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On Being Female - cellophane
the story of an invisible girl
renniekins
renniekins
On Being Female
(Same place, same tech conference, but some inner thoughts.)

We walked together one afternoon up the steep hill to pick up his car. When we got to the top he commented to me, "I guess I'm not acclimated to the altitude yet. Feel how fast my heart is beating." And he tried to take my hand and put it on his chest. I resisted uncomfortably. "No it's okay, just feel my heartbeat." He took my hand and placed my palm on his sternum.

His heart was indeed beating very rapidly. I made some noncommittal comment like "Yep, that's what happens," turned away, and walked on toward the car. The palm of my hand stung with an unexpected flashback.

Different he, different place, some years ago. "Wow, feel how fast my heart is beating," he said to me. I placed my hand on his chest, and felt his heart beating quickly. Embarrassed, not wanting to make eye contact, I gave him a light hug. He pulled me tighter, began to kiss me, and I could feel him rise against me.

I pulled away. "No," I told him. "We aren't doing this."


He, a different he, was walking me back to my condo late one night. "You said you want to use my bathroom before you go," I said. "Can I trust you to be a gentleman?" He made a joke, and I insisted. "No, I'm serious. Because once I invited a man into my hotel room and it was a mistake." He assured me that he had far more morals than were needed.

I left my door wide open, and I perched on the kitchen counter in view of the door, waiting for him to finish in the bathroom. When he came out, he sat on the counter opposite me. "So tell me about this man you invited into your room," he told me, a sly and interested smile on his face.

"It's not a good story," I told him earnestly. "I let him into my room... and it was a mistake. That's why I've left my door wide open. That's why I asked you before letting you in." I watched the smile tumble from his face in partial understanding.

He put his hands on my shoulders and pushed. I fell backwards onto the bed, unresisting, in shock. I couldn't believe that this guy, a married guy, my friend, was doing this. I couldn't believe this was really happening...what was happening? He pressed his weight on top of me, trapping me. He reached under my shirt, rubbing, kissing, fondling. He stroked my crotch with his thumb and grinned at me. I shook my head, pushed his hands away, No.

The phone rang, he swore, and I pushed and wiggled my way out from under him to answer it. "I'll meet you downstairs RIGHT AWAY," I told my friend on the other line, and it was over. I don't know what would have happened if the phone hadn't rang just then.


I climbed into the hot tub at the party and he, a different he, asked what I wanted to drink. "I don't know, what do you think I should have?"

He, a different he, said, "You're in a hot tub with 20 men, and you're asking what you should drink??" We all laughed heartily.

Then I was soaking up the warmth, a scotch in my hand. He, a different he, reassured me, "We joke around, but you're okay here. We won't do anything."

"I know that," I told him. "I'm not afraid of you. Actually I feel safer with a group of men than with just one or two. Because if anything happens, I figure at least somebody will say 'stop'. I take steps to protect my safety, or at least I try to."

Then he, a different he, said, "I'm glad I'm not a girl." I nodded, then shrugged, uncertain of what to say, and the conversation turned to other topics.

But now I know what I should have told him. I should have said, "You shouldn't be glad you're not a girl -- you should be ashamed you're a guy. You should be ashamed of your gender; you should be ashamed that it is even an issue."

A hotel room is a bedroom with locks, and any invitation can be misinterpreted. It is naive to be completely trusting of everyone you meet. But when you are at a conference with around 300 men and only about 36 women, you are going to be surrounded by mainly men. So what do you do, when you want to spend time with your new friends, or maybe just 1 or 2 friends? What do you do, when they want to be polite and walk you home? I refuse to live my life in fear. But what do I do to keep myself reasonably safe at the same time? I try, but I don't really know. It's a complicated world.

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Comments
replyhazy From: replyhazy Date: November 2nd, 2004 05:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
What an extremely good post.

I could wish it wasn't all so correct.

Sigh.
cynnerth From: cynnerth Date: November 2nd, 2004 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is a very moving post, excellent...thank you.
ms_hecubus From: ms_hecubus Date: November 2nd, 2004 08:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Excellent post. However, I'm glad you didn't tell him to be ashamed of his gender. He is no more accountable for the actions of another man than I am for the abhorrent women of the world.
pi3832 From: pi3832 Date: November 3rd, 2004 10:31 am (UTC) (Link)
He is no more accountable for the actions of another man than I am for the abhorrent women of the world.

Thank you for saying that. I was about to get quite self-righteous about this apparent male-bashing.

On another note, I think one of the unfortunate consequences in the push for equal rights for women is the minimizing of the discussion/understanding of the differences between the sexes. It's amazing how many problems between men and women come from relatively simple things like differences in the ways they communicate, and differences in the way they look at the world.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 3rd, 2004 12:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sorry, I didn't meant to sound self-rightous or male-bashing. I love men. I am just aware that some men are dangerous sometimes, and this post was basically about: how can you tell? How can you stay safe, without cowering? See my comment below.
pi3832 From: pi3832 Date: November 3rd, 2004 12:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

Me? I'm Mostly Harmless

some men are dangerous sometimes

I think we can generalize that to "some people are dangerous sometimes."

Women just tend to be more subtle in the danger they represent.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 3rd, 2004 02:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Me? I'm Mostly Harmless

Fair enough. (:
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 3rd, 2004 12:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks, you're right. I don't hold him or anyone accountable, BUT it is not just a woman's problem. That's more what I meant. See my comment below where I attempted to be clearer. (:
atdt1991 From: atdt1991 Date: November 2nd, 2004 11:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wrote this about my father, and won an award:

Original Sin
i saw a photo of you in black and blue yesterday,
You who stalked our door twice now in my 18 years.
A strangely impassive mother told me
How you worked there, at the prison
After you did your time.

How long did you sit behind concrete walls?

It was Grandma who told me
Those things Mom wouldn't or couldn't say.
A source of knowledge welled up
With your black crude.

A keen eye sees that on my back
Lie the lives and hearts and bodies you discarded.
i wear the stigma of every act you do.
i kneel, shamed and dirty, with your
Dark oils upon my skin,
Before every woman in my life
And hope that my light shines through
The caked slime you've laid upon me
To scrub me clean.

Being a 6'2" (and large) male, I often see women cross the street at night. I have always been told, since I was a child, that I was an exception to men, and while this pleased me, it also embarrassed me and shamed me.

I also wrote this many years ago, but it is a horrid poem (that nonetheless expresses much of my feelings on the matter).

I have had the priviledge and the anguish of hearing the personal stories of abuse from the scores of women I am close to, including family members and most of the women I have dated. I am lucky that so many female friends say they feel quite safe near me, because strangers sure as hell don't.

I take my antigender beliefs seriously because it infuriates me when someone dares presume that I act a certain way because other people who look like me do. Believe me, some of us ache for the actions of others, and it is a very long road to trust when you must start by making up for every other dickhead in someone else's life.
abrokenstarr From: abrokenstarr Date: November 3rd, 2004 12:27 am (UTC) (Link)
You write well.

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you this, but I felt like saying it anyway.

I read the other poem too.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 3rd, 2004 02:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for sharing that. It definitely shows "the other side". There is a big difference between being generally cautious of the unknown, and blaming one specific individual for another's misdoing.

I wrote a "clarification" further down in the comments.

I don't know you all that well, but you seem like a good person, and that goes far beyond gender.
atdt1991 From: atdt1991 Date: November 2nd, 2004 11:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I should also mention that the only thing that supercedes my generally herculean self-control is the abuse of people I care about. It's one of the few things I consider completely unforgivable and completely vicious. I'm a low-stress, laid-back kind of person... except for this.

I'm glad you shared. I do hope people respect your personal space in the future, and I can see why you would feel the way you do. I can't blame you for it in the slightest, but I can be sad about it.
behindthefool From: behindthefool Date: November 3rd, 2004 03:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I look at many of my friends whose naivity and risk taking astounds me. One part of me yearns for their innocence. The other half of me is so angry at them. Why do they risk so much in order to gain so little? If they could feel a 100th of the pain they could feel, they would never do it again.

But then, like you say, we can't live our lives in fear.
retepsnave From: retepsnave Date: November 3rd, 2004 07:38 am (UTC) (Link)

a sorrowful beauty swell from your words...

*hug*

... always have I, and do I feel the need to act in love and consciously redact the past crimes that others of my gender have wantonly and callously perpetrated upon those who only ever deserve mutual respect and love...

*hug*
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 3rd, 2004 02:54 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: a sorrowful beauty swell from your words...

*hugs back* Thanks Petya.
retepsnave From: retepsnave Date: November 4th, 2004 05:31 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: a sorrowful beauty swell from your words...

... who's the cute little kitten... a new family member, or old icon pic?
:-)
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 4th, 2004 05:53 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: a sorrowful beauty swell from your words...

Oh, that's my "baby", my first kitty, but she's 10 years old now! Her name is Mouse. (:
retepsnave From: retepsnave Date: November 4th, 2004 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: a sorrowful beauty swell from your words...

... Mouse was such a cute littel kitty back in the day!

:-)
elizilla From: elizilla Date: November 3rd, 2004 08:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm fortunate in being physically imposing, I suppose. The only such incident I look back at with terror was more a case of manipulative behavior. Mind games are equal opportunity attacks, so I don't carry a fear of men from that incident.

I'm not without caution, but I'm not particularly afraid either.
zanthrin From: zanthrin Date: November 3rd, 2004 10:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, what a moving post. And yes, it does make me feel shame for guys as a group.

I usually try to avoid quoting books or movies when I can help it; there are plenty of people to give the witty Klingon reply. Some of your questions, though, reminded me a bit of the early "Dune" books by Frank Herbert. One of the early tests they put the protagonist through is a test of pain -- basically, keep your hand in a box while feeling intense pain, because you know that if you try to remove your hand, you'll be killed. You're also informed that although it may feel like your hand is being burnt to nothing, no real damage is being done.

They run the test not because they really like giving pain, but because they feel that most people (men in particular) live their lives as beasts, reacting to stimuli without rational thought. The test is to show that once you *know* you're not really being hurt, you can behave with your mind, and not simply your senses.

I know that might seem a long way off from your story. I guess what I was going for is ... I wish there was a way for people (again, especially guys) to have a little chart visible, showing that we had passed the various tests. You could show a line for: "Alone with beautiful girl, also friend, and behaved rationally, even with no chance of getting caught -- passed." ... and various other tests. Would it catch everything? No ... but hopefully it would not only provide a gauge for who you could be more comfortable hanging out with (or an excuse: "Sorry, I only hang out with guys who have passed the top five relationship tests."), but it might make us more likely to self-evaluate in those cases, as well.

Oh well, that was really wordy. I hope it made some sense, anyway.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 3rd, 2004 03:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Actually yes, that does make sense! Come to think of it, a test chart would be handy for both sexes...it'd save a lot of hurt and confusion down the road. Men and women could pass out resumes, qualifications, certifications, and references on the first date. *smile*
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 3rd, 2004 12:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Clarification

I am not afraid of men. Nor am I angry at men. I want to make that clear, because it really wasn't clear above.

That post was written in more of an artsy, ethereal style. It wasn't an essay detailing everything I believe; it was more of an effort to bring the reader into my head, try to let you walk in my shoes for a bit.

My remark about "shame" was not really an accusation to all men; rather it was a response to one man's comment -- "I'm glad I'm not a girl." I do not hold anybody accountable for crimes which s/he did not commit. But these problems and issues are everyone's concerns, and just because he's not female doesn't mean it shouldn't affect him.

In every single one of my posts from the conference, every person I spent time with after-hours, every person who was involved in any of my silly stories, was male. Everyone -- there just weren't many females there. I didn't cower in my hotel room, and I didn't avoid the Big Bad Men. I got out there, met people, made friends, and had a great time with all of the guys I met.

I had a wonderful time last week, and I wouldn't change a thing. But there were some questions floating in the back of my head sometimes, some incidents that made me think, that's all. So I wrote about it. That's what I do.

Basically I was exploring and questioning boundaries. It is wise to be cautious, to be aware that there are dangers in the world, and to try to avoid them. On the other hand though, it is a waste of life to live it in fear, to hide from the entire world because of potential dangers.

But how do you draw that line? How do you identify what is safe, and what is foolish? I don't really know. It's a complicated world.
pi3832 From: pi3832 Date: November 3rd, 2004 12:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

On a lighter note

But how do you draw that line? How do you identify what is safe, and what is foolish?

Heh. These questions tend to resolve themselves into "Brakes or throttle?" for me of late.
ms_hecubus From: ms_hecubus Date: November 3rd, 2004 02:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Clarification

and just because he's not female doesn't mean it shouldn't affect him.

That makes a lot of sense and I completely agree.

I know you don't hate men and, in fact, like them. ;) I was thinking of how I would react and I know that when I connect someone with a certain event, even if they weren't there, it's hard not to blame them for it. (Although blame isn't exactly the word I'm looking for, I think you know what I mean).

Like I said, it is an excellent post. I read it closely and it had me thinking.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 3rd, 2004 03:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Clarification

Thanks. (:

(but wow, I wrote a triple negetive in that sentence you quoted..yikes!)
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 4th, 2004 07:19 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Clarification

I've often wondered how do I make myself smarter/more compatible with people in general (bear with me, it relates to your line), and everytime I manage to either scare/get scared/piss/irritate/blow off someone I can nearly guarantee just by looking back on it, meditating on it, to come up with the answer to what I should have done differently. However why can't we as humans see that answer before we need it? Ahh.. therein lies that line drawn, I think it's only experiences that shape the kind of person we become, most of us do some sort of Unit Testing, and figure out what parts were needed, and what weren't. Some day we'll all be old enough to see that line ahead of us before we actually reach it.

I've had my fair share of crappy experiences including being molested as a kid (not sure if I told you that before? -well I did now) =) and maybe that's what scared off L, who knows... and even though that irritated me, I can't do anything about it now, and all I can do is go back and unit test that entire class structure, run a bunch of assertions to find out which methods failed ;)

Btw, it's coming up on a year again since I've last seen you, remind me I need to email you about lunch sometime ;) Although Big Daddy's Parthenon, along with the ancient greeks, no longer exists.

On a more funny but unrelated note:

Programmers hold funerals for old code (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6397274/)


-MJP
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 4th, 2004 09:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Clarification

As they say: It's good to learn from others' mistakes, because we don't have time to make them all ourselves. But you're right, sometimes we have to go ahead and do it anyway.

Yes, you mentioned your childhood experience once before. I don't think L was scared or driven away, just felt incompatible. It happens, through no fault of our own.

Lunch sometime would be good, yes. And that article was quite entertaining! (:
matt_arnold From: matt_arnold Date: November 4th, 2004 08:09 am (UTC) (Link)
I took the post to mean not "what to do about men," but "what to do about strangers."
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 4th, 2004 08:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Good.... it really wasn't meant to be "male-bashing".
hoshisabi From: hoshisabi Date: November 4th, 2004 01:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Holy mackerel.

This issue comes up and it doesn't just make the girls uncomfortable, it makes me uncomfortable.

There's so many odd things. My wife and I will goof around, wrestling or some such. Once I restrained her arms, since that's part of wrestling around, she got panicky and worried so I let her up. She's had bad experiences too, but we've been married for a while and she knows me.

I had a girlfriend in college with whom I was drinking. She became very drunk before I expected her to, and she became very amorous, so I let her go to sleep because it really really bothered me that she was drunk and putting me in this odd situation. In the morning, she woke up and was scared that something had happened, and since she found no protection in her room, that it happened without protection. I put her mind to ease, but we broke up a month or two later and she had the nerve to accuse me of breaking up with her because I had managed to sleep with her. She knew me for months before that, she knew how deeply that hurt.

A few girls have accused me of using them for sex and it really really is a deep cut. It's something I have to apologize for my entire gender for. It's something that honestly interferes with my normal relationships. I am always thinking, "Am I too forward? Am I giving the impression that I respect her?"

... and I have a daughter now. I have new worries for the rest of my life, not just my wife and my relationship, but also my daughter's relationship(s). (She might get lucky and meet the guy she loves forever the first time, no need to pluralize it at the age of ten. heh.)

... and maybe granddaughter... and great-granddaughter.

And ... Not just the women, men need to worry about sexual predators too. I just have the confidence that were someone to attempt something with me, I have a bit of a physical advantage over most women, most of the time... but even that is negated with a weapon, or by surprise.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: November 4th, 2004 09:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for sharing all that.

Yep...there are no real answers. But sometimes just thinking about the questions helps make the world a gentler place.
cannibal From: cannibal Date: November 15th, 2004 02:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, crap. That's worse than I realized. We really should talk about this offline. I'm glad I called you and interrupted, but I still feel like I've failed you in some way.

I'm sorry.
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