Sweet Potato Girl by Rob Hart

Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Editor's Choice, October 16th, 2014

I'd call myself a feminist, which is what men’s rights activists call “beta.”

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Sometime around ten years ago, I made a joke in an online Internet forum about a woman’s place being in the kitchen. It was masculine bullshit my early-20s brain thought would earn an easy laugh from the mostly-male, mostly-prone-to-shock-value audience.

A woman keyed into the conversation scolded me for it. This is someone I had met in real life, and she said she thought I was better than that.

It probably wasn’t the first time I understood how something could be so easy to say, but so offensive to someone else. But it’s the example that comes to mind right now.

Years later, I’m standing in a tiny room with the lights off, my wife lying on her back with her shirt pulled up to the bottom of her ribs. An ultrasound technician is digging a gel-covered wand into her stomach.

The technician says, “Based on my years of experience in doing this, I would say there’s a 95 percent chance it’s a girl. If we were in Vegas, you would make that bet.”

I knew it was going to be a girl. I don’t know why.

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After college I spent a lot of time with a group of girls who lived in Spanish Harlem. We would hang around and watch movies and then go do stupid things in the East Village until 5 in the morning and pool the last of our money to get a cab back. I would crash in their spare bedroom, and the next day we’d start the cycle anew.

In the morning I would take a shower, but they only had perfumed soaps and fancy body washes. I never smelled as good as I did during this period of my life.

My friendship with these girls wasn’t sexual. I don’t understand people who say men and women can’t be friends. We just were. Though we did have a drill: When some creepy fuck would hit on one of them at a bar, they’d slide an arm around my waist and say I was their boyfriend.

It bothered me. Not because they were doing it—I was happy to offer the service of standing there and looking disagreeable. What annoyed me was that it was necessary: That there was a kind of man out there who wouldn’t back off when told. He had to be infringing on another man’s territory to be turned away.

Why wasn’t it enough for my friends to say they just weren’t interested?

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Recently, male video game enthusiasts have been using the tactics of terrorism—death threats, hacking, releasing personal and sensitive information—against women like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, who’ve committed the great sin of being women in a male-dominated industry.

Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton have had their computers hacked, and nude photos are being distributed on the Internet like playing cards. A lot of the tut-tutting over this is directed at them; they should have known better than to take photos for personal, private use.

Because boys will be boys, right?

Just before I sat down to write this, I read an article in the New York Times about a town in the United Kingdom where scores of teen girls were groomed for sexual exploitation. The police looked the other way, going so far as to blame a 12-year-old of consenting to a gang-rape.

To be more accurate, I didn’t actually finish the article, because I couldn’t.

I mean, fuck. We’re having a girl.

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When I was in high school I was at a dance. I met up with a girl I had met before and we talked a bit and went for a walk and I kissed her. I thought she wanted me to kiss her. I know for sure that I went in cautiously and slowly, because in high school I was shy with girls. I didn’t even know what aggression looked like.

We spoke a little more after that and she left, with a plan to meet up later. Soon after, a group of guys came after me. They said she said I threw her up against a wall and forced her to kiss me.

I understand that men and women can interpret actions differently. I am sure I did not do this.

Luckily, a group of people who thought better of my character prevented what would have probably been a severe beating. We were able to come to some kind of accord. I can’t speak to the details of it because what I most vividly remember, specifically, is that I was dizzy and choking down vomit and trying to not cry.

The thought I could do that to a woman just about killed me. I was raised better than that. I was raised by a mother and a grandmother who never took shit from anyone, and had that charge been true, would have beaten me far worse than a pack of high school boys.

There are two directions to go from a situation like that. Anger or compassion.

Anger would mean blaming the girl for lying about what I did and trying to get me beaten into the dirt over it.

Compassion would be to understand that as a tall white male with broad shoulders I come from a point of privilege and power than I should be wary of. The world is different for me than it is for other people, and I should be more thoughtful of my actions.

I’m proud to say I went with the second option. After that, I asked women if I could kiss them before I did it. Some would say no and some would say yes. It ended up being a pretty good system, even if it meant I didn’t always get a kiss.

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Do you know what a men’s rights activist is?

It’s a movement that, supposedly, was founded to promote the rights of men against the growing threat of feminism. The idea being that feminism was about giving women greater agency over men (rather than the truth of it, which was promoting equality).

This movement is populated by people who never learned that it’s not funny to make jokes about a woman’s place being in the kitchen. Men who believe women are objects for sex and servitude.

Men who chose the path of anger. That anger being born of fear.

I hate to think about this, but I have to: Why did I make that joke about a woman’s place being in the kitchen, all those years ago?

Was I going for the easy laugh? Or, as an awkward kid who had a hard time socializing with girls, who felt like he was being stranded outside some great party everyone else was invited into, was I afraid and angry at women? Was I trying to diminish them?

I could speculate, or I could tell you what I do know: That was a long time ago, and I’m a different person now.

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The girl that my wife is having is our first child. Prior to releasing the news—first, privately, to our family and close friends, before making it “Facebook official”—people have been telling me what I want. Which is, apparently, a boy.

Before we knew the sex I would say I want a happy and healthy kid, and people would say, but really, you want a boy, right?

In my head I would say no, I was telling the truth the first time. But I wouldn’t say that to them out loud. Instead I would nod, not caring enough to argue.

And now that we know it’s a girl, people have asked me if I’m disappointed.

How I could be disappointed? We’re having a little girl. She is going to smart and beautiful and a huge nerd, and she is going to be the world’s first superhero. I love her already and she’s only the size of a sweet potato, according to the app on my wife’s phone.

I’m not afraid of being a dad. For the first year babies can barely move under their own power. There will be plenty of time to acclimate, and anyway, I’ve never needed much sleep.

But I am afraid of the fact that she is also going to grow up in a very fucked-up world where I won’t always be there to scare off predators.

Anyway, it can’t be enough to teach her how to spot and avoid danger. That’s not the discussion we should be having.

It’s shouldn’t be on her to be safer. To drink less, trust less, show less skin. It’s on men to be better.

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I like to think that I’ve grown up from the kid who made stupid jokes, and into a better man. Today I would call myself a feminist, which is what men’s rights activists call “beta.” So sure. If they’re alpha males, then I’m proud to be beta male.

There’s a part of me that feels like this is self-indulgent. Like I’m bragging. “Look how accepting and cool and liberal I am, everyone.”

But it’s important to talk about these things. Not just because of the compulsion that comes from the new light of being a father—being the father to a girl—but because the uneven plane of gender politics is kept in place by people who make jokes in online forums rather than talk in an open and honest voice.

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Header Image courtesy of street artist Vinz Feel Free. To view a gallery of his art on NAILED, go here.

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rob hart writer nailed magazineRob Hart is the associate publisher at MysteriousPress.com and the class director at LitReactor. He is the author of The Last Safe Place: A Zombie Novella, and his debut novel, New Yorked, will be published by Polis Books in June 2015. You can find his website, here.
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Carrie Seitzinger

Carrie Seitzinger is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Seitzinger is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.
Learn more about her at her official site.