7

“Who taught you to move the cards like that?” his teacher chides, “–The magicians relationship is not between himself and his prop. It’s between the magician and his audience.”

“Ok.” says Houdini. And he looks down at us. “Ok….

Ok.

Hi.

What’s your name?”

It’s a beautiful show. It’s stunning and magical and glorious. As with most shows at this theater I walk out feeling just a little like my life has changed. Like the scope of what I believe has broadened. And throughout the course of it, over and over and over again he looks out at us and over and over and over again he says, “Ok. Hi. What’s your name?”

He asks for our names in such a way that I believe he remembers them. And names, to me, are so important. I’m really bad with names. I can never remember them. And I hate that about myself. My Dad though–he can remember your name even if he only ever met you once, six years ago. “It’s the most beautiful sound to a person,” he told me once, “The sound of your own name remembered well by a person you met. It’s a sound that lets you know you’re special.”

And this play is so beautiful. And watching it makes me feel special. I am thrilled. I am enchanted. I am on cloud nine. And despite myself I have that fluttery hope that he’ll choose me for one of his tricks, that at some point he’ll want to know my name.

But then I wonder–what would I tell him?

I have at least four names. Two of them given, one of them inherited, one chosen. Emma for an iconic British character. Emily for an iconic American poet. Laura for an iconic American author. Couling for family of storytellers.

See. It’s a beautiful play. It’s a stunning gorgeous fundamentally wonderful play about a genius man performed (as far as I’m concerned) by a genius man and a flawless ensemble. I am literally skipping with glee for thirty minutes afterwards. But once I’m able to calm (and have had half a glass a beer) I turn to the friend I am out with and say, “Sometimes I wonder…where are all the plays about the genius women?”

So we pull out some chalk and we make a list.

Because ask me my name and I will tell you one of four things.

Ask me who I am….ask me what made me what I am…and well….

I am Ada Lovelace, Eleanor Roosevelt, and JK Rowling. I am Susan B. Anthony. Anne Frank. Marie Curie. Rainbow Rowell. Rosalind Franklin. Mary Anning. Caroline Herschel. Hypatia. Cleopatria. Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II. Queen Victoria. Michelle Obama. Maria Merian. Elizabeth Blackwell. Mother Theresa. Rosa Parks. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Wangari Muaathai. Dr. Mae Jemison. Malala Yousafzai. George Sands. George Elliott. Jane Austen. The Bronte Sisters. Mary Shelley. Florence Nightingale. Marie Stopes. Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton. Katherine Hepburn. And so many, many more.

I am my grandmother. My mother. My blood sisters. My chosen sisters. My students. My nieces.

I am all the women who came before me. And all the women who follow after. And I’m not saying we’re all genius’. But listen; there are women out there, in history and alive today, who have changed the world. (We’re 50% of the population so this is a given. Right?) And it may not be much, but the least I can do is dedicate my life to telling their stories.

So…

Ok.

Ok.

Hi.

What’s your name.

7

‪#‎riseup‬ ‪#‎feminism‬ ‪#‎fourthwave‬ ‪#‎jointherevolution‬ ‪#‎leanin‬ ‪#‎heforshe‬‪#‎bethechange‬ ‪#‎magicoftheatre‬ ‪#‎artandactivism‬ ‪#‎chicagotheatre‬

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6

I’m watching this play. I am sitting next to my best friends boyfriend and I am watching this play. I’ve been hearing about this piece for months. My best friend directed this piece. She has warned me. I know it is hard. I know it will be hard.
So I am watching this play and I have all my walls up. It’s been a long week–I’ve been fighting all week. I am tired, I am angry, I woke up this morning fell out of bed and mumbled something along the lines of “Smashsmash….smash…patriarchy…smash….” One of my other best friends has been texting me jokes about me being The Hulk because I’ve been smashing The Patriarchy. The texts are helping. The people who’ve reached out to me since I was accosted twice last week are helping. Smash patriarchy. Smash smash.
But here I am. And I am watching this play. And I am trying not to feel things. Because goddamnit; I am starting to despair.
At a very specific point, 3/4’s of the way through, I lose control. I am usually very affectionate. I am usually very social. And there are so many people in this audience that I know and love and for once, I do not want to talk to them. I do not want them to touch me. Hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez. 20 years of abuse in a storefront theatre in Chicago. A meager 6 months for 3 convictions of sexual assault for a rapist in Stanford. What can I do? I mean…honestly…what can I do? Because I feel so, desperately, totally useless.
The play ends. My best friend’s boyfriend turns to me. I have been crying for a full 15 minutes. “Are you ok?” he asks.
“I mean, like, no?” I reply. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah. No. Not really.”
I hide in the ladies room for two minutes. I count 120 seconds with my back against the wall. I count the the two minutes. This is how I usually handle my panic attacks. I think this is a panic attack. But it’s not. It’s just despair. And my tricks don’t work.
I get on my bike. I start riding to a different theater to see a piece that I am just so determined to see. I have this thought halfway down Broadway. This thought that goes, “Couling. You should stop biking. You are in no condition to bike. You are triggered. You are crying. You should stop biking.” And by the time I get to the end of this thought. I get doored.
So I’m flying through the air. And I think….well…this is the last thing I do. This is the last week I have. This is the last work I do. These are the last debates I engage in. And I start to feel kind of, weirdly…a little better. I mean. At least the last fight I fight is a good one.
I do a shoulder roll. (And I think to myself, “Yup, still got it, knew those years of stage combat would pay off”) I roll under an SUV. The guy who doored me rushes out to help me up. I stop him, because I know what happens when you try to rush these things. I do a mental analysis of my body. I slowly stand up.
The poor gent who doored me is actually very nice. We’ve met before. He’s a chef at a restaurant that my company has collaborated with on events. He helps me inside his restaurant. He brings out his first aid kit. I patch up. We exchange information. And I get back on my bike. I am pretty calm. I have been Bruce Bannered via being doored.
I get back on my bike, and start to head north.
And then, this group of twenty something white men ride past me (also biking) and they shout, “Hey cutie!”/”Yeah Baby–go ahead and bike in that short skirt”/”Mmhmm, look at those legs.”
I turn my bike around. Because in the scope of things I may be pretty useless. I may not be able to change the world in the big way I want to. But I can show these fellas what happens when you catcall a Feminist.
“Hey!” I shout, “Yeah, you! The motherfuckers on the bikes! You got something to say to me, you say it to my face.”
I follow them for a block.
Cause you don’t want to make me angry.
You wouldn’t like me.
When I’m angry.
Smash smash.

‪#‎feminism‬ ‪#‎fourthwave‬ ‪#‎riseup‬ ‪#‎jointherevolution‬ ‪#‎fightthepatriarchy‬‪#‎smashthepatriarchy‬ ‪#‎hulksmash‬

 

5

In the wake of Stanford, my own recent experiences, and the long awaited drop of the Not In Our House Article I have had a lot of wonderful, kind, feminist men seek me out to ask how they can be better allies. I am not an expert, and this list is not exhaustive, but here are some thoughts–jump on in Feminist friends–let’s talk about how to make it better:

1. Be a feminist. Talk about feminism. Call yourself a feminist. Say the actual word. If you can, find a chair, stand on it and shout, “I AM A FEMINIST.” Ask women what feminism means to them. Ask yourself what feminism means to you. Join the revolution.

2. Understand, and use, your power. The world is not equal. That’s a goal and a dream, not a thing we’ve achieved. Emulate Sir Pat in the attached photo. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

a. I can go out to the bar with my lady friends, and a fella can approach them and make them uncomfortable. When I (because you better believe it’s not an “if”, it’s a “when”) say, “Hey man, she’s not interested, step off.” 98% the time I will be ignored. If you, a gent, says that to another fella, 98% of the time, you will be heard.

b. Talk about how much you are paid. Be comfortable talking about how much you are paid. And if you find out that your women colleagues are paid less–start asking why. Literally–ask everyone. In your out-loud voice. Ask them, ask your HR Manager, ask your fellow employees–make the people who could change it face the fact that the truthful answer to, “Why?” is that your lady colleagues are not men.

c. When your women friends are dealing with some patriarchal bullshit, name it. Call it what it is. We’ve been taught to accept a lot of things, we’ve been told it’s impolite to be angry. Don’t accept that. Tell us it’s OK to be angry. Remind us that we’re dealing with patriarchal bullshit every moment of our lives.

3. Educate yourself. There are so many resources out there. If you don’t have the time or energy to read all the books, then start in these two really excellent but pretty basic places:

a. Strident Feminism with Caitlin Moran

b. Emma Watson at the U.N. #HEFORSHE

4. When a woman is upset about a thing, listen. Just listen. Don’t offer advice unless she asks for it. Don’t try to parse things out for her unless she asks you to. Just listen. We are so often unheard. And, frankly, any sentence that starts, “Well, when I’ve been in that position…” is already moot because you haven’t. You haven’t been in the position that she’s in. Cause she’s a woman, and the world treats her differently.

5. This is the most important one my friends. This one changes lives. In this one you can either be the hand that pulls your women friends out of a hole or you can be part of the problem: If a woman tells you she’s been, or is being abused in any way–believe her. Don’t ask her what she was wearing. Don’t ask her how old she was. Don’t ask her whether she was drinking. Don’t look for extenuating circumstances. Just believe her.

6. Understand your privilege and your contribution. When you ask your women friends how their day was and they say, “Oof, dude, I have dealt with some patriarchal bullshit today.” start your reply by saying, “Jesus. I’m sorry.”

7. Are you a storyteller? Awesome. I love storytellers. I come from a long line of storytellers. Tell womens’ stories. Tell stories written by women. Find women who are telling stories and watch them, listen to them, publicize them, share them. Start contributing to a culture where women get to be protagonists, where women get to be heroes.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

‪#‎fourthwave‬ ‪#‎femism‬ ‪#‎heforshe‬ ‪#‎makeitbetter‬ ‪#‎riseup‬ ‪#‎nottodaysatan‬‪#‎jointherevolution‬ ‪#‎fightthepatriarchy‬ ‪#‎leanin‬

4

My father was a prison guard for several decades, and he’s told me lots of stories. Overarching in these stories is this idea–this culture–in the maximum security prisons of Michigan: “Do the crime, do the time.”
I think about it constantly. Because there are consequences to your actions and I sometimes wonder, if those men can remember that while they’re on the inside why the actual can’t, say, the asshole who came for me yesterday in Wrigleyville.
AND THEN I remember the answer, and truly, this is the thing that has me up in arms.
For them, there aren’t consequences to their actions.
See. This fella, walks up behind me while I’m at a liquor store. I’m paying for my beer, minding my own business and a man I do not know walks up behind me. Places his hands on my bare shoulders and runs them down my neck and onto my chest.
I pull away and let loose a brigade of curses, and he says, “Sorry babe. Yeah. That was too handsy.”
I freeze. I squint. And I say, “I’m sorry, is there some amount of touching a woman you do not know that is not “too handsy”?”
He does not respond.
I continue, “You know, you’re lucky you caught me on a good day. Some days I’d’ve just punched you for that.”
He does not respond. Nobody responds. The cashier looks embarrassed, the woman this asshole came into the store with looks embarrassed. But nobody says anything. I should’ve punched him.
He is the second person in one week who has touched me without my damn permission.
By the time I get to where I’m going I’m shaking so badly that I cannot open my own beer. My friend has to do it for me.
By the time I go home I’m so drained of energy that my roommate makes a lighthearted joke about how low my voice is. “Have you been smoking?” he asks, “You are suddenly a bass.”
I don’t tell him that that’s what happens when I’m furious. I have stress dreams all night. I wake up in fight or flight twice.
And the guy? I promise you. He hasn’t thought twice about me.
I want to live in a world where rape and assault have huge overarching dire consequences. But I don’t. The motherfucker from Stanford is only going to prison for six months and the asshole I encountered yesterday is probably in his office this morning, thinking nothing of it.
If you think we don’t need feminism. If you think that there’s not work to do. If you think we are, in any way, done–turn around, find a woman you are close to and ask them how many times they’ve been humiliated, made afraid, hurt, traumatized by a culture that tells them they are objects. I promise you they all have stories. We all have stories. And the assholes who came for us, some of them, they don’t even know that what they did was wrong. ‪#‎dobetter‬ ‪#‎makeitbetter‬ ‪#‎fourthwave‬ ‪#‎feminism‬ ‪#‎riseup‬‪#‎fightingthepatriarchy‬

3

To the Gentleman With Whom I Just Had an Encounter: Perhaps, because you are old, and male, and white…or perhaps because you are alone, and rich enough to live in Old Town after your retirement, or perhaps because I am young, and polite looking, or perhaps because despite living here for five years I still look like the Country Girl from Michigan that I am, you think you can get away with your behavior.
Not Today.
You do not get to catcall me. And you sure as fuck do not get to touch me.
I am a Couling. And a Woman. And a Soldier in the Revolution. And when you come for me you are going to learn what it is to come for me. I have no problem following you for a block through a nice neighborhood so I can continue to shout at you. I hope the stress from it gives you a heart attack. And also, if you didn’t want to hear that kind of language come out of the mouth of a “young lady” you shouldn’t have given me a reason. You shouldn’t have fucked with a Feminist.
‪#‎riseup‬ ‪#‎fightingthepatriarchy‬ ‪#‎nottoday‬