Some shit happened recently that first offended, then shamed, and finally freed me.
It has to do with femininity, antiquated sexist ideas and 1950’s housewives.
I feel like I can speak with some authority regarding the strangeness of dusty, old fashioned ideas, having grown up in Silverado, California.
Never heard of it?
You’ve heard of Orange County, right? Great TV show… Lots of unending freeways and strip malls as far as the eye can see…
Well, the old mining town of Silverado exists discreetly on the rim of the OC, tucked back into the Southern Californian Santa Ana Mountains, populated by less than 2,000 people.
All of this to say, I’ve had practice navigating situations that could be potentially volatile for a person who’d never experienced abnormally restricted social parameters growing up.
I give way more than most.
But sometimes the cobwebbed past creeps up on you…
I was sitting at lunch with some friends and a colleague arrived to speak with my husband and I about some business we share. He casually asked who’d cooked lunch, and my husband said that he had. The man jokingly exclaimed, “Why on earth would you do that? You’ve got two women here!”
I bristled and volleyed back, “What a fucked up statement that is!”
There were a few more such exchanges, with him not apologizing and me feeling like the overly obnoxious one for calling him out at all. Such is the result of gradually habituated sexism and its eventual oppression.
I’m never quite sure, as a woman, whether statements like his are purposefully meant to have sinister effects, or whether he is simply a byproduct of an unfortunate upbringing where comments made based on stereotypical 1950’s-style gender assumptions were par for the course. Either way, it felt good to call that nonsense out, and I was proud that I’d said anything to him at all.
We cleaned up lunch and he sat down, as we still had business to attend to.
I was wearing a baggy t-shirt, running bra, pants, and no make-up. Nothing even minutely sexual.
It was hot out, the air conditioner was on full blast, and over the next 45 minutes I got chilly. As any woman can tell you, when you get cold, your nipples get hard. Now, when you’re aroused and your nipples get hard, that can be a very fun thing depending on your preferences. For me, having hard nipples when not aroused can be uncomfortable as they tend to draw more sexualized attention that I’d prefer. Especially in a business meeting where it’s been made crystal clear that I’m being profiled as a woman in some hinted-at less-than way.
As I sat there, I kept feeling like I was hunching over, snail-like, and I wondered why my posture was so lousy. Yet when I would straighten my back, a moment later I’d unconsciously cover myself up again, bringing my knees up to my chest or crossing my arms. I couldn’t seem to get comfortable. I felt tied up, constricted.
Then it hit me: I was covering my breasts, trying to make sure my hard nipples were hidden! I was embarrassed to have him see any part of my body that could be construed as even mildly sexual. Since when did being a sexual being become a liability? My own body, which I take very good care of and love immensely, was protecting itself from being examined in any hurtful way, in any way that would lead him to speak further about his unsolicited ideas of who I am, should be, or where I belong in his world view.
How has this evolved? How does this live within me, this intuition to be protective before being comfortable in my own skin? Why must my body make way for his prematurely arrested social maturity?
Why does this man with his outdated ideas get to determine how comfortable I am with my body’s reaction to the fucking air conditioner? How did we get to this place where the psychophysical experience of being a female is so layered and difficult to know, even within ourselves?
We all exist as sexual beings, whether we are comfortable with it or not. It is part of our promise as humans: this ability to be aroused, to submit to wild fantasy, to enjoy foreplay, and if you’re lucky, experience outta-control great, consensual sex. It benefits no one to deny this by downplaying our own sexual power. We all miss out when we rely on old ideas that hold us hostage with their dark little teachings. Wouldn’t it be marvelous to learn a way to celebrate how maverick and mysterious our bodies are? How much fun could we have??
Eventually he left and I went outside to dip in the pool, to get reborn. The water was cold and my nipples were hard again. This time I straightened my back and leaned in to my spine; these unruly nipples are mine, they are magnificent, and YES!, you may enjoy looking at them if you’d like, because goddammit life is short, and I’m tired of living with small, inherited ideas.