My situation is not unique. Every woman deals with some form of toxic masculinity.
I started singing at the age of five. My mom was always a big supporter in my aspiring music career. In my teens, she began taking me to a recording studio, and I remember one time when we were leaving, the sound engineer had given my mom some attitude. She told me after we left, “He wouldn’t have done that to me if I was a man,” and I distinctly remember rolling my eyes, like any angsty wannabe rockstar would do to their mother (that’s me justifying being a brat).
My mom had told me her entire life that she was treated differently for being a woman, especially in the field of science, but growing up in a bubble-wrapped small-town and not feeling like I was ever put in such situation, I could never understand, let alone agree.
I moved out at the ripe age of seventeen years old to Los Angeles, and by age twenty, I had moved to New York City. Being a young 20-something living on my own in the Big Apple, I suddenly found myself having to deal with situations that only a woman would find herself in. There was a daily fear of walking down the street and wondering who was going to harass me that day (not if I was going to be harassed, but by whom). Having my heartrate increase when I walked past a group of construction workers, or simply men, just became the norm. One time, a group of guys passed my sister and I, and loudly declared “pick one” (and they both picked my sister). I remember being offended that I wasn’t more attractive. It was engrained in my head that all I was worth was what I physically appeared to be. I remember, another time, walking down 23rd Street with my headphones in around 3pm, and I saw a guy who looked like he maybe had a few loose screws in the brain, but that’s nothing unusual for New York. I was passing by The Home Depot when next thing I knew, I was shoved into a wall with this man cackling in my face. I fumbled with my headphones and before I knew it, he had walked away but left me shook. Whether he was mentally unstable or not, it was to incite fear, and it worked. There were plenty of people around who witnessed it, and none chimed in, or asked if I was okay, but I became used to situations like this. Let’s face it; a young girl is an easy target, especially in a busy city. I went to work and told a co-worker, and the first thing he said was, “Well, that’s why you shouldn’t wear headphones,” very much implying I was asking to be attacked because I was listening to music in the middle of the afternoon. And let’s not forget the time I was walking home in the East Village, in leopard pants (how dare I express myself and walk alone at night) and I was certain I was being followed. I popped into the nearest bodega, only a few steps from where I lived. It was 1am and I desperately wanted to go home, but didn’t want this creep to know where I lived. I told the employees I was being followed and they offered me some water and told me to hang out. Thirty minutes went by when I was sure my newfound stalker wouldn’t be there anymore, and I swiftly exited, only to find him waiting. This is when I bolted for my apartment, and he finally grabbed my shoulder and said, “I just want to talk to you.” Thinking quickly on my feet, I pretended to act like I was on the verge of a seizure, which did not work, so I let out the loudest shrill of my life when a car pulled up to interfere, and he finally ran away. If you need more examples, I’m happy to supply, but these are the few that popped to mind.
After nine years of living in NYC, I left to embark on a round-the-world solo backpacking trip. I am currently in my third month of this journey, and I have learned your brain will decide to bring up very specific moments at the strangest of times. Or at least, mine will. Right now, I am in Japan and therefore, I have been eating a lot of white rice. I was looking down at my dish of squid, veggies, and white rice one day, and got catapulted back to being a starving musician in Los Angeles when I was 18. My friend’s dad was in town and he offered to take her and I to Kabuki, a Japanese chain-restaurant. I ordered salmon teriyaki, and when the waiter said, “Would you like white or brown rice?” I said “White, please.” Everyone else placed their orders and the waiter walked away.
“You know, white rice is the worst thing for you. You’re going to get fat if you keep eating it,” her dad said.
When my plate of food came out, I suddenly felt ashamed and embarrassed to be eating white rice in front of this man whose name, or soul, I hardly knew.
Would that comment be made if I was a male?
Once this memory catapulted me back to life, in present Japan, I stared down at my beautiful bowl of white rice. You know, there’s a reason I chose white rice that day; I like white rice. I dug in.
As caloric grains were being shoveled into my mouth, I thought about a man from my hometown who always made a comment about my face being flat when I was nine years old at soccer practice (“Your face is so flat, I could make pancakes on it!”). I thought about the music producer who told me if I ever wanted to make it in LA, I should “lose a few pounds,” which led me to living my 15-year old life on an elliptical and counting the calories in anything from an apple to a piece of chewing gum. I remember, a few weeks in to my new secretive starve-yourself-diet, annihilating half of a pizza my mom brought home when she had no clue I had starved myself all week, only to immediately weigh myself and purge it back up. 117.2 pounds. I remember my dad’s friend who saw me at the gym once and decided to tell my dad it “didn’t look like I was working too hard.” Why did men throughout my entire life not only feel the need to tell me what I should fix, but that it was acceptable to do so?
I got a second portion of white rice.
I thought about the dude who beat me up in Los Angeles, and when I reported it to authorities I was questioned on my timing, and was told, “Well it’s not like he put a gun to your head!” I thought of how I was sexually assaulted by two separate people on two separate occasions, both of whom I knew, and how I blamed myself until recently. I thought of how many times my sanity has been questioned for going to places like Colombia alone, but never somewhere like Belgium; I’d take a gamble that the reason for everyone’s worries were both classism and racism, but to clarify, my experience in Colombia was much more positive than Belgium (in fact, Belgium was one of the most uncomfortable places for me to travel alone as a woman). I thought about how many times I was asked at my sister’s wedding, “When’s your wedding going to be?” (Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure in order to have a wedding, you need a significant other.) I thought about how I don’t want children, and I could still sleep at night if I never get married. I thought, why do I even have to think about those things? Why has society engrained in my brain that my true worth lies in a ring on my finger and pushing out babies? Do men get asked when they are going to reproduce? Does the world look at me as an incubator?
“More white rice, please.”
I thought about how many times I was told I come off too aggressive, how my music would be better if I gave it more of a “Norah Jones” vibe and less of an “Alanis Morissette” (at least that one is hilarious). I thought of how many male customers at the various bars I worked at commented on what a nice ass I have (try working on your feet ten hours a day and maybe you could lose that beer belly, buddy), and how the man who sat at table two dropped a pen on purpose and said, “Looks like you’re going to have to pick that up [insert creepy wink],” to which I absolutely did not. I thought about the man who followed me home on a Saturday night and I had to hide in a bodega for thirty minutes when I was one-hundred feet from my apartment, and how when I exited the bodega, he was still waiting for me. But if anything happened, I would be blamed for wearing leopard pants, and for walking alone at 1am. I thought of how protective I have gotten of myself and how high my guard has to be at all times, because it is a tactic for survival. It is a tactic for existing, it is exhausting, and at this point, it is second-nature.
My situation is not unique. Every woman deals with some form of toxic masculinity. White women only see a fraction of what women of color and transwomen see. Governments all around the world perpetually try to control our bodies, it is a simple shrug and scroll to read when a woman was killed by a domestic partner, and when we hear that countries like Slovakia and Sweden have equal pay, it is considered a celebration verses the norm. We grow to be so numb to daily harassment that we forget how unjust and abnormal it is. The sooner we all get on board with admitting toxic masculinity is a global issue and devote ourselves to fighting it, the higher a chance we have in creating a better world for future generations of women.
In conclusion, Mom… you were right.
Kaitlyn lived in Los Angeles for three years, New York for nine years, and left to travel the world for six months.