It was a little after 9pm, barely dark. I was walking across the campus of the hospital where I work. My shift lasts until 1am, and if it gets really late, I will sometimes ask the Public Safety officer for a ride. But it was not late, and it’s only a few blocks’ walk, so I didn’t even think about it. That is until a couple of minutes later, when a man in a car at the stoplight stuck his head out the window to yell, “Whoo, baby! I want some of that!” Since I was not carrying anything, I can only assume the “that” he was referring to was me — or the sexual pleasure he imagined he would get from me. I was sufficiently startled that I changed my route in case he followed me, and made sure to pass by the Public Safety building. It made me angry that I have to think about such things, no matter what time of day it is.
And I was angry when a shirtless man jogged past me, out getting his exercise at just about the only time of day it’s bearable to do so during the Charleston, SC summer. I was angry because I knew that, even half-undressed, he wouldn’t get sexual come-ons yelled at him from passing cars and have to nervously change his route. I was angry that I never dare go out for a run after dark, because I’ve heard all my life that it isn’t safe for a woman to do so alone. I was angry because I remembered the report I had read a few months ago about a sexual assault nearby, during daylight hours, submitted anonymously by the victim because she was too scared to come forward but wanted others to know of the danger.
Part of the reason I know the world needs feminism is because shit like this still happens routinely; I hear stories like this from the women in my life all the time. And I know that I still need feminism because when this happened, my first thought wasn’t, What an ass! or, How dare he talk to me like that?! No, my first thought was, But I’m not even pretty. I looked down at my oversized blouse, my baggy trousers, my sensible shoes, and especially all the extra pounds they cover, and in a split second I deemed myself beneath the notice of a man who saw me as nothing more than a sexual object – a “that.” I wish this were unusual, but it isn’t.
I know the source of that condemning voice in my head, at least. It started in ninth grade, when I overheard two popular guys in my class making a list of all the girls and rating us. They didn’t realize I was behind them when they got to me.
“What about Stacy?”
“Yeah, but would you do her?”
“Nah, man. Maybe if she’d lose 50 pounds!”
They both laughed, and I slipped away, afraid that I would start crying before I could get far enough for them not to hear me. It didn’t matter that what they had said was totally inaccurate — even losing 30 pounds at that point would have made me a skeleton — I internalized it anyway. What I heard was that I was too fat for the most popular guys in my class to want to “do” me, and that was the only criterion on which they were judging girls. It was all that mattered. God, how I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self that those 14-year-old boys were idiots, that they had no knowledge of either sex or women, that what they thought of me was completely irrelevant to who I was and why I mattered. But I didn’t hear any of those things. What I heard was that my only purpose was to be an object of sexual desire, and I was failing at that because I didn’t look how the boys wanted me to look.
I spent much of high school and college afraid — afraid that I wouldn’t be pretty enough for a guy to want me. Then I had friends who were sexually assaulted and I had a new fear — that I would be pretty enough to attract attention. I didn’t understand then that it has nothing to do with “pretty;” that the people worthy of being in my life would be attracted to my intelligence and strength and humor and creativity and kindness; that sexual assault is about power and dominance, not attraction. Almost 20 years later, I know better. And still, one asinine comment shouted on a dark street brings it all back in a heartbeat.
It takes a hell of a lot of positive self-talk to compensate. So I remind myself, I am not a “that.” I am a woman. I am a child of God. I am a friend. I am a sister. I am a caregiver. I am an advocate. I am a daughter. I am a preacher. I am a confidant. I am a dog mom. I am a geek. I am an auntie. I am a teacher. I am an author. I am a disciple. I am a badass. I am a scholar. I am a chaplain. I am an ally. I am a feminist. I am a peacemaker. I am brave, I am resilient, and yes, I am sexy — on my own terms. I am no one’s object. I am so much more. I am me.
9 thoughts on “I Am Not a “That””
I am so very sorry for your experience…and so grateful for your comments! As a clergy woman in her late 50’s I keep praying that all our young women learn that they are not a “that” and that their beauty and value should only be judged by their loving creator.
…and that can be fully accomplished only when our men, young and old, learn that, too!
Oh, Stacy. Unfortunately, the foolish and crude men who make those comments and perpetrate violence against women won’t be stopped by feminism. They will be stopped by submitting to a God who will change their hearts. And we women must understand (and I’ve come to understand because I grew up in the 60s and was part of the feminist movement) that our strength and self image doesn’t come from men, other women or politics. It comes from that same God who loves us, cherishes us, and believes we are beautiful because He sees our hearts.
I went through the same horrors during junior high and high school for different reasons. I heard the same voices during my young adult life. The Spirit has finally given me wisdom and discernment to know His voice is the loving one; His voice is the one that matters. You are His beautiful beloved. Don’t let anyone take that from you.
Of course, everything that you say is true. Except the part about feminism. Feminism might not change those men’s minds, and it definitely won’t stop all of the violence that men perpetrate, but it can do some things. It can help women cope, and help them better (and more confidently) seek justice for themselves in the wake of violent crimes. It can work to speak to some men, if one is patient enough to engage in that kind of conversation. I might go as far to say that God works through feminism to make changes. I certainly feel that my work as a feminist writer and theatre maker are my calling, just as a Chaplain has a calling. I have had certain experiences in life that set me up to help women’s stories be heard and seen, and I came to a point in my life where I couldn’t not do that work. I was made a warrior for women, if you will, and I believe that my Creator purposed me for this.
Also, as I’m sure you know, plenty of men who have submitted to God still perpetrate subtle acts of misogyny and sexism. Habits are hard to break, and I don’t think that the majority of men do some of them with ill intention. While these acts may not be violent, but they are destructive all the same. So I think it’s dangerous to assume both that submitting to God is all that they need, and that Feminism can’t also be God working to right these wrongs.
I think you are correct on all counts, and I certainly did not intend to diminish your calling. I hear you loud and clear, and I see you and others as warriors to women in this battle.
In my own efforts to promote peace and unity, I shy away from all labels, whether democrat, republican, liberal, fundamentalist, etc… because I think labels tend to divide us. It’s the message that’s important. I think highly of the calling, work and message of Rachel Held Evans, for example, and know she is Spirit-led. I know clearly that God is working through her.
Yet, just as we end up divided by dogma when we put the labels of “religion” above the message, I think we sometimes push people away with the label of feminism, when otherwise they would hear the message.
I hope this clarifies my point of view.
What that man who said to you when he stuck his head out of his car was verbal rape, nothing less! I lament the pain of previous verbal assaults that this triggered, and especially the internalized assault of yourself. I pray that writing about it and talking with trusted friends will begin healing from without and most importantly, from within.
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I don’t think I know any woman at all who has not had an experience like this. And that’s why we need feminism.
Unfortunately, I think you’re absolutely right. I hear way too many women share similar stories. I pray for the day it won’t be so.