My Experience of Being A Woman in the Year of Donald Trump

Sometimes events occur that are so shattering, so emotionally personal, that sooner or later I know I will be compelled to write about the experience, either to share with others or to calm my own spirit and discover what kind of insight, what kind of wisdom might come bubbling to the surface. There are experiences in life that can never be adequately captured in the ever-so-limiting tool of language and words.

Sexual assault is such an experience. Even typing the words “sexual assault” fills me with emotion. It feels too personal, too dark, too horrific to write about.

There are degrees of sexual assault of course and my story is of a much lesser degree than those who have been raped. I have been very fortunate to never have been raped. That is an experience I don’t even know if I could find the courage to put into words.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me tell you about me – at least the “me” that matters most in this life on earth. Let me tell you about the spirit and essence and traits that make “me”.

I was born into the world a girl, a very shy, frightened girl with a deep sense of wonder and curiosity and a determination never to give up. At a very young age, my shyness caused me great emotional pain. I went to school at 5 years old and I was immediately teased and bullied. I am very small and petite in stature and I found it hard to stand up for myself in a physical altercation, let alone a verbal one. I remember the first day of school when I discovered that some people, even those I’ve never met, will be mean to me for no other reason (apparently) than that they can. I was very afraid.

I felt the pain of my shyness. I felt the pain of my fear of speaking up and expressing to my parents, my family, my friends – all the fear and confusion I felt inside.   I would look at the ground when I walked. I would avert my eyes when speaking to others (to boys especially). I would plan my conversations with boys ahead of time, afraid of saying the wrong thing, afraid of embarrassing myself…afraid of being ridiculed for not knowing the “right” thing to say to a boy.

I was very thin and gangly and terrible at sports. As my teen years came, I was awkward and my fear and shyness made me even more awkward. Much to my dismay, my breasts did not grow and my face broke out. My hair was unmanageable and cut too short, so I did not feel “feminine” (or what people around me at the time told me what that word is supposed to mean). I have learned a lot since then about the meaning of words… especially the question of “whose meaning?”

I didn’t wear make-up as a teenager because I was adamant and determined that if a boy were ever to like me, it would be for my mind and heart and not because I put some kind of powder or cream or color on my face. I thought to myself, “if a boy asks me out without make-up, I will know that he likes me for me and not because of my appearance.”  I was very stubborn about this.

Not wearing make-up and trying to get a boyfriend with my very shy personality alone didn’t work. No boy asked me out in the four years of high school. I did not go to the Prom. I spent my last night of high school on a bus full of my fellow graduates, going to the “Graduation Cruise” with no one on the seat next to me. I watched all the girls and the boys next to them laughing, while I sat alone, a graduating senior in high school, wishing there was a boy sitting next to me.  I asked myself over and over “what is wrong with me?”

Then, I went to college. Same thing for a while – terrible shyness and no boyfriends. I cried a lot. I wanted a man, any man, to ask me on a date. Nothing happened.

So, after graduating from college, I did the unthinkable – I decided to try to overcome my shyness and social anxiety by becoming an actress. It blew everybody’s mind at the time – how could a young woman as shy and afraid and hesitant and socially awkward as me ever walk out and perform on a stage?

The first few months of acting school were dreadful and terrifying. My legs and hands and almost my whole body trembled (even my head shook) when I performed a scene in front of my classmates.   My fellow actors and the acting teachers would look at me and ask me “Why are you here? You are so frightened. Why are you here?”  There were many weeks when I thought the stage fright I felt would never go away. I thought to myself that I must be crazy, as shy as I was, to think that I could ever go out there on stage and be a real actor.

Then the unexpected happened – my stage fright all but disappeared. I remember the moment it happened. I was performing a 10-minute one-person show on stage for a packed house at my acting school.  I went out onto the stage as frightened as ever and sure I wouldn’t make it through the whole show, when suddenly about 3 minutes into the performance, something clicked inside me and BANG, the fear disappeared. I still can’t believe it happened.  I’m still not quite sure what exactly did happen. All I knew was that, suddenly, I wasn’t afraid.  Instead, I was an actress playing a role and having the time of my life.

I still don’t know what happened that night 29 years ago. For a long time I was afraid that it was temporary, that the fear would return.  It didn’t. From that moment on, going on stage brought me not fear, but only joy.

That moment changed my life. Over time it helped me to overcome my shyness with men and others as well. I actually learned how to talk to a man and look him in the eye and not be afraid.

I still feel shy inside at times (I think I always will), but these three decades later, I am something I never thought I would be – a (mostly) confident woman, who looks people in the eye and is comfortable in my own skin.

That is half the story. The second half of the story takes me back to my appearance. I am still skinny. My breasts never did grow. My hair is still unmanageable, although I enjoy the thickness of it now, instead of hating it as I did when I was younger. My skin is clear, most of the time.  I am a very petite woman, who could be easily overpowered by a man. I live in New York City where I know that dangers exist. Like many urban women, I receive cat-calls and comments sometimes when I walk down the street.  (I’m still no good at knowing how to respond – my residual shyness kicks in every time.)

I still rarely wear make-up (some things never change) and I spend my money on music rather than fashion, but today it no longer matters.  Today, I am loved by those who know me, for who I am, not for what I look like….except.

EXCEPT….except sometimes by men. Sometimes I walk down the street and men make comments about my small breasts or my little body – sometimes the comments are complimentary and sometimes not….but every time it makes me feel like crap – awkward, afraid, anxious, confused and other feelings I can’t quite put into words.  It also makes me feel angry for every other woman who has these kinds of experiences.

Then, one day a few years ago, it got worse. (I will keep this part of the story short because it is painful to think about).   I was sitting on the subway. The subway was crowded. I was wearing jeans and a sweater, carrying a canvas bag on my lap.  Suddenly, something didn’t feel right. I couldn’t say exactly what it was, but I felt upset, confused, “wrong” – something was very wrong. Something compelled me to lift my bag off my lap and there it was — the hand of the man next to me between my legs.   I leaped out of my seat and he ran off the train as we pulled into the station.  I told the people around me what he had done to me. They sat and stared at me and said nothing. It is New York – many people do not get involved.

I didn’t get a good look at the guy and there was little I could do, so I just went home. I went home and cried – for days and weeks I cried. I am crying even now as I write this. I don’t know about others, but for me, that kind of sexual assault is something one never really gets over.

There are no words for that kind of violation and still being the shy person (inside) that I am, I was determined to simply get past it and overcome….and I did.  That is what I do when faced with life’s challenges….I overcome them.  “Overcoming”, however, does not mean the pain goes away.  It just levels out (and I tend to bury such pain to be honest).

Until now.  I buried that memory until this week — when I heard the audio of Donald Trump talking on that bus. Millions of other women like me – some who have been sexually assaulted, some who are shy, some who are not, even some who have been raped – and some who have received cat-calls and comments of all kinds from men walking down the street — we all heard Donald Trump.   We heard him say how he treats “beautiful women” and how he “can’t help it”.

Mr. Trump is not a woman.  How can he know what it is like to live as a woman in our society? How can he know the emotional pain and confusion and fear and horror and disgust and even shame that a woman can feel when she – when I – when we – are viewed as someone who can be touched or spoken to or spoken about in demeaning words like pussy or bitch or parts of our body treated as property for anyone to touch or criticize or judge.

Women know what I am talking about. We are women – we know the deepest, most visceral, physical part of what it means to be born a woman in this world – emotionally, psychologically, physically, sexually, spiritually – women KNOW what it feels like to be a woman – a girl, a teenage girl, a young woman, a middle-aged woman and, if we’re lucky, an old woman.

Men cannot know that feeling of what it is like to live in this world as a woman, just as I cannot know what it is like to be a man or an African American or Latino or Asian or other minority. We each know about who WE are, but we can only guess at what it is like to wear the shoes of another.

Still, many of us try.  Many of us show respect to the other gender or ethnicity or race or orientation, not because we are told to, but because we somehow know in our hearts the importance of trying to imagine what it is like to live in someone else’s shoes.   Empathy exists in the hearts of many – and it is lacking in the hearts of many.

Mr. Trump’s remarks – and especially his behavior – hurt and anger me as a woman because of what I have experienced and what I have seen other women experience – but most of all,his words and actions tear me apart because a man of such power, such wealth – lacks the empathy to imagine – or to try to imagine – what it is like to be a woman on the receiving end of such behavior — and most of all, because there are those who support a person who lacks such empathy as a candidate for President of the United States.

Mr. Trump very likely will not change, but we can. We – you, the other women and the other men in this country and this world — we can change. We can try and imagine what it is like to be of another gender, another race, another religion, another sexual orientation.

We can never know….but we can imagine.

I ask you today to please imagine….and then vote.  Vote with empathy.

Blessings to you all,

Cinda

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Daniel Damiano on October 12, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Very well said, Cinda. I already admired you for your integrity and kindness, and am further moved by your unyielding honesty here as well as your accuracy regarding the climate of desensitization, further perpetuated by a trogloditic presidential candidate.

    Like

    Reply

    • Thank you, Danny. As a man in this world, you are a role model – as a writer and as a human being. Bless you, my friend. It is a privilege to know you. – Cinda

      Like

      Reply

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