Saturday, September 15, 2012

South Beach Teachings

My roommates and I went to see a friend’s band play in a hotel lobby down on South Beach this weekend. I’ve never quite been anywhere like South Beach. It brought on an onslaught of thoughts and feelings for me. As I sat outside with my housemates, waiting for another friend who had the car to take us home, I witnessed a handful of moments that simultaneously turned my stomach and put me into a very specific “Sarah mode”.

Last night, in such a new way, I was witnessing women being approached and exploited because of physical and sexual intentions, with men feeling confident in their position to do so, and with the women in a mindset to accept it. It was a very confusing place for me to be. The emotions that I can associate with last night are of simply of utmost concern and sadness. Last night I was reminded in a new and scary way of something that instantly makes my heart race, and one in which I believe I will be living the rest of my life trying to counter. What a sick and infuriating view of masculinity and femininity we hold onto in our society. What a manipulative power struggle and perception of worth that exists.

It becomes alarming and honestly terrifying when we start to deconstruct and manipulate an understanding of one another into what is “right”, “normal”, “expected”, or “natural”. When a decision is made that women need to be this and men need to be that. That women are frail, needing to be led, are naïve or lack wisdom and ability, are approached first and foremost for their physical nature, that they can be seen as lesser, as well as greater in varying circumstances. That men must be defined by strength and power, that they are less loving and compassionate, that they are seen as domineering, that they must lead, that they also can be seen as lesser, as well as greater in varying circumstances. That there can be no overlap, interconnections, or spilling over into allowing people to be people…into allow them the opportunity to live out and bless the world with who they are and what they have to offer, without being limited to how they may have been gendered.

All of these limiting, and many times incorrect, understandings are hurtful and restricting. These understandings of power and worth that exist between men and women have serious, dangerous, harmful flaws. Men and women are not the same…because people are not the same. It isn’t about your gender. It isn’t about your sex. It isn’t about the genitals you were born with. Each person on this earth is capable of buckets more than what fits into what it “acceptable” and “understood” by gendered norms. Each person comes to be themselves in so many ways…by who they are, which of course includes their gender, but who they are and who they are capable of being is not confined to an understanding of gender.

Men and women. People. Individuals who are equally capable of having a capacity for wisdom, compassion, insight, kindness, strength, humor, empathy, power, love, initiative. Individuals who all carry a story. Individuals who are all seeking love and goodness in some way. Individuals who love and are loved.

Last night I sat, dumbstruck and hurting, as I watched the interactions between the women servicing themselves on the street and the men who were seeking to be serviced. What is the perception these people have for themselves? What is their perception of one another? I saw a man screaming at a woman as he was trying to drag her down the street, threats spilling all over, false understandings of power being used to scare and dominate as well as oppress and belittle. As they were walking by, I lost it. This human being speaking to another human being as though they were nothing…as though they were so deserving of the way they were being treated. Without even thinking I began to stand up and go towards them, wanting with all that I was to stop what I was seeing. It was panic mode. It was an automatic response. It was me not being able to stomach this treatment, the sick and terrifying understandings that people can hold for one another.

I don’t know what I was planning to do, really. It didn’t matter to me. It just couldn’t be left there as if it were nothing…or worse, as if it were normal or acceptable. As I shot up out of my seat to walk towards them, my roommate grabbed my arm and didn’t let go. She firmly said over and over to sit down, that it was dangerous, that the police were walking over at that moment to deal with it, that I couldn’t do anything about it. What a terrifying realization. I couldn’t do anything about it? But what can be done about it? Because it is not okay. Because it cannot be seen as normal. This isn’t something that can be defined or understood simply. It is big. It is the perception we hold for one another. It is the way we assume what we are each capable of, unfortunately and infuriatingly, simply on the recognition of something such as gender, which easily becomes definitive.

This issue, along with so many others, is big. They’re big & they cause us to feel as though we can’t do a darn thing. But we can try, can we not? We can make changes in our lives that affect our thoughts, interactions, perceptions of those around us. We can recognize the inherent worth that we all hold, especially, for the love of goodness, regardless of our gender. To believe in that for ourselves and for others. We can be responsible for ourselves to vow to try to change these things that exploit, demean, oppress, or lessen people, in whatever way we are able. There is worth in that. I am going to keep trying…and I want us to try together. 


  1. I experienced almost exactly this on Friday when I went to an 18+ club with my little sister and her friends. Never again.

    I am not sure what made me feel more insecure: the fact that we were being leered at constantly while dancing to music with graphically sexual lyrics or having my butt slapped and pinched on multiple occasions.

    Our society has a serious dysfunction around sexuality.

  2. Homecoming at a university with strong women looks the same, sadly. I spent the weekend struggling with the clothes, behavior, and ideology around sexuality, especially among young people. This is extremely well-written also, Sarah. I appreciate it greatly. Definitely a topic that should be discussed more, for women AND men.