The problem is not an absence of moral imagination; it’s an absence of objective reality. When gender identity wins, girls and women always lose. Biology matters, and not just in the imagination. There’s an undeniable power differential between the sexes, and it rarely ends in the favor of team XX. How many Christopher Hambrooks will there have to be before people are willing to name the problem? These aren’t hard questions; they just require hard answers.
“It’s the nicest thing I’ve ever owned,” Jenny says, her trembling hands holding the necklace up to the light. “Isn’t it gorgeous?” she beams.
She looks at me expectantly, a smile creeping over her worn, pretty face. She instinctively raises her hand to hide the indignity of her missing bottom teeth. Now in her mid-50s, her sad, dark eyes suggest she’s been around much longer.
“It’s really so lovely, Jenny,” I manage to say, looking at the string of purple and blue oversized rhinestones, hot-glued into plated brass. Several prongs are bent out of position, and the metallic paint is chipping off on one side. It reminds me of a purchase I might make at the dollar store to reward my young daughter’s good behavior. And it’s Jenny’s prized possession.
I have no words. Technically, I’m supposed to be the one teaching lessons as the small group facilitator at this women’s shelter, but each week I leave convinced I’m actually the pupil. This week proves no different.
“Jenny,” I say, “I’d be honored to hear your story. I could tell something was bothering you in group today. Can you tell me what it was?”
“It doesn’t really matter,” she says. “There’s nothing I can do about it. You probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.” She fidgets with the curtains, avoiding eye contact—anything to shift focus off the weight of the words she is about to utter. Her face wrinkles up, but the tears don’t fall; that well ran dry a long time ago. Then she begins.
When Men Take What They Want
She tells me how her mother sold her, age eight, into prostitution for drug money. Her first “clients” were the sweaty old men across the street. They reeked of cigarettes, body odor, and whiskey. They ripped her favorite green plaid jumper from her tiny body and taunted her as she tried to escape. Her voice shakes, remembering her mother’s cold irritation at her sobs.
“It’s just part of being a woman,” her mom said. “You’re gonna have to be a big girl and get used to it.”
Jenny got used to it. It cost her everything. Fifty years later, she still sleeps with one eye open, reciting childhood prayers and old Native American chants through the wee hours of the night until she can see the sun creeping up over the horizon and the terror, for a while, subsides.