Sunday, October 9, 2016

Just Stop

As I was walking through a dark parking lot alone tonight I had a realization. I was scanning my environment. I was on high alert. I noticed every man, every empty car, every sound. As I sat with this awareness my heart grew sadder at the understanding that this hypervigilance wasn't innate in me but rather a learned behavior. For my safety. For my survival. And I wondered if the men looking at their cell phones or whistling while they walked had the same feelings. My immediate next consideration was as to whether or not my daughters would grow up to position their keys defensively when they walk alone at night. 

This reaction isn't due to lack of strength of mind or weakness or paranoia. 

My visceral fear response at being a woman alone at night is a product of decades of experiencing "locker room behavior" by men. It's a behavioral legacy that's been passed down from generation after generation of women who have been taught that they are less than so therefore they must respond as if they understand their weakness.

I am not weak. Yet I still instinctively fear.

This situation caused me to reflect on my life, on the ways in which I've been conditioned. The way in which society has taught me how to expect to be treated by men - to understand my place. 

Don't challenge a man in authority by looking him in the eyes.
I need to make my body smaller and to lower my head so a man doesn't think I'm too dominant.
If I laugh at your joke or make physical contact with you then I am a tease or a flirt.
You bought me dinner so I owe you.
Men are the final word on all things biblical, so you should hold your tongue.
Loud and opinionated women are a disruption and a problem that needs to be handled.
A man has facts, but women have opinions.
Don't ever question a man.
If I complain about anything, I'm a nag.
It's dangerous to get a flat tire at night.
I can't trust that the police car pulling me over is authentic, and if it is, is the officer a safe cop.
Women should know better than to be in subways or train stations alone.
I have to cover my body, otherwise I am asking for men to talk about me, or worse.
I will never earn enough to not need a man.
My worth and value is tied into having children and how well behaved and remarkable they are.
Catcalling is just what men do.
It's to be expected that men will walk a little too close on crowded streets.
Boys will be boys. Just ignore them.
My job is to cook and clean and take care of the kids.
Showing cleavage means I want men to look at my breasts.
My existence is a stumbling block.
It's acceptable if you call me derogatory names because that's just what guys do. 
It's ok for a man to comment on my weight, I should see it as a compliment.
It's ridiculous to get offended at what men say because they can't help it.
I'm too sensitive.

.... the list could go on and on and on and on.

And that makes me sad.

Sad for me that these thoughts have to constantly be counteracted in my head.

Sad for my girls that they too might already be conditioned to believe some of these things.

Sad for future generations that will likely still be fighting to be heard.

Men you need to understand that you can't keep excusing your behavior. We need you to stand up and demand better from your brothers- to be our allies.

Stop defending.
Stop blaming.
Stop justifying.
Stop objectifying.
Stop excusing.
Stop participating,

Just stop.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

What Defines Me

I've had sort of a hiatus on writing my thoughts here. All of my energy has been focused on the world of academia and analyzing the way people think and promoting social justice. To say my brain is tired is an understatement. But today I felt compelled. I felt the words burning my fingertips in a desperate attempt to force my hands to the keyboard. I have multiple assignments coming due but I have no choice but the place them to the side until I tackle something that has been causing my soul to weep.

Defining Self.

I don't know what it feels like to not identify with the gender that I was raised to designate myself as. I've always believed myself to be female. I've always felt that the genitalia with which I was born matched the words that were given to me. I don't have a need to use the men's restroom because I don't see myself as male. I've never been followed into a restroom by another female, or a male, and made to feel like I don't belong there or had my life threatened because I don't match a symbol on a door. So I will never assert to have a deep understanding of what it feels like to be transgender. I even spent several minutes on how to word that last sentence because I'm not even sure how to reference what it means to be born in a body that doesn't match your identity. To assume would be offensive to so many people that I love and care for. 

Here is what I do understand.

I understand what it means to be defined by what someone else believes about me, 
......or within the rules of an identity that has been assigned to me. 

I understand what it means to want to feel feminine but to be told I am too much of a tomboy or too skinny and lacking of curves to be a real woman,

.....that my voice is too loud, too demanding, too opinionated, too inflammatory, too accepting, too aggressive... 

I understand that my wisdom is only acceptable if the men I am under agree with it...that what I want to say isn't equally as important because I was born with a vagina.... and ironically that my lack of a uterus lessens my value as a woman...

.....that my consent isn't important if I dress in revealing clothing... that I'm asking for judgement and disrespect if I show cleavage or even acknowledge that I have breasts...

I understand that God thinks less of me if I don't follow the rules created by man....that I shouldn't dare challenge patriarchy... that if I do I must be a liberal feminist...

.... that if I advocate for, love, accept and appreciate anyone who is LGBTQ I must not love God or understand His word... I am definitely not a true Christian.... I am surely going to hell.

I understand that my life has been full of people telling me what I should be, who I should be, how I should act, how I should dress.... Society and my direct influencers have become the loudest voice. And it screams hate. It tells me that no matter what I do it will never be good enough. It tells me that no matter how hard I try, I will never be fully loved or accepted. This is the voice that was granted to me by the world.

I work every day to challenge that voice. To silence it.

And when all is calm, I hear it.

It's quiet, and squeaky. It's scared and battle scarred.

But it's there. 

My authentic self. My voice. My true identity.

And this is where I begin to understand the experience of those who are directly impacted by a society that argues over bathrooms... over body parts... over what a predator looks like.

How do you define a woman? A man? Neither?

Is someone a woman if they have a vagina, breasts and a uterus? Is a man really only so if he has a penis and testicles? Is it the right mixture of estrogen and testosterone? Or is it the length of hair... the level of femininity or masculinity? 

And what happens once we do set the standards? 

I know how society has defined it for me.

And I feel inadequate.

This issue is SO much bigger than who can use the bathroom.

I don't know what the global answer is...... I know for myself it starts inside. Challenging the loud voices that tell me I have to be something I am not. That my worth is only determined by what others think of me.

Because when you love and accept yourself it get's easier to fight the world to accept and love others.

What defines you?

or rather...

Who defines you?

What voices are you listening to?

And more importantly....

Are those voices keeping you from loving others....

                                                          ....because you haven't yet learned to love yourself...