16 November 2017

There are so many things, too many things, that occupy my heart and mind with worry and sadness and yes, anger.

This morning in the waiting room of the ENT doctor (another attack of vertigo requires a medical certificate and once again I am reminded that I would not need to sit here, nauseous, the artwork on the walls and the fish tank in the corner reeling and turning, if I had the courage to apply for early retirement) I met a women from Sudan, a scientist attending the UN climate conference. All week she tried to ignore an ear infection. But after yesterday's lukewarm and non-committal speech by the German chancellor, she gave up. We don't matter, she hissed at me. You affluent countries will just look after yourselves and won't give an inch while we in the poor South are suffering the consequences of your careless lifestyle.  And then she apologized. And thanked me for my city's hospitality. Briefly, we whispered about alternatives and what about women rising but then she was called in and I quickly wished her well and a safe journey home.

We used to get a new edition of the local phone book every year. Before the internet and smart phones took over. There would be a card in the letter box which you handed in at the counter of your local post office to collect the new one. You'd quickly check whether your entry was spelled correctly and put it in that spot reserved for it somewhere by the phone.
We don't do this anymore. The books have become thinner and full of ads and are delivered once a year to the doorstep in the early hours. This morning, we got the 2018 edition. I leafed through it on my way to the paper bin.
The warning is still printed at the bottom on the first page where all the emergency numbers are listed. That it is advisable for women to not list their full first name but if they wish to do so, to not list their address. For safety reasons, it says. 
Later on, I read in a new essay by Rebecca Solnit
"What would women’s lives be like, what would our roles and accomplishments be, what would our world be, without this terrible punishment that looms over our daily lives? It would surely rearrange who holds power, and how we think of power, which is to say that everyone’s life might be different. We would be a different society."
In the afternoon, in a conversation with a friend. I mention the phone book warning and we laugh our sarcastic laughs and then she remembers her teenage years and the priest shaming her from the pulpit for dressing indecently and not braiding her long hair. And how her father slapped her on the way home. I tell her of the time when a potential future boss, then a celebrity in the Dublin alternative scene, forced me to sit on his lap and drink whiskey from the bottle he was pushing into my face (physically, chipping my front teeth) to prove I had what it takes and when I didn't seem to have it, asked me to crawl out the door (physically, on my knees) and when I didn't do this but burst into tears instead, throwing my bag out and down the stairs and how I ran before his foot could kick me.

And all during dinner, I argue with R and get more and more angry and he just looks at me trying to make sense. Where is all this anger coming from, he asks. I don't know what to tell him, where to start.

Caitlin Moran


  1. I'm sure that meeting you, a decent human being, probably balanced that Sudanese scientist's view of the politicians'lukewarm attitudes. I cringed with shame when I read about that boorish potential boss's treatment of you.
    That attitude was ubiquitous when I was a young woman. If a fellow took you on a date to the pictures he often seemed to think that because he paid your admission that entitled him not only to see the film, but to grope you and try to slobber all over you. It turned me off dating for a good while! But there is hope, as long as people like you continue to call them on their BS.

  2. What WOULD women's lives be like?
    I can't even imagine, dear Sabine. I hope that someday women WILL know. With all of my heart I hope that.

  3. Somehow it is wearing me down how ubiquitous the raping is, how we ALL have a story, one that perhaps we’ve buried so as to merely function, but why is it wearing me down when it is something I have always known? That quote you posted is shattering and yet hopeful too.

  4. R's question could be a koan. No logical easy answer, but it sets in motion a process. It moved me to get up from my laptop and take a walk in the woods as the sun was low in the dark grey sky. I thought at length about what you wrote today and about R's question. I'm struck by your interaction with the scientist from Sudan. She hissed at you (plural, in general) and then grew thoughtful in response to your (singular, individual) kind response.

  5. Wow. That is awesome. All of it, including your anger. Thank you for writing this.

  6. Sorry you’ve had another vertigo attack. Much truth to be said about affluent nations as current leadership trends to lead us in selfish inhumane directions, at least seems so with U.S.

    Yes, the stories we women have to tell is horrendous, often more than one story, but it's not limited to just our gender and a few of our number play unsavory games.

  7. I've often wondered what human societies and cultures would be like today if the male half of the population didn't/hadn't dismissed, or rather repressed, the intelligence and capabilities of women throughout history. where would we be if women had been permitted to be more than a baby machine and maid, but equal partners in every aspect of human life. I do agree though that men will never change as long as our culture allows them to get away with sexual aggression unscathed. since our justice system turns a blind eye it must be up to us to no longer be silent.

  8. "Where is all this anger coming from, he asks." From the deepest, darkest depths. A place of shame, anger, fear, and humiliation. I don't think most men can really understand where this anger comes from. Some want to, and I appreciate that; however, unless they have been casually and routinely abused and/or used (and some have!) they may never truly understand this anger.

  9. I love the quote you ended this post with, it sums up something I have been thinking about but not able to put into words. I like to think perhaps we are seeing an awakening about predation, power, and boundaries. I hope you are feeling better, Sabine.

  10. We WOULD be a different society, as Solnit says, without the "terrible punishment." I think most men simply have no idea what the continual pressure of harassment feels like to women. In fact a lot of them (misguidedly) think it's somehow flattering. I can't pretend I know what it feels like, but I hope I'm trying to understand it.

  11. Just because I do not respond to gravamen of your post does not mean I am unsympathetic to it. I hope you know that. Besides I have other fish to fry.

    Someone - it could be me - should write an ode on the death of the phone book. More likely a sonnet since sonnets obey rules and the phone book was all rules. How ingenious the self-distribution system you describe. Better still the way you were able to confirm your existence in what appeared to be an egalitarian society - one line for everybody. Years ago a savant expatiated on phone books; yes they seemed magnificently thick for something that came free, yet they were 99.999% useless. You would never - in several lifetimes - communicate with everyone listed. Another, more efficient, system was needed, said the savant. And lo! It came to pass. I wonder if the savant is happy. Probably not, savants are born to be sceptical.