Are we giving some topics a seat at the table, or is our table just a side table for kids so they don’t bother the grown-ups? That’s how I feel when I talk about mental health for example, or women’s status in society. Does that seat count, and how important is it to have it?
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When we find a nook on the Internet to talk about these topics, we attract like-minded people, and that’s great. But the thing is, we all already know that’s important. We need others to understand it, too. We are not breaking the barriers when we are in this bubble with others like us. That’s a safe space. It’s safe to stay inside, but the bubble is actually a barrier.
Now, what I mean by that is I always feel comfortable talking about mental health, for example. Or rather, I talk about it, comfortable or not. And I’ve surrounded myself with people who understand it, can relate to it, or make me feel safe enough. That means I sometimes fool myself into thinking everyone is like that, and then I meet an “unsafe” person, and it hits me like a wave.
For example, recently, I had a conversation with my neighbor that deeply disturbed me. The city I live in is not the safest. We, young women and girls, are sharing messages about predators, the attacks, the places to avoid, and the descriptions of men or cars to be mindful of. That’s how we keep each other safe.
In conversation, I mentioned this to my neighbor. There was also an instance when I got back from classes to find the wall around my doors damaged. I was scared someone might have tried to get it. Turns out, it was the neighbor from upstairs moving something and accidentally scratching the wall. For some reason, that was laughable to this neighbor I was talking to. I am paranoid.
I am paranoid to think that in a city that is dangerous, where justice, especially for women, is slow, where there are predators attacking women in broad daylight, where I feel the gaze of old men on me when I pass them by, someone might have followed me home.
But no, that wasn’t shocking. What disturbed me was that I had to explain to an adult, a mother of two sons, one of which was in the room with us that day, that 15-to-20-year-old girls can’t possibly give 40-50-something-year-old men a reason to approach or attack them. She said to me that this only happens to girls who provoke it.
A few years back, I had to discuss with my uncle that my body is not someone’s political opinion. I was again talking about safety.
My attachment issues, my trust issues, and my anxiety attacks are things I’m okay talking about. It’s fine with people I can confide in. Those people are rare. I can’t talk about that in my family. I can’t talk about it with most of my colleagues at the Uni. I can’t talk about it with my neighbors, with grown-ups.
I’ve been holding these conversations for as long as I can remember. And disappointingly, things are exactly the same as they were a decade ago.
They are going to try to isolate you. When you start talking about whatever issue, they’ll try to do that. Make you feel like you’re the only one who believes that. It’s your own little fantasy. Nobody else thinks like that. It’s infuriating, and I don’t know what pushes them to do that. They’ll use everything they’ve got to silence you, to keep their peace. Otherwise, it makes them uncomfortable.
Well, one thing about me, I’ve learned how to make people uncomfortable right back. I’m in the era of understanding things where I’m mature enough to know it’s a difficult question but immature enough to pick every fight. I know it’s uncomfortable. That’s not why we hide it in the cupboards. When the milk starts smelling funny, do you put it back in the fridge and wait for the space to air out? Great, now the whole place stinks.
I’m tired. I’m angry because I’m tired of the change that’s never coming. Why are we repainting the walls when they rot from the inside? I know you want it to look good from the outside, but I don’t care about the aesthetic. It’s not safe to live there.
So, where’s the real table? There’s so much I don’t know about. I want to listen. There are people who can say and contribute more than me. I want to talk because it’s important. But give us the mic this time. To whoever this plea goes, the kids grew up.