Two nights ago, I received several Facebook messages containing a chain I was asked to forward to other women in my circle to participate in a Female Blackout:
Tomorrow, female blackout from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Its a movement to show what the world might be like without women. Your profile photo should just be a black square so that men wonder where the women are. Pass it only to women ... It's for a project against domestic abuse. It is no joke. Share it.
Now I had a mixed reaction here. These issues are important. God only knows . . . while I haven’t been beaten, I know what it’s like to have my heart beat in terror while a knife is raised when I wanted to leave, my son sleeping in the next room, calculating whether talking down the person vaguely threatening suicide - and would that include me? my son? - was a safer bet than running to snatch my son, which would mean passing the kitchen again on my way out of the apartment . . . but that’s a story for another day. I’m grateful to have had eight years of martial arts training that make me walk around like a bossy biatch despite my petite frame, especially since I’ve heard many times that predators usually target women who look unsure of themselves in their gait. And yet I have not escaped emotional violence on many levels. Or the threat of physical violence. My son has seen it up close, both perpetrated by and directed toward two family members, one of them a violent attempt toward me.
And yet . . . something in me resisted. Recoiled slightly. On the one hand . . . I felt so alone going to court to protect my son from said family member this past year, terrified, on on occasion even crying on the train for an hour in front of strangers (coming from a woman who doesn’t even like her friends to see her cry) . . . this would be a whole movement of people (if successful), holding hands together, “making the men wonder” where we all went? And would they appreciate us now?
Quite honestly, were we still back in time a few decades, I think a well-organized laundry and dinner strike would have been quite effective, to get attention at the very least. But perhaps now it’s not quite so simple. And I’m sure at least one of you reading this wants to slap the shit out of me for that joke.
Would anyone wonder where the women went with a little black box replacing our profile pictures?
I wasn’t sure why despite the seeming good nature of the movement - at the very least of my friends who forwarded it to me - it rubbed me the wrong way. Was I just lazy? How do I even upload a black box . . . I see them often and wonder what it’s for . . . oh yeah, that - how do people even know what it’s for this time? Because these days we’re all protesting twenty five things a week. And that’s not a disparagement, because we ought to be protesting fifty, or maybe even fifty four, because the world is half unglued for fuck’s sake (leave Pete out of it please, everybody needs a good roll in the hay sometimes and it ought to be kept sacrosanct) . . .
A sudden flash of memory, wanting to run away (who hasn’t had this fantasy) as a child - because THEN they’ll miss me and wonder . . . WHERE IS RACHEL? . . .
A more sobering flash of memory - wanting to end my life at age twelve, but knowing it would be too hard on my family, so instead praying fervently in the shower that I would get cancer instead . . . to disappear from life without guilt.
And the why behind that wanting to disappear, wanting to be blacked out, that I’d felt at a mere twelve turns around the sun, really bothered me.
As did my masochistically empowered pleasure at having such self discipline at sixteen turns around the sun that I’d crank out two hundred pushups and four hundred crunches in exactly eighteen minutes after four hours in gymnastics and a diet where fat intake was so spliced out of the equation that I had (and I was so proud of this then - now I want to give that girl a hug even if she would have shunned it) three periods in one year. The same masochistic empowerment I felt years later, after gymnastics were unceremoniously stripped from me due to a severe back injury and I had pretty much gone cold turkey on calisthenics, but I was even skinnier, such that my hip bones would jut out under my dress. I loved not taking up space, it felt like an accomplishment of sorts to half disappear.
As did the memory of last year when a mathematics-paper-reading-manspreader had me up against the windows in the train car and I wished I were a woman who had no problem opening her fucking mouth and telling him to contain his imaginarily gigantesque nether regions into a smaller area due to available public space, thankyouverymuch but I did not and instead wrote a snappy comeback on Facebook (gee, I wonder if he read it . . . at least it was good for a laugh amongst friends).
As did - most of all - the knowledge that I’ve been disappearing my entire life, from one memory in particular that is largely blacked out to me, and the ways I’ve blacked out on life, and love, and myself as a result. Things we cannot even remember, except - the blackest shame that can make us obliterate ourselves, can make us have visions of leaping from dark iron balconies under the poetry of a starlit night, prayers of shame at ten years old, commanding us to quarantine and a desert existence, stripped of love as penance - somehow, I have concluded, this ghostly shame has erased part of me for thirty years of my life. It does not matter what I’m talking about here - again, that’s a story for another day - what matters is that many of you who are reading this also know what it is to feel shame, even if it is for something you were by definition too young to bear shame for. And to tell the truth, as of today, my memories of the events that caused this shame are like a few bits of broken mirror that lay in a yard on a sunny day, reflecting an odd mixture of the sun and most terrible things, so I could hardly tell you. The point is simply that shame is what erases our beings, what keeps us in a loveless or even abusive marriage, what keeps our mouths shut, what keeps our eyes fastened to the ground, what makes us despise our flaws, what makes us despise our beauty, what keeps us marching not to the beat of our hearts but to the beat of a death knell (or maybe just a manufactured pop tune we’ll all soon forget in a sweaty club that isn’t actually that fun, is it?). And this shame has taken so much from me, and I’ve been performing a disappearing act most of my life.
I’m kinda . . . . sick of eating this shitpie.
Now that I’m pushing forty I think it’s time to graduate. I’m recovering from post traumatic stress, thankyouverymuch, and I’d like to celebrate by showing my lovely fucking face. Not by being modest, nor by thinking I’m crap. I’d like to celebrate by asking the dude on the train to give me a little more space, please (I won’t even crush his dreams that his penis probably isn’t actually that large, in fact). I’ll probably never be the type to tell someone off in public, but if that happens, I’ll probably enjoy it. Maybe I need to take an acting class for that one. I’d like to celebrate by showing up - showing up for love, and actually believing someone cares about me. By showing up for my son. For myself. For being shameless in aiming for my dreams. For showing up as a friend and as a helpful stranger. For feeling the right to take up space. I’d like to celebrate by calling up someone I’ve quietly thought about for years, by playing my music on stage again, by publishing my books. I’d like to celebrate by being me, and I’d like to give my dad the hug I never could since I was little because of my fear, and now he’s gone but I’ll send it on the wind because I’m not afraid anymore . . . my dad is like the Where’s Waldo? of my blog posts, he always winds up in here (ha!). That’s how it is when you lose someone, and no it doesn’t have to be coherent or make sense to anyone else. That’s why it’s . . . a BLOG.
So for this female blackout, I’d like to instead appear. Larger than life. To show up in my own life as a woman, as myself, and know that I have a place. To know that I have worth. And that the only thing that deserves to be blacked out is the sum total of the shame that’s blacked me out for most of my turns around the sun. I’d like to repossess the female body I disowned when I was still a child, and the face and heart that goes with it, put them back on again like my best dress, like a suit of armor, like a holy skin, and just be me.
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