W taki dzień możemy robić wszystko. Poprawiam się: prawie wszystko.

W trudnych warunkach instynkt życia czepia się dziwnych przedmiotów. Chciałabym mieć jakiegoś zwierzaka: powiedzmy ptaka czy kota. Coś swojskiego. Cokolwiek. Mógłby być nawet i szczur, ale to wykluczone. W tym domu jest za czysto.

Odcinam łyżeczką czubek jajka i wyjadam zawartość.

Przy drugim jajku słyszę syrenę, początkowo bardzo daleką, która się zbliża, klucząc pomiędzy wielkimi domami i przystrzyżonymi trawnikami – cieniutki dźwięk jak brzęczenie owada, a potem coraz bliższy, słyszę, jak się otwiera niby kwiat dźwięku, coraz szerzej, przechodząc w trąbę. Ta syrena to proklamacja. Odkładam łyżkę, serce mi wali, znów podchodzę do okna: czy będzie niebieska, nie po mnie? Ale widzę, jak skręca za róg, nadjeżdża ulicą, zatrzymuje się przed domem, ryczy w dalszym ciągu – jest czerwona. Wieści radość światu, jakże rzadką w tych czasach. Zostawiam drugie jajko nie dojedzone, spieszę do szafy po płaszcz i już słyszę na schodach kroki i głosy.

– Szybko – mówi Cora – nie będą cały dzień czekać. – Podaje mi płaszcz i naprawdę się uśmiecha.

Niemal biegnę korytarzem, sunąc po schodach jak na nartach, drzwi frontowe szeroko otwarte, dziś przechodzę swobodnie, strażnik mi salutuje. Zaczęło padać, mży, w powietrzu wisi brzemienny zapach ziemi i trawy.

Czerwony porodowóz stoi zaparkowany na podjeździe. Tylne drzwi są otwarte, wsiadam. Na podłodze czerwony dywan, w oknach czerwone zasłony. Zastaję w środku już trzy kobiety – siedzą na ławkach pod ścianami; po obu stronach wozu. Strażnik rygluje podwójne drzwi, a sam wskakuje do szoferki i zajmuje miejsce obok kierowcy. Przez okienko ze zbrojonego szkła widzimy tyły ich głów. Ruszamy z nagłym szarpnięciem, nad nami wyje syrena: z drogi, z drogi!

– Która to? – pytam sąsiadkę, nachylając się do jej ucha czy raczej do miejsca, w którym pod białym czepkiem powinno być ucho. Hałas jest taki, że muszę niemal krzyczeć.

– Warrena! – krzyczy w odpowiedzi. Pod wpływem impulsu łapie mnie za rękę, ściska ją, kiedy w nagłym przechyle skręcamy za róg; odwraca się do mnie i wtedy widzę jej twarz – mokrą od łez – łez czego? Zazdrości? Rozczarowania? Nie, ona się śmieje, zarzuca mi ręce na szyję, nigdy jej dotąd nie widziałam, ściska mnie, ma duże piersi pod czerwonym habitem, ociera twarz rękawem. W taki dzień możemy robić wszystko.

Poprawiam się: prawie wszystko.

Naprzeciwko nas jedna z kobiet się modli, oczy ma zamknięte, złożone ręce na wysokości ust. A może wcale się nie modli, może obgryza paznokcie. Po prostu usiłuje zachować spokój. Trzecia kobieta już jest spokojna. Siedzi z założonymi rękami i uśmiecha się lekko. Syrena wyje i wyje. Ten dźwięk zwykle oznacza śmierć – wydają go karetki pogotowia i wozy strażackie. Być może i dzisiaj będzie to dźwięk wieszczący śmierć. Wkrótce się przekonamy. Co urodzi Warrena? Dziecko, zgodnie z ogólnymi oczekiwaniami? A może co innego, niedziecko, z główką jak szpilka, z psim pyszczkiem, podwójnym ciałem albo dziurą w sercu, albo bez ramion czy z błonami pławnymi u rąk i nóg? Kto wie. Kiedyś, owszem, potrafili to stwierdzić, za pomocą specjalnych urządzeń, ale teraz zabroniono takich praktyk. Zresztą co z tego, nawet gdyby się wiedziało. I tak nie można przerwać ciąży, obojętne jaka jest, trzeba ją donosić do końca.

A szansa jest jak jeden do czterech, tyle wiemy z Centrum. Do powietrza, niegdyś, przedostało się za dużo zanieczyszczeń, różnych oparów, wszystko promieniuje, woda stała się aż gęsta od toksycznych cząsteczek, oczyszczenie środowiska to całe lata, a tymczasem wszystko to wpełza do twojego ciała, osiada w komórkach tłuszczowych. Sama nie wiesz, kiedy twoje własne ciało staje się skażone, brudne jak zalana ropą plaża – pewna śmierć dla ptactwa wodnego i nie narodzonych dzieci. Sęp mógłby się otruć twoim mięsem. A może świecisz w ciemności jak starodawny zegarek. Jak kołatek. Taki żuk, co grzebie ścierwo.

Czasem nie mogę myśleć o sobie, o swoim ciele, żeby nie widzieć szkieletu: zastanawiam się, jaka muszę się wydawać elektronowi. Kolebka życia, zbudowana z kości, a w środku same niebezpieczeństwa, zniekształcone proteiny, złe kryształy jak powyszczerbiane szkło. Kobiety brały lekarstwa, pigułki, mężczyźni opryskiwali drzewa, krowy jadły trawę, a całe to świństwo spływało do rzek. Nie mówiąc już o wybuchach elektrowni atomowych jak wzdłuż Uskoku św. Andrzeja podczas trzęsień ziemi czy o mutacjach syfilisu, których nie ima się żaden antybiotyk. Niektóre robiły sobie to same, dawały się podwiązywać katgutem czy okaleczać chemikaliami. Jak mogły, mówiła Ciotka Lidia, ach, jak one mogły robić coś podobnego? Jezebele! Tak gardzić darami bożymi! – I załamywała przy tym ręce.

Podejmujecie ryzyko, mówiła Ciotka Lidia, ale jesteście oddziałami szturmowymi, które pierwsze wkroczą na niebezpieczny teren. Im większe ryzyko, tym większa chwała. Klaskała przy tym w ręce, promieniejąc cała z poczucia wmówionej nam odwagi. Spuszczałyśmy oczy na ławki. Przejść przez to wszystko i dać życie jakiemuś potworkowi to niezbyt miła perspektywa. Właściwie nie wiedziałyśmy, co się dzieje z dziećmi, które nie zostaną zakwalifikowane. Z niedziećmi. Wiedziałyśmy tylko, że bardzo szybko się ich pozbywają.

Przyczyna jest niejedna, mówi Ciotka Lidia. Stoi przed nami w swojej sukni koloru khaki, ze wskazówką w ręce. Na tablicy, tam gdzie dawniej wisiałaby mapa, znajduje się wykres przedstawiający wskaźnik urodzeń na tysiąc mieszkańców, obejmujący wiele lat: stromy spadek w dół aż poza linię zerową i dalej stale w dół.

Oczywiście, niektóre kobiety uważały, że nie ma przyszłości, że świat eksploduje. To pretekst, jakim się zasłaniały, mówiła Ciotka Lidia. Twierdziły, że rozmnażanie się nie ma sensu. Nozdrza Ciotki Lidii się zwężają: co za podłość. Te kobiety to lenie. Flądry.

Margaret Atwood, Opowieść podręcznej, tłum. Zofia Uhrynowska-Hanasz, Warszawa 1985.

I am angry. And I do pose a threat.

If anything, that pose—I am harmless, I am toothless, you can fuck me—is why I find myself rejecting the feminist label: All these bad feminists, all these Talmudic “can you be a feminist and still have a bikini wax?” discussions. All these reassurances to their (male) audiences that they don’t want too much, won’t go too far—“We don’t know what Andrea Dworkin was on about either! Trust us.” All these feminists giving blowjobs like it’s missionary work.

Somewhere along the way toward female liberation, it was decided that the most effective method was for feminism to become universal. But instead of shaping a world and a philosophy that would become attractive to the masses, a world based on fairness and community and exchange, it was feminism itself that would have to be rebranded and remarketed for contemporary men and women.

They forgot that for something to be universally accepted, it must become as banal, as non-threatening and ineffective as possible. Hence the pose. People don’t like change, and so feminism must be as close to the status quo—with minor modifications—in order to recruit large numbers.

In other words, it has to become entirely pointless.

Radical change is scary. It’s terrifying, actually. And the feminism I support is a full-on revolution. Where women are not simply allowed to participate in the world as it already exists—an inherently corrupt world, designed by a patriarchy to subjugate and control and destroy all challengers—but are actively able to re-shape it. Where women do not simply knock on the doors of churches, of governments, of capitalist marketplaces and politely ask for admittance, but create their own religious systems, governments, and economies. My feminism is not one of incremental change, revealed in the end to be The Same As Ever, But More So. It is a cleansing fire.

Asking for a system that was built for the express purpose of oppression to, “um, please stop oppressing me?” is nonsense work. The only task worth doing is fully dismantling and replacing that system.

This is why I cannot associate myself with a feminism that focuses dementedly on “self-empowerment,” whose goals include not the full destruction of corporate culture but merely a higher percentage of female CEOs and military officers, a feminism that requires no thought, no discomfort, and no real change.

If feminism is universal, if it is something that all women and men can “get on board” with, then it is not for me.

If feminism is nothing more than personal gain disguised as political progress, then it is not for me.

If by declaring myself a feminist I must reassure you that I am not angry, that I pose no threat, then feminism is definitely not for me.

I am angry. And I do pose a threat.

Jessa Crispin, Why I Am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto, 2017.

The cycle of violence

IT TOOK ME A LONG TIME TO REALIZE I WAS NOT THE ONLY GIRL whose high school teacher asked her on a date. Not the only one who sat on the train across from a man who had “forgotten” to zip his fly on the day he “forgot” to wear underwear so that his penis, still tucked in his jeans, was fully visible. I remember joking about it with my father—the weirdo with his dick showing! He had to explain to me that it wasn’t an accident.

I am not the only one who had a boyfriend who called me stupid. Not the only one who grew up being told to be careful around groups of boys, even if they were my friends. When I was twelve—the same year I saw my first penis on a New York City subway platform, two years before I would lose my virginity to a guy from Park Slope who filled in his sideburn gaps with his mom’s eyeliner, and six years before I would fail out of college, tired of frat boys taping used condoms to my dorm room door—I started to have trouble sleeping. I felt sick all the time.

I KNOW IT’S CALLED THE CYCLE OF VIOLENCE, BUT IN MY FAMILY, female suffering is linear: rape and abuse are passed down like the world’s worst birthright, largely skipping the men and marking the women with scars, night terrors, and fantastic senses of humor.

My mother told me about getting molested by a family friend as part of our “bad touch” talk. She called him her uncle. We were sitting on my twin bed in a room covered with glow-in-the-dark star stickers. She was eight when he came to the house with ice cream, and while her mother cooked dinner in the kitchen he told her to come sit on his lap if she wanted some. She doesn’t remember what he touched or how, just that it happened, and that she said nothing afterward. Some time later the neighborhood barber told my grandmother that if my mom would fold some towels for him, her haircut would be free. So my grandmother left while she worked, and he took my mother into the back room, where he rubbed his penis on her eight-year-old body.

When my grandmother was ten, her father died of alcoholism and she went to live with an aunt and uncle. When she was eleven, her uncle raped her. She told her aunt, and was sent to St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Brooklyn the next day.

It’s losing steam with each generation, so that’s something. My grandmother’s rape is my mother’s molestation is me getting off relatively easy with abusive boyfriends and strangers fondling me on subways—one time without my realizing until I went to put my hands in my jeans’ back pockets and there was semen all over them.

My aunts and mom joked about how often it happened to them when they were younger—the one man who flashed a jacket open and had a big red bow on his cock, the neighborhood pervert who masturbated visibly in his window as they walked to school as girls. (The cops told them the man could do whatever he wanted in his own house.) “Just point and laugh,” my aunt said. “That usually sends them running.”

Usually.

But worse than the violations themselves was the creeping understanding of what it meant to be female—that it’s not a matter of if something bad happens, but when and how bad.

Of course what feels like a matrilineal curse is not really ours. We don’t own it; the shame and disgust belong to the perpetrators. At least, that’s what the books say. But the frequency with which women in my family have been hurt or sexually assaulted starts to feel like a flashing message encoded in our DNA: Hurt. Me.

My daughter is five and I want to inoculate her against whatever it is that keeps happening to the women in my family. I want Layla to have her father’s lucky genes—genes that walk into a room and feel entitled to be there. Genes that feel safe. Not my out-of-place chromosomes that are fight-or-flight ready.

This is the one way in which I wish she was not mine.

When I was pregnant, I often joked about wanting a boy. A baby girl would turn into a teenage girl, and I remember the young asshole I was to my mother. But this is closer to the truth: having a girl means passing this thing on to her, this violence and violations without end.

Because while my daughter lives in a world that knows what happens to women is wrong, it has also accepted this wrongness as inevitable. When a rich man in Delaware was given probation for raping his three-year-old daughter, there was outrage. But it was the lack of punishment that seemed to offend, not the seemingly immovable fact that some men rape three-year-olds. Prison time we can measure and control; that some men do horrible things to little girls, however, is presented as a given.

Living in a place that has given up on the expectation of your safety means walking around in a permanently dissociative state. You watch these things happen to you, you walk through them on the subway and on the street, you see them on the television, you hear them in music, and it’s just the air you breathe, so you narrate the horror to yourself because to engage with it would be self-destruction.

I spoke on a panel once with a famous new age author/guru in leather pants and she said that the problem with women is that we don’t “speak from our power,” but from a place of victimization. As if the traumas forced upon us could be shaken off with a steady voice—as if we had actual power to speak from.

Victimhood doesn’t need to be an identity, but it is a product of facts. Some women heal by rejecting victimhood, but in a world that regularly tells women they’re asking for it, I don’t know that laying claim to “victim” is such a terrible idea. Recognizing suffering is not giving up and it’s not weak.

“Something bad happened to me.” More accurately: “Someone did something bad to me.” This happened. This happens.

When this reality started to become more and more clear to me, as I grew breasts and took subways, watched movies and fucked boys, I didn’t make a conscious decision not to lie down and die. But do I know that my survival instinct took over and I became the loudest girl, the quickest with a sex joke, the one who laughed at old men coming on to her.

If I was going to be a sex object, I was going to be the best sex object I could be. Over twenty years later, I still feel sick. I still can’t sleep. But at least now I understand why.

Jessica Valenti, Sex Object: A Memoir, 2016.

#GIRLBOSS

1984: I’m born in San Diego on Good Friday, which was also 4/20. Before you think this is some kind of omen, let me assure you that the only thing I smoke is my competition.
1989: I smear poop on the wall in kindergarten; perhaps my first true artistic expression. 1993: My fourth-grade teacher thinks something could be wrong with me. The list includes ADD and Tourette’s syndrome.
1994: My dad takes me to Wal-Mart, where I ask a sales associate if they have “the Ren and Stimpy dolls that flatulate.” This is evidence that I possess both a large vocabulary and a slightly twisted sense of humor.
1997: I fall in love with my first article of vintage clothing: a persimmon-red pair of disco pants. I secretly change into them in the bathroom of the roller rink.
1999: I land my first job, at a Subway. I get OCD on the BLT.
2000: I hate high school, and am sent to a psychiatrist who diagnoses me with depression and ADD. I try the white pills. I try the blue pills. I decide that if this is what it’s going to take to like high school, forget it. I throw the pills away and decide to homeschool.
2001: My parents get divorced. I’m okay with it and take the opportunity to move out and be on my own. I choose an apartment in downtown Sacramento with a bunch of dude musicians. My room is a closet under the stairs, and my rent is $60 a month.
2002: I hitchhike up and down the West Coast, finally landing in the Pacific Northwest. I pursue a life of dumpster diving (do not knock a free bagel until you’ve tried one) and petty thievery. 2002: I sell my first thing online. It’s a stolen book.
2003: I am detained for shoplifting. I quit cold turkey.
2005: I leave my boyfriend in Portland and move to San Francisco, where I am fired from a high-end shoe store.
2006: I get a hernia, which means I need to get a job to get health insurance. I find one checking IDs in the lobby of an art school. I have a lot of time to kill, so I dick around on the Internet and open up an eBay shop called Nasty Gal Vintage.
2014: I am the CEO of a $100-million-plus business with a fifty-thousand-square-foot office in Los Angeles, a distribution and fulfillment center in Kentucky, and three hundred and fifty employees.

(Insert the sound of a record screeching to a halt here.)

Sophia Amoruso, #Girlboss, Portfolio (6 May 2014)