The following is a conversation I had at the dinner table with my godmother’s cousin, the evening after Thanksgiving, shortly after we first met. I am doing my best to repeat everything as clearly and faithfully as memory allows. For clarity, I have omitted my responses because we have all heard them before, and because they weren’t really a part of this conversation in the first place.

A bit about myself: I am a 35-year-old, self-employed small-business owner with an hourglass figure and bright red hair. I have recently ‘retired’ from my life as a session guitarist in New York after enduring my fifth assault while on the job, and have been in New Mexico undergoing self-financed immersive trauma therapy for sexual and physical abuse. I am unmarried, have no children, and recently lost my father, who was my only remaining immediate family member. I accepted an invitation from my godmother to spend the holiday weekend on a 4-day retreat in Red River, New Mexico, ostensibly so I wouldn’t have to spend the holiday alone.  

Here’s what happened over dinner.

Daddy, what’s a redhead?

A redhead is a Ginger, son. A GIN-GER. You know? If you switch those letters around it spells Nig-

What do you mean, a proprietary term? I watch lots of porn and I’ve never heard that word before, so it can’t be related to adult films at all.

Why do you have any say in what word I use to talk about your hair? Who do you think you are?

What do you mean, men touch you without asking? Do men really treat women like objects because of their hair? Or do you just think you’re special for some reason?

I still don’t understand what a proprietary term is.

Wait, what does cultural experience mean? Are you trying to tell me I have to use a different word because other people are obsessed with being politically correct? I don’t think I should have to be politically correct because some people are sensitive about stupid things.

Why are women so incredibly sensitive, anyway?

Well, where I come from men with red hair are called Rusty Balls, so what’s the difference?

What do you mean it’s different for women? If it’s so different for women, why do you all want equality so badly?

How do you know men with red hair aren’t objectified? You’re not a man. You have no idea what it’s like to be a man.

Oh, your partner has red hair? I’m sure he’s fine with being called a Ginger.

What do you mean nobody calls your partner a Ginger? I thought you were a part of the women’s movement. Don’t you want equality?

Wouldn’t it be more equal to call your partner a Ginger because you are, rather than to call you a redhead because he is?

I still don’t believe anyone would want to touch you for any reason at all.

But what about my beard? When I was in college women used to come up to me in bars and touch my beard without asking.

You’re aware the women’s movement ended in 1960 because you don’t need it anymore, right?

But what about my muscles? When I was in college women used to come up to me at the gym and touch my chest without asking, and then I would threaten to grab their breasts in return and they would stop. How is this any different?

But the women’s movement is over! You don’t want equality, you want equal opportunity! Are you aware that, in order to have equal opportunity, you would have to have more benefits in the workplace than a man?

What do you mean that statement was sexist? Well, if you get to have sexism, then I get to have sizeism. Do you have any idea how differently people treat me now that I’m larger than some younger men?

Have I told you yet that Ginger respelled turns into the word Nigger? Pretty funny, isn’t it?

Well, what about blondes then? If you’re so special, why is everyone always talking about blondes?

Why is your personal experience so important? Aren’t blondes treated worse than you are anyway?

What do you mean I’m talking over the woman sitting next to me? I wasn’t talking to her, so I don’t have to listen to her. I am talking to YOU.

Lady, if you want to be treated as an equal to a man, then I hope you are prepared to get hit like one.

At this point I excused myself.  When I returned an hour later, the rest of the women in the cabin were quietly eating pie and watching television with a man who had just threatened to hit me because I asked him to stop sexualizing my hair.  I was offered a piece of pie and politely refused.  The gentleman in question and I never spoke again.

I am saddened to see time and again that, despite all protests to the contrary, this is the world that women not only agree to live in, but work together to normalize for others.  We use words to define the world around us, and we truly do live in the world we create.

This is not my world, and I refuse to live in it just because I am afraid of seeming ungrateful or impolite.  We have an obligation, as women, to do better.

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