Rape Culture and Womanhood – Not a Trick or Treat

Today I waited for my best friend’s husband to pick me up from the Megabus bus stop. Today I stood on a curb while strangers passed me by on the way to the bus, informing their friends, someone on the phone, or merely speaking out loud to no one particular on my beauty, praising me for being such an inspiration and how special I was. Today I observed a woman around my age ignored by the strangers lining up for the bus.

Today my best friends husband was thirty minutes late picking me up from the Megabus bus stop. Today I felt alone. Today I realized that the pepper spray case holder tied to the frayed string of my cane was empty; I did not replace my pepper spray. Today I told myself it would be my fault for not being prepared in case of an attack. Today a woman asked me when my ride was coming. Today I was alone. Today a woman told me that this wasn’t a safe place to be alone. Today I remembered that disabled people are twice more likely to be sexually assaulted than those without disabilities. Today a woman offered to pay for an Uber ride because she didn’t feel comfortable with leaving me here alone. Today I told myself it would be my fault for not being prepared in case of an attack. Today a woman told me that this was not a safe place to be alone. Today I did not have my pepper spray. Today two women told me that I should not be alone, so they would wait with me. Today I did not have my pepper spray. Today I told myself that it would be my fault for not being prepared in case of an attack. Today over ten women told me that this was not a safe place to be alone. Today I wondered if there was a place safe enough to be alone.

Seven hours later, in my best friend’s bathroom, I would realize that I was quick to put the blame on myself rather than on the supposed attacker; merely because I didn’t have pepper spray. I would quickly assure any sexual assault victim of their innocence and never allow anyone to blame the victim for being attacked – but that is the danger of rape culture: there is more support for the perpetrator than for the victim and that we are responsible for preventing our own rapes. How easy it was for me to realize my lack of protection and blame myself for an attack that could have happened.

An hour later, my best friend and I sit at the kitchen table, talking to one another as if we hadn’t spoken in years rather than hours. Her voice is steady with a lilt of laughter and despite being fluent in English, her accent proudly reminds everyone that she is not from here. She never grabs me; her touch is always confident and quick. She has the soul and spirit of my mother; she is compassionate, an advocate, activist, brave and does not realize her worth.

While eating pita bread topped with a mixture of jibneh and peppers, we talk about sex and what a healthy sex life means. We talk of asexuality, masturbation, dildos, my preferred choice of clit stimulator’s and her love of hugs.

While gathering the ingredience and kitchen utensils, we talked of marriage and the reasons people marry. While cutting the chicken, chopping vegetables, choosing spices and making the sauce, we talked about mothers; the similar way our mothers were raised – despite one being from Switzerland and barely Christian and the other from Egypt and a devout Muslim – and the ways our mothers tried to instill certain ideals of womanhood to their unwilling daughters.

While setting the table, we talked of cultural differences and how in the end, regardless of country, women are still brought up to believe that they are lesser, not as worthy or smart. We talked about brothers and fathers; the innocent and oblivious ways they enforce and promote patriarchy and her determination to teach her son differently.

My friend and I refusing to submit to societies strict rules on a woman’s purpose in life (to serve, support and obey) has made us appreciate our own space and privacy even more. I think too, having brothers and noticing the difference in the ways our mothers treat them compared to us has made a huge impact on our lives: I do not praise my brothers for doing something outside of their gender roles, nor do I expect anything less; she teaches her son the importance of being responsible and reliable for yourself and your mess and how to take care of both.

Despite my rejection, I still find myself playing the part. I do not want children, yet at times I feel as if I will not be considered successful until I have a family. This is foolish, I know – having kids can be fulfilling to many, but it does not make you successful if you have one nor does it make you unsuccessful if you do not have one. I find myself feeling guilty for not cooking anything. This too is foolish – my brothers are perfectly capable of making themselves something to eat; I do not need to cook for grown men.

This society excuses sexual violence and blames the victim. It is a constant fight against language, music, art, movies and literature that perpetuates rape culture. It is also, as I learned today, a constant fight with yourself.

It is also a constant fight against societies image of a perfect woman: sexual and pure, innocent and experienced, smart but not too smart, thin but voluptuous, a mother but always ready for fun, having a career and keeping up with the house and children. In the end, we will burnout; it is impossible to be everything and nothing, to always be the woman behind the man – never taking the lead role, just the supportive one.

Rape culture is just as dangerous and manipulative as womanhood – in the end you will be harmed, and you will have convinced yourself that it was your fault.

Every day I examine my thoughts of being unworthy and feelings of guilt and trace them back to patriarchal ideology and then ignore them. It takes time and true reflection. I shouldn’t blame myself instead of an attacker; I shouldn’t feel less worthy for not having children and guilty for not taking care of grown men.

Anxiety and the Calming of Spices

When anxiety keeps me from sleeping, the only thing I can think of to distract myself from having a breakdown is reorganizing my herbs and spices. This distraction has never failed to calm me down. Head bowed, body curving over the cutting board, left hand gripping the edge of the counter, my right hand holding a jar of something that never fails to remind me of home.

Orlando, my mother’s kitchen, both of us trying (and failing) to make cookies out of the book of recipes she brought to the US from her home more than twenty years ago; we argued and laughed the entire time – and although the batch didn’t turn out well, the batter was so, so good. In Oviedo, my dad’s kitchen, making a mixture of herbs and zests for the first time. Buchs Switzerland, my grandmother’s garden, where everything has its place; her soft, sing-song voice instructing me on the types of vegetables she has and how to take care of them. Jacksonville, with my aunt, picking out fresh herbs and vegetables, discussing our meal plans, barely containing our eagerness to eat.

This month has not been kind to me; this morning was the fifth time I could be found re-organizing my herbs and spices. Today I chose to organize them by my cooking style – since I primarily make pastas and rice dishes, those spices – whole, ground and blended – are displayed beautifully on the far right corner of the counter. I rarely bake, so my extracts, sweet, and nutty spices are shelved with my cake pans and sugars.

With each spice being put in their new place, my worries and negative thoughts are being replaced by assurance and love. My right hand stops shaking by the time I slide turmeric next to the ground rosemary; there’s no need to worry on whether or not a potential employer will ignore my disability and give me a chance to prove myself, it has happened twice before, it will happen again – I am intelligent, passionate and will be a credit to any company. My left hand unclenches, feeling slowly coming back, as I slide ground thyme next to the red pepper flakes; there’s no need to worry about money, I will have a job soon, then not only will I be able to help myself, but my mom as well. The tension in my shoulders relax as I slide ground basil next to the dill weed; my friend won’t have to leave the country she has found so much freedom in, she’ll find a job, be sponsored and will be able to finally relax. My head is raised when I slide bay Leaves next to the oregano; soon I will find a doctor who will prescribe the right medicine for my tension headaches – medicine that won’t have side effects that are worse than the pain of the headaches. My breathing is uninterrupted and regular when I slide the ground ginger next to the creole seasoning; I am okay and I will be okay.

 

“Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” –Ernestine Ulmer

“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” –Lewis Grizzard

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” –Virginia Woolf