Thursday, February 23, 2017

Reflections on Eleven


When I was eleven years old, my mother had a discussion with our next door neighbor about me, in front of me that I remember pretty well. The neighbor was asking how old I was and they both agreed that eleven was just about the perfect age. My mother revealed that I still played with barbie dolls (I was mortified and considered myself too old for dolls even though my bff and I had so much fun with them, it was our little secret we never told) and both women went on to wax poetic about the age of eleven, how much they had enjoyed it, how sweet they had been, how much they loved spending time with their mothers and how simple things were before the complications of teenage angst came along.
I have never forgotten this conversation and it had a profound effect of me as a young girl. I haughtily did not consider eleven to be a perfect age. I was frustrated and wanted to do things and be more grown and felt as if my brain was always more adult and mature than my body and no one took me seriously because I was only eleven.
I had listened intently to every word those women had said, though I don't think it was anywhere near a very important conversation or that it had reached the level of something significant but nevertheless had revealed something very important about my mother and though I chastised her soundly when we got inside for embarrassing me by telling the neighbor I played with dolls, for some reason it always stayed with me.
When each of my daughters reached the age of eleven, I have recalled this conversation and replayed it in my head. I can remember tossing around the seedballs in my back yard while pretending not to be paying attention so that I could listen longer. Time has convinced me that my mother was right in ways I could not understand that day. The age of eleven might be perfect for mothers and daughters for their relationship is more pure than it will be ever again. It is the last time we will look at our mothers before the cloud of hormones overtake us and rush us into a resistance. It is the time before everything changes in that relationship when we both want to be with one another. it is the time before I didn't have to see my mother as a woman, not understanding womanhood and being sure she could still do anything because she was more than human.
Isabella is my last daughter and though that conversation will be with me forever, this is the last time I will look into the familiar eyes of the eleven year old that is a small representation of the me that I used to be, and the girl that my mother was, and the barest glimpse of my grandmother and her mother. In her eyes, I feel that precious purity of what was and hope for what will be.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The De-Escalation Choice


Last night I was driving uber at my usual time and hanging out near the bars and college. Around 3 am I picked up a solo passenger. He said "Can you wait one extra minute while I get some water?" I said "Sure"

I'm going to call him Floyd.
Floyd returns with a cup of water and gets in the front seat. This is pretty common for single riders so I won't say I over worried about it.
He asks me how I am doing, then he offers me some of his water. I thought this was kind of weird but I say no thank you and keep driving. It's kind of a regular, very usual conversation about the work he does and who he is and all that until suddenly, Floyd says.
"Hey, why don't you come over and smoke some pot with me?"
This is not really the first time I have had this offer. It's usually a little more tentative or respectful. And it's pretty easy to turn down. One time a group of bachelorettes wanted me to eat breakfast with them at Eat Rite diner and I truly thought about it because they were a lot of fun.
I figure he's drunk and lonely, so I just say "That's awfully kind of you, but I have to drive the rest of the night and I can't do that high."
Floyd then starts attempting to convince me.
I say "Thanks, that's really nice of you, but I'm going to say no." But honestly, I am out and out lying at this point because his offer isn't nice or kind. It's rude and threatening.
And Floyd isn't having that "no" word.
He takes out some money (a ten or a twenty, I think, I didn't look) and places it on my dashboard.
"There, I've paid for your next ride, you can come in, just take one hit and leave. I just want to smoke with you."
And now I am realizing he thinks he can buy me.
Like a hooker? I'm truly annoyed now. But I bring out Bartender Vanessa who knows how to make a cranky customer calm down. I start the de-escalation process by just letting him talk and allowing him to think for the rest of the ride that he is getting his way.
I start wondering what this scenario looks like as he tries to shame me into going inside with him. I just stop saying no for the rest of the ride because I have already said it at least three times.
I think about all the times this has happened to me before. I start going back in my head to the incidents of times I said no when a man has not respected me.
I've come a long way with the word no.
When I was a teenager, this kind of pressure was extremely difficult for me and I ended up in some situations that were extremely uncomfortable. When I was fourteen, I was nearly date raped by another fourteen year old. He escalated quickly. That is another story but I feel as if it might have been my first experience with not just lack of consent but repeatedly saying the word no and some asshole just not hearing a word you say.
I realize I have two choices on how to deal with this.
The teenage Vanessa was meek and quiet and tried to "nice" her way out of things. It always ended up making me feel weak. The Vanessa in her twenties started to feel her feminist power. She learned to say to the gropey guy in the bar "Get your hands off me." and walk away. She has real chutzpah! She gets it. She can say no to any inappropriate stranger. But she is terrible saying it to her friends. She lets them walk all over her sometimes. Even worse, this Vanessa ends up in some brutally abusive relationships with very pushy men. I think about all the ways I have had to say no in my life and every time I say it, it comes with guilt.
Why is that? Why do I feel shitty for saying no to a clearly inconsiderate person who has no respect for me or my feelings? I have no idea.
Is it the empath in me that knows I am wounding his ego and can just feel all the insecurity oozing out of him. He had struck out at the bar, was feeling all those feelings that were coming at me and now this uber driver was telling him no. How dare she.
I don't want to feel all that. He is now saying to me "When is the last time you did something like this? You need to do this."
And I am quietly super annoyed now, but I keep that smile on my face and even throw a laugh in there. Does he really think I live some dowdy, boring life and I need HIM to provide me with some pot smoking couch sex? Yes, he does. He doesn't know me at all. He hasn't bothered to ask one thing about me. I am the four am chick he thinks he knows is as desperate as him. Except I am not. And in the light of the car, I can feel his loud, sweaty, needy feelings.
But I am better at no, now. I can do this. But most of all, I have to do this. I have to get him to get out of my car and get myself out of this potentially dangerous situation. I start to review my self defense techniques. I take a deep breath as I pull up in front of his place. The money is still sitting on the dashboard. I'm not taking it. I realize I have two choices about how to say no to him. There is the firm, aggressive "Get the fuck out of my car." that I really, with every fiber of my being want to say. I want to do that. I am a strong woman and I have been so disrespected in the last five minutes that I want to make a super strong statement about "No means no." But I am not at the bar and this is not a public place. And I am more vulnerable in this place.
I might need my anger next. I may need to get scary and crazy in a minute.
He starts off with "Okay, let's go."
I decide to go with firm, business like Vanessa. She de-escalates without judgment. She thanks people kindly for the interest. She says "fuck you" inside her head while telling him to "have a nice day." and smiling.
I said "Look, Floyd, like I said, I appreciate the offer, But no."
I think about pulling the husband card but I hate that. It takes away so much of my power as a female to say something like "my husband/boyfriend is waiting for me/ he'll be here any minute" but don't think I won't use it or have any less respect for women who do use it. It's sitting in my back pocket.
My arsenal of how to say no is swimming in my head. I am ready.
At this point, I have chosen to use deescalation and it is making me feel like a shitty, weak, bad feminist. Just tell him NO MEANS NO. Show him your power! Using the words "I appreciate the offer" is just the worst. I want to choke on those words. Fuck those words. Get out of my car, you inconsiderate piece of shit, trying to shame me, trying to coerce me, refusing to hear any of the words I say. But I fight the shame down. Try this first, I tell myself.
And ladies, I say this to you--- if he won't hear the word NO from you in this polite circumstance, he isn't going to respect you later at any point.
So Floyd says "I guess you think that something is going to happen and I can see the reasons that you might not want to do this."
Code, I think he might be setting me up for an assault of some kind.
Yes, Floyd, I do think this. And you know I think this. And I think this because this is exactly the scenario in which it often takes place. And your platitudes of trust me mean nothing to me. Because I have been in this situation a thousand times before. And I'm not flattered and I don't think you find me attractive and I don't give a shit about your feelings right now because you haven't given mine a single thought.
Yes, Floyd, I think about the other girl who might have gone into your apartment and you served her some drugged drink and she woke up hours later, sore on the floor with her pants around her knees. I think this. It may not be true or accurate, Floyd. You might believe you are charming enough on your own but I know one thing about you at this point. No means nothing to you, so I expect more of that. I expect if I go into your place and smoke one hit of a joint with you, and I say "I have to leave" because this is what we agreed to. One hit. I expect that you will not honor that by saying "see you later" Instead, I expect that this one interaction leads to more of "no thank you" and you not hearing that little word a hundred more times. Because I know this one thing about you. Floyd, you haven't been nice about me saying no. In fact you have been coercive and brutish. Every tactic in your arsenal is to shame.
So I don't respond to him trying to reassure me that I'm not going to get assaulted because - whatever dude, it's not like you're going to be honest with planning a sexual assault!
And maybe you are just a harmless dickhead but guess what-- I'm not willing to take that chance.
So- I'm sitting in the car trying the de-escalation tactic first.
Floyd takes the money slowly off the dashboard. "Really?" he says, dripping sarcasm.
As if I give a shit about that money.
"Yes, Really." I respond.
He holds the money above his wallet and repeats "REALLY?"
And I say "have a nice night"
And you all know what I meant by that.
He puts the money away.
Then, I breathe a little sigh of relief as he gets out of the car without any more fight. He thinks he has humiliated me by taking away the money. I laugh a little on the inside as I drive away.
Now, I realize that there are some of you that are going to tell me "you need to stop doing what you're doing, you are going to end up in a worse situation next time, it's dangerous."
And I am going to tell you something-- just by living your life, anything could happen to you. Being out at night does not mean you will get raped or that you are at a higher risk for rape. I realize that some of you will never be convinced by this but shit can happen to you anywhere. I could just as easily have been able to de-escalate that situation as it could have spun out of control. I think about this all the time because I have to. And in spite of all the preparation and thought, this may not save me.
I made a choice to go with de-escalation. I often make this choice. I'm trying to feel good about it but it still makes me feel sometimes as if it's the weak thing to do. I want to say to men, stop asking me to make that choice, to have to decide between my dignity and my safety and just respect the word no. Because it all comes down to that and if that would happen. If every single person would just do that, I wouldn't ever have to be in that position because my consent, whether it is consent to come inside your house or consent to kiss you or consent for anything. I should not have to fight for the right to be treated with common respect. This was not a date. It was a ride. Fortunately 99% of uber riders understand that. In more than 100 rides, this has not happened. It is not common. It's literally more common that this happens to me when I am out in socializing that some guy just randomly disrespects me.
I'm not going to lie about it scaring me. It scares me. But I refuse to let fear of something that might happen stop me from living my life. But it gave me plenty to think about.
And the best part of what happened was that I had a plan. I had an arsenal of self defense. I had an idea of what I was going to do and how I was going to handle that situation and there is no part of knowing this kind of thing that makes that not helpful.
So, I would encourage everyone to play out that scenario, I want guys to play out that scenario, to understand what that feels like for us, too.
I encounter more levels of having my consent disrespected in a thousand small aggressions a day. And my most ugly fear in that if I don't attempt to de-escalate, I will somehow inadvertently incite your anger and this anger will kill me. Though there is not one thing I can do to make sure you don't become angry. Floyd's anger was always out of my control.
I feel soon I have to take this to the next level and look at how education is dealing with this and think about my role in it. And to those that will say to me, "how can you put yourself in that situation?" I say this to you- I did NOT put myself in that situation. Floyd put me in that situation. Let us be clear in that now and forever.