2016, 2017 . . . I started riding the early wave of our collective scan for all the ways in which we, as a society, have normalized “not okay” behavior. Reviewing a Pandora’s box of events in my own life with this new lens of what is objectively “okay” and what isn’t.
Not okay: a long list of my dad’s comments. About my sister’s or my body. About my music teacher’s derriere. About women’s appearance in general. About how personally offended he was that he’d been aroused when walking behind a woman with a sexy, youthful silhouette, only to find out when she turned that she must have been at least forty. About how my grandma, his mom, should only wear pants and not try to look nice because she was way past being desirable. (So, when you are no longer desirable to a man, you are no longer a woman?)
Women, according to him, fall into two categories. Grossly translated they are either: F, or NF.
Fuckable, or non-fuckable.
The non-fuckable should know it and make themselves invisible. (I spent many years wondering which category I belonged to, and whether I should be visible or not.)
Not okay: comments from other (French) men, who feel entitled to express their opinion about my body, whether what I am wearing is flattering or not, whether it is sexy (sexy always being the end goal when a woman dresses).
And those were just comments.
Not okay: groping in the metro. A teenage girl squeezed amongst a sea of people, not sure whether the hand running up her thigh, or the hard thing pressed into her back, is intentional or accidental, and better not to say anything because, I wouldn’t want to embarrass this man. So it’s my face that catches fire.
Not okay: groping by men while traveling in India, a white, blonde girl in a sea of dark people, target for hands on breasts, ass, one with probing fingers deep in the seam of my pants. That time I did yell and, amazingly, a group of men surrounded the perpetrator and hit him with the sole of a flip-flop, a gesture which, I learned later, is very dishonoring. That moment was a blip, but it suggested the possibility that perhaps I had been right to complain, that that had not been okay. I was twenty.
Not okay: the man following me on the street until he grabs my ass with a hungry hand. Then in my mid-twenties, I felt a little empowered to yell at him. He just walked away into the crowd. And not okay: nobody intervening. Bovine looks all around, a general, uncaring shrug.
Not okay: the bunch of teen boys, some even younger, harassing me on the platform of the metro. Surrounding me, tentacular hands touching my body all over. And the only man on the platform twenty feet away pretending not to see. When the full metro pulled up, the hands followed me until the doors closed. I remember grabbing a kid by the collar and lifting a fist to punch him until I saw fear in his eyes—his child’s eyes. I couldn’t do it. Yet again: not okay, that no one in that train intervened, or even asked if I was all right.
It’s obvious that there was something wrong with my energetic boundaries. Having been trampled early on, they were porous and men could feel it—especially the not-so-good ones. The good guys . . . I either repelled, or never noticed.
I had no idea of the space I was entitled to claim for myself, for my body. I had no sense that my body was my own and not just an object for men to look at, grab, own. That isn’t entirely true: I had an idea, I understood it intellectually and could hold my own in any feminist conversation. But I didn’t know the truth of it in my body.
And finally not okay: having sex when clearly. Clearly. I did not want to.
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