10

An Open Letter to The Woman Who Catcalled Me:

Hi.

My name is Emma. I’m 26. I work for a Non-Profit and I’m going through a huge life change right now. Who are you? What’s your name?

The reason I’m writing to you is because as I biked away from my place of work a few days ago, a group of men stuck their heads out of their third floor window and started to shout about how lucky my bike was to be between my thighs.

And then you joined them.

And you used some language they did not.

And they cheered and high-fived you.

When I stopped my bike and shouted back I ended my usual rant with, “And as for you! Yes you! Hey! Lady! You don’t have to live this way!”

What I meant was this:

You don’t have to buy into the Patriarchal System that allows those men to objectify me. None of them really want to be intimately acquainted with the space between my thighs. That’s not what catcalling is for. They want to frighten me. They want to assert their power over me. They want me to know that this is their world–that I’m biking on their street–and I’m simply not going to allow them to get away with that. They don’t own this world and they won’t so long as I and my fellow Feminists can fight against them.

But you. I see you. I really do. I’m looking right at you. I was like you once. I too thought that I had to play the game in order to survive. But then I got schooled.

If you’re catcalling me because you also want to assert power over someone in a world where your power is limited, then let me be the first person to say that there are other ways of gaining power. Let me be the first person to say that you are worth it–that you are worthwhile–that hurting other people doesn’t give you more control. It takes control away from you. If you want control, if you want power, you can get it by doing good work. You can be kind. You can fight against the system that asserts that you don’t have inherent power at the moment of your birth.

(But in my opinion: Fuck that. You absolutely have inherent power.)

If you’re catcalling me because you honestly want to engage in a relationship with me you can come down here and talk to me like I’m a person. Which I am.

If you’re catcalling me because it is the only way that you can gain the respect of that group of men then HEAR ME WHEN I SAY THEY ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU. There are better men out there. There are really. Really good men out there. Feminist men. Men who are allies. Anything less is a waste of your time.

I’m gonna say that again.

Those men aren’t good enough for you.

I see you. I used to be like you. I used to buy into the system.

But then I got my ass kicked.

I hope you don’t have to get your ass kicked as thoroughly as I did to realize what you’re doing.

Sincerely,

-Emma

-And her bike.

Although honestly–do we have to bring my bike into this? She never did anything to anyone. She’s just a sweet little blue cruiser. Leave her alone. I’ll fight you.

‪#‎feminism‬ ‪#‎fourthwave‬ ‪#‎riseup‬ ‪#‎dobetter‬ ‪#‎makeitbetter‬‪#‎stopthewaronwomen‬

9

It’s been a full week since The White SUV.
I’ve spent this week muddling through. Living in a bit of a fog. I’ve dropped the ball on a few projects. Slept more than I should have. Not applied for as many opportunities as I could have. Stared at too many walls. Resisted the temptation to respond with “I’M ALIVE!” any time any one asked me how I was. Resisted the temptation to dress down everyone who called that incident a win when to me it felt like such a failure.
At the beginning of the summer after a week of two public assaults I was talking to a dear friend who said, “Man, sometimes I wish women would just post about this shit every time it happens.”
My initial response to his wish was, “You can’t ask us to do that. Documenting it is traumatizing too.”
And then. I started to do exactly what he asked me to do.
To be fair, I don’t post every catcalling incident, or every microaggression, or every comment on my sexuality. I don’t post every assumption about me based on my body, my age and my gender. Because to be quite frank, I don’t have that kind of time. I have to…you know…eat and sleep on occasion.
But my tendency to shout about the blatant misogyny I and my fellow women face has been met with an interesting reaction. One friend, who I think was very well meaning, put it pretty eloquently. He said, “Whether you’re somehow a lightning rod for these types of confrontations, or you’re just more vocal about them than others, I applaud your bravery.”
Another friend, as I told her about the evenings misadventures said, “I don’t know why these things happen to you so often. I mean–walking down the street we don’t look that different and I don’t think this happens as often to me.”
After my friend said that to me, I asked her to tell me the last time she got catcalled it was just a few days before. And it sounded like a pretty scary situation to me.

In the time between now and The White SUV, I’ve been catcalled five times, once pretty violently.
In that space of time, unrelated to my experience, three other friends of mine have posted about their experiences with assault.
In that space of time, unrelated to my experience, at least one of my friends has posted about her experience with domestic violence.
In that space of time, unrelated to my experience, two of my friends have posted about trying to dress in the morning whilst preparing for the amount of street harassment they anticipate that day.

The thing about lightning rods is that not only do they attract the electricity, but they absorb it. They take it in. And though they protect their houses, they don’t fight back.
Which. Honestly. Does sound a bit like me. At least it sounds like me before I started to call myself a feminist.
All the women posting about every-day misogyny; we’re not lightning rods.
They haven’t invented a thing for what we are yet.
We don’t absorb the fire, we harness it and turn it back to the clouds that sent it our way.
We look to the sky and dare it to defy us.

‪#‎bringitonzeus‬ ‪#‎nottoday‬ ‪#‎riseup‬ ‪#‎feminism‬ ‪#‎fourthwave‬‪#‎stopthewaronwomen‬

8

So I’m standing outside of my regular Monday night bar with my best friend. I’m standing there, enjoying the weather and the summer. It’s Monday night–and I’ve committed, for the past several years, to spend Monday night in this fashion. So here I am. It’s Monday night.
We’re sharing war stories from the week and shortly, we are joined by two other Monday night regulars. There is no place in the world where I should feel more safe. These people are family. I am surrounded by three men I love and trust.
Gently, quietly, a white SUV pulls up to the corner, the window rolls down and a white boy sticks his head out the window.
“I could kill that bitch right now!” he shouts.
There is a brief moment of silence whilst I and the men I am surrounded by process what he’s just shouted.
He says again, “Hey! I could shoot that bitch right now.”
I step forward. One of my friends, puts his hand on my shoulder, “Hey. Emma. Don’t.”
I know, viscerally, that he is scared. I know, viscerally, that I am scared. But I also know the kind of world I want to live in and what I am willing to do to get to that place. So I step forward. I present, to the asshole in the SUV, a target clear of white men, and I say, “Excuse me?”
He rolls up his window.
As he does so my best friend steps up behind me and shouts, “What “bitch”? Who are you calling a “bitch”?”
And I shout “You got something to say to me, you say it to my face! Bring it on! You think I’m scared of you?”
He drives away.
But the truth is that I /am/ scared.
I am so. So scared.
We stay outside because the bad guys do not get to win.
And this asshole, circles back around.
He circles back around to show me that he may or may not have a gun.
He circles back around to show me that at the very least he has something that looks like a gun.
He circles back around to show me that he thinks he lives in a world where I deserve to be frightened.
And I stay outside. I stand my ground. With my friends behind me, knowing that the best thing I can do for the things I believe in is to keep my feet firmly planted.
Several hours later, I am still crying; still shaking; still frightened. My best friend looks at me and says, “Yes. But you didn’t let him win. He circled back around but he couldn’t do anything. You said no. He never expected you to say no.”
There are days you win and days you lose. Days when you let the misogynists win because you are just. so. justifiably terrified. And days when you say nothing because of….well, exactly the same reason.
Today I stood at the edge of an intersection and made eye contact with a man I knew wanted to kill me because I am a woman. That’s what today was for me. That’s what this fight means to me. ‪#‎fourthwave‬ ‪#‎riseup‬ ‪#‎nottoday‬

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

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