"These are not the assaults, the beatings, the rapes. These are not the traumas. These are small things, mostly; they happen a hundred times a day, you have to deal with them all. To ignore these is to know they’re collecting little victories of privilege, and to wait for “baby” to turn to “bitch” when you don’t answer. To respond almost always risks escalation, telescoping the amount of time you’ll have to deal with it. Either can be dangerous, if the man has a mind.
"You’ll have to assume you’re operating alone; a dozen men at that bus stop will stand and watch the man with his iPhone out; when he threatens at length to rape and murder you for telling him to fuck off, they will stand and watch as you try to dial the cops with one eye on his fists. They’ll tell the bus driver you were making a scene. Sometimes that’s how you deal with it.)
"Either way, when you tell the story, someone will suggest you should have taken the opposite tack. (This is an equal-opportunity moment; the whole world is invited to question women, and this is an easy win for anyone – to keep quiet is wrong, to engage is wrong.) If you don’t tell the stories, they stack up in silence, and they weigh. You have to deal with that, too.
"All of these moments are claims on you. This process is always running; it takes up a variable but dedicated percentage of your active memory. This process is mandatory; your operating parameters haven’t been designed otherwise."
If I may, I'd like to talk about what that process is for my subcategory of female. Genevieve is gorgeous. She's beautiful. She streaked like a glittering meteor through the glamorous people I met at the 2012 Locus Award Weekend. All that she says in her post is right, and valid and true. But my perspective is skewed by a simple fact. I'm not beautiful.
My body type has never been the cultural ideal of some sort of slim model, buxom Barbie, or elfin grace. I'm large boned and have struggled with my weight my whole life. I would have made a good farmer's wife; the polite term for someone like me was "handsome." I suppose I was tolerably better looking in my teens and twenties, enough to suffer a rape in my home town and sexual harassments on the NYC subway of my own at any rate. But usually, I was scorned. I'm not saying I envy those who go through constant sexual harassment, who are treated as if they were sexual objects to be casually abraded by any passing male with a whim to do so. But it might have been nice if, once in a while, someone cared one way or another if I lived or died. Being raised in a home with an alcoholic father also painted a great big "Victim" sign on my chest that took years to erase. Still, I came to the conclusion early that people were people, humans came in male and female, and both were worthy of kindness and respect. I just never got much of that respect back from a world completely swept up in appearances. I was unlovely. I was not a brag-worthy conquest. Nothing to see here, move along.
This is not a request for pity or reassurances. It's a very naked look at how the unlovely can retreat into silences and emotional deadness. Dealing with it? I eventually dealt with being female (and unlovely) by not giving a rat's rear end what anyone thought. I cultivated a dangerous indifference to what any harassing male might say or do to me. I took martial arts, and I learned to fight very dirty, physically dirty and verbally venomous - but only if provoked. My normal defense mechanism was to draw into myself, and to lash out only when coddled or belittled. Not all of it was because I was female: God knows, the new guys on any job or in any situation have to prove their worth. But because keeping people at arms length was safer than letting them in.
So I always expected some men to behave badly, and some women, too. I never have suffered fools gladly. At ten a wrestled a 12 year old harasser to the ground and pushed his face in the dirt. At 12 I broke a harassing 14-year-old's nose*. At 18 I carried a pointy umbrella to jab into anyone trying to hump me on the subway in the rush hour, which happened all too frequently. At 30, I confronted my rapist** and threatened to break his nose. At 35, my husband left me, saying he'd only married me because he thought no one else would take him. Seriously, that said more about him that it did about me. And I knew it, but it still hurt.
And all I wanted to do was have a nice, feminine life - to be appreciated for being me. I wanted to read books and arrange flowers, decorate a home and wear perfume and not be treated like a freak for thinking I could have that when I was not "pretty."
Eventually, I reached the top of my field in one of the most respected professions, engineering, in a male-dominated industry: construction. I was asked to run Abyss & Apex and when I shared that with my face-to-face crit group, and for the very first time in my life I saw the respect of my friends in their eyes. And little by little the respect of my colleagues and friends in SF & F and construction engineering allowed me to come out of my angry shell.
For me, there's a happy ending. My Brian and I are very happy, Abyss & Apex is respected, and I had the satisfaction of being a female trailblazer in my field. But I'm still a little unbalanced by the kindness of my friends in the genre. I love you all. Please see past appearances for the next generation of genre people coming up. Not all of them are beautiful. Most, however, are gorgeous inside. And I love you Genevieve, for speaking out. You're gorgeous - inside and out.
* Both times to defend a defenseless younger girl.
** My husband and I had a discussion about whether or not to make this post "friends only" due to the mention of rape, but I decided that shame should stick to the rapist, not the victim. Every time a woman (or man) acts as if their rape was the rapist's fault it lifts a burden off other victims. So this is public.