I was just old enough to answer the phone — maybe 6? — when the male grown-up on the other end of the line asked, “Do you play with yourself?”
I didn’t like him asking me that. I didn’t want to admit that I knew what he was talking about. I didn’t know I could hang up the phone.
I don’t remember my answer, perhaps, “What?”
I do remember my heart banging fast and loud.
When Mom arrived and I couldn’t tell her who was calling she said, “Hang up. Hang up.”
As I did, I started sobbing. I didn’t know why I was crying. All I knew was that I felt awful. And embarrassed. My mother had seen me touching myself before. But how could that stranger on the other end of the line know?
When she asked me what the caller said, I didn’t want to tell her. I didn’t want to repeat his words.
One phone call — “a prank” that lasted ten seconds or less, nearly forty years ago — about as minimal as psychological or sexual violation can be, right?
Yet it was painful and remains a painful memory. While I can’t identify the impact of the event, I’m sure it played a part in my development.
I’m not alone in this. A few months ago, a friend of mine told me about an incident of sexual verbal abuse she experienced as a child.
If spoken words are at one end of the spectrum and physical attack is at the other, I can’t imagine the enormity of the devastation of rape.
I’m sickened by the way elected officials continue to throw the concept around.
This morning I read Jill Filipovic’s take on the matter in the Guardian, “The real Republican rape platform.” She writes, “Underlying the Republican rape comments and actual Republican political goals are a few fundamental convictions: first, women are vessels for childbearing and care-taking; second, women cannot be trusted; and third, women are the property of men.”
I can think of people in my life who would dismiss that statement as being extreme — but that’s because we’re steeped in an unbalanced culture.
Jessica Valenti puts it much better than I do. Her piece in the Nation, “Ending Rape Illiteracy” has been called, “THE manifesto for ending rape illiteracy–& a sexual assault culture,” by journalist and author E.J. Graff.
Towards the conclusion of her article, Valenti writes that Americans are mired in misogyny and without feminist influence. That really strikes home for me.
When I look at my own posts here from the last five years — particularly, “Thoughts While Curling Eyelashes,” I cringe at how narrow my thinking has been. How did it happen that I started a post with the words, “They can kill us with their bare hands,” and ended it with, “I like feeling pretty”? How?
I don’t want a dime every time I catch myself demonstrating self-defeating or anti-feminist thoughts, I want to learn how to reason differently.
It has nothing to do with that phone call I got when I was a little girl. It has everything to do with countless facets of American culture — including tangible “structural inequalities” — that feel so normal they’re invisible.
I don’t want to be mired in misogyny. I don’t want to be without feminist influence. I don’t want to continue making the mistake of reducing women’s rights issues to discussions of appearance — like last month when I wrote about feeling obligated to hide my gray hair.
I don’t want to waste time feeling ashamed of my lack of critical thinking. Instead, I just want to improve.
I would love any reading recommendations on current feminist thought. What have you read in recent years that helped define or shift your thinking about gender roles in U.S. culture? Books . . . websites . . . Twitter feeds . . . Teach me, readers! Thank you.