Dear Men: I Am Not a Character in Your Story

[Content Note: Misogyny.]

It happened again. I was doing laps in the pool when I noticed a man in the lane next to me start to time his laps to mine. I was pivoting too quickly at the end of each length for him to start a conversation, so he began loudly clearing his throat, inexplicably believing that listening to him gargle phlegm would capture my attention.

When none of his passive aggressive overtures worked, and kept not working for nearly 40 minutes, he took one of the floats he had piled up at the end of his lane — these guys always carry a collection of swimming accoutrements, for maximum attention — and carefully placed it at the end of my lane. As if it might have been accidentally swept into the pool there.

Of course, since I do the breaststroke, I saw all of this happen. I saw him pick up his kickboard; discard it; pick up and examine his resistance gloves; discard them; pick up the float; glance back at me; apparently determine my goggles are opaque; set the float in my lane; then begin fussing busily with his pile of stuff — far too occupied rearranging his gear to have noticed his float slip into my lane, obviously!

I reached the target, grabbed it, and tossed it into his lane. "Your float," I said. "Oh, I'm so sorry—" he began, turning toward me, as if this ridiculous ruse had succeeded as a conversation starter. "No problem," I said curtly, then dived back under the water, to continue the thing I wanted to do for myself.

image of me in the lane of a pool, swimming contentedly
I am the hero of my own story.

I didn't want to talk to him, not even to tell him off. What I wanted was to keep doing my laps, without interruption or the throat sounds of a stranger who doesn't understand that I am not a character in his story.

It's no wonder he is under the misapprehension that I am. He was, as were we all, socialized in a culture filled with stories in which women are merely characters, tokens, plot devices, objects of desire or scorn in the stories of men.

Even in many stories that are ostensibly women's stories, like romantic comedies supposedly designed so specifically for women that they are demeaned as "chick flicks," women frequently have no purpose but to love difficult men, to fix and support and heal them, to help them realize their true potential, to marry them and have their babies.

What we never talk about is how the damsel in distress only exists to rescue her rescuer, from a life of devoid of every (straight) man's true birthright: To be gazed upon as a hero by a grateful woman.

Men are the heroes of their own stories; any woman's role is to make him feel that way. The mother who raised him from boy to man, the sister he defended from harm, the lovers he beds, the witches he vanquishes.

When a man approaches a woman like a character in his story, we know if we don't play the role of lover, we will be cast in the role of witch.

What I want is the option to not be seen as a character in any man's story at all.

I want to be viewed as my own author, my own architect, my own captain, my own governor. I want to be seen as fully human, with agency and autonomy and the right of consent.

I want men to look at me, swimming in the pool with fierce determination, stretching my arms to reach farther and extending my legs to kick harder with every stroke, my brows knitted and breath measured, and see that I am not a supporting role in anyone else's story.

I am my own hero.

And then I want them to leave me the fuck alone, because it should be evident that I neither want nor need them in this chapter of my saga.

[Related Reading: Dear Men: You Don't Own Women.]

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