Privacy, Rape Culture, and Being Female.

Last week, I told a male friend about a time recently when I was followed for three blocks by a man whistling and commenting on my body. I’d left my house on a whim because I wanted a small bag of almonds and some chocolate. A pleasant trip that should have taken ten minutes ended up taking over a half hour and enraging me, because this guy followed me into the store and hung around creeping on me while I ignored him until he went away.

My friend asked me why I didn’t say anything to him. “Just tell him to fuck off!” is a refrain I hear a lot when I tell dudes about experiences like this. This makes it clear that dudes, no matter how well meaning or adorable or kind or progressive or honest or lovely, have basically no idea what it’s like to be a woman in the world.

I didn’t say anything to him because I’d said nothing to this person to begin with and never made eye contact with him and kept my head down for 30 minutes and did not acknowledge him once, and yet he walked a few paces behind me for blocks and then stood near me making gross noises for an obscenely long time.

Obviously, he gave no shits how I was feeling about the situation. This had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with what he thought he could get away with. He committed to making me uncomfortable for his personal gain. That is gross and unsettling.

At the most basic level, I don’t respond to men who catcall me on the street because when I’m just outside existing in my own life, I don’t want to talk to some stranger about how he feels about my ass. Engaging with a toolbag  really cuts into my doing anything else really.

At a more serious level, I don’t respond to catcallers because I don’t know them.  I am annoyed by the idea of engaging with a stranger. I am scared of confronting a stranger. In general, these people are taller and heavier than me and could, for all I know, be total psychopaths. They have already proven that they can’t read (or that they will gleefully ignore) social cues. I’m just on my way for chocolate. I’m not willing to find out what other social mores he might be ready to dismiss. His ego may be so bruised that he might punch me in the face, which is what happened to Mary Brandon when she told a man at a festival to stop grabbing her ass.

Sadly, in terms of sexual violence against women, dealing with someone just yelling something at you as you go for a run or licking their lips as you walk by, which is uncomfortable, upsetting, and unnerving bullshit, is actually the best case scenario.

We could have our personal computers hacked and all our private photos stolen and shared all over the internet, only to be told that we were to blame for having taken those photos in the first place. This is the logical equivalent of my taking your laptop out of your computer bag and saying it is mine now, because you had the audacity to put it somewhere I could reach it.

We could be raped by our friends or by strangers, not be taken seriously by our college or by the police, and then make huge, intelligent, thoughtful statements about this, only to have people tell us that “regret sex is not rape” or that by speaking out, we are “attention whores” or are using “rape as self-promotion.”

We could be assaulted and nearly beaten to death, only to be told we deserved it because of our relationship status or our chosen profession.

The simple truth is that women are victims of huge invasions of privacy all the time, every day of our lives. These invasions are not always physical and they are not always devastating, but they are there, lurking, always.

In addition, the responsibility for these attacks always falls on us. If I am harassed (or grabbed or beaten or raped) and I do not say anything, it is my fault because I did not vocalize my distress. If I am harassed (or grabbed or beaten or raped) while I am out at night while wearing a skirt or having a vagina, it is my fault because I was asking for it (or, in the case of the stolen celebrity photos, the fault lies with the women for having something worth stealing). If I am harassed (or grabbed or beaten or raped) and I say something and the situation escalates (as it did for Mary Brandon), it is my fault because I should not have provoked him.

If it’s not already painfully obvious, women are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

I once had an argument about this catch-22 of sexual violence facing women with a man who told me that all this focus on violence against women is unfair, because men are also victims of violence. Okay, guy. Sure. Men are often victims of war and aggression and physical violence. Unfortunately, that’s not what we’re talking about. We can talk about sexual violence against women (and men) without talking physical violence against men, in much the same way we can ask people to donate to cancer research without also asking them to recycle. It is possible to seek justice for one group without minimizing or negating the suffering of another group. In fact, the only people I know who actually do that are people like you.

There is an enormous difference between saying that you don’t see something and denying its existence. In the first case, you are admitting that you are privileged enough not to experience something 50% of the population of the world faces, in varying degrees, every day. In the second, you are proving that you are a moron who takes breaks from reality.

Rape culture is a thing, people. There are men who feel entitled to look at nude photos of women without their consent, to yell uncomfortable and obscene things at women who are simply taking their bodies out of their houses, and to touch, grab, and all too often, sexually assault women against their will. This happens.

Arguing against this, calling it “feminist propaganda,” or, worst of all, extolling it as your personal right because you have a penis that likes things makes you at best an idiot and at worst a violator of the human rights of the women around you.

 

Existential Crises.

I haven’t posted in a few weeks. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been having super deep thoughts about the world. In fact, I’ve been wrestling with some mighty big questions about life.

Things like:

1) How many shortbread cookies are acceptable for breakfast? (4.)

2) How many breakfast shortbread cookies is too many breakfast shortbread cookies? (5.)

3) Should I wash my hair this morning? (No.)

4) If I only wore these socks for an hour last night, can I wear them again today? (Yes.)

5) If I’m allergic to the aluminum in my deodorant, and I am, and the natural stuff is disgusting, which it is, is it okay for me to just not wear deodorant? (Yes.)

6) I’ve stumbled across photographic evidence that I’ve had the same tube of lip gloss for two years. Is it safe for me to keep using it? (Yes.)

7) How often? (Every day.)

8) I need new socks/underwear/shirts/sweaters, but I’m going to the US in a few weeks and everything will be much cheaper there. Is it alright for me to look like a total mess for months before I leave? (Yes. Obviously.)

9) Do I have to wait until lunch time to eat the food I brought to work? (No. Helllllllo, 10 am burrito!)

10) I keep spilling saucy foods on my sheets. Does this mean I have to stop eating dinner in bed? (No. Just buy new sheets.)

Missing The Beast.

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“You’re such a spazz, Auntie Sarah.”

I’m planning a trip back to the States soon, and I could not be more excited to see this beast again. You know I mean business when I say that I miss that three-year-old creep more than I miss burritos. I haven’t seen her in SEVEN MONTHS, which is just unacceptable. That’s like one hundred years in toddler years. I feel sick just thinking about it.

Last night, Fertile Myrtle and I had our weekly Skype date, and yet again, I had to bribe The Beast to speak to me by threatening to withhold her English chocolate gifts. It’s a super effective tactic, but it also makes me feel gross and sad. I want her to remember how awesome and fun I am, and just live to speak to me for five minutes every Sunday morning. Unfortunately, she’s still too little.

As I was falling asleep a few hours after the call, I had this moment of feeling present in Fertile Myrtle’s house, just standing by the kitchen island where I’ve eaten my feelings a thousand times. And that one second of teleporting home was tragic. It is really, truly, deeply devastating to be separated by distance from the things you love. As much as the move was my choice (and a huge opportunity), if I could have everything at once, I would be home surrounded by my people, showing The Beast how to stick salty pretzels to her wet arms in person instead of having to do over the internet.

I apologize in advance to everyone else who thinks they are going to see me when I’m home. I’ll be really busy for the full two weeks teaching a child how to make her mother insane.

Death Becomes Her.

Untitled*Provided I don’t get hit by a bus or choke on a cashew, two things that almost killed me this week.

This post is going to read like I have psychological problems, so I’m going to come right out and say that I am totally content with my life as it is and there is no cause for alarm.

Good. I’m glad we got that out of the way.

Because: I think about death a lot. Like, probably far more than your average bear. I’m not sure if that’s a symptom of being a little bit older or wiser, or because I worked with dead people for a long time as a forensic anthropologist, or because I spend my work days looking up mortality rates and life expectancy calculations, or because I am just by nature a morose and sad-sacky creep who often matter-of-factly mourns that eventually my beautiful hands will be skeletons.

I don’t know why, but I think about death at least once a day.

When I tell people that, their first reaction is usually some comment about how grim and unsettling that is. This is acceptable, because these people are right: thinking about how eventually you and everyone you know is going to cease to exist in any form you’ve come to associate with existence is pretty grim and unsettling.

However, underneath all that troubling unknown, there is something beautiful about there being an end (although hopefully far, far in the future). Because my gross, morbid brain reminds me on the regular that I will be dead one day, I am constantly reminded to live in the present. This doesn’t always work – I am by nature a hypochondriac worrier who gives herself stress hives – but most of the time, it motivates me to do everything I can while I can and to tell all the people I love that I love them so often that it makes them nuts. It can’t be all bad.

Am I alone in this? Do any of you other freak shows think about this all the time?

Spain!

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Just last night, I flew back from Madrid, after spending a few days traveling around with my parents, whom I hadn’t seen in six months. It was so, so, so wonderful to see them, most especially because we had a lot of long discussions about what has happened in my life in the past year. Seeing as I dropped a huge bomb on them on their summer vacation last August and then proceeded to move immediately into their house, stop eating food, refuse to leave my room for five months, and then move across the world, it was high time we had stable, sane, normal-people conversations about What Happened. After nearly a year of thinking they resented me, and being convinced that they didn’t understand what had inspired all the change, I am finally confident that they get it. And that they support me. And that they are happy that I am happy.

It is such a weight off, I can’t even describe. As I moved through the stages of grief and crazy last fall, I was incredibly lucky with my friends, who were nothing if not absolute saints, pushing me through the worst time of my life with margaritas and root beer floats. At the same time, I was distant from my parents, because they were reeling and I was in no place to articulate my feelings to them in a way they’d understand. I stopped speaking to them almost entirely, only beginning to talk to my mom more frequently on Facebook after I moved to England. (I guess we both benefited from the physical distance.)

Knowing now that everyone has stabilized is priceless.

In addition, I ate a ton of paella, drank liters of sangria, and got to see tons of history, so the trip was a win-win.

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Churros with hot chocolate dipping sauce. (Sadly, these churros were not rolled in cinnamon sugar.)

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Roman aqueduct in Segovia. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

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Aqueduct again.

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View of Segovia from the small cafe where I ate a late afternoon snack of fries and green tea, because I’m disgusting.

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The view from our hotel. Doesn’t get any more European than this.

The Hive.

When I was a kid, I was sometimes referred to as “Princess,” as in the frustrating, difficult young lady from “The Princess and the Pea,” because I have always been an overly sensitive, supernaturally delicate flower. (In my defense, my parents did this to themselves. The Biblical meaning of the name Sarah is “Princess.”) I have always been very particular about temperatures, foods, clothing tags, and hair brushing. I have a lot of feelings about a lot of different things. I crave balance in all things, and can be a little bit of a cranky nightmare when I am: too hot, too cold, too sweaty, too tangly, too hungry, too full, too itchy, too lotion-y, too dry.

Every part of my body falls victim to this intense longing to spend every day eating a perfectly-sized burrito and some soft sugar cookies in 72 degrees with a slight breeze while wearing clothes with all the tags cut out. I get moody and irritated most of the time. However, one part is more sensitive and therefore, more obnoxious, than all the others combined; that part is, obviously, my skin.

My skin has rebelled against me for my entire life. My insane allergy to plated metals was discovered in my infancy, when I would break out in little metal-button-shaped rashes where the snaps of my onesies touched my body. By the age of 20, I’d had several subcutaneous cysts and discovered at least two hernias. I made the mistake once of wearing a new t-shirt from a big-box store without washing it first, and my back erupted in a horrible, itching rash in reaction to whatever terrible preservative shit they spray on clothing before it’s loaded on cargo ships. Things like heat rash, poison oak, and ring worm have haunted me always. That’s to say nothing of the acne, which is just always, always lurking. If there is a non-life threatening skin condition to be had, I’ve had it.

This brings me to yesterday, when I spent the whole day wandering around an outlet mall on a gorgeous, albeit hot, humid, and sweaty English Saturday. I made out like a bandit, finally buying a bikini that does not make me look like a sausage exploding out of its casing, as well as stocking up on the Crabtree & Evelyn Sweet Almond Oil lotion I’d been told had been discontinued in the US, and choosing a short, pink and orange woven-wool skirt that serves as the latest milestone in my ever-excelerating journey toward becoming my Birenstock-wearing, straw-tote carrying hippie mother. I was very pleased with myself and had a really great day, aside from the fact that I was pouring sweat for four hours as I moved in and out of crowded, tropical stores that had no air conditioning.

It wasn’t until we’d sat down in a local pub waiting for a bus that I felt it coming. Sometimes, I can sense the doom. In the amount of time it took me to drink half a pint of Stella, it had grown from a small, dense promise of misery to a full blown hive, forged in the fires of disgusting humidity and born right onto the middle of my chin. Oddly enough, if it isn’t a pimple, weird swollen crap on my face doesn’t bother me. Besides, while this heat-welt experience is rare, I am not a stranger to having my skin throw up its proverbial hands to the weather and say, “Enough already. I am done.” So, I proudly walked around for the rest of the evening with this welt on my face, confident that it wouldn’t be the size of a quarter when I woke up in the morning.

And guess what? I was right! It wasn’t enormous and swollen anymore when I woke up this morning. The swelling had gone down and it wasn’t nearly as red – because it had become a blister. I have a pea-sized blister on my face because I spent too much time in the elements yesterday. This is akin to the fabled photosensitivity blister, something I’d been warned about when I was taking Accutane, because that medication turns human beings into vampires who burst into flames in the sun.

It is the worst. THE WORST.

I’m happy I got out yesterday, because I am not leaving the house today.

Second Blogiversary!

Yesterday, WordPress told me it was my blogiversary: I’ve been doing this nonsense for two years. In July 2012, I could not have, even in my wildest, fever-fueled hallucinations, imagined where I would be in July 2014. In these two years, the subject matter and the characters have changed dramatically, and most importantly, I do not have the whiny baby I was so laser-focused on when I created this space.  I am also not a blogging mastermind, sitting on a pile of endorsement money like the Scrooge McDuck of internet diaries, because after taking a massive hiatus just after being Freshly Pressed last spring, I’ve squandered all the good will and interest that glorious week gave this blog (yes, I’m talking to you, 1,500 robot computer program followers).

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I gave him brown hair and pimples so you’d all know it was me. (I am available for freelance graphic design. Information upon request.)

However, despite failing on pretty much all counts in terms of all the lofty goals I had set for myself when I started blogging, I succeeded in a way I didn’t even consider: I’ve worked through some enormously difficult things with the support of people I’ve connected with through the blog. And for that, I must thank you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you, you unsung heroes of the internet. I promise to be much better about keeping up with your writing and posting comments that manage to make it all about me. It’s the very least I can do.

But wait! There’s more! That’s not my only internet resolution! Oh no! I’m also attempting to join the 21st century and use twitter @asarahcarter more regularly, so follow me if you’re into witnessing a 27-year-old elderly woman stumble around social media.

On Judgment.

The other day, I reblogged a post written by a friend of mine about her decision to end her marriage. It spoke to me not only because it was tragic and honest, but also because it mirrored my experience to an almost freakish degree. She is someone who made a terrible, hard, gross, humiliating, and ultimately good decision for herself and for the person she loved, and who is currently working through the fallout. I wouldn’t say she’s a hero (only because I’m drawing parallels here and I wouldn’t say that about myself), but she is brave. I know from experience how much courage it takes to make such an enormous change, imploding life as you know it, driven only by the hope that life will be more fulfilling when the dust settles.

In an effort I assume was an attempt to help her friends understand, she shared her post on Facebook, which was wonderful because she got a lot of support. Unfortunately, being open with a wider, more personal audience meant that she also got a bunch of blow back from people who had their fair share of opinions about how she is choosing to pursue happiness in her own life. I was terrified of facing a fire squad like this, so I didn’t share anything or make an announcement about the change in relationship status on my personal social media accounts. So, lucky for me, the only terrible insults lobbed at me were from a select few people close to the situation and mothers who didn’t know me at the school where I was teaching at the time.

As someone who spent a few years in college working in a phone room in a ticket office, I am well aware of what irate jerks are capable of saying when they are granted the anonymity of a phone call or the internet. However, reading the things people have said to this friend is just absolutely disgusting. These are people close to her who took the time to create WordPress profiles, simply in order to call her names and shame her for being honest with herself and those around her, and for refusing to spend her life in a relationship that was long past being healthy.

Obviously, cloaking yourself in ridiculous internet mystery and ripping someone down means you are a particularly miserable person in general. However, it also speaks to something else: namely, 1) you have been fortunate enough to never have had anything terrible, unexpected, and hugely transformative happen in your life, and have therefore never had to do any major soul-searching. Go you; or 2) you’ve had something like that happen, and you’ve just failed to internalize any of the lessons afforded to you by such an experience.

Either way, you aren’t qualified to have an opinion on someone else’s transformation. If you can’t see beyond your own face, you should probably keep your nose out of other people’s business.

Or, more simply put, before you accuse someone in pain of being a lying hypocrite, you should examine all the ways in which you are perfect and then shut your mouth.

How About No

In English.

I love living in England. People eat fries with everything (including lasagna, soup, and pizza), everyone is too polite to say anything negative about anything so I feel like a super genius all the time, and the supermarkets make so much more sense. (I can’t describe this. It’s just true.)

However, there are a few things that baffle me:

1a) They have one-year Master’s programs.

2a) These Master’s programs run from September to September and hold their graduations in July, meaning that students complete their coursework about nine months before they don graduation robes. I know people who are deep into the first year of their PhDs and only just walking in MA graduations this week.

3) Stovetops are called “cookers,” janitorial staff are “cleaners,” and elevators are “lifts,” but it’s too informal for me to address an email with “Hello!”

4) The weather. Yesterday, it was Atlanta, Georgia in August. Today, it was Los Angeles, California in October.

5) People preparing for exams are said to be “revising.” As in, “I have a huge test tomorrow, so I can’t hang out. I need to revise.” What exactly is going to revised here? What’s being changed? Is it your brain? Are we really referring to studying as “brain restructuring”? It doesn’t make sense. It. Just. Doesn’t.

6) The metric system. I know this isn’t England’s fault. AMERICA.

7) The plumbing. The last relaxing shower I took was at the beginning of April, in a hostel in Prague. Usually, it’s a race against the hot water boiler emptying and seizing and pumping air instead of water, occasionally set to the beautiful rhythms of deep, rumbling pipe squealing.

And perhaps most upsetting of all:

8) There is no delicious Mexican food. I have a trip home planned for September, and it is going to be all burrito, all the time.