I arrived home and opened a bottle of red wine, lit all my candles and honoured the September rains
The worst thing about meeting a sexist man is when he doesn’t know he is one.
Illustration courtesy of Maria Pichel : @mariapichelart
It was a violent summer storm that gave a taste of the winter ahead. It hit me as I was walking home, from what was one of the most enraging experiences of my first year as a thirty-year-old woman.
September nights were often like that, storms came by surprise after days of splashing in the water and bathing in the sun. It was always a new beginning for me, it carried the weight of the year, the lessons learned, and the tears cried. It made me reevaluate my intentions, my loves, and the things I had not done. The month of transition, the force of a new beginning merged with the breeze and warmth of the summer. September allowed me to say goodbye to summer with ease. I knew I was absorbing the September energy when my mouth craved scotch whisky and a Blues vinyl in front of a fireplace.
I didn’t have a fireplace, so I would usually light the candles in my house, oblivious — or rather uncaring- to the fact I could have easily burned down the whole apartment. But my desire to bathe myself in that golden light was stronger than any safety measure. I was in a hurry for change in September, yet the long days and short nights reminded me that I needed to be patient, that I had to accept things as they came; slowly.
As I tried to escape the raindrops under the balconies of every apartment on my way home I saw a writing on the wall.
“You are Art” the wall shouted at me.
“You are Art? Oh come on!” I shouted at the wall under the rain.
Of course, I didn’t think I was Art! I did not think I had permission to celebrate myself as an individual. I yearned for the ultimate celebration of myself with someone, as a partner, or a mother. I had never seen women more venerated by society than when they become mothers or are planning for it.
“Congratulations!!!” says everyone.
The brainwashing began at twenty-eight, I mean it really began at 14 when my father said the thing he wanted the most was to be a grandpa. But when I was 28 I was socially ‘ripe’ and I suddenly started only seeing pregnancy test ads as I surfed the web.
Modern society sells motherhood to women as the ultimate performance act. I had no doubt that motherhood must be an incredible experience, but I felt it was hugely misrepresented, publicly at least. Women have to live every day in a system that does not tell the whole truth about what it really means to become a mother, one that has taught us for generations to think of motherhood as the ultimate performance act. There are so many parts that are left out of the public narrative. There is no public talk of the pain, lack of sleep, the disintegration of the love duo, the missing fathers, the body changes, the insecurities and doubts. I had the luck of learning these things from the women in my life, including my mother, who confessed the inadequacy she felt at first when she had me.
I had always wanted to be a mother, but I had never truly understood motherhood until I started questioning the canvas behind the concept.
I was thirty, recently out of a long relationship, in the middle of a healing journey that would last a few years. When I talked about writing for a living, I would get the look: those that judge a woman in her thirties who is prioritising that instead of making a family. I had heard from my friends that once you turn thirty society puts an expiry date on a woman and you start receiving subtly sexist comments, especially from people who would never define themselves like that. I got my first one four months after I turned thirty.
It had been at a house party where I was looking forward to meeting a sixty-year-old painter named Juan who I was told was a “genius”. I was ready to talk philosophy and drink red wine all night!
We sat in front of each other and he looked at me like he was ready to give me unsolicited advice. He stood in front of me as if to assert his charme, his wisdom as an older man, and his power as a white male.
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Sobremesa, courtesy of Maria Pichel @mariapichelart
After a few minutes of asking me about my life and professionals endeavours, he asked the question
“do you want children?”,
“yes” I replied with certainty.
“Ah, and how old are you?”
“I am thirty” I answered.
Then he titled his head to the left and bit his lips like I had told him my dog had died that morning.
“Ahhhh, you don’t have much time. You know, after thirty women’s eggs start to diminish and you don’t produce as many”.
There it was! The unsolicited advice!!! And he is a Doctor too eh! I knew it!!!
“You should freeze your eggs, or have a kid before you find another man,” he said taking advantage of the information I had just given him “I have many friends that have done it. They find the men after”, he gestured with his hand like he was dusting off the air and telling tales of wisdom.
I stood there, nodding like a mechanical blow-up doll, unable to express my shock and anger.
I laughed shyly, embarrassed, and said “Well, I don’t know if I want to do th-”
“oh but it’s ok, you don’t NEED a man to have children” he interrupted.
I also don’t need children to be a mother, I thought but didn’t say.
I smiled and got out of that conversation by grabbing a piece of cheese on a platter next to me and started a frugal conversation with another person. I kept on thinking about my lack of courage to reply to Juan. My shame grew. Why do we do go straight to blaming ourselves?
I felt so much anger towards the fact that a man I did not know had dared give me such intimate advice, I felt angry for all the women who have had to stand the same conversation and silently cry inside thinking about the miscarriage they just had, shaming themselves. I decided to politely leave the house, said goodbye to everyone holding the tears in my eyes. I would rather be in the rain without an umbrella than with a pretentious artist who thinks he can school a woman, I thought as I walked down the stairs to the street.
“Art my ass!” I mumbled as I passed in front of that writing on the wall.
I had not even answered back to Juan to gain a fraction of my respect back. But then I remembered Dan’s eyes when he had told me with such conviction, and I decided that if he had seen it, surely I could too.
I wrote for hours about the encounter I had had, about what motherhood meant to me, how so many women discover motherhood before they discover sexual pleasure. How the female orgasm has belonged to powerful men since the dawn of time. A wave of ancestral anger channelled through my body and into the piece of paper in a messy stream of consciousness.
Suddenly I stopped writing, and laid on my bed, staring at the shadows that the Malian masks I had purchased in one of my travels made on the wall through the candlelight. You are Art, I thought, and I began to touch my hips, my nipples, caressing my beautiful body. You are Art. I thought as I touched myself with pleasure. I took a mirror and put it on the floor, I sat with my legs opened observing my body and my sexuality in the candlelight.
You are Art, I thought as my purple nail varnish reflected on the mirror, and I saw myself contract with passion. You are Art, I thought as I observed the sexual pleasure that is always so far from a woman’s vision, and often touch. You are Art, I thought as I confronted my sensuality, put it right in front of me, without room for escape. You are Art, I thought as I bit my lips.
“I am Art” I screamed.