To be a woman is to see a color that not everyone can see, my good friend brilliantly pointed out last night, as we sat by the river, soaking up the second-to-last longest day of the year. I had never heard, or considered, such a metaphor for a human experience (and a corresponding lack thereof), and now I reckon I will never forget it.
Explaining the experience of being a woman (of any kind) in the world can be like this: [you, me, all of us shouting] “It’s purple! It’s fucking purple! How can you not see that this thing is purple?”
How can you not see it? I ask men silently. I sometimes ask women of other generations, or women of another persuasion (e.g., those who might hold dear very beings that oppress them).
It’s fucking purple.
Purple is everywhere. I see purple when I walk alone down the street at night. Purple when I travel to certain places in the company of other women (other objects). Purple when I recognize my child is too old to run around naked in the front yard. Purple when my partner and I are out in the wilderness and suddenly realize that together we make one another even less safe.
When did childhood end and purple begin?
I don’t remember.
Wait. Yes I do. I remember when men’s gazes shifted from something innocuous to something curiously heavy. Even before that, I remember being the object of unwanted attention from male classmates who were themselves children. Children who took it upon themselves to tease me, to touch me, to impose upon me with their wants.
Purple crept into my vision like a sunset – indiscernible at first, then exploding into rich color.
As an adolescent, I grew acquainted with the color purple. I tried it on for comfort, for confidence, for style. I twisted it into a part of myself that I felt compelled to accept. My experiences seemed so commonplace. My best friends saw, and lived in purple. Why shouldn’t I?
It’s taken me a long time to un-twist all of this.
I cannot escape purple, but I can pull just far away enough to see it clearly. It is a distinct kind of fear.
I am bold and confident and feminist and bisexual and I am afraid of men. Not all of them, but many, if not most, of them – particularly strangers. Particularly strangers who gaze at me, who inhale my scent, who force themselves into my experience, into my story, into my space.
It has taken me years (upon years) to recognize that unwanted attention from men was, in itself, an act of violence. I had employed the coping mechanism of allowing myself to feel flattered, allowing my ego to expand. I didn’t acknowledge coercion, harassment, and unwanted touch as what they are – more violence. And, until I was in my first relationship with a gender queer woman, I didn’t understand, or perceive, the deepest color of purple – the specific fear that arises from feeling observed in a certain way by certain men that somehow communicates their intricate feelings of desire, disgust, hatred, and rejection.
Deep purple is my least favorite color.
It will probably take me another thirty-eight years to find better words to describe what I/you/we experience as women. The emotional experience of being viewed as, and treated like, an object by other humans, is complex to say the least.
For now, I’m content just to recognize things for what they are. I’m happy to find words where I can, courage (in moments) to unpack deep wounds that I have tucked away out of a sense of responsibility, and honest conversations with people with whom I feel most safe. For now, I’m grateful to sit on a dock with a dear friend and wax poetic with metaphors for the disgustingly misogynist world we live in. The world that I’m raising my daughter in.
There’s no way to keep her from seeing certain colors, or learning hard truths. Worse yet, there’s no way to fully keep her safe. But I’m damn well going to try. One conversation at a time.