Five syllables. They were painfully rhythmic, the cigarette in their owner’s mouth bobbing in time with each word: “You owe me, dumb bitch.”
In the spirit of proper punctuation, I should capitalize “dumb bitch.” It replaces the name of a human being — me. There’s the problem, though. There’s where I can’t capitalize it; he didn’t perceive me as a human being, one with a name, goals, interests, one who was walking the city distributing flyers for a work event she’s helping plan. One who doesn’t owe him or anyone else anything.
To him I am lowercase.
I felt belittled, my identity defined by the physical body in which it resides, that body finally reduced to two words: “dumb bitch.” Part of me wanted to immediately rant about feminism, about male entitlement, about privilege and equal pay and walking with my keys intertwined in my knuckles after dark. But part of me couldn’t process the blatant erasure of my humanity, all of it without my consent.
In a world of, “Get over it, move on,” rhetoric peppered with accusations of overreacting and over-emotionality, particularly for women, I worried I was making too big a deal out of five little words. Three days later, I’m realizing it’s OK to be angry, to feel demeaned by a stranger.
Rather than worrying about overreacting, then, I’m worrying about gender inequality, about privilege and the fact that I have a designated knuckle for each of my keys when I walk home after dark. I’m worrying, and I’m working to change things, starting with the sense of powerlessness that incident renewed in me. As a writer, I believe language is one means of restoring my sense of self.
So, I am Writer Taylor. I am Communicator Taylor. I am Tennis-Player Taylor. I am Runner Taylor. I am Reader Taylor. I am Wannabe-Paleontologist Taylor.
I am uppercase.