Saturday, January 30, 2010

I, Object

I was an object: a thing.

I first learned this in the 60s when the words “sex object” seemed to float through the consciousness and media. I didn’t understand it exactly: I thought it was good to be thought desirable, sexy. It took me a while to see that to be treated like a possession, a curio, an inanimate object whose only value was the ability to arouse sexual sensation or pleasure in others, was dehumanizing. I didn’t know then that half the world probably did not concern themselves with my thoughts, feelings, or needs. I was only a teenager.

I married very young (still a teenager) mostly to get away from my mother and everything about my family that I abhorred. My mother understood my behavior, as she appears to have done the same herself, and told me that running away (I had done some of that as well before the impending wedding) was not going to change anything. She said, “Just remember, the last bag you pack has you in it.” I had no idea what she was talking about. I thought she was referring to me as an object, like an article of clothing. Now I get that she wasn’t saying that at all, but it is interesting that in some way she was unconsciously telling me exactly that.

I became a woman, but I was not a sex object. I had never been the girl that men wanted. I was the girl that men were scared of. I was direct, I was competitive with them, and I could get really angry when aroused. I was an alien, very different, thorny kind of object. This kind of objectivity was harder to talk about. I was supposed to be glad that men did not treat me as merely a body, but I was not treated at all. I was made invisible.

As an older woman I am visible, but not seen. Now I am a talking, laughing, engaging but useless thing. Men will talk to me; they will acknowledge my physical presence, but not me as person. Most often they engage with me because they must. They have to go through me to get to what it is they want.

Today LJ and I attended an orientation for a course that we are going facilitate. It is for an experimental college. We were required to go to this event. What followed was apparently well meaning, but juvenile and a colossal waste of time. Well, not for all attendees.

A young (and I mean young -- the guy looked to be all of twenty) man approached LJ and I as we prepared to leave at the end of the meeting. His first query was about our “relationship”. I took this to mean he wanted to know if I was her lover. I assured him we were friends, knowing full well that he was only interested in making contact with LJ. I talked my sincere head off. I asked him kind and probingly interested questions about his course, we talked about the trajectory of our studies, and on and on.

Upshot: he only wanted LJ’s phone number. I felt like I was an appetizer that came free with the meal but is completely ignored. True, he did not ignore me, if anything we talked quite a bit: mostly as I am trying to not be cynical toward men.

As nice and polite as he was being, I was not part of the main course. I felt like the pickle that is offered on the side with your sandwich that is never eaten, but thrown away.

I am not the goddamn pickle. And it isn’t just young men who behave this way. So now, I am not an object, I am not a thing, I am not threatening, and I am not scary. I am without any value at all. I cannot decide what is worse: to be invisible, or to be completely and utterly valueless.