I love swimming.
I belong to a gym, and when I go, I ignore everything else that the gym has to offer except the swimming pool.
In the pool, I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself. I don’t even have to look anyone, I can keep my face in the water essentially the whole time, doing flip turns to kick off the wall, and just go back and forth at my own pace. Its my time to think, or to not think, to just let the water flow over my body, and to gently feel the force of my body gliding through the water, feet steadily kicking, arms swooping with gentle strength overhead, pushing and accelerating me forward. I love feeling my body turn from one side to the other, back to the other. I love that I can swim gently and easily, slowly upping the tempo to a medium intermediate speed, and then when I’m ready, I sprint. I kick off the wall as hard as I can, and use all my strength to swim as fast as I possibly can. Sometimes I imagine a shark is coming behind me and I need to swim for my life. Sometimes I just become my own mermaid superhero, and there are people cheering “wow, she’s so fast!”. When I’m sprinting, I feel aggressive, as my breaths become more heated and forceful, my heart rate accelerates, the blood rushing through my body heats everything up. I become desperate and grateful for each breath of air, and my forceful, swift exhale/ inhale is exactly like the blowhole of a whale when she finally reaches the surface, pushes the old air out, and just as quickly fills her mighty lungs with fresh oxygen.
I love pushing myself through the water when I sprint, and I love the recovery laps after sprinting. I remember a time where I was sprinting, and I heard this amazing song playing in my head. Imagine the Orks from the Lord of the Rings being born out of pure evil, and as you watch, horrified but mesmerized, this amazing song plays, portending their might and power plays with long bold notes. Or imagine that song in star wars when Anakin is fighting the evil red-faced Sith lord, and there is lava everywhere, and a huge orquestral song is playing with 100 people singing in some powerful, alien language. Thats what the song was like, keeping time with and being born out of each mighty swoop of my arm through the water.
Yes, its true, I love to swim.
I’ve always been incredibly happy and comfortable in the water, but it wasn’t until college that I learned the joy of lap-swimming. I have never been on a team, and I am so grateful that I had the training to learn the basic techniques of the various strokes, breathing, and flip turns that are essential to swimming laps. Its an incredible privilege that swimming is my go-to exercise, because the training and equipment and access to a pool are not available to everyone.
So, as a lover of swimming, I’ll tell you a story of something that happened in the pool today.
It was a normal day going to the gym, but by the time I left, my goggles had filled with hot tears.
It started last week.
I got to the gym, and entered the sauna, which is right next to the pool. I always go in there before I swim, because I can look wait until there is an open lane.
So I walk in, and its full of people. One man, lets call him Tim, is talking with another gentleman. Tim is telling the other guy how he just played in this tournament, and he won the first trophy of his life, and he is so proud of himself. Tim is an older man, so its a cool story.
Tim says “I won the trophy, and my granddaughter also plays, and she won a trophy and put it next to mine. My granddaughter is 8 years old and she swims too. She is a good swimmer, she is skinny, like this woman”
Tim points to me, as the example of the skinny woman.
I don’t say anything, just kind of nod, and the other man says “Well she’s not skinny, she’s fit”
To which Tim replies, “She’s perfect”
So yea, creepy. I’m not here to have my body judged, to be told I’m skinny, or fit, or perfect.
There is so much thats wrong with this situation. These guys are talking as if I’m not there, they are just happily commenting on my body!
Skinny is not always a good thing, and you shouldn’t be commenting on someone’s body if you don’t know them!
So I think all of these things, but I don’t say them. There is so much that is wrong with what is happening here, just upholding a space where men get to look at women and decide what is acceptable, and go ahead and comment on it, reinforcing fat phobia. This guy already needs to be quiet, but then he says “You must be a good swimmer, right?”
And I nod, indicating, yes, I’m a good swimmer.
Soon after, a lane opens in the pool and I jump in and swim.
Two days later, I go back for another swim, and as I’m exiting the pool, I realize that guy Tim has been there for a while, and when I get out, Talkative Tim says “How are you? See, I told you, you are a good swimmer”
I respond with a nod and a smile because I’m nice like that, and quickly get outta there to the showers.
Today, you guessed it, I went back to the pool, and about 20 minutes in to my swim, I notice Tim sitting at a bench right at the end of my lane, sitting there, watching me. Let me just say that the pool is set up so that everyone in the sauna can easily watch the swimmers, but there is a bench outside the sauna, right at the edge of the pool, and people sometimes sit there. I’m used to it, and its usually not a big deal, because they are on their phones, or just spacing out, in between going from the hot tub to the sauna.
But the fact that I had met this person on 2 other occasions, and he had commented on my body and my swimming, and now was just sitting there, watching as I came to the end of the pool, did my flip turn, and then swam away again.
If your not familiar with a flipturn, you basically to a neat little somersault in the water, in which your butt and for us ladies, our vagina, are easily up for brief viewing as we turn.
With this particular guy sitting and watching me, I felt damn uncomfortable. I felt his gaze, and I did not like it.
I don’t know if you gathered this, but swimming is an alone activity that I do. Its a small chunk in which I don’t have to interact with other humans, and that is a precious thing to have! I know its an incredibly special thing to have, and I am so grateful for it, but today, this older man was trampling all over my ‘me time’ And was being creepy. Sorry, not sorry, when an older man starts staring at a younger woman for an extended period of time, its creepy.
Feeling fully creeped out, I measured my options.
One: I could go to the staff at the gym and let them know I felt uncomfortable.
Two, I could ask some other random person to tell the guy to stop. (what? Is that even viable, that won’t work)
Three, Say something directly to him.
If I were to tell the staff, ti would feel like tattle-taling, plus I’d have to stop my workout, get out, dry off, probably put on some clothes, and go talk to someone, and maybe make a little mini spectacle of it.
I didn’t want to stop my wokout, and I didn’t want this creeper watching me.
So, decision made, I swam to the end of my lane, popped my head out, goggles on, and sure enough, he was looking right at me.
We made eye contact.
He said “Hi, how are you doing?”
I said “Are you watching me?” It was an accusatory tone that said “Hey, buddy, I see what your doing!”
His lame response: “No, I.. “
I respond: “Oh, no? You’re just working out?”
at this point I turn away from him and to the woman in the lane next to me, who is looking at me like “Whats happening?”
and I say to her “He’s watched me before. Its not my favorite.”
And that seems like the perfect moment to dive right back into the water, kick of the wall, and swim away.
And swim I do, amazed at the confrontation I just had. Adrenaline coursed through me, and I swam back and forth with a second wind of energy.
On my fourth lap back, I peek up, and sure enough, he has left. I succeeded… right?
As I swim back and forth, feeling the full strength of by body, my muscles, I think of Wonder Woman.
I imagine that this pool is full of only women, and I would have never had that aggressive encounter with a creepy man. I think of the opening scene of little Diana, skipping through her town, women surrounding her, greeting her, loving her. That scene brings tears to me because it reminds me of my all girl high school, where we loved each other and grew so much with each other, laughing, crying, living, learning, playing, being ridiculous and hilarious, becoming the full people we would be come.
All women spaces are not at the Exclusion of men.
They are at the Inclusion of the full potential of women, so that we may become completely free and fully formed people.
I am so, so glad that I had that in some of my most formative years, and it is beyond a doubt part of the reason that I had the gumption to stand up for myself against the creepy watching guy.
I imagine how much better this pool would be, if it was like Tymescaria, full of beautiful strong women everywhere, playing and laughing in the water, women of all shapes and sizes and colors and languages.
But the thing that brings quick, hot tears to my eyes is that if such a place existed, it would be hounded by creepy men, clawing at the doors, demanding to come in and ruin everything. It would not have a protective, magical shell around it preventing violence from occuring, the violence that happens when women are objectified by male gaze.
Then I think of the thousands of women across the world who have never even gotten a tiny taste of Themyscsira, like I did. Who are not allowed to go to school, who do not know what birth control is, who are not allowed to have autonomy over their bodies and there lives. I sob for them, because I’m so damn lucky to have been given everything I have as a woman. I do not have a life that is entirely centered around and dictated and at service to men.
It shouldn’t be this way. Women should not live in fear, subject to violence, without voice, and without choice. It is so obvious, but it needs to be said, and needs to be acted upon.
I left the pool with tears in my goggles, and felt my body sobbing as I showered.
So this is just one story, and there are more layers to it. Maybe the creepy guy was just plain curious! Maybe he was amazed at my swimming skills and, and was not being weird at all! Well, maybe that’s true from his perspective, but I did not feel like it was just tame curiosity, and I am also allowed to react the way I did, and to imagine that perhaps he learned something about watching women in public. We are not out here for the entertainment of men! We are not here to be commented on as if we aren’t there, or to be leered at! If you leer at me, even if to you its just innocent curiosity, I’m going to say something, so that you understand that what you think is simple ‘looking’ is not so simple for the person being looked at!
Another dimension to this is that I’m a skinny white lady, one of the most powerful demographics out there, second only to white dudes. So I have all kinds of fragility and weird complications and complexes about my race and gender, and even the ability to be taking space swimming laps in a public pool in the first place. I’m pretty sure us white ladies are over-represented in swimming pools. I think of last summer (right?) when the young black girl was body slammed into the ground by a fully grown white police officer, in her bikini, and for no reason at all. Sometimes I imagine teaching swimming to other women in my community, because it is such an empowering exercise. Tim is Latinx-American. So what are the racial overtones to this? Was I using my whiteness to exert myself? I imagine if Tim had been any other race, and I have to say that I think I would have reacted the same way. I don’t know for sure but I think so.
The last thing I want to say about this, since I brought up Wonder Woman, is that I fully enjoyed Wonder Woman. Yes, I saw myself in her, and yes, I see that not all women will see themselves reflected in her! I’ve always really enjoyed super hero films, I love the plot and the action and the superpowers, and the story and the emotion of it all. My little sister can attest that when we were young, I convinced her to sneak into a Batman movie in the movie theaters. It was so, so great to see wonder woman kicking ass, and I left the theater wanting nothing else than to put on some gold cuffs.
But representation matters, which is why we need a black wonder woman, a trans wonder woman, a wonder woman in a hijab! A pro Palestinian wonder woman, not a Zionist one! I heard that the original story, Wonder Woman has a black sister, what happened to her? Can you imagine a trans superhero? A nonbinary superhero? Someone who literally does not conform to either but has qualities of both and neither? A big wonder woman, who isn’t super skinny! I know that Hyppolyta sculpted Diana out of clay, but the thing is that all women are beautifully sculpted from clay, amazingly formed gorgeous creatures we are, so all of us should be represented in our women superheroes, and not just the problematic, Zionist, white skinny Gal Gadot.
Some versions of these superheroes probably exist already, but if not lets write them into existence, then lift them up.