I Will Take Everything

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Dear Men,

I am here to take things from you.

I know that’s why feminists scare you. We spend a lot of time being kind, trying to explain gently and non-threateningly all the things that you are still too blind to see because you have never experienced them. You pout like children when we express one iota of frustration that we have been explaining these things to you, your fathers, your grandfathers, for a hundred years. Like children who refuse to listen, you swear you are not being oppositional, that you really do not understand even though we have told you a hundred times. You get angry and stomp your feet when we suggest that your ignorance might be intentional because you prefer to get your way instead. You insist that it isn’t fair that we are mad at you for grown up things you don’t get yet.

I know the first thing you thought about when you read the first sentence of this essay was your money. A man fears few things as much as giving his heart to a woman who will take advantage of his kindness and generosity, who will selfishly claim as her own the fruits of his labor and time and then leave with it all. Someone with great power over you has taken everything from you, and you have no recourse. The law cannot help you because you gave her everything willingly, because you trusted her. Your friends think you were an idiot, they saw it coming all along. Or maybe they didn’t, maybe they liked her, maybe they’re just as shocked as you are, and they take you out for a beer and tell stories about women that have bled them dry so you don’t feel so alone. Either way, you are alone. You climb into bed alone. You stare into the darkness and wonder if you have any value to others at all besides what they can take from you. You wonder if love is real, if you are worth loving, if anyone will ever really love you. You resolve to make the next woman pay her own way, to prove that she loves you for who you are, not what she can get from you.

I’m going to take your money too, but that is the least of what I am here to take from you. I have spent my life doing labor I have never been paid for because I live in a society that does not value the labor of women. The idea that women should be paid for all the labor they do is ludicrous to you. It’s ludicrous because you can’t see it. You can’t see it because nobody taught you it exists. Nobody taught you that it was a thing you were supposed to do. You don’t even know women are doing it, but all around you the unpaid physical and emotional labor of women is smoothing your way. That sense of relaxation you get when you’re in a relationship? The way that, for a while, things are just somehow better and easier? That’s what our labor feels like to you. Men have never valued our labor. We raise their children and they complain about paying child support. We are the wind beneath their professional wings for decades and they leave us for a younger model and complain about paying alimony. The idea that any of these labors should be valued with currency like the labors of men is offensive to you. You resent every reminder that the things we do for you have actual value. Why?

So I will take your money from you, and I will not look back or apologize. You have taken and taken and taken from the women in your life since the day you were born with your magical everted genitals. You and your brothers and your fathers and your grandfathers have never valued us, and so we are not sorry that from time to time we use what little power we have to extract value from you. Our value has been passed down to you from generations of women that have propped you up and given you that ability to be ignorant of our struggles so you may focus on your own.

We are done with that. I’m taking my emotional labor away. If you want it, you may negotiate with me and tell me what it is worth to you.

I am taking away your innocence. You are not a victim of me. You are not a good person. I am taking that away too. Men with the power you have do not get to be good people. You may strive for equality and a better world. You may use your power to help those with less. You may be in every way you know how, a good person according to the world, but I won’t believe you. You do not get a cookie, or a celebration, or a monument for joining the struggle. You get to do the work. You get to do the work tirelessly, thanklessly, eternally, until you are utterly exhausted. And then you get to get up the next day and do it again, until you begin to walk the world with existential weariness, until you are haunted by the stories you have heard and the things you have seen. You get to weep for no reason (for all the reasons) at all at the worst possible times. You get to carry this alone, and nobody is going to pay you for it, certainly not me. After all, nobody has ever paid us either.

You do not get credit, or currency, or esteem that can vault you into positions where you can earn currency. If I thank you for your support, for your dedication to equality, understand that positive reinforcement always has been the best tool available for civilizing children. You can hold my approval and kind words close to your heart like children do. You can feel loved and appreciated and GOOD like children do. But you are not good. Not yet. Like children you have a lot of growing up to do; you are not yet prepared to go into the world unsupervised. I have to take that from you too. You cannot perceive the world with wisdom because you lack the experience. If you want any chance of growing up to be a good person, you must constantly look to your mothers, your sisters, your wives, your girlfriends, and your female friends and ask for permission to move forward.

I am taking away your agency, your ability to act independently with confidence. You must doubt everything and filter it through the experiences and words of women, because you are blind and stupid.

I am taking away your right to violence (if anyone ever has that right to begin with). Your favorite fantasies are all about using violence to protect someone helpless. You live for the day you get to punch or hit or shove or even eviscerate with words another man who has done violence to one of us. Entire media properties span centuries reinforcing this favorite fantasy of yours. Most of this media and your fantasies end with you claiming our bodies as spoils of war, as rewards for your violence. The hero gets the girl. The woman you defended at the bar gives you her phone number. You have triumphed over adversity and been rewarded, because the world is just and good.

You were offended, two paragraphs ago, when I called you stupid. Are you still offended? Women know that there is no reward for doing the right thing. Women know that we will be punished for it more often than not. Caring for others will cost us money and opportunities. Words of truth and anger will get us shunned from our communities. Standing up to you and defending each other makes us crazy bitches. You are stupid. Your fantasies are stupid and they are not real. You cannot have my body as a reward for violence. I am taking it away from you.

You cannot have the anger you feel right now either. I am taking that too. I told you I would not reward your violence and you immediately turned it on me. You tell yourself that you aren’t going to hit me. You are not going to rape me. And yet there it is, that anger pointed at me. You wouldn’t be the first man to raise a hand, whether only as a threat or to actually follow through with a blow. You won’t be last. You won’t hold me down and take what you want, but you may bathe me in your simmering resentment, the violence of your rage, until I give you what you want to make peace. I don’t get paid for that. You don’t value it. You think I owe it to you, as an apology for making you angry. Tomorrow, you will wake up and you will think everything is fine now.

I will continue to labor, and you will not notice.

I am here to take all of these things away from you because you have taken them from me, and you use your ignorance as an excuse not to give them back. You pretend not to understand. You put your fingers in your ears and sing nonsense instead of listening. You close your eyes and put your blanket over your head because if you saw what was happening to me you might have to do something about it, and you know the only way to help is to voluntarily give up all the things I had to take from you just now.

You are a chickenshit coward because violence is the only way you know to express courage. I will take everything from you, and I will not give it back until you learn that true courage is sharing the terrifying vulnerability that women have lived with all along.

Then you can have my body. Then you can have my labor. Then you can have your innocence back.

You can be a good person when you stop wanting your violence back.

A Woman

PS: Apologies for the crudity of my gender binary. Trans men may consider themselves wholly exempted from this address. I did not address it to cis men because, as I said above, they are stupid. Words confuse and upset them. I must use the words they know or they throw a temper tantrum. Perhaps, when they grow up, I will teach them how to use and understand better, more accurate, words.

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