I came across an old shirt the other day and smiled. My sweet friend Jane had it made for my 28th birthday and I remember opening it, blushing, and laughing my ass off. It's a black, stretchy shirt with an odd nickname my friends call me emblazoned across the breasts in glittery gold letters. (I can't tell you the nickname here, because a girl's got to have some secrets, even from her friendternets™.) It was funny because it was unlike anything I would ever buy for myself, or even wear. But it's so Jane and I loved her for it.
I've only worn it a couple of times, because there are not a lot of places that I go where a tight shirt with a weird nickname across my boobs is appropriate. And, on top of that, I need to be feeling really sassy and confident to make it work. The two times I wore it, Jane was my partner in crime; I'd shake my "nickname" at her and we'd both dissolve into giggles.
Coming across this shirt made me think of the first time I wore it. It was when I was dating Mr. E. (I was over him the moment we broke up, because I was so happy to be free from him. However, I've been punishing myself about that relationship for the past two-and-a-half years now – punishing myself for making such a horrible choice in a partner, for ignoring all the signs that this person was really wrong for me, for pushing myself down and becoming a different person to make him happy, and for staying in the relationship even though I was miserable. It’s only now that I'm finally getting to the point of forgiving myself so it won’t weigh me down any longer.)
Mr. E was having a house party and it was the first time I was to meet his friends. I was stressed, so I grabbed Jane for support and threw on my sassy shirt. We went into his house to the basement, and it was like stepping into another world. All the guys were on the couch, watching a hockey game on a big-screen television, and all the women (the guys' wives and girlfriends, I later found out, because all of these people were coupled up) were in the kitchen, talking amongst themselves. It was weird to me because at all the parties I go to, men and women mix and mingle. And most people I know have parties to talk to other people, not yell at a TV screen while their female counterparts hang out in the kitchen. The segregation and the hockey were unsettling, but I put on a smile and hoped things would get better.
Another unsettling feature was that everyone, male and female, was chain smoking. There was a thick haze to the room that gave everything a dull edge. I guess I must be sheltered, but I honestly thought no one smoked anymore. I mean, back in our bar days, most of my friends smoked when they drank, but in my current circle, only the odd person does. It was so strange to me that I had found this pocket of people for whom a non-smoker was an anomaly. These were so not my peeps. But, again, I smiled and tried to make a good impression, because I still really wanted them to like me.
Later on, once the hockey game was over, we all sat in the living room and played a party game. Guess what the teams were? Boys against girls. It was a fun game – one where you had to describe something without saying specific words and everyone on your team has to guess. I was having a good time at first, until the guys started winning. Every time they got a point, one of the guys would yell out, “Yeah! Respect the cock!” and point to the women.
“What the fuck? Is this for real?” I thought. My chest felt tight and my thoughts were racing. What shocked me the most was the fact that no one else in the room seemed to be bothered. The women were silent and showed no signs that they were uncomfortable in any way. The guys certainly didn’t mind it – they thought it was funny.
The guys kept winning. “Respect the cock!” echoed again and again throughout the hazy room, seeming to grow in volume along with the density of the smoke cloud. My muscles tensed. My rage grew. I felt violated. I felt like this man was ramming his fucking cock down my throat. I felt suffocated by it and wanted to scream. But at the same time, I still wanted them to like me. I wanted their acceptance. I wanted to be nice. I pushed down the anger and indignation and put on a terse smile. Jane later told me she could feel the energy radiating off me.
“Respect the cock!” I bit my tongue. I wanted to explode. And then, surprisingly, the women’s team finally got a point.
“RESPECT THE CLIT!” I yelled at cock guy, the words spilling from my mouth without premeditation, with a force and urgency that shocked me. Oh, god, it felt good to say. Because the clit should be respected, damnit!
Immediately, a hush fell over the room. Everyone turned and stared at me. Cock guy looked disgusted and said, “That’s such an offensive word.” But what really shocked me was the women’s reaction. In the split second that I was unleashing my revenge, I had imagined my sisters rallying around me and praising me for defending their collective honour. Not so. They were uncomfortable for the first time that night. They turned their eyes away from me in shame. They agreed with cock guy that “clit” was a Bad Word and decided that their catch phrase would be “Respect the breasts.”
After that brief shake up of their little society, everything went back to how it had been before my outburst. And I felt silenced. This was only the beginning of my silence.