In this essay, Briana Loveall deftly illustrates the numerous behaviors and microaggressions that accumulate over time perpetuating a culture of abuse.
13. I am watching Tora! Tora! Tora! with my stepfather. On screen a Marilyn Monroe type—fleshy and lush, blonde even through the colorless film screen—acts coy towards an overweight military general. The fat uniformed man chases her through a sand dune at a party off the beach. She runs from him like a pigmy from Dionysus. They are alone now. He’s gasping for air, and she’s a daintier form of gasping, which is breathless. He attempts to take her in his jiggly arms. She allows this for a moment before squirming away. He tightens his grasp on her. She cries out. The man enjoys it. He forces his face onto hers.
“She was asking for it,” my stepfather’s voice interrupts the frame. He sips on a sweating glass of Coke, his arthritic knees propped in front of him. “You can’t give a man those types of signals and then not expect that to happen.”
Back on screen the camera pans away, creates space against her voice, rising. The rest is implied.
20. When I get pregnant with my first child, a daughter I am afraid to raise, my boobs, normally a full C cup, double to painful DD’s. I do not begin to look pregnant until I am almost seven months along. For seven months I walk around in men’s shirts to hide my chest. Even the most modest of shirts, the kind you receive after community walks to defeat cancer, are tight against my burgeoning breasts. At a friend’s house one day—she is pregnant with a son and we are constantly making jokes about our children becoming a couple—her boyfriend says, “Well, at least my son’s girlfriend will have big tits.”
6. I’m sitting on the floor at my grandfather’s feet while he watches TV. Xena the Warrior Princess glares at me; she looks uncomfortable beneath the thin layer of her leather dress, the tops of her breasts exposed. Yet, despite her stare, or maybe because of it, I feel a warm sensation begin in my gut. Maybe this is why I’m uncomfortable watching her, knowing that my grandfather is watching her too.
27. This is an indictment to those who do not think that this, the cultural sexual norms that deduce women to things and make them, the recipient of attacks, cast as perpetrators, is a common and lifelong occurrence. I begin this list of microaggressions knowing that my testimony isn’t unique; these memories are as common as ugly little weeds that, when spoken, spread, take root, and bloom.
11. The D.A.R.E. officer is speaking to us about the harmful effects of marijuana, uppers, and downers. He wears a uniform and is strutting about beneath the gaze of twenty prepubescent boys. They pepper him with questions. His chest swells with P.R.I.D.E. “Is your wife pretty?” a classmate asks him, commenting on his wedding band. “Pretty enough to be pregnant,” the officer laughs. The boys laugh with him. I sit to the side and feel sorry for his wife.
20. One evening I’m at dinner with my boyfriend and his family. His father hands me a dollar bill and makes some joke about putting on a “show.” I retreat to the basement and cry.
8. My grandmother and I are sitting on her swing. The air smells clean like wet grass. My grandmother lights a cigarette and I lean my face into the smoke. My aunt joins us. I am wedged between the two of them feeling safe, content.
“Samantha is going to need training bras soon,” my grandmother remarks to my aunt. She calls me by my middle name, which is her preferred name.
“Let me see your chi-chi’s,” my aunt demands. I look between the two of them and slowly raise my shirt, hot with shame. “Yup,” my aunt agrees, “I’ll take her to Penny’s later.”
28. I am at a week-long church day camp. It’s early evening and I am unloading a stroller from the back of my car.
“Damn, that’s a nice ass,” a voice ricochets past on its way down the street. I am the only one in the parking lot. I tug at my shorts. My skin burns. Pull my infant daughter from her car seat, hold her close.
12. I’m on a school ski trip in the Black Forest, not because I’m entitled or from a family who takes those types of trips, but because my stepfather is in the Army and we are stationed in Germany. My entire fifth grade class is going. After the first day, none of our gloves or socks is ever dry again. I develop a crush on our ski instructor, a young German who is kind and treats me like a person. Everyone takes turns helping in the hostel’s kitchen, doing dishes and bringing out meals.
On the last day, we have just crested a hill, when Zack, a boy I have liked for the school year, tells me that the other night all the boys were choosing who they would have sex with. A chubby boy I do not like has said he would have sex with me because of my dry skin. I’m offended and bewildered on multiple levels: I do not have dry skin. Why hadn’t Zack been the one who wanted to have sex with me? Why was I only good enough for the chubby boy?
27. Election Year. A candidate has tapes released from an interview where he brags about grabbing women by the pussy. The same month a male student from Yale, or is it Harvard, Stanford, is released with minimal consequences after raping an unconscious woman in an alley.
I write a letter to my daughters about these events, and then share it online. Women are the first to criticize me. “Jesus, you act like this is a war zone,” and, “Any time a guy calls you honey or sweetie you get offended,” and, “I would be proud to raise a daughter in our culture today. You don’t even know how good you have it.”
The candidate becomes president.
15. My mother’s cousin’s wife is serving me meatballs on paper coffee filters. She is scatterbrained and messy and artistic and kind and I love her. We are sitting, just the two of us, on her back porch. She is telling me stories of her own teenage years, ones she maybe shouldn’t be telling me.
“You know,” she starts, “if a guy takes you out to a nice dinner and you don’t want to have sex with him, sometimes you can just give him a hand job and that’s enough. You kind of owe it to him.”
27. My daughter, who is now seven, is struggling to learn boundaries. She thrives off male attention, begs to be chased and tickled and wrestled with, and then screams for whomever to stop. When they do, she begs them to start again. Later she will come to us and cry that she hadn’t been listened too.
“You asked for it,” my husband and I say to her.
We talk to her about this. You can’t ask someone to do something, tell them to stop, and then ask them to start again, we counsel her. People have to respect your boundaries, and if you tell them to stop they have to. Her behavior continues.
My husband and I have many discussions about this.
“She’s literally asking for it,” his voice is pained, like he hates himself for saying this.
This is where it starts, I remember. This is when it starts.
This essay was previously accepted with a magazine affiliated with a library in a republican state. Recently the author received a notification that her essay was “probably too political” to be published with the magazine. The editor in chief stated there was an underlying fear that the essay would draw undue complaints because of the statements made against the political candidate and that funding for the magazine would be pulled. You can read the author’s response here: https://www.facebook.com/briana.lummus/posts/10212790016999199.
The article’s photo was taken and provided by Rajah Bose, please visit his work here.