This being human is heavy tonight
and I am thinking of the gym sauna,
cedar hot against my skin
aching from the distance I made it run,
but still now in the dry heat
almost frozen still in fact,
as the man in his fifties chats,
learns what my parents do,
starts explaining how fucked up things are
with the EU, Single Farm Payments,
why pay for British when we could have it cheaper
and all the world will open up once Brexit is done.
He wears his smile like a victory.
then tells me he has won this debate
proud to have converted a farmer’s daughter
to his way of seeing things.
My only two sentences crumbling
beneath ‘Well of course we’d be better off
if the government let agriculture simply die”,
and I am trying not to do the same.
Mute in my panic
trying not to shrink beneath him.
Fixed somewhere I do not want to be
but cannot leave without fleeing,
and the others here are so silent,
careful to keep their eyes averted
from whatever it is they can hear.
So I wait him out with compliance,
with my lack of argument or voice,
and when he leaves,
I catch a look for another guy,
hear his comment:
‘well that was weird’
and tell myself
it is done now
if anyone asks, it was nothing.
There are a lot of discussion going on at the moment about the dangers faced by women on a day to day basis, and I’ve been reflecting on some of the situations I’ve found myself in at various points in my life. I’m twenty-seven, and not even including the time I was physically assaulted by a group of boys when I was in secondary school, I’ve actually lost count of the number of “minor” incidents where I’ve been touched without permission, intimidated, talked down to, or felt threatened. Almost every time I go out walking on my own I preform a sort of mini risk assessment in my head, and the idea that my daughter, the child I’m carrying in my belly, may ever feel that level of anxiety, terrifies me. I agree that it’s not all men, but the fear is that you don’t know which person means you harm, so you find yourself viewing everyone as a potential threat, and it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting that women have had to fight to get ‘up-skirting’ made illegal, that currently there is no legislation to fight back again ‘deep-fakes’ when they are used to create explicit content with someone’s face, without their permission.
There are over 600 poems on this site. Most of them don’t touch on those personal experiences because like Marina Hyde discusses in her column about harassment, I’ve grown up minimising those incidents into ‘nothing’. Tonight I’m using the DVerse prompt to address the balance and address the personal. This isn’t something I can shrink from any longer.
So good – it captivates you right from the first lines and then you go from the heat of the sauna to the narrator’s fear and discomfort
It’s a campaign to keep women subjugated. No, not all men do it, but it is important when it happens those f*ckers who do do it get called out on it in some way. In his own way, the guy who said, ‘well that was weird’ was generating solidarity with those assembled. Maybe a day will come when these freaks are laughed out of the space by the assembled group. We can only hope.
We can only hope
Thank you for being brave
Thank you Ron
Bless you for speaking up and speaking out.
Thank you Beverly
“He wears his smile like a victory.”
For what it’s worth; I don’t dare to speak to ANYONE in a sauna.
Awesome work here, Carol!
Thank you Ron. I normally don’t mind having a chat, I’m a very chatty person, but this guy seemed to want a soap box and once he was on it was determined to beat everyone else into agreement with him.
hahaha, isn’t it just so that life is supposed to be relaxing but there is always that one who will make you stand at attention and be careful where you look or what you say.
Yes, we’ve got to stop pretending “it was nothing”. Thanks, Carol, for exposing the ugliness we shouldn’t ignore.
Thank you Lynn
Great capture of that feeling when someone talks nonsense to you and you just nod your head and smile. I draw the line at racism. I can’t nod my head to that. And unfortunately yes we still feel threatened when we go out wearing our bodies which are female. I used to love going out running with my pitbull-labrador cross because I felt so safe. Now I don’t have him so I have to consider my running routes carefully.
I’m lucky that my running routes are relatively safe, but I still avoid narrow alleyways where I know there may not be other people around, even though they are right behind my house. I stick to the roads where there are houses and hopefully someone nearby if anything should happen. (Though I’ve not really done much running since getting pregnant, the morning sickness threw me out of the habit.)
No shrinking! ❤
Indeed, no shrinking.
An amazing poem and so evocative of the constricted space, the overpowering male and the extreme discomfort. THank you for being brave enough to say it out loud.
Thank you for reading and commenting.
I was listening to ‘You and Yours‘ on Radio 4 yesterday, and so many women, and a few men, called in to share their experiences of unwanted attention, assault, rape, violence, and it seems to me that almost every woman I know has been there in a ‘nothing moment’ that either could have or did become something. My daughter used to live a short walk from Clapham Common, where Sarah Everard was abducted, and walked her dogs there daily. One time when I was visiting, we were walking the dogs when we spotted a flasher in the bushes. I was so glad there were two of us and didn’t want to imagine what might happen to her on her own. I’ve been there too, when I was a teenager, later in the first week of my life in Cologne, again in South London when Ellen was a toddler, the list goes on. I agree that it’s not all men, and that you don’t know if someone means you harm, not until they are right in your face or touching you. I’m so glad you shared this poem, Carol.
Thank you Kim. I’ve been thinking about a comment of how women sharing their stories is creating a climate of fear, but quite frankly I think a climate of fear has always existed, we’ve just spent so longer treating it as normal that we don’t recognise it anymore.
Consciously and carefully handled here Carol, leaving all the implications and unsaids exposed to sauna heat. Well done.
Thank you. I’m never quite sure how to tackle this sort of subject matter because it can so often line you up for more anger and venom. It’s been a relief that all the comments so far have been so supportive.
Oh Carol, you capture so perfectly the violence of moments like these. What a beautiful poem. I hope your parents’ farm is doing well!
I take huge pride in the effort my parents put into their farm, and their commitment to animal husbandry and conservation of the countryside around them. They’ve just started lambing so things are hectic but good.
I can just imagine how he might feel winning like this… he probably doesn’t even understand that he is the loser in the end. I remember a situation in a sauna once when an old man tried to get me to join him for something I didn’t want… so I can relate even as a man…
I couldn’t work out if I was more galled for how he spoke down to me, or how he felt he was somehow an expert of British agriculture despite having only a generalised stereotyped image of it in his mind.
Great to hear you read this Carol
Gah, him saying agriculture should be let die amazes me – given we have a world of hungry people to feed. I just think we need to grow food in healthier ways than the way corporations do it. Interesting poem. Food for thought. I also resonate with your notes that follow. I look back with today’s awareness at so many incidences that would be recognized now as abuse that I didnt understand was abuse at the time. Keeping our daughters safe becomes our main job.
He was very much of the opinion that cheapest production price should win out over everything else. I disagreed with so much of what he said but had no way to argue with him as he left no space in the conversation and I refused to be the person shouting over him to be heard. I doubt he would have taken any notice of me no matter what I did or said.
Oh Carol, I have a highly intelligent, athletic, truly gorgeous 49-year-old daughter.who after graduating with a Masters, has spent her career in the financial business world. Talk about an “old-boys-club”, the shit my daughter has shared with me over the years made me angry to tears sometimes. She has had a number of relationships with very successful men, and currently has a great guy with whom she lives. However, she had a very challenging time regarding men from age 13 until her late 30’s, including a couple incidents of assault — and still the occasional incident. She chose not to pursue any of them legally, but they have impacted her entire life. She readily admitted to me she has no children for fear of bringing an innocent girl into this world. My daughter has excellent control over her world now, having become extremely successful and financially independent — but it still breaks my heart to know the shit she has had to endure because she is a women, and very attractive in addition. We may be human, but far from humane and civilized. Your entire post here makes me angry Carol. Never stop speaking out!
This is incredibly hard-hitting and poignant, Carol! Sometimes we come across people in our lives who fail to respect the other person. The ones who keep talking incessantly never bothering to hear or care about another’s opinion. I was really moved when I heard you read this tonight. 💝💝
Some are well–schooled in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!! In silence we acquiesce, but reponding is wearying.
What an astute poem Carol. Bravo!
Oh.. your poetry is wild and wide.
Never knew one could fix direct convos in between.
Of this is relatable when you let someone speak shit just to amuse themselves. But it is never easy to mute for senses sake.
This grabbed my heart and soul…I think sobbing is the only response I have, too many memories, too much hating to have been born a girl without value.
Your poem drew me in and held me in full attention. I didn’t understand how threatened you may have felt until I read your informational piece at the end. I guess it is because in the poem you are not alone. I hear your frustration, fear, and ongoing anxiety loud and clear. I think it is important for all of us to keep talking about this and standing up for ourselves when needed.
Thank you for writing beautifully about an important topic.
the incidents are far too often, we have to minimise them just to survive … I pray we clean our act up before your daughter turns ten but …
I’ve written a few poems on the topics lately as rape in our parliament house has triggered many large protests.
A powerful poem, Carol. I enjoyed your reading, too. We do often minimize these experiences and/or assess the risk factors of speaking up. I wrote a reference book on sexual harassment that was published last year, and it really made me think about the subject (of course). I always wonder when a women tells me that they never experienced sexual harassment, and I tend to think that most likely they did minimize it. One of the professors on my dissertation committee came on to me, but I never said anything at that time, but it was so upsetting to me, and it totally spoiled what I thought was a mentor-mentee friendship.
I love, love poems shared from the poet’s point of view … conversations overheard, part of them, current / long ago … all of them. Cheers.
I felt your trauma in my soul. I absolutely love this. Great job!
well done for speaking up! as somebody who has been bullied myself. YES WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN THROUGH IS BULLING! sorry bullies get my back up in whatever form they take from pick on the homeless, picking on women etc etc the list is long. good luck with your daughter. i am truly proud of mine who i hope never has to tolerate any more sh*** abusing women.
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