people who have been waving the fat acceptance banner for decades longer than I have. We’re all still working on it, because the messages are relentless – the messages that tell us we should hate ourselves, starve ourselves, make dieting at least a part-time job (for our health!), the messages that tell us we will never be loved if we “let ourselves go,” the messages that tell us there is only one acceptable female body type, and you and I are both too fat for it, and you’re too black for it, and millions of women — the majority of us, actually — are too something (even too skinny) for it. Those messages never, ever let up, and rejecting them involves a conscious choice, every dingdang day. And some days, like I said, you don’t feel perfectly strong and righteous and ready for battle. — Kate Harding, “Dear Oprah”

I occasionally blog here re: fat acceptance (or “body image and self-acceptance”, for those of you who can’t see fat and acceptance in the same sentence easily) chiefly because, well, I need to. I’ve been talking a good game, especially since the pregnancy, but just the smallest word can still trip me up, and I’m back where I started again; or rather, I can see how far I haven’t come, how much I still depend on the Fantasy that I will somehow look again like I looked at 16, which will of course make me both happy and a worthwhile human being (never mind that when I actually was 16, I felt like I was neither).

So recently it was a passing comment, about how I needed to not eat enough to keep up with my appetite, because “how else would breastfeeding help me lose the pregnancy weight!”. I replied, in my dis-easiness, “don’t worry, I go to bed hungry sometimes, when I’m too tired to stay awake”, like I should be proud of starving myself even the least bit when I’ve got not one but two bodies dependent on my caloric intake. The assumption is that my body will “burn” away the fat, nourishing the kiddo and… and nothing. That’s the end of the sentence: not one mention of whether or not ignoring hunger in myself is healthy for ME. It’s assumed that as long as I’m producing breastmilk, I’m just fine, the incubator/nourisher is doing its job, all is right with the world.

I was pretty damn sick with a nasty head cold or I-won’t-admit-it-was-flu for about a week and a half, and for those of you who know me, you know that is an ungodly long time for me to be sick. I had a finicky stomach during that time, and nausea, and, well, a body’s natural response to nausea, and my body slowed milk production big time, ’cause, you know, it was fighting off infection and was trying to get me well again. All the not-eating I was doing during that time, which on most days was eating about like I would have normally, or possibly what ‘normally’ was in grad school, which is to say meals were sporadic, unbalanced and low-salt, low-fat and low-calorie.

What it was, specifically, was insufficient to my needs — both running my body and producing milk for the little one who depends on me for sustenance.

Recovery from that was slow, and is still kind of going on, even though I’m down to just blowing my nose a lot now. My milk supply only just really came back in yesterday, and my appetite has only been back for a couple days.

The rather roundabout point is this: when I eat to hunger, and that is enough to sustain my body (no matter what the demands on it) then I feel good, my body does what it needs to do, and I’m in good shape. When I don’t (or can’t) eat enough to satiate my appetite, then I am doing myself (and, now, a small child) a disservice. I know this. I know that hunger is my body’s low fuel light. I get hungry, not because I’m fat, but because my body needs fuel.

AND YET. I still fight this notion that, because I don’t fit the physical ideal, because I’m heavier than I was 15 years ago, because I gained weight during the pregnancy (like I was supposed to!) and it’s not gone 15 weeks postpartum, and I still look like, ZOMG, a breastfeeding new mom, I somehow have been Doing It Wrong, and should Starve Myself Immediately!!11eleventy!

I am 31 years old. I am not going to look 16. I am going to look 31.
I just had a baby. I am not going to look like I’ve never carried a pregnancy to term. I am going to look like I just had a baby.
I weigh more than I did in high school. I am not going to look like I did in high school. I am going to look like how I am now.

These are the thoughts I have to repeat to myself just to get those snide little comments out of my head, the concern-trolling thoughts with my mother’s voice, that say “if only you’d X, you wouldn’t be fat, and you’d be Y”.

These are the thoughts I don’t want to pass on to my child. I don’t want that sweet little one, who loves me for who I am (and the food I bring), to ever think that what you are is Bad Bad Bad if it doesn’t fall within narrowly defined parameters. I don’t want my child to grow up watching me fight my body, but rather seeing me accept myself as I am, indeed, loving myself without stint or judgment on my appearance, so much that whether or not I’m fat doesn’t even come into the question. I want that child’s perception of me to be “that’s my mama”, and not “that’s my mama; she was sure pretty when she was thin”.

In which Dan Savage gets it

Another special right: When it comes to respecting your family’s privacy, Palin and the GOP see no need. They want to micromanage the most intimate aspects of your private life. And if their own kids fail to live up to the standards that Palin and the GOP seek to impose on your family, well, that’s a private matter between the Palins, their daughter, their God, and the thousands of screaming imbeciles in elephant hats waving McCain/Palin signs on the floor of the Republican National Convention.

That was the stunning conclusion. Read the whole article here.

New Projects: First Fig Writers’ Collective

So, one of my comrades-in-blogging, tanglethis of Sublunary Limins, sent me an email about a week ago, saying “Hey, I’m starting this writing group with some friends, wanna come?” I, being both somewhat literarily* inclined and otherwise unoccupied, decided to accept.

We met for an initial gathering (read: sipping Pinot Grigio at a fancy wine bar, and generally talking about everything until everyone arrived) two days ago, and I think I can safely say that A Good Time Was Had By All.

There wasn’t any presentation of anyone’s work, with the roundabout exception of a good game of Dirty Napkin**. tanglethis was kind enough to set up a blog and post the poems we created during the game.

So, unless I’m otherwise occupied***, I’ll be doing this again in two weeks.

Good times.

*Yes, made up word. Germans do it all the time.
**Dirty Napkin: everyone takes a piece of paper or napkin, writes a line of poetry or a prose sentence. Everyone passes their sentence on to the next person, who writes another line/sentence. When you get the one you started back, put a title on it. Five people produce five five-line poems.
***You know, that giving-birth thing.