Here I am, now knocking on the door of 30, completely alone for the first time in my life—and is it ever terrifying.
“You can’t wear that jersey here,” a random kid I meet at a festival warns me, his face deadly serious. It’s about 3am, and we’re halfway through a shared fifth of Colombian rum. He eyes my ex-lover’s blue Millonarios jersey, which I am proudly sporting in the territory of their archrivals, the green-and-white-striped Nacional. “People around here will literally kill you for wearing that,” he adds.
I love football, and Millonarios, from Bogotá, were the first team I ever saw play in Colombia, my adopted country. I haven’t lived in Bogotá or seen Millos play for a long time now, but it makes me livid to think that someone would murder me for the colors I’m wearing. Maybe subconsciously I hope wearing my ex’s colors will serve as a talisman, make me as strong as I was with him even now that he’s long gone.
I keep wearing the Millos jersey anyway, ignoring the glares of the locals.
“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” one of my feminist heroes Gloria Steinem supposedly said once.*
Bull shit, I curse her mentally, trying and failing to open a fucking jar of green olives in my kitchen for 10 bloody minutes.
“I’d wear it every day if I could,” says one of the subjects of photographer Carla Richmond and writer Hanna Steen’s photoessay What Remains: Portraits of Women Wearing Their Ex-Lovers’ Shirts:
Even if it’s painful we need to hold onto something. Proof that we did it. That we went through it. That we learned something. That our hearts were broken. That we were loved. That we weren’t loved enough. For someone I won’t be something that will be so easily shed.
“All feminists have daddy issues,” says a Huffington Post commenter on one of the site’s many recent feminism-related articles.
“Have a good daddy, did you?” I retort bitterly. “How nice for you.”
I discover while reading Martha Nussbaum that there is a term for the version of political feminism I have espoused as a sort of shield: normative self-sufficiency. For me, normative self-sufficiency is not a creed as much as a rational assessment of relationship reality: If you really care about freedom—if you are really not prepared to coerce the men you love into walking beside you when they would rather be walking next to someone else—then you have to always plan for the possibility that they will choose not to be with you, that you will have to go it alone.
I remember wanting to sear this lesson into my mother’s brain when I was 15 years old, when everything my father did seemed to be an attempt to claw himself away from the suffocating responsibility of a wife and two kids.
Yet here I am, now knocking on the door of 30, completely alone for the first time in my life—and fuck, is it ever terrifying.
I keep telling myself that the intensity of my horrible daddy issues—this suffocating, throat-parching fear of not having a man to tell me everything’s going to be all right, that I am a person who is valued—must have something to do with my crazy religious upbringing. When I was a child, all that was holy was male, and the embodied voice of holiness in the world was also male. Women who couldn’t accept their inherent subordination, based on Eve’s legacy of female moral defectiveness, were flirting with damnation. I lived in terror of that damnation for a long time.
Now I keep wondering if the fundamental question at the bottom of my personal feminist quest is a religious one: Is God a man?
And: If He is, what am I risking by thinking that I, as a woman, can truly think for myself?
“Do Feminists Like Big Government Because They Have Daddy Issues?” asks Janet Bloomfield, AKA Judgy Bitch, founder of Women Against Feminism.
I think about this for a long time. I live alone in a converted stable up in the goddamn Andes. There are no locks on my windows or on the gate to my farm. The way my neighbor’s sharp-faced gardener looks me up and down and appears in my house unannounced gives me the heeby-jeebies. Another local expat from Texas tells me I’ll never be able to feel completely safe living on my own as a woman here until I buy myself a gun.
Yet I recall how that one time, when I got beaten up and robbed on the Colombian coast, the U.S. embassy called the next day to ask how I was doing, if I needed anything. Four women may have been murdered in this Colombian state alone over the past weekend. And yet I feel protected by the knowledge that if someone were to do me harm, it would likely cause a diplomatic scandal between the U.S. and Colombian governments.
I feel simultaneously guilty and grateful for this privilege. Yes, perhaps this feminist does love her big government because she has daddy issues.
I get up the courage to visit a tattoo artist about an idea I’ve been toying with for years: an enormous snake twisted up in a paradisiacal tree. “I feel an affinity for snakes,” I tell the designer. “I want to challenge the conception of them as evil.”
I want to mark myself with my intellectual rejection of the idea of the evil feminine that I inherited from my father’s fundamentalism.
And yet after the second session, my tattooed arm bleeding and throbbing, a phrase from the Book of Revelation plays in my head, a phrase that used to torment me as a teenager when my father would weave apocalyptic tales where the faithful would offer their heads beneath a guillotine to prove their loyalty to the One True God:
The Mark of the Beast.
I look at the huge bleeding smear on my arm and shake off a shiver.
A towering, gentle-faced German friend who lives nearby asks me if he can rent my spare room. I hate sharing my house, but I need the money, so I assent.
For bonus points: He’s a lifelong atheist.
He’s not around very often, but just his psychological presence makes me feel safer up in my cabin. These days, when I sit next to men on the bus down the mountain and they probingly ask me who I live with, I casually mention the German, and they no longer try to follow me off the bus.
I have been reading The Places That Scare You and Start Where You Are by the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. Strangely, it sets me to thinking about football. If the idea is to start anew from exactly where I am, I wonder, why do I insist on wearing the colors of an absent man who no longer gives a damn about me? Of a team from 400 kilometers away, when there is an excellent side right here in my own city?
In a kind of reckless flirtation, I make arrangements to see a Nacional match. “Make sure you wear green,” the friends I go with tell me beforehand. As if it were a cheap condom, I buy a trashy replica jersey in mint and white from a woman near the stadium.
Nacional tidily beat their opponents, and I cheer them on like one of the boys. Then I spend the bus ride home musing over whether I really should switch sides.
But when I get off the bus, I see the women from the local bakery and the grocery, the same ones who used to cock their eyebrows at the blue of my Millonarios jersey, eyeballing my green-and-white polyester with obvious distaste. Their chastising looks say it all, and I feel ashamed.
You can’t just stop wearing your man’s colors.
That’s not how the world works.
I wake up one morning to a headline in Quartz: “The Pope has finally declared that Adam was wrong to blame Eve for his sin.”
I stare at it for a second, then feel a surge of gratitude. Heaven bless this pope for what he’s doing for us women.
… And no: I am not being sarcastic.
* It was actually Irina Dunn who said this.
Samantha Eyler is a freelance American writer, editor, and translator based in Medellín, Colombia. She has written about politics, immigration, Latin America, and social justice for publications such as NACLA and the New Statesman. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.