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The Cost of Being a Woman

conversations with hank

 

(on our walk home from school)

Hank: … And that is about it. How was your day, mama?

Me: Good. I worked at the Casa de Memória (heritage museum) in the morning and then (deep frustrated sign) I spent the entirety of my May budget for “Fun and Activities” on bras which was depressing.

Hank: On bras? Like the whole thing? Meaning you don’t have any money for fun things next month?

Me: Meaning exactly that. No chocolate or gummies or concerts or movies. May will consist of a lot of walks in the park, picnics on the beach and fruit, which isn’t bad, so I am only mildly complaining.

Hank: You couldn’t find bras on sale?

Me: Hank, I am going to fill you in on the reality of being a woman. Being a woman costs money. Now I am not talking the nonsense the patriarchy feeds you like woman are expensive because of makeup and beauty treatments and clothes and jewelry, blah, blah, blah.  I am talking about reality. Every single month my menstrual cycle costs me money.

Hank: And it hurts and it’s not nice.

Me: Truth. Another expense that I have no control over are bras due to my particular lovely shape.

Hank: You’re all about that bass.

Me: I am curvy and have always been and I wouldn’t change it for anything, but due to this fact not all stores carry my size in stock and when they do my bras are always, no matter what, €60 a piece.

Hank: Wow.

Me: And because the gods wanted to smite me this month I lost my two everyday bras in a week and a woman needs at least two everyday bras minimum as well as special occasion bras like strapless and razor back, but those aren’t everyday bras as they are effective when wearing a particular kind of dress or garment but otherwise highly uncomfortable.

Hank: Oh.

Me: But the upside is I get my bras from Çelia in our neighborhood and so I am supporting a woman run local business and I shouldn’t have this expense again for another 3-5 years.

Hank: Because you buy quality made, good bras.

Me: Yes.

Hank: But mama, do you have to wear a bra?

Me: I don’t have to wear a bra, but I will be honest with you. I don’t like how some men look at me when I am not wearing a bra. Their gaze is not something I want to attract. My shape, my blonde hair, my sense of style and the fact that I am foreign already attracts their gaze as is, but if I left my house without a bra and walked down the street I wouldn’t feel as safe as I do wearing one.

Hank: Why wouldn’t you feel safe?

Me: (pause, questioning if I should take the conversation further) Because some men weren’t raised to respect women as equal. Some men think that it is their right to objectify women. (pause) And some men when they see a woman dressed a certain way they feel it is their right to sexualize her and then there are the few men in the world who would brutalize a woman because of something she wore and say it was her fault because she was dressed “sexy” and therefore wanted the attack.

Hank: (whispers) What? (looking around shocked) Really?

Me: Every day, Hank. This happens every single day.

Hank: Is this only in Portugal?

Me: Oh no. This is a universal problem.

Hank: That is ridiculous.

Me: I know.

Hank: A woman isn’t about the way she dresses. A woman is her… how do you say smartness?

Me: Intelligence.

Hank: That’s it. A woman is her intelligence and her heart and her kindness; her style is just how she feels most confident. It is like when you put on makeup. You don’t do it every day, but when you wear it you always tell me the same thing.

Me: And it is true. I tell you, “I am as beautiful as I was five minutes ago, but today I decided to highlight my beauty for myself and not for other people.”

Hank: Yes. I like it when you wear makeup because it means you are feeling good that day or feeling bad but wearing makeup to make yourself feel a bit better and I like you without makeup. It’s all the same.

Me: Not all men think like you, Hank. I feel naked walking down the street if I don’t wear sunglasses because I walk with my head held high, high enough to make eye contact with men rude enough to think they can wink or say something dirty or look me up and down from head to feet and then turn to do the same to my backside. This also happens to me in America and London and France and Spain. ARGH, I hate that feeling when a man is looking me up and down, I hate the feeling of being objectified, so I wear sunglasses, I try not to make eye contact, I ignore the gaze of others and I dress in a modest, classic style. But I am a woman and therefore objectification is unavoidable. WHICH IS DISGUSTING.

Hank: (serious) Do all girls go through this? Do girls or just ladies? All ladies?

Me: Yes all girls and all ladies. Everything about a woman’s body is critiqued, criticized or coveted and next year it will start for your colleagues. (emotionally angry) Around age 11-12 all of a sudden your girl friends will be taught they have to be careful about how they sit, how they play, how they dress and whom they trust, (biting back bile) BUT nothing will be taught to the boys. Not enough people have this conversation we are having with their sons. It is always a girl’s responsibility, even when she is still a child.

Hank: What!

Me: Yes.

Hank: That isn’t fair.

Me: I know and now you know. There is a cost to being a woman and that cost is financial and emotional.

Hank: This will happen to my sister.

Me: It will, but we will be here to help and support her.

Hank: This will happen to my friends and if I have a daughter…

Me: Hank, you and your generation has the power to stop this. It is my sincerest hope that by the time you have a daughter that we stomp out the patriarchy and this culture of objectification ends. YOU NEVER EVER HEAR ONE STORY THAT BEGINS: I MET MY HUSBAND BECAUSE HE OBJECTIFIED ME ON THE STREET, FREELY STARED AT MY TITS AND RUDELY SUGGESTED HE’D ENJOY HAVING SEX WITH ME. (nauseous) That behavior gets you nowhere.

Hank: GROSS!

Me: COMPLETELY GROSS!!!

Hank: And this happens to you?

Me: (nodding, sad and nodding) All the time.

Hank: Just like Donald Trump.

Me: Exactly like Donald Trump.

Hank: This is how he treats women.

Me: Yes.

Hank: He does that.

Me: Yes, he does.

Hank: And they let him be president?

Me: Worse, Donald Trump was elected president, which means the electoral congress chose him to be president. He was chosen.

Hank:

Me:

Hank:

Me:

Hank: Mama, I think this is the first time I have ever wanted to use a palavrão (swear word) in my life.

Me: Completely understandable.

Hank: How do we stop it?

Me: With you! With BOYS! By having this conversation with every boy, by breaking the cycle, by teaching boys that women’s issues are neither disgusting or inconsequential, through education and especially with ENDING THE CYCLE OF SHAMING YOUNG GIRLS AND WOMAN FOR THE BODIES THEY WERE BORN WITH. It begins with me having this conversation with you.

Hank: And then it is my turn to be there for my friends and my sister and for all ladies all the time when I see rudeness.

Me: Yup.

Hank: I had no idea.

Me: And until we start talking to boys and men about what women silently suffer through no one else ever will either. I hate… I RAGE-HATE HAVING TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT THIS! But if I don’t you can’t be the change we need in the world.

Hank: (taking my hand because Hank is nine and still holds his mother’s hand occasionally) I understand. I hate this too.

Me: Then together we will hate it enough to do something about it.