Sunday, March 2, 2008

Off the Record

Though this doesn't relate to female cinema specifically, I feel that it certainly does relate to the grander scheme of womanly things.

The Tale of a Loner Girl - Sara's Night Off (3/1/08)

Jake went to work around 3:00 yesterday. From basically 3:00 until 9:00 I worked my ass off editing an essay for the consideration of publication and doing random bits of homework. When the time came for me to leave my lovely apartment and venture into the outside world to see The Other Boleyn Girl, I felt solid, confident, and happy.

Before I got ready, I checked the temperature outside and deemed it warm enough to wear a skirt with warm tights instead of wearing blue jeans for the umpteenth time since winter started. In case you can't tell, This is what I decided to wear:

- Green turtleneck sweater
- Black knee-length skirt
- Warm, artsy black tights
- Black high-heeled, knee-high boots
- Black Beret

All of which were covered with my heavy black winter coat and rainbow-colored scarf.

To be honest, I thought and still think I looked cute. I’ve been having a plethora of self-esteem issues lately and yesterday was the first day in a very long time that I felt “OK” with my appearance.

Until I stepped outside.

I left home with my warrior make-up on and came back with runny mascara and cheeks full of tears.

As I neared the train station, the first incident occurred - some gentlemen who had just left the train station saw me, stopped dead in his tracks, looked me up and down and proudly asked: “Where’s your papa?” My warrior make-up was untarnished then - I scowled at him and he quickly walked away.

By the time I got to the platform, I realized I was going to be in for a bumpy night because I had chosen to wear a skirt instead of a pair of jeans.

On the train, men looked at my legs while I read Homer’s The Odyssey. Some boys at the end of the car screamed and hollered with cigarettes and booze in their hands. My comfort level began to decrease.

I got off at Grand and walked as fast and carefully as I could through the smelly passageways to the AMC Rivereast theatre. I always hear screams in those passageways when I’m alone at night. It’s quite terrifying. But my eyes were on the prize - I had a mere ten minutes to make it to my movie on time as the train had stalled between North and Clybourn and Clark and Division for fifteen minutes. I couldn’t think about being alone and afraid just yet. And, besides, there were a few people wandering around that dimly lit path so I knew if I screamed someone would be able to hear me at least.

Got to the movie on time. Watched it. Left the theatre around 12:15. Piles of people filed out of the building side by side and we were all going in the same direction - or at least I thought we were. At St. Clair, they all took a right while I kept going straight, through those dimly lit passageways yet again. I didn’t realize I was alone until I hit the first intersection. I began to quiver. I couldn’t hear any noise, which, for Chicago, means bad news.

I looked in my purse for my handy, legal three-inch blade. Left it at home. So, I plucked my ball-point pen out of my purse and took the cap off and held onto it like a knife in my pocket as I quietly walked through the remaining nooks and crannies to get to the train station. I peered around every corner, object, and suspicious-looking doorway. No one was there.

Two cars drive-by at different times and each one slowed down to honk at me. Lovely. Now, not only do I feel vulnerable for being by myself at 12:30 in the morning, I feel objectified and freaked out by the loud car horn. Thanks guys. That makes me feel so special.

I near the end of my journey through the dimly lit passageways. But, shit! I forgot the sidewalk was out. I have to cross the street. I had been talking to Jake off and on during this trip, but his phone just died. I have this crazy idea that if I’m talking on the phone then people will be less likely to bother me. I’m usually wrong.

And, of course, as I cross the street, a gang of drunken (mostly male) friends walk down the staircase by the bookstore and start in with the comments and whistles. I basically run away from them. Nothing feels worse than having several sets of eyes on you when your heart is beating this fast.

I finally make it to the train station. No northbound trains you say! I have to go to Lake and then, walk to another train station, and then go northbound? Isn’t that fitting? In the pit of hell that is the Grand train station lately there is not one woman to speak of besides myself in a crowd of over thirty. I must be imagining things, but I feel all of their eyes looking me up and down. This feeling is heightened even further by the extremely loud sound of construction taking place ten feet away from me. I have to wait for the southbound train for twenty minutes. My eyes well-up with tears.

I finally get to Lake and walk as quickly as possible to the train station that will take me to Jake at the Fullerton stop. Again, there is perhaps one woman on the platform in a crowd of several men. One guy says “hey baby” to me as I walk by. I’m too terrified to say anything which is the most frustrating part of the entire evening because I should say something in the minimal hope that my fighting back will change his ways. But I can’t. I can hardly walk because I’m so scared. All I can do is turn and stare at him with the tearful look of disgust on my face. He just smiles.

My warrior make-up is gone.

I get on the train and Jake gets on board with me at Fullerton. He comforts me to the best of his ability and we go home.

I realize that this might sound like a lot of female neuroticism coming to life. But it’s not. Honestly. When men look at women up and down with that one-track mind mentality, it feels like our souls are being stripped bare - we feel naked and judged. Nothing in this world feels worse. I’ve had many, many conversations with other women about this topic and all who know better understand the feeling. Some girls get turned on by this attention. I definitely don’t.

There are several things wrong with the story I just presented to you, but the one I hate to admit most is the one I already tried to explain - that when I get so terrified by the so-called flattery men are bestowing upon me, I can’t say anything. It’s incredibly frustrating and I feel like a hypocrite to my ideals. I just freeze because I know that if I say the wrong thing to someone, I could very easily get hurt.

And why did I feel this way to begin with? Because I decided to wear a skirt instead of a pair of jeans - a skirt that sticks out like a horrendously sore thumb among the masses of blue-jeandom other girls were wearing yesterday. I might as well have been wearing a goddamn target. It’s not right that I shouldn’t be able to wear what I want to, when I want to because of the very realistic fear that someone may rape me, hurt me, or just verbally abuse me with their comments. It’s just not right. I should be able to wear what I want when I want - no matter what.

Today I wore that same outfit just to test the waters of going out into the world with Jake by my side. No one said a word. No one even took a glance.

I know it’s a long shot, but last night as well as many others like them just remind me of how valuable my project really is. By bringing to light all of the bad representations of women in modern, mainstream cinema, perhaps it’ll make a difference in the way both women - - and men perceive the female gender. I doubt any man would want to harass Pam Grier after watching Coffy or Foxy Brown. Maybe there will be more of those types of women in the future? I can only hope because I’ve got to keep on truckin‘.

Thankfully, my pals over at wrote several letters to the creators of this shirt and it was taken out of circulation. However, they just created this t-shirt:

Lovely, huh?
I'll review The Other Boleyn Girl after I see Penelope sometime this week.

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