Based on the title of this post, I've got a mouth on me this morning. Either deal with it or leave quietly. :-)
When I was sixteen my friend Lori introduced me to her friend Timmy, who is a perfectly lovely guy and if I had to pick any high school guy really unlikely to do something like this it would be Timmy, but there you go, guys, hell, people, do shit because they do shit. We're a thoughtless bunch of mother fuckers. Timmy worked for his step-father at his step-father's service station and he worked on cars and pumped some gas and I think I only dated or hung out with guys who worked on their own cars right up until husband #2 but I'm getting off track.
We walked into the garage and I held out my hand and he wiped off his hands with that red cloth that ought to be hanging from the back of every mechanic's pocket and instead of holding his hand out he lifted me off the ground and gave he his best smile.
I said, "put me down." He said, "make me".
I pulled his ears as hard as I could. Outward. He promptly dropped me and came to his knees. There were tears in his eyes.
Then I said, "Hi!"
He got up and shook my hand. And then he apologized. Tim's a good guy, he really is, but guys (and girls) we pull this shit like it's OK and very few people actually know what to do with it. Actually, very few people know that we should or could or can or have the right to do anything with or about it, we just experience some degree of discomfort and wait for it to pass.
There's been a great deal of conversation in the Contra world about this sort of thing and I've been listening to the conversation about older men and younger women until I sort of exploded in the general direction of Southern Man yesterday (because I can and he's really good about that sort of venting) and went off about that really NOT being the only demographic that had to put up with this shit. I beat men off on a regular enough basis to count myself among the regularly harassed. It's part of life. I don't believe anyone has ever actually noticed either. Why? Nobody is actually looking. I'm OK with that. Whether or not I'm being groped is my problem to deal with and I'm fairly adept and a solid knee to the crotch and I've never had anyone actually grab my ass although I've had it slapped. A direct conversation generally solves that shit. Generally. I was talking to an older man I know fairly well who told me about a woman he was dancing with who, during the 12 to 15 minute dance just wouldn't let up. He finally had to come right out and tell her he was married and would be going home with his wife. He wears a ring. Turns out she was married too and so what. He was telling the story with some humor so his discomfort didn't land right away. Men are supposed to suck this up, meant to be flattered, right? He was neither. It was a confession of vulnerability and his feeling of being violated. Funny thing is he's one of the guys that deals with bad behavior at his own dance. He protects the girls.
She was flirting and continued despite the clear signals of, what part of no don't you understand? We should not have to go so far as to stop and say those words. When we come to that we lose the right to flirt at all and that sorta sucks. I ran up and kissed Northern Man on the cheek at the end of the Greenfield dance. On. The. Cheek. I considered it more or less harmless although there was some serious crush going on there. Apparently it shocked the shit out of him. Really? Well holy crap. When I was first learning to dance I was held very close by a friend of mine, I didn't know him at all then, so I wouldn't fly out of control during a swing, I didn't feel even remotely violated. He wasn't shoving his crotch into me and he was looking right into my eyes with the most beautiful smile. As it turns out, he is probably the one person Elizabeth will allow to lift her (even without warning) and the person she trusts the most. Can you see where I'm going here? It's a fine line and it's what we're putting out there.
This is life, we gotta deal with it, men, women and children regardless of gender orientation, age or race. It happens to everyone. Not just pretty young girls. Are we protecting pretty young girls because we're looking at them? Because we think they can't protect themselves? Because they haven't been taught to protect themselves? Because they are the only demographic that will come forward? Which is it? I've been told I'm a target because I fall into the 'attractive' category of 49 year old women (don't take this personally, SM, you are FAR from the only person who's said it).
That's one of the most sexist statements I've heard in a long time. My beautiful smile coming down the line does not make me a target anymore than the skirt coming up over my thighs when I spin. The guy who chooses to do it is going to do it regardless. He might have a window or a type, but he's going to do it. Also, to focus on young women the way we focus on them is also sexist in it's own way. Don't worry, I'm going to get to that. Men, I know you *think* you're doing something great and wonderful but at some level you are dis-empowering. I promise. And I'm not saying you should not do something about people who truly behave badly. EVERYONE should do this. The entire community should take care of the problems. Not just the men. Men are not put on this planet to shelter and protect young women. It wreaks of possession.
Here is something. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I can't remember which because I can't remember if I was jumping yet, I was at the drop zone bar (this is where all the sky divers congregate to drink together at the end of the day) standing around in a crowd of mostly sky divers. I remember there were some civilians present which was/is (probably still) unusual. Generally civilians don't hang out in that sort of crowd and I felt vaguely uneasy. Someone came up behind me and started to put their arms around me. Before it got too far I swung around, my right arm pulled back, elbow slightly down (no way to judge height yet but the assumption was he'd be taller),fist at my shoulder ready to deliver a right hook to somebody's jaw and eyes on fire. And here's the thing. Nobody ever said directly that this was something I could or should do but somehow in the environment that I was raised, this was the right thing, or close enough to the right thing to do. And here I am in a room full of men who would surely have beat another man into a bloody pulp.
Turns out the guy was my mother. I was horrified. She backed up and apologized. That was absolutely the right thing to do. And then later I pulled Timmy's ears until he cried. This is me. I was raised believing I should and could defend myself. We don't raise women to do this and we continue to enforce the VERY sexist belief that they need protection. Later, if they choose, they take classes in self-defense. Really, those classes mostly teach us the belief that we should and can and must.
Later I was raped and I laid very still because I didn't want to die. That was the right thing to do. See the difference?
Last night something happened to my daughter. Something that went entirely unnoticed, although at another dance it might not have been unnoticed and hell, maybe someone did notice, I don't know. And maybe it didn't even go unremarked but it's very hard to say. There has been conversation about whether to lift or not to lift children at a dance. My 'child' does not like to be lifted without permission. If she doesn't know you, you'd damn well better not. My child does not, or has not until now had the wherewithall to speak up for herself because she's been raised with some level of manners that makes it hard to speak up differently to adults. My bad. I have failed to convey something... the adults in question, like Timmy are perfectly nice adults, they've simply failed to consider that children have boundaries. She and I started to have that conversation and she's been working on it, she really has. It's hard to take her to a new dance because she's scared now. Greenfield made her unhappy because she was invisible but also because she was lifted without permission. Last night we had another problem.
Something has happened. Elizabeth is no longer a child. Not even remotely a child. She's kind of short though and I suppose if you stretch it a bit you might get away with calling her a child but, sweetie, those are breasts and the way she dances and the grace with which she holds herself...
SHE IS NOT A FUCKING CHILD!!!!
(do you hear the mommy wrath? it is epic and it is testament to my ability to settle myself that I didn't march myself back into that building and tear someone's limbs off)
Elizabeth hit puberty, full on quite awhile ago. This is a very dangerous place, gentlemen.
If you lift this young woman you have crossed a very specific line. I don't think you even see it but you've crossed it. I expect you've lifted her because she weighs 70 pounds and she's light and she's graceful and it makes you look so freaking good because she doesn't come up off the floor like a kid, she comes up off the floor like a dancer. But you can tell yourself she's a kid and that makes it OK.
Well it wasn't OK in the first place.
I didn't go back into the building because of the rest of what she told me. I just let the story unfold.
She said, "don't lift me". Later he did it again in the same dance and she said it again and then he stopped. It is possible that he didn't hear her because this is the very first time she's managed to speak up for herself and the music is loud. Someone else did it later and this time she made sure he heard her.
She said the reason she was sitting out (she'd mentioned I was looking at her and wanted me to know she was sitting out by choice, we'd been talking about the fact that she was going to have to be proactive in asking for dances) was that what was happening was ruining the dance for her and it was taking awhile before she was willing to get back out there. She was embarrassed and hiding from the first guy. FUCK!
Here's the thing. I know him. I like him. I love dancing with him. He's a goofy fun guy to dance with. I told her this. I also said something had to be done to stop all of it but she, we were going to have to be the most responsible about it. Nowhere, in all the conversation about female or even male harassment have we talked about this. We've talked about kids, we have not talked about young people, very young people who are too old to be picked up because they are not children but you can tell yourself they are not adults either which means there is no sense of self or ownership of self. Or whatever you tell yourself when you don't recognize a boundary.
What came out of her mouth next was, "maybe I need to wear a button or a sticker that says NO LIFTING". Yup, maybe you do. And maybe you need to say it too.
That's what I'm talking about.
And then I told her the story about Timmy. And we talked about the society we live in and why people do this sort of thing and why we don't protect ourselves or why maybe we do. And then I told her about my mother and the bar and she said, "I had no idea you were so cool" and I said, "it's not about being cool", it's about owning yourself.
I haven't always owned myself. I gave my power away for nearly ten years in the not so distant past. Well that sorta sucked. I chose not to mention that part.
As her mother I am still not a happy camper this morning but I'm ever so much calmer. I don't feel the need to beat the crap out of the guy who picked her up and left her feeling helpless and violated. It's what they call a teachable moment (that sort of cracks me up, that horrible newish phrase).
She said another thing, coming to her own conclusion, finding the words, slowly, to wrap around what had really happened to her.
"I'm too big to be picked up anymore"
That is correct, Elizabeth, you are no longer a little kid, you are a young woman and it means something entirely different when you are lifted now. Protect yourself. She already knew she had to do that.
And I'll be damned if I'm going to dis-empower this young woman by rushing back into the building to disembowel someone. Doesn't mean I won't be watching though.