Category Archives: Gender

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.

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The Tidal Pool Treasures of Thailand

There is a place in Thailand that, to me, is the most magical place on Earth. I found it by accident, but I think I’d like to die there someday. I won’t say where it is, but if you ever want to go, tell me and if you’ve been kind to me over the years I will hand-draw you a map. In the mean while, I think we could all use a little magic during these tough times, so I’ll show you what I found there.

It all began when I woke up in my cliff-side bungalow the morning after I arrived, and looked out the window. By the first light of dawn, I saw something interesting outside:

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It looked like the entrance to a cave off in the distance. I’d stayed here once before but this was a new bungalow—two years ago the jungle was covering this particular view and I didn’t know the cave existed.

While eating  breakfast I chatted with an adventurous Slovakian couple. After finishing, the man hopped over a low rail partitioning off the dining area from the rocky cliff, and waved goodbye. I turned to his partner, and asked where he was going. She pointed to the rocks below. I was amazed they were going down there, because not once had the idea occurred to me last time I was there. I assumed it was too dangerous and stuck to the several sandy beaches, each offering its own slice of nature that was more than fulfilling for me. Minutes later, she finished her yogurt and prepared to walk down to find her mate. Knowing nothing about them I thought perhaps they were the rock-climbing type, and asked about the decent. “Yeah the path is kind of treacherous but it’s worth it,” she said, climbing down in flip flops.

Surely if she was wearing flip flops, I could do it in sneakers. But she wasn’t lying about it being treacherous. When I climbed down later there was barely a path through the jungle overgrowth, and I crabwalked and bouldered down most of the way. When I finally reached the bottom though, it was magnificent peaceful rocky heaven.

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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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Casual Predation: Postscript

A week ago I published an essay on LadyBits called Casual Predation, about the ways in which women are made to feel hunted by random passersby. You can find that essay here:

View story at Medium.com

Since publishing, I have received quite a bit of feedback, both rewarding and distressing.  The best was the overwhelming response of acknowledgement from women I respect, such as Cindy Gallop, Kelly Bourdet, Nilofer Merchant, etc. Part of the reason I wrote this is that when I’ve spoken with women about the incidents I’ve experienced in the past, they always have some kind of story about being alone and freaked out because they were being hunted in some way—every single one.

The other part of why I wrote this is because I’ve noticed a major lack of understanding from guys about this very real, very common occurrence—even from the most awesome guys who I adore to pieces. And so another facet of rewarding feedback has come from guys who were finally able to have some sort of revelation through this essay about what it feels like to be a woman. One man emailed me so say: “Thank you for writing that. As I seek to reflect on making more positive contributions to the world (and at least quit being a jerk, to quote Marshall Goldsmith), I find writing like yours to be very useful.  I’m sure you catch all sorts of troll crap, and I wanted to provide a voice of thank you.”

You are welcome.

On the flip side, I’ve gotten some very bizarre feedback from a handful of guys who have read my story and been very defensive. Their line of reasoning seems to go something like: “I enjoy looking at women and having sex with them, and it’s offensive to me that you’re calling me a predator for doing this and trying to mate.” First of all, no. The whole point of the essay was to describe a very specific behavior that women notice that sets off defensive alarm bells in our bodies. While some people are certainly more sensitive than others, we can usually tell the difference between a look from someone who is a potential predator, and anything else. It isn’t hard to do if you are paying attention (provided you don’t have a condition that prevents you from detecting human emotion such as autism).

I used to have a parrot and sometimes he would bite me. Eventually, via observing his behavior prior to the bite, I learned to recognize his intent to bite me before he would lunge. He would get very attentive to the part of my body he was preparing to attack and his pupils would dilate. I learned to move just in time before he would fly into a monstrous rage, lashing his beak in every direction, and would put him in his cage to chill out.

If we can detect these warning signals in our animal companions, we can certainly detect them in other humans.

The first mention of “vagina” in a film

…was by Disney!

From Oddee:

As strange as it may seem, Walt Disney was on the forefront of women talking about their vaginae (plural of vagina). In 1946, Disney was commissioned by the Cello-Cotton company (who made Kotex feminine napkins) to make a film called The Story of Menstruation, which mentioned the V-word for the very first time on celluloid. The film was never released theatrically, but was shown to 105 million American students, along with advertisements for girls to make sure to use their brand when it came to “that time of the month.” The film was hardly pornographic – in fact, menstrual blood is shown as white instead of red. It is now in the public domain and can be watched below!

It’s actually pretty awesome, but pretty sad to notice how not far sex ed has come since the 40s. My kids will have 3D hologram diagrams of ovaries if I have anything to say about it.

Via Ira Cashewnutskya

Deliberate vs casual poisoning

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I heard an expression recently that I’ve been turning over in my mind the past few days while simultaneously reading the Machiavelli and Sun Tzu editions of The Art of War: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” I heard it from someone who was essentially telling me to let go of something that was bothering me, because it was doing more damage to me than to the entities at fault. It made sense at the time and is a convenient mechanism to be able to let go of whatever is bothering oneself, but I haven’t decided if it’s valid or not.

I’ve always been intrigued by responses to female aggression, and how they are so very different than responses to male aggression. Men are allowed and encouraged to be angry from time to time, as it reinforces their manliness. But when women show even the slightest bit of aggression it is cause for behavioral modification. “Your message would be delivered much more effectively if you could deliver it without getting defensive,” is the PC psychological device to convey this. This is usually true, and a good thing to consider regardless of gender. But it depends on the audience and the validity of the statement.

Sometimes it’s not true though. Sometimes anger is a really effective way to deliver a message. Sometimes you’ve gotta throw down. But this should be done sparingly and considered a nuclear option for optimal results.

Only with both those methods exhausted is it time to turn to the poison. Sometimes the other person will stop in their tracks and look at you in your poisoned state and realize the fault in their actions. Sometimes when you drink poison, the other person does die. However, you can’t just casually drink poison and expect success. If you reach for the poison too quickly or frequently, your opponent will cease to feel the effects while you continue to suffer, resulting in inevitable defeat.

I originally thought this was a Buddhist quote, but then I looked up the origin and found it’s first source was an AA manual from the 80s, so that makes sense. But this is neither here nor there in terms of validity.

 

Gaslighting explained in GIFs from Clueless

Tonight I re-read one of the most important articles ever written in the history of the internet (according to me), Why Women Aren’t Crazy, by Yashar Ali from one of my favorite publications, The Good Men Project. It explains a situation that we ladies (and some gents) have likely all found ourselves in at some point or another. A situation that sucks so badly because it has the ability to derail logical circuits and send thoughts spinning off in all kinds of wacky directions. It trashes your self esteem and makes you question your sanity and your intelligence all at once. It is the phenomenon of GASLIGHTING, and it must stop.

Gaslighting is emotional manipulation that confuses people into thinking they are crazy for reacting to inconsiderate behavior. It’s not always intentional, but it is always hurtful. This manipulation is often carried out by men on female partners, but sometimes it happens the other way around and other times the term can be applied to parent-child or boss-employee relationships. For the sake of this blog post, I’m going to arbitrarily assume we’re dealing with a gaslighting guy and his innocent, unsuspecting lady friend.

The term comes from the 1944 MGM film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman’s husband in the film, played by Charles Boyer, wants to get his hands on her jewelry. He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution. To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and on, and every time Bergman’s character reacts to it, he tells her she’s just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim’s perception of him or herself.

Before I read this article, I had no idea there was a word to describe what so many guys have done or attempted to do to me throughout my dating career. But once I learned that this power trick is as old as time itself, or at least as old as black and white movies, I felt better (but then worse when I didn’t even see it coming when it happened again).

Here’s an example of how it happens, as explained by the cast of Clueless:

It starts when a guy you’re into looks at you with those eyes and makes your heart flutter a little bit.

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There’s probably some kind of physical exchange, as is only logical when two people are into each other.

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If you are an emotionally rational human, you will probably carry on as such, trying to move your relationship forward in a satisfying way, impressing him with your moves. But much to your dismay, you may find that he begins to act distant and becomes impenetrable to your charm. Maybe he says something mean, stands you up, or is just generally inconsiderate of your feelings.

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Because his new-found disinterest or agitation seemingly appears out of nowhere, you begin to question what you did, or what it is about yourself that caused this response and the break in the logical progression.

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When you try to initiate communication to point out the discrepency between what you think you experienced and what your interactions have become for no apparent reason, the gaslighter will try to dodge the questions and retreat into a further state of aloofness.

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Pressing them further will likely result in anger and accusations that you are the one causing the problem in that very moment.

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He will disregard your confusion and make you question your assessment of the situation, eventually making you believe that your sense of perception is off-kilter and that you are being paranoid, clingy, or crazy. He may even go so far as to blame the entire problem on your craziness and demand that you stop this behavior immediately, leaving you in a tailspin of internal confusion and emotional haze, powerless to do or say anything because you don’t understand what you did to cause this negative response in the first place.

You may do a number of things to try to remedy the situation such as acting like nothing is wrong or apologizing for overreacting and being crazy. All the while, you know in your gut that it’s not actually your fault. The more introspective you are, and the more you attribute events to an internal locus of control (sorry for the psychobabble), the more this knowledge will slowly erode your self image and sense of reality.

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Thankfully, this is what friends are for (or therapists, doormen, random people on twitter, etc.). When you objectively explain the situation, your friends may not be able to explain why the emotional interaction is occurring, but they will be able to recognize that something is off and it’s not your fault.

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At this point, the person being gaslighted may chose to end the interaction. Sadly, far too many people in the world allow the behavior to continue, constantly apologizing without knowing why and living in a state of confusion for eternity. But if, like myself, your unrelenting pursuit for knowledge and possibly concern for the person outweighs your emotional thresholds and your sense of self-respect, you won’t simply apologize and move on. You will figure out what the reality of the situation is.

Once the true motivation for the gaslighting behavior surfaces (such as guilt, emotional illiteracy and subsequent shame and avoidance, feelings of inadequacy, mental preoccupation, sadism, and in the case of poor Ingrid Bergman flat out criminal deception) the gaslighting psychosis will lift.

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Once you posses the missing information, your mental circuits realign and you can once again see yourself as the awesome person who attracted your cowardly little gaslighter in the first place.

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Hopefully the truth is something minor or something that can be stopped in the future. And if you’ve found yourself in this situation, don’t fret—it doesn’t mean you’re some kind of weakling. According to Ari:

The act of gaslighting does not simply affect women who are not quite sure of themselves. Even vocal, confident, assertive women are vulnerable to gaslighting.

Why?

Because women bare the brunt of our neurosis. It is much easier for us to place our emotional burdens on the shoulders of our wives, our female friends, our girlfriends, our female employees, our female colleagues, than for us to impose them on the shoulders of men.

It’s a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don’t refuse our burdens as easily. It’s the ultimate cowardice.

The solution to preventing and approaching ongoing gaslighting is easier said than done, but something worth working for. This may sound cheesy, but be open and honest with your partners and accepting of their emotions. After all, if the thing causing the gaslighting is really a deal breaker, it’s better to be honest and find out your relationship is doomed sooner rather than being miserable and emotionally mute for an extended period of time.

Full Article: Why Women Aren’t Crazy