Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I used to argue with an artist friend of mine about which division in the world, and by some extension the church, was bigger, the racial one or the gender one (and seriously, if you're thinking, "what division?" then you need to be silent and pay attention). I was sure it was the racial one: given the pervasive nature of institutionalized racism, the way people of color are marginalized and scourged in this country by politicians and the media, given the insidious nature of wounds inflicted at the hands of racialized fear and terror, there was no contest for me. But my friend saw it a different way. The first relationship that was ever violated was between Adam and Eve--humankind hadn't even gotten going yet before the man pointed at the woman and made her a scapegoat before the eyes of God. The first man was incapable of owning his own mistake, and threw the first woman under the bus to try and escape trouble; if this is the first sin in relationship, how do you come back from that, she'd say. It's been in our flesh as long as we've been along.

(As I type this now, I don't know if the relationship between Adam and Eve wasn't an interracial one. Nothing we know about this story tells us that Cain and Abel weren't biracial kids. It feels a little ridiculous to be thinking about it this way, but still.)

Lately, I'm not so sure. It kind of blows my mind the amount of stuff that get pulled on women by men every day. This semester my class read (those of them that actually read the writing I assigned) Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the line about gender violence fell on me especially hard.

"'Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out. Maybe it's some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don't know nothin' but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don't tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see.'"
This puts being a black woman in a particularly pessimistic, brutal light. We're at the bottom of the food chain, and we're just going to take all of the shit that the world dishes out to us, according to Janie's grandmother. And hey, if you flip back through history pages, maybe there's a lot of evidence to validate that. But this made me think that maybe the male-female relationship bears a bigger fracture than the one between races.

The one thing that I think I hate about spring and summer (and there isn't much) is that somehow, with temperatures higher and more windows open and more folks out on the street that men think they're free to treat me any way they want. Men I don't even know. I wrote about how this makes me feel a while back. Now another year has blossomed and is beginning to ripen, and with that comes another year of men who think they have the right to leer, catcall, holler and verbally assault.

I didn't realize how profoundly this kind of behavior affects me until our car broke down and I had to take my bike to the places I was going. I love riding my bike and to be clear, no asshole who runs his mouth in any way is going to keep me off it. But I'd had it out only the second time this year and I was physically and verbally intimidated by men in cars. Let me be clear: I, a 150-pound woman on two wheels and a chain was bullied by several men, each in his own two-ton vehicle. One of them hollered at me repeatedly and the other nearly ran me off the street. Because they thought they had a right to it. I could have been killed. That is no contest.

Now it's not that I believe I'm impermeable in my car, and if you've seen it, you know. It's not the greatest ride in the world, and its increasing inconsistency scares the crap out of me. It scares me because when it's inconsistent, I'm suddenly at the mercy of these men on the streets who think they have the right to assault and intimidate me with their language, and worse, with their vehicles.

In the grand scheme of things, I have it pretty good. I can go home to a husband who, despite his own (not small) gender privilege, tries his best to understand what it feels like to be a woman who has your humanity stripped from you by random strangers on the street. I have the good fortune and absolute grace of having learned that the reason that someone else's behavior effects me so profoundly because of people who made me feel humiliated and dehumanized in my past, as well as having learned that those who would humiliate and dehumanize behave this way because they're victims of others' negative behavior. On a good day I have the ability to show compassion to people who are less than the best of themselves (please note, today was not a good day).
But what about the others? What about the supervisor who goes back to work and takes out his shit all over his staff, who've been overworked for weeks now? What about the divorced father who yells at his son because the way he talks reminds him of his ex-wife and that wound still hasn't healed? What about the husband who knocks his wife into the wall because someone didn't give him his way?
Will it ever be possible for us to recognize how deeply we've been hurt by people in our past, and how often we cloak that pain up in something else--intellect, sarcasm, seduction, addiction, condescension--and hurl it all over others? Can we ever have the capacity to really feel what we're feeling and to believe that things that are scary or painful won't kill us? Can we ever surrender? Can we ever sacrifice?
Lately I don't have a lot of hope in us, men or women, black, white or otherwise, and our capacity to get real with one another. We're just a world of broken people smashing through our lives, competing to see who can shoulder-check the most.

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