A Letter To The Old Fart Who Thought A Grab Would Cure My Feminism Lauren K. Alleyne
I am here, sitting at home, and trying to make sense of the last two hours. What a day. It’s amazing, the way life goes, you can be sitting with old friends, arguing politics and religion over wine, you go to bed, you wake up next morning from a good night’s sleep and then 3-4 hours later, your world is a different place. Sounds like it should be an earthquake, a war, some disaster (natural or Bush made) – who knows that a hand in the wrong place, a single moment in time can change you forever. A grab.
You want to know what I am doing with my work here, what this feminism business is all about. Today, you answered your own question. This is why I am a feminist. This is why I care about gender. You tell me that it is all about institutions and power relations within the framework of “The Structure”; you are right. And I can affirm, especially after today, that being born a woman in “The Structure” as it exists, and as we must survive in it means that we have no power, less power at best. It means that when you are alone in a room with a man, you are in a position of less power. It means that when you articulate a political or philosophical position to that man, he will assume that a pat on the ass, or a grab of thigh will drive all that stuff out of your pretty little head. It means, Paul, that one moment can prove to you that everything you thought was wrong with the world, is wrong with the world.
You disagree when I tell you that power is gendered, but let me ask you this, would you have done what you did if William was sitting there? Another male? Let me ask you this, what recourse do I have to deal with the mental disturbance this experience has created? Do I tell someone? No point really, so you made a pass at me, so what? Happens every day. Let me ask you this, have you ever been a woman in an empty house, in the middle of nowhere, with an uninvited hand up your thigh? Can you even understand the threat of that? The terror, no matter how fleeting?
Do you understand that this is not the first time, and no matter how much I hope and pray and will the world differently, that it will probably not be the last?
Do you understand the loss? That every hand withdrawn, slapped away, is no better than the hand that ties you down because it operates on the same principle? That it takes with it another layer of faith that “The Structure” is as benign as coffee and chatter between friends?
Do you understand what it means to always be a potential victim by virtue of your body, and in a way no man can understand?
You disagree when I tell you that our perceptions and actions are mediated; that the way we construct and make sense of experience is through a process of theorization of which we are unaware, and that is indubitably masculinist? From the point of view of privilege, and power, and the goddamn “Structure,” it’s all natural, instinctive, the way it works with women and men; as a woman who exists in such a structure, my instinct is to overlook what was clearly a violation of my personal space, a blatant disrespect of my intelligence and disregard of the boundaries of propriety and not to mention a breach of trust. Not mediated? Not gendered? Why then, does it cross my mind, that perhaps I had placed myself in such a position, that somehow I deserved it, or asked for it, that its very occurrence is somehow my fault? Why have I learned to distrust the sickness in my stomach, the indignation that someone felt he had rights to my body in that manner – this, even as my enlightened, academic side resists such imposition of masculinist structure on my experience.
Of course you didn’t/couldn’t have/wouldn’t have hurt me/ forced me/ taken further liberties – when did I learn to be grateful for minimal violence?
And yet, it makes things that much more difficult. Who really wants to discover that their deepest fears are real, their worst suspicions well founded? There is no satisfaction in knowing for sure that the gender we’re ‘stuck with’ will always mean we are not safe; that it leaves usto lecherous advances and humiliation at best, abuse and violence at worst. On the contrary, it is disheartening; it just tells me that no matter how much theory I have, no matter how many ways I am given, or seek to understand the world, that when it comes down to it, as long as things do not change, these incidents will still happen, and I am as vulnerable to them whether I am fourteen, or sixteen or twenty four… Perhaps that was your point.
Perhaps you were trying to do me a favor, provide the thing you thought I needed to make me happy in my place in “The Structure” – after all every feminist just needs a good fuck. Perhaps I should be flattered.
Perhaps that was your way of showing me where my place in “The Structure” is, how futile resistance is/would be. Perhaps you are right.
But as long I have to live in this world and in this body, it is critical that I continue to work to challenge and reform the structure, and to redefine my value within it. I refuse to accept a position of no agency. I refuse to be acted upon by structures, in any form or manifestation (i.e. ‘Grabs’) that objectify, disrespect, or that simply disregard me. I choose not to be silent, (even after the fact) but to respond in the best way I know how. And hell, if I have to deal with it, you should too.
Lauren K. Alleyne hails from the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing, and a minor in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, at Cornell University. She is amused by how closely campus resembles Hogwarts and is on a mission to conjure up better weather for the upstate NY area.