Not That You Asked: Street Harassment

I’ve been trying to figure out how to articulate what it’s like to be street harassed to men. Or men who don’t seem to get it.

I think I figured out a decent analogy.

(As an aside, you’d think when there is a disproportionate amount of men who do things like murder, rape, and assault women, I wouldn’t have to do this. But yeah.)

Imagine going to the store. A store that sells everything you need to survive. You already know what you want. Once inside, EVERY employee inside greets you or asks you if you need any help. In a five minute visit, a dozen workers have tried to engage you or asked you a question, some in very close proximity to your person. Some follow you around the store, not taking your initial dismissal seriously.

You don’t want to be rude. But do you REALLY have to nod or respond to every “friendly” or overzealous sales person? You didn’t ask for assistance. You didn’t even walk in looking confused or lost. You just wanted to walk in, get your item, pay for it, and leave.

Now imagine the store is Outside. Right, like, the place that exists when you walk out the door everyday. Every time you think about going Outside, you have to consider what you are wearing and where you’re going, who you might encounter. You know there will be at least five people who will say something to you. This will increase exponentially if it’s summer and you are wearing less clothing. Because it’s like, HOT. You’ll do things like cross the street to avoid people, or have to move seats on the bus or train. You will wear earbuds and walk with your head down or pretend to look at your phone (though not at night because you don’t want to be asking to be robbed, raped or killed.)

This is all very fucking annoying. All you want to do is go Outside and not have to deal with other people.

Like going into the store, YOU are somehow to blame for even going there in the first place. Why should you expect to go into a place where people are just trying to be friendly and helpful (and yeah, OK, sometimes vultures working on commission) and not have to acknowledge them?

What if the sales person followed you in the parking lot? What if they were outside your door? What if they stood and waited for you by your car? Ya know, just to see how you were doing and if they could help you find something.

Why don’t they just leave you the fuck alone? Because they want something from you and they don’t care how much you ignore or deny them. They feel entitled, because it was YOU who crossed paths with THEM first. It’s your job to figure out who is trying to make a sale at any cost or who is simply making small talk. Besides, look how you’re dressed and your ethnicity and where you are. You look like you are some THING, some KIND of person. In the store, you look like someone with money and are obviously here to spend it. That means you are asking to be spoken to. Notice they’re not just speaking to EVERYONE. No. YOU are special. You and the other people who “look like they need assistance”.

This is your fault and if you don’t want it to happen, just don’t come into the store. It’s not up to anyone else to change their behavior. It’s up to you to accept it and shut the hell up about it already.

You DID walk into the store voluntarily, didn’t you? Forget the fact that you had to. Look, all thirty people working there were JUST TRYING TO BE NICE. What’s the big deal?

I really liked this article in Salon and the idea of “affirmative consent”. If I walk into the store looking confused, trying to make eye contact with you or flat out asking you to help me, that’s your clue to engage with me.

It’s that simple.



365 Days. 180 Degrees.

I could not possibly know that the guy I was having dinner with a year ago would end up becoming one of my closest friends, my partner and soon, the father of my child.

But it happened.

I could not have predicted that within a year I would go from single and casually (re: begrudgingly) dating to falling in love and paving a new life path.

But I did.

This isn’t to say that the road has been paved with gold, that I was miserable before and now miraculously living the dream. I’m still me, anxious and sometimes depressed, worried and suddenly forced to REALLY think about the future in more concrete ways than I did before.

I’ve just been made really aware of how quickly things can change. Some of these differences felt purposeful and others seemed completely out of my hands. Either way, tomorrow keeps showing up and I keep moving through the day, getting to the next. Sometimes I’m able to appreciate this notion, am grateful for it. Other days it can seem like a never ending slog.

I think I’m becoming more fixated on the idea of time because of this impending birth, this human life that is about to take over mine. I hope I’m able to be in the moment and enjoy it instead of looking forward to some future day when he is “no longer doing this” or “able to do this”. I hope I’m able to embrace the idea that nothing ever stays the same. That there will be bad days and bad phases and maybe bad years. But if I’m lucky, I’ll live to pass those hard times.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I hope I can be strong.


Meet Our Readers

We told ourselves we wouldn’t do holiday themes, but Halloween is kind of the best. Candy, dressing up like something else, horror movies, and bonfires – I’m getting an autumn boner just writing all this out. I wish I was kidding. I’m not. Thankfully, I’m also not kidding about our excellent line-up. Put on your costume (or don’t, whatever), bring your sweet tooth, and join us at Gallery Cabaret on 10/29.

missspoken_kelsiehuffKelsie Huff

Kelsie Huff is stand-up comedian who just got back from the Portland comedy festival All Jane No Dick. She is super proud to be the creator and co-host of the kates, an all female comedy showcase held at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. She teaches Feminine Comique, an all female stand-up class created by Cameron Esposito. Kelsie’s deepest horror lies in fitting rooms and being surrounded by open toed shoes.



missspoken_brittjuliousBritt Julious 

Britt Julious is a born and bred Chicagoan, a writer, and a disco ball in human form. She is the senior editor for This Recording, a literary essay website, and a columnist for VICE. She contributes arts and music journalism regularly to The Guardian and The New York Times. In the past, she’s written for Pitchfork, WBEZ, Complex, The Fader, and Rookie. Her interests include wearing sequins, channeling the spirit of 70s and 80s divas, and practicing misandry.

missspoken_nathalielagerfeldNathalie Lagerfeld

At age 27, Nathalie Lagerfeld still remembers most of the French swear words she learned as a comparative literature major in college. This skill has never yet come in handy in her post-college jobs as a high-school writing teacher, food blogger, or professional coupon writer, but she still holds out hope. Meanwhile, she passes the time writing and performing at shows like Essay Fiesta and Mortified, or binge-watching old X-Files episodes at her apartment in Logan Square.

missspoken_katesumpterAmy Sumpter

Amy Sumpter is a Comedic Actress who has done stand-up in Chicago for over 7 years. She loves telling stories, high kicking and performing with the kates in Lincoln Square. She is also in a female Beastie Boys tribute band called She’s Crafty.




missspoken_clairezulkeyClaire Zulkey

Since 2002, Claire Zulkey has run the blog Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Jezebel, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and the Los Angeles Times. She is the author of the young adult novel AN OFF YEAR and will be publishing a middle grade novel with Harper Collins in 2015. She runs the literary humor reading series Funny Ha-Ha, which will return to the Hideout January 30. She still lives in Chicago but will be moving to Evanston soon to start collecting Eileen Fischer dresses and North Face vests.

Males and Females 24-40

Focus groups are weird and interesting. I used to do a lot of them when I was younger, and I still sign up for them sometimes. I’m a good little consumer. Even though I don’t buy that much stuff because I’m in a bunch of debt, I still want to buy all the stuff and can easily go on about why I like or don’t like something. I can write paragraphs about breakfast sandwiches and beauty balm, or (insert thing that might taste good or make me look pretty), and have no problem verbalizing that.

But yeah. The basic idea is, you sit in a room with people of a certain demographic mix. Sometimes it’s people statistically like you in pretty much every way, which is slightly odd. Sometimes it’s people in your general age range, but a mix of skin colors. Sometimes there’s a diversity of economic or geographic backgrounds. You talk about your opinions on a product or experience, then they give you a check at the end.

What you might not know is that there’s always one person that is not going to shut the fuck up. They don’t get their opinions heard often in real life, and now they have a captive audience. They are stoked. This is their big chance.

Without further ado, I present A Montage of Product Opinions. I recommend playing music while you read these, maybe this or this.

  • Topic: Fast food breakfast, something near and dear to my heart. A middle-aged woman went on at length about how “fresh” was a very, very important quality to her. Moderator: “You’ve mentioned that word a few times. What does ‘fresh’ mean to you?” She smiled a Cheshire Cat mile, something worthy of winning the lottery, getting laid, and being awarded a Pulitzer in the same day. “That,” she purred, “is what we need to define.” No. No. We don’t. No. I’m sure she’s gluten-free now, despite testing negative for Celiac twice.
  • Topic: Blowout bars. Sitting around with a bunch of white girls between 20 and 30, the moderator visibly irritated that we didn’t prefer an awful late 60s throwback interior to something more clean and simple. She kept coming back to the brown-olive-yellow toned monstrosity, rolling her eyes and eventually letting out an exasperated hiss. Shitty faux-retro design doesn’t make 23-year-olds think of tousled waves, and trying to push your boss’ opinion is obvious and awkward.
  • Topic: Something about hair color. Females, age 20-30. A white woman with children from the suburbs with a bad blonde dye job said she went to the Mexican salon by her house because it was cheap, even though she was pretty sure they didn’t like her and they didn’t do that great a job. Record scratch.
  • Topic: Vodka. We didn’t get to drink it. Mix of males and females, maybe 21-35. They showed us some ads that looked American Apparel-esque, some hot skinny people sitting around a long table in what looked like children’s animal masks, about to play some old-school party game or maybe go kill a person, something vaguely alternative involving clear mid-priced liquor. Whatever. One bro-y guy started to voice his reaction, but was interrupted by a girl who was dead set on letting you know that “I HATE HIPSTERS. WHY DO THEY HAVE TO RUIN EVERYTHING? HIPSTERS RUIN EVERYTHING.” She would come back to this theme throughout our 75 minutes together. Afterwards in the elevator, bro-y guy she interrupted made a crack about how she should shut up, with a thinly veiled undercurrent of “because she’s fat and unattractive”, and in that moment I hated them both.
  • Topic: Microwavable meals. This group was uneventful. I was the asshole. In the phone interview, I totally said I ate Lean Cuisine 3-5 times a week. I buy Lean Cuisine every two years then remember how sad and awful they are. But I’ll totally spring for a Banquet chicken pot pie, aka .97 of pure, sodium joy. And seriously, who eats frozen meals that often? Everyone in the room looked relatively unbloated and scurvy-free, so I can only assume they were lying as well.

Lessons learned: People, especially women, don’t get heard a lot in their day to day lives. People are the worst. Some company in the mid-2000s really wanted to make this happen.


Going Home

To many of you, the idea of living with your parents again at the age of 35 probably doesn’t sound very appealing, especially if it meant leaving the city.

But I am starting to look forward to it more and more, mostly because of my current situation.

While I don’t have expectations of being waited on hand and foot, there will be other adults around me, 24/7, who can help.

There are tons of things I won’t have to think about, like paying the rent or going to the store or cleaning the house. Eventually I’ll do those things. But not having to deal with them for the first few months of being a new mom seems like a pretty priceless gift to me.

I can’t imagine being in an apartment all day, sometimes by myself, in the dead of winter not knowing what the hell I’m doing, no other human beings to have adult conversations with.

It’s not going to matter where I am because the furthest I’ll be going is the doctor’s office anyway. So being in the suburbs is as good a place as any.

I’ll miss being physically close to people, but I can assure you, I doubt I’ll be very social for a period of time. And when I re-emerge, it’ll be summer again, the perfect time to roll back into the city for patio drinks.

I think city life is starting to stress me out more than usual. A lot of this has to do with my own physical discomfort and irritability. But there is no solace here. My bathtub is too narrow and the hot water runs out way too fast. My landlord/upstairs neighbors clod around their hardwood floors with their shoes on above my head at all hours of the day and night. There has been construction on the street outside of my place for well over a month.

I’m so grateful for my car, but sometimes it feels like all I’m doing is driving and parking, driving and parking.

I know I might be bored out in the suburbs. But maybe that’s what I really need right now.


Tired of (Certain) Men

I had a really frustrating doctor’s appointment this past Monday.

A doctor in the “pain treatment” department of a hospital essentially refused to give me cortisone shots for my carpal tunnel (with a referral from my ob/gyn) because “the benefits did not outweigh the risks”.

Or in other words, I was told to suck it up.

This insinuation, the implication that I was somehow exaggerating my symptoms, that I would rather put my unborn baby’s health on the line over my own discomfort was insulting to say the least.

What it really made me do is feel like a bad person, a bad mother. Someone who didn’t want to be troubled with the nuisance of tingling, numb fingers as if that were the worst of it.

Yes, I know this is temporary. I know it’s not the end of the world. I know. I know. I know. But that isn’t making this very moment any easier.

In general, it got me thinking about pain. How we’re unable to articulate what pain feels like and how each of us have a different threshold for pain. How we can’t ever tell someone they don’t hurt when they actually do or show someone our hurt in the exact way we are experiencing it.

Specifically it got me thinking about how a man will never know what it’s like to be pregnant or give birth. Ever. They cannot. And whether they experience something more horrific or uncomfortable is not the point.

It’s why I’m hoping beyond hope I don’t have a male doctor on call when I go into labor.

And no, not every guy is an insensitive jerk. The father of this baby is filled with nothing but empathy and patience, a person who encourages me to vent, gives me room to be frustrated and sad and scared and who at No Point has asserted any sort of selfishness or dismissal of what I’m experiencing due to my pregnancy. His love and support has been invaluable.

I can’t know for sure if this guy who sat across from me the other day saying I should just put up with my pain for the sake of my baby was talking to me this way because he was a man. But when he said his daughter is pregnant and he would tell her the same thing, I realized he couldn’t understand her pain, nor did he want to. From his medical vantage point, there is no benefit to easing my suffering, which is beyond just physical, even if I was his own flesh and blood.

I don’t need a man telling me to suck it up. I don’t need a man to validate this process, this experience. I don’t need a man to tell me shit about pregnancy or labor and I don’t care how long he’s been a doctor.

This may be the first time I’ve gone through this, but I know a helluva lot more than Every Man On The Planet.


Damn Good Coffee

I’ve had a rough month and I’ve been watching a lot of Twin Peaks, and it’s got me thinking about coffee. Making coffee at home is one of my favorite rituals, to the point where drinking it unrushed on Saturday morning is the smallest, most awesomely dull vacation.

And I make a damn fine cup of coffee. Intelligentsia whole bean that I grind myself, because I’m fancy. Tiny coffee maker because I’m the only one in the house that drinks it, the guy and cat are more into Diet Coke and water. One sugar cube. Lots of whole milk.

I don’t think you have to be used to the worst kind of surprises to appreciate boring, but it helps. Growing up wasn’t good sometimes – sometimes a lot of the time. Realizing things can be pretty okay is still a novelty, a party I thought was invitation-only and I still sort of feel like I’m crashing. Pretty okay is kind of amazing.

I make coffee in the house where I live. I like to come back here at the end of the day. I like the other person that lives here. Sometimes there’s fights and tension, but they’re not the default. I know how good things can be, and that it’s not impossible to get there. It’s not even always hard. And that still boggles my mind.

The coffee is hot and good. I feel it wrap around my brain like a caffeinated hug, clearing the fog from my head and sleep from my eyes. I think more clearly. Everything is a little easier to handle.

Mundane activities are small and sacred. Making coffee reminds me that things are all right. And let’s not get started on pie.


It Gets Better

I went to my parents house to move some things in this weekend. Well, my boyfriend did all of the heavy lifting. In the basement where we’ll be living, some old trophies and plaques sat on a table. My mom jokingly asked him if he’d like to peruse my accomplishments, showing him I’d won a poetry contest.

She asked if my poem was sad and I said that of course it was. It was about unrequited love. My dad asked who it was about and when I said his name, he yelled it back in an incredulous tone.

Because really, it was ridiculous. My infatuation with this particular person was long and painful.

At the time I really couldn’t see myself out of feeling this way. It felt hopeless, endless.

That was eighteen years ago.

It didn’t just go away. I had to make choices, like deciding to not longer be friends, in order to get over it. Maybe that seems callous and unfair, but it worked.

But that wouldn’t be the last time I would have my heart broken or endure a nameless depression.

This is life. Life is ups and downs and choices and fate and indecision and mistakes and success and sometimes a sort of nothingness that is also everything at the same time.

And every time I’ve wondered if it would always be this bad or if it could it could get any worse, it was not and did not.

It’s hard not to dwell in it though. It’s hard to be in the midst of a difficult moment and talk yourself out of it, to look to some future time that’s not guaranteed, a light at the end of the tunnel that you might never reach. And sometimes it’s perfectly fine to just be in it, to allow yourself the grief and sadness. Don’t be hard on yourself.

Try to use your past as an example. Look to the times you triumphed when things seemed impossible or when something unexplained happened to turn things around. That’s what got you here.

Because for every instance it got worse, it always got better. Eventually.


Are We There Yet?

I want to be really truthful about my experience. This means, in Carly fashion, it will sound like a lot of complaining. And I suppose it is. It’s also true that I haven’t had in depth conversations with people who’ve been pregnant to ask them what they went through, though some have been forthcoming about certain details.

I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that You Don’t Want This. I mean, you want a baby. Maybe. And you sort of like the idea of having a baby bump. Perhaps even thinking about what it’s like to have a human being growing inside of you is exciting, or at least intriguing.

Yeah, so those things make up about 5% of the total experience.

And I know I could have it so much worse. I mean, no, farting all of the time isn’t worse than constant heartburn or hemorrhroids. Hip pain during the night is better than edema or leg cramps. Peeing every two hours during the night is better than being constipated.

I can say that having 24/7 carpal tunnel has been one of the most miserable things I’ve ever gone through. There is no relief. I haven’t been able to feel my fingers for months. Sometimes the pain is so excruciating it makes me cry. Being in constant discomfort makes me stressed and irritable. Pretending that it’s not happening can be frustrating. I can’t imagine living with chronic pain like this for years. Thankfully I’m hopefully only a week or two away from getting cortisone shots. If that doesn’t work, I’m considering lopping off my hands at the wrist.

I’m short of breath. It’s hard to bend over. I haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep in months.

My stretch marks are really freaking gross to look at. When this is all over, I will weigh close to 200 pounds. Two. Hundred. Pounds. And I’m lucky because I don’t have gestational diabetes (I was just 20 pounds overweight when I got pregnant).

I’m not having sex with my amazing, supportive, patient, caring boyfriend. I don’t view myself as someone attractive or sexual anymore. I am sober. All day, everyday.

I am not me. I have not been myself in almost seven months now.

I miss me. A lot. And the truth is, that me is gone. Forever.

This transformation will end and then I’ll be something I’ve never been before.

A mom.

There is no way to prepare yourself for these changes. No way to know what pregnancy is really going to be like (or the fact that 10 months is WAY TOO LONG). For me, this journey has been on the depressing side even though I’m very much looking forward to meeting my son.

Sometimes it’s weird because there are people who light up at the sight of my belly or are genuinely happy for me and express this. And while that is meaningful and amazing, I feel pressure to match or top their enthusiasm. I really want to tell them that I’m totally out of sorts and that trying to focus on the unknown awesomeness is too intangible at the moment. When they are wild eyed and saying “this is SO EXCITING” I want to answer “Sure! I mean, I think? Yes, probably…ya know, I don’t actually know if it is, but OK! I mean, what’s done is done, right? LOL.”

I don’t know if knowing all of this would have dissuaded me from going through with it. But I do know that not knowing anything has been a shock in a lot of ways. I sort of hate that all of my preconceived notions were based on pure fiction. Smiling, glowing soon to be moms who seemed so able bodied and joyful and serene. Even now, I’ll see a visibly pregnant woman in business casual attire walking from the train and wonder if she’s feeling as put off by this whole thing as I am. I want to shout from my car window while pointing at my belly “this is total bullshit, amirite???!!!”

I’m sharing this not to complain, per se, but to just let you know that I think pregnancy kinda sucks and not just the last month of it because I’m not even there yet.

You can do whatever you want with this information, but at least now you have it.


Sounds or Songs

My roommates and I were waiting for the Purple Line at Howard. I don’t remember why we were going to Evanston; they never wanted to go to the movies as much as I did.

We were making that weird, slightly anxious small talk you make when you’re waiting for something and are afraid you’ll miss it, even though that’s unlikely – like when someone’s going to call your name for your takeout or coffee, or there’s trains coming and going and even though you’re probably not going to miss a big purple sign that says Linden, it’s the first time you’ve ventured north of Jarvis.

A sudden burst of bird sounds exploded from somewhere nearby, startling us with their chirps and cries. We lapsed into silence for a minute then started up again, replacing them with our own trills and warbles.

Then the bird sounds came back, a cacophony of squalls and cheeps seemingly louder than before. Yet there were no small, feathery bodies to be seen, or even droppings indicating avian life.

“There aren’t any birds,” I was good at stating the obvious.

My red-haired roommate’s face brightened – she had this. “No no, it’s a recording. They do it to keep the other birds away.”

And then the train conductor, who had been listening amused for who knows how long, was standing next to us.

“No, ladies. It’s a mating call.”