A Reluctant Lady in Waiting

I’m a 30-year-old woman who isn’t looking for love. This is not quite a response to, but inspired by, Becca Rothfeld’s essay “Ladies in Waiting.”

By Saira Khan

Not quite a response to, but inspired by, Becca Rothfeld’s essay “Ladies in Waiting.”

 

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I’m a thirty-year-old heterosexual woman and I am not looking for love. When it comes to dating, my style is now firmly casual. A serial monogamist for most of my adult life, two years ago I decided to stop wasting time in relationships with men I saw no future with. Since then, I’ve met some remarkable and kind men, none of whom I wanted to date long-term.

Because I am a woman, some consider this unconventional. “What do you mean you don’t want to be in a relationship with him? He likes you!” is an exclamation I’ve heard many times, indicating the man’s willingness is all that’s required. The equivalences that follow include “You date like a man!” and the requisite “Sex and the City” reference, “You’re such a Samantha.”

To be fair, I’m not complaining.

I don’t like holding hands, I don’t like sharing my bed, I don’t like cuddling. I get my emotional fulfillment from my female friendships. For most of the last two years, I’ve been the one who makes first contact, I haven’t anguished over text messages and surely haven’t waited for someone to ask me out. In her essay “Ladies in Waiting,” Becca Rothfeld examines why women have traditionally been the ones who wait and why they often find themselves in a “state of involuntary idleness.” It is precisely this historical norm that I believed I had broken free from.

I was wrong.

***

One thing I have overlooked, and that you, the reader, may have missed as well, is that I hadn’t met anyone in nearly two years who I truly liked. So naturally I didn’t care if they were in my life or not. On the rare occasion when a text went unanswered, I was unmoved. Then last year I met a man who I will call Kyle, and all of my seemingly unconventional feminist wisdom was lost. It seemed that, when it came to someone I liked, I fell victim to the same “lady in waiting” trope I thought I was immune to, proving Rothfeld’s point that waiting is perpetuated by women who self-police. As someone who is candid about her feelings (or lack thereof), it was jarring to fall into a pit of self-doubt and, yes, constant waiting.

“The lover waits, speaks, entreats, but the beloved is constitutionally silent.” – Becca Rothfeld

The Day After Text

The day after text, as we’ve been told, is of crucial importance. It’s a ritual that serves as an acknowledgement of a potential future—and, in a heterosexual relationship, it is never supposed to come from the woman. This is a dating convention that I have, and gladly will, continue to ignore.

I first met Kyle in October, over drinks at a nearby bar. I knew I liked him when I didn’t give him my standard “I’m not looking for commitment” spiel, used previously to temper any misplaced expectations. A few hours later, after we drunkenly parted ways, we continued our conversation, through texts, into the next morning. Achievement unlocked.

Waiting is the Rule

I saw Kyle again about two weeks later. It was after this second date that I walked away feeling things I hadn’t felt in years. I was nervous. I cared about what he thought of me and, more frighteningly, how he felt about me. Three weeks later, after Thanksgiving, we went on our third date. By then, I found that in his presence I would stumble on my words and the pitch of my voice would falter. The more I liked him the more I retreated into the habits from my pre-enlightenment days; sometimes, I’d wait methodically to answer texts so as to not seem too eager, and allow him to reach out for our next date. I was no longer the pursuer. I waited.

Rothfeld notes that the concept of feminine waiting is ingrained in us by well-meaning female friends whose advice is always the same: wait, wait, wait. Indeed, even the most well-intentioned counsel I have received falls into the same pattern.

When Kyle would go a week without initiating contact, I’d swear he was “ghosting” on me; that it was the last I’d heard from him and the connection had been in my head. Just as I’d get to the point of writing him off, his name would flash across my phone’s screen. A constant battle raged in my head: was he a fuckboi or just really busy? I didn’t know but I sure as hell was happy that he messaged. “Romantic waiting is, like certain shades of pain, delicate enough to hint teasingly at future gratification but never disagreeable enough to preclude it,” Rothfeld writes. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

The funny thing is, neither of Kyle or I text much. When we first matched on Tinder, this was our conversation:

Screen Shot 2017-02-22 at 8.47.37 PM.pngAlthough I was, and still am, seeing other people, I found myself in despair in the weeks I didn’t hear from him. Had he lost interest? We were dating casually but in person it felt like more. We did all the things I thought I hated doing. I obsessed over the details: We held hands, slept in the same bed, often broke bread together, and talked, and talked, and talked. Surely I wasn’t crazy in thinking he felt something more? Right? RIGHT?

When hesitating to reach out to Kyle, I was, like Rothfeld, trying to prove my affection, my true feelings, through “mute endurance,” that is, wait him out. Or was I trying to prolong the inevitable demise of our relationship under this shroud of constant waiting? “Waiting, which renders everything provisional, which suspends progress or conclusion of any kind, is worse than clarity,” Rothfeld writes. While being in a constant state of will he? or won’t he? is excruciating in its own right, was I buying myself time and hoping he’d like me more through the act of self-policing?

Jolted Out of the Self

Indeed, if love is feminine and waiting is a sign of that femininity, as Rothfeld observes, then I  subconsciously began acting traditionally feminine in order to gain affection. “The alternative to dejected waiting, then, is patience, the art of elective waiting: a capitulation that women author, a passivity over which we assert ownership and which we might come to more comfortably inhabit,” Rothfeld writes. Even I can admit that I quickly went from being compared to Samantha to comparing myself to Carrie, inviting friends over to analyze a voicemail from Big for some hidden meaning that, likely, wasn’t there. In other words: I was losing my damn mind.

What made me feel even crazier was thinking I was crazy: What if this is all in my head? How much of what we agonize over is a narrative that we have constructed? Has our constant need for communication turned into a constant need of validation– in this case a validation of my feelings? Is my new found state of waiting a manifestation of my own insecurities about liking someone after so long? Have we, women, self-policed ourselves into this modern romantic norm? And what would happen if we stopped? I decided to find out.

In working on this story, I went back to the beginning of my communication with Kyle and noticed something: although there are moments when we went days without texting, there were times when I was the one who trailed off, leaving him waiting. These casual exchanges, to me, felt like the natural end of a conversation, but could easily have been perceived by him as me making him wait. Had I done to him what I thought he was doing to me?

With this new lens and impassioned clarity, I did the unthinkable: I texted Kyle the afternoon he was leaving town for a few weeks.

“at the risk of sounding trite, i think i’m gonna miss you while you’re gone. hope your trip is phenomenal. see you when you’re back.”

His response? He thanked me for missing him.

Welp. Han Solo would be proud, and I am a lady in waiting once more.


“I mustn’t. I mustn’t do this. Suppose he’s a little late calling me up—that’s nothing to get hysterical about. Maybe he isn’t going to call—maybe he’s coming straight up here without telephoning. He’ll be cross if he sees I have been crying. They don’t like you to cry. He doesn’t cry. I wish to God I could make him cry. I wish I could make him cry and tread the floor and feel his heart heavy and big and festering in him. I wish I could hurt him like hell.” -Dorothy Parker, “A Telephone Call,” in The Portable Dorothy Parker.

Invaders in My Stream: On Being Cyberstalked

The summer I turned 25, I gained a firsthand education into personal and anonymous cyberstalking after being featured in a Breitbart article.

By Monica Torres

The Professional Troll

The summer I turned 25, I was featured in a Breitbart article co-written by the site’s then-editor Milo Yiannopolous. The article itself was laughably bad journalism. I was not contacted for quotes, my college articles were taken out of context, and basic facts about me were wrong (which was not an isolated incident; The Daily Caller later called me “Monica Flores”).

Yiannopolous, who left Breitbart on Tuesday after an interview of him defending pedophilia surfaced online, was once kindly described as a conservative provocateur by mainstream outlets like the Associated Press. He identifies as a “virtuous troll” who is doing “God’s work,” using the protection of free speech to condemn transgender identity as a “psychiatric disorder,” declare his birthday World Patriarchy Day, author “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”, create the Yiannopolous Privilege Grant, a scholarship to help white men gain “equal footing” with minorities, and to rally his army of followers to harass and humiliate countless people online.

Even now, months later, I find myself using qualifying statements like “not so bad” to minimize the experience because the worst has not yet happened to me. Less than a week after Yiannopolous wrote about my liberal biases, he led a Twitter harassment campaign against comedian Leslie Jones, inciting his followers to barrage her with racist, demeaning, and threatening tweets until Jones quit the platform, saying she was “in a personal hell.” Yiannopolous’ harassment of Jones got him banned on Twitter, but it also cemented his status with the alt-right movement, earned him speaking invitations at college campuses, and led to a reported $250,000 book deal (which was finally cancelled this week, not because 100+ authors had condemned Simon & Schuster for supporting Yiannopolous, not because of his racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic beliefs, but only after the video of him condoning pedophilia had surfaced).

In the aftermath of the article, before I set my Twitter to private, someone with an unknown account reached out to me, saying he wished to rape me. Everything before this had felt like an inconvenient distraction from my time and energy. But in that moment, I felt fear, then a hot flush of shame for letting a tweet scare me.

My employer told me the tweets weren’t a credible threat, but I documented them anyway, putting that tweet along with all the article’s comments that wished me harm, in a folder on my computer entitled EVIDENCE. I was told to remove my email address from my website and LinkedIn, and told to take any mention of clients I worked with off of my social accounts. ‘A way to avoid stalkers or an abdication of my employer’s responsibility to protect me?’ I thought mutinously, as I nodded and did what I was told. I changed every password and added two-step authentication and security questions to my bank accounts, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Instagram and Tumblr. Friends and colleagues told me over and over that what happened wasn’t my fault, but I still felt like these protections for my safety were punishing me for existing online. As a digital journalist who relies on these social networks for job prospects, making my accounts private hurts my career.

“Don’t worry, we’re keeping an eye on the deep web for any credible threats against you,” I was told. Worried by the lack of structured advice I was receiving from employed security experts, I reached out to my friend Patrick Hogan who had lived through the worst. He gave me step-by-step advice.

Exhibit A.
Document everything. Screenshot tweets, archive e-mails, record phone calls. Anything you receive relating to this needs to become a permanent record. Be sure to note any relevant details like the time you received something or the incoming phone number for a call.

Any time you can report something, do it. I know this isn’t always the most effective, but even if Twitter says no rules are being broken and won’t do anything, that’s ammunition for you.

Escalate this to your employer. I don’t know the contracting situation over there, but you are being harassed because of your job. Your employer has both an interest and a responsibility.

If at any point you feel like your safety is threatened, go to the police. Even just getting it on the record that you filed a report can be helpful.

So I did that.

In “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” Amanda Hess writes what I consider the best and most comprehensive analysis of why the online abuse of women goes unchecked. In her story, Hess recounts how an anonymous user with the handle HeadlessFemalePig set up a Twitter account with the explicit purpose of threatening to rape her and cut off her head. HeadlessFemalePig said he had done 12 years for manslaughter and he knew Hess and him lived in the same state. He promised Hess he would find her, rape her and kill her. When she went to the police, authorities didn’t know what Twitter was. For Hess, the threats she faced as a journalist who wrote about women were viscerally real, but authorities dismissed the internet as a “fantasyland” where threats weren’t real.

In these cases, when the police declines to investigate the abuse, the burden is placed on the victim to determine what kind of threat is immediate and weigh what you can endure.

Hess’ article was written three years ago, and the outlook for women facing abuse on the internet is still bleak. A 2016 Australian study found that 76% of women under 30 face online harassment, which includes “unwanted contact, trolling, and cyberbullying to sexual harassment and threats of rape and death.” The researchers said that online abuse of women was at risk of becoming “an established norm in our digital society.” There isn’t enough research being done on online harassment against women, but in February, Amnesty International began soliciting stories of this nature. 

When women face violent online threats, they are often told to ignore and endure the threats, lest you “feed the trolls.” But, short of deleting your online presence or putting yourself on a social media lockdown, you cannot opt out from the abuse. When tech platforms ignore violent threats and police decline to file reports on them, the message to women rings loud and clear: you are on your own.



The Personal Toll

That same summer I turned 25, in the midst of my public reckoning, I also faced a private one. I broke up with a man after two months of casual dating, and more than five months later, he is still carrying a one-sided text conversation with me(himself). The texts vary in length, mostly coming after the lonely hour of midnight, but all of them have a possessive familiarity that makes me deeply uncomfortable. As Maureen O’Connor explains in “All My Exes Live in Texts,”exes can jump into your pants whenever they want by sending text messages that land in your pocket.” I feel low-key dread whenever I see his name light up my phone. Immediately after I ended things, I let him air his grievances over the phone and in person, hoping it would give him closure. He has persisted. You’re advised not to contact an ex after a breakup because each time the person doesn’t respond, it will feel like the breakup all over again, a sage Redditor explained. This has not been a deterrent for a man willing to disregard all etiquette if it means he can pursue the fantasy of a relationship.

Exhibit B.
You wasted the last /
sorry for letting my emotions take over /
I miss you like hell /
fired two weeks ago /
at the end of the day we are POC. We need to stick together /
hi. /
Yes, I’m drunk on New Year’s eve but /
I really wish /
like hell /
Hey. Can we please talk? /
Okay let’s not then.

His last text was three weeks ago. At what point does an unwanted, repeated contact become stalking? It varies state to state. Colorado defines a stalker as someone who believes “the victim either returns these feelings of affection or will do so if the stalker is persistent enough.” I’d have to prove that my stalker had “strong, unshakeable and irrational emotional feelings” for me. In Vermont, I need to prove “credible threat.” New York penal law, which defines stalking as “the unwanted pursuit of another person,” says at the very least for a misdemeanor charge, I need to prove: “would a reasonable person have been made fearful, based on history, context, etc.?”

I feel unsettled but not yet unsafe. Right now, I put him in between men who come on too strong and men I can legally call stalkers. Both put me on edge, but the latter is the eventuality I am preparing for. I don’t think he’s sent me his last text. I read Christine Stulik’s account of receiving a harassing email by her stalker every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. After Stulik took an acting class with her stalker, he began to send her banal and flirtatious emails. When she turned him down, he persisted. It was when he showed up to where she worked that Stulik finally took action and sought a temporary restraining order. Like all men who disregard boundaries, he treated her No as Try Harder. In one of his emails to her, he said that he would make her the star of his new play if she dropped the charges. When police finally confronted Stulik’s stalker more than a year after his harassment first started, his reasoning was, “She just never told me ‘No.’”

Exhibit C.
Hearing this made my blood boil. Of course I never explicitly said “No” to him: I never said anything to him. I didn’t reply to a single email, even when I wanted to write down every obscenity I was screaming into the computer screen. I wanted to reply with hurtful, debasing language that made him feel as small as his words made me feel. I wanted to write intelligent, biting attacks that made him realize the futility and stupidity of his endeavor. I wanted to confront him to his face as he sulked around the lobby of my work. I wanted to tell him STOP and NO and FUCK OFF—but I couldn’t allow myself to. Because he had the power, and I couldn’t give him any more of it. In fact, the advice I was given by the domestic violence liaison during one of my many visits to the courthouse was to not reply to anything, because any sign from me would only give him reason to continue contact. He was not to be encouraged.

When you lack structured protections from the state and from online platforms, you must make do with your own. Hess lugs around a physical copy of her expired protection order against her harasser each time she travels to do business in his state. When the order expired, he reached out to her, through comments on her articles, emails and occasional tweets“a little reminder,” Hess writes, “that his ‘game’ is back on.” In what is easily the most chilling account on stalking I’ve read, Helen DeWitt describes how a stalker’s “game” became her worst-case scenario. After DeWitt’s stalker was released five months early into the same town where DeWitt lives, she sleeps with a baseball bat. Her stalker had gotten a plea bargain because DeWitt, who had documented every unwanted interaction, had failed to convince as a damsel in distress in her deposition. The prosecutor said DeWitt’s deposition showed an “absence of fear.” Her stalker had broken into her home with a gun.

Here’s what I tell people I don’t know when they ask what happened to me this summer: I am very lucky. Just fine. Could’ve been worse. No worries. (Would a prosecutor say I’m showing an “absence of fear”?)

I am just one more woman on the internet who has to make contingency plans. I think twice before giving men I meet on the internet my number or my address. Even now, I sometimes wonder if I am blowing this whole thing out of proportion, if his texts were benign, if his tweets were just trolling. But I trust my instincts, and with my EVIDENCE laid bare, I feel exposed. ‘Prepare yourself,’ the part of me that doesn’t have to maintain public pretense urges me. At least one of the unwanted men I have encountered online knows where I live.

When I walk home alone at night, I look behind me and I carry mace.

Scenes from the Women’s March in New York City

On Friday, January 20th, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States. On Saturday, January 21st, a record-breaking amount of people took to the streets on every continent to participate in peaceful protests in solidarity with women’s rights. We joined the hundreds of thousands of women marching through the avenues of our city and felt the hope and momentum to keep fighting, learning, and organizing. Even if you’ve already leafed through plenty of photo galleries over the last few days, what harm is there in taking a look at a few more bad bitches shutting it down? Here are our favorite sights from this historic day, shot by the High-Strung team.

Dear Mr. President, This Is What Resistance Looks Like

An open letter to the 45th president of the United States.

                                                                   Dear Mr. President,

I know, I know, you like to grab us by our pussies. You’ve been trying to deny it but you know how they say actions speak louder than words? Your actions have only echoed your words. You cheated on your first wife with your second (you once described this period of your life as a “bowl of cherries.”) You married your third wife in 2005, which was, incidentally, the same year your infamous Access Hollywood tape was recorded. “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss,” you said. Sprinkle in some of the sexual assault and harassment allegations against you and let’s face it: we have a pretty clear picture of how you view us.

You’re a familiar adversary, Mr. President. I have known men like you for my entire life. Several women I know were in abusive marriages, most of my school friends dated controlling, obsessive, and, at times, abusive boys. I grew up around boys—now men—who weren’t looking for companions, they were looking for women to possess.

I’ve been resisting men like you for a long time: Men who believe they can say and do anything to women, who believe that only we should change diapers and that sexual harassment is the woman’s problem. You’re not the first person to have said this, and you surely won’t be the last.

It’s not just your sexism that’s tired. Your Islamophobic rhetoric is old too.

Last year, when you attacked Muslim women, by way of Ghazala Khan, the mother of the late U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, for not speaking as she stood next to her husband, you perpetuated a stereotype about Muslim women that served as the American call to war post-9/11: that Muslim women need saving from their misogynistic counterparts.

You surely can’t have forgotten about Laura Bush’s radio address about the oppression of women and children in Afghanistan or the countless op-eds, articles, and covers dedicated to documenting the plight of Muslim women. Overnight, people went from not knowing where Afghanistan was on a map to advocating for the rights  (they thought) Muslim women should have. Naturally, this savorism manifested itself in Islamophobia. In the years that followed 9/11, globally, we’ve saw the passing of laws banning hijabs (in some cases, men actually ripping them off of women) and an uptick in hate-crimes against Muslims. Remember the response when the Muslim lawyer Saba Ahmed who wore an American flag hijab on Megyn Kelly’s show? And let’s not forget about the language of Brexit.

This language of white saviors reared its ugly head again on Saturday. As millions of women around the country took to the streets to protest your presidency and proposed actions, many of your followers took to Twitter to remind us that we (American women) don’t have it so bad.

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I can’t help but recall that the last time such concern was feigned for Muslim women, Iraqi women ended up with a Constitution that caved to the religious right and guaranteed women equal rights—as long as those rights don’t contradict Islamic law.

The thing is, Mr. President, misogyny knows no borders, no color, no religion. It knows gender and the shape of our bodies. It follows us from our homes to our workplaces, permeating every aspect of our lives. It is on the streets in the form of catcalls, in bars in the form of grabs. Sometimes, it lives deep within the people we love the most and comes out when we least expect it. It bleeds us. It breaks us.

Last week, you saw what our resistance can look like. We protested you on all seven continents. According to experts, nearly 3.3 million men, women, and children across the United States marched to voice their dissent. More people turned out against you on Saturday than in support of you on Friday. And this was just day 1 of your presidency.

So, Mr. President, trust me when I say this: you can eat your cake in the White House for the next four years, but know that we’ll always be standing outside, ready to rain on your parade. We’ll always be marching in the streets. We’ll always be shouting our dissent. We’ll always be asking questions. We’ll always be resisting.

Enjoy the White House while you have it.

Single With a Side of “Torshideh”

For Iranian women, the pressure of marriage comes with a sour twist.

By Sara Afzal

 

All the children sit around the table as their grandmother prepares the traditional Iranian feast. The pickled sour vegetable garnish known as torshi is placed alongside the steaming saffron rice with green beans and beef. The youngest girl finishes everything on her plate except the green mush. “Sara, eat your torshi!” the grandmother commands.

As a child, I never really liked torshi. It looked like a dark green compote with the occasional carrot and tasted too sour and vinegary. As a twenty something woman, torshi became less about questionable veggie spread, and more about the word torshideh–literally meaning soured, but used to describe an unmarried woman whose clock is ticking into her 30s. Think of it as the Iranian term for “spinster.”

The term torshideh haunted most Iranian women who suffered through tremendous marriage pressure from their families. My parents pushed me less in that department, a positive side effect from their divorce. Still, I was not immune to the term. My older male cousins threw the jabs as soon as I was in my early 20s. “Sara, you don’t want to become torshideh now. Learn how to cook Iranian food so you can be a good wife. Oh, and go pour us some tea.”

Think of it as the Iranian term for “spinster.”

The pressure to get married is overt for all young Iranian men and women, but the taboo is especially faced by unmarried women, as the word torshideh demonstrates. Yet, while women are encouraged to marry young, divorce is still frowned upon. In Iran, women are not legally permitted to attain a divorce as Sharia law gives men the sole right. In the U.S., about 40 to 50 percent of marriages ended in divorce, and in Iran, about 20 percent of marriages result in divorce. Of course these stats don’t imply that marriages in Iran work better than in the US, it just means it’s harder for women to get out of them.

Luckily, my parents were far from traditional. They left Iran during the tumultuous political years that would soon tip into the chaos of the 1978-1979 Islamic Revolution, and they were determined to build a new life in America. My mom, Nahid, was raised by Muslim parents who disapproved of her living with my dad, Ali, without being married. So the two students studying art and film at UT Austin decided to tie the knot spontaneously with no planned wedding ceremony. They got hitched wearing faded Wrangler jeans at the courthouse in Austin, Texas. On their wedding day, instead of a traditional ring, Ali gave Nahid a set of multicolored plastic bands that was later passed down to me. The retro pink, red, blue, and white rings once all worn on my mother’s ring finger sit inside of a small jewelry box I still have today. The rings may have lasted, but the marriage didn’t.

In Iran, about 60 percent of its 80 million people are younger than the age of 30.

My parents’ unorthodox marriage and eventual divorce has given me a complicated relationship with the Iranian way of looking at marriage. Like most children of a failed union, I can’t think about marriage without thinking about divorce. The truth is I’d rather be labeled torshideh like expired milk than get married for the wrong reasons, and I think this is a modern concept that is not accepted by an older generation of Iranians. Arranged marriages are still common in Iran, but at the same time, there has been a strong shift towards dating around and marrying at an older age, much like in the U.S. These contradictions between the modern and traditional are very apparent in Iran, a country where about 60 percent of its 80 million people are younger than the age of 30. The emergence of this youth population has been linked to the loss of young men fighting during the eight year war with Iraq in the 1980s, and also the government’s encouragement of larger families during the beginning of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Living in the U.S. makes it easier to avoid the anxiety of being called torshideh. Surrounded by powerful women who look at marriage as an option and not a compulsion has empowered me to feel confident in my own hesitation. It’s more of a “if it happens, it happens” with no impulse to dream up a wedding day fantasy. I’m most thankful that my parents have not adhered to the norm and pressured me to marry “a nice Iranian boy,” but that doesn’t mean the rest of my family is as lax. The last time I went to Iran my grandmother, who loves to arrange marriages, said, “If you come back again, I will find you a husband.” I haven’t been back since.