A couple weeks ago, I was at the recycling center because I am a good person who recycles. I was standing outside the dumpster that holds the comingled recycles. I don’t pre-separate my recyclables before I go to the center because I’m not that good of a person. I find an open window in the bin and toss glass, plastic, and aluminum products one or two at a time while filtering out the paper and cardboard and always a couple of batteries I have to pull from the primordial slime at the bottom of the tub.
I like to go to the recycling center on Friday because it’s the least busy time of the week, not because I’m lame and have nothing better to do. It was a typical Friday evening, only one or two other people were there, and I was happily sorting, experiencing the warm rush of endorphins I get from feeling superior to all the jamooks who don’t recycle, when a man arrived.
There wasn’t anything noteworthy about this man, though I sensed he was going to be a problem when, in the nearly deserted lot, he parked so close to my car there was no way I could open my door until he left. However, I still had several different dumpsters to visit, it was warm out, it was Friday, I didn’t let that petty annoyance bother me.
He grabbed a plastic bag filled with his comingled items and approached the dumpster. I was still at my window, sorting and tossing, and apparently this was a problem for him. Without looking at me, without saying a word, he stepped in front of my little blue bin and hefted his bag into the window I was using. It sideswiped my head, and because I am famous for my grace and balance, of course I nearly fell into the rough gravel.
“Hey, asshole,” I shouted. “I’m right here. What is wrong with you?”
Still, he didn’t acknowledge me. I wondered if I died and became a ghost. Which, kudos to me for being such an environmentally-friendly specter. He didn’t bother to concede my existence. I was standing where he wanted to be standing, and so he took that space for himself. It wasn’t like that was the only window available in that dumpster, but to get to the next one, he would’ve had to walk an extra five feet, so I understand his dilemma.
After that incident, I found this happening to me a lot. At the grocery store, I spent the entire trip trying to get around this one man who, it didn’t matter how many times I politely said excuse me, managed to be two feet away from me, blocking me, obstructing my path. “We keep running into each other,” he joked.
NO! I wanted to scream. There’s no way this is anything but purposeful on your part! It had to be, right? The man at the recycling center knew I was there, he just didn’t care, and the man at the grocery store wasn’t unaware of me. I spoke up. I asserted myself. But they wanted my space to be their space and so they took it.
I am a woman who uses real estate. I’m not small. I’m loud. My hair is poofy and flies everywhere and my legs are long and my hips and booty sometimes get away from me. I consume oxygen. I take up space. Literally and figuratively, I take up SPACE in this world.
Women are supposed to be diminutive, and not just physically. Whatever our size, we are supposed to make ourselves smaller. We are supposed to defer. We are expected to put men’s needs before our own, and not simply the men we love. You want to know if you found a good man? See how far he lets you expand. The older I’ve gotten, and the more I’ve stubbornly refused to shrink, the more I truly believe the majority of men, including strangers, can sense I’m a bitch who, in their eyes, needs to be taken down a peg. So they encroach.
Or it could just be that since I’ve stopped trying to make myself as small as they want me to be, it’s only now starting to really piss me off.
I’ve tried to be quiet and meek. Those of you who know me might be thinking, “When the fuck did she try that, because I have no recollection of such a time?” Believe me, I have. All loud women have, at some point or another. You get tired of being cast as a troublemaker because you have the audacity to point out inequities in your daily life. You swear next time, you’ll show restraint. You are humiliated because no matter how hard you try, you always find yourself running against the wind, being shoved and jostled from every angle.
Until one day you ask the question: What exactly have I done that I should feel this bad about? And there’s no good answer.
In the end, we are who we are, and I certainly am who I am, and I’m tired of feeling ashamed because I just don’t FIT. And I don’t mean fit in with a group or blend with society. It’s much simpler and more primal than that. I need more space than too many men of the world (and far too many women who don’t understand the patriarchy isn’t protecting them) want to give me. The more I spread, the harder they compress. I’m exhausted of trying to be tiny. It just wasn’t meant for me.
I think a lot of women feel this way, and when our physical presence is ignored or violated, like at the recycling center and the grocery store, it doesn’t feel like a careless mistake or something easily brushed aside. Instead, it’s an attack on our largesse; they want it dead. They want to pick and chip until we kill it ourselves.
I’m glad I yelled at the guy at the recycling center. I’m glad I didn’t politely laugh at the man in the grocery store. I deserve more square footage in this universe. Maybe we all do.