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Cat Or Mouse?

You’re not prepared for it.

You’re never prepared.

That’s the point, isn’t it.

They know they have to catch you off guard.

Alone, isolated, unaware.

In the office, during a meeting, in a car, at an event.

They whisper it under their breath. They laugh it out loud.

They laugh it off when they touch you.

It’s a long game.

It starts with questions just this side of nice. Asked with a laugh.

Asked in front of others, engaging them in the joke.

When you protest, they brush you off together.

The questions come more often, they get more specific.

The commentary starts spewing

What you wear, how you walk, the way you sit, the way you talk,

What did you do on the weekend…who did you do it with?

how did sleep last night…were your dreams pleasant, full of spice?

where are you off to in such a hurry…and looking so damn nice?

People will say, “it’s normal”. Don’t overact, they’ll laugh.

Just this side of nice.

Then you’re alone. On the street, at the bus stop, in your office doing work

It’s your coach, it’s your colleague, it’s your cousin’s best friend, it’s your boss.

If you protest or refuse or even dare to shout, you might as well quit.

 Cuz you’re out.

It’s a game. A game of Chicken. Cat and mouse.

You want to be the cat. You imagine extending your claws to swipe back.

You practice your growl, your roar, you scream so hard your throat is hoarse and tears are streaming from the awfulness that is play-acting how you will survive.

But

You’re not prepared for it.

You’re never prepared.

When it happens, and it will happen

When they reach out their hand, their lips, their body moving toward you

Whether it connects or is just a threat.

You. Freeze.

You’re unprepared despite all your preparations.

You’re not the cat. You are the mouse and you are trapped.

Trapped in the ridiculousness that this is happening to YOU.

You, the strong, the educated, confident, vocal you.

 You who have been here before. and before. and before.

You who have trained other women and educated girls, who have read all the articles and the poems and the HR policies. You have them memorized.

You quote them in your head as you sit there frozen.

There is no defense.

You ask friends and colleagues and experts.

Their advice is what is in all the articles and poems and policies.

In the moment, in hell, it’s all just fucking bullshit.

and

They win.

Fight back, everyone says.

As if I don’t want to.

You sit and debate my place in the world.

Tell me to marry, have children, bring peace.

Dress well, be silent, show respect, know my place.

You say you’re a feminist while shouting your arguments over the sound of my voice.

You call me out for enjoying a glass of wine, a night of dancing, or having the audacity to find my own way home.

When I do marry and procreate, you withhold jobs. You question my dedication. You relegate me to the end of the table.

They say men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid we will die.  

Brother, father, cousin, uncle, teacher, boss, cop, priest, coach.

We are afraid of you.

You walked by me on the street, decided you owned my body

You passed me in the hallway, slapping my ass without a glance

You pulled me to you on the dance floor, ignoring my resistance. Crushing me against you, crushing my freedom, my voice

You lay your hand upon my knee below the table, leaned over the back of my chair, walked slowly below me on the stairway, lingered over me with your stare

You tease me with your compliments, placate me with politeness, disarm me with your smile while your eyes devour your fingers demand your bodily desires intrude past my defenses.

Just. This. Side. Of. nice.

You gather a crowd around you. The boys club, locker room talk, misogynistic superiority. A congregation of acceptance, delusion, collusion.

But where is my crowd?

Where are the women to amplify my NO. Where are the men to call out their bro. Where are the elders who failed to establish a culture that valued my safety beyond locking me in a kitchen.

Together we march. We shout. We raise our fists high.

In the moment, I am alone.

 Depleted, my voice dried out.

I go home at night to sit in the dark and cry.

Then

I cloak myself in dignity.

I wallow in my worth.

I may not have courage to slap you and face the consequences but I am NOT hiding in a corner.

I am the cat.

The hunter lying in wait. I am the soft, cute, pettable pet you can’t resist to play.

You are the mouse. The scurrying rat that slinks behind cabinets and through filthy drawers. Who nibbles away at my power, a nuisance wearing thin all my walls.

But I have claws and teeth and hair that rises in a halo around my head held high.

I am the cat. The one who slowly stalks her prey.

Who is poised for the moment, the weakness to be revealed.

Who suffocates the antelope and tears out the throat of the bear.

You will feel my wrath. Perhaps not in the moment but in the end. The end of the hunt is the end of the patriarchy. You sit comfy in your kingdom and Beware.

When the lion awakens, you will feel my roar.

The author is a poet

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