The Guilty Feminist

I was the reason a man lost his job just before Christmas.

Growing up in Denmark, we would read Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales like The Little Match Girl about a poor little child who tried to sell matches and ended up freezing to death while she is looking at a family celebrating Christmas through their window. So naturally, that is how I have been imagining this cab driver ever since I found out he had probably been fired. Standing outside my window, looking in, freezing to death.

Men have groped me on the bus three times. Cab drivers have been sexually aggressive and threatening twice. I’ve been followed home, I’ve been pushed up against walls, I’ve been forced to kiss strangers and worse. I have never reported any of them. All the classic excuses: what if it was my fault? What if they didn’t mean to do it? What if I misunderstood? And, most importantly, what if no one believes me?

All these excuses made sense to me. However, when these things happened to friends, I would furiously demand they contact the police. All their excuses sounded ridiculous, like they were blaming themselves for something that was completely out of their control. But when it came to me, the excuses felt right.

Last week, I ordered a cab through an app. A man in a car showed up and drove me to Gatwick Airport. It was 4am and I’d not slept so I hoped he would not talk to me, but he was well-rested and chatty. It was fine. At first, he complained about foreigners, which seemed like such a cliche at first, but then it just felt weird, as he himself was an immigrant, he told me. From India. I said I was an immigrant from Denmark. I disagreed with his points without being as aggressive as I usually would have been when meeting a right-wing person – after all, I was in his locked car in the middle of the night.

Then he asked me if I had a boyfriend and I made one up. After all, I was in his locked car in the middle of the night. We arrived at the airport. Before he opened his door (and mine) he asked if he should pick me up, when I came back to London.

“No, thank you. I will take the train.” I said.

“I can pick you up.” he said.

“No, I am definitely taking the train.” I said.

“You can give me your number and just call me whenever you need to,” he then offered.

“No, that’s OK,” I said, “Uhm… You can take my email.”

After all, I was in his locked car in the middle of the night. I wrote down my email and gave it to him.

“I can email you and you can let me know if you want to be picked up,” he said.

“No, I’ll be taking the train, but thank you,” I said.

We both got out and I took my bag, shook his hand and flew to Denmark. I thought nothing more of it. Until I received a text from him a few days later, offering to give me a lift back to London. I ignored it. Then he sent an email. I ignored it. The next day he started calling me. I blocked his number from all platforms.

I don’t know if it’s because I recently turned 27, because I remembered having said “no” so clearly so many times or if I just felt particularly empowered just then, but I sent screenshots in an email to the app’s customer service. I told them everything that happened in detail and added, “I am sure he is a good and harmless guy. All I wish is for you to let him know why this is not OK. That it feels scary. He probably just doesn’t know.”

“Most of us have tried to reject a man, only to see the actual rage and surprise in his eyes, like we didn’t have the legal right to do that to him. But why wouldn’t he think that? That’s all he has been taught.”

The message came the next day. “We have removed the driver from our app, we apologise and here is a refund.”

Then the wave of guilt washed over me and I crumbled. I started seeing this poor cab driver standing in front of my window with a matchbox and one single tear rolling down his cheek. I felt like the devil right then and there. He is probably a father of 10 starving children. He was probably just trying to earn an extra buck. What if I had ruined his life? What if I was just a prude? What if I am just Cruella de Vil and he’s a puppy Dalmatian?

I threw it all up on social media, which is the perfect place to find out the worst possible thoughts that people can have about you. People said in unison: You said no. This is not OK.

And I know they are right. Had it happened to a friend of mine, I would have agreed. But the feeling of guilt, oh, the guilt.

The guilt interests me. Since the incident I have heard stories from vast numbers of women. Women who have been sexually assaulted and didn’t report it, because they were scared. But also from women who have been sexually assaulted and did report it – and were overwhelmed with guilt. Police officers who told them they were overreacting. Friends telling them that they had now ruined a man’s life.

The only possible theory I can think of, is that maybe, just maybe, it’s because in the back of our minds, we know that sexism affects all genders. Men have been taught that it’s OK to keep pushing women to get their way. If she says she doesn’t want a cab ride home, show up in front of her window with a boombox and an 80s pop song and she’ll be sure to fall in love with you(r cab).

Men have been taught that they can ‘earn’ women and they ‘deserve’ women. Most of us have tried to reject a man, only to see the actual rage and surprise in his eyes, like we didn’t have the legal right to do that to him. But why wouldn’t he think that? That’s all he has been taught. This might be why we feel bad. Because they are, apart from assholes sometimes, also just victims.

 

SONY DSCMy go-to feminist friend in all of this has been Deborah Frances-White, the amazing Radio 4 star comedian. We have had countless debates about the guilt part of being a woman, a feminist – a human, even. So much so that we have decided to face this head-on in a new podcast recorded in front of a live audience.

Click here to listen to the first episode of The Guilty Feminist: Nudity.

First posted in Standard Issue Magazine.

Advertisements

How to Start Doing Yoga (for people who are never going to start doing yoga)

First posted in The Standard Issue Magazine.

Just bought another book about yoga. I already had four books about it, which I have not yet read. The stress about not having read them made me buy another one to learn how to deal with the stress. It makes perfect sense.

I swear, if buying books about yoga made you flexible and free of stress, I would have both legs wrapped around my neck while baking my own homemade, gluten-free bread; or whatever it is that stress-free people do.

I decided to get help. And who better than the incredible online yoga phenomenon, Jessamyn Stanley?

yoga4Jessamyn, 27, has over 80,000 followers on Instagram, where she uploads photos daily of her doing yoga in her home. We are best friends. Okay, we’re not, but I have definitely liked most of her photos and I have a major crush on her awesomeness.

Talking to her seemed like the perfect plan. Not only would I get to procrastinate even more instead of actually going to yoga, I would also have the perfect excuse to talk to someone who is an inspiration.

“I am scared of going to a yoga class.” I tell Jessamyn when we Skype from London (me) to Durham in North Carolina, USA.

“What scares you?” she asks.

“Well,” I sigh, “I haven’t moved my body in 10 years.”

“Listen, first time I did yoga it was horrible. It was Bikram yoga and it was so hot that when I left the class, I got nauseous and I thought: I am never doing that again,” she says.

“Later on, my ex-girlfriend and I had split up and I was kind of a mess. A former classmate of mine had a Groupon for a yoga class and it totally changed my life.

“I was never athletic before. I don’t like to exercise. But it was just a way to not be stressed out. To refocus my energy.

headstand“It’s such a huge part of my life,” Jessamyn continues. “It’s the way I’m able to cope with everything. It really transcends being healthy and exercising. I always wanted to lose weight. But I like cheeseburgers. I like French fries. It will not change.

“I just wanted to be able to feel better about myself, about things that didn’t have to do with my weight and once I stopped thinking about losing weight, I actually started to lose weight. I really don’t care anymore.

“Now I just feel so good about everything. Does being smaller make you better? Funnier? Or smarter or more interesting? Yoga is therapy on a level I can’t explain.”

Jessamyn makes good points, but my inner screaming anti-yoga-voice has other ideas. I tell her: “I have found 10 excuses to not do it already.”

“Alright, what’s number one?” she asks.

“Well,” (I know I’m going to sound like a stupid teenager) “what if I’m the fattest one in the class?”

“It’s the way I’m able to cope with everything. It really transcends being healthy and exercising. I always wanted to lose weight. But I like cheeseburgers. I like French fries. It will not change.”

“You probably will be. I’m usually one of the largest people and the instructor will usually look at me and think I’m the person they need to help. At first I get defensive but then I think: if someone has decided to become a yoga instructor, I have to believe that they actually know the true purpose of this.

“It does not have to do with size. But other students don’t and won’t feel that way and they will contribute to an environment that is not comfortable.

doing the splits“All we can do, as larger-bodied people, is to just be present and go to classes and wear your real clothes and make sure that people know that we’re out here, because that’s the only way that they’re going to learn.”

“What if you fart?” I say as the voice in my head gets more and more panicky.

Jessamyn is quiet for a second. I’m not sure if she is going to laugh or yell at me.

“Oh my god,” she laughs, “I have peed on myself. I have farted. Oh god, so much pee! If you fart – no one is going to say anything. Farting, peeing, it’s fine… shitting? That’s more complicated to explain. Especially if you do it quite early. I wouldn’t recommend it.”

There goes another excuse. I am running out. “Are they going to ask me to be upside down in the first class?”

Jessamyn smiles: “You don’t know what your body is capable of. Your body is so incredible.”

I sigh and realise I have to get down to basics. “What do I wear?”

“If you’re going to a regular non-hot class, I recommend leggings and a form-fitting top,” she says. “Don’t wear baggy clothes. It’s so important that you can feel and see your body and be intimate with it, so don’t wear baggy clothes.”

“All we can do, as larger-bodied people, is to just be present and go to classes and wear your real clothes and make sure that people know that we’re out here, because that’s the only way that they’re going to learn.”

“But…” I pout, “why even bother? Why do it?”

“There are a lot of different ways to move your body, but it’s rare that you get a physical exercise that’s also therapy and that is also spiritual,” Jessamyn answers. “I’m not a religious person but I do believe in the universe and it puts you in connection with that. It’ll open a part of yourself that you probably don’t even recognise has always been in you, and it will provide more comfort than anything else in the world. So if you want that… I think that’s a reason to do it.”

“Good point.” I say out loud while mouthing “I love you” into my hand, so she cannot see it.

crab-style poseThe voice in my head has gone quiet, which can only mean one thing. I start searching for yoga classes in my area.

I thank Jessamyn, who laughs and offers: “If you ever need motivation to practise, let me know and I will give you motivation to practise!” I thank her again, even though it sounds more like a threat than a friendly offering.

And then I book a yoga appointment.

Follow Jessamyn on Instagram: @mynameisjessamyn; Twitter@JessNotJazz; and her hashtag #SizeDoesntMatter