“Close Your Legs”

Several weeks ago I sat on a subway frantically preparing for a midterm.

I didn’t even notice when they walked in and sat directly across from me-

two boys,

a little older –

and I wouldn’t have noticed them if a big waving hand hovering above my face hadn’t caught my attention.

I looked up and the larger of the two put his hand down and began to retreat to his seat, motioning for me to take my headphones off.

I pulled one bud out and before I could get my

“Huh?” out he said,

Close your legs

and moved his hands together

in a repeating closing motion.

I took the other one out of my ear.

“Sorry, what?”

Close your legs

I looked down

at my slightly ajar legs                          

underneath my laptop

feeling like I was  just                              

hit in the gut with a sledge- 

hammer that sent heat                          

shooting up my chest through

my neck and face tinting                        

my cheeks and  jabbing at

my eyes until they                            

were watery with anger

but still all I could say was

“Wait, what?”

CLOSE YOUR FUCKING LEGS

no one wants to see that

Uh, okay? Thank you for that.”

I shot him my best you’re-stupid-and-pathetic-look and threw in a chuckle as I put my headphones back on like you learn to do whenever you’re harassed on the subway

but still, almost instinctively

I clasped my legs so close together

my laptop teetered on top

and my inner thigh muscles burned

just like I had been taught to as a little girl.

I pretended not to hear them talk about

bitches these days

for the next two stops before absentmindedly slapping my laptop shut in a big hurry to jump off of the train only to realize I had gotten off early, about fifteen stops.


I spent the rest of the day on edge

but I didn’t talk about it.

I didn’t want to think about it.

Couldn’t even write about it.

But it was like the more I tried to forget it

the more I began to question myself

and the harder I fought to wiggle out

of the noose

my thoughts formed

around my neck

the louder the questions became

in my head.

Questions provoked doubt

and the doubt enticed anger

to shield my ego from emerging guilt

until I became so mixed up

I looked to other people to help shake

some of this shame off of my back.

But talking about it only made me feel worse.

No one was very interested.

And those who were interested had questions like,

Wait, what skirt was it? The tight one?

Did it get bunched up or something?

Why were you in a skirt? It’s winter

Do you think he said that because something

was showing and people were staring?

And so

these conversations quickly became

an overly defensive,

uncontrollable ramble

for an audience

with very little interest

in my story to begin with.

I became fixated on explicit details,

repeating things like:

“I was wearing my long pencil skirt

the one that’s down to my knees,

the formal one”

as if it made a difference to anyone.

And when I told my mom about it

she sighed and said,

Well, that’s why we (women)

have to be careful

not to give the

wrong impression;

men will use anything

as an excuse

to abuse

young, innocent girls

like you

that’s why you make sure

you don’t carry yourself in a way

to let people think of you like that,

like you’re one of

those girls.

I opened my mouth to counter back

but then I let her words

…Like that…

…Like them…

…Those girls…

sink in.

They are often referenced-

synonymous with others,

and implied as less than

but never defined.

Suddenly I realized that all of this anxiety

was built up around how others might perceive me as

less than

And then it occurred to me-

in my rambles, I wasn’t looking to have a discussion about equality and what it’s like to be a woman in today’s society –

I was trying to get others to agree that I wasn’t one of

those other girls

that I didn’t deserve to be treated like that

because I’m not

like that – 

a term that in all of its ambiguity

only seems to offer a list of

don’ts

and strip us of our natural inclination to say 

I can

so what happens if I want to be like that,

    like them?

what if deep down, I am?

what if pencil skirts make me nauseous

and I prefer all my skirts mini

and my tops cropped

what if I’m open about my sexuality

and I don’t feel any desire to hide the shape I sweat for daily at the gym

what if I value being comfortable over being ladylike

and I know you can see my underwear

but I just don’t care?


Close your legs

Close your legs

Close your legs

These words are present

in even my earliest memories.

As a kid, I remember being told

the flower that sits between your legs

is a gift,

a source of power

But it’s only ever seemed to be

a source of shame,

something ugly to hide

with only the power to strip me

of the intricate complexities

that make me who I am

and reduce me to

slut

or

victim,

at very best.

And if I refuse to wear innocence

like a mantel

that bears my human dignity as a crest,

Am I not still me?

Who am I then?

And if this identity

tailor-made before my birth

and forced onto my head like a steel crown,

too tight to wear and too heavy to bear

isn’t right,

am I not still me?

and if not,

who am I?

And where does my worth lie, then?

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  One thought on ““Close Your Legs”

  1. April 19, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Thought it was a poem at first, then a story, then sth like a piece from your journal, then like an article or sth, and it was worth every second.
    One of good pieces I’ve read on WP

    How did u align words?

    • Zo
      April 19, 2017 at 2:04 pm

      Thank you so much for the feedback!
      To be honest, I kind of just aligned them in a way that felt like they had natural flow – like poetry but not as rigid.
      I feel that separating words a certain way and playing with the position makes the lines more powerful. It’s almost like alignment can work as subtext, that way I don’t have to explicitly explain what is happening, and I can just show you with how the lines are positioned.
      Hope that makes sense, it’s a little tough to explain.
      But basically, it’s written out how I see stories and certain memories in my head.
      Thanks again for the feedback!

      • April 19, 2017 at 2:10 pm

        mmh, it definitely does make the lines more powerful…I’m gonna give it a try and see if it works for me even though sometimes I take on a new style and it gives me hell.

  2. April 19, 2017 at 10:42 pm

    It is great. Very well written and it is such an important topic.

  3. Spiritual Ghetto
    April 20, 2017 at 12:16 am

    It’s sad that “men”, actually no more than apes, still force women to live according to their perceptions of life, and they wanna make slaves out of women! Rather than closing one’s legs, they should close their eyes if they can’t control their hormones!

  4. Len
    May 3, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    This is extraordinary! I think nearly every woman and girl experiences this type of overt sexualistion of our bodies at some stage, even when we’re doing something as mundane as sitting down. I loved the rhythm of this piece as the reader gets to travel with you and feel everything you felt. You captured casual slut shaming perfectly here. Brilliant piece.

    • Zo
      May 3, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      Thank you so much! It really means a lot! I think it’s something all women go through and it’s emotionally scaring but no one talks about it. Thank you for your understanding and kind words!

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