“Lighten up,” she thinks to herself as she raises a beer to her mouth and gulps too much, too quickly, so that she’ll need more time to swallow—granting herself a moment to decide how she’s going to respond.
This guy is drunk; he thinks he’s being funny. But as he drawls on—loud, too close to her face—the conviction in his words are sincere: “I mean, it’s a fact: high heels just make a woman look more fully a woman. Like, as her best self and I’m surprised not more girls wear them here.”
“Oh honey,” she coos in her head, because he’s only just moved here from Florida. If only he knew how biting the winters are. If only he knew how annoying heels are to wear. If only he knew how angry he was making her.
But surely, she should lighten up. He’s just a man, making simple conversation at a bar.
A man holds a door for her: “See? Chivalry isn’t dead!”
Yessir, chivalry is not yet dead and neither are male self-congratulating egos. She smiles weakly, supposing he means well—she’s in a hurry anyway.
“Are you seeing anyone special these days?”
After years of getting together with family, she knows this is always the first question asked. Before anything about how grad school is going, what her professors are like, or how stressed she is—no, no she’s not dating anyone.
“Good to see you too, Grandma.”
Gifts are being opened at a bridal shower and the collective reaction to a cream cheese spreader sounds more like a high-pitched chorus: “Oh! Every girl needs one of those!”
Do they? She didn’t know. She waits desperately for the ironic laughter that doesn’t come.
Instead, a beer mug is unwrapped seconds later and dubbed as “the gift the groom cares about.”
“Hey white girlllll,” she hears as she locks the door to her apartment.
A man lumbers down the street behind her, still mumbling his uncomfortable remark. No harm done—just another day, another unsolicited comment from a stranger.
“No thank you,” she hears herself repeating to the same man, his hand resting awkwardly on her shoulder. “I’m not interested and you’re clearly not interested in me because you blatantly said you don’t care about my job or know what I do even though I just told you about it.”
“Despite that,” he continues, “I’d still like to grab dinner with you sometime…”
“No.” She walks away.
She sees him again. Same night, different bar. And then the shoulder touch: “So, dinner??”
Ending a late night at McDonald’s and a group of guys near the register begin purring at her.
“Where are you from?” It’s less of a question than it is a shout.
Not the first time she’s heard it but still—almond-shaped eyes and dark hair don’t make her any less American.
“I’m from Minneapolis.”
“With all your feminism stuff, why wear a bra at all?”
She’s on the phone; she’s on the bus. She’s not going to explain that no, not not wearing a bra does not make her any more or less feminist. Of course, it’s a joke, in no way ill-intended—“Lighten up,” says her sister.
90,000 shares of a Vine making fun of Caitlyn Jenner and yet she presses play to view it too. It’s a good imitation too, dammit.
She echoes, again and again, that one line from that one essay: “It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away.”
But indeed, “floating” seems to be an accurate description. Little pieces blow away with each push, making her presence as a woman feel less and less powerful. She is disappearing within her own reason—reasons to be polite, to be agreeable, to be “ladylike.”
But she is out of excuses.
She might be you, she is me, and shouldn’t we all just lighten up?
Gather your darkness, your storm clouds. Let the world know the weight of our pain.
Because she does not deserve to go unnoticed.