“And she always knows her place”

Once upon a time, I was grocery shopping at one a.m., because I rock like that. And because, well, there were actually a couple of 24-hour grocery shops near to where I live (this is all part of a great cycle of enabling – “why buy orange juice and bread after I’m done with work, when I can just as easily do it at a point when I should be in REM sleep?”).

The man I went to the store with let me pay, then took the heavy grocery bag from me when I tried carrying it.

“Don’t be silly,” He grumbled as he took it from my hands. “Doesn’t your back still hurt?” (The super-exciting story of how I hurt my back boils down to this: do not sleep on the floor. Do NOT sleep on the floor especially if you have an old horse-riding injury that bothers you.)

“Yeah,” I said. “But I’m used to doing the heavy lifting on my own, these days.”

“Well, you can cut it out for now,” he said in a way that immediately suggested that this particular conversation was over. I could have said, “and for how long, exactly, is ‘for now’?” I could have said, “and when ‘for now’ is over, I’ll go back to doing my thing.” I could have said, “alright, well, let’s just hang on for a bit here while I pin a shiny gold medal to your strapping chest.”

I didn’t say any of these things, though, because I am at that age when some of this stuff no longer feels like it needs to be articulated. The longer I live, the less I have to prove – particularly when it comes to dudes who take me grocery shopping at one a.m. (work-wise, it’s still another matter). Actions speak louder than words. I enjoy complaining, but I’m also a doer, and I do my own thing. No matter how many times I might pull the “woe iz me!!!11!!eleventy!!!!!” card, I realized a long time ago, that I don’t need a man to survive, and that I don’t need to verbally remind a man that I don’t need him either.

If he’s smart, he knows. If he isn’t smart, then none of it will matter shortly.

On feminist blogs, we’re used to hashing things out, or at least attempting to. As I transverse Dudeland, though, with or without a bruised back, I hash them out less and less. I enjoy getting into abstract arguments – as a writer, I know the weight of words – but personal arguments along the lines of “how DARE you suggest that you may be important to me in one way or another” have gradually become boring to me. What is interesting to me is simply the way I position myself, whether or not I remember my place – next to a man. Not looking up at him. Not looking down.

I seek to avoid dependency, but not emotional involvement. Emotional involvement does make you vulnerable. When you’re dragging those groceries back by yourself one fine spring night, you’ll remember two tattooed hands, one holding the bag, the other holding you. The memory lives on. The way you felt when you made it lives on.

I will always believe that women have it harder than men. Not because I enjoy being a martyr, but because I am aware of the way in which the world actually works. As I wrote here recently,

…if you decide to enter into a relationship with another human being, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment either way. It doesn’t really matter if said relationship is monogamous or otherwise.

Women usually bear the brunt of said disappointment. Our lower status ensures this.

It’s the social order. It’s why we don’t have nasty words for old bachelors. It’s why I became a feminist. Well, one of the many reasons why.

In light of all this, entertaining blog discussions on how people like me abdicate personal responsibility in the name of choice provide grim amusement (as opposed to surprise – a blog where transphobia, for example, is promoted with such aplomb, has little power to surprise me).

Responsibility is such a problem for me, ya’ll. Gosh, if only I actually flipped my brain on every once and a while and got things. Like that part about how men will hurt you. Because, let me tell you, I have not been hurt enough. Not even when I write book reviews like this one am I expressing any sort of awareness on what it means to be a woman in a world that essentially runs according to the rules and desires of men. I’m just stringing pretty words together, darlings. I should refrain from raising my eyebrow at social injustice until I no longer pluck it, or whatever.

The events of my life that inspired me, eventually, to defend Lolita purely from a personal point of view were, by far, not the worst things to have happened to me while I was growing up. But it’s also true that everyone has their stories. And stories can, and will, shape us very differently. And then there is the very question of what we start out with. When I read something like Confronting Citizenship in Sexual Assault, I’m struck, yet again, by how different women’s playing fields are more than merely “uneven” – we’re talking Everests and Grand Canyons here, we’re talking people’s intersecting realities. At this point in my life, I consider myself lucky that I even get to prattle on about some guy, and a grocery bag, and Moscow.

Lucky old me was packing her overnight bag for a trip to Kiev the other day, when the phone rang.

“I should see you off,” Mr. One A.M. said.

“Knock yourself out,” I said.

After I made him tea, he slung my newly bought pink Columbia backpack (30 bucks on sale!) over his shoulder and waited for me to wrap my scarf around my neck and zip up my boots.

“You don’t care that it’s pink, tough guy?” I asked. He gave me a brief look. “Don’t forget your ticket,” he said. There was a jolt of pain in my back as I bent down to shine the boots and I let out an undignified “ai.” “There,” he said, taking the sponge from me and finishing the job.

On the platform, we took swigs of cognac and observed the other passenger filing in. I felt myself beginning to tense up when a cluster of wasted dudes began to materialize by my train car – and grow exponentially. I didn’t say anything, but I could feel the usual stress response beginning to start up, traveling from my stomach up into my throat. I am never safe anywhere, I thought. None of us are safe.

“What?” Mr. One A.M. said. “Why are you getting nervous?”

“Dudes,” I said, pointing out the dudes. “If any of them are in my compartment, this train ride is going to suck. Oh well. Whatever. I’ll deal.”

“Let’s go check out your compartment,” he said. “And if any of them are in there, we’ll take care of it.”

“Take care of it?”

“We’ll get the attendant to switch you out, it’s not hard.”

“Oh. Right.”

A married couple and a middle-aged businesswoman were sitting in my compartment, drinking nothing harder than orange juice.

“See? You’re fine,” he said, swinging the pink backpack up on my shelf. “Come out to the platform with me.”

“Young woman!” The train attendant bellowed a few minutes later. “Do you WANT the train to LEAVE WITHOUT YOU? Because IT CAN BE ARRANGED!”

“She has fifteen seconds!” Mr. One A.M. bellowed back. “You’ll be perfectly safe, you’ll have a great trip,” he told me. I looked back at him one last time as I boarded. He was smiling. He’s not much of a smiler, but there it was.

“Yes, yes, it’s spring-time, all the weeds are blooming, all the cats are howling, everyone’s noses are itching, everyone’s in love” the train attendant muttered as she stepped aside to let me through.

“You think I’m in love?”

“The look on your face is stupid enough,” she said.

Love is pretty stupid, I thought, curled up in my compartment. Letting anyone into your life is stupid. Expecting them to be there when you get back is stupid. Thinking about them in the borderlands is stupid. Our lives are already brief and full of pain. Why complicate them?

“This is such a big step!” I wailed to a feminist friend of mine over an important decision I recently made, something that didn’t have anything to do with any guy, something way  more fraught with potential consequences.

“When have you ever taken little ones?” My friend asked me.

When have I ever taken little steps? When have I ever not suffered the consequences? When have I ever refused cognac on a train platform, or restrained my finger from running over a tattoo?

A tattoo that’s condemned to be lasered off is prettier for it.

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5 thoughts on ““And she always knows her place”

  1. That one transphobic blog you link to was sort of entertaining, but only for about thirty seconds until I actually read what was actually being said there. Eeeeeeee.

  2. (Er, I mean it was entertaining UNTIL I got to the ‘transwomen are just men in dresses’ article, not because of it. Of course.)

  3. Hi Natalia – I’m sorry this is terribly off-topic, but since you have my old blog still listed in your blogroll I thought I would let you know that it has moved to the url above. I remain a devoted lurker here. I really do enjoy your writing!

  4. Looks like they misread your original post, girl. You wrote about how relationships, with *anyone* cause pain, they decided to read it as “don’t give a shit if men will hurt you, that’s just life.”

    My most worst relationship to date wasn’t with any man, it was with the aunt I partially grew up with, as you know, and even getting raped later in life didn’t compare to those beatings or what that woman did to my self-esteem. So I’m not even gonna play that game.

    Thanks for the chance to re-read the Lolita review. I think this was one of the most important and beautiful things that anyone has written about that book in the last 20 years, at least. It’ll sail right over Factcheckme’s head, but like you said, that wouldn’t be surprising, girl.

  5. Never been in a [romantic] relationship with a man, and even I know what you are talking about. Maybe some of these people need to be introduced to a couple of my exes. For perspective’s sake. Let me tell you, the ‘saintly lesbian’ mantle is not for adults. Thumbs up on the Lolita review. I’m sorry about what happened, but you have learned to do amazing things with past experience. Good job.

    The transphobia on that blog is sad and awful, by the way. But it is a problem in radical feminist communities and I think that we can’t sweep it under the rug and pretend like it’s not there. It’s one of the main reasons i don’t call myself a ‘radical feminist’ anymore, and this shit is not confined to the internet either.

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