The Backdrop of My Womanhood

[Content Note: Misogyny; violence; self-harm; hostility to privacy, agency, and consent. NB: I am speaking about my personal experience as a woman in this piece. Other women's experiences may be different; some men and nonbinary people may share some of these experiences, which are not limited to womanhood.]

Today, I have read three stories about how USian women and other people with uteri can perform medical or surgical abortions on themselves, or one another, if they cannot access abortion clinics. These are stories that once upon a time I never imagined I would read in my lifetime, except as part of a historical chronicle of the dark days before Roe.

I fear becoming pregnant. I fear needing and being unable to access abortion, even if my life depends on it.

This fear is part of the backdrop of my womanhood.

Today, I read this piece by Pamela Jones about closing down her website because of digital invasions into our privacy. She excerpts Janna Malamud Smith's Private Matters: In Defense of the Personal Life, which argues that privacy is central to human dignity. And then she says: "I can't stay online personally without losing my humanness, now that I know that ensuring privacy online is impossible."

I fear the invasions of my privacy, when so much of my life is lived online. When so much of my work challenges the very encroachments upon our privacy, whether via surveillance or the denial of bodily autonomy.

This fear is part of the backdrop of my womanhood.

What creeping may be going on through the back doors of my virtual properties is, on the average day, the least of my concerns. I am primarily consumed with threats of violence being done to me, with my address and phone numbers and photos of my home being posted online, with orchestrated campaigns of trouble-making in comments, with my photo being misused by bigots or turned into a pornographic joke or threat or both. The harassment that is the cost of being a woman online, which sometimes makes me fearful.

This fear is part of the backdrop of my womanhood.

I am advised, by people who imagine that rape prevention is the responsibility of potential victims and survivors, that I must be careful what I wear, how I wear it, how I carry yourself, where I walk, when I walk there, with whom I walk, whom I trust, what I do, where I do it, with whom I do it, what I drink, how much I drink, whether I make eye contact, if I'm alone, if I'm with a stranger, if I'm in a group, if I'm in a group of strangers, if it's dark, if the area is unfamiliar, if I'm carrying something, how I carry it, what kind of shoes I'm wearing in case I have to run, what kind of purse I carry, what jewelry I wear, what time it is, what street it is, what environment it is, how many people I sleep with, what kind of people I sleep with, who my friends are, to whom I give my number, who's around when the delivery guy comes, to get an apartment or condo or house where I can see who's at the door before they can see me, to check before I open the door to the delivery guy, to own a dog or a dog-sound-making machine, to get a roommate, to take self-defense, to always be alert always pay attention always watch my back always be aware of my surroundings and never let my guard down for a moment lest I be sexually assaulted and if I am and didn't follow all the rules it's my fault, which I already know firsthand from having been raped and seeing about 1 in 6 of my female friends and about 1 in 10 of my male friends going through it and getting victim-blamed, at least once and frequently more.

I am persistently terrorized by the ever-present possibility of sexual assault that I am tasked with preventing and the knowledge, the first-hand knowledge branded into my memory like a scar that never quite heals from the sizzle of the iron that left it, that if I am harmed, there will likely be no one there to advocate for justice on my behalf, no matter how loudly I shout nor how deeply I dig my own fingernails into my skin to escape the agony of injustice and neglect for a blissful moment of self-directed pain.

I fear being hurt again, and I fear being a failure at surviving.

This fear is part of the backdrop of my womanhood.

I fear being denied medical care, being misdiagnosed, being refused by emergency crews, being told I must lose weight as a condition of care, because I am fat. I fear dying because of fat hatred.

This fear is part of the backdrop of my womanhood.

These are not my only fears. I fear hurting people, I fear letting people down, I fear war being waged in my name, I fear climate change and drought and losing someone I love and choking on a sandwich. Lots of stuff.

But these are the fears that feel permanently attached to my womanhood, because of entrenched oppressions that privileged people refuse to let go.

And I want to share them, I want to say that I am afraid sometimes, because I want the people with those privileges to know at what expense to the rest of us they maintain them, and because I want the people with my marginalizations (and others I do not share) to know that they are not alone when they feel afraid, too.

I'm not fucking stone, but you don't have to be stone to be strong.

* * *

For all my friends and compatriots, known and unknown to me, who need strength in this moment.

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