To Be A Woman

by Sarah Wilkinson

Written on November 4, 2016.

Trigger warning: gender-based violence.

Dear Donald Trump,

(To be a woman is to live in the margins, your absence unnoticed. It is to live within parenthesis, to be enclosed and hidden between two curved marks that let people know they don’t have to listen to you. It is to be spoken over by men, who then insist that they know what you said, how you said it, and what you were wearing when you said it.)

(You have no idea what it’s like to be a woman. I couldn’t possibly tell you the whole story—and surely you wouldn’t listen to it if I did—but here are a few things you should know.)

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Photo by Maddie Stern

(It began when I was seven: that was when I realized that being a woman was different than being a man. My mother worked full-time and so, after school, I rode the bus home to my Cousin Sandy’s house. She had four sons and a husband named Mitch who reminded me of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. In the hour before he was supposed to come home from work, the boys would be out shooting deer with bows and arrows, and I would be in the kitchen with Sandy, making dinner. She would have it plated before her husband walked in the door, kicking off his shoes and crossing the living room to collapse onto the couch. Feet propped, he would watch as she came from the kitchen with his plate, resting it gently on his lap, giving him a kiss. Then he looked to me. “Where’s my kiss?” He pouted his lower lip out, refusing to take a bite until I gave him what he wanted. I came to him, our lips meeting, my stomach tightening as I shrunk inside myself. I understood then that my body was not my own. Any man could ask something of me that I couldn’t refuse. A couple years after that, he locked Sandy in a shed for two days after she told him she wanted a divorce. It made the local papers.)

(When I was a bit older, I sat in history class as we read about the bravery of Christopher Columbus and Francis Bacon as they conquered Mother Nature and became Her master. It was normal to me that the land be considered a woman. I didn’t understand yet that this implied that a woman can be taken, divided up, sold off as property, raped, pillaged, mastered. A woman’s body is not her own: this lesson was one learned constantly. Any time a boy in class touched my butt or poked my breast or sent unsolicited photos of his penis, he let me know that he was in control. In all of my time in school, I don’t remember learning about a single woman who wasn’t known for being a man’s wife or property. My teachers and my parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be—doctor, lawyer, engineer—but I was learning a very different lesson from my textbooks. I was to be a wife, and that was all I was to be.)

(My entire life, I have watched as the female body has been over-sexualized. In books written by men, young women are curvy—meaning they have a small waist and a big chest—and wear tight jeans. In commercials for hamburgers, a half-naked woman opens wide and takes the massive piece of meat into her mouth. Even breast cancer awareness campaigns use a slogan—“Save the boobies!”—that implies that breasts are the only part of a woman worth saving. By the time I turned 11, I was wearing push-up bras and buying jeans just a little too tight. I shopped for underwear at Victoria’s Secret and waited for a boy to notice that I was a sexual being. While I was spending my time begging my breasts to grow faster, checking them obsessively in the mirror, my older brother was in the garage sword fighting or playing his drums. I was a woman long before he was a man, and that wasn’t a coincidence.)

(Now that I am a woman, I understand that it means contending with small moments of violence every single day. The professor who looks you in the chest rather than the eye. The man who rolls down his window at a stop sign just so he can make moaning noises at you. The man getting a cup of coffee in the dining hall at 9 am, telling you to smile as you reach for the sugar; you owe him that much, this man you’ve never met. The man outside Rite Aid who looks at your butt and says it’s looking good, making you feel so dirty you want to pour the bleach you just bought all over your skin. The man you overhear talking about how much he wants to fuck—what’s her name again? The man who interrupts you when you’re talking. The man who speaks louder than you do. The man who insists he’s right and you’re wrong. The man who doesn’t see the need for feminism, because don’t women already have it pretty good, or at least better than they did?)

(To be a woman is to contend with the constant fear of violence against your body. It’s sitting in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood, wondering if someone might walk in with an ax and start swinging because it wouldn’t be the first time. It’s walking down the street in broad daylight, looking over your shoulder every so often, making sure you’re not being followed. It’s taking rape self-defense courses where you punch and kick red mats and listen to stories of women being followed home from the bar and raped in the snow, yelling for help within earshot of people who never call the police. It’s refusing to take the shortcut through the woods after dark because someone could be hiding in the trees, ready to pin you down with one hand and pull your pants down with the other.)

(To be a woman is to regularly imagine violence against your body. When I’m in the shower, I think about someone slipping into my apartment, ripping the curtain back and slamming my head into the tile so that I can’t scream. When I’m walking home alone in the dark, I’m thinking about the man who might drive up beside me and throw me in his van, taking me somewhere my family will never find me. When I’m walking to work before sunrise, I’m thinking about a man who could run up behind me, cover my mouth, and drag me behind a building. I’m thinking about what items I could drop as I’m being dragged away, a trail so that maybe I will be found. When I walk into a public bathroom, I’m thinking about the man who may be hiding in the stall next to mine. I’m thinking about how there could be more than one. I’m thinking of the man who drops a pill in my drink, leading me to his room when I start to feel drowsy.)

(When a man yells at me from his car, I’m thinking about how much I want to yell “Fuck you!” at him but I never do because I’m scared he’ll get out of his car and chase me all the way to my house, where he’ll throw me against the brick and rape me right on the sidewalk as cars drive past. I’m scared that he’ll turn the car my way and run me over, get out, and throw my body in the back. For hours afterward, I’m thinking about all the ways he could have hurt me. I’m dreaming about it that night. I’m thinking about it the next morning. These moments stay with me. I think it’s my body’s way of preparing me for what seems inevitable. One in five, Donald. One in five women will experience sexual violence against their bodies.)

(To be a woman is to be afraid of more than the assault that could befall you at any moment. It’s to be afraid of the after. Of the immediate moments of panic once he leaves you in a naked ball on the floor or in the leaves as you realize, This really just happened to me. Of the decision you must make as the clock begins to run down: report it or lock it up inside you. Of the rape kit that demands you spread your legs as cold instruments are pushed inside of you, the second time you’ve been violated that day. Of the police officers who may or may not believe you. Of the prosecutor who may or may not believe you. Of the jury or the judge who may or may not believe you. Of your sexual past being used by the defense as proof you deserved it. Of being told that you shouldn’t have been drinking so much or wearing a dress that was so easy to pull up. Of having clear evidence of your assault and watching your assailant walk free. 7 in 1,000, Donald. 7 in 1,000 is how many people accused of sexual assault are actually convicted. I wonder which side of the divide you’ll fall on.)

(Throughout this presidential election, women have been repeatedly told that the things you say, Donald, don’t matter. When you said that you didn’t sexually harass or assault the women who accused you because they’re not attractive enough, we were told to relax. Smile. Ha ha. Take a joke. Stop over-reacting. When you called grabbing a women by the pussy without her consent “locker room” talk, we were told that all men talk that way. It’s only natural. Take it as a compliment. At least a man wants you. Any time we ask for more respect, we’re told, No one respects women more than I do. When we disagree, we’re told, Oh, it must be that time of the month.)

(Right now, I fear for my body in a way you have never had to fear for yours. Your America is a place where men, particularly if they’re wealthy and white, can get away with doing whatever they want to women’s bodies. Your America is a place where women are disbelieved because they aren’t beautiful enough to be victims of a sexual crime, as though such crimes are ever about anything other than power. Your America is a place where women can’t make choices about their bodies, can’t get affordable birth control or STD treatments or HIV testing or family planning information or regular vaginal checkups. Your America is a place where it’s okay to have various accusations of rape against you and still be a viable option for the presidency. There has never been a clearer message in my lifetime that women and the traumas inflicted on our bodies don’t matter.)

(Voting for Hillary Clinton is an act of survival, I hope you understand. In newspapers, I often read columns by men who say you should vote for the candidate you most believe in, but that’s a privileged perspective. As a woman who cares about my safety and the rights over my body—which are debated in Congress in a way men’s bodies never have been—I have to vote in whatever way will prevent harm. When that’s your criteria, there is no choice. There is no question of who you believe has the best ideas for the country. It becomes a choice made in fear.)

(Donald Trump, you have taken my choice from me, but you haven’t taken my voice. You don’t have that power. You haven’t taken my will for resistance. You don’t have that power, either.)

I’m fighting for an America that doesn’t put me in parenthesis. It’s not and never will be your America.

Sincerely,

Sarah Wilkinson

(P.S. If you would like to call me fat on Twitter at 5 am, my username is @SarahLouWilk.)

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