Tuesday, May 26, 2015

I Will Take Care of Myself

***Trigger warnings for rape, sexual assault, etc.  I won't discuss them in depth, but I do certainly mention them in this post

I carry my keys in my hand with getting to my car.  I also carry a knife and a flashlight after dark.  I complained to my landlord when the external lighting fixtures were all burnt out.

But the reason I do all these things?  You could say rape culture and you might be right.  I'm a single woman living in an unsafe world controlled by men, and again that's not a wrong assessment.  But I carry my keys in my hand because I work long hours and just want to get the fuck in the car and go.  I carry my knife and flashlight after dark, but during the day too.  They're tools for my job, which I use daily.  I complained to my landlord, because yes, it was a little eerily dark.  But also, because I walk my dogs after the sun goes down a lot, and, with no lights, I can't see where they poop.

This post isn't designed to disparage the women who do all these things because they feel unsafe.  Those women aren't wrong and I also do the above list, because they are sensible precautions for a young, single woman who lives alone.  But do I live in fear?  I choose not to.

My apartment could be broken into by someone (most relevantly a man), but my dogs aren't going to be thrilled with the intruder.  Someone I'm seeing could ignore me saying "No, stop", but if he does, then he's going to reckon with me. I could be accosted on the way to my car, but I have my knife, flashlight, and I'm generally near enough other people that they'd hear any altercation.  If a man follows me and makes degrading comments, I'm going to tell him off.  I can and will take care of myself.

A friend of mine created a pastel (only a relevant detail because it just makes the message better) banner that says "Fuck the Patriarchy" and I'm with her 100%.  The sexism and bullshit women put up with on a regular basis is unjust, unfair, and it's changing at a glacial rate.  It's not that I don't see the sexism, but I'm not going to live my life looking over my shoulder.

I have the luxury of coming from a place where this is possible for me.  I didn't have a father or uncle who was perversely fond of me as a child.  I didn't have a boyfriend who had one too many beers and didn't listen when I said no.  I never had a professor who poured on the charm and said "if I only did this one little thing" then he'd change my grade.  I didn't have a husband who hated me, who beat me, tied me up, and raped me.  These are all real stories I've heard, not on the internet, but from people I know.  And I have lived the charmed life of never having experienced any of that first hand.

For me, boys and men have always been who I felt safest around.  I'm the girl who was playing sword fighting with my best friend and he told me not to use an old sticker-bush branch and did anyway, just because I knew he'd be impressed.  I'm the only girl who the boys let play soccer with them at recess, because they knew that I could run circles around them.  And when more girls wanted to play too, I told the boys that they were going to let them or I wouldn't play anymore.  I'm the girl who felt intensely uncomfortable at parties with makeovers and girly movies and mean, cattiness.

I just didn't get along with other girls and so boys became my protectors, friends, and confidants.  No one whistled at me or catcalled me.  I was a person to them first and then a girl.  I went through puberty at the age of nine (it's always been early in my family) and not once did a boy make me feel uncomfortable about it (it's a good thing too, because that would have scarred me.  Being the only one going through that change at that age is hard).

And now, I've grown up and 2/3 of the year I work in a physically demanding, male dominated field, where the next closest coworker in age to me is a decade older than me and I have never felt unsafe with a male coworker.  Those men have seen me bring in a 600lb piece of scenery and then stop it on a dime. They've seen me lift scenic pieces that are taller than me.  They know I'm capable; I've been damn well obvious about proving myself.  As a result, those men are my friends and protectors.  I've never had an older brother, but I imagine this is what it'd feel like.

I can cry on their shoulders and they won't judge me or call me weak (they know perfectly well that if I'm crying, it must be something bad).  Hell, they can cry on my shoulder (not that they do often, but it has happened).  If they call me a bitch, it's to my face and because I have well and truly earned that title, in that specific instance.  And, if they're calling me a bitch, I've probably also called them an asshole/hat or douche bag/canoe first.  Being hugged by my coworkers has a feeling of protection to it, not of feeling uncomfortable (with a single notable exception I can think of).  If a guy messes with me in a bar, they will intervene.  But even more importantly (to me at least) they're not going to intervene until after I have had a chance to tell the asshole to fuck off.  I feel safe, protected, around these men and am grateful for their presence in my life.

None of this is to say that there aren't creeps, weirdos, real assholes in theatre, particularly technical theatre.  There are. That's not to say that one of my coworkers has never made me feel awkward and uncomfortable.  They have.  This isn't to say that female actors don't get leered at, hit on, cast for their looks, etc.  They do.  All the time.  But I am saying that these instances are the minority.

Women actors walk around in a bra, underwear, and a fishnet robe and feel safe and comfortable doing so (which is good since that's sometimes all there is to their costume).  I've told several people at work that I'm poly and A) they knew what that meant, B) didn't have to fear repercussions if the higher-ups found out, and C) they didn't call me a slut or shame me for being sexual being.  These are people who I've swapped sex stories with, talked about the practicality of threesomes, and on a good day, made men, decades older than me, blush.

Not all technical theatre is like this.  I prefer running shows, to loading-in and out shows.  Every single strike, it's a battle to convince the men in charge to treat me like I'm competent and have been working professionally in theatre for seven years (which, at my age, is pretty damn impressive).  I'm entering my third season working run crew for this theatre, and only now are the people in charge of strike finally treating me like I'm competent and not being condescending toward me.  I don't take bounce work (load ins, load outs, concerts, random work wherever you can get it through the union) because it's back-breaking, tedious, and because the men tend to be sexist jerks.

Theatre is not always a haven.  I've had plenty of bad experiences, but the bad experiences have been nothing more than unpleasant and I've handled them.  The run crews I work with are, in general, good people.  And I know plenty of theatre's where that's just not the case.  I'm lucky that I work with coworkers who I feel comfortable and safe around.  I'm lucky that I haven't had trauma in my past that makes me seize up at the thought of a confrontation with a man.  I'm lucky that the men I've surrounded myself with know that no means no.  The bottom-line is: I'm lucky.

So why have I written this post?  I don't want to undermine any woman's experience.  Women being stripped of their dignity, sense of well-being, and person-hood in men's eyes is disgustingly common.  But I am going to choose to be myself in spite of it.  I am going to stand my ground and I am not going to be afraid.  I want people to know that.