Some people seem to have high, thick walls. I barely have a screen door hanging by one hinge.
I’ve been called sensitive and vulnerable. Yep! I see those as strengths. Not everyone does.
Other people say, you’re such a calm person. Just the other day, a friend I hadn’t seen for awhile said I seem centered.
It’s a paradox. I know paradox. Paradox and I are intimate, even as she remains a mystery to me. I AM centered, and I AM calm. And I am not.
I am SO enraged at what’s going on in our country, and not just our country… some European countries that are also experiencing attempts at bringing fascism to power… and not just European countries… the Middle East, and their particularly heinously retrograde regard of women. Burkas?? WTF! And not just Arab countries. Israel. A people so long oppressed and with such a history of brilliant representatives (Einstein, etc.) should know better. Should not be oppressing Palestinians as they do.
I’ll leave it at that. What mostly gets under my skin right now is the mega-bamboozlement of the American people by the GOP-Trump-FoxNews organized crime ring. Seriously, I do NOT feel calm. I do NOT feel centered. I fantasize giving a powerful upward knee thrust to their various groins, after which I take them all out as Zhang Ziyi does in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Then, I listen to Tara Brach, and remember my buddha dharma. That it is essential to not become consumed with hatred, that kindness and compassion are the qualities that best serve me, our species, other species, and the planet. So I pay attention to my breath and to the moment.
I am inspired by beauty and people who are kind, engaged, and courageous. I am influenced by what I expose myself to. So I have to be careful. I have had to learn to say NO to that which isn’t beneficial.
There was a time I didn’t know how to say No! I believe Patriarchy takes away this ability from girls — to say NO. (btw, Buddhist Patriarchy does this too).
At age 8, being readied for my life in Patriarchy. Then at age 9, more of the light dimmed.
I envisioned writing Part 2 of Brave and Afraid AF as a long list of sexual assaults I suffered. My #metoo cri de coeur.
But, I felt overwhelmed. And sad. Dis-trusted whether anyone even wanted to hear it. Dis-trusted my own role. Heard the word slut in my mind. The phrase what part did I play? Heard other people (not just myself) accuse me like they accused Dr. Ford. Why doesn’t she remember all the parts of the story? What was she wearing? Why didn’t she/I just say NO? You know, like Nancy Reagan told kids to just say NO to drugs. That worked out really well too.
My friend M. took me out for a belated birthday lunch the other day. We discussed Patriarchy.
She said (I paraphrase) Girls now dress in a very sexualized way and feel empowered by it.
I said, Well of course they do, advertising and the pervasiveness of Patriarchy being what it is.
She said, (I paraphrase) But still, I think everyone — the boys and the girls — have to take responsibility.
I said, I agree, but only the girls end up getting called slut.
We talked about raging teenage hormones. I remember my own hormones raging. And what with birth control pills, antibiotics (should an STD appear, before HIV), sexual liberation, and the revolution, well, yes, I said Yes more than I wish I had. But often I didn’t say Yes, I just didn’t say NO. Because I blamed myself — even in the moment —for getting into the situation. For flirting. For accepting a ride. For being somewhere I regretted having gone. I was afraid of being called a PT (prick tease), more than I was afraid of being taken advantage of, basically, used. Sometimes I was afraid for my physical safety and thought it safer to acquiesce than to say No.
I had been conditioned to please. To freeze. To acquiesce.
Then, there were the surprise times…
Paris. I was 21. The man walked up behind me on a Parisian sidewalk. Without comment or cue, he grabbed my ass. After he let go he walked past me with a smug look of triumph. I hauled off and slugged him in the arm, injuring my hand. He laughed.
Cuernavaca. I was 23. I had gone to bed alone in the little Casa de Huspedes (guest house). I awoke in the middle of the night, an arm draped heavily across my chest in the pitch darkness. The conversation was basic.
Me: Quien es? (Who are you?)
He: No tenga miedo. (Don’t be afraid!)
Me: Vaya! (Get out of here!)
I moved off the bed dragging the sheet with me to cover myself and flicked the light switch. I wondered if he had a weapon, a knife? Darkness. He’d removed the light bulb. Ok… the story is too long.. I wasn’t raped. I fled. In the street at 3AM there was a boisterous bar filled with men on one corner, a police station on the other. I could go to neither. I stood a distance away, not wanting to call attention to myself, silently crying my eyes out.
San Francisco. I was 37. There was the highly recommended masseur at the upscale Pacific Heights Gym. An obviously well-practiced predator, he started slowly, so I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. Even after the sexual assault, it took me hours to accept reality. Why hadn’t I said NO! sooner than I did? I went to work that afternoon. I tried to downplay the incident, but when I told the story, my fellow nurses were horrified. After work, I called the police. They were kind, but proposed that I not press charges, that it would be hard to prove, that instead they’d go to the gym and tell him to get out of town.. I agreed… Now, I think of it like the Bishops re-assigning predator-priests to another parish.
That’s my short, incomplete list. You get the idea. I’ll leave it there for now.
I think of the girl and young woman I was. I came across this quote just this morning. How am I ever to apologize to myself sufficiently? —Virginia Wolff.
I remember myself as a young girl, without walls, full of curiosity and optimism, undaunted (though unconsciously already seriously constrained), fighting the good fight against the Vietnam war and for Civil Rights, but not for my own rights.
I remember how the Chilean military junta tortured the beloved protest singer Victor Jara, breaking all his fingers to render him unable play the guitar he brought with him to the Stadium where thousands were detained. Then, they murdered him, along with thousands of others. I remember the American CIA’s involvement in what happened. There is a strange parallel now with what has happened to the journalist Khashoggi at the hands of the GOP and Trump’s Saudi friends. Breaking fingers? Cutting them off? Why is the US so frequently involved on the wrong side?
The School of the Americas in Georgia where torture is taught.
There has always been racism and sexism, and for as long as we can remember there has been Patriarchy. I’m sure there’ve always been bullies. Often they stay semi-hidden, and creep out only when they felt it safe to do so. Now is such a time. The bullies have arrived. The international brotherhood of bullies is arriving. It’s as ugly and horrifying as can be.
They have mechanisms to thwart an honest election. I believe we still have to try. Time to do what Brene Brown teaches… “Be afraid and brave at the same time.”
So, we’re doing this, right? Facing fears, speaking truths, voting, getting others to vote, being kind and compassionate, not giving up, fighting back! Like feminists said back in the day, the personal is political. And the political? Personal! Let’s do this.
4 thoughts on “Brave & Afraid AF, Part 2”
Great piece Gayle – feeling all of those paradoxes and just wanting to curl up and cut myself off from news and wanting to go out there and kick Trump and all of his cronies in the balls. Starting to feel like all of this fighting won’t change a thing, but knowing for sure that to not meet means absolutely nothing will change. We are really at a point where there is no choice and I choose to fight and hope that there are more sane and smart people than not. xo
Dearest Terri, Yes!! I agree. We ARE at the point of no choice. And yet there is always choice. Some will not choose to fight. I am happy you have made the choice to fight. I too hope (and pray) there are “more sane and smart people than not.” xoxo, g
Yes, “Every woman has her list” as an old friend said to me this week as we sat comparing notes on how 70+ years of life in the patriarchy had shaped us. Thanks for adding your stories to this essential conversation. Loved the Crouching Tiger clip. If only the “enemy” were within such close reach. . .<3
I love that Crouching Tiger clip too. “I am the dragon from the desert!” If only the “enemy” could be sorted out with a few masterfully delivered blows. Still, I loved contemplating the possibility.