Michelle (msagara) wrote,

Where is my outrage? Here. It's here.

The title refers to this post, by author Nora Jemisin. It is worth reading. It is not going to make your night any happier.

But then again, I'm not going to make your night any happier. I don't know if people will find this post triggery--but it will descend, in all probability, into rant and a genuine, visceral anger. So this might be the time to scroll past.

Because I'm me, I'm going to come at my point slowly, and it may seem to you that I am not addressing the point at all. I want to ask, as I have done once or twice before, that if people choose to comment here, they don't offer me sympathy, or its ugly step-cousin, pity. What I'm writing is entirely contextual.

I'm pretty much fifty years old. My mother was the youngest of nine children, which means many of her outlooks are a generation older than she is.

I was raised to be a Good Girl. This is independent of being a good child. Good Girl has connotations and struggling to be a Good Girl is about as comfortable as your average iron maiden, and you don't get to enter it voluntarily. In pre-pubescence, we are all assumed to be Good Girls. Why?

Because we're pre-pubescent. We are outside of the age in which sexuality is inextricably linked to gender in the the general polity at large. We are children. When I was growing up, we belonged to our mothers. But as young women, we belonged to the houses of our fathers. Why?

Because we needed to belong to someone male.

This sounds like hyperbole. I don't think it was ever a conscious attitude; neither my mother nor my father ever said this to me, and I honestly don't think either of them thought it; it was, however, an observable attitude in people external to our nuclear family.

I was raised to be honest, to work hard, to worry about how I was seen by others, and to fit in (this will probably strike people who actually know me in real life as funny). But when I hit the age of thirteen, and developed breasts, there were other lessons waiting in the wings.

Until then, I had never heard the word 'slut'. I had never heard the word 'whore'. I had been told, repeatedly, that two people fall in love and get married. I was not told that those two people had to be one (1) woman and one (1) man. This was not because my household was particularly progressive, mind you; it was because any other pairing had never, ever occurred to my mother. I had never heard the word homosexual. I had heard the word faggot. I understood it was meant as a pejorative. I don't think the boys that used it understood the pejorative themselves, since they used it in an entirely gender neutral way. At ten years of age, I was often called a faggot, as an example. I believe it was a word picked up at home when parents used it in a derogatory way; it was understood to mean: bad person or loser. In high school, of course, that shifted. But it was part of the early vocabulary.

I heard the word chink a lot, growing up. We lived in a predominantly Italian/Greek/Portugese neighborhood. Until I was nine years of age, the only other asians I had ever met were all related to me; there were no others at my school. There were two black girls, and one black boy. Everyone else was white.

I did not understand the way 'white' is divided. I don't know if it was, when I was young; Hispanic does not seem to be considered white, in the US. Arabic is not considered white.

I was, however, visible. A visible minority. What other words did I hear a lot? I didn't hear a lot of nigger, but I knew what it meant. I heard a bunch of jew-beggar. I understood all of these words as words that were derogatory. When I was five, chink upset me more because at five, we see the things that hurt or bewilder us first. At age twelve, I started to hear a lot of the word paki, as new people moved into the neighborhood.

I particularly liked the word wop, because it was a word that you could use on your white, male tormenters that was just as derogatory. I tell you this to make clear that, as a child, my hands were not clean. I considered it fair, at the time. You make my life hell, I will make your life hell.

Retard was also a very commonly used word.

These words were the harshness we navigated around. They were frequently accompanied by other acts of harshness.

When we developed breasts, new words joined them. Slut. Whore. The concept of 'slut-shaming' didn't exist, in the sense that slut-shaming is considered a terrible thing and something women should not do to each other, and society should not do, period.

When I was thirteen, there was no such thought. Slut-and-whore were a value judgement that was handed down if you failed the Good Girl test--the one that accompanies breasts and menstruation. It was a label.

It was worse than a label.

Sex could destroy your life. Having sex outside of marriage instantly turned you into an evil, immoral person. Anyone decent could look down their nose at you, could shun you, if they knew. It rendered you unfit for company--or decent company. It made you fit for only one thing: indiscriminate sex with anyone who wanted it or demanded it. Because if you'd done it once, you were ruined; there was no reason that you then shouldn't be doing it all the time.

That -- that was the subtext of my puberty.

What I learned as a fourteen and fifteen year old were that men--many middle-aged and balding and older than my father, from all kinds of different racial and cultural backgrounds--wanted that sex. I was told, frequently, by well meaning much older woman, that that is all men wanted; that they would trick or manipulate you into sex by lying. Sex was the act of a predator.

If a woman and man walked into a bedroom together, there was always one winner and one loser - and it wasn't the woman who won. If you played the game at all, you lost. You were a slut.

You cannot imagine how mind-numbingly wrong this seemed to me. None of these words were ever used in my household when I was growing up. Not one. Only when I developed the aforementioned breasts did they suddenly become used. They shocked me, in their context; they were ugly, harsh, judgemental.

My logical mind did not understand how making love - which is what married couples did - and having sex, which is what sluts did (because, no marriage) were actually different.

The difference, I was told, was this: if men respected you, they would not touch you before marriage. If they didn't, their touch would destroy you somehow; it would transform your very soul and turn you into something unwanted, anathema.

So: sex was transformative, and not in a good way.

I don't know how many of you were raised with this subtext. It was mostly subtext. But during fights about, say, phoning boys (OMG!), it became text. It was ugly. And it still made no sense to me. An acquaintance, male of course, explained it this way: "Would you want an ice cream cone that someone else had licked first?"

And I thought, then: oh, I get it. We're goods. We're like any other desireable object: we have to be new and shiny.

And then I thought: f*ck that (that was when I was sixteen. I actually said to my mother: "So let me get this straight. You are telling me that I should want to spend my life with a person whose only concern about me is an intact hymen?" She was furious, because that was not what she was saying. Except it was. Because nothing else about me would make any difference if I wasn't a virgin.

"Well, thanks for that. I am not spending my life with someone who doesn't actually care about me. Whoever that mythical person who will not marry me if I am not a virigin actually is. What do I need a husband for? I am going to work. I am going to put a roof over my own head. I do not need a man for that. I will not starve without one. And I will not live in a cage in utter terror of having zero value if I have sex."

But I was full of fury and bravado. Because I understood that the words 'slut' and 'whore' have power. No adolescent wants to be hated or despised. I argued with people about those words. I considered the use of them to be so bloody hypocritical on the part of men (who responded, when called on it, with "But we weren't talking about you", which entirely missed the point.)

Because I understood that if you had the Good Girl label, at least some of the lecherous, disgusting behaviour would be kept in check. There was some of it that you wouldn't have to endure.

Good Girls are virgins. If you haven't had sex, you aren't obligated to do so with every disgusting entitled male who attempts to crawl all over you.


And now, we are getting to the point. To my reaction to the Twitter comment, and every other stupid comment on the Oscars.

When I was fifteen years old, I landed my first part-time job. It was in a shoe store where a friend also worked. The manager of that store was an odious man. He was balding, my height, three times my girth, and he spent every day we worked together regaling me with detailed accounts of all his sexual exploits. He was in his mid to late thirties at the time. Married, although clearly that was not one of his personal issues.

He did not ever attempt to molest me physically, but - I really found him loathsome beyond all possible belief, and absolutely revolting. I found his comments about customers after they'd left the store - always women -- obscene and just as revolting. Did I mention he was the manager?

I would hope in this day and age that my fifteen year old self could report him for sexual harassment, because listening to his talk about his sex and the size of his penis and the number of times he did it this past weekend would absolutely qualify.

One day, while cataloguing his reactions to someone's 'tits' and 'ass', he slid into a comparison of every racial category of women and the sex he had had with them. (I think, btw, that he entirely made all this up. I cannot actually imagine anyone, ever, anywhere, finding him attractive enough to stay within twenty yards of him. I did not, however, think that then).

And when he reached blacks - and yes, in case you're counting, he certainly went down the asians list - he said, and I want to bold this:

There are no black virgins. Black girls are all sluts; all they want is sex. They start f*cking everyone in sight when they're ten or eleven.

He was not black. He wasn't white, either, but he wasn't black. His interaction with the black community was zero, zilch, nil.

And that comment is the one that stays with me. I've heard it three other times in my life. Never ever from any of those 'girls' themselves, of course.

You know what?

I got to be a child. Until I actually developed breasts and physically matured, I got to be a child. People like this incredible ass did not look at me at that age and assume that he needed to start having sex with me Right Bloody Now if he wanted a virgin, because if he waited until I was ELEVEN it would be too late.

I was not instantly objectified, instantly turned into a sex object, until I had at least developed external adult physical attributes. I didn't like it when it did happen.

And what I thought, when I saw the Twitter reaction? It was of that man. Of men like him. And of the attitude toward little black girls that is embedded in the already ugly sexism and misogyny.

I am glad that black feminist twitter is up in arms. But I understand that the misogyny and the creepiest and ugly remnants of patriarchal sex hierarchies are at their worst and most destructive when dealing with black women.

Do I think that the comments were made because Quvenzhané Wallis is a black girl?

Yes. Yes I do. I don't even think it was a conscious decision; I don't think they looked at her and thought: black girls are all sluts. But I think it's the subtext. I've seen it. It wasn't aimed at me because I was yellow, not black - but I've seen it, and it is so incredibly ugly. I am angry on their behalf. I am angry on behalf of their children.

It's been fifteen years since I've last heard that opinion. Fifteen years in which so much has opened up and changed.

But I guess thirty-five years isn't enough, on its own, to eradicate the attitude.

Edited because it's != its, and in theory I know this

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  • On politics, or lack thereof

    I am not a very public person. Being professional is something that everyone who works should be capable of - but in general, that’s eight…

  • About mother love & the desire for it

    No child sees their mother as a person. They see their mother as a role. We’re not women, not people with significant (or insignificant)…

  • Shush, I’m working

    Quintana once nailed a list of "Mom's Sayings" to the garage door that read: "Brush your teeth, brush your hair, shush I'm working." In reviews of…