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By Gulnaz Saiyed
*Editor's Note: This piece has been previously published on the author's Medium blog.
I sometimes joke that I have Spongebob Arms.
Spongebob lifts stuffed animals when he works out, so his arms are always popping right off when he tries to pick up anything of substance.
I’m also not strong. This fact that I can barely carry groceries up the stairs was once funny; it’s now terrifying. I am a Muslim/Brown/2nd generation/feminist American woman with Spongebob Arms in what’s about to be Trump’s USA. In Trump’s America you get sucker-punched for dissent, your hijab torn off for being modest, your children mocked for being different, your marriage blocked for being gay, your church burned for being Black, your walls defaced for being there, your healthcare taken away for being affordable, and you’re told to go back to a place where you’re not from, all while under the gaze of a a man who assaults women and girls, the disabled, Mexicans, Blacks, immigrants, Muslims.
What if my little (but not little by the standards of any women’s magazine) arms pop right off?
I’ve been stuck for a while now on what to write about when my Mixed Company company decided to tackle gender. Gender is both everything and nothing. It’s a make-believe that I’ve studied extensively as a student, taught as an educator, and lived as a cis-gendered heterosexual woman. It doesn’t matter that I was born a girl but that happenchance has shaped nearly every aspect of my life. I have so little and too much to say.
I thought about writing about how I’ve lived in a matriarchy within a patriarchy, and how capitalism consumed and therefore devalued women’s domestic labor. I thought about writing about male fragility and naming the ways in which dominance has made them weak. But what I keep coming back to this week, post-election, is my Spongebob Arms.
We keep saying a danger of a Trump Presidency isn’t just that his policies will be detrimental, but that he has and will continue to bring the racists out of the woodwork. He’s emboldened people to say what they’ve previously kept tucked in. He has. I’m about to let it all hang out.
I. Want. Strong. Arms. I want them lethal.
Mama sometimes tells us about a dream she had. She, my sisters, and I (or some combination of us) were being chased by dog. Mama turns around as the dog nears us, and puts her hands in the dog’s mouth, and tears its jaw apart. I know we’re not supposed to talk violence against dogs in the U.S., but don’t worry, it was just a dream. Its only truth is in the ferocity with which my mom protects us.
Spongebob Arms are not ferocious. They’re not even feminine. They’re soft, a punchline that literally doesn’t pack a punch. But I want to rip your face off.
No, not your face. But I’m just so angry. I want to be able to tell you that I want to rip your face off and be able to laugh it off when you’re sad and scared and tell you it was just a joke.
I WANT TO RIP YOUR FACE OFF. LOL. Don’t be so sensitive. Have you even seen my little Spongebob Arms? I couldn’t even do it if I tried. Can I try?
I wish I was strong. I wish I had been raised up to be physically strong in the face of disaster as opposed to having a steely resolve in the face of too much housework and schoolwork and workwork. I don’t want to have it all. I want to be sanctioned to write about committing and maybe actually commit violence.
Have you seen Luke Cage? I want to be a do-good vigilante. I don’t want to show my solidarity by wearing a safety pin, I want to be able to pin down the next guy who insults my mother and beat the smug out of him. I don’t want to feel so nervous just typing that. Can I go to jail for typing that? No one in my Mixed Company company is a lawyer, so…
I typed it. I’m not for-real for-real going to beat someone up. My for-real for-real sister is a lawyer so I figure if we needed to, we could prosecute the smug out of the next guy who insults my mother. But what can we do about the Macy’s jewelry counter ladies who don’t answer her questions or show her the earrings she wants to try on?
I don’t want to learn self-defense. I want to learn self-offense. I want to be physically intimidating. I want to help you carry your groceries to the car, to assemble my daughters’ bunk beds without help, and not drop my bag on the head of the person in the aisle seat when attempting to put it in the overhead bin. I want you to think twice before insulting my parents or my people.
Is this why other people bear arms? To pop off their Spongebob arms and attach on AKs? I have the second amendment, but do I have the right to transcend my physicality, embody my rage, and strike fear into the hearts of those who scare me?
I’m scared. I had a whole Girl Power themed outfit in middle school, so it hurts to admit. I don’t think about it. I won’t write about it. Instead, let’s imagine workout montages starring me: I’m doing a pushup; I’m lifting a barbell with some faceless giant body spotting me; I’m hitting a punching bag while a voice from my past tells me I can’t do it; and then a close-up of my chiseled arms, and I’m lifting myself up over a bar.
My arms hurt from all the work; they don’t pop off; and I’m too tired to be scared.