In a recent slam poem titled "The Girl Becomes Gasoline," Reagan Myers perfectly sums up the rage that women feel when our personal space is invaded.
"On my last flight I fell asleep next to a man...I woke up to his wedding ring digging into my waist, his hand on my thigh like an unwanted house guest. It is moments like these I feel more sputter than storm," she says, explaining how demeaning it is when men don't respect our physical boundaries.
She talks of similar experiences of men inserting themselves into her space: being followed in airports, an annoying classmate who puts his arm around her and interprets her shrinking away as permission.
"I don't know when I became a space to be filled, my thigh an open lease," she says.
Seemingly harmless instances of having our boundaries ignored add up, and the poem is an important reminder to men: Our bodies are ours. Respect them.
A series of things that have happened to me on airplanes:
As a child with motion sickness, I threw up on the first eight flights I was ever on.
On my way to Amarillo, I threw up in my seat.
On the way to California, I threw up on my sister.
On the way to New York, I threw up in front of the bathroom door.
Last year, I was seated next to a man in a three-piece suit who loudly berated the flight attendants because e-cigarettes shouldn’t count as smoking.
Why are you wearing a suit on an airplane?
You sound like an asshole!
And you look uncomfortable.
On my lasts three flights, I’ve been seated in front of the plane’s required screaming child.
Maybe it’s a tired baby.
Maybe I’m actually the one screaming.
Maybe it’s my vomit-covered sister time-travelling to haunt me.
On the last flight, I fell asleep next to a man who looked like my father, which means I wasn’t worried.
I woke to his wedding ring digging into my waist
His hands on my thigh like an unwanted houseguest.
It is moments like these I feel more sputter than storm
More candle than bonfire.
My friend Greg is asleep behind me undisturbed.
Ben is talking to the woman next to him about her grandchildren.
And I, in the center of this airplane, am taking up too much space by existing.
I’m apologizing to this man next to me in hopes that this will be it.
If you don’t follow me off the plane to my next gate like the man did on my way to Denver
Or on my way to Minneapolis
Or on my way home
Or the way across the country.
A man is reclining his seat into my 14 year-old sister’s lap
Is yelling at her for her legs
For having a body.
Or the way the boy in my Geology lecture follows me from seat to seat
Ignores empty rows
Puts his arm on mine
Mistakes my shrinking for permission –
Which is to say that my body is too woman to really mean anything
Is too woman to be considered a threat
Is too woman to have rights to my own space
Or to have rights.
I don’t know when I became a space to be filled
My thigh, open lease
My neck, a wishing well
His hot breath, a coin
A demand cast into me
So know this:
Each unwanted hand, gasoline
Each prodding hand, flint
Each time a man assumes my space, he is just stoking the flame
And a spark stoked enough will burn down the whole house.