Susan Rukeyser wrote “Ingrown Rage” for The Desert Split Open Mic, a radical, queer, feminist open mic she recently started in Joshua Tree, CA. She is the author of the novel, Not On Fire, Only Dying (Twisted Road Publications) and a chapbook of tiny stories, Swap / Meet (Space Cowboy Books). In 2018, she edited and published Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology. Susan’s creative nonfiction work appears in numerous places including River Teeth, Mom Egg Review, Women Writers, Women’s Books, and Hippocampus Magazine, where she won their inaugural “Remember in November” contest. www.susanrukeyser.com
By twelve-years-old, my legs were too long. I was taller than the boys, so I slouched because girls should be small, I was told. Petite, waiflike, a pocket Venus, the girl shorter than the boy, even if she must bend her knees or wear flats when she wants to stilt-walk. In high school, the cutest, tiniest cheerleader was thrown into the air as if weightless, as if nothing, and oh how I wished I was small enough to be thrown around, how I wished to be less.
Just wait till the boys grow up, I was told. No man ever complained that a woman’s legs are too long, I was told. It was assumed I wanted attention from men. Needed it. It was assumed that I, all girls, exist in relation to men. Our legs are for them, as are we. Girls aren’t asked if they mind being inspected for their suitability to this tired old system, and we are all deficient: too big, too dark, too short, bag of bones, fat ass…she has her dad’s face, poor thing…a man’s nose, but we can fix that…we can tame that bad hair…if she would just stop biting her nails and dress like a girl…put some mascara on those pale lashes…she could make an effort, for chrissake, smile once in a while…No man wants an angry woman.
But rage is a rational response. Rage like the furrow in my twelve-year-old brow, learning: women are one thing and men another, and if men want to fuck you, if they can tolerate you, you will be safe. Safer.
Rage like the cords in my neck, tight from a lifetime of stooping, which remind me of the strings on the cello I held between my twelve-year-old legs. The cello demanded passion and fidelity but did not push beyond my knees.
Rage, like the ingrown hair on the legs I still shave because the women men want to fuck, the women men can tolerate, have legs smooth as plastic, I was told, and my fifty-year-old legs are closed to men…finally. But it is hard to unlearn the rules.
Rage like the ingrown hair that never tried again, but coiled in on itself, festering and stuck in these hot pink lies we are all told. It did not grow as intended, up and out, into air, light, the world.
Rage like the ingrown hair finally extracted by new, clean tweezers, unfurling up and out, into air, light, the world; angry fluid draining from a hot pink mess that I wipe away like it was nothing.