Week One of Red-Lipped Activism

I wasn’t always this person. In fact, last year I wasn’t even this person. Speaking up, especially on topics that run the risk of making anyone anywhere the slightest bit uncomfortable, is not my thing. Or wasn’t, anyway. It seems it just might be, now.

I can’t say exactly what the straw was that broke this little camel’s back was, but I know there were quite a few of them piled on there. Until one day, I said, “Fuck this shit.” and did something about it. It wasn’t instant leadership skills and activism know-how from there, I still feel like I do very little. But it’s better than nothing. It’s not just scared silence, as I had been previously excelling at. (Just on touchy subjects, that is. Still thought-sluttin’ it up about everyday bullshit on the regular.)

That unwillingness to remain silent and bear my shame, paired with a hatred for controlling, manipulative, narcissistic douchebaggery is how I came to find myself toting around no less than 4 tubes of lipstick for the past week. I have remembered to wear it every day, and try to make sure it’s fresh and fiery before going out into public. I mean, I wear it around the house too, but as far as that whole conversation starter aspect goes, it’s far less successful there.

My son and I did discuss why I was wearing it the first day, however. He was telling me how they were watching a video in class about a guy who had been bullied and tormented in school because he was gay. The principal had told him he should’ve expected it, because he acted so flamboyantly. My tiny little optimist was shocked that this would be something one human says to another. I told him this also happens to sexual assault victims frequently. They are blamed for bringing it on themselves because of what they were wearing, where they were, or how many drinks they’d had. After a bit of stunned silence, he said, “Mom. If I ever hear anyone say something that stupid to someone that’s been hurt, I will punch them right in the face.” I told him we don’t use violence if at all possible, but inside, deep in my little Mom heart that’s only concern is the well-being of my precious little homespun star, I danced around like nobody’s business. Then I told him I’d break my own rule if he ever violated anyone’s personal boundaries in such a way. Dude, I’m doing the best I can, consistency isn’t something I’ve started advocating for yet. Gimme a minute.

I’ve had a few more opportunities to say my piece. It gets a little easier every time, but it’s still difficult. I still hate making people uncomfortable.

Just judging from the looks I’ve received alone (it’s noticeable when most anyone wears bright red lipstick. I have rather full lips, so it’s even harder to miss.) it seems to make women far more uneasy than men. They don’t often comment, but they do glare, shake their heads, cringe, look me up and down with raised eyebrows, and make little “tsk” noises if my son is with me. I try to smile back. A genuine, real smile. Because I get it. There was a time, when I was lugging around my straws in silence, that I did the same. “What is she trying to prove?” I’d think. “Poor little slut, just needs attention from wherever she can get it.” Why? Because I was angry. The few times I’d tried to find my voice and speak up about the terrible things that had happened, nobody had listened. The adults, the people I trusted most, had ignored me, or turned it back on me. And I believed them.

I’m the adult now, and I’ve learned a thing or two getting here. I won’t be ignored. I’ll be here, red lips blazing, eyes straight ahead, fighting for all of us to have our voices heard. Because seriously. Fuck this shit.




Red My Lips, take two.

Tomorrow is the first day of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I know you just inwardly groaned, it’s ok. This is uncomfortable. But that’s why it’s a thing, it has to be talked about. Has to.

I participated in the Red My Lips campaign for the last week of the month last year, and I’m excited to do so for the entire month this year. Here’s how it works: you wear red lipstick every day for the whole month. That’s it. Well, almost, anyway. Then, when someone mentions it, you use that moment to tell them you’re wearing it both as a show of solidarity to those who have been victims of abuse, and to get the word out that we have to change the way we look at these things in general.

When I did this last year, a woman I work with commented on it. I told her I was raising awareness, and after a bit of talking, she told me to make sure “not to wear a short skirt with it or anything like that”. This is the EXACT thing that needs to change. This woman isn’t a violent monster, nor is she completely uneducated. But she is part of this society that would rather not talk about this issue at all, and uncomfortably shift blame onto those already suffering when they do. It’s become the norm to question a victim’s story, to make them justify every action they took, and to then tell them how they somehow brought this on themselves.

That. It has to end.

There is nothing a person wears  (or doesn’t wear) that makes it alright for anyone else to touch them without their consent. There is not an hour after which all women walking alone are up for grabs. There is not a number of drinks past which the person drinking them cannot blame anyone else for taking advantage of them in their inebriated state. Victims of sexual assault are never asking for it. Ever.

Last year, excited as I was to stand up and fight for something I believe in so much, I hated almost every minute of it. I didn’t wear lipstick ever, then. Especially not red. It’s seen as sexual, racy, flamboyant… all those things I try to minimize in my own self (which is the exact reason it’s the symbol of this campaign). Though I’m not trying to be invisible by any means, being seen in that particular light is not something I’m comfortable with. I’m good with being the funny one. The awkward one. I’m not the sexy one. It’s probably not a huge mystery as to why; I once believed being assaulted was my fault, too. Even once I accepted that there is no “asking for it” (unless you’re literally saying the fucking words) I still thought if I kept from prettying myself up too much, I would be safer. I knew in the logical part of my brain that was complete crap, but that part isn’t always in use. The first day I wore it last year, I spent most of it looking over my shoulder, jumping at loud noises, and on the verge of tears. Because of lipstick.

I refuse to live my life that way. I refuse to let anyone else, if there’s a way I can help it. So I’ll bring up the uncomfortable, I’ll believe you when you tell me your story, and I’ll do everything I can to change the stigma that rape and assault are just things that happen to sluts who aren’t careful. Also, I talk to my son frequently, about boundaries, consent and choices. That might be the most uncomfortable part of all, but it’s also the most important. As men are most often the abusers, I’ll be fucking damned if my child is going to grow up thinking another person’s body is something he’s entitled to.

If you’d like to read more on this, by someone who explains it much better, you definitely should.

Spread the word, and get that lipstick ready.