I’m done behaving. It got us nowhere.

by renegademama

On my book tour, on a flight between Washington DC and Austin, Texas, I sat in the window seat with an empty seat beside me. A man in his sixties sat in the aisle seat, and about halfway through the flight, I got up to pee. He moved to let me out.

When I came back, I stood next to him and said, “Sorry,” kind of shrugging, annoyed that I had to annoy him. I stepped back to allow him to get out of the seat to let me in.

Oddly, he stepped back toward me, positioning himself in the aisle directly in front of me instead of stepping forward so I could go in behind him. His position would require me to squeeze past him in the tiny aisle, my body pressing against his.

Surprising myself, I refused to do it. I just stood there. Fuck you, man. Get the fuck out of my way. I don’t want to touch you, and I won’t, and whether you’re doing this to be creepy or out of sheer lack of social skills, I don’t care. Get the fuck out of my way.

I stood there and stared at his back until enough time passed that it got weird. He looked back at me and I motioned for him to step forward so I could get by. He didn’t move. I said, “Move forward so I can get in behind you.” I didn’t even say please.

He looked at me irritated, like I was insane, like not wanting my groin pressed against a stranger’s ass was an irrational request, and I realized I have fucking had it with the tiny courtesies I extend to men who demand space in this world at the cost of women.

I am done with it.

My new approach, when it comes to these mediocre, posturing white men – because let’s be real they’re pretty much the only ones I notice doing this – is get the fuck out of my way.

A man did his manspreading thing against my legs on an airport bench. I moved my legs to press against his, until he adjusted. He was in my space. I was in my own. He can move the fuck over.

A man did his mansplaining thing, explaining how publishing works, even though he had never published a book and I, um, have. I looked at him and said, “Why are you explaining my own career to me?”

When acquaintances tell me to “settle down,” or “calm down,” etc., because I have the audacity to speak openly and passionately about a topic, I tell them to calm down. I get to speak, and loudly.

I haven’t always been this way, and the truth is I have always accepted a certain level of bullshit from the men around me – ones I know and don’t – even when it made me very uncomfortable, or angry, or put me in positions of holding my tongue to “keep the peace.”

I’m not talking about a refusal on my part to extend common courtesy, or about sharing space with other humans, men and women. I’m talking about no longer catering to men who CHARGE THE WORLD with their voices, bodies, and assumed power to trample women around them.

I usually deferred to these men, hating myself for doing it, wondering what people would think if they saw me doing that. I’m supposed to be a feminist. I’m supposed to be strong. I’m so tough on the page.

But I have been programmed in a misogynistic world just like the rest of us. I have been sexually abused and nearly raped. I’ve been taught to be ashamed of my body, told my voice was like “nails on a chalkboard.” I have had sex when I didn’t particularly want it. To appease. Because I thought I owed them, led them on.

When I was younger, and thin, and thus interesting for the male gaze, I looked away when cat-called, walked faster. Shirked, while my blood boiled in humiliation. I never said a word.

I have listened silently while men ranted on and on about their mediocre knowledge, even if I knew more. Not always, but often, because something in me said, “You be quiet and let the man speak.”

I ain’t a fucking shrinking violet, but more often than not, I moved my body to accommodate theirs. I don’t even know exactly how I learned this behavior, but literally and figuratively, I shrunk to allow them space.

 

But lately I’ve been wondering: What did all this fucking good behavior get me?  

It got me a nation who elected a pussy-grabbing president. It got me millions of people voting for a party that wants to remove my daughter’s dominion over her own body. It got me no paid federal maternity leave, fat shaming, and a rising maternal death rate. It got me Harvey Weinstein (at every turn) and less money on the dollar. It got me “cover up in public when you nurse.” It got me the vast majority of the domestic labor.

And I’m white. ALL of this is worse for women of color. All of it.

As a whole, it got us damn near fucking nothing.

There’s something viscerally infuriating about looking at my country and realizing it voted against my body. Against my child’s body. Against my freedom. And for my assault.

And so I’m done. I’m done catering to overbearing, sexist men. I’m done stepping aside simply because they’ve righteously demanded it. I’m done keeping my mouth shut and I’m done pretending I’m smaller than I am to feed that delicate male ego, or because I am afraid of something I cannot quite define.

Am I angry? Of course I fucking am. I gave the world a chance, and played by the rules, and all it got us was “I moved on her like a bitch.”

From the President of the United States of America.

So get the fuck out of my way, and then, maybe, if I feel like it, and you shut the hell up long enough to hear my voice, we can talk.

Clearly, there’s no space for anything else.

 

Note: I wrote this piece a few days ago, and in between then and now, I read this, and, though a bit off topic (and it needs a whole blog post to itself), I want to draw attention to the intersectionality of all this. That we, as white women, while demanding our space in a man’s world, need to be acutely aware of how we take up space in a white world. Love you all. 

*****

Though it is about recovery from alcoholism, one of the overarching themes of my memoir is the sanctity of motherhood and how it is, in short, utter bullshit.

Practically the whole book is calling out the vapid narratives surrounding motherhood, telling my own story of battling with erasure, inadequacy (both real and imagined), and finding some peace in there, somewhere.

Check it out.

Also my upcoming tour dates

45 Comments | Posted in feminist AF | July 18, 2018
  • Lacey

    I adore you as always.

  • Carmen

    FUCK YES. Janelle motherfucking Hanchett telling it like it is. 👏👏👏

  • Tamara Burleigh

    ❤❤❤❤❤

  • Nicole Towarnicki

    Preach!! <3

  • K

    YES! Way to go! Your actions and words are good medicine for all of us. Thank you for your bravery; you are not alone. Let’s keep on taking up space!

  • Nicole

    Halle-fucking-lujah!

  • Laura

    PREACH!

  • Suzanne MacNeil

    These. Words. Are. Perfect! Thank you for making the rat bastard on the plane uncomfortable.

  • Rae

    Please, please keep being angry. The more of us that are angry, the more likely we are to resist the wave of facism and misogyny rising in the world. You rock.

  • Kerry

    Yes! Just yes. And I finally have a thick enough skin to not back down when the men say “there, see how irrational women are?!” They are terrified of losing their power but we can’t stop.

  • Leilani

    THANK YOU for writing this. I just went through this bullshit today. A man blocking the bike path with his huge van. Me trying to ride by with my daughter in her back seat. Him yelling at me when I told him he had to move so that we didn’t have to maneuver out into the street in an unsafe way. Him gendering the whole thing and yelling at me for being a woman who told him he had to move. Abusing me with his vitriol about how women were always complaining about this or that–always making trouble. What the fuck? And then he had the gall to tell me I was a bad role model for my daughter for standing up for myself and our right to ride the path safely. I can’t believe we have to deal with this shit. I’m done too. I tried to make peaceful after initially yelling at him. I started to feel like I was in the wrong. Like I was too angry, always trying to make trouble. I’m tired of it. Just like you. Because, yeah, where did this get us? Right to a pussy-grabbing president. Please keep using your voice to call men out on this bullshit. We have a right to take up space in this world without being shamed for it.

  • Larissa Kosits

    YES. THIS. Thank you. I feel the same. I turn 48 in 2 months. Have 7 and 4 year old daughters. I AM DONE. I needed these words. AMEN

  • Sarah

    I have been feeling all of this very strongly lately! I am so over tip-toeing around male egos! I want to be brave and speak out for myself and especially for my two daughters.
    Your example will help me find my voice and I hope that my daughters can follow my lead.
    Thank you!

  • Laurie

    This. ALL of this. As Nicole T. said above, “Preach!” P.S. You are strong and honest and brave.

  • Peggy McCloskey

    Janelle,
    I shared on Facebook. Now I need to follow you on FB, not just subscribe to your email listing, as certainly it’s one or two less clicks to share directly from FB! (and you know, I’m lazy like that.)

  • Elizabeth B

    I adore this. Oh my god. New way, yo. Thank you for this. So much.

  • MaryEl

    Flights and airports are creep magnets. Sexual assault on flights happens a lot and many flight crews/airlines seem unaware and unable to advocate for victims. So, good on you! for bringing this up, remind ourselves, our friends and our children to look out and speak up for ourselves and for others.

    And, THANK YOU for pointing out that this is all worse for women of color!

  • Jenny

    Yes!! The other day I was walking on my own on the footpath at work and two men came the opposite way, side by side. I had to step off onto the grass because they weren’t moving over. I was so annoyed with myself (and them). I should have stood my ground. I could see them dismissing me and it made me cringe, followed quickly by anger and shame. People might think it’s stupid to be worrying and talking about a minor incident like this but it’s that basic lack of respect that breeds far worse behavior and the more of us that can stand up and say ‘no more’, the better. Thank you Janelle xox

  • Charlotte

    I ride trains, so this happens to me nearly every day. It’s certainly not intentional, but I also notice that I never do it, because I have been trained to move out of the way.

    So at some point last year, I stopped trying to jump over the armrests in the most awkward maneuver while also juggling a laptop and the rest of my 20 lb commuter bag. I stop and stare. And then I say, “Excuse me, please” over and over and louder and louder until it becomes obvious to all around me that I’m dealing with an idiot who doesn’t understand basic physical mechanics. And then sometimes I have to explain it.

    I can’t imagine being raised in a world in which I was never clued in that I have to move my body to give other people space.

    So I am all for educating anyone who missed the memo. You already know who they are. No surprises there.

  • Barb

    Amen sister!

  • Maria Petaros

    Hell Yes!
    Did I miss a book event in D.C ?!?

  • Shelby

    👏🏼 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼

  • olga

    The absolute, gutting, fucking truth! AMEN. Thank YOU Janelle.

  • Melissa

    YESSSSS!! I FUCKING LOVE YOU.

  • Luc

    PREACH! (Imahugefanloveyourwork)

  • Jennifer

    Welcome to the other side. The current social climate may have moved you here earlier than expected. Age brought me here. I used to try and look the other way when my grandmother and then my mother lost their filter and began saying whatever they damn well pleased. It’s not that they lost anything; they gained wisdom.

  • Christine

    Hi Janelle! It was awesome meeting you in DC. I have taken to walking into people, mostly men who expect you to step to the side while they keep walking at you. The obvious thing is for both people to shift a little bit, but if it doesn’t appear you’re going to do that I keep walking forward. No run ins yet. Usually it’s just a man who get super flustered inches away from me when he realizes lm not going to move and then proceeds to bump into something or someone else getting out of my way.

  • Katie

    I had a variation of this conversation with my sister last night, about how to own our space both with our bodies and our words. It’s something we both want to work on because the instinct to defer or apologize is so ingrained but so unnecessary!

  • Sev

    I would just ask you to remember that you are eloquent. Please dont forget that as you move forward. You have a platform, what will you choose to do with it? I guess that as a man, ‘get the fuck out of my way’ doesn’t convey the totality of the message you want to send, just the angry part. As a semi-reformed angry person i understand the utility of anger as a tool, but you should make sure that someone is in control of it and that someone should be you. I have sons, so im sorry if this is what i call dad-splaining in an attempt to at least convey a difference in intent from mansplaining which seems to be a gender specific term for consescension which theres already a perfectly good word for but whatever smiley face. Anyhoo, love and appreciate the column, keep up the good fight!

    • renegademama

      The angry part is what I want to convey, helpful mansplainer guy. You have assumed I give a fuck what men think about this, about the message being accessible to them – which is entirely your naivety, fragility, and need to center yourself. Since we’re apparently offering unsolicited advice, you should ask yourself why you’re made so uncomfortable by the anger of a woman, as opposed to understanding it completely as a critical first step in changing the way she navigates a world intent on her abuse, silencing, and submission.

      In other words, get the fuck out of my way. Yay good fight!

      • Karen Patten

        This.

      • Sev

        If all you have left to say is anger, then i usually dont care to listen. Thats my choice. I hope you find both peace and happiness. I will say that your writing has inspired me and made me laugh. I shared many of them so thanks for that.

        Also, im not a random mansplaining non authority, im somebody,and i cant help what color or sex or whatever i am any more than you can, and being hurtful when you dont have to be isnt cool, even if someone jeers or cheers along with you. You havent walked in my shoes, and now you dont even care to see them.

        Things i am: white, male, cis, veteran, and a mental health and ptsd sufferer. These are the least of the things i am, so no, oddly entitled white abuse survivor who used to be eloquent and funny, i wont get the fuck out of your way. How about you try and get the fuck out of your own way.

        • Still Sev

          Mike drop and out.

        • Julie

          You just made Janelle’s point perfectly.

        • Ilse

          Somehow I’m with you on this one. I love Renegademom and I get what she’s saying, but anger (rudeness)too will get us nowhere…

          • renegademama

            @Ilse, disagree. Anger is a fabulous fuel for action, and as such, I embrace it. It is quite often the first, and thus CRITICAL piece in determining what is seriously wrong with the world. And while clearly this piece has an angry tone, I’m not walking through the world being a raging asshole to people. I am walking through this world owning and demanding the space that’s mine – that belongs to ALL WOMEN – and the fact that this action is received as irrational, unhelpful, or unreasonable is precisely the reason it’s necessary and I will never stop.

            • Sev

              And i think youre still just a nobody addict, only now its dopamine hits delivered by the sycophants in your echo chamber. And heres where i really appreciate my male priveledge and just pretend like you dont exist in my world. Magpies chatter more interestingly. And maybe change your comment policy from ‘don’t be a dick’ to ‘dont have a dick’ since you dont mean the first anymore. Enjoy your 15, junkie.

              • Barbie

                Wow, way to go proving Janelle’s point completely. So rough to be called out by a woman that you need to resort to name calling? Classy.

        • renegademama

          Dude, I didn’t say all I had to convey was anger. What I said was I wasn’t shirking from it. The fact that all you hear is anger says more about your fragility, discomfort, and faux feminism than it does about my writing.

  • Karen M Patten

    I love this – and I think that this attitude comes with age. We are smarter now, have seen the culture for what it is, and have personally taken one too many piles of bullshit. That’s why we’re where you are, you know. The old white guys figured out that this was coming – women, people of color, a new world order that didn’t place them at the fucking top. They recognized this two decades ago and thus was born the politics of today. Like you, I am done. Get the fuck away from my body and recognize that it’s neither yours to gaze upon, touch, nor judge. Get out of my space. I work hard to give people space who’ve lived a life of having space denied. But I’m less eager to save space or make space for those who are constantly all up in everyone else’s space – literally and figuratively. On a side note – LOVED meeting you at Mom 2.0 and, as always, love your writing!

  • Brandi Hofer

    Thank you!! As a young woman just hitting the age of growing a fucking backbone, after labouring over two babies, losing my mother, and father-in-law, in all the course of 4 years! I can finally enjoy this time of women “I don’t want to touch you, and I won’t, and whether you’re doing this to be creepy or out of sheer lack of social skills, I don’t care. Get the fuck out of my way.” NOW I have this strength and integrity that I never knew existed! I don’t have the time or energy and I am completely fed up with discusting ass holes (and I have met my fair share working as a shooter girl and server to put my self through university). Hopefully my two young men can grow up in an age where everyone has an equal voice and everyone warrants the same level repeat! Thank you for speaking up to give everyone else power to their own voices!

  • Brandi Hofer

    p.s. I wish you were coming somewhere closer in Canada!! I am definitely quoting some of your work in my artist statement for my new series I am creating (I am a painter)! So inspired!

  • Melody Underwood

    Manspreading is easily remedied whether you are wearing pants or a skirt by crossing your legs so that the bottom of your foot touches him. It’s most effective if you’re in pants and can rest your foot *on your knee* so that you’re wiping dirt from your shoe on his knee, but also works if you’re in a skirt to cross your legs toward him and basically wipe road dust on his shin. Don’t bump him with the side of your foot, you want to give him a nice footprint from the sole to remember to stay in his own seat.

  • Jessica Butler

    Please, someone start a #holdyourspace campaign. And I fucking hate hastag campaigns. But this piece is just everything.

  • Dawn

    Awesome piece as usual !!!