Category Archives: Fierce broads

Casual Predation

This essay was originally published on LadyBits on Medium. While I unfortunately can’t say that the conclusion of this essay is true for me anymore, I thought it timely to revisit this piece in light of the recent mass-exposure of the predators among us in the media industry, brought forth by so may brave women. May those pathetic creatures who are inclined to abuse find peace with themselves and the world such that they never have to mistreat anyone again.

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To know a predator, you must know what it is to be prey

The other day while riding a Paris train, a man boarded my car and, out of all the empty places to sit, chose the seat directly facing me. He casually sprawled his legs open so that his lower thighs were sandwiching my rigidly-shut knees. My field of vision was filled with the bulge in his pants and gray chest hair draped in gold chains overflowing out of his way-too-unbuttoned shirt. And he just stared at me. When my eyes locked with his, I saw an expression so familiar that the hair on my arms stood up. It was a look that most men wouldn’t recognize, as they haven’t ever seen it and probably never will—the expression of someone looking at you as prey.

When a man picks you as prey, his eyes, which were dully scanning their surroundings, abruptly land on you and light up with intent. They linger abnormally long and intensify, beyond what would be normal if there was something unusual about your outfit or if he found you attractive. Sometimes the face relaxes, the eyebrows twitch or the corner of the mouth pulls upward into a smirk while the eyes remain hard, betraying the internal thought processes.

These thoughts are of pure consumption. They are based on the desire to possess — not your belongings, but one’s physical being. It is a drive to gain control over a person and render her powerless, thereby establishing the predator’s dominance and control in a world where he probably has very little. Women are persistently reminded of their physical vulnerability by male displays of sexual power—from gestures so discreet they make you question your own perception, to the ultimate act of consumption: physical violence. To avoid the latter, you must learn to recognize the former, and understand the intent of someone who is looking at you like that.

I am forced to acknowledge my vulnerability by strangers almost every single day while walking down the street in big cities. Most of the men who look at me like they want to eat me alive can’t do so because of practical considerations: witnesses, physical factors (I’m 5’10 and pack a significant bit of muscle), and the fear of repercussions. So instead, they just stare, gazing at me the way a wolf would eye a squirming bunny in a cage — so utterly tempting, but off-limits for now.

When you catch that gaze, you have some choices about what to do to ensure that you do not, in fact, become prey. They’re choices you shouldn’t have to be burdened with making, but that, in this world, they are impossible to avoid. You can alter your path, like I did when I got up and moved to the next train car. I had to go out of my way, but it took thirty seconds and then it was over. You can avert your eyes and look at the ground, both acknowledging your discomfort while at the same time refusing to participate in it further. But sometimes, this is where the game begins.

He might hold his gaze so intently that when you peek back up to see if he’s still watching you (and shit! he is, look away look away), a thrill shoots up his spine because he caught you checking. Now he knows that your inability to look up and examine your surroundings—your cowering stance—is because of him. He is controlling you, and you just got a bit leveled by a complete stranger. It interrupted your thought process, probably ruined your mood, and wasted your time. You didn’t authorize this; it was a violation, and the feelings these little violations instill in us—fear, frustration, anger, helplessness—accumulate over time to shape the way we live our lives.

If you’ve never experienced what it feels like to be someone’s prey, believe you me, it is fucking exhausting.

If you attempt to ignore the mind games of a predator, this is usually when the comments set in—an attempt to win the game by manipulating the air waves going into your ears. It follows this predictable format:

  1. A greeting: “Hey/hello/yo/hola/bonsoir baby/beautiful/gorgeous/sexy/mami/chica/mademoiselle/sugar tits/sweet lips.”
  2. A “compliment”: Some comment about your overall physical appearance that usually has nothing to do with the effort you put into your presentation. “You’d make great babies” is my recent fave.
  3. A call to action. Some request of what your predator would like you to do. One that scored major points for originality: “Get out of my head and into my van,” yelled out the window with a toot of the horn.
  4. An expression of desire. “I’d like to ___ you all over.”

The catcall that baffles me most is “God bless you” — uttered not the way a nun would say it or how one does after a sneeze, but while giving me the elevator and licking his lips. Once, after a guy told me I was looking sexy and I ignored him, he yelled after me that I was supposed to say “thank you.” I turned around and glared at him in disbelief, and he told me I was a bitch. That compliment I could accept from him. “Thank you,” I finally replied.

Sometimes I don’t have the will to engage in this mental combat while walking to the corner store on a Sunday afternoon, so I muster a fake, tight-lipped smile and nod my head with wide eyes, throwing them acknowledgement like I’d throw a dog a chicken bone if I didn’t want it to follow me. But sometimes a smile is just as risky as a middle finger, as it can be an unintentional invitation to the next level of interaction. It’s a lose-lose scenario.

When you complain about casual predation to guys, they usually laugh. They tell you not to let it get to you, and suggest ignoring the comments if you can’t handle a compliment. But the thing is, you can’t ignore it any more than you could ignore a bear approaching your campsite. You are evolutionarily programmed to pay attention to potential predators because sometimes they don’t stop at mind games and catcalls, as far too many of us know.

In my twenty-seven years on this planet, I’ve been stalked, followed home, threatened, attacked, hit, kicked, and groped by complete strangers. Two people have tried to abduct me, once by attempting to drag me into a dark alley and once by picking me up in a fake car-service car. A high school classmate tried to rape me, a UN peacekeeper tried to buy me, and at my own LadyBits launch party an old man put his hand on my knee, looked at me with that look, and said he might want to invest in me.

In all of those situations, I paid attention to the threats I perceived and I did what I had to do to get away, from screaming to pretending to be limp-noodle drunk, to jumping out of a moving vehicle, to engaging in physical combat. And you know what? I am fine. In fact, I’m better than fine—I am fucking lucky! I have my life, I’ve learned to love this thick skin I wear now, and I’ve learned how to protect it. And yeah, I have sought vengeance here and there.

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So many women aren’t as lucky as me. What tends to happen to a person when she is shown she is vulnerable day after day is she begins to accept it, and this mentality follows her everywhere. When you’re prey, sometimes you stop being able to tell the difference between the life you choose because you want it, and the life that you settle for because the alternatives are too scary.

Personally, I refuse to compromise the way I live my life out of fear. Despite everything that’s happened to me (and almost happened, which I shudder to think about), I regularly walk alone at night. I have been traveling the world alone for the past six months, and I will continue to do so for six more. I’m single, and not really looking unless it really fits with my life. I walk down the street with my head held high and I look people in the eye when I pass them. And whenever I catch that predator eye, I send it back. I know it’s the lack of control in their lives that makes them act out in such desperation, and I refuse to give away an ounce of mine without good reason. Maybe this will get me in trouble some day, but until that day, I will be living my life.

And I’m not afraid.

Thanks to Quinn Norton.

I would like to add as a footnote, my gratitude to Dawn Alden, who was inspired by this piece enough to host a film competition about the predator/prey relationship as perceived by trans women. May beautiful creations continue to emerge from scorched earth.

“You picked your mother”

When I was in Thailand, I studied Buddhist meditation in the jungle with a runaway princess. There are many stories to be told about what happened there, but today is mother’s day so I will tell you just this one.

In the US and other Western cultures, we sometimes say “you can’t pick your parents.” It comes up in times of familial strife, when things aren’t all Hallmark ad-like and you wish you had a different life with different people in it. It’s to remind us that, nope, we can’t. Our lives come pre-fabbed with certain people in certain roles, and nothing can ever change it. You have to deal.

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Blood lust

Why is it that women aren’t supposed to have enemies, only oppressors? We can have cutesy competitions and petty rivals over men, or we can be under the thumb of some big bad force that we require saving from. But to acknowledge those people who have crossed us and held us back, those entities so inherently unjust that the knowledge of their continued existence activates a blood lust deep within that can’t be satiated until we see them flounder and fail… well, that’s not very ladylike.

When it comes to The Prisoner’s Dilemma, I much prefer a fair game. But let it be known, that if a bridge needs burning, I have no hesitation in striking the match.

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Finding your inner gazelle

I stood there sweating, panting, looking at the 9 other Amazonian women standing with me in a circle.

“After a gazelle gets chased by a lion, if it gets away and doesn’t get eaten, it shakes it out, ” said Rochelle Schieck. “The gazelle doesn’t go to therapy for ten years, it shakes out all its nerves and goes about being a gazelle.” She instructed us to shake out every limb and portion of our bodies without worrying about what it looked like. “Just do what feels good.” I did as I was told.

I was at a Qoya class, a female-only movement system Schieck developed to help women remember. When she said that’s what it was for at the beginning of class, I didn’t really get what she meant. I have a pretty good memory and didn’t feel like I had forgotten anything especially important. But after two hours of wild flailing, yoga, stretching, trust falls, and moving about the room to tribal music while blindfolded, I remembered what I forgot.

Generally in adult life, there is only a small subset of accepted motions that we can do with our bodies: walking, sitting, and standing. If you’re in a gym, you can do some more. If you’re on a dance floor, the subset grows depending on how many other people are dancing, how much space there is, how much you think you might get made fun of if you were to bust a move, and how much you’ve had to drink. Even in dance and exercise classes, movement is relatively prescribed. Even during sex, people typically don’t trust themselves enough or listen to their partners enough to move spontaneously, so they mimic porn instead. Most adults don’t know how to move freely.

Little kids though, they fling themselves in every which way just because it feels good. This class made me remember what it was like to be a little girl in my kid body. I remembered how I used to move around innocently before all the self-consciousness set in, before I felt the weariness of gazes that I worried might judge me, sexualize me, mock me, ignore me. I remembered that we minimize the possibilities of negative events occurring to the detriment of positive ones. I remembered that I didn’t always used to just sit in front of a computer screen all day and jump on the elliptical machine when I got too stressed out to function — I used to be a dancer, for about 15 years of my youth.

The ten of us lay on our backs kicking our legs into the air, something I’m pretty sure my mom has a home movie of me doing when I was like three. The whole rest of the day, I felt the impulse to listen to the pop punk I used to like in high school. I walked over to the Venice Beach shore to watch the sunset, and thought about letting myself love with all the confidence I had before I knew what a broken heart was.

Be more weird. Be the gazelle.

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The most perfect reflection on being single

Tonight I took a break from packing to read something that’s been open in a browser tab for days. Personally recommended for me by my friend and fellow Motherboard contributor Kelly Bourdet, the n+1 tab kept tempting my focus away from packing for a year on the road, planning the LadyBits launch party (which was AMAZING <3), and fielding the hundreds of responses that have poured in since I launched LadyBits on Medium (getting to each and every one of you, I promise!!). Five days later, I finally allowed myself to pause and consume “What Do You Desire?” by Emily Witt.

As enticing as the subject matter — which details a woman’s journey through the Kink.com armory — was the fact that it was picked for me. I love hunting through stories for the detail that makes a piece of writing subtly and especially relevant to my interests. At first I assumed Kelly had sent it because the gentleman who Kelley had asked to be on her Internet Week panel alongside me was a Kink.com pornstar. But when the author switched gears from fly-on-the-wall description to introspection, I was left feeling like the author was speaking out of my own experiences, and articulating them much more clearly than I could:

I had made no conscious decision to be single, but love is rare and it is frequently unreciprocated. Because of this, people around me continued to view love as a sort of messianic event, and my friends expressed a religious belief that it would arrive for me one day, as if love was something the universe owed to each of us, which no human could escape. I had known love, but having known love I knew how powerless I was to instigate it or ensure its duration. Whether love was going to arrive or not, I could not suspend my life in the expectation of its arrival. So, back in New York, I was single, but only very rarely would more than a few weeks pass without some kind of sexual encounter.

What even to call these relationships? Most of my friends had slept with one another and I had slept with many friends, too. Sometimes years separated sexual encounters. Things thought buried in the past would cycle around again, this time with less anxiety and greater clarity, in a fluid manner that occasionally imploded in horrible displays of pain or temporary insanity, but which for the most part functioned smoothly. We were souls flitting through limbo, piling up against one another like dried leaves, circling around, awaiting the messiah.

After a decade or so of living this way, with occasional suspensions for relationships that would first revive my belief in romantic love and its attendant structures of domesticity, and then once again fail and extinguish them, I started finding it difficult to revere the couple as the fundamental unit of society. I became a little ornery about it, to be honest: that couples paid lower taxes together, that they could afford better apartments, that there were so few structures of support to ease the raising of a child as a single person, that the divorced experience a sense of failure, that failed marriages are accompanied by so much logistical stress on top of the emotional difficulties. All this because we privilege a certain idea of love. The thought of the natural progression of couples, growing more and more insular, buying nicer and nicer furniture, shutting down the world, accruing things, relaxing into habit, scared me. As I grew older, I found it difficult to distinguish romantic love from other kinds of connections: the platonic love for the friends I did not want to have sex with, the euphoric chemical urges toward people I had sex with but did not love. Why was love between couples more exceptional? Because it attached itself to material objects, and to children? Because it ordered civilization? I probably would not have a baby without love, and buying a home seemed impossible for all kinds of reasons, but I could have sex. I had a body.

The entire piece is worth reading and losing yourself in. She goes on to seek the answers to her questions in all kinds of detail. Things I’ll probably seek to find in different ways about myself when I leave New York. Like the author, I’m tired of the cycles. This time, the past must stay buried. I’m ready for new encounters and new loves.

Thanks, Kelly =)

 

Circe and Odysseus

Circe, by Wright Barker.

Circe, by Wright Barker.

That’s Circe, the daughter of the sun in Greek mythology. She knew a lot about drugs and herbs and would turn guys who pissed her off into lions with potions and a magic wand. When Odysseus came round her lair on his Odyssey, she gave him her usual potion, but Hermes had warned him of her antics before and he’d eaten something that made him immune to her emasculating tactics. Tables turned, Odysseus lunged at her. It was probably the first thrill she’d had in years, poor thing. She was hooked, and ended up boning him for a year in her lion den before he she sent him on his way back home to his wife, Penelope. He always came back though, as Circe ended up having three of his nine kids (six of which were split between five other women). And even though he dipped out from time to time, Circe got to lol with the kids AND hang out with her lions in her island mansion that she built for herself.

Lately I’ve been getting some of those years-later confessions from people I used to know. The “why didn’t we ever date back then?” late-night drunken messages. I have them tell me why they think that is, and what it always comes back to is that they found me intimidating. My friends have explained to me why this is for years and years, but it’s one of those things that just sounds so silly to me that it goes in one ear and out the other. I’m a delicate flower. It’s not like I turn people into house pets like Circe or anything, though, if I could turn people who pissed me off into animals, I would have the zoo of my childhood dreams after all. Still though, I wonder how long she waited before she finally found someone who approached her without fear.

 

Lara Logan: Former, present, future role model

When I first heard about Lara Logan, I was a senior in college. My journalism mentor was a New York Times war correspondent reporting out of Baghdad in the height of the Iraq war. We would talk on AIM and he would tell me about the horrific things he’d seen that day, like a defense contractor shooting a dog and nobody having the proper medical equipment to treat it, so they had to Surran-wrap its guts back in as life-support. I’d tell him about the insignificant drama of life at the college newspaper.  He probably thought it was as stupid as I do now looking back on it, but he must have appreciated the opportunity to mentally escape from his surroundings.

I decided that I wanted to do what he did. I was taking Arabic classes in college and learning everything I could about reporting from a war zone. But it all seemed improbable. One day I asked him how the hell I was supposed to do that being a woman who typically gets harassed just walking down the street because of the way I look. He told me it was possible, and that I had to be professional and not take shit from anyone. Then he told me to look up Lara Logan, and said if she could do it, I could.

I was amazed by her. She’s undeniably gorgeous, which at the ripe old age of 20, I’d learned could be detrimental for women in my industry. I watched all of her interviews on YouTube, noticing how some male interviewers would become visibly flustered while talking to her, while others would approach her with seemingly unfounded aggression. It’s always been quite obvious to me that men will step out of their way to make your academic, professional, or social life a special kind of hell if they are attracted to you and can’t express it in an institutionally accepted way. I read about how news stations wouldn’t air some of Lara’s well-researched content about street fighting in Iraq, citing that it was too “controversial” for the news, and remember thinking in the back of my mind that it was probably because some senior editor had a hard on for her, and was punishing her because that was the only way he knew how to behave.

Yet she carried herself with class and spoke with authority and conviction, and never allowing anyone to interrupt her while she was speaking in an interview.

I wanted to be like her when I grew up, and I still do.

When people say she was “asking for” the beating and sexual assault she incurred on her last trip to Egypt, simply by going to a place where there may have been a higher possibility of such a thing occurring,  it sickens me. That’s saying that pretty women should know men want to fuck them, and should just avoid all situations where someone might not have the frontal lobe capacity to control themselves. When really, the emphasis should be on getting men to control their violent impulses and punishing the ones who don’t.

Lara was in Egypt doing her job, a job that she did better than almost everyone else in the industry, man or woman.

For people who go into potentially dangerous situations to report, which I have done before and will do again, there is always the knowledge that something could happen to you. I live in Brooklyn, I know something could happen to me walking down the street at any given moment. But you keep going back, and you keep putting yourself in those situations because you know you can. And you know that somebody has to, or nobody will. Somebody has to get those stories out, so you risk your life and you risk your sanity, and every time you come out of it unscathed you say, yeah, I just fucking did that and it wasn’t so bad, even though you know that it could have been.

Everyone lives life knowing that bad things could happen, but that they probably won’t. And when they do, it is devastating. I am devastated for Lara, and wouldn’t wish physical and sexual violence on anyone, ever—especially someone who is doing such a noble job by risking her life so that other people can have information about a situation they wouldn’t understand otherwise. But we can’t look at what happened to her and conclude that it’s too dangerous for women to be out there reporting, just as we can’t look at the dozens of journalists who were killed in Iraq and close up the bureaus there.

Lara Logan is a role model of mine and always will be. She knew what the risks associated with her job were and accepted them, and unfortunately encountered the ugly side of humanity in a chaotic situation. But people shouldn’t for a second put this on her, or blame her for the decisions that she made. It is the criminals who assaulted her who are at fault. End of story. I only hope that her situation will serve to prevent such crimes from occurring, not to make women who would do what Lara did want to stay home. I won’t stay home.

My Amanda Palmer fan girl moment

This is my latest ear worm that has been in my head all weekend:

But you are my love/

The astronaut/

Flying in the face/

Of science

This broad is fierce.

And now to recap the story of my fan girl moment……. I once had a very special encounter with Amanda Palmer.

In July of 2008 I given a press pass and two free tickets to the first Rothbury Music Festival. So I packed up some friends and some camping gear and headed out to the Double JJ Ranch.

At one point I split from my group and went wandering around the press tent. That’s where I saw these two fabulously dressed ladies sitting in the grass. One was holding a pale yellow parasail and looked like she could have been straight out of the victorian era. “HEY!” the other one yelled to me. “Do you have another cigarette you could spare?” Hell yeah, no prob, and I gave her one and a lighter.

Then an arriving vehicle caught the attention of the Victorian woman and she got up and bounced over to it, parasail spinning. And then it struck me.

“Wait a second… is that Amanda Palmer?” I asked the woman, now happily smoking.

“Yeah, and if you come to her show tonight she’ll sign your tits!”

What’s that? Picture or it didn’t happen, you say?

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