“Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.”
Brief transcript of conversation I had with my mom yesterday:
- Me: I used to be so charming when I was younger, mom, now I’m just irritated all the time.
- Mom: (gives me the what in the hell look) Uh, yeah you could be charming when you wanted to be.
- Me: I was charming all the time!
- Mom: If you count that toothy grin you gave people after you cussed them out and insulted their forefathers… then sure.
- Me: What? That rarely happened.
- Mom: Please, you were the first girl I ever heard tell a stranger to “suck my dick.” You were 16.
- Me: It was the 90’s. Girl power, right?
- Mom: Charming.
I had to concede her point. By the age of 16 it had been my experience that people who meant to do you actual harm didn’t go running off at the mouth about it. No. They were quiet. And terrifying. The guy who hung in the back of the group… The guy sitting in the back seat of the car… the one who wasn’t interested in the exchange until it reached the point where violence was needed… those are the people to fear. The people who are barely keeping it together. I’m not saying I didn’t do my fair share of running away from scary ass men who had no problem back handing a woman for talking shit. I’m just saying I knew the difference. To quote a friend recounting their own experiences growing up, “I knew killers… and these soft ass motherfuckers playing at being hard, they were no killers.”
Men and boys who shouted obscene things at women, (especially a mom and daughter walking down the street from the grocery store) from the safety of their cars or upstairs balconies… didn’t scare me- they pissed me off. If you said some sleazy shit to my mother in front of me there was no way I wasn’t going to nut up on you. By 16, I was 5’11 and built like a brick house. I was the kind of angry that only comes from being scared all the time.
Once, my mom and I were at the gas station. Which was kind of a new experience since she hadn’t had a car in years, and I had just been given an old Volvo so that I could work as a nanny during the summer. Again, I’m 16. My mom stays in the car when I go in to buy gas. I come out and there is a man starting to pump my gas into his truck. He’s white, short, middle-aged, dirty, and scrawny. I start with “Hey pal, that’s my gas, you’re using the wrong pump.” He ignores me and shoves the dispenser in. “Hey!” I shout. “Fuck off,” he says quietly. He doesn’t want me to draw attention to what’s happening. And that’s when I start shouting: “You can suck my dick if you think I bought that gas for you.” My memory is kind of a blur from there until I remember my mom laughing while I drive us away. But I do remember her warning me, “You have to be careful, talking like that. They might find it… kinky.” I thought about it and said, “Well then they’re really gonna be surprised when I shove my fist down their throat.” Then I remember smiling that toothy grin.
If this is shocking to you, dear reader, that a young woman growing up in the U.S. had to have this mindset, then congrats! Someone took very good care of you. I hope you appreciate the shit out of them. For me, and most of the women I know, the inability to be in public without feeling preyed upon is the norm.
I’m not sure why “suck my dick” was my comeback of choice. Maybe I liked the look of cognitive dissonance on their stupid slack jawed faces?
My mom told me as we age we simply get closer to being who we’ve always wanted to be. Maybe as I age I don’t feel the need to balance out my obvious disdain for assholes with extra toothy grins. And even though it’s not as shocking today as it was 20 years ago, I still really love telling street harassers to suck my dick.