Here’s the situation: the game had just been called because of lightning, yet the kids had been sent back out onto the field to gather up the equipment (bases, etc.). I was already in a somewhat annoyed state of mind over this (you’re calling off the game because it’s too dangerous for them to be out there, and then you–the adult coaches–send them back out in the lightning to pick up the bases? Pick them up yourselves, you lazy shits.) Anyhow, that wasn’t the problem, it’s just what had me in a certain frame of mind to begin with. So some of the kids were struggling with lifting third base, which was stuck, and I assume (I wasn’t watching as this part happened) one of the girls on the team tried her hand at it and was successful.
At this point, an adult man on the sidelines — I assume he was a parent but I know nothing about this person — shouted to the boys who were in the group, “What, are you gonna let a girl do it when you can’t?”
A verbal argument ensues and Mary leaves the field feeling as though she was unable to articulate her feelings as she should have.
I had a somewhat similar experience last night.
It was late and I had spent all day at the computer working on a design job. I decided to go for a walk — threw on some jeans and shoes, grabbed my mp3 player, and intended to walk to campus for a cup of coffee over a book I’m desperately trying to finish. I walked to campus down the dead streets having a nice time alone with my music and thoughts. I travel on the sides of the road with the most lighting and best sidewalks and only walk on roads with considerable traffic. The notion that I may be jumped, even in this sleepy town, is always taken into consideration. But keys in hand and the headphones turned just low enough to hear footsteps around me, I made my way to campus.
Oddly, I was thinking of a Susan Faludi essay while I walked, in which she talked about how difficult it is for her to stand up in front of an audience and give speeches on feminism and sexism. It is a powerful essay (which I cannot locate) on the need for women to undo their training in silence to stand up and assert authority over their own identities and anonymity. A friend of mine has no problems with this — I’ve seen her do it several times recently — she openly challenges homophobia, the use of the word “gay” to describe stupidity or lameness, and sexist statements made in her presence.
I aim to do so as well but, and somewhat surprisingly, as opinionated and outspoken as I am in writing, have a difficult time articulating in real time an oppositional stance to sexist, racist, and homophobic speech. Give me a pen and paper though and I’ll rip the shit to shreds. It is something I am working on, but last night I did a very poor job.
Nonetheless, I got to the main corner of the campus village and was waiting to cross the street when suddenly I found myself with my feet off of the ground. I was held three feet in the air and couldn’t get down — the thought of stabbing my keys into the eyeballs of whomever was restraining me briefly ran through my mind, just as I realized who was holding me. It was my friend, M, who had seen me through a storefront window.
M is a man in his mid-twenties whom I befriended when he worked at one of my favorite restaurants on campus. He was down on his luck: a recent college graduate who couldn’t find a job in his field, a single father who couldn’t get along with his babymama, and a young African-American man in a town that isn’t overtly friendly to black people (especially young black men). We spent a lot of time talking and getting to know one another and he soon became a regular at my house. Ethan adores him, though he thinks M’s sole purpose in life is to help him with his video games.
The one itty-bitty problem that I have with M is his insistence on maintaining chivalrous behavior. If we eat together, he pays. If we walk together, he walks on the street-side of the sidewalk. He opens doors, carries bags, and curbs his language around me. I don’t know if he’s noticed that I’m not in tune with whomever is opening a door or that I curse like a sailor, but he maintains these conventions even though I’ve expressly asked him not to worry about it. After awhile, it just became endearing.
M dragged me into the restaurant/bar where he was meeting up with a few friends and I talked with him and his dinner mate, L, for a long while. We talked primarily about the dress code at this place, a dress code that only applies to black men and white kids playing at thuggery (I rolled up one pant leg just to piss off the staff), and about the laughable initiatives against gang activities in town (no gangs or gang activity exist). The conversation switched to Malcolm X, personal evolution and spirituality, and then to general racism. It was a very enjoyable conversation and I thought L was a cool guy — he even listened to a mini-feminist rant in which I disagreed with him on the nature of boys and girls and sexuality (another post). And he agreed! Awesome.
And so, when a group of M’s friends finally showed up and changed the entire conversational atmosphere, especially after our long conversation on race and gender, I was surprised and disappointed.
We were introduced, and upon introduction, one guy asked me if I “have a dunk.” I knew what he was asking me, but tried to make light of the situation by feigning ignorance. I thought my act was obvious, but apparently not.
“Do you have a dunk?” he asked again.
“Um… white girl!” I joked. “I’m not up to date on my slang. One of you guys are going to have to fill me in.”
This is the point at which I should have owned up to my knowledge of what he was asking and made it clear that it was inappropriate. M, thinking I was serious, began to explain what dunk actually means, but in the meantime, the guy I was just introduced to pulled me off of my stool and flipped me around to look at my ass. He confirmed that I indeed have a dunk and expressed appreciation. M and L were horrified and apologized to me, but neither corrected their friend.
And to my regret, neither did I.
I excused myself and left the restaurant. I was too disappointed, in them and in myself, to walk home. Instead I made my way across the walking bridge downtown to meet some others. I mulled over why I didn’t nip the situation in the bud or at least make myself clear when I could have. Should have.
Was it because I had just met him? Was it my inability to express myself as clearly in person as I do when I write? Was it because I didn’t think it was my place? Was it because I was the only white girl among a group of black men? Was it because I was a lone girl among guys? Was it because I was the youngest in the group? Was it because I was facing a group and not a single person? Was it the venue? The intertia? Being starled after my long, quiet walk? Feeling so off-kilter after I was so blatantly objectified? Feeling hopeless to change this guy’s attitude? Feeling hopeless to change all of their attitudes?
And I, disappointedly, realized it was a bit of all of these things. I felt completely deflated.
M called me this afternoon. He apologized again, said that he had a nice time before the other guys showed up and that L had enjoyed meeting me as well. I hung up the phone after our brief conversation and remembered the Faludi essay.
I have to learn how to stand up for myself, to eschew all of the insecurities listed above. I don’t regret meeting or talking to any of these guys, or even the crap that M’s friend pulled on me. I do regret feeling unable, for whatever reason, to say no. Stop. This is not okay.
Thus, I am taking a clue from Mary. She kicked my dunk, so to speak, on being able to stick up for what she believes in. Next time, I will too.
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