Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Whore! Slut!

[Memoir Fiction. Do you know how hard it is to write about anger and have your readers/listeners care? Writing this piece really messed me up for a few days after. It had to be written somehow, but it was very difficult not only to relate it, but to be brutally honest about the reaction and deal with the shame of the reaction... In reality... Whether a person could really say these things to an old man, I don’t know. I’d like to think not... I’m afraid I just might though, given the opportunity. I would to defend someone else. I’m also afraid I wouldn’t... Would I be able to say these things if it was on my own behalf? Both scenarios are disturbing to me.]

19 years old. Friday night, 7pm. Martin Luther King long weekend. Home visiting from UC Santa Barbara. Calling Paul’s house, short for Harpal, an Indian guy friend, to see if our group of friends might be interested in a movie. His father answered.

“Hi, this is Rajshree. Are Paul and Glen back from San Diego yet?”
“Who is this?” thick Indian accent.
“This is Rajshree. We met at your house over Christmas break. How are you?” You see, Indian parents love me. Of course Paul’s dad would too.
“Oh, I know you… You’re that whore who is running around with that Philipino boy - Is it?”
He was referring to my ex-boyfriend. “I’m sorry sir, what? I’m just calling to see if Paul and Glen are back yet.”
“Yes, you are that slut, aren’t you?”
I realized he was drunk. Still, I had never been spoken to like this by an Indian elder. “Um, sir, yes, this is Rajshree sir, but I haven’t done anything wrong, I-“
“Don’t you talk back at me!”
“No sir, I’m not talking back. I just-“
“Calling my house in the middle of the night, asking for my son.”
“Um, it’s 7 o’clock sir. We’re only friends.”
“Look you whore, don’t you ever call my house ever again. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, sir. I did have a boyfriend and we are no longer seeing each other. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Shut up you whore!” he hung up.

I was 19 and up until recently had been dating my boyfriend, who happened to be Philipino. My parents, also hurt and angry, refused to call him and tell him off because he was right on the one count that I had been seeing a Philipino boy. Of course, I expected Paul to take his dad’s side… somewhere deep down I knew he would… it was still hurtful when he did. I wonder whether Paul’s dad knew Paul was dating my boyfriend’s Philipina sister at the time.

20 years later, when I was 39 years old, an Indian neighbor, much much younger than me, had hit on me. He wouldn’t stop when I told him to, reminding him I was married – instead he got more aggressive. I slapped him and left the situation. I told my husband about it afterward because it’s kind of scary when a guy won’t stop when you ask him too. “Whore! Slut!” Screamed my husband – my ex-husband. We were at the food court in the mall having this Jerry Springer moment. You see, it was my fault for being at the ice cream parlor, and in the situation in the first place where our neighbor could hit on me. I get hit on all the time. It is up to me to draw those lines and say no. Was I a whore and a slut every time a guy hit on me? Is this it then? The blame is placed on me because?? "I" am the one who needs to be torn down? Obviously none of these Indian men really knows what a whore and a slut is.

Some say I am too Americanized - not Indian enough. Too Americanized? I wake up every morning, brush and floss, and when I look in the mirror, I am already Indian. There's not a single thing I need to do to prove it. Too Americanized? You see, it's called self-preservation. I grew up with those cold cruel Indian aunties who acted as if they were better than my family. They were so insecure in their skin, that THEY competed with ME. They also tried to tear me down. And, I learned to turn it. I learned to get THEM to follow ME around. All those parties where we dressed up like peacocks... I grew up watched and stared at. I grew up being myself, walking my own path, stumbling and growing, learning to maneuver within the spotlight and diffuse the drama people will create. Too Americanized? If this is indeed the case, thank GOD for it and the choice and freedom I have because of it.

So yeah, I lived that power game among women. I choose my role in that. You see, I LEFT that power game. I know how it works, better now than I did when I was younger. So every time you call me whore and slut, it is YOU trying to tear me down. In effect, you are admitting I am above you. A-bove you. Calling me a Whore and Slut is NOT the way to control me. I will not be controlled, I cannot be controlled.

My husband I can divorce. Paul’s dad? Now that I’m older and I’ve a voice to stand up for myself, I would like to track that one down. I want to find him, dress up in my tall boots and skinny jeans, tight tank top, and ask him…

“So old man, are you getting ready to die yet - Is it? Do you remember me? Yeah, I’m that girl you called a whore and a slut. It doesn’t matter that I’m a college professor, that I’m a writer, that I was a good wife, that I take care of my parents, nieces, nephews, and goddaughter. You have no right to say anything like that to a young girl. You had no right to say such things to ME…"

Was my crime being attractive and American born? Being in a short-lived monogamous relationship until I left to go away to college? Being loved, treated well and respectfully by my first boyfriend? Whore? That’s what they think when the girl has presence, dresses nicely, and whom passers by admire?

“You have a granddaughter right? Well the kids these days... I’m American born too, and we were rebellious, but we were different. These girls grew up watching half dressed pop stars like Brittany Spears – Sir, you don’t even want to know what your 17 year old granddaughter is up to. I saw her out the other night. Tight little outfit. Too much makeup. Spiked heels. Short dress that barely covers her ass. Tits and cleavage spilling over the top of her dress… Here’s a picture! You’d have been real proud of her tight little body, long hair draping down her back. The epitome of modesty.”

“I know you’re from a different culture, that you have different expectations and values from people like me… Still, tell me, you misogynistic, racist, farmer, what made you think you could pass judgment on me? If you want to bring caste into it, well hell, at least I’m not an Untouchable Harijan like you. Oh, is that not supposed to matter in this country anymore? Oops. Well it’s ok, is it? To remind you of your caste. Doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked - to drag your family out of poverty, you’ll always be a low-life mean bastard to me. Die well. Die soon. At least one person on this earth will not mourn your passing.”