Miss B is beside herself, since I’m in running clothes and she suspects, hopes, dares to believe I’ll be taking her with me. I will, but not until my coffee settles. It’s a goddamn Monday, and I need caffeine.
There’s a thing going around on Twitter–“describe yourself the way a male author would.” I’ll bypass the explanation of how we got there–it’s here if you want it–and also bypass a description of the most hilarious responses.
My own description? “Invisible.”
As soon as I typed it, I began thinking. Yeah, I’m over 40, and I’m carrying weight despite the running. I am by and large invisible to men now, except for when they want to cut in line and I hiss you know better like a venomous creature with exhausted patience. I’ve survived longer than I ever thought possible, which is part of why I have no plans for retirement.1 Food is a friend that does not judge, and I ate in self-defense for a long, long time. I hated–and still hate–predatory stares, men throwing things out their car windows at me whenever I lost a few pounds, the interruptions while reading or even just minding my own damn business on public transit, the need to be constantly alert because some asshole will assume I exist just to listen to his patter.
I am no longer a frightened child hoping my abuser won’t slither into my bedroom at night, no longer a teenager desperate for any affection at all, no longer a young woman struggling to keep her head above water. I’m past the sell-by date put on female beauty, and each line on my face is a lesson I’ve worked for. Now, instead of eating to pad myself against voracious male gazes, I’m actually losing that protective cushion. There’s a freedom to being a bitchy older broad, a release from the hunter’s gaze, that means I no longer need to keep a weapon within arm’s reach.
Of course, I still do. Relaxation is one thing, foolishness is quite another.
My cloak of invisibility is purely and simply age. Experience. Patriarchy’s toxic insistence that I only have value when I’m attractive to men, too young to fight back, and not possessed of the life experience to know better is exploded daily by the fact that I give zero fucks anymore and I am finally largely free of the roving eyes and catcalls.
I know I’m not safer, of course. I represent a bigger threat to patriarchy than ever, and my lack of perceived attractiveness won’t save me if a male decides he has to reinforce his fragile sense of self-worth with violence against any available female body. The danger isn’t gone, it’s just shifted.
Still…it’s good to heave a sigh of relief and know there’s a smaller chance of being accosted at the grocer’s, a smaller chance of beverage cans flying from car windows while I’m running, a smaller chance of some random guy thinking I want to date him because I’ve been polite, a smaller chance of stalkers fixating on me.
It’s nice to feel free, and I suspect the freedom will only intensify as I age further into invisibility. At the same time, there’s a ramp-up of my privilege–older white women may be invisible when it comes to catcalling, but we can shield others, deploying that cloak of unfuckability and perceived respectability (there’s a song chorus in that phrase, I can sense it) to cover those who protest to provide them with some safety as well as deploy said respectability as a megaphone, boosting those who have a hard time being heard.
If there’s a gift in my survival, it lies there. And also in the liberating feeling of being invisible enough to live my life largely unaccosted.
I can’t wait to get started on that.
- I am hesitant about assuming I’ll last that long, and writers can die with their boots on, as Tess Gerritsen once memorably said.