Today’s bike ride took me up to campus for summer school night school with a quick ill-fated stop at the post office–the summer heat takes its toll on power supplies, and the station on Louisiana Ave was all burned out. I wasn’t much looking forward to tonight’s class session on sexual violence. Important stuff, yes, but it’s hard to talk about, especially when it is so personal for so many of us, and for just as many, it seems, it is all overblown and women need to just use common sense and stop dressing like sluts and drinking too much. Yeah, in my experience it can be a tough dynamic to manage in the classroom. Class went surprisingly well, with most everyone staying respectful but still voicing honest opinions and concerns. When I was riding my bike home I passed a number of women out for evening runs, a wise move in our already-stultifying summer heat. As I whizzed by them I thought about how recalcitrant this idea is, that the way to solve sexual violence is for women to take all precautions, to make sure we aren’t outside alone at night and that we only drink with friends (though, especially for college women, friends and acquaintances are their most likely attackers), if we drink at all. Those simply can’t be our solutions, because the women I passed tonight need a world where they can go running after dark, and I need a world where I can bike home at any time, because that’s how I’m going to be moving through the world for the foreseeable future, and I am most assuredly not taking applications for an escort. I don’t know the answer, but I know it will mean some serious rethinking of masculinity, and as much as I don’t want to teach this stuff, I’d better stick with it.
I spent my morning grading, writing, laundering and cooking before it was time to bike through the haze to campus for my night class. It was one of those classes that went fine–even better than fine–where students talked to each other instead of just me and the conversation appeared to run by itself. But it was also one of those classes where there’s some real violence. That’s the flip side of teaching about race, gender, and sexuality: I have to listen to and turn into learning moments some incredibly racist, sexist, and homophobic stuff. That’s my job, and I love it–it is work worth doing, and for that I am grateful. But sometimes it gets to me in spite of how hard I am to what I talk about every day, and tonight it did, though I didn’t show it–hey, we’re learning, and I get that, and I’m genuinely glad I can create an environment where students say that stuff out loud so we can actually talk about it. But sometimes it gets to me. When that car laid on the horn as it sped past me on a street more than wide enough for the both of us, it came out, and I was pedaling through tears, saying to myself over and over again, “I belong, I belong, I belong.” Because I do, on my bike, in my body, regardless of my gender or sexuality, and so do you, and we are all here, so let’s figure out how to share this space without asking some of us to shut up and quit whining. I kept on pedaling until I got to Slice where I knew they would sell me pizza with bacon on it, red wine, and leave me alone. Riding your bike on the street is activism, people. Come out, come out, wherever you are.
I hopped on my bike this evening and headed to campus for tonight’s Oak Wreath dinner, thrown by the Newcomb College Institute in honor of outstanding graduating female students. My dear student M. invited me as her guest, and I was more than happy to attend. Each of the 20 or so students took turns talking about their professor-date, and then each professor talked about the brilliant and sassy student who invited them. I talked about reading M.’s final paper from our class on feminist activism–it was so smart, creative, and brave, it made me cry, and talking about it got me all choked up. (I appear to be a crybaby, at least lately.) And the same thing happened over and over again, and there are so many more stories of teachers and students at all levels all over this place…love, love, love it. And then I got back on my bike and did a loop around the park before heading home. Bittersweet.
Some days you just ride your bike to work, teach all day, really hard stuff, hear really hard stories, and try to balance all the feelings that come out on a day like this one. And then you bike across campus to a faculty seminar and stare at the cup in front of you, wishing teaching days like this one came with better instructions, like this tea bag. “Pull tag to release string.” Thank you for just telling me how to do it. These no-answer days are rough. And that’s when you’re grateful that you get to ride your bike home as hard as you can listening to this song and that, because they have beats that feel how it feels when you’re angry and frustrated that things don’t really seem to change all that much. Pedal, pedal, pedal, thank you, bicycle, for being at the beginning and end of every day.