Monday, September 12, 2016

People Don’t Know the Effect of Their Words

I fled my home today with nothing but a computer and a broken iPhone at my side.

I’ve never been productive writing around other people, and this summer has been extra hard due to having no real space of my own.

After moving back to the States from Australia, I desperately needed to replenish my savings, and so took advantage of the tourist season in my hometown. Not only would it make sense to live with my parents for financial reasons, our newspaper is all ablaze with issues of the housing crisis. There is no place to leave here even if I had been looking.

Unfortunately, my room and my cat have taken to their new resident, a family friend visiting our lovely town for a time, and I have been exiled to our R.V.

Fine, but the space is cramped, you can’t sit up in bed, and it’s filled with junk, so even perching at the table proves difficult. The darkness can zap me of my energy—it’s parked in a garage—and it just doesn’t lend to the sprawling out I need to do.

Working in the living room, as all family writers know, is impossible. If you have time to goof around writing, you could be doing something useful!

Okay, my family has typically been far more supportive than that. We all just have the problem of wanting things done on our time, needing help when we want to do it, and not being ashamed of asking for assistance if someone is handy. The only viable excuse, it seems, is when a cat has ordained to sit on your lap, then you’re practically an invalid. Might as well take a bell.

I’ve been working anywhere from 10 to 14 hour days, and last week it went up to five days instead of four. I spend a great deal of my time sleeping, and have struggled to get any other projects in before I pass out from exhaustion, just to go back to work again.

I have a great deal of deadlines coming up, not to mention that I’m moving across country in less than a month.

So, while I’m sitting in my living room, trying to write, my father brings in an obnoxious, good ole country boy who brags about how he walked into a gathering for some political party and harassed them until he got kicked out. How dare they? Can’t they have an intellectual conversation? The nerve.

I hate people who think everyone should allow them to act like an asshole, that getting kicked out or ignored has nothing to do with their attitude, but the problem of those being harassed clearly being wrong.

As I’m trying to concentrate, he walks by and shouts at me, “Smile, honey!” to which I send him my most hate-filled look I could muster.

“Or not,” he smirks.

To understand why I’m feeling violated would require me to fully illustrate the issue of ad nausem, and I’m not sure I can do it in a short number of words. Suffice to say, men telling me to smile is a constant attack, and even when done out of benign desire for conversation, to have it stated in my personal space while I’m concentrating caused a tear in my emotional state.

Let’s not deny the fact that men get a special pleasure from a woman’s smile. Despite its friendly surface, the request is sexual in nature, which is invasive coming from a stranger. No woman has ever said that to me. And, even if it wasn’t intended as a sexual comment, it is still criticizing your personal appearance, no different than having someone you don’t know flatly informing you you shouldn’t wear that shirt. Thank you for your unsolicited opinion of what I should do with myself? Oh? It would make you like me better? Well, that might encourage you to talk to me more, and as you can plainly see, I’m working, asshat. You’re already talking to me more than I wanted, and that’s without being approachable.

I’ve been getting harassed quite a bit lately, and it always comes at unexpected times. Moreover, the men who upset me don’t realize the effect of their words. Sometimes they should, such as in the case of the guy who started cussing me out after I implied that he was being annoying (“Yes?” I said to his weeks of “Hey. Hey. Hi.”) When I later told him he was a jerk, he was absolutely stunned, and argued with me whether or not he was mad while asking me, “What the fuck is your problem?”

“I wasn’t mad. I can say that without being mad.”

“Pretty rude for a calm person.”

“Well, now I feel like shit.”

Or the man who asked if I wanted to go with a group after a workshop at a writers conference, and when I told him I would have to see how tired I was, he sent me no less than five texts and two calls before it ended to see if I had my answer. They hadn’t even gotten there yet.

They didn’t do these things because they thought, “This is a dickish thing to do, but I’m doing it anyway!” That's the worst part. They didn’t think about how they were making me feel, taking my needs or present state of mind into consideration when acting; they just responded impulsively to their current desires. If more men read my body language, my reactions, and gauge my feelings better, and used that knowledge we wouldn’t have to deal with this conflict as much. Or if they could even take a straightforward request to stop doing something seriously and well, that’d be great too, but enough don’t that being openly offended is more problematic than just sucking it up. Women would do much better if men sensed boundaries without her having to look like an ass by insulting him. Men would do much better if they learned to pick up on subtle signals of rejection or flirtation. They’re not incapable; it’s a learned skill these individuals haven’t bothered with, possibly because women hide how hurtful, annoying, disconcerting, or aggravating they’re being for the sake of peace.

So it doubles the importance of refraining from telling a woman to stop expressing her true emotional state in favor of a prettier one.

We all make stupid comments and idiotic decisions, but why is it that men’s interest comes off as so territorial? Why does the daily plea for a woman’s attention make us feel unsafe, helpless, weak? Why is that even though we can send a man running, it's not satisfying? Fleeing ourselves is the better choice? Possibly because if we react strongly, he’ll have no idea where we’re coming from. Just like the “liberal dumbasses” who kicked out a large, aggressive man secretly looking for a fight, I’m sure a woman who flipped out on him saying, “I’m working, not trying to pick up men,” is nothing more than a crazy, premenstrual bimbo.

I tried to swallow my anger, feeling invaded in my own home, when my brother—working with the other men on an outside project—made a passive-aggressive comment about the bathroom not being clean.

My father had already demanded I do it several times that day. I told him I would see if I could get to it; I had things I needed to get done. He lectured me that he too had work, to which I stated pointed out that because of his project, he didn’t prioritize any house chores either. Today was one of the two days this week I could my deadlines done—my webcomic, my newsletter, my blog, this month’s Storyof the Wyrd, plus any writing, editing, sewing, painting, and reading I wanted to work on either.

Is housework important? Yes. Who should do it? Well, that’s a bigger question, but had I been out working on ‘real work,’ I’m sure my father and my brother wouldn’t have taken the opportunity of my existence to badger me into doing it. I’m certainly sure if I had my own space to hide in, I wouldn’t have been brought to tears in frustration of the man who decided that he would tell me what I should do with my face in my own house while I was already struggling to stay focused.

To be clear, I am not accusing my father or brother of being sexist, and the distribution of chores is something to be discussed in any living situation. Perhaps our problem is that we need to better communicate what we all are doing with our days, who prioritizes what, and how often things should be done by everyone's agreement. But I’m tired, leaving soon, and am too bitter for that kind of maturity right now.

I still feel violated, stressed out without a safe place for my things to be left alone, to organize at my will, and to get my work done without being bothered. As I near the end of my work schedule—more and longer shifts being piled on until my last day—and think about all of the changes I’m about to make, I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t have any clue where I’ll be living, with who, or what I’ll be doing, how I’ll be feeling, how quickly I can acclimate. It makes it harder, I think, having no idea when I’ll have real space to call my own, to feel safe, to be away from the micromanagers who try to dictate my life.

I’m sitting in the library, jumping at the heavy breathing an older gentleman makes behind me, leering at his computer… until he blows his nose and I realize he just has cold. I can’t easily shake the feeling of being chased out, or the anger. Writing takes a great deal of concentration, and even sitting in a pleasant, well-lit public area isn’t the same. I know I won’t be hit on here in the quiet—maybe in the parking lot, probably not. Maybe at work tomorrow. Maybe the day after that. Maybe not for a month. Maybe too. I know most men are going to leave me alone. I know that asshole was just trying to be friendly, and I know the next asshole will be too.

What I don’t know is when it will come. From who. Or how I can let him know that he’s invading my space and is the one who needs to get the hell out.

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