Illustration by Jim Cooke/GMG.

I can’t give any advice right now. It feels wrong and gross. The *idea* of acting as an authority on women’s lives or bodies this week (or year, or maybe ever again, honestly) icks me out.

It’s no one’s fault but my own that this has become a column much about sex and relationships. Write what you know, and whatnot. But even saying that, the way I just did, makes me feel gross right now. “No ones fault but my own.” What?

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It’s my own fault that I’m comfortable speaking about intimate shit on the internet? Is it? Or is it that I spent my formative years in the man caves we grew up calling “grodges?” Looking back, I did some pretty complicated and helpful math inside in that environment, but not consciously—out of self-preservation, in the most animal sense.

As a 10-year old girl learning to change the oil in a old Chevy pickup truck, I looked, literally, to my grandfather, uncles, and pa for guidance; the visual backdrop reliably one of beautiful photos of beautiful women. Playboy centerfolds, Budweiser posters and crude graffiti plastered the walls of every wood shop, pole barn, and shed. (There were no dens in my orbit, but YMMV.) I felt loved and intimidated and horny and scandalized all at once during these “empowerment” exercises. But, because I wasn’t a boy child, I couldn’t relate any of those feelings to the people around. Don’t get me wrong, they had no problem relating; those conflicted feelings were practically all they talked about. In front of me, but not with me. As I got older, they’d toss to me on occasion, ostensibly to get a 14-year-old girl’s perspective on matters of the heart. I can see now they were trying to absolve themselves through my acquiescence; on the whole, there were intellectually lazy dudes in my orbit.

When this happened, and it always happened, I’d laugh or make a joke I knew they’d like, or pretend to be focused on work. They’d discuss my looks or the boy who was calling too much; the discussion around my girlfriends was much more transgressive. “She shouldn’t wear so much makeup; gonna get knocked up!” “If she ain’t already!” (Chuckles all around, for sure.)

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The only way, as a female child, to get through it was to be small and accommodating and charming and quiet. Then I could win the favor of the men around me, enjoy the beauty of the oily breasts on display behind them, and learn how to change a tire. (I wish I could say I’d avoided this fate by taking shop class instead. I took shop class. Same shit.)

It’s hard to not feel culpable. No, in fact, impossible. I feel like my attitude absolved them and their attitudes became more entrenched because of that. A 39-year-old woman is saying this about her 10-year-old self; that she was somehow complicit in advancing the patriarchy’s agenda. Huh.

Now, on to you: your gut says run? Run. Your gut says stay but you want to double-check with an advice columnist? Run. Your gut says you’re in a weird situation but don’t want to be in a not-weird one? Please, by all means, continue on with your curiosity and bravery.

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My only advice this week is to listen to that intuitive child inside you and act with any agency you can muster to live the life she deserves.