What I’ll Tell My Children: On Being ‘F***Able’ under the Regime of President-elect

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Inside a log cabin, at an artist residency, in Wyoming, is what I’ll tell my children, when they ask where I was when Hillary Rodham Clinton was defeated.

Wearing red, white, and blue cat ears made from fake flower petals.

Cat ears? One of them will say, most likely the son1, because history will have softened the reference, and I’ll say: Because the man who became president said he liked to grab women’s pussies without asking and I wanted to remind him, that yes, I have a pussy, but that no he could not grab it, and that my having a pussy, and acknowledging said pussy, instead of cloaking my body to avoid being a distraction, to avoid causing a provocation, to avoid asking for involuntary, nonconsensual physical contact, does not in fact give him the right to put his hands or his mouth or his dick on me or any other person without explicit consent.

Also, I will tell my son: We all thought Hillary was going to win.

The son will undoubtedly squirm at the word “pussy” coming from his mother’s mouth, but because he’ll be my son, he’ll have heard it before, because I’ll teach him the importance of valuing women, of seeing women as people instead of objects; but, in order to do so, he’ll have to first learn that word, not in a locker room, not on the Internet, not at his prom, but from his mother, so he’ll know what that word means and so he’ll understand how not to use it. In the same way, I’ll teach my daughter that her body is a weapon, her body is a utensil, that people will try to fill themselves with her, that she’ll be objectified, that she’ll be invisible, that there’s a shrinking line between the celebration of her body and an invitation to violate it.

One day, I know my children will also ask where I was during the Black Lives Matter movement. I know they’ll ask, because all children ask, because I asked my mother where her mother was during the Nazi occupation of Europe, where she was during the Selma freedom march. My children will believe, as I believed, that if they’d been alive in those times, they’d be protesting, they’d stop the Nazis, stop the racists, stop the injustice. It is no longer, nor has it ever been, imaginary. We are living in that reality. Half2 of people who voted in our country just unapologetically voted for and called it what it is: white nationalism.

I’ll have to tell my children that during the Black Lives Matter movement I was at home, probably on Twitter, because my family warned me marching was too dangerous, and I let myself believe it was too dangerous because I had the choice to stay inside, because of my skin color, because I didn’t have a target on my back, because I’m upper middle class, because I’m Jewish, but don’t look too Jewish, because I’m petite and men enjoy making sexual comments about my body instead of mocking my weight. Because I’m privileged. It’s time to take responsibility for compliancy.

I’m reminded of the way the deer grazing in Wyoming froze whenever I passed them. They stared and waited to be shot, waited to see if I’d come to murder them, which is not unlike the way many Americans live. After the election, there was something about those deer’s eyes I couldn’t get out of my head. It wasn’t just fear; it was more nuanced. I could feel them trying to determine whether I was the kind of thing that wished to destroy them. I had to ask myself whether there was a difference: if I was the one with the rifle or if I was the one who didn’t say anything.

grazing-deer

Do you at least have a vintage campaign t-shirt? I imagine my daughter, sure of herself, believing she would never let a man she didn’t explicitly welcome put his hands on her, believing she could tease that man to improve her self-esteem, but could stop him before he got carried away or lost in the moment or clumsily pinned her down at a party.

My daughter will use her body to make sense of her value, because that’s the way I made sense of my value, because I was still susceptible, even after being raised by a mother who is herself a feminist, who never changed her last name, who wore oversized suits so the men at her work would not be distracted, would not be reminded, each time she entered a room, that she had tits and an ass and a pussy, a mother who performed even greater optical illusions when she was pregnant, so that those same men would not be reminded each time she entered a room with a briefcase and a college degree and a graduate degree and years of experience, that she in fact had a womb.

Even with that mother, I, too, often measure my worth in pounds and bra cups and waist dimensions. I, too, desire to be both sexy and intelligent; I, too, desire to be ‘fuckable’ even under the presidency of a misogynistic bigot.

Of course I do, I will say to my daughter, referring to the t-shirt. We wore all kinds of empowering slogans, maybe a little late in the campaign, after half the party (and more than half the country) excessively scrutinized Hillary, holding her to unattainable standards, and fought for their desired, flawed-in-his-or-her-own-way candidate, but just before the election, we wore shirts and used hashtags and posed with our mothers and posted them on the Internet, all the while thinking we were finally going to get our first female president.

Here my daughter’s patience will run out and she’ll ask: But what does the shirt say? and then: Can I have it? In the same way, around her age, I asked my father for his Army Reserve jacket, not out of pride or patriotism, but because it was on trend because it was authentic, even though when he wore it, he was practicing diving under trenches and his classmates were slaughtering and dying, and when I wore it, I was feeling sexy in an oversized military coat with a miniskirt underneath to show off my legs.

It’s ironic, I’ll say, first to my daughter, then I’ll grab my son’s shirt by the collar and bring him back to the table because he’ll have left to play VR. I’ll keep him there and say: Listen, because history is a tricky bitch and you’ll be telling this same story to your children. And my son will roll his eyes because children roll their eyes, because our President-elect rolls his eyes, because it’s easy to think that the world we grow up in is nothing like the one our parents did, which is what my mother thought, which might have been what my mother’s mother thought, which is part of the problem. It’s hopeful and naïve and perhaps delusional to think by the time we bring children into this world we’ll have solved anything, we’ll have stopped breeding hatred.

I can tell you from this vantage point: that is not true.

Remember, I will say, I was in Red-Republican-Coal-Country Wyoming. But I was among artists so I packed two Hillary shirts anyway. The first, which is now laced with unbearable irony, said: Love Trumps Hate, which was a hope we all had about kindness or understanding or an acknowledgement of the 260 reported hate crimes in the US yearly against Muslims3, or the 2,624 children and teens killed by guns4, or the 20 to 25 percent of members of the LGBTQ community who would be attacked in their lifetimes5, or the 195 African Americans killed at the hands of the American police6, or the 288,820 victims of sexual assault7, which I will point out, works out to an assault every two minutes.

And those numbers, I will say to my children, were collected before that man won the election, and increased the very next day.

love-trumps-hate

 

Tell me about the other shirt, my daughter will say, weighing the irony of the first, while my son taps his fingers against the counter.

The other shirt had a quote on it from when Bill was running for president, when Hillary was attacked for having a successful career as an attorney while also fulfilling the role of his wife. That’s dumb, my daughter will say and she’ll be right, but it’s more than dumb, it’s problematic, it’s a reflection of the inequality that exists between men and women, that women are expected to dress and smile in accordance with societal norms, that they’re expected to be secondary, meant to stand behind their partners, meant to be an accessory, meant not to make too much noise, meant to play the role of wife regardless of tenacity or aspiration or intellect. They’re expected to default to biological and patriarchal constructs of what it means to be female.

But what did it say? My daughter will whine when I shut my eyes, the words “I am sorry” from Hillary’s concession speech running through my mind.

Just after the loss, still in Wyoming, I pored over footage of concession speeches from the twelve years prior. Unsurprisingly, only one of the men used that phrase, and when he did there was no implication that he, himself owed anyone an apology, the failure was collective, not at all in the way women are taught to apologize for existing.

The shirt said: “I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies, and had teas.” And at this, my daughter will laugh out loud, and snort, because if I’ve taught her anything, it’s that she’s free to experience her joy in whatever bubbling form it comes. She will snort and laugh even harder when I tell her how often people attacked Hillary (at which point, her brother, unaffected by scrutiny, will begin texting) and my daughter will laugh at the notion that making cookies is the alternative to being a lawyer. Then there will be a moment, (every mother knows this moment), when my daughter catches her breath and puts her hands gravely on the table and points out that actually, I’m a hypocrite. I’m a hypocrite because I like making cookies and though I have a career, I work from home more often.

She will say these things because she’s my daughter and she’s questioning and she doesn’t put up with bullshit from anyone, but especially not from me, because that’s exactly the way I was with my mother who was a traveling consultant who also cooked dinner, who also baked desserts after working eleven hours and I’ll try to tell my daughter, as my mother told me, that a woman can do and be many things and then we will find ourselves in the same circle women find themselves, making excuses and justifications and trying to make sense of whether or not we are actually feminists or just pretending to be.

I will tell my daughter that when I was in this circle with my mother, I struggled to understand why it was her that was still expected to make dinner, after everything, why a feminist still performed the traditional obligations of her marriage, then something even more complicated, what happened if and when a feminist wanted to make dinner or wanted to make cookies, or wanted to do something nice and ‘traditional’ for her partner, which is not at all unlike a feminist wanting to be ‘fuckable,’ which is to say, wanting to be wanted in a healthy sexually erotic way, a way she consents to, a way she, as a human being with a body, gets pleasure from.

You should read this, I’ll say to my children, and they’ll have at least ten titles to guess from, because I often outsource parenting to literary idols. And when I return with the book, my daughter will adopt my son’s eye rolls, but I’ll choose to ignore her and my son will continue texting, having already heard me use the word ‘fuckable,’ which, I’ve emphasized, is not to be uttered in the same breath as ‘pussy’. They are different things. The distinction is essential.

I’ll open to a section of Heidi Julavits’s The Folded Clock and say: It’s her word. Listen closely.

… I had a boyfriend who guaranteed me that my body was “fuckable,” and this seemed a decent runner-up distinction if I couldn’t look like a model. I then emphasized to my daughter that her self-worth should have nothing to do with what other people thought (thereby contradicting myself); that she had to believe her body to be fuckable, i.e., if only she wanted to fuck it … that would make other people, girls or boys or whatever, want to fuck it more…. Want to fuck yourself so that others want to fuck you too.8

folded-clock

I will say to my daughter: Even in the face of horrible injustice and misogyny, it’s important to me that you should want to fuck yourself. Take a minute with this thought; I know it’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable because women’s bodies are on display, because women’s bodies are under attack, because women’s bodies are contorted with technology and diet pills and pornography and centuries of inequality and violation and impossible societal distinctions of beauty and now a President-elect who is an unapologetic verbal and physical assaulter of females.

However, women are people, and as a woman, I have a sexual appetite and if my daughter should have one too, then I wish for her to feel confident and empowered to have experiences of enjoyment.

At this point, my son will leave the table, because at a certain point in these conversations, all men leave the table, regardless of how vocal their mothers are, regardless of how pro-feminist or empathetic, all men leave the table because beyond an oath not to rape us, beyond an oath to hire us regardless of breast size or willingness to go down on them in their office, and beyond an oath to respect us as colleagues, as partners, as friends, as humans, there is often a lapse in their comprehension that we can want to be fucked (under the right circumstances), and also not want to be assaulted (under any circumstances).

When I’m alone with my daughter, she’ll say: Tell me what it was like to be in Wyoming while all this happened.

 

I came from a liberal New York bubble, so being at an artist retreat in a tiny town during the most significant election of my lifetime was surreal. Surreal in that the waves of protests that followed, the hate crimes, the suicide hotlines, the grief that reverberated in the subways of New York and the streets of California, were silent here. The landscape remained beautiful, no healing messages on Post-It notes lined the walls of the colony, lunch was still served at twelve o’clock, some of us, continued working on our projects—I was not one of those.

Hours before the election, I sat in that log cabin with a woman I hadn’t known two weeks earlier, but whose hands I now held, whose body I now felt I could touch, in the small ways of intimacy, for we were sharing history. All the while, I wished instead to be with my mother. My mother who received her breast cancer diagnosis before I turned one, my mother who refused to let illness define her, refused to let it halt her. I wanted to be with my mother when the first woman was elected president so we could share the validation of all the encouragement she’d given me, all the lofty goals she assured me were within reach, even for someone with tits and an ass and a pussy.

 

Just before the election, I got into an argument with a man, named, for our purposes, X9. The topic was: In a time of political correctness and some would argue, hypersensitivity, what constitutes sexual harassment or assault? Let’s thank President-elect for bringing this to the forefront.

Here’s the context: I received an explicit text from a different man, who is between an acquaintance and a friend; let’s call him B. I shared this message with X, not out of concern, nor anger, only slightly out of discomfort, but probably, if I’m being truthful, out of a small desire to evoke jealousy. That’s ugly, but it’s also true. As I’ve said before and as I will say again: I want to be fuckable and also don’t want to be fucked without consent.

B’s explicit text said: Thinking about you watching me jerk off makes me cum.

X did not react well to my game (we might as well call it that because it was both childish and manipulative). X was not outwardly jealous or impassioned. Instead, because he is kind, he said: How do those messages make you feel?

This was not the response I’d imagined. He was implying that I was a victim, something I had not felt until then.

Well how did it feel? my daughter will ask, now a little antsy and self-conscious in her chair.

I will say: A part of me felt uncomfortable, which is what I told X, which was mostly true. But there was another very small, as I mentioned earlier, very ugly part, that felt a twinge of ‘I’m attractive and desirable’ and although I had no interest in B, it felt good to know I’m in fact, ‘fuckable.’

I was, of course, acting privileged and naïve and submissive, because in that moment, I didn’t feel threatened. B lived in a different state and I had no intention of ever seeing him again. As someone who has experienced sexual assault (here my daughter will shift loudly in her seat), in some form, which I’ll get into later (she’ll open her mouth, but then close it), which I’m already downplaying, or apologizing for the terminology of, or trying to determine whether my experience is exploiting enough to contribute to the discussion.

This is where I stop and say to my daughter: It’s hard for me to think about this without thinking about Rihanna. Please forgive the parallel. I will remind my daughter that in 2009, Chris Brown, Rihanna’s on and off again partner, pled guilty to assaulting her. (I’ll think I’m being accessible and ‘hip’ by using pop culture to teach my daughter about fuckability, assault, and femininity. But if my daughter is anything like me, she’ll fail to connect with her mother’s references, misconstrue them and will be bound, as most children are to repeat, some, if not many, of my mistakes). After the assault was made public, I, like many other women, held a torch for Rihanna.

This is how I remember becoming explicitly interested in the rights of contemporary women, becoming a vocal opponent of modern male dominance, a supporter of feminists (in my very minor adolescent form of social justice).

It’s important to pause and consider that it was not my own experience with what I now recognize as assault that called me into action, but instead, the experience of a pop icon, which matched the way I’d always understood rape and domestic violence: in abstractions and cinematic reenactments. They happened, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t happen to me. (Again, here is my privilege, my ignorance, my naiveté).

Just two years after the publicity of the assault charges, “S&M” played on the radio. One line in the song says: “Now the pain is for pleasure,” another: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but chains and whips excite me.”10 My first thought, upon hearing these lyrics was: how could a victim or survivor or whatever label one wishes to use after undergoing that experience, promote a song about aggression and dominance, let alone celebrate it?

I passed immediate judgment. I sought moral high ground. I thought (and said aloud): Rihanna is sexualizing herself, she’s becoming the object, she’s asking for violence. Her partner abused her and now she is eroticizing that experience. There I was, just another woman judging a fellow woman’s choices. (I will repeat this to my daughter because I know in whatever year she and I have this conversation, women will still judge each other. If the 2016 election has proven anything about the state of women in this country—beyond suppression from men—it’s that standards of perfection are so engrained in us that we’re willing and perhaps eager to criticize and cast blame against one another).

Later, in an interview, Rihanna said: “I didn’t want people to feel bad for me. It was a very vulnerable time in my life, and I refused to let that be the image.”11

And that’s when it hit me, something seemingly obvious: regardless of fame or class or religion or race, sexuality of any kind is inherently complex and personal. Much of my judgment about Rihanna’s lyrics was a product of my own insecurities, my failure to reckon with the grey area of being abused within a relationship. It was easier to judge another woman who’d come to terms with her experience and found a way to exist as a sexual being anyway.

I will say to my daughter: The publicity of Rihanna’s assault cast her as a symbol of victimhood, which further threatened her identity. (It’s fair to say I’m projecting). But her defiance of that label, articulates so much of what I want you to learn. Women don’t need to be subjected to sympathy, because that is, in and of itself, another form of reducing our beings. We don’t need to be called victims, even if we’ve been victims, because that’s only one aspect of our identities and doesn’t begin to encompass our minds and our hearts and, yes our bodies. Just because a woman is assaulted doesn’t mean she’s no longer fuckable, if she still wants to be.

So you want me to take naked selfies? My daughter will say at this point (because yes, the future is filled with nude selfies and contradictions). Fortunately, I’ll have anticipated this remark, because a younger me might have made it.

I’ll tell my daughter: I’m less making an argument about posting provocative pictures and more about celebrating the notion that even under oppression, women don’t have to live as victims. It’s possible to experience assault and to also later seek out sexual pleasure in the form of a consensual submissive experience.

Then my daughter will say: But isn’t that asking for it? Which is what she’s been taught to say, which is what so many women have been taught is the reason they experience physical or sexual assault. Because they insinuated their bodies were available for mass consumption. I revolt against that.

It’s good to raise that point, I’ll say to my daughter (only half believing it). Just after the election, I talked about this with two women at the residency. Less than twenty-four hours had passed, we easily could’ve been celebrating our first female presidency, but instead, we were under President-elect’s looming regime, ready to shame other women.

One woman, let’s call her D12, was the mother of two daughters. D said she simply couldn’t understand the desire to wear tight clothes and short skirts. It isn’t comfortable or attractive. It’s constricting. Those women don’t have control of their movements; their breasts are on display. I tried to cut in, but D continued: I’m not saying they’re asking for it, but well you know—in fact, I believe that’s exactly what she was saying.

How are men supposed to concentrate? D said. The other woman agreed with her.

D’s not entirely wrong. At the time of the conversation, I didn’t have my own daughter (nor did the other woman, though she had a son) so we forfeited our authority to D, because for her, it wasn’t abstraction or imagination; her daughters were living beings with tits and asses and pussies and she wasn’t interested in having them flaunt any of those parts for the pleasure of others.

While I told D (and later told my daughter) there were definitely extremes (again only half believing it), I argued that no woman, or man, or gender nonconforming individual, had the right to decide what a woman should wear. No one has the authority to give out approval. Women should not have to abide by what makes other people more comfortable.

But these women are dressing for men, D argued.

Not always, I told her.

I dress the way I dress to celebrate my body. I want to feel sexy because I haven’t always felt good about my body, because my body is a part of who I am and I choose to embrace it. I want to feel sexy, not so that men will want to fuck me, but because it’s important for me to want to fuck myself. I’ve experienced the threat of losing aspects of my femininity and now I cling to them. I sometimes even like to accentuate them.

What are you talking about? my daughter will ask, now sitting upright in her chair.

Maybe for the first time or maybe for the hundredth time, I’ll tell her: I am the daughter of a breast cancer survivor who elected to have a double mastectomy (which is admittedly costly and not an available choice for many women), but beyond financial and medical resources, it’s also a choice that can feel like a direct threat to one’s femininity.

This is maybe the crux of it, I’ll tell my daughter. This is maybe why I feel how I do. When I was a teenager, just a few years younger than you, I found a benign lump on my breast. It was at the precise moment my body was developing, my curves were becoming more pronounced, I was learning how to exist as a sexual being, I was falling in love for the first time and then, one of the most sexualized parts of my body was deformed. Just as I started to want, my body became an unwanted.

After the medical portion was resolved, I still felt alien. Through my dual education of feminism and misogyny, I was taught to own my body, then to conceal my body, then to protect my body, then to hate my body; what could I do with this desire to flaunt a body that had been tarnished?

I’d tried to explain this to the women in Wyoming: And lest we forget the percentage of women not interested in men, who dress for themselves and for other women. Or about the double standards, I said, emphasizing this point for my daughter. Women with fuller figures look more “sexualized” in the exact same garments as thinner women simply because of how we’re taught to view female bodies. Consider race. Consider the false definition we’ve given to thin white bodies as synonymous with beauty.

I was sure this would get through to the residency women. It did not.

They nodded and smiled absently, undoubtedly thinking of their own mothers, of their own experiences of sexism, of all the goddamn barriers they broke through, wanting to know why the fuck I was threatening their progress by stuffing my body into a constricting outfit and parading around like—let’s call it what everyone else will—like a slut or a tease, just for the heck of it, to celebrate objectification, even if my celebration was in spite of it.

Some of those women have their breasts on the table, D reminded me.

I then posed the question: if a woman’s breasts are on the table, does that give a man the right to grab them?

Biologically they’re more prone to distraction, the other woman chimed in.

Does that give him the right? I asked.

The room was silent. My future daughter also didn’t say anything.

I refuse to accept that. We cannot allow biology or stature to serve as rationalization for abuse. If we tailor how we live to suit the expectation that men are helpless against raping us, we’re only furthering a society in which we normalize and make excuses for the violation of women.

I refuse to believe that the only answer is for women to hide their bodies to prevent men from taking advantage of them. That’s unacceptable. We need to hold men accountable. Our election of a known predator has done the exact opposite. But I refuse to let that predator dictate my life and I urge you not to let him dictate yours (beyond the power we, as a country, have already awarded him).

Here I must give a nod to birth control and abortion rights, because of course, fuckability and sexuality are betrothed to a woman’s abilities to have access to health care and to choose an abortion if she should find herself in an accidental, unwanted, or dangerous pregnancy. When we are made to believe our choices are a crime, our bodies become criminal. How then are we expected not to hate ourselves?

Then the air in the room will shift. Were you ever assaulted? my daughter will ask. I’ll have to choose not lie to her.

Have I been assaulted?

Of the countless things women are taught to be ashamed of, this may be the most prevalent. Assault can become an identity. Assault can become a statistic. Assault can become a prophecy.

Here it is anyway.

I don’t talk about being sexually assaulted because sometimes I don’t believe that I was. I don’t talk about the boyfriend I was in love with, the boyfriend who was my first love, who repeatedly used the words “I am ready now” to indicate it was time for me to go down on him. I don’t tell people that I went down on him while COPS played on the television screen in the background. I don’t tell people that the sound of men running, of men snickering, of men uncocking guns, of men whimpering, of men firing shots, were the sound all around me as my mouth opened, as my body closed, as he said, “ I am ready now” and I knelt into him, as I folded down, as I made myself half a self, as I made myself not a thing, but a tool, but a utensil for him to fill himself, for him to feed himself.

I don’t talk about this man, because he was not a man then, because I was not a woman then, because I loved him, because he loved me, because I thought this was what love was, because I thought this was what we did, we as women, we as bodies, we as breasts and pussies and mouths, we wait for instructions, we follow instructions, we do as we are told because when we do not do as we’re told we’re made into nothing. In my nothingness I undressed in his camouflage bedspread, in my nothingness I undid the metal hooks on a white blouse, a white blouse I selected because of the way it showed enough of my breasts, because of the way it cinched in my waist and made me look like a present, waiting to be opened, waiting to be undone, and I undid it myself. You have heard this story before. You know this story by heart. This story is in a movie. This story doesn’t make me special. This is not a story. This is Tuesday afternoon. This is Friday night. This is every weekend. This is a forced blowjob. This is a forced blowjob without hands. A forced blowjob where a man is not physically placing his palms around my neck, around my torso, around my arms. Where a man asks for something and I give it to him because I was taught to give men the things they asked for, not by my mother, by the boy who told me he loved me, by my professor who told me I was too emotional, I was too hysterical, I was too female.

 

This is not how I described it to the women at the residency.

Because I am just like my daughter, I asked for their stories. Hours went by. We sat in kitchen chairs (not unlike the ones where my daughter and I sit now), telling each other about the times men took advantage of us. Each of us said, well, really I shouldn’t have been there, or I should’ve known better, or I shouldn’t have led him on, or he did make me dinner or he was my boyfriend or I said yes to the date, or maybe ‘no’ means something different in his culture.

There we were, three grown women, all apologizing and making excuses for our abusers.

 

After a long silence, my daughter will ask, How did the argument with X end? She will ask this question, the same way I asked my mother endless questions when we read books that scared me, because asking questions was a way to break the tension, because asking questions was a way to distance yourself from the thing that was too overwhelming.

X got frustrated. He didn’t believe my response to B’s text was firm enough. He said: There’s absolutely no reason for you to be polite. X was right of course. But then he said: If I were you, I would file a police report. Which was the lapse in understanding. If every woman filed a police report when a man made her uncomfortable, how many reports would be filed? It’d be even easier to discredit us. By this I mean: these exchanges are daily occurrences. We’ve been taught to live with them.

X then shifted to judgment: How can you identify as a feminist and respond politely to an aggressor?

When X and I had this argument, we were intellectually sparring about something with no palpable harm, but of course, we were also speaking to a broader question of the right a woman has to defend her body, of the power a man has to violate that body, of whether or not words are lethal weapons, of how much a woman is expected to just suck it up and take it. Where is the distinction, if there is a distinction, between actions and verbal assault? Between language and abuse?

After the election, I had to ask myself whether I could live with the excuses I was making, whether I still believed in the right to feel sexy or to maintain questionable affiliations in the name of modern femininity. X implied I was not a real feminist because I didn’t yell and scream at the words B used. I argued there wasn’t one way to be a feminist. I still believe this is true.

In 2016, I had to acknowledge a world that openly condoned sexual assault, even more loudly and assertively than I’d originally thought. We elected a known predator. We normalized, whether or not we’d like to admit it, his treatment of women, his hatred of people of color, of immigrants, of Muslims, of the disabled, of the LGBTQ community, of many others.

Do you take it all back? my daughter will ask then. The whole ‘fuckable’ thing?

No, I’ll tell her. Did the reality of how much work needs to be done to respect and validate women (and marginalized groups), make me question my politeness towards B? Yes. Did my own experience of sexual assault and the looming threat of abuse haunt me? Yes. But the one thing I refuse to allow President-elect to take is the acceptance I have fought for, the love I’ve struggled to maintain for my body after illness and sexual assault. Yes, I had to, and have to acknowledge my privilege, my responsibility, for I am a part of a society that continues to violate women, regardless of whether or not I feel ownership of my body. But I still refuse to give up the celebration of my sexuality.

This is a dangerous celebration. I know all too well how easy it is to be taken advantage of (and I am one of the lucky ones). I may be mocked or called a fake feminist, but I don’t believe feminism is an assertion of perfection. Women are not infallible. Women are, like all other people, flawed and multilayered individuals.

Then my daughter will shyly ask the inevitable question: Is Dad any of those men?

I cannot answer that, I will say to her.

I cannot answer that because I will not know who her dad is in the way that I don’t know whether I’ll have access to birth control or be able to have an abortion in the future should I want one, should I have a dangerous pregnancy, should I have an accidental one, should I feel unable to be a mother at that time. I don’t know whether my daughter will even exist, because if she does, I’ll have made a choice (or not have been given a choice) to bring a child into this world.

Then what is the point? My daughter will ask or I will pose this question to myself in an empty room in the future.

The point, I will say, is that silence and submission are no longer an option. Now, more than ever, it’s essential we cease judgment and blame within our own communities. I accept responsibility for my ignorance and for my failings due to privilege. I acknowledge the fault is my own. I didn’t march for the Black Lives Matter movement; I didn’t campaign for Hillary. I didn’t publically denounce the professor who shamed me, or the boyfriend who forced himself on me, or the colleagues who’ve made sexual advances and threatened my credibility. I didn’t want abuse to be my sole identity. I didn’t want to be too emotional or too hysterical or too sensitive or too female.

I should have shouted every single day for every marginalized, oppressed, disenfranchised person; my obedience stops now. I will tell her how, after the election, I chose to be a woman who is vocal and, who yes, still wants to be fuckable (under appropriate circumstances). I refuse to teach my daughter to hide or to hate her body. Let us move beyond compliancy and hold President-elect and all the men (and other hateful individuals) he represents, accountable for their injustices. Let us hold them accountable, while also honoring and loving ourselves. If we do that, in the future, our children may be able to live in a country where they can feel not only safe, but also celebrated.

***

1. For the purpose of this essay, I have two fictitious/imagined children; one identifies as male, one as female. With respect to my experience, for these same purposes, they are both Caucasian, the male is heteronormative and the female is bisexual.

2. A little less than half, as of November 27th, 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton leads by 2.2 million votes.

3. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3110202-SPECIAL-STATUS-REPORT-v5-9-16-16.html

4. http://www.bradycampaign.org/sites/default/files/Gun%20Deaths%20Fact%20Sheet_v8.pdf

5. http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/Reports/2014_HV_Report-Final.pdf

6. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings-2016/

7. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

8. Julavits, Heidi. The Folded Clock: A Diary. New York: Doubleday, 2015. Print.

9. X identifies as male, and I, as female.

10. Rihanna. S&M. Loud. 2010.

11. Rolling Stone. Interview. 30 Mar. 2011.

12. Both women at the residency are Caucasian.

***

Image credits: feature image, image 1, image 2, image 3.


Jenessa Abrams is a Norman Mailer Fiction Fellow and has been awarded fellowships and grants from the Ucross Foundation, the Vermont Studio Center and Columbia University. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in Washington Square, The Brooklyn Rail, The New York Times, Bodega and elsewhere. She was recently named a finalist for Glimmer Train's Very Short Fiction Award. Currently, she is an MFA candidate in fiction and literary translation at Columbia University. More from this author →