Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

On every street

I'm supposed to be working on my last school assignment of the semester, but there's this thing I can't stop thinking about, and maybe if I write it down it'll leave. Or it'll never leave. 
A couple weeks ago I was having a debate with some dude online who was complaining how we don't need feminism, how it's too divisive. I responded, not terribly politely, that we need feminism because we're all we got and we're fighting for each other's survival.
He said that I was being "hilariously overdramatic."
We can cite facts and statistics, share gruesome pictures harrowing personal stories, and some guys are going to get indignant as if our personal stories are personal attacks on them. We can tell you that one in four women has been raped and that 20,000 calls are placed to domestic violence hotlines on an average day, and some guys will respond with a "not all men" or a "well men get beaten too," as if the one negates the other.
And if all that doesn't make a difference then this probably won't either, but I've got to try. Please, men, do me a solid and hear me out. If you've ever typed the words "not all men" or you take personal offense when a woman says that she's afraid of men, please just give me a minute of your time. We need you to understand the experiences behind our words because maybe if you got it, you'd understand why we've got a hard time being fair or diplomatic. Just a couple minutes of your time. Please.
Imagine you're twenty one years old or so, and this has been the worst year of your life. You got dumped, you dropped out of school, you felt so disgusting and worthless and unlovable that you wanted to die. And imagine you're just coming out from all under that when you meet a guy in a bar. Friend of a friend. And maybe he's a tiny bit creepy and off. But he likes you and he thinks you're pretty and you really need a win, so you ignore a red flag or two. Imagine you start dating, and before too long he's getting moody and controlling. He gets mad when you spend time studying instead of with him, and he seems like he really doesn't like it that you have friends who aren't him. And imagine you put up with that for a while, four weeks to be exact, and then you realize this is getting out of control.
Imagine you tell him you want to see other people, because you're afraid what he might do if you break it off entirely. And imagine he says that if he sees you with another man, it will be "a bloodbath." Imagine you get away as fast as you can and cut off contact.
Imagine he doesn't like that very much. Imagine you're home the next day, and your dad has just left for work and imagine the phone rings and you pick it up because caller ID isn't yet a thing. Imagine it's him. And imagine he says something that makes you look out the front window to see his van slowly rolling past your house. Imagine you realizing he has probably been circling your house until he saw you were home alone.
So you call the cops and fill out a report, and they say they'll look into it and you know of course they won't. And you stop answering your parents' phone when it rings, and it rings and it rings. It rings when you're home alone during the day and it rings at three o'clock in the morning and it keeps ringing even after your dad gets on the phone with him and tells him you've moved out of state.
Imagine you start avoiding your folks' house because you're worried he might go after your family. You stay at friends' houses, and when you stay with your folks you park your car a ways down the street in hopes he doesn't notice it outside should he roll past again. Imagine how guilty you feel for bringing this down on your folks. How guilty you still feel for being so foolish.
Imagine that for months you get anxious whenever you see a white van. Imagine one day a year later you're in a parking lot and you think you see him and you don't go back to that part of town again for years. Imagine when you talk about it to people they ask if you said anything to lead him on, or imply this is your fault for ignoring the red flags for four whole weeks. Imagine hearing guys say that they're pretty sure women get into bad relationships because they like being mistreated, and imagine not arguing back because you're afraid. Afraid of them, afraid it's true, afraid because you're always afraid anymore.
Imagine you absolutely know you're one of the lucky ones. Imagine you know a hundred women, at least, who have a story far more horrible than yours. Imagine you don't know a single woman who has never experienced this kind of fear. Imagine you look back on that experience with a shudder of overwhelming relief at coming out unscathed. Imagine that a whole hell of a lot of women who have been through far worse consider themselves the lucky ones too. At least they're alive, after all.

And now imagine you're nearly forty, and even though this all happened twenty years ago, your finger's hovering over the delete key because you know he might be watching. You know he watches because ten years ago he tracked you down on MySpace and sent you a message telling you what a bitch you were for leading him on and then breaking his heart. A couple years later he sent you a friend request on Facebook, and when you blocked him he created a new account. Imagine it's only been a year or two since he last tried to contact you online and you're not sure you're out of the woods. Imagine you're worried that he'll harass your parents if you click Publish.
Imagine you still feel like a sucker, an asshole, an absolute idiot for that four-week lapse in judgement twenty years ago. Imagine you still feel so horribly guilty for the fact he harassed your folks. Imagine you don't answer the door when you're home alone to this day. Imagine this isn't the only time a man made you afraid for your life. Imagine this was only one of a thousand times a man did something to make you feel afraid. Imagine this isn't even the worst of it.
And then imagine what it feels like when you try to tell your story and some guy online takes personal offense to your sharing your story, like you talking about a time a man made you feel afraid is an attack on all men everywhere. Imagine guys who think that your fear makes you "hilariously overdramatic." Imagine having to remind yourself that he's wrong.
Just, try to imagine, and remember to imagine, and have some sympathy and have some empathy. We're telling you our stories. We need you to hear them. We need you to stop defending dudes you don't even know and start helping us defend ourselves. We need you to take all that righteous anger you feel when a woman says she's afraid of men, and channel it toward the men who made us feel that way. We need you to be allies. We need you to be the good guys you insist you are.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Back to basics

Sorry, all, for my protracted absences. As it turns out writing all day for work and then writing all night for school leaves little time for other writing activities. But also, it's kind of great. I'm dreading the end of the semester, not because I've got a mountain of work to do between now and then, though I do, but because I am loving the hell out of this semester. My professor and my classmates are so awesome that logging on to Blackboard and discussing assigned readings feels less like work and more like being part of the most awesome book club ever. I hate that it has to end. I hate that I've only got one more semester after this. (I hate that a year from now I'll be paying off loans on a degree that brings with it no increase at all in earning potential).
But that's not what I'm here to talk about today. I'm here to talk about the things we learned in kindergarten. You may be familiar with Robert Fulghum's essay "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten," where he talks about the fact that the secrets to happiness and healing are all stuff we learned as munchkins - play fair, share everything, clean up your own mess, don't take things that don't belong to you. But I think Fulghum left some stuff off the list.

Other people's genitals are their own business
When arguing that transgender people don't have a right to exist in society (and make no mistake, every argument about transgender issues goes back to whether transgender people have a right to exist in society), many people argue that we all learned in kindergarten that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.
You know what else we learned in kindergarten? That other people's genitals are their own business. In every argument about transgender people being allowed to use public bathrooms, someone says that people should use the toilet that corresponds with their genitalia. Dude, other people's genitalia are not your business. 
But bathrooms aren't the only place genitals come up. I saw an article online recently about a cross-dressing cop. Article didn't say a thing about that cop's genitalia, but you better believe every entry in the comments section did. This cop is mentally ill because everyone knows that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. Lop off your penis if you must, commentators said, but you were born a man and you'll always be a man. Every other comment seemed to invoke "the surgery." As I've mentioned before, there is no "the surgery." The process of medical transition is long and expensive, usually involves multiple surgeries, and there are a great many trans people who opt not to go down that road at all. Which is beside the point because other people's genitals, whether surgically altered or not, are none of anyone else's business. My genitals aren't your business, your genitals aren't my business. People have a right not to have their genitals discussed, debated, or speculated upon because our genitals are our own business. 

We don't call names
Here's a fun game: go to YouTube, pick the most innocuous and uncontroversial video you can find, and scan the comments to see how long it takes for someone to call somebody else a "snowflake" or a "libtard" or an SJW. Generally the name-calling starts right around comment number three. Now we liberals are calling conservatives "snowflakes" because apparently we're rubber and they're glue, and it's all a pointless, infantile waste of time. In kindergarten we learned that when we're upset, we talk about our feelings. We learned that calling people names is rude and inappropriate and counter-productive. The fact that pundits on all sides have given up on substantive debate and instead flocked to insults and epithets doesn't mean we have to, because we don't call names.

Keep your hands to yourself
Twitter, Facebook, board rooms, men's rooms, everywhere they're talking about how unsafe a time it is to be a man. It's unfair, is what it is, how men can be strung up for an innocent grope of the behind, a brush against a breast when she hasn't explicitly said no.
Those endangered unsafe men might do well to heed a lesson they learned in childhood. We don't touch people without their permission. We don't touch people who do not want to be touched. Only a few people are allowed to look at or touch your private parts, and you always have the right to speak up and tell others when someone touches you in a way you do not like. We do not mistreat people who complain about inappropriate touching, and we certainly don't yell at, bully, threaten, or demean them. We listen to people when they say they've been touched inappropriately, and we always tell a person in authority (even if we're not sure they're telling the truth).

Don't play with guns
They are not toys. They kill.