IMAGE: Water Lily in Summer Light, Pisa, Italy (Prints available)
For Mother’s Day this year, I took my mother to our second sound bath meditation session, this time at the Rubin Museum of Art, one of my favorite sanctuaries in the city. (I also must strongly encourage you to check out the stunning Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit India In Full Frame on view through September 4 if you are even remotely interested in photography, India, or humanity in general.)
During the introduction one of the hosts, David Ellenbogen of the Acoustic Mandala Project, explained that over the course of the session while lying still on a yoga mat with your eyes covered, you may start to feel a little stiff or uncomfortable. “It’s okay to move,” he said reassuringly, “to change position if you need to, to make yourself more comfortable.”
He continued, as if musing out loud, “I think that probably applies to all of life. When things aren’t working or you feel uncomfortable, just remember it’s okay to change.”
Of all the things I experienced and places my mind went during that meditation session, the simple profundity of his gentle remark has probably stuck with me the most.
As I think about the most common sources of frustration or sadness in my life, they are almost all rooted in the sense of being unable to control or change the way things are. When I stop resisting change, I’ve always grown and found something better on the other side through transformation. And yet every time I am on the precipice of some daunting and seemingly insurmountable obstacle, I forget my own capacity to change. I feel like a tiny stream trying to move a massive boulder until I remember: the stream doesn’t need to move the boulder if it can move itself.
Most of the people I speak with lately feel trapped and powerless to effect change. I think we need to refresh our perspectives and regroup. I have another big set of personal changes coming up (we’ll talk about that another time) and I keep fretting about every little detail; despite my whole life so far teaching me that change is both necessary and good, I still instinctively fear and mistrust it.
So I am challenging myself to embrace uncertainty and flux for once, and to even enjoy it.
“The earth is what we all have in common.” – Wendell Berry
I grew up listening to the sound of ocean waves crashing on the beach from my bed, a river at one end of our street and a pond at the other. I became a person while living on this magical peninsula where highlands and forests rapidly tumbled down to verdant meadows and coastal wetlands swaying with phragmites, saltwater marshes teeming with life. I was keenly aware of my place in nature, watching every bit of this vibrant ecosystem change with each season, constantly discovering clever little things that the plants and animals around me did to survive. We lived off this land, growing the most spectacular Jersey tomatoes and vegetables in a garden in the backyard, fishing and crabbing in the summer, and eating duck and venison year-round. I was raised to honor the sanctity of life, to never waste or take more than we needed, and to cherish the gifts the earth gave us.
“If you truly love nature you will find beauty everywhere.” – Vincent van Gogh
It’s not a coincidence that by spending so much of my childhood outside in nature, I developed an extraordinary sense of wonder. I came to know the trees and plants around me intimately, to feel a kinship with egrets and dabbling ducks, and to consider my place in the universe like a fish in the river or ocean – sometimes a clam left abandoned by high tide. Every time I go hiking, I see something new, and every moment I am out in nature, I feel a little more whole. My art is nearly entirely inspired by and guided by nature and the consideration of what it is to be a human animal existing, often at odds, either in or separated from nature.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” – Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder
My parents and grandparents taught us about ecology and we found the word “environmentalist” to describe what we had always been. I fell in love with science as a young girl, entranced by the method of observing and understanding the natural world, quantifying the ineffable sense of wonder I feel like a fluttering in the chest whenever I am in nature. I was shocked to learn anyone would even consider dumping waste into oceans or poisoning streams with industrial run-off. I couldn’t – and still can’t – wrap my mind around prioritizing short-term corporate profits over the health of our ecosystems. I committed to a lifetime of beach clean-ups, recycling awareness campaigns, constantly reducing the amount of plastic I use, and regularly examining my habits to see what I can streamline to do better by the Earth.
“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson
As a participant in the very first Earth Day, my mother has always encouraged us, sometimes against our will, to switch off lights every time we leave the room, to reduce our carbon footprints every way we can, and to consider the environmental impact of all our purchases and activities. As kids, we occasionally begrudged the family policy of never getting takeaway from a restaurant that used entirely too much plastic packaging, washing out and reusing plastic bags and storage containers, or combining all our errands into one trip together to reduce the car emissions we produced over a weekend, but we learned, slowly, how to think about the environmental impact of our actions. We became the kind of adults who walk or ride bicycles wherever we can. In my case, I gave my car away once I realized I could get pretty much everywhere I needed to go by mass transit (not always easily, but it’s something I’m committed to now). I run my business with core values of ecology and environmentalism built into the message and mission. I changed my diet to one that I believe is more sustainable and humane. I know I can do more.
Each Earth Day over the past few years I’ve taken on a new lifestyle change, from little things like switching all my accounts to paperless billing to slightly bigger ones like setting up a composting system in my apartment (that is this year’s project, which we’ll discuss soon). I realize more and more how easy it is to make habit adjustments so small they don’t really even qualify as “sacrifices.” Most often, I just feel foolish I hadn’t thought to do it sooner, like eschewing plastic drinking straws, which kill a staggering amount of birds and sea creatures and contribute to the horrific problem of marine plastic pollution. It took exactly one photo of a bird who had died from eating plastic drinking straws to make me ashamed of every time I’d ever slurped a Diet Coke through one.
I’ve recently started making assemblage pieces out of the types of plastics that most commonly end up in landfills and the sea (recycled, of course). Now that I am approaching every material I come in contact with as if I were a bowerbird building a nest, I see just how much plastic and foam still passes through my hands. I have no fear that I will run out of materials anytime soon, but I would like to change how much of my life includes plastic and non-recyclable materials.
“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” – Wendell Berry
As I am living this type of life every day and trying to think about how to promote love and respect for nature, I am horrified to consider others who are not only indifferent to their impact on the planet, but actively seeking to deregulate industries that pollute for the sake of greater profits. I don’t know how anyone allowed science to become politicized, or how anyone could be so foolish as to accept the nonsensical view that a lobbyist’s or politician’s interpretation of climate science is as viable as a scientist’s.
The beauty of science is that it follows a rigorous method of observation, data collection, and required reproducibility of findings. It is one of the few fields that isn’t wholly interpretive or conjectural, rather empirically evidence-based and grounded in truths that any person can see for themselves. A jackass throwing a snowball on the senate floor doesn’t change the stark reality that climate change is manmade and approaching irreversibly cataclysmic peril. Even if someone insisted on remaining ignorant of facts or is somehow unconvinced, the impact of human activity is the only contributing factor to climate change that we can control. The opposition to responsible ecological policy is led by industries built on fossil fuels and pollution. We deserve better than for our natural world to be sold out by corrupt politicians for the sake of pure greed.
“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – Rachel Carson
This weekend I am participating in the March for Science in NYC, a satellite of the national March for Science in support of science and environmentalism. I am marching because I value science and believe it plays a crucial role in society, both for solving our problems and imbuing the general population with curiosity, revelations about the world and universe around us, and truly, preserving the sense of wonder.
I am frustrated that science funding is threatened and regularly cut if research does not support prevailing industries, so I am marching for intellectual freedom and expansion of scientific funding.
I believe it is essential to honor the Paris Agreement and commitments the US has made to mitigate our environmental damage, so I am marching to encourage infrastructure-level investments in clean energy, especially solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy capture.
I am marching because I think it is criminal for oil companies to buy and suppress (or poach) patents for every innovation in energy that threatens their bottom line. I want our tax dollars to fund these advances instead of subsidizing oil pipelines.
I am disheartened by the political destabilization we regularly cause in pursuit of oil and natural gas, and I see the way climate change has contributed to the rise of ISIS and a number of global crises from famines to cataclysmic weather events like the hurricane that could easily have washed my parents’ home away.
I am marching because I truly know in my heart of hearts that when we live in better harmony with nature, it will lead to a fairer economy, global stability, more affordable utilities, and compassionate foreign policy worldwide.
Above all I am marching because I want the people of the US to remember the spirit of Earth Day and to take responsibility for ourselves as global citizens, to take care with our impact on nature and recognize that we are all one world. The actions of a polluter in one country affect the air and water quality worldwide and for generations to come. If we want to do better by the planet, we need to think globally and act locally, starting with ourselves, every single day.
As I renew my commitment to do better, I encourage you to look at your life and find something you can make more eco-friendly starting today. No action is too small, as they all add up like drops of the sea. We can either be the species that saves the planet from the brink of destruction or pushes it over the edge to an uninhabitable wasteland. This choice will be made in our lifetime, starting right now.
I have sprinkled quotes from some of my favorite scientists and writers throughout what I guess you can call this manifesto. If you’re interested in some further reading related to ecology and environmentalism, I highly recommend:
The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World and other works by Michael Pollan, particularly about agriculture and how our food choices impact the environment. You can also watch the wonderful PBS documentary of “The Botany of Desire” (fantastic date night entertainment if you want to have engaging and far-reaching conversation with literally anyone) or the magnificent Netflix series Cooked.
If you are looking for some actions you might take this Earth Day (or any time):
– Contact your representatives to voice your concerns about the environmental impact of any proposed legislation and encourage the US to take a leadership role in fighting climate change and being more responsible global environmental stewards
– Donate to plant trees! Each dollar plants a tree. You can give your donation in honor or memory of a loved one, and because trees have such amazing abilities to clean the air and prevent erosion, you are honoring them with a commitment to continue improving the world for future generations after we’ve left it.
– Plant wildflowers to support bees and other pollinators. Everyone in my family got free packets of seeds from the Cheerios Bring Back the Bees project, but you can make seed balls or start a garden of bee- and butterfly-friendly plants for pollinators in your yard (or go rogue, as I am doing around my neighborhood in the Bronx).
– Learn about the wildlife where you live. Nature is not just in parks and wildlife refuges, but rather everywhere around us. Identify the plants and trees on your street (this interactive map of trees in New York City never ceases to blow my mind), learn the species of birds, butterflies, and critters you see everywhere around you. If you have children in your life, start teaching them plant and animal identification.
– Consider reducing the amount of meat and animal products you consume regularly. It can be as easy as swapping out one or two meals a week for plant-based options in the spirit of Meatless Monday, or making an entire lifestyle change (for sure, there is much more to discuss about the reducetarian movement soon). Examine where your food comes from and the environmental impact of how it is grown, how far it travels to reach you, and ways you might improve your food choices.
– Participate in a beach clean-up, nature walk, community garden activity, or one of the many Earth Day actions and campaigns
If you have any other suggestions for eco-minded reading, thinking, or actions, please let me know. And because climate change and environmental damage disproportionately affects women and children (we’ll talk about that another time) encourage the young girls and women in your life to explore science and pursue education and careers in STEM with confidence and unabashed wonder.
We need more Millie Dresselhauses in this world (and yes, I cry every single time I see that commercial).
IMAGE: Tiny Bouquet, a miniature bouquet of wildflowers a dear friend gave me in Italy. (Prints available)
One of the initial challenges for starting a practice of meditation and mindfulness is, paradoxically, it seems too easy. At first pass, sitting still and not thinking about anything while focusing on breathing sounds like something anyone can do: simply exist quietly for a while. I quickly learned that it is actually the opposite of zoning out or contemplation. Being able to sit with both a full and clear mind is the culmination of everything else done in life to get to that place, and it is a lifelong challenge that changes you as a person.
On a day when he was to paint, he would seat himself by a bright window, put his desk in order, burn incense to his right and left, and place good brushes and excellent ink beside him; then he would wash his hands and raise his ink-well, as if to receive an important guest, thereby calming his spirit and composing his thoughts. Not until then did he begin to paint. Does this not illustrate what he meant by not daring to face one’s work thoughtlessly?
Approaching life with balance and mindfulness is the essential preparatory work to sit with a clear conscience, to find joy and peace in meaningful meditation rather than feeling trapped with anxiety, daily frustrations or confusions, regrets, or the mental and spiritual equivalents of a cluttered desk or dirty hands. Instead of receiving an important guest, we are meeting ourselves, in a wordless conversation about existence between the world and our spirits. To be in a moment, to fully inhabit it, we have to be a full self. That starts with being honest, being aware, and being kind.
New Forest – Lichen and moss provide the foundation for new plant growth on a fallen tree, continuing the cycle of renewal and regrowth in a forest. (Prints available)
Cultivating an instinct of kindness every day makes a habit of compassion. It is too easy to ignore or compromise the internal voice that suggests, “This is wrong,” or, “I should help,” instead telling ourselves we can’t be late, we need the money, other people treated me the same way, or the most discouraging, “I can’t do anything to change that.” I have always believed it takes extraordinary courage and intelligence to be truly kind as an adult, but it’s an instinct every person has once the conscience develops. It is crucial to keep society from suppressing it and to cling to hope and the belief that our conscience is telling the truth, to know that old Jiminy Cricket feeling of uneasiness should be heeded.
Perhaps the most powerful tool in kindness is empathy, or feeling with another’s heart. It is not enough to ponder how we might feel if something we see happening to someone else were to happen to us – we need to understand how that person feels in the actual situation we see. It starts with observation without judgment, objectively listening and gathering information before we start trying to solve other people’s problems or tell them why their feelings are wrong. It seems common to tackle large issues like racism or poverty with a sketchy and vague sense of the issues, but I don’t often see people stop to ask, “How does that feel?” I think we can be too quick to dismiss the validity of political, spiritual, or personal beliefs because they don’t make sense with how we approach the world. We brush them off instead of trying to wrap our heads around them, which is ultimately an unkind thing to do. Expanding our sense of willingness to inhabit another person’s experience is an act of profound kindness, and if we make it a habit, we gain different lenses with which to understand our own experiences.
Seaside Goldenrod – (Solidago sempervirens) is uniquely saltwater tolerant, a cheerful display of bright yellow flowers at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in southern New Jersey. (Prints available)
A second key to kindness is integrity. We should not offer kindness because it makes us look good to other people or gains an advantage of indebtedness. Like anything worth doing, being kind is its own reward. It is important to be consistently kind if it is to become a habit, and to be kind to everyone, not just those people we think are currently most “deserving.” I regularly examine my thoughts for often-unconscious stabs of unkindness: wishing for someone to fail, enjoying hearing about the misfortune of someone I don’t like, feeling relief that I am in a better situation than another person, or dismissing people I don’t understand with disdain or pettiness. It can be hard to break the habit of cruelty that we learn from a young age because it is rooted in competitiveness and the American notion of “winning” or success. Redefining success away from money, material possessions, titles, accolades, appearance, or esteem goes against everything we’re socialized into believing, but it opens the door to far greater rewards.
My goal in life is to be kind to every person I meet, to make life easier or more pleasant for others when I can, to open people’s eyes to thoughts or moments of beauty they may not have seen, and to leave everyone a little more loved than I found them. I know that the only way I can do that is with an uncompromised habit of kindness and compassion, but I’m only human. It is a lifelong project.
Weathered Hydrangea, slightly faded by summer rains, perhaps all the lovelier for it. (Prints available)
That brings me to the third critical tool of kindness: forgiveness. We cannot grow or help others if we cannot forgive. I include forgiving oneself, having a sense of compassion as deep for one’s own missteps as those of others when forgiveness is earned. When I want to comfort people, I usually say some variation of, “It’s okay,” or, “Hey, that happens to us all.” I don’t typically hold grudges when a friend says something unkind in a bad mood, so I am trying to forgive myself the same way, rather than cringing every time I relive a moment when I blurted out something rude instead of a compliment or when I wished someone ill because my feelings were hurt.
People sometimes do unkind things, but most aren’t fundamentally unkind. Often they are not paying attention, they are preoccupied with worry, they are afraid, or they are proud. I am learning that understanding what people are going through makes it much easier to forgive these shortcomings, and instead see them as opportunities to help. My own lapses and times of unhappiness are helping me grow, but only if I let myself. That starts by forgiving mistakes and acknowledging that everyone always needs to grow. None of us were born perfect, and none of us stays kind without effort.
Spray of Pink, flowers in front of a peach-colored wall in the Cinque Terre, Italy. (Prints available)
As I continue on this path of mindfulness and nurturing compassion, I am keeping notes on experiences and moments that bring me clarity or deeper understanding. It is kind to be generous with what we learn. The most important tool in kindness that I’ve found so far is awareness: of the self, of the world, and of others. We cannot grow or change, nor help others, if we don’t start by making ourselves aware of where there is hurt or suffering, or where we have a chance to do better. It can be truly painful to be aware, especially in recognizing how we impact others, but it’s imperative.
Once our eyes are open, we see these challenges everywhere. It can be overwhelming, but it’s okay. It happens to us all, and we have each other to help.
Many of the coolest things I’ve done in my life have been spontaneous, last-minute “that sounds interesting” kinds of decisions. The night before the Women’s March, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post about a sound bath hosted by the Acoustic Mandala Project, whom I knew about through Brooklyn Raga Massive. As I happen to be working on a series of art pieces based on sacred geometry and mandalas, their name jumped out at me, and I asked my mother if she’d like to go directly after the march. We agreed it would be a stark contrast and hoped we wouldn’t be too tired to fully experience it, but we were both so intrigued we couldn’t resist. Not surprisingly, it turned out to be one of the better decisions we’ve ever made.
A sound bath is a meditative experience using specific frequencies of sound (kind of like notes or tones) that – forgive the pun – strike a chord in people. The mathematical relationship among the frequencies touches something visceral and fundamental in the body and mind, and people generally experience incredible healing and a profound meditative experience. These guys carefully explained the concepts, how they derived the tones and discovered the ways different sounds resonate with one another to form chord-like harmonies. They blended electronically purified tones with raga-inflected rhythms, instrumentation, chimes, flutes, and singing bowls struck in person to make an unbelievably rich tapestry of sound and vibrations. I don’t mean vibration in the sort of airy-fairy sense, but actual physical vibrations that coursed through the body head-to-toe for several minutes at a time. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.
After the introduction, everyone in the group laid down on yoga mats in a wobbly semi-circle, covered with woven blankets and wearing eye masks. After our day of marching and feeling so connected with women and humanity on a universal level, it was a vertiginous dive into the mind and the self. The first few minutes felt like a psychedelic clearing-out of everything my mind had been processing, just loads of colors and shapes, invented cartoon characters, and as close as what I imagine LSD hallucinations might look like. I typically experience mild synesthesia in response to sound (which is part of why I am so obsessed with music), so any time I close my eyes and listen, it’s a bit like watching abstract paintings swim around. The purity of these tones evoked something much more intense and emotional than usual, which I felt to be the core of myself. The sound bath lasted a bit more than an hour, I think, with various instruments and tones being introduced, moved around the room, and bringing our bodies and minds on an extraordinary journey with them.
I have spent a lot of time trying to wrap my head around the idea of resonance, as it was the basis for the NMR research we did at Pratt and generally a very cool concept (I highly suggest reading more about acoustic resonance and then helping me explain it better). If you imagine two frequencies of energy like waves in the ocean that run into one another, they first go higher (amplification) then move together thereafter (sympathetic vibrations) at a sweet spot that causes more waves around them. It’s a bit more complex, but certain frequencies resonate in relationships that form chords that just feel right, like the brightness of the I-III-V relationship of major triads in music.
They had a pair of singing bowls that not only resonated with one another, but did so in a I-V relationship (I think – it might have been I-IV), so that when one was struck by the feet and the other by the head, the body joined in the brightness of that sound, and you could literally feel every molecule of yourself vibrating like an open chord. Maybe it is helpful to picture a bunch of particles spinning in random directions. When the tones were struck, imagine every one aligning like a crystalline grid and briefly spinning in the same direction, in a way that made the mind experience pure joy and luminous energy. There is more neuroscience and physics to it, but the sensation was like having goosebumps all over, shivering with pleasure, and feeling every part of oneself melt into another state.
I thought that might be the height of the experience, but it continued through a whole bunch of other similar body and mind sensations, choreographed in waves and beautiful complexity. It felt like my soul was dancing, simultaneously a particle and a wave in some quantum state of existence and non-existence. I felt utterly, completely free, like metaphysical flying, but also intensely grounded and connected with the raw physicality of being human.
The “finale” of the sound bath is one of those sensations I will keep with me the rest of my life. They went around to each person and struck tuning forks to a pitch that once again resonated perfectly with the softer tones washing over the room, then placed the forks on everyone’s foreheads. I am struggling to think of any way to describe it except as a soul-level orgasm. The frequencies are known to be healing, for reasons not yet fully understood, unlocking blocked emotions and energies within the body and kind of making them sing. Having this pure vibration reverberate from the head through the entire body for several minutes of exquisite being-in-this-moment presence is like nothing I’ve ever known before. I’ve never felt more awake, yet at peace, aware of everything in my mind, yet open. It was like stretching, seeing stars, and slipping through a crack into some surreality of pleasure and beauty.
I was afraid of the come-down from such a great high, that as the vibrations ceased all the muddy and dark stuff in my brain would gunk it up again. I was astonished to find that never happened. I wasn’t able to pinpoint when the vibrations ceased – I just kind of rode the wave back into myself. I preserved the clarity and purity of that moment for the rest of the session – and since then – as if all the little subatomic particles in my mind and body got right and just stayed that way.
When we took our eye masks off, I saw everyone else’s eyes were wide and shining like mine, as they described things they felt and “saw” and experienced throughout. It was the spiritual equivalent of the sun coming out from behind clouds after rain and lighting up the mind like the sky. My mother described dramatic visuals in shades of purple, which are supposed to be associated with the crown chakra in meditation. I joked with her that purple is the color I’ve always associated with her, so of course her soul would be purple too.
I am still mesmerized by what an extraordinary experience it was, and I doubt I can ever adequately convey to someone what it felt like in that moment. When I think back, it reminds me of the time I jumped off a cliff into a glacial river in Iceland – saying the words and telling the story kept horrifying me every time I repeated it, like I still couldn’t believe I’d actually done that. This sound bath was a similar sort of jumping-off-a-cliff into something exhilaratingly beautiful and unknown, and yet at the same time, diving within, to the parts of my mind and existence I know best because they’ve been with me all along. I will cherish it forever.
I’m writing this post in advance of the Women’s March on NYC this Saturday, to express some of the reasons Why I March. There are, unfortunately, many other reasons, but let’s start with the first: I am a woman, and that still means I am a second-class citizen in America in 2017.
Unless you are a woman, there are some experiences of discrimination and misogyny I don’t think you can ever fully understand. For the sake of not airing all my grievances at once (a lady must keep some semblance of mystery), let’s say I haven’t lived everything on this list, just most of it, and it’s nowhere near a complete list. But if it hasn’t happened to me, it’s definitely happened to a woman I know and probably someone you know too.
It probably goes without saying, but fair warning, there is discussion of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence, among other things below.
Unless you are a woman, you probably haven’t…
Had adult men leer at your pre-teen adolescent body and make suggestive, hypersexualizing statements about how you are developing.
Been groped or fondled by a complete stranger in public, with no one saying or doing anything. Or had it suggested that you had it coming for dressing the way you did and smiling too much.
Been told your choice of a major in math or science “isn’t easy, you know,” and been told repeatedly that you would maybe prefer something like English or communications “where girls seem to thrive.”
Sat through an exam or a work meeting with menstrual cramps that are as painful as a heart attack, knowing you can’t flinch or react because it’s not appropriate to talk about that kind of pain.
Discovered you were pregnant when you started to have a miscarriage at work, then not being given any time off except the actual time you may have been hospitalized.
Sought treatment for mental health concerns, asked if better regulating your hormones might help, and learning that antidepressants and mood stabilizers make it that oral contraceptives don’t work; asking why this fact isn’t better known, and your doctor just shrugging because people don’t really research “that kind of stuff.”
Dated a man who fully expected you to give up your career one day to raise his children and referred to your degree as your academic interest, even when you earned more than him.
Worked yourself sick at a job while struggling to make ends meet, then learned the men at your office were making easily 2-3 times what you earned and none of the other women had ever gotten a raise.
Had a construction foreman pantomime to your boss that you should be put over his knee and spanked for a small mistake, then your boss laughing along with everyone on the site who you were supposed to be supervising, even when you asked, “Would you make that joke if [my male coworker] forgot his keys??” (Okay, yeah, this one really happened to me in Paris and it broke my heart.)
Had a man shove his hand up your dress on the subway with such force that he left bloody scratch marks on your inner thigh, arrived at the office late because you needed to sit in a park and cry for a bit, then been reprimanded for not being friendly when your coworker greeted you with objectifying comments about the dress you would now like to burn. (Yes, this one is also me, and I still can’t wear that dress.)
Had every bite of food you eat in public monitored and judged, as everyone feels they should offer advice on your weight and fitness level.
Suffered severe post-partum depression and been told by everyone in your life you just need to shake it off and concentrate on the joy of your new baby.
Been kept as a contractor for over a decade so your employer could deny you benefits; been repeatedly passed up for promotions because your boss felt the male employees should be prioritized as “they have families to support.”
Been denied a promotion because it is assumed you are going to marry your boyfriend and quit in a few years to have children.
Gained 20 pounds when you went on medication and been told “you have gotten so fat I can’t even see you as a woman anymore, let alone find you attractive.” (Yeah, I am not ever going to forgive him for that.)
Seriously assessed your safety level at a party or bar and concluded if you don’t want to be raped, you need to leave immediately.
Been told by a professor that you should probably focus on marrying well.
Known that everywhere you go and at any time, a man can rape you, and you may not legally be able to terminate a resulting pregnancy.
Been told you should take sexual objectification as a compliment and “enjoy it while it lasts.”
Dated a man who declared you were solely responsible for birth control, mostly because he didn’t want to wear a condom. Dated another man who refused to discuss birth control or what would happen if you became pregnant because, “That’s your problem, baby.”
Considered the ways you could make suicide look like an accident if it turned out you were pregnant and not just missing your period from the stress of an abusive relationship.
Mentioned how encouraging it was to work with an all-women team of scientists at a research symposium and having several men make jokes about your periods syncing.
Had your neighbors suggest a pattern you could knock on their wall if you ever needed them to call the police on your boyfriend or kick down your door to help you.
Participated in political conversations about reproductive rights characterizing women seeking affordable contraception as morally loose “sluts” because men didn’t want their health insurance to pay for family planning, while wondering if they considered their wives sluts too.
Given a presentation while a classmate, professor, or professional colleague openly stared at your breasts the entire time, wishing you could crawl out of your skin.
Had a strange man masturbate, to completion, while you were alone on a subway car being held between stations, petrified and trying not to react at all. Reported it to the conductor at the next stop and been told the train crew watched it in the cameras laughing, but it didn’t occur to them to intervene.
Requested an estimate for a car repair and been told you should come back with your husband or father, so he can help you understand it.
Been raped by a friend and had a mutual friend say it was your fault for leading him on.
Been screamed at and assaulted at work then had your HR complaint disregarded because you were being “overly emotional” about it. Later having your job threatened because you still seemed upset and uncomfortable and it was bumming people out.
Been called a bitch repeatedly in the same day, more days than you can count.
Developed a habit of figuring out how to escape every room and building you enter on a date, in case he decides to pin you against a wall somewhere and gets violent.
Weighed the odds of a man seriously hurting or killing you against your ability to talk or fight your way out of an aggressive sexual assault.
Learned that you were hired as a bartender with the intent to convince you to also become a prostitute for the owner, who assumed you understood that’s why he hired you despite your lack of experience.
Invited a man for dinner to discuss a contract job you’d like to hire him for, and had him say, “Okay, if you bring your best friend so I have something nice to look at while we talk.”
Discussed stories of the many ways your body has been violated and had a male friend say he is surprised because “you’re cute and all,” but not the kind of woman you’d expect to “get hit on” so much.
Had a seemingly sane guy you had spent a few hours dancing with wrap his arm around your neck, holding you in some kind of headlock so he could show you the money in his wallet that he offered you if you would go to a hotel room with him right then. (This just happened on my birthday.)
Expressed a controversial opinion on Facebook and had your face photoshopped on pornographic images and pasted all over your page and messaged to several of your friends.
Felt forced to choose between education and a career or starting a family. Been called crazy by men who don’t have an expiration date on their reproductive years and can’t understand why you are concerned with not wasting time. Been treated as if you are trying to “trap” a man when you say you only pursue monogamous relationships.
Only been able to deter a would-be rapist by saying you have a husband, and it happens to be someone he knows.
Had your concerns about pay equality, reproductive freedom, sexual assault survivors’ rights, and women’s health care coverage dismissed as “whining” and been told, “If you want higher pay, you should work harder for it or get better at negotiating” by men who have known nothing but privilege in life.
Told your friends and family about a new job and been asked repeatedly, “And are there any handsome men there? Anyone who might make a nice boyfriend?”
Been sent unsolicited dick pics by more than ten of your completely platonic male friends and anyone you’ve met online, including men pretending they are interested in commissioning art from you or hiring you for a job.
Spent a date deflecting attempts to steer the conversation toward a man’s salary because you don’t want to be called a “gold-digging whore” when you don’t agree to a second date on the basis of his personality.
Been referred to as “the girl” well into your 30s and called infantilizing names like honey, sweetie, baby, and dear in public and professional settings by strangers and vendors, whether you object or not.
Had a rumor spread to all of your coworkers that you got your promotion from $7 to $11 an hour by sleeping with your supervisor and having an entire receiving department of a clothing store pantomime you performing oral sex and telling you everything they’d like to do with you every time they saw you.
Formed a sincere friendship with a married man and had your coworkers start a rumor that you must be trying to lure him into an affair because they can’t see any other reason he would want to talk with you.
Been sexually assaulted, then told it wasn’t his fault because he was drunk.
Gone to an art exhibit and dinner with a professor on the guise of talking about painting, pretended you didn’t notice his “accidental” hand on your thigh or brush of your breast when he helped you with your coat, turned your head and pretended he was just kissing you goodbye on the cheek as he licked your face, then went home to frantically calculate how much of your grade in his class could still be affected. Felt genuinely grateful a few weeks later that he didn’t punish you for rejecting his advances.
Called the super of your building for repairs to the oven in your first apartment and been cornered in your kitchen with one hand squeezing your neck while he shoved the other up your blouse, thrusting against you. Later had his wife come to threaten you for telling the building owner what he did in your tearful request that he never come into your apartment unaccompanied again.
Dyed your hair red for several months after a friend of a friend shoved into a bar bathroom with you and tried to force himself on you, excusing himself with, “I can never control myself around blondes.”
Engaged in constant and exhausting self-monitoring of your posture, bodily position, use of language that could be misinterpreted as suggestive, and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to dress to hide as much of your figure as possible at work so your boss and colleagues don’t treat you as a sex object all day.
Believed the way men mistreat you is all your fault, or that maybe the way you’re treated really is your only worth.
I could easily go on for another thousand words, but I’m getting exhausted remembering all these experiences. I know that for every man who has treated me as nothing but a body he was entitled to use for gratification, there are other truly good, kind, feminist men out there who would never dream of treating a woman this way. I am grateful that so many of my friends who are fathers are as concerned with protecting the sanctity of women’s lives and bodies as I am, and I have hope that they are raising their sons to treat women better than past generations have. I know there are men who recognized the pay gap and encouraged me to ask for raises, and there are men who have seen me as their equal, or respected me personally or professionally – but they are few and far between. I still find it so incredibly frustrating to discuss issues of professional inequality, objectification, sexual predation, and institutionalized misogyny with most men because they just don’t see it.
I think about all of the experiences above that have happened to me and women I know, and I know not to trust most men to pass laws that affect women’s bodies and access to healthcare. I’ve discussed trans-phobic bathroom discrimination bills with men at length, and they’ve often come back to the myth of a man claiming to be a trans woman so he can expose himself to young women in a bathroom or locker room. They don’t seem capable of understanding that by the time a girl is old enough to go to the bathroom by herself, odds are high she’s already seen more unwelcome male genitalia than she can count, and she would be relieved if this strawman were able to just stick to flashing.
We don’t talk about the manifold ways girls’ and women’s bodies are violated, in part because we live in a victim-blaming culture that repeatedly casts women as wanton temptresses and their sexual assaulters as red-blooded American males feeling their oats. When the president-elect bragged about sexually assaulting women, it was dismissed by some as “locker room talk,” but just about every woman I know recoiled at the memory of their own assaults. Plural – often repeatedly, and violently, by people they should have been able to trust in settings where they should have been safe. I can’t accept that state of being as anywhere near okay.
I don’t know if it is helpful to share these experiences with men and confront them with what it’s really like to be a woman, but I think we should try. Or maybe share them with women and work on ways to prevent them from happening again to others. Because somehow women are still not being treated as equal human beings, and that needs to change right now.
As with other forms of discrimination, I believe that codifying unjust treatment of women by laws that restrict reproductive rights or limit access to healthcare is a way of sanctioning our treatment as lesser, making it the law of the land that our bodies are not our own, but open for others to possess and legislate. I feel it is crucial to protect women’s rights and keep on fighting for equality, now more than ever.