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Earlier today, I saw a Facebook post that read: “I am sick of girls wearing yoga leggings everywhere and saying they’re pants. And then complaining that women are still ‘objectified’ by men. If you want to be taken seriously, put on some pants.” Attached was this.

As soon as I read it, I was nauseated and hot.

1. Women have been treated as objects since before they were allowed to show their knees. Read the Bible. We were/are supposed to be servants to men. After three years in confirmation classes, this is imprinted on my brain.

2. Get your head out of your ass. A girl sporting a pair of yoga pants/leggings has no intention of peeking your sexual interest. If you take a moment, and look past her ass, you might see a panty-line. Look a little closer, you might see the outline of a pad. Look up and see her hair piled on top of her head (it probably hasn’t been washed today). Or, look into her eyes, “the window to the soul”, and see they are dark and sunken in. Yoga pants/leggings are comfortable.

I texted my dear friend letting him know I thought his post was rude (and wrong). He texted me back, “I wrote a blog about it awhile ago. Boys and Tools: How Beyonce and Bikinis Help Us Objectify Women. Read it and weep. :)”

If you read that (which you should’ve), you know that in 2009 National Geographic News reported on a Princeton University study that showed men pictures of ‘scantily clad’ women and tracked their brain activity. Here’s what they found:

Brain scans revealed that when men are shown pictures of scantily clad women, the region of the brain associated with tool use lights up.

Men were also more likely to associate images of sexualized women with first-person action verbs such as “I push, I grasp, I handle,” said lead researcher Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University.

And in a “shocking” finding, Fiske noted, some of the men studied showed no activity in the part of the brain that usually responds when a person ponders another’s intentions.

This means that these men see women “as sexually inviting, but they are not thinking about their minds,” Fiske said. “The lack of activation in this social cognition area is really odd, because it hardly ever happens.”

You also saw the video of Jessica Rey explaining why she decided to start designing her own modest line of swimwear. In her speech, she discusses the invention and history of the bikini. She reports, “The popularity of the bikini has been attributed to the power of women—not the power of fashion. And a New York Times reporter called the bikini the millennial equivalent of the power suit.” Then she references the Princeton study and adds, “So, it seems, that wearing a bikini does give women power: the power to shut down men’s ability to see her as a person, but rather as an object.”

To me, the right to choose to wear a swimsuit is what is powerful. Having a choice is having power.

My mind was a literal brain-storm. I started thinking about all of the times I’ve felt objectified, or let myself be treated like an object or used like a tool.

When I was sixteen, I agreed to give my boyfriend a BJ. There isn’t anything intimate about the act of sucking a man’s penis. He wanted to use me like an object and I agreed. Can you guess what I was wearing? A University of Missouri hoodie and jeans.

I was seventeen when my boss started sexually harassing me. My uniform was a $5 black v-neck from Wet Seal’s 5 for $20 table and dark wash American Eagle jeans. I worried I was maybe ‘asking for’ his attention, so I quit wearing makeup, started wearing my glasses, and dressed more conservatively. It was in a black cardigan that he complimented my breasts for the first time. (I quit my job two weeks later).

When I was eighteen, I was raped. I was wearing a tunic and a leopard print scarf from Express. I had on dark wash jeans tucked into my favorite pair of riding boots- a Christmas present from my best friend. I was covered from my neck to my toes.

A few months later, I consented to having sex with someone who ended up leaving handprints all over my body. Guess what I was wearing that time? An over-sized t-shirt and yoga pants.

The first time a stranger of the opposite sex made me feel nervous/threatened, I was in the parking lot of a women’s abuse clinic (you read that right. People really are fucked up). I was wearing a dark green ribbed tank-top with a scarf and ripped capris. My eyes were swollen; I had just spent an hour in my therapist’s office crying about the trauma from my childhood. Nothing about me looked inviting or wanting.

Notice a pattern, yet? It didn’t matter how conservatively or modestly I was dressed. Other people still made choices for me that made me feel less than human, like an object or sharp tool.

But then there was the first time I had sex that made me cry because it made me feel so complete. It was soft and intimate. Full of passion and need. I hadn’t seen him in two weeks. He had recently moved away for work, but was back in town for business. I opened my apartment door for him wearing a black wrap dress from Old-Navy. When we got ready for bed, I changed into a charcoal gray tank-top and kept my blue lace panties on. I chose to be ‘scantily clad’ and it was then that he made me feel more human than the first time my mom felt me kick her belly from inside the womb.

This post isn’t about clothes or the proof that a man’s brain doesn’t process me as human when I’m not fully dressed. This post is about choice.

Choice is new to me.

Growing up, my voice was stolen from me. I’ve just learned that I have a voice (one that deserves to be heard) and I’m relishing in the beauty of having a choice. But people (men) are constantly reminding me of how little choice I actually have. So please, don’t make me feel guilty about my choice to choose clothes.

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Going home is never easy.

Crossing the county line makes my stomach twist into undoable knots, and I have to remind myself to breathe.

But, when a boy I went to high school with died two weeks ago, I felt I needed to go back. My classmates, even though they weren’t my friends, were plastering their pain all over my Facebook newsfeed. My heart, even though it has a hard time understanding death, was aching for them. And my head thought going back would help me understand and empathize.

I didn’t tell anyone I was going back. I didn’t want anyone to know and I didn’t want anyone to see me there. I just wanted to drive down the main street and see the slow-paced community banding together to mourn the loss of another young person.

***

I understand the part of death where I won’t ever be able to see that person again. My entire life has been a marathon of characters coming and leaving. But I don’t understand people’s reactions, especially in my hometown. My hometown is a community that prides itself on everybody knowing everybody; someone is always around to help. But that’s far from the truth. The community members only come together for Friday night football, the deaths of high school kids, and events that bring in revenue (they just hosted the Tough Mudder). You’ll see the most encouraging people present at these events, but the same people refuse to unite to battle the poverty, the addiction, and the abuse that haunts the hallways of the high school and hides on every gravel road.

When I ask why nobody is doing anything about these heartbreaking realities, they say, “I’ve just never been aware of those subcultures.”

***

So, I drove down the two-lane highway, only stopping to sneak in the backdoor of my mom’s work for a quick lunch.

Usually, her hugs aren’t something I want or need, because her arms haven’t always been gentle, but I needed something familiar. And even in the pits of her addiction and the highs of her always-changing relationship status, she tried to be there for me; she just didn’t know how.

Eventually, I quit letting her try. Shutting out all of her efforts. She didn’t deserve my emotions and my mental health couldn’t afford to give her any (more uncountable) second chances.

But since I started writing my memoir, I’ve had to accept the harsh reality and truths of my past experiences. And the only way I can be completely honest with myself is to be honest with others.

Going back to my hometown will never be easy for me. It was in the walls of my elementary school my eyes cried for someone to notice that I wasn’t going home to a safe place; it’s the man who helps run the county, who walked in his son’s house to see him slamming my mom’s head into the kitchen floor while I screamed for him to stop, only to turn around silently after seeing the abuse. I’ll never be able to return and not think of these things. But the more I talk about it and the more I write about it, the more comfortable I become with accepting that these events did happen.

I haven’t accepted everything, but I have accepted my mom. And right now, she’s someone I want to have in my life. I haven’t decided the parameters of our blooming relationship, but whatever they are will be decided by me.

I finally have a choice.

The screen door slammed against the stained siding of his old farmhouse, his stomps shook the dusty wood floors, and his voice echoed through the halls. My mom sat in the hallway, rocking back-n-forth with her arms wrapped around herself, like an autistic child trying to soothe themselves, bracing herself for the his strike. She hugged her ripped up t-shirt around herself like a security blanket she never had, but it was only a reminder of what he was capable of. After all, her shirt was ripped from the time he drug her off of his couch by the collar of her shirt, gripping the material in between his fingers forming his infamous fist.

This wasn’t the first time he beat her and we knew it wouldn’t be the last, but it is my first memory of trying to help her. Unlike most of the traumatic scenes from my childhood that PTSD has blocked, this one is vivid. It haunts me in sleep; leaving me heaving for air and searching for safety.

Her rocking was in tune with his stomping. We could hear him in the entryway, coming through the kitchen, and then he reached the hallway where she had curled herself into a ball. I don’t know why I was in hallway with her, but I was. I rubbed her back as we waited for him to get there. Then, he arrived.

His hands weren’t in fists. His arms weren’t drawn back. Instead, he held a pale of hot water. I don’t know when he had time to get the pale, in between the storming into the house and finding us in the hallway, and I don’t know why we didn’t try to run.

She tried ducking her head in between her knees, but it was too late. The hot water splashed against her face, scolding her at the touch. And as soon as the pale was empty, he returned with another. I sat beside her trying to dodge the water and shield her at the same time, begging him to stop. But my voice was drowned out by my mother’s sobs and his reprimanding yells.

I’ll never know what caused this fight, but I know it wasn’t deserving of burn-marks and the beginning of PTSD.

My four-year-old brain begged itself to find a solution; the last time someone dialed 911 after one of his attacks, my mom got taken away in handcuffs. It wasn’t her property. It wasn’t her house. He wanted us gone. But when the police took her away, I didn’t get to go with her. They ignored the fingerprints on her neck and left her daughter to wait with the man who left the fingerprints until someone else could come pick her up.

I found my way to the bathroom, slipping on the water puddles on the floor, in search for towels. I carried as many towels as my fragile arms could manage and returned to the scene.

He was gone.

My mom sat: soaked, sobbing, and sorry.

I draped my towel-clothed arms around her, rubbing her back to calm the both of us.

I laid my cheek against her wet shoulder, “It’ll be okay, Mom. I’m right here.”