Anatomy of Rage
by Maggie Stiefvater, Author
This post is going to be a mess, because I’m just …untidily angry right now. It began with a series of tweets I made today about my ever-broken Datsun. The mechanic had told my husband that he was “working on that Datsun just as fast as I can because now that I’ve met her I can’t wait to get that little girl behind the wheel again.”
As I tweeted that I was 33 and had earned each of those years and thus preferred to be referred to as “Danger Smog-Dragon” or “Rage-Mistress” or “Ephemeral Time Lady” or “Maggie Stiefvater, #1 NYT Bestselling Author of the Raven Cycle,” a well-meaning fellow replied that perhaps I should “use [my] words, politely but firmly, to his face…” He further observed that he’d told his wife that “you know, Honey, unless you’re willing to SAY THAT to (those people), NOTHING is going to change”.
(note: please do not go search for this fellow on twitter to rage at him; this is not about him. He is set dressing, made more appropriate to the conversation at hand by the fact that he probably is a perfectly nice guy who really didn’t mean disrespect).
I told TwitterMan that I was tired of have to use my words. It’s been 33 years of using my words. Why is it my job to continuously ask to be treated equivalent to a male customer? Why is that when I arrive at a shop, I’m reminded that I have to push the clutch in if I want to start my own car? It’s 2015. Why is it still all sexism all the time?
I discovered that I was actually furious. I thought I was over being furious, but it turns out, the rage was merely dormant. I’m furious that it’s been over a decade and nothing has changed. I’m furious that sexism was everywhere in the world of college-Maggie and it remains thus, even if I out-learn, out-earn, out-drive, and out-perform my male counterparts. At the end of the day, I’m still “little girl.”
Possibly this is the point where some people are asking why this tiny gesture of all gestures should be the one to break me.
Here is the anatomy of my rage.
Step one: It is 1999 or 2000. I am 16. I go to college. A professor tells me I’m pretty. A married man in the bagpipe band I’m in tells me he just can’t control himself around me: he stays up nights thinking of my skin. Another man tells me he can’t believe that ‘a little bitch’ like me got into the competition group after a year of playing when he’s been at it for twenty years. After becoming friends with a professor’s daughter, I’m at her house sleeping on the couch, and I wake up to find the professor running his hand from my ankle bone to my thigh. I pretend I’m still asleep. I’m 17. “If something happened to my wife,” he tells me later, “I could be with you.” At my next visit to her house, I see the wife’s left a book on the kitchen table: how to rekindle your husband’s love.
Step two: It’s 2008. I finally buy the car of my dreams, a 1973 Camaro, and make it my official business vehicle. The first time I take it to put gas in it, a man tells me, “if I were your husband, I wouldn’t want you out driving my car.” I tell him, “if you were my husband, I’d be a widow.” The car requires a lot of gas. I get cat-called every other time I’m at a gas station. Once, I go into the gas station to get a drink, and when I come out, a bunch of guys have parked me in. They want, they say, to have a word with me, little lady. We play automotive chicken which I win because I would rather smash the back of my ’73 Camaro into their IROC than have to stab one of them with the knife on my keychain.
Step three: It’s 2011. I’m on tour in a European country, on my own, escorted only by my foreign publisher. I am at a business dinner, and say I’m going to my room. My female editor embraces me; my male publicist embraces me and then puts his tongue in my ear, covering it with his hand so that the crowd of twenty professionals does not see. My choices are to say nothing to avoid making a scene in front of my publisher’s people, or to say FUCK YOU. I apparently was never offered the choice of not having a tongue in my ear.
Step four: It’s 2012. I buy a race car. Well, a rally car. Someone asks my male co-driver if I’m good in bed. Someone asks me if I got sponsorship because someone was ‘trying to check the woman box.’ People ask me if I drive like a girl. Yeah, I do, actually. Let’s play a game called: who’s faster off the start?
Step five: It’s 2014. I’m driving my Camaro cross-country on book tour. It breaks down a lot. I’m under the hood and a pick up truck stops beside me. “Hey baby,” asks the driver, “do you need any help?” “Yeah,” I reply, “do you have a 5/8 wrench?” He did not.
Step six: It’s 2015. It’s sixteen years after I learned that I was a thing to be touched and kissed and hooted at unless I took it upon myself to say no, and no again, and no some more, and no no no. My friend Tessa Gratton points out that a male author used casually sexist language in a brief interview. She is dragged through the muck for pointing out how deeply-rooted our systemic sexism is. The publishing industry rises to the defense of the male author as if he has been deeply wronged. I tweet that the language was indeed sexist, though I didn’t think it was useful to condemn said male author. A male editor emails me privately to ask me if maybe I wasn’t being a little problematic by engaging in the discussion?
Step seven. Still 2015. Someone very close to me confesses that her college boyfriend keeps trying to push her past kissing, and she doesn’t want to. I tell her to set boundaries, and leave him if he doesn’t. A month passes. This week I find out she just had sex for the first time after he urged her to have several glasses of wine. She doesn’t drink. She was crying. She says, “I didn’t say no, though.”
It’s been sixteen damn years. I’m tired of having to say no. I’m tired of the media telling me that it’s mouth breathing bros and rednecks perpetuating the sexism. No: I can tell you that the most insidious form is the nice guy. Who is a nice guy, don’t get me wrong. I carry my own prejudices that I work through, and I don’t believe in demonizing people who aren’t perfect yet — none of us are. But the nice guy who says something sexist gets away with it. The nice guy who says something sexist sounds right and reasonable. The nice guy’s not helping, though. It’s been sixteen years, and the nice guys are nice, but we’re still things to be acquired. We are still creatures to be asked on dates. We are still saying no, still shouting NO, still having to always again and again say “no, please treat me with respect.”
I was just invited to a car show; the well-meaning guy who asked wanted me to bring my souped up Mitsubishi. I clicked on the event page. It’s catered by Hooters. I’m not going. Yeah, it’s a little thing, but I have a lifetime of them. I’m taking my toys and going home.
“I can’t wait to get that little girl behind the wheel again.”