I walked out of the metro an hour and a half early for my internship interview. It was in the 20th arrondissement, 40 minutes on a crowded morning train, so I had left with at least two hours to spare. Excessive, yes. I am always excessive. But when I trotted down the early morning sidewalk, I felt like rejoicing. I had time to explore the neighborhood, and it seemed to be singing to me, “This is perfect! This is perfect!”
A woman stepped out a grocery store and handed a bag of groceries to the homeless man sleeping on the sidewalk. Bon Appetit, she told him cheerfully. Then she paused to coo at a baby in a stroller and talk happily to its mother. A man stopped me to ask for directions and muse about what time the local night club might open. I apologized and told him that I didn’t know the area. Soon, I will.
The building where Ni Putes, Ni Soumises is based is well-lit and non-descript, marked by block words that read, Maison de la Mixité. The door has one poster taped on it. The director who was to interview me came out with a smile and invited me into her office. We talk about what they do at the organization and what I would be helping with…. I fell in love as she spoke and poured out in reply everything I am passionate about and how much I would love to help them. At the end, she said three of the sweetest words I have ever heard, “Vous me plaisez.” I like you. I’ve got the job.
To tell the truth, I have no idea what the expect. I know that I will be helping survivors of violence, interviewing them, accompanying them to see lawyers and doctors, creating dossiers of cases, doing referrals, and filling in wherever they have a need. Yet, I wonder what it will feel like to be working, finally, for this cause that I care so much about. How will it feel to walk into that building every day and really be a living part of a greater struggle?
The week before my interview with Ni Putes, Ni Soumises, I had what Kathryn dubbed my “ironic experience.”
Here’s me, empowered feminist, coming home late one night with a group of her girl friends. I’m in a short dress and high heels, having just celebrated Aura’s birthday in another part of Paris, and I am stepping up the first set of stairs in the metro at Charles Michel, up from the tracks towards the exit. Only, someone was behind me, and I felt a hand reach up my dress and grab me. I grabbed the hem of my dress to pull it down as I turned, confused. It saw the person who was putting his hand up my dress, and he was huge. At least three times my size. I did feel fear right away. I slapped at the hand and started to run up the concrete in my 3-inch killer heels. Only, the person came after me and grabbed me again, lifted my dress. I was terrified and pressed against the wall. I didn’t know what my next move would be. Thankfully, my friends, realizing what was happening, flocked to defend me. They pulled me forward by the arm to try to get me past him; we tried to run. There was so much screaming and pushing. But I couldn’t get away fast enough. This person grabbed me again and ripped my dress up again, more aggressively this time. Kathryn turned to fight, pushing the attacker off me. The person slammed her across the chest with his arm, hard. “Leave us alone!!!” I screamed in French as I began to run, Kathryn and Rose at my side. We thought Andrea was following, but the attacker had cornered her instead. A tough New Yorker, she threw her fists up in defense. The person hesitated. It gave her all the opportunity she needed to run too. We flew out of the metro, flew down the sidewalk– I could hear my breath roaring in my throat, through my nostrils. I pushed through a huge group of men outside a cafe, could hear them yelling after me in French how rude I was to push them like that. I just wanted to be away from there; I wanted to be home. I have never run so fast, nor remembered so little– a blur of shaking and screaming, arms and disrespected clothes. A blur of irony.
“How weird is it that that happened to you when this is, like, your thing?” Kathryn said after we got home, and we were sitting on her bed, still shaking. It’s true. I am passionate about women’s issues. I am passionate to the point that just hearing about violence against women makes me angry. Still, I take the metro home and think that I am the exception to the rule. I won’t be the one assaulted tonight.
This is, like, my thing. I know the statistics, the textbooks, and articles. I help with Speak Outs and pit sits, write editorials to the DTH, make documentaries and websites and worksheets, broach the issue in every conversation I can, and even here in Paris, I am going to be working for France’s leading women’s rights group. But no one is the exception to the rule. The experience reminded me that there is not one second where it is okay to be complacent with victimization. It’s not OK that anyone should have to fight for the right to their space, for the right to walk down the street and feel like a human being.
Is it unsettling to you that this happens? Is it something you’ve REALLY thought about?
If not, here are some things to help you get started:
- Google what it’s like to be a woman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Or read the list.
- Think you don’t know a survivor, think again. www.speakoutunc.blogspot.com
- Count the number of derogatory terms that are used to describe women and then count how many exist for men.
- Question the music you listen to, the singers you admire, the movies you watch. For an example of someone you can boycott, click here
- Realize that feminist is not a dirty word. It’s about equality.
- Become a part of the fight yourself. http://projectdinah.webs.com/geteducated.htm
Willpower and wishing do not spin the axis just enough so the world rights itself. You have to take a stand.