*Posting at 3:13am before I lose the guts to do so when I’m thinking clearly*
This is one of those “dangerous” posts that my mom gets worried about when she opens her inbox because she knows her daughter:
b) has a public website
c) is stubborn, strong-willed, and opinionated,
and those things generally come together in reactions no less than nuclear.
Maybe it’s because it’s 2:00am, or that Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay has been playing in my car for the past two weeks, or that I’ve heard three sexual violence jokes in the past 24 hours, but I’m pretty angry right now.
This post will have little structure, probably no point, and no happy ending, but they are thoughts, and thoughts help start a conversation. Conversations lead to action, actions lead to movements, and movements, finally, lead to the long-awaited change our souls were so thirsty for in the first place.
The last time I wrote about how angry I was, it was due to the tremendous amount of homeless people I was seeing and meeting in Chicago. I was angry, for the most part, that we even have people living in homelessness, and that sometimes their humanity is counted as less than others simply because their days look differently than maybe yours or mine would. This time the anger stems from gender inequality, not poverty.
A friend made a comment about beating his girlfriend the other day, obviously not being serious. But how comfortable do you have to be with that occurrence in order to laugh and smile about how you’re “just joking?” I thought about giving a half smile, shrugging it off, pretending I didn’t hear it, getting out my phone, anything, but I didn’t. It felt really persnickety to say something, but I did.
“Actually, that’s not funny. That’s domestic abuse. It’s not funny. Go look at the statistics.”
And the moment was over.
Another friend was reading pick-up lines off the internet (the ones that are so dumb they’re actually good) and read one that said–essentially–a guy and girl would have sex because he was stronger than her.
“That’s not funny,” I found myself saying again. “That’s not a pick up line. That’s talking about rape.”
And yet again, another friend referred to marks of physical abuse being on his fiance after he gets angry. I knew he wasn’t speaking truthfully and didn’t mean anything by it, but, you guys, it’s not funny.
Wasn’t it in elementary school that we learned saying “It’s just a joke” doesn’t excuse you from saying anything you want?
I get discouraged when I hear men make domestic abuse jokes, but I get angry when I hear Christian men make them. Where is the Christlikeness in joking about rape? Or sexual assault? Or anything even remotely close to a woman being taken advantage of or violated? It legitimately scares me how my brothers in Christ can be so cavalier about throwing these out, especially when I know they would be the first ones to run to my aid if they found me being mugged, beaten, or raped. Where is the disconnect? At what point do the jokes have to turn to reality for us to realize none of it is humorous? I need you. My sisters need you.
The fuse for this bomb of anger though, was lit tonight at Mackey Arena. A player for Purdue was practicing solo in a gym that was otherwise unused, besides a few of my friends shooting around before one of their games. If you’ve ever met a celebrity, been to a book signing, spotted Katy Perry on a California street, etc., etc., you know the feeling that comes over you. A quick thrill of “I know someone famous!” shoots through you, and you try to act cool. That was me (only a tiny bit, because let’s be honest, I didn’t even know this guy’s name) until music started flooding the gym. If you could call it that. Bass pounded through the floors and my eardrums. I don’t know how rappers are able to sound equal parts passionately angry and aloofly apathetic, but some pull it off really well. The first song was little more than mumbling about “cash money” and other gangster pursuits, and I simply drew a stats chart in my notebook. Truthfully, I love rap. The speed, the wit, the bass, the rhythm–to me, it often seems like so much more of an art form than any other genre. I normally get made fun of for listening to Christian rap, though, because I refuse to listen to the other 99% of what rap is: crude, degrading, laughable, exploitative, and gross.
Tonight was no different. Halfway through the first song, this Purdue player decided the music wasn’t loud enough, so he left the court to crank up the sound system a bit more. No problem. Except, there was. The songs got progressively worse. It wasn’t just “getting money” anymore. It was about everything else that comes with “getting money,” if you catch my drift. There were words used to describe a woman–and used so frequently–that I found myself hoping I wasn’t visibly blushing or looking uncomfortable. (Which is ridiculous, for the record). Nobody on the court said a word or did a thing, and I didn’t expect them to. They were there to warm up for a game, and that’s exactly what they did. I have no hard feelings.
However, there was no point in me staying there. The longer it went on, the more I told myself,
Kelly, do not leave. You’re being dramatic. You’re in another gym soon, anyway. It’s just music. Nobody’s thinking about the lyrics.
But I knew they were. When words like “b**ch” are assailing you at 120dB, you can’t not hear them. And the longer I sat there, the more it felt like I was telling every man in that gym, “I’m okay with this. It’s okay for me to listen to this and for you to listen to this because it’s just music. This doesn’t bother me.”
I walked out, continuing my stats chart seated on the hallway floor of goodness knows where in Mackey. Even all the way at the end the music was still very audible, but slightly more muffled. I settled for not being able to make out the lyrics, as they were the only things that had bothered me in the first place anyway.
A man and his son–maybe a third grader, maybe a sixth grader (who the heck can tell these days? Did we all use to look like baby-faced, scrawny little chickens?) walked toward the gym. This was the first point where my anger turned to sadness. Whether or not he had heard them before, that boy was about to be pumped full of new words and phrases to dole out whenever he wanted. The worst part was, I was sure he’d never ask his father about what he heard. He heard new things that sounded fun to say, so he’ll go to school tomorrow and say one to his friend. Then it’ll be a joke within their circle of friends. Then one day he’ll yell it at a girl who makes him angry on the playground. She will tell the teacher, who will slap him on the wrist and make him sit in the grass for five minutes until recess is over. But it’s too late, because the seed of a lifetime of disrespect and skewed views of women has been planted.
It’s like this ride I can’t get off…a horrible, creaking machine that takes me low, low enough to skin my knees on the depths of humanity, then up to the top where I become hopeful, only to be brought down again in the next moment. It’s a ferris wheel of unfairness. And I hate ferris wheels.
I think about circumstances like when I said “That’s not funny,” or walked out of a gym, or any of the other times in my life I’ve put on my prude/killjoy/goody-two-shoes shoes and protested, and I wonder if I shouldn’t have.
But immediately following that thought are these:
What if I spend my whole life looking for the right time to say something–the time when it’s actually bad enough for me to speak up–and that time never happens because I was always too scared?
What if a friend had been in the room with me when any of the jokes had been made, and I knew she had been raped?
What if my daughter had been in the room with me when any of the jokes had been made? What would I want her to do?
What if my son had been in the room with me when any of the jokes had been made? What would I want him to do?
*(Disclaimer: I have neither).
The point is, when you feel something is wrong, do something. Say something. Martin Luther King Jr. said,
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
MLK Jr. and Gandhi have inspired me since the young age I began to learn about them in school. They didn’t need to use the hate-filled rhetoric of Donald Trump to mobilize millions. Sometimes, they didn’t use words at all. They marched. They carried signs. They sat. They were arrested. They were beaten.
Walking out of the gym today–on the surface–did nothing. It didn’t turn the music down even one notch. It didn’t stop that little boy from hearing another man talk about women in sexually objectifying ways. Heck, no one probably even noticed I left. But I knew that to make a difference, I didn’t need to make a scene. If two people leave the auditorium hosting a misogynistic comedian, it’s noticed. If ten people call their legislator to explain why they think we shouldn’t have laws that prosecute human trafficking victims, it’s noticed. If a state decides they simply can’t elect someone to the presidency who has a track record of hateful comments against half the population, it’s noticed.
Don’t ever think your ripple effect doesn’t matter. It can, it will, and it does.