The S Word
I had a really, really, really disturbing thing happen to me a few days ago. It has been bothering me for days but since I am the equivalent of a suburban hermit, I’ve been left to stew on it only in the realm of my mind; there hasn’t been a Facebook post or a “can-I-vent-for-a-minute” conversation with a BFF because BFFs and coffee-shop chit-chats just don’t happen in my life. They say that time heals. But, after about four days, what started as a bug has turned into a great big tarantula in my brain and, way more importantly, my heart. Sitting on it and hoping it will go away hasn’t healed the hurt it caused; it only makes me feel even more inferior to my peers—other women—-than I usually do. Basically, what it boils down to is, I need to write this post—-and not necessarily because I need others to read it. I need to write this post because I need the reminder.
Awhile back (think: a couple years), I was lonely and, worse, rather heartbroken. So heartbroken, in fact, I never talk about it. I haven’t written about it in any detail. Feeling your heart break is like watching dominoes fall. There’s the initial hurt… but then that initial pain uncovers layers of guilt, doubt and, if you’re me, immense shame. A very long story short, I was engaged for a really long time. Like nine years long. We did not live together, but were serious about being engaged. I bought a thousand dollar dress and paid to reserve the church; we set a date: this wedding was, in my mind, certainly going to happen. Only, it never did. Finally, things came to a head and then it was…. just over. Sad, I decided I was done. Dating is just not for me. I cannot handle the emotional pull-and-tug of dating. I don’t like feeling like I’m being “tried on for size.” And, at first, I sort of reached that uncomfortable place where I decided it was for the best, and I was going to be a happy old maid. Months passed and slowly that decision ran right into a huge mountain called Loneliness. Being unable to talk to someone you trust, be it a spouse or a “BFF”, is not a good place to be. Being unable to feel like there’s a safe shoulder for you to cry on or arms that will wrap you in a hug—-not even a romantic one but just a comforting one—-makes for a dark and lonely place. So, I posted an ad (or two) on some online dating sites. I didn’t look through profiles. I didn’t message anyone. I just posted an ad basically going with the idea, “if someone messages me with an earth-shattering e-mail, I will answer back. Otherwise, this ad means nothing.”
Within the first week or two, I got an outpouring of stupid e-mails in return. If they said I was beautiful, I just dumped the e-mail, unanswered, in the trash. If the e-mail was a one line note that said, “Let’s chat,” I deleted it, unanswered. If the e-mail was written with numerous, blatant disregard for syntax, grammar or punctuation, I deleted it. If the e-mail even remotely hinted at the idea that the writer would ever want a face to face meeting, I deleted it. This meant that 100 percent of the e-mails were trashed. I have no idea, not even a guess, at how many e-mails I got. What I do know is that, out of all of them, I didn’t answer a single one. Instead, I felt de-humanized. Again. Finally, I got so fed up being notified that I had another stupid e-mail that I actually deleted the accounts. All of them. Or so I thought. Lo and behold, however, a few days ago, I got that message in my Inbox that said my account at a site I didn’t even remember signing up for had mail. Curious, I signed in and clicked a message. He didn’t call me beautiful. He didn’t ask for my phone number, or suggest we meet for lunch. He didn’t ask to chat. Instead, he asked me what organizations I had volunteered with. This told me he’d actually read my profile. That made me give him reluctant kudos—-most of the other writers-of-stupid-e-mails clearly only looked through my pictures. So I clicked on his profile. I had done this with about six or seven other Romeo wannabes. But every time I had, there was always blaring red flags, like they didn’t want children (that instantly relegated them to Writers-of-Stupid-E-mails category because all my profiles stated with crystal clear clarity that the girls come first) or they were “Agnostic” (I’ve been there and that’s a really hard place to be for a Christian) or they were “currently looking for employment.” That marked the end for them. However, this particular guy had no red flags. Furthermore, a couple of his responses were pretty clever and even made me smile. Hm. “Okay,” I thought. “Why not?” And this guy actually got a response. I simply answered his question and commented on how I found one of his profile answers clever. Simple, generic, harmless. Except that, when he wrote back, he said, “So why are you on a dating website? Trouble finding men who know what you want? Let’s meet for lunch, I bet I know what you want, how about that?”
With a sinking heart, I deleted the message, blocked him and, just for good measure, deleted my profile, mentally throwing in the towel and saying, “I’m done.”
At first, I didn’t understand why the message kept popping back up in my head. Maybe, I thought, it was just because he’d managed to break through enough of my barriers to actually garner a response and so I was disappointed to find he was really a Writer of Stupid Emails in disguise. But I couldn’t shrug it off. My heart hurt. And then, one night after midnight when I was browsing pointless articles, I read one that had a link to a project called The Clitoris Project. With nothing better to do, I clicked on it, read it and felt my head spin. Trying to get away from that website, I went to check my e-mail. A picture of a twerking Miley Cyrus greeted me. I stared at that picture for a moment too long and was soon horrified to feel the sting of tears in my eyes.
Although I am quiet about it, I am fiercely independent. I almost never ask for help and have only one or two people I trust enough to open up on even the most basic level. I have never given much head to feminist ideology because I don’t need to: you might live in a patriarchal society but if —I— want something badly enough, believe me, I can do it and no one will tell me different. Frankly, I always found feminist literature and propaganda just this shy of condescending. Although I know that totally defeats their purpose of empowering women, shouting out how sexy and liberated women are, reminds me of a child throwing a tantrum and saying “look at me! see what I can do?!” And then, over the course of teen years to now, images of women strewn across the screen and billboards have become more and more sex-laden. Curiously, the women don’t appear to be embarrassed by what they are wearing (or not wearing) or even self-conscious as they stroll the Red Carpet in gowns that are see-through, allowing tantalizing, shadowy glimpses of their breasts. Indeed, these women seem almost proud, strong. These women are declaring their independence from a society ruled by men. These women are boldly declaring they don’t live in Mayberry; apron strings are not tying them down. Messages from media of all kinds scream: “Sex isn’t just for men; it’s for us women too!” They aren’t just made to give men pleasure, they are made to receive pleasure. Projects like The Clitoris detail women’s anatomies on the premise that they can “teach” men how to make women wither and scream in ecstasy. Indeed, they can teach women how to pleasure themselves because, after all, it’s a liberated world in which women are free to embrace their sexuality and revel in pleasure they, or society, had denied them previously on the stupid premise that women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex. No longer are they expected to remain complacent and demure, rather they are encouraged to actually take charge, even instigating sex.
I spent years in a relationship in which I believed I was loved. I was engaged and I loved him. And yet…. during the entire nine year relationship, almost one hundred percent of our sexual relations ended with me in tears. Not because I had been physically hurt but because I had been hurt emotionally. Regardless of how ‘romantic’ an evening, in bed I felt objectified and impersonal. As if it wouldn’t have mattered who was in that bed, as long as it was a woman. I didn’t feel beautiful. I didn’t feel special. Instead, I just felt… used. Afterward, I would cry and he would pretend he didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I wasn’t crying because I’d been physically hurt. I was crying because my spirit, my soul hadn’t been touched, hadn’t even been sought after. I would go home and feel immense guilt. Guilt because, admittedly, I almost always shut down. We had dozens of conversations in which I begged him to listen to me, to talk to me, but those always resulted in conversations about how I was broken, pathologically destroyed. Ultimately, it was my fault, our sexual problems, because I clearly “had issues.” Somehow, because women that exude sex appeal are completely aliens to me, I was less than a real woman. Somehow, because I had been traumatized in my past, I was damaged, broken to the point where it was only understandable that I could never give or receive pleasure. Ironically, this is the same message that overly sexual celebrities and feminist literature imply. A real woman wants sex just as much as the man. That e-mail I received suggested it: he “knew” I was really a wanton in disguise because “all” real women either are or should be. Sex isn’t so much a spiritual connection as it is “fun,” the adult version of going to Toys R Us for a surprise. But in trying to help healthy women embrace their need, and desire for, sex, all of this overly sexual exposure/feminist movement has slowly traumatized those who, like me, see sex as…. painful.
Readers of this blog already know this, so it may sound like I’m beating an old drum, but sex has never, ever been a mystery to me. I don’t remember not knowing about sex. What I do remember is walking around with my legs closed because I was afraid that, if I didn’t, whatever was hurt down there would start bleeding. What I do remember is laying on my back, being violated, and so numbed I couldn’t cry anymore. The idea that someone I loved and cared for would want to do those things to do me was deeply troublesome because, in my mind, that act was the same act that absolutely destroyed me as a little girl. When someone touches me, my first impulse isn’t to knock him down into the bed; actually, it’s to withdraw. Because whenever there is intimacy, there is the opportunity to have my heart shattered; there’s always a risk of being violated and abandoned again. It’s not that I want to think this way, it’s just what happens to my brain. Just to admit to myself that a part of me might actually long for such intimacy is really an effort of monumental proportions; to return a kiss or a touch requires me to believe…. not that I’m empowered and liberated but rather…. to believe that I am truly, one hundred percent accepted.
See, not only have I been rejected before but I have rejected me. I would hurt my own body because I would rather blame myself than someone who was supposed to love me. During those oh-so-rare moments in my life in which I felt truly accepted and valued as a human being, complete with a troubled past and irritating qualities, I was vulnerable. I was open and I reacted positively to intimate touch. Because being accepted and loved is more important than sex. These images that society keeps throwing my way, of sexy women who own their sexuality and revel in it, are deeply alienating and down right painful to women for whom sex is a struggle. These images that society keeps throwing my way, of sexy women who own their sexuality and revel in it, imply that women like me are abnormal; women like me clearly need counseling, right? Why? Because, typically speaking, I don’t like sex. I have not been even hugged in a romantic way in over two years. With the exception of my children, no one has held my hand. I support, teach, play with, read to, bathe and feed my children; I write books and sign them at bookstores. I am knowledgeable about politics, including health reform, education and welfare, even though I choose not to engage in detrimental arguments about any of the above. I know more than I probably should about social issues, including human trafficking, rape and the slaughter of millions because I am smart enough to research and because I am woman enough to care. I am all of these things—-and yet the mere thought of wearing see-through lace in public mortifies me; indeed, the thought of buying a lacy nightgown just because it’s nice to have something frilly and nice fills me with confusion, guilt and fear.
The side that those sexy pictures show is only one side of most women. Even the toughest woman will melt when her child gives her a poorly drawn picture and says, “I love you, Mommy.” The truth is, women aren’t just sexual beings—we were created to do far more than give or receive pleasure. We were created to cry. We were created to feel sentimental and to change our minds often. We were created to melt with words we believe are sincere, instead of just a physical stimulation. The Clitoris Project might be able to tell a man where my clitoris is and how to touch it but it cannot teach a man to care and, therefore, it cannot teach a man, really, how to reach me. He might have enough knowledge to make my body “come” but, if he doesn’t touch my soul, I will still feel betrayed, violated and alone.
The e-mail from the stranger hurt me because I don’t “want” what most women want. It hurt me because the one thing I’ve wanted more than anything else my whole entire life has been acceptance among my peers, to feel like “one of the girls.” Intellectually, I know that, since there are so many out there who have been abused, I really am already. Even though the confidently sexy women and images I see daily make me feel inferior and wonder what do they have that I don’t, the truth is, I am just a woman. Sometimes I am inept. Sometimes I have been frigid, or cold. Does that make me less than the woman who walks down the red carpet in a dress with see-through lace covering her breasts? Less confident, maybe. More old-fashioned and modest, probably. But broken? Inferior? I don’t know; what I do know is that I do not want to teach that lesson to my daughters. I want them to believe in themselves more than that. I want them to believe that it’s okay to be shy. It’s okay to be demure. It’s okay to be modest, even in ten years when this sexual liberation will likely have reached a whole new dimension. It’s okay to be proud of your body, too. In my head, I’ve always looked at those women and said a silent, “Good for you.” But, toward myself, it’s been a critique. The truth is, those sexy women and me——we’re still both women. And I’m tired of competing. I’m tired of feeling like there’s a race to win, a who’s-sexier-who-embodies-society’s-vision-of-a-perfect-woman-more contest. I’d rather teach my daughters to spend their time acknowledging all the parts that make up their unique, one-of-a-kind self.
No matter who they are or what they want.