‘Merry Christmas,’ wished Lynette, her eyes giddy and expectant.
‘Erm … thank you?’ I took the takeout container from her outstretched hands, wondering if she was gifting me with leftovers this year.
I opened the plastic lid to find a large piece of chocolate moulded in the shape of Hello Kitty, complete with black fudge-sauce eyes and whiskers, yellow candy nose, and red syrup bow. She did not have to explicitly say that the treat was infused with cannabis.
Best Christmas ever. ‘Have I told you lately I love you?’
A measured bite, a few hours, and several glasses of eggnog afterwards, gathered at a table laden with food, the elders had no idea that I was quickly and progressively getting crunk.
‘… asking for trouble.’
‘Huh?’ Who, me? ‘Sorry, Grandma – could you repeat that?’
‘You need to stop going out so much and stay home like a good girl. If you go out when it’s dark, you’re just asking for trouble.’
I smirked. The age-old argument. The standard response was to nod politely, agree orally, and continue life as normal. However, in an intensely yet not uncomfortably intoxicated state, I opened my big mouth.
‘Because bad things can happen to girls. Because it’s not safe.’
‘Bad things don’t just happen at night, though,’ I pointed out. ‘Like that 23-year old woman who got raped at High Park in like, the middle of the afternoon last summer.’
‘Well, that’s exactly why you shouldn’t go places where you know that sort of thing can happen to you.’
‘So, because I’m a woman, I shouldn’t expect to be safe jogging in a public space, in broad daylight?’
‘Can we talk about something else,’ my wise sister interjected, ‘and please not argue on Christmas?’
‘We’re not arguing,’ I insisted with a grin, trapped within the bounds of a drunken stupor. ‘We’re discussing. I’m genuinely interested in her perspective. I wanna understand.’
‘As a woman, you need to be careful about the environments you put yourself in. Some places you shouldn’t go at certain times – some you shouldn’t go at all.’
‘But how does that make sense?’ I asked. ‘That means that a part of the population – a big part, like literally a bit more than half – would be excluded from certain areas at certain times or at least from the freedom to go alone, because of something they have no control of. No more than they do over the colour of their skin. How is that fair?’
‘Of course it’s not fair,’ she retorted. ‘But that’s just how it is. That’s just how men are.’
I scowled at my grandmother. ‘Well, that’s just not fair to men, to say that’s just how they are. And makes as much sense to say, “Genocide is something that happens, that’s just how it is and we should accept that”.’
‘How about this?’ said Grandma in a sharper tone than she had ever taken, narrowing her eyes. ‘You get a real, office job – and when you’re a success, you can say whatever you want on whatever topic.’
I finally shut my mouth.
Afterwards, sitting in the car in silence, I wondered if the tension was actually palpable or due to paranoia as a side effect of marijuana. Unable to tell, I turned my thoughts back towards the subject.
Just accepting the state of things isn’t an option. But she has a point. It can’t be about wishing it was different, theorizing and arguing about how to change the system. While waiting for social change, entire lifetimes are affected – possibly destroyed.
It also had to be about teaching and training, giving individuals the tools to manage within the existing system.
You really, really need to learn some sort of self-defence. If you get off your ass and do one thing for yourself, for the love of God, let it be self-defence.
And it’s not just skills needed to counter extreme situations, I deflected, but also to handle the more delicate, ambiguous ones. I thought of Kane: an intelligent, respectable, and kindhearted young man whom I considered friend and who persistently provided unwanted affection, with a casual hand on the waist or an arm around the shoulder, with inappropriate jokes and comments. I had told him bluntly that his actions made me uncomfortable, had asked him politely to stop, had reproached him angrily, had cut contact for long periods of time; all fruitless endeavours. Out of ideas aside from terminating an otherwise valued friendship, I often pretended not to notice the blatant invasions of personal space.
What do you do when someone, otherwise functional in society, otherwise smart and fun and generally good, thinks it’s OK to touch you when they know you don’t want them to? When they’re a friend, a colleague, a boss?
I wished there were some sort of brochure or program to tell me.