On July 17, a few blocks down from my Staten Island apartment and right next door to one of my favorite cafes, a black man named Eric Garner was put into an illegal chokehold by police. “I can’t breath. I can’t breath,” he was heard to say several times. And then he died.

There were rallies and demonstrations. I heard them from my window. When I walked to the grocery store, I saw police vans everywhere, and clusters of police officers at every corner. But I didn’t get involved. I’m a small white woman from Iowa, what business was it of mine? I didn’t know the man, I am new to the neighborhood, to the city. What could I add to the movement that wasn’t already there? What could I add that was needed?

On August 9, 950 miles away, a young black man named Mike Brown was walking down the street with a friend. A police officer stopped his car to speak to them. There was some kind of altercation. The young Mr. Brown ran for his life. He was unarmed but the officer shot him. He was unarmed and the officer shot him multiple times. And then he died.

Again there are rallies and demonstrations. This time there were riots, as people looked for outlets for their anger and frustration. I can’t hear them from my window, but everywhere online I see photos of rubber bullets and teargas cans. I read stories of people’s confusion and anger and fear, and watch videos of protests and picketing. And this time I want to join them. I can’t be in Ferguson to join in the demonstrations, I can’t attend vigils and press conferences, but I want to show my support for those who are suffering under an unjust and oppressive system. I want to join them.

Because maybe adding my voice of outrage won’t do anything, but maybe it will. Maybe I will just be one more frustrated and confused soul ignored by the system, but maybe not. By staying silent, we are complicit in the injustices around us. As Desmond Tutu said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” So I add my voice to the cries of ‘No Justice, No Peace,’ and I hope that as more of us lend our voices we can amplify the words and requests and demands of those who are seeking justice for a young man whose life was so senselessly taken and for a race that has been mistreated and misrepresented for far too long.

I woke up this morning with the intent to do some research for my dissertation. For the few hours that I have now been at my computer, I have instead been researching the recent shooting(s)* in California. I have not been doing this research because of my own curiosity, but because of the fact that since last night I have been overwhelmed by men in social media claiming that misogyny is not a thing, that it had nothing to do with the shooting, that the man was just ‘crazy,’ that women need to stop misrepresenting the facts and get some objective perspective. All this in spite of the existence of videos in which the shooter bluntly states that women are the problem and need to be punished. In spite of the fact that he was active in more than one online hate group targeting women. In spite of the fact that he wrote a 137-page manifesto which highlighted his feeling entitled to women and to sex.

I acknowledge that perhaps much of my experience on social media last night can be chalked up to trolling. I understand that, by responding to a troll, I may just become a sort of pawn . But I am also acutely aware of the fact that misogyny is endemic in our society and is routinely ignored, and I’m just so tired of it. Literally. I am exhausted. As I watched a friend respond to one of these trolls last night, seeing her well-formed responses and references appear in the thread, I told her how much I appreciated what she was doing. I told her I admired her example, because I couldn’t do it. Because I just don’t have the energy to subject myself to that, to succinctly and intelligently word my responses only to be met with ignorance and derision. “Don’t worry about changing his mind,” she said, “but think about those others who are reading whose minds might change.”

So this morning, after seeing yet another man/troll make the same tired claims, I decided that perhaps I would engage. And I’ve been sitting here informing myself since then. Informing myself not only on the facts of this particular instance, but of the various aspects of misogyny in general, on the broader topic of sexism and on specific issues such as femicide: I’ve finally read a post about tone policing and realised I have been policing myself. I found an article directly linking misogyny to femicide and learned that in Philadelphia in 2009, a shooting occurred which was remarkably similar to Friday’s in California**. I read about Elliot Rodger and I watched the first three minutes of his last video (the urge to vomit became too intense to continue beyond that point). I gratefully stumbled upon #YesAllWomen and silently thanked whatever gods there are that I am not alone***.

Yes, I am tired. Absolutely I am angry. On more than one occasion I have employed #icant because I was so drained emotionally that I just wanted to check out. But if I have figured anything out from these trolls and today’s round of research, it’s that #ican and #imust.

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*Stockton Man Reportedly Opens Fire on Women After They Refuse Sex

 
 
*** for the video and more on #YesAllWomen, see this Washington Post article.

Beginning Transition

I’ve bought my ticket home.

Chris and I have found an apartment of our very own.

My final european travel plans have been made.

Turned in my final essays.

Less than two months until I’m back to the US again.

Today, a dear friend messaged me that she had been harassed on the street*.

‘…And?’
‘Happens all the time.’
‘Just ignore it.’

Yes, it does happen all the time. But I (we) cannot ignore it anymore. We have been ignoring it for centuries** and, as could be expected, nothing has changed. Or if the situation has changed, it’s gotten worse.

One of the most disturbing—and perhaps least talked about—aspects of street harassment is that it does not end when the man stops talking or we finally get ourselves to safety. We, women mostly (though I’ll concede that men can be harassed), continue to think about what happened. Continue to contemplate our reactions and to bully ourselves for not reacting how we ‘should have’ or ‘could have’. We fixate on the things we want to have said. We are angry with ourselves for having had so much time to prepare for this, and then forgetting all the witty and strong remarks we had rehearsed after the last time it happened.

Based on interactions with friends, this reaction is incredibly common. I even wrote a blog about it myself a couple years ago, referring to this ‘missed opportunity’ to really stick it to the assholes harassing me. My friend’s message to me today was such an incredibly perfect and poignant description of this feeling:

“It just feels like there is a war out there and I just ‘lost’ a battle. One that I didn’t even initiate.”

Later I told her, “It is a war. But we’re making slow progress.” But I immediately wondered if that was true or if I just wanted to make her feel better.

Progress, I suppose, can be measured in different ways. There are now places like hollaback.org, where we are able to document our harassment. There are movements like The Green Dot, focusing on violence prevention. But still the prevailing feeling for women in public spaces is subordination. We are still being frequently and violently accosted, still living by ‘rape schedules’, still many of us more than once have thought “is this it? Is this my rape?”

This is not meant to be a rant. Neither is this meant to be an informative blog. This is a call to action. Men, do not stand for this behaviour when you see or hear it. Stand up for what you know is right, speak out against what you know is wrong. Women, continue to support each other. Tell your sisters it is not their fault, help them realise, as another of my friends did for me, that it is not our job in these situations to be the hero, that we are doing all we can in these situations to get the fuck out of there alive and safe and that is enough. Everyone, let’s treat each other with the respect and dignity all humans deserve. Please. Because I’m exhausted. Aren’t you?

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*Read her description of the incident here: ‘No, I don’t want your number, I just want a blowjob in the park.’

**There are documented cases of street harassment that predate the modern period (Bowman, C.G., 1993. Street harassment and the informal ghettoization of women. Harvard Law Review. 106(3). P.527).

Everyone exiting the train files down the platform, following the yellow-on-black ‘Way Out’ signs. Down the dimly lit platform and around the corner. “This staircase has 177 steps. For your own safety, please use the lift”, warns a sign at the bottom of the stairs. We obediently and quietly huddle in front of the silver doors. They open and the pack shrinks down to fit inside the metal box, chest to back, shoulder to shoulder. For just a handful of seconds we will stand intimately close to complete strangers as we are pulled to the surface of the station. A few people chatter but mostly we’re quiet; the prevailing mood is impatience and agitation. A man at the front, near the doors, is holding his two year old daughter, pretending to eat her fingers. She laughs and in the quiet lift we all watch her.”Dada!” she chortles, then calls to her mother to report the mischief. She looks around and sees all our eyes on her. She’s quiet for a few seconds, then she faces her dad who is again eating her fingers. “Mama!” she says, “Dada’s eating!” and nearly everyone in the lift laughs or smiles. For a moment we cease to be harried travellers, we forget that we are late or hungry or tired, forget that we have to be somewhere or are getting away from somewhere or are lost. Wherever our minds were before this moment doesn’t matter, in this moment we all forget everything but the amused laughter of a little girl. Standing intimately close to complete strangers, we share a moment and we laugh. Smiles linger on our faces as the doors open and we file through.

Because nostalgia

Translation of a note I sent to my hermana Tica last night:

I left my friends’ apartment and headed home. As I walked the streets of London toward my apartment, headphones played into my ears a song called La Mazurca. It felt strange, as though it was wrong to listen to that song in this place. In my mind danced images of the kids practicing baile típico, spinning and smiling. And I thought: Why does this feel wrong? Why can’t it be beautiful? Here, in this place so far from that country that I love, I carry a piece of her, of my beautiful Tiquicia. Here, in this country, because of a song, I feel that I am there, though only or a moment. So I decided that it isn’t wrong. That yes, it is something beautiful, and hopefully in the future I will carry a piece of London within me as well.

Her response:

“How beautiful.
They are feelings only known by those who live them.”