I don’t know about you, but that brutal gang-rape in Delhi last month, the one that left a woman so battered and internally injured she died, has been on my mind with a sad, weighty heaviness that has, along with my hobbled ankle, made me want to sit a lot and stare bleakly into the future.
In the not-too-distant past, someone, in the midst of shouting at me, told me that I flipped my hair at him like a high school girl. Which in the moment was just outrageous and a little funny as I was at least 50 years-old at the time and really, do I even know how to do that? In the aftermath of his ranting, which has been long, tedious and not just a little messy and life-altering, his careless remark has continued to irk me.
Once, when I was in my late-30s after reading an editorial in The New York Times by a woman of color with decidedly unflippable hair, in which she identified the ability to unselfconsciously flip one’s hair as a signifier of white privilege, I took myself and my well-past-shoulder-length hair to the nearest salon and a new-to-me hairdresser and told her to cut it all off. She started slowly, unsure of my conviction, and a good half hour to forty-five minutes later after a variety of stages of shorn-ness (shornitude?) I had the nigh-unto-buzz-cut look for which I was asking. I did not want to be the next white woman of privilege that inadvertently, or not, flipped her hair in the face of that writer or anyone who identified with her. More to the point, I wanted to think carefully about and be conscious of the privilege of owning a head of straight, fine hair that mostly — I suspect no one’s really does — bends to my will, a look that is the assumed ideal more often than not in our culture. It is certainly featured in nearly every hair product advertisement I have ever seen.
My short hair lasted a little over a year. I am a bit tight with money I spend on myself, and my hair grows fast; so fast that maintaining a short haircut requires visiting the salon at least once a month, and have you seen what they charge women for haircuts? But that’s a rant for another day. What I am trying to make clear is that I had done the work of soul-searching on hair-flipping and its ramifications long before I met this guy.
In the end, his (perhaps) flippant, angry remark and the tirade in which it was ensconced stung deeply. So much so that I can still name the date, time and context in which it was said. I can also quote verbatim his later email of non-pology in which he told me he hadn’t been angry with me, he just finds trying to have conversations with me frustrating. In other words, he pinned the locus of his rage on me. Which is unacceptable under any circumstance. Yet when I went to his immediate superior, I was told to accept the non-pology, and further, to forgive and trust.
[The guy and his superior had some measure of authority over Kate at the time, and we put an end to that immediately after this incident. There will be enough people in her life telling her she's not worth listening to without requiring that she continue to submit herself to their version of care. I hope the lesson for her was a good one in how to identify and hold at a distance toxic people. Time will tell.]
I write this now because, first, it is long past time to put the matter to rest for me personally and let anxiety over whether I flip or not go, and second, although this affront pales into nonexistence by comparison, it seems pertinent to the horrific event in Delhi that will not leave me alone. Because, really, that event is just one other in a seemingly endless series of events stretching back throughout history, immediate and otherwise, that now and then threatens to overwhelm me with a heavy weight of sadness and anger at the injustice, the inequity, the unwarranted and unacceptable denigration of women to one degree or another everywhere. Treating women as “lesser-than” is nothing new.
This guy had (or still has, I’ve made it my business not to know) deep anger issues that may or may not be related to women behaving competently on their own in his general vicinity. He was (or is) deeply insecure. He may not hate women in general, or believe them to be manipulable and subordinate to his control, but he would not be the first to unconsciously harbor such notions and act stupidly, thoughtlessly, even viciously upon them. Something I did or said did not fit his narrative, and he lashed out; he lashed out more than once but this one I have recounted in part here was the final straw for me. I had known for a while that he believed me to be less than he for one reason or another, my own narrative to be less relevant than whatever overarching narrative he has playing out in his head. However, had I been a man, would he have ranted at me? And if so, what equivalent cutting remark would he have tossed off? Is there one? Or would his self-narrative have shifted to accommodate mine? Even just a little? Truthfully, I never thought once that his superior would find his behavior toward me acceptable. But he apparently did, and everything I have seen and heard since tells me he continues to do so.
Can’t we be done with this already? Aren’t we supposed to be doing better for each other by now? What keeps men from seeing women as worthy of respect and equal treatment as any other man? And, please. Do not tell me that the event in Delhi is just emblematic of the way things are done in India. Because the pushing down and negating of women and girls is endemic to one degree or another in every culture. Even ours. And I will flip my hair like a high school girl in your general direction if you say otherwise.
For far more eloquent words on this subject than I am able to summon, go here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/opinion/sunday/is-delhi-so-different-from-steubenville.html?. And here: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/losing-my-religion-for-equality-20090714-dk0v.html. And while I may never be done thinking and writing about this subject, I promise to go back to baking cookies and knitting sometime soon.