If only we had a penis, this wouldn’t be so hard

And no, I didn’t mean to do that, but serendipity

From Geena Davis’ documentary, “This Changes Everything.”

My friend, who is smart and talented, has asked her boss for a raise several times.

She has documented her accomplishments.

She has shown how she is doing work outside her job description, work that her boss considers to be strategic and important, as he is the one who is asking her to do it, sending her to director-level meetings in his stead.


Have you already figured out what part of the problem is?

Did hitting the word “he” give you a clue?


When he told her there are metrics and a path to promotion, she answered, “OK! What are they?”

[I]n performance evaluations, “Women were criticised for being ‘bossy, abrasive, strident, aggressive, emotional and irrational.’ Men were not. Indeed, men were exhorted to be more aggressive.”

Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

“I have so many skills,” she told me. “I have spent a lifetime learning how to pacify men’s fragile egos. I can walk into a meeting full of men and know immediately who the alpha is and whose ego needs stroking.”

These are not skills you can put on a resume.

These are not skills we should need.



My friend’s boss backpedaled when she asked for the metrics. “Well, they aren’t really defined. We’d have to brainstorm and create some.”

My friend, who has been on this rodeo before, answered, “Guess what I came up with a bunch of ideas!” as she slapped down another page of proof.


Years ago, I was in charge of cleaning the customer and item data in three operating systems for 70 factories.

I did so and documented the financial and time benefits to the company.

I saved the company a ton of money and I had proof.

I asked my boss, who had been the manager of one of the factories before he came onto this project, for a promotion (and raise).

“But them you’ll be making more than my assistant plant manager did!” he answered.

“My work has had more of an impact than his has,” I said.

I did not get that promotion.


In my performance evaluation with a boss once, he told me I “used big words that make people feel stupid.”

I was confused. “What words? Which people?” I asked.

He could not cite any examples.

I told a co-worker the story and the co-worker laughed. “You make our boss feel stupid,” he said.

Men (women were not found to exhibit this bias) who believe that they are objective in hiring decisions are more likely to hire a male applicant than an identically described female applicant. And in organisations which are explicitly presented as meritocratic, managers favour male employees over equally qualified female employees.

Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

At my last job, I was hired to create an internal document repository.

I taught myself the software, researched the best practices, convinced management to change how they did things to adopt best practices, and designed, built, and launched the repository within four months of my start date.

My coworkers praised it, telling me it was intuitive and easy to use.

Then I started internal communications – newsletters, posters, podcasts, and videos – that increased sales opportunities. My company made machinery that started at $150,000 an item. My campaigns created the possibilities of increased revenues by hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.

I asked my boss for a promotion.

For context, I was two position levels lower than an engineer who had ten years’ work experience. I had more than twice that amount of experience and had documented results above and beyond my job description.

No promotion.

“What do I need to do to get a promotion?”

My boss, one of the really good guys – a great guy in every other way, could not give me an answer.

Employment procedures that are unwittingly biased towards men are an issue in promotion as well as hiring. A classic example comes from Google, where women weren’t nominating themselves for promotion at the same rate as men. This is unsurprising: women are conditioned to be modest, and are penalised when they step outside of this prescribed gender norm.

Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

We are punished when we advocate for ourselves.

But this generation? Women in their 30s? They’re not taking this crap. They know they’re right and they know they’re not alone and they will make things better for the women who come after them.

Don’t stop fighting. Don’t give up.

We are not safe

Men worry about being bored, women worry about being murdered


rape
It’s the water we swim in. It’s so “of course” that we use it as a joke.

Remember the woman who was raped while she was jogging in Central Park in 1989?

(And the five teenagers who were accused and convicted were actually innocent and not released until 2002. The fomer president – the awful guy – took out full-page ads in the New York newspapers calling for the death penalty to be brought back. Last year, he refused to apologize for the ads and for what he said about the teenagers. He said, “You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt.”

Their confessions were coerced. They. Were. Innocent. They might not have gone to prison if TFG had not taken out the ads.)

Anyhow. Remember when that happened?

My friends and I were horrified.

Our worst fear – that we would be attacked and raped by a stranger.


(Although as it has turned out, at least for me, it’s the men you know who should worry you more. The ones who just won’t stop trying. When I was in those days, I thought that just because a guy drove from Houston to Austin to see me, I had to let him stay at my house. And then and then. I WAS AN IDIOT I WISH I COULD HAVE A DO OVER.)


We were horrified.

This is what happens.

This is what happens to women who Don’t Follow the Rules.

So we did what women do.

We blamed the jogger.

What was she wearing?

“What was she thinking, running in the park after dark?”

All women know you can’t go running after dark.

It’s unthinkable.

It’s not done.

That is not how women get to live.

My friend Heather got angry with us.

“Why shouldn’t we go running after dark?” she demanded.

I was confused. “It’s not safe!” I tried to explain.

“It should be!” she countered.

“But – it’s NOT!” I said.

“We shouldn’t have to park under the light in the parking lot when we go to the grocery store at night,” she seethed. “We shouldn’t have to position our keys over our knuckles. We shouldn’t have to check under our cars and in the back seats before we get in.”

“But that’s how the world is!”

She shook her head. “That’s not how it should be.”

I gave up. She was living in some unattainable utopia. I was in the Real World.

That was then.

This is now.

Now I realize that she was right and I was wrong.

I realize that I should be angry that I have to think about whether it’s safe to walk alone after dark.

No.

I realize I should be angry that it’s not safe for us to walk alone after dark.

When your rich university, which which invents things like a heart monitor woven into a shirt, can’t seem to figure out potty parity

Even the gajillionaires who built the new basketball arena (with taxpayer money) have more toilets for women than for men

The chairs are necessary why?

Mr T and I went to our college homecoming in Houston last week. Before the university president’s town hall, which was in a building that’s only a few years old, he and I both went to the restroom.

When I finally got out and found him saving a seat for me in the auditorium, I looked at my phone and discovered he had called and texted. Where was I? WHERE WAS I?

Silly man.

He thought that that because we entered our respective restrooms – each of which had two stalls – at the same time, we would leave at the same time.

Hahahahahahahaha.


When I walked out of the ladies’, I saw the university president.

I caught his eye.

“I should not have to wait twice as long as a man to use the bathroom,” I said. I was, as you might imagine, very annoyed.

“And yet that’s what just happened. Rice has the money to solve this problem. You need to fix this.”

The younger man standing next to the president said, “There are more restrooms in the next building!”

Oh bless your sweet heart.

“Yeah,” I replied. “That doesn’t really solve my problem.”


A (very smart) friend asked, “Why don’t they just make all the bathrooms unisex? Wouldn’t that solve the problem?”

He did not, of course, mean constructing single-unit, locked-door bathrooms. He meant converting existing multiple-stall bathrooms to unisex.

In theory, if you just do the math, this works. It’s actually a really interesting queuing theory problem: how do you minimize wait times?

In this case – by converting all the toilets to unisex, you might increase wait times for men but reduce them for women. Depending, I suppose, on the ratio of men to women, total wait time could be reduced, which is something that might matter for businesses that just want people to get back to work.


I don’t think the people who run entertainment venues care if women miss the first part of the show after intermission – they already have our money.

I, along with at least two dozen other women, was waiting for the ladies’ before the Tom Jones concert. Next to the ladies’ was a toilet for disabled persons, with a guard sitting in front of the door.

Me: May I use that toilet, please?

Guard: No.

Me: But – it’s empty. And there’s a long line. And the concert starts in a few minutes.

Guard: No.

Me: But why not?

Guard: You’re not disabled.

Me: Nobody in the line is disabled and if someone is, I gladly yield the bathroom to her.

Guard: No.


The problem with looking at potty parity as nothing more than a math problem is that you don’t include the things that can’t be quantified.

Things like high school girls not wanting to change a tampon when there is a boy in the next stall.

Things not schoolgirls not even wanting to pee if there is a boy in the next stall.

Things like boys – or men – looking under or over the stall door.

Things like men putting cameras under the partition to photograph women.

Things like women being worried that they are stuck in a stall, pants down, in a vulnerable condition, around men, who may or may not be predators. Ted Bundy was good looking and charming. We can’t tell by looking who the good men are and who the bad men are.


All we want is to pee in privacy and not miss the show.

When you had what you thought was a normal childhood

When I was a kid, Disney was for rich people

I loved this First Day of School outfit my mom made for me. The jacket was green with white piping and the pants were green and white.

I was surprised to learn that Mr T did not understand the concept of “end of the month food” and he was surprised to learn that I did.

I thought everyone knew what end of the month food was.

In case you don’t – it’s what you eat when the money has run out but the month has not.

I don’t know why I know. I don’t remember the idea ever being discussed. And I don’t know if it was even an issue when I was a kid, but I do know that having steak was a big deal at my house and that there were nights when we had scrambled eggs for supper.

I never thought twice about having eggs for supper – they’re food and they’re good.

We didn’t have a TV, so I wasn’t getting my ideas about what’s normal from what was shown on TV.

I did watch when we were at my grandmother’s or sometimes at friends’ houses, but the dinner scenes I remember are from Bewitched, when Darren would bring his boss home without warning, and Samantha had to stretch two pork chops for three people.

But I didn’t look at at that show and think, “Everyone eats pork chops all the time and we don’t.” It was a show about a witch. I took all of it as fiction.

And we didn’t use Hamburger Helper or anything like that, mostly because my mom is a really good cook and wouldn’t buy crappy processed stuff.

But until I was an adult, I could not understand why her chocolate chip cookies were different from everyone else’s. I wanted the smooth chocolate chip cookies like everyone else’s mom made.

I realized when I was an adult and actually saw the recipe for chocolate chip cookies that most chocolate chip cookies did not include oatmeal.

I asked my mom why she always added oatmeal to her chocolate chip cookie dough.

To stretch it, she told me.

Which made perfect sense.

That wasn’t a concept that was talked about in my house, but it was practiced. Of course you tried to stretch whatever. Didn’t everyone?


Mr T’s brother said that they don’t eat leftovers.

I can’t even begin to understand that mentality. They just throw food away? Who does that?

I already didn’t like Mr T’s brother, but this is just one more reason.


I hate eating out.

Let me amend that.

I hate eating out at expensive places. I especially hate eating out at expensive places with other people.

I hate eating at expensive restaurants because it’s not worth the money. I am a good cook and don’t need to spend a lot of money to eat well. I see an entrée for $30 and I think, I could cook an entire meal for that.

Eating at an expensive place with friends is even worse. Now there’s the stress of how the bill will be divided. Half and half? Even though I don’t ever order alcohol, which is expensive (and I don’t like anyhow)? I hate the uncertainty of knowing just how much money I will be spending and I hate spending the money at all.

I hate eating out.


We rarely ate out when I was a kid – maybe once a year? And it was a really big deal.

We didn’t stay in hotels on vacation – we camped or stayed with relatives.

My mom made our clothes.

(When we lived in Lubbock, she found a great deal on double-knit polyester remnants – 25 cents a piece – and those remnants became my pants. I had maybe six pairs of pants (with an elastic waist) in various colors, including the bright orange that was translucent enough that the pattern on my underpants showed through the fabric.

One time, the pants split in the back while I was at the chalkboard doing a math problem. I had to wait in the principal’s office while my mom brought me a different pair.)

I started sewing my own clothes when I was in junior high.

My mom cut our hair.

My dad repaired our car and did other home repairs. I don’t remember ever seeing a hired worker at our house.

None of this – NONE OF THIS – made us different from the people around us. This was normal. This was how everyone I knew lived.

I grew up on military bases. Everyone lived in the same kind of house. Everyone shopped at the same grocery store and general goods store. Everyone at the same rank makes about the same money.

But even when we lived off base, our lives were not odd compared to our neighbors.

People where we lived did not eat out.

They did not take their children to the hairdresser.

They did not take fancy vacations. If someone went to Disney, we knew they were rich.


Did I change? Or did the world change?

Who knew trick or treating could be racist?

We’re not at everyone is wearing white sheets level, but it’s ugly

The former guy, rotting.

Halloween and trick or treating – a simple childhood pleasure, right?

And yet, my neighborhood association has turned it into something racist and classist.

It’s not intentional (I don’t think). It’s not like they said, “How can we be awful people in how we do trick or treating?”

But that’s the result.

The way trick or treating works in this city is the city designates official trick or treat time, which I think is absolutely nuts – trick or treating should happen on the night of October 31. That’s not complicated. Trick or treating should happen on Halloween.

But the city decided it would be better to have trick or treating on a Sunday afternoon. So they designate the Sunday closest to Halloween as the official trick or treat time – and they make it during daylight.

Sure, it’s safer for the kids to be out during daylight, but other than that, there is no benefit to an afternoon, not usually October 31, event.

(Plus there can be a Packers game in the afternoon, which means nobody is going to answer the door.)

My neighborhood association feels the same way I do about afternoon trick or treating. So they did something about it.

Unfortunately, they did the wrong thing.

Rather than appeal to the city to right the wrong of afternoon trick or treating, they set up their own trick or treating on a specific night.

It’s a big deal – people have bonfires and parties and it looks like a lot of fun.

But to participate, you have to be a member of the neighborhood association.

Which means living here and paying a membership fee.

And you have to register your children to trick or treat, which requires (I think) more money.

The kids get little wands or glowsticks or something to show that they are paid, legitimate, One of Us trick or treaters.

People who register to give away candy (yes, you have to register to do that as well) get some sort of sticker to put in their window so kids know where to go.

In short:

  • There is a Designated Neighborhood Night of Trick or Treating
  • You have to be a paid member of the neighborhood association to participate
  • Children get a special magic decoder ring so people know it’s OK to give them candy.

When I lived in Memphis, I was surprised to see children who did not live in my neighborhood show up at my door on Halloween. I was a bit cranky about it and said something to a friend, who set me straight.

“It’s maybe not safe for them to trick or treat where they live. Why not be kind?”

I was so ashamed when I thought about what she said. She was right – I was annoyed because people weren’t playing by the rules, rules I had created in my head. What was so bad about giving candy to little children?


It’s not that the kids who don’t live in our neighborhood can’t trick or treat here – they do. Only they come on the official designated trick or treat time – the Sunday afternoon. They do not come during the neighborhood event, which is the fun one.

And they are the only ones trick or treating. All the neighborhood kids have already done their trick or treating.

Some people still give out candy to those kids, but many do not.

It’s a sad sight: only a few forlorn kids, going door to door, with many people not answering, in the middle of the afternoon.


When I suggested (on Facebook) to a member of my city council that we change how the city does Halloween, explaining that the neighborhood parties seemed exclusionary and racist, she blocked me.

Death is coming

Death is coming and it’s grim but you have to prepare

My aunts, my cousins, and my sister making rolls for my grandmother’s funeral.

Mr T’s parents died six years ago.

They made him executor.

The estate still isn’t settled.

Part of it is – and Mr T will admit this – procrastination.

But a lot of it is because his parents left a mess and it takes a long time to clean up an estate that’s been left in disarray.

I beg all of you to get your affairs in order. You are going to die. Either you take care of things or your heirs are stuck doing it for you – and it’s a jerk thing to do to leave all that work for someone else.

No, I don’t care if your parents did it to you. That doesn’t mean you should do it to your kids.

(Not that anyone reading this would be like that, but I have seen such sentiments expressed in other places. “Why should I bother? I was stuck dealing with my parents’ mess. My kids will have to deal with mine.” Don’t be that person. I know you’re not.)

My mom and I have spent hours going through her records and files. I have met with her financial advisor. I have her passwords. I have current copies of her will and long-term care policy and a key to her safe deposit box. I know where she wants to be buried and have her permission to have her cremated so it’s easier to get her remains from Colorado, where she lives, to Wisconsin, where the cemetery is. (My dad is already buried in the cemetery in their hometown and she will be next to him.)

When Mr T’s parents died, he had to hunt down records. He didn’t know if they had a safe deposit box. They had not updated their will to account for the special needs of one of their grandchildren.

Here are things you should do to make life easier for your kids (or for your spouse – Mr T’s parents died within six weeks of each other, so it was a bit of a special case) or for whomever settles your estate:

  • Have a will. I know. It seems so obvious. But there are people with minor children who do not have a will. Do you really want the courts deciding where your kids go?
  • And of course it should go without saying that if you have minor children, you have life insurance. Right? Right? I am preaching to the choir here?
  • Medical and financial powers of attorney. Designate them.
  • Living will. What do you want done and not done medically? Please do not put this decision on your children. Please.
  • Give a copy of the will to your executor. (Better yet, designate a lawyer as your executor – being an executor is a royal pain in the neck and why would you dump that on your kids?)
  • Have clearly marked files with all your financial information: mortgage, deed, bills, bank accounts, car titles, safe deposit boxes. The car title does not – and I cannot say this loudly enough – belong in a manila folder on the top shelf of the guest room closet.
  • A list of accounts and passwords. What are the passwords to your online accounts? Social security numbers?
  • If you are married, make sure your spouse is the co-owner of everything with you. Make sure your spouse is the beneficiary of your IRA and 401k.
  • What’s the plan for your pets? No, it’s not an option for your kids to take them. Figure out where your pets should go and put it in writing so your executor knows. Mr T spent months trying to re-home his parents’ cats.
  • It would be a huge kindness for your to make your wishes known with respect to your remains. Burial? Cremation? The Body Farm? Put it in writing and – yeah, I know this is going way out there – make the arrangements. Buy the plot. Decide what you want on the headstone. Pre-pay the funeral home. It’s awful enough to deal with the death of a loved one, but having to figure out and arrange a funeral on top of that? Give that gift to your spouse/children/whoever.
  • Don’t make promises to your kids that you’re not going to keep. Don’t write a letter to one kid promising a certain amount of money and then not put it in the will. Don’t suggest to another kid – the executor – that maybe you should let him decide how the money is divided between him and his two siblings. That is, unless you want to be sure that your children hate each other forever.
  • Clean your house. Throw away the junk you don’t use. If you have moved to Florida, take your winter clothes to Goodwill. You don’t need a heavy winter coat anymore.
  • Keep your bills current. Don’t keep a box with eight years’ worth of Medicare EOBs mixed with regular and junk mail. Don’t force your executor to go through all those papers looking for unpaid bills. The estate cannot be closed until all the bills are paid.

As you might guess, Mr T and I have learned all these rules through experience.

We have also learned these important things through experience:

  • If you have any nekkid photos or equipment, please figure out how to have someone who is not your child get rid of them. Your kids do not want to see you – nekkid.
  • If you disinherit someone, it’s considered tacky to make that person the executor. Just. Saying.
  • Again. Nobody wants to see your home porn. Especially not your kids.
  • If you are one of the heirs and tell the executor that you were promised some special yet unable to be defined jewelry and the executor tears the house apart looking for it and finally just sends you all the jewelry in the house, it’s probably not good form to imply that the executor is keeping the Good Jewelry for himself and you know this because you took the jewelry he sent you to an appraiser, who told you it was all costume jewelry.
  • Again as an heir – expecting the estate to reimburse you in cash for the frequent flier miles you used to attend the funeral is a little bit extra.
  • NOBODY WANTS TO SEE YOUR NEKKID PHOTOS MAKE A PLAN DAMMIT.

Representation matters

We all need to see girls and young women on the hero’s journey

I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to major in biomedical engineering, then go to med school, then design artificial body parts.

That’s how I started college – as a biomedical engineer.

I finished as an English major.

I know this is not exactly failure – so sad that I got to go to college, much less finish, but I abandoned my dreams because I didn’t think I could do it.


One of my roommates got the same grades I did freshman year in chemistry, calculus, and physics. She now has a PhD in comp sci.

I could have done it.

But I didn’t think I could.

There was nobody to tell me I could.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I should have pulled myself up by my bootstraps and all that. I should have known – I should have persisted – there are plenty of women who conquered these obstacles – etc., etc., etc.

But I didn’t.

I was weak. I was ignorant. I was scared.

Whatever.


My parents were first-generation college students. My grandparents didn’t go past 8th grade. Not because they didn’t want to but because their families needed them to work.

My dad was the first (and only one) of his siblings to go to college. He went on the GI Bill after enlisting in the Coast Guard. After he finished college, he joined the air force, which is where he spent his career.

That is, my dad risked his life to go to college. The military is great in peacetime (what is that these days?) but when there’s a war, being shot at is part of your job description.

Notice it’s the not the children of the affluent joining the military.

My mom was the first of her siblings (not the last) to go to college. She went to the University of Wisconsin on a full academic scholarship, but dropped out to get married. It was hard, she said, to be the poor girl in the dorm. Her roommate had a closet full of new clothes that still had all the tags. My mom sewed her own clothes and didn’t even have, she said, a dime to buy coffee.

My mom does not exaggerate. She meant that she literally did not have an extra dime to get coffee with her friends.


My parents didn’t know about the SATs or how to apply for college. I had a really good counselor my junior year of high school when we lived in the Panama Canal Zone, but we moved that summer and my new counselor was super busy and didn’t have time for me.

Fortunately, I had already taken my SATs and had already identified the college I wanted to attend, but a little more guidance would have been nice, such as when the recruiter from Princeton came to my high school and urged me to apply. I didn’t bother because I knew there was no way my parents could pay for Princeton and I didn’t want to pay the application fee. That’s where a counselor telling me about financial aid and the waiving of application fees might have been useful.


I started school as an engineer, taking the basic calculus, chemistry, and physics as a freshman.

All my professors were male.

Most of the other students were male. At the time, the male-female ratio at my college was about two to one.

If there were career support activities just for women, I didn’t know about them.

(Now, there is fabulous support for women at Rice, which makes me happy.)

I was too scared to ask for help because I didn’t know that was a thing. I didn’t know I was allowed to do that. I didn’t know that’s what office hours were. I thought office hours were the hours that professors worked, which made me think that being a college professor was a super-sweet gig: You work only a few hours a day!

Then there was that D in freshman calculus.

But an A in physics.

Physics was logical.

Calculus was not.

But still – a D.

I had always been an A student. Then I got to college and everyone around me was also an A student and I was no longer the smartest person in the class, which was so, so weird, but then I accepted that I was not the smartest person in the world and it was liberating.

But having been the smartest person in high school meant I had never had to study or ask for help and I didn’t know how to do so and I didn’t think that people who got a D in calculus could be engineers or doctors and I didn’t ask anyone and nobody told me otherwise so I just – quit.


Yes, I know a better woman than I would have persisted. I know better women did, including my roommate, the one who is now a college professor.

What was the difference between the two of us? Why did she keep going despite the bad grades? Why did I give up at the first sign of trouble? What does she have that I didn’t?

I honestly don’t know, but I was very alone on my college journey and she was not. Her parents were both teachers and knew how to encourage her in ways that my parents simply did not, just because of their backgrounds.

And I didn’t see anyone who looked like me in the places I wanted to be. I didn’t see female professors. I didn’t see female doctors. I didn’t know about other female students failing and then overcoming their failures and succeeding in the end.


Maybe I could have done it if I had persisted. I don’t know. Maybe I am just not smart or persistent enough to have succeeded in my desired career. I will never know now.

But for the girls and young women behind us: We can help them. If you know a girl or a young woman who is struggling or who is trying to do something hard, tell her she can do it. Help her find resources, like the Women in Tech groups. Show her the stories of Katherine Johnson and the codebreakers in WWII and Katalin Karikó and Rosalind Franklin.

They can do it.

A World War II color poster depicting ‘Rosie the Riveter’ encourages American women to show their strength and go to work for the war effort by J. Howard Miller in circa 1940. (Photo courtesy National Archives/Getty Images)

Leave Britney alone. Leave all of us alone.

Pro tip for men: If the only female humans who will pay attention to you are underage, you’re the problem. Lolita is not a guidebook.

I know I keep using this image of ‘Medusa With the Head of Perseus’, by artist Luciano Garbati, but it’s so appropriate for so many things.

A grown man (loud, obnoxious, entitled) was hassling a teenager in the coffee shop where Mr T and I were ordering our cafecitos to go.

(We were the only ones masked, including the person preparing the coffee. Not relevant to this story, but noteworthy considering we were in northern Wisconsin, in the area with the lowest vax rates in the state.)

The five of us – barista, grown man, teenage girl, Mr T and I – were the only ones in the shop.

As we walked in, the man was asking the barista if the girl could pose with the sweatshirts he had brought in. (My guess is he is a vendor to the shop, maybe selling on consignment?)

Man: I want her to pose with them and then post the photos. Is that OK?

Barista (shrugging): OK.

That’s a little weird. I get using youth and beauty to sell stuff. It works. But it’s still gross when and when you don’t even know the person, it’s worse.

Man: Would you hold these while I take some photos?

Say no! Say no!

Girl: OK.

He finishes and she returns to her table, where she is doing homework.

The man sits at the table with her.

There are a million empty tables around her.

Man: How old are you? Fifteen?

If you have to ask how old she is and your first guess is 15, then you shouldn’t be asking.

Girl (head down, looking at book, still writing): Sixteen.

This is where the man should laugh in embarrassment and leave. Yet that is not what happens.

Man: Sweet sixteen! Did you have a sweet sixteen party? I bet you did!

Girl (still not making eye contact, still writing): No.

Man: Hey! Do you want to come to this harvest festival?

Me to Mr T and barista: Did that grown man just ask out that underage girl?

Barista: He wouldn’t. She’s my sister.

Me (and you are OK pimping her out for him to take photos of her?): UM, OK.

Man: What’s your profile name? I can send you an invitation.

Girl (still not making eye contact, still writing): Yeah I’ll have to check my work schedule.

First, you shouldn’t be asking underage girls on a date.

Second, with grown women, “I’ll have to check my schedule” means “Leave me alone you creep.”

Third, if you want to ask out a grown woman, wait until she makes eye contact with you before you do. Lack of eye contact is a sign. That sign is that she does not want to talk to you.


What do we do, fellow warriors? How do we protect girls and other women from men? What do we say? What do we do?

One friend suggested asking the girl, “Is everything OK?”

Another suggested, “Is this man bothering you?”

What do we say? I like both of those ideas. I also like the idea of just sitting next to the girl and smiling at the man.


It makes me angry that I have to think of a way to protect a girl when I am scared myself. We don’t know what reaction we might get if we challenge an asshole. And it makes me even angrier at myself for putting my own worries ahead of protecting a sixteen-year-old girl.

The things I wish I could take back

They made sense at the time, which terrifies me, because what makes sense now that’s making other people shake their heads in sorrow?

It’s a good thing I didn’t have cats yet back then or I would have been really insufferable. What if I had just brought a cat into my friends’ apartment? Without asking?

The older I get, the more horrified I am at the things I did when I was younger. These things seemed fine at the time, but now I shudder.

Here’s one. I finished college a semester early (to save money, which, again, in retrospect, I am horrified at because I saved $2,000. That’s it, y’all: two thousand dollars. That is all I saved. When I could have had another semester of learning and being with my friends. I was so dumb. But $2,000 was a lot of money back then. That’s when tuition was a mere $4,000 a year. FOUR THOUSAND DOLLARS A YEAR! Can you imagine?)

Anyhow. I finished early and decided the best thing to do with my time was go back to school, only this time at the University of Texas in the English graduate program. I don’t know – to be a writer or something. I didn’t pick wisely, though: I enrolled in a rhetoric class and a medieval lit class, where I learned (and still know) that in Middle English, the “k” and the “gh” in words like “knight” were pronounced, so it was “Sir Gawain and the green kah-nicht.”

This knowledge has not been useful to me in my career. Or even in Trivial Pursuit.

I also took a squash class. The sport, not the food.

That was the only class I got an A in, even though I stopped going to classes in the middle of the semester. I did not formally withdraw, because I needed to be a full-time student to stay on my mom and dad’s insurance. I just stopped going to class. My squash teacher didn’t notice because she had just gotten engaged and I guess she just gave everyone an A.

This is relevant only because I had to move from Houston to Austin. I found a place to live: My friend K, with whom I worked as a lifeguard in the summers, was an undergrad at UT. She and her roommate, R, needed a third roommate – theirs had moved out after the first semester.

I moved in.

I moved in a week before classes started so I could spend time with my then-boyfriend, whose mom and dad lived in Austin.

K and R hadn’t returned to Austin yet, so I would be alone in the apartment, the dream of young people in love/lust.

(Alas, Austin had a historic ice storm that week that made the highways impassible, so not only did I not see my boyfriend, I had to trudge through snow to find an open grocery store once I had eaten all the food in the apartment, which consisted of a box of fudgesicles.)

Anyhow. In all this aloneness, I had decided – I still can’t believe I did this but it made perfect sense to me at the time – I would redecorate the apartment.

I had brought with me, from my mom and dad’s in San Antonio, a bunch of paintings.

I don’t even remember how that came to pass – if my mom offered them to me or if I asked for them.

But I had paintings my mom and dad had gotten in Spain.

And I decided these paintings – street scenes of Madrid – belonged not in my bedroom but in the living room.

So that’s where I put them.

Without asking my roommates.

One of whom I had never met.

And I used nails.

In the walls of an apartment.

Is it obvious I had never

  1. Rented an apartment before?
  2. Shared an apartment with roommates before?

When K and B returned, K saw the paintings. She, a drama major, said brightly, “Isn’t it – kind – of you to share these paintings with us!”

Wait.

It gets worse.

When we moved out at the end of the semester, we still had a month left on the lease. The apartment was going to sit empty.

So I gave the key to my college friend Warren, who was starting a job at Texas Instruments or someplace like that.

Neither K nor B had ever met Warren.

I did not ask K or B if it was OK.

I WAS NOT ON THE LEASE. I HAD NOT EVEN PAID PART OF THE DEPOSIT.

Oh my Lord.

When Warren moved out, I went up to Austin and cleaned the apartment again. All it needed was vacuuming – he had left it clean and tidy. But K was angry with me. She came over to my mom and dad’s house and yelled at me.

What if Warren had left the place a mess? What if he had damaged the place? What if they’d lost their deposit?

I was super defensive – and I was defensive because she was right and I was wrong.

That was the last time we spoke. In a fight. After years of being friends.

A few years ago, I found K on facebook and apologized.

She replied that she didn’t even remember the incident.

Which is the beauty of being lucky enough to have good people as friends in the first place – they will forget and forgive.

I hope my current friends are as forgetting.

Women’s pain is normal and we don’t even bother to talk about it because it would be like talking about inhaling and exhaling air

Also, Blue Cross of Michigan is the worst insurance company in the US

I have always been convinced I could do a tracheotomy if I had to.

In an emergency, I mean. If someone were choking. Not just for the heck of it. Not as a hobby.

I always have a Swiss army knife in my purse and I always have a pen. (A pen that people so often, in the Before Times, would want to borrow but I would not let them because people who don’t carry their own pens also do not return borrowed pens.)

I don’t carry alcohol to sterilize the equipment but honestly, if you are choking to death, would you rather die an sterilized death or take your chances with a pen that I had not let other people use?

I have never been called to do a tracheotomy.

I did, however, come close the other night.

I was taking the bus home and the driver stopped the bus, got off, closed the door, and disappeared.

I was the only one on the bus.

I waited. And waited. And wondered if it was some weird psychological experiment, like the time in PSYC 201 in college when there was an irregular pinging sound during one whole class session but nobody had the guts to ask the prof what was going on. (Which may have been the experiment.)

Anyhow. I was wondering if I could walk home (if I could get out of the bus) when the driver reappeared.

I asked if everything was OK.

She said she had needed to use the bathroom.

I did the math. She had also used the bathroom at the beer garden at the start of the route only 20 minutes prior.

MY SISTER.

“That has to be a hassle in this job,” I said.

She agreed that it was.

And I knew my moment had come. The moment I had been waiting for – to give medical advice.

I dug into my purse – this wasn’t even my regular purse with the SAK and the pen – it was my festival purse that is small enough to get past the search teams and search teams don’t let you take knives into festivals, not even in Wisconsin, and pulled out a foil of generic AZO.

Yes. Even if I can’t carry a knife, I always have pee pills with me.

I pulled the cord and walked to the front of the bus as she stopped the bus.

“Here,” I said as I passed the pills to her. “Even if you don’t want to take pills from a stranger, this has the name on it. This will help you not feel like you need to pee all the time.”

She gave me a bewildered thanks as I sauntered off the bus, happy that I had done A Good Deed.


The really sad thing?

I really did do a Good Deed.

How did you find out about AZO, generic or otherwise?

How did you learn that it’s possible to relieve bladder and UTI pain?

Wait.

Let’s back up.

Guess what – bladder pain is not normal.

It’s not normal to think you have a UTI all the time.

It’s not normal for your bladder to feel like it’s on fire.

But again – I never thought too deeply about it. It’s just one of those things that goes with being a woman, right?

Even when I have mentioned it to my doctor. And have asked for a solution. And have been tested and the result has been nope, not a UTI.

Even when I have been sure to pee right after sex. And to always wear scrupulously clean underwear. (In The Vagina Bible, Dr Jen Gunter says ALL THAT IS BS. BLADDER PROBLEMS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH PEEING AFTER SEX.)

Even when I have been scoped up the hoo-ha and the doc has said nope, your bladder is a normal size with normal capacity and there is nothing wrong with it.

(Thank you, Blue Cross of Michigan, for considering that doctor office visit as a hospital visit for $700 and not an office visit for a $45 copay merely because the doc’s office happens to be in a hospital, which is not uncommon for teaching hospitals. You are the most evil of insurance companies. United HealthCare paid all visits to docs in this hospital as office visits. Blue Cross of Michigan? YOU ARE AWFUL.)

Even when I have had to call my doctor when I was on vacation and ask for pain relief because I was in such pain I could barely move, I thought it was normal.

This was normal.

Of course my bladder bothers me.

I am a woman. We have pain.

I didn’t even learn about AZO, an OTC painkiller for bladder pain, from a doctor. A pharmacist told me about it.

And the words “interstitial cystitis,” with which I have not been diagnosed, mind you, have never been said to me at a doc’s office. Even when I have asked for more UTI drugs and they say it’s probably not a UTI and I need to be checked out, nobody has said, “Because it might be this thing that can’t be cured and nobody knows what it is but hey it might help to stay super hydrated and avoid tomatoes.”

But I have AZO. Well, I have Walgreen’s version of AZO. So I guess that’s OK? No definition, really. No cure. No truly effective treatment.

But at least we have Viagra. Right?