Grab ‘Em by the Pussy

Growing up, my mother taught me that men ‘can’t control their urges’. Something to do with their willy getting hard. When that happens, she told me, they can’t think straight.

I lived in Iran as a child, a place where I, as a westerner, was already stared at in the street. When we lived there, in the 70s, not all the women were covered with chadors, though plenty were. As I hit my teens, local men stared with frank and undisguised glee at my developing breasts. It was not unusual for them to reach out and touch me. I developed a habit of turning my shoulder inwards protectively whenever I passed a man. And always, always dropping my eyes.

When I was older – in middle and late teens, and back in Europe – I was forever hearing complaints from my male friends that I was giving them ‘blue balls’. It was my fault, in other words, that they were suffering. My mother was right.  My attractiveness was tormenting them. My attractiveness was dangerous. My attractiveness provoked uncontrollable urges and drove men wild. I don’t flatter myself that I got these sorts of comments more than other girls. I am sure it was commonplace. I don’t know. I never talked to anyone about it.

I was never raped, thank goodness. I am not talking about extreme violence or rape. Just the low-level, casual, everyday stuff I think all women experience. And the ever present fear of rape or coercion humming in the background. Because the man could be your boss, or a friend, or a stranger in a late night tube, or footsteps behind you.

What did this do to me? To all of us? I never really thought about it. I thought that was ‘just the way things are’.  That I, and other girls and women, had this terrifying power.  Unleashed, it could bring disaster upon us.  So it had to be damped down, and that was our responsibility.  I bought the lie, in other words; this one as well.

But lately I am reading and thinking, and most especially of course in the light of Trump and his repellent treatment of women and talk of ‘grabbing them by the pussy’. I am ashamed to admit that these ‘revelations’ surprised me not one little bit. Indeed, if anything, I am surprised by the extent to which women and men are complaining about it. As though it is not normal, not ‘just the way things are’.

I have three children. And I clearly remember occasions on which I told my daughters that their skirts were too short. Did I think they were asking for it? Absolutely not. But when they left the house, I was afraid of the unknown men out there, with their uncontrollable urges, who might in some perverted way think that my innocent children were indeed asking for it. Yes, people should be able to dress how they want, but my instinct was to protect my loved ones and therefore to conform. To make them somehow smaller. What Gretchen Kelly in her excellent  blog post calls ‘de-escalating, quietly acquiescing, minimizing’.

These days I am no longer attractive. I am the size of a house. I have let myself go, as they say. I have no interest in any kind of an exclusive relationship with another person, let alone a sexual relationship with a man. I am starting to wonder whether the more obvious explanation about never wanting to trust anyone again, never wanting to make myself vulnerable to the sort of trauma that was visited on me by my husband, is only part of the story. Whether making myself as enormous as possible is a paradoxical way of minimizing. Hiding in plain sight.

But I still don’t really know what I think.

 

 

Image: a friend of my mother made these dolls for me on the birth of my twins.

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Florence Feynman

I am a middle aged, middle class woman, thinking.

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