“Comment dit-on ‘chick flick’?” a boy named Kelly has the gall to half-cough, half-snicker after Mila, per the prompt of the assignment she was selected to read aloud, informs the teacher that she recently went to see Real Women Have Curves as French class comes to a close. His “French name,” Jean-Luc, somehow doesn’t seem fittingly douchey enough. At the time, Mila (whose own French name was, plainly, Charlotte) didn’t think upon the incident as one of blatantly tolerated misogyny, so much as just another day in the life of trying to survive high school without some sort of scathing verbal torment.
“Jean-Luc” turned into an even more nefarious villain when he transformed back into Kelly outside of French, and Mila did her best to steer clear of him at all costs. Except for today, when he seemed entirely determined to berate her for touting her weekend film selection, calling after her as she scurried down the sidewalk, “What you have isn’t curves Mila, it’s two sides of lard!”
Everyone around her proceeded to cackle, and even the cohort from French she was walking with, Sam, a closeted gay with braces, proceeded to laugh in unison, perhaps fearing he would be completely ejected from “the fold” if he didn’t. Not that he wasn’t last week’s target when Kelly cornered him as he walked through the halls with a color guard sash sticking out of his backpack acting as a toreador’s muleta to the bull that was this beast of a human being. What made it almost worse was that Kelly wasn’t even a jock, nor, accordingly, what could be classified as “meathead attractive.” He was just an all-around average person whose dad happened to be the property developer responsible for bringing Pelican Cove its only mall. The students of Mila’s high school seemed to think they somehow owed Kelly a great debt for that fact, as he constantly reminded them that his father would’ve opened a boutique hotel and spa were it not for Kelly’s insistence upon a mall on that massive plot of land that, for so long, housed only an abandoned warehouse where people went on the weekends to get drunk and party in.
And grateful to him they were, in a form that could only seem to be expressed by joining in on his daily personal attacks against whoever suited his jeering aims of the moment. Today, it was Mila. Tomorrow, she could only pray, it would be someone else. Yet there was something about his particular contempt for a film with a body positive title and the word “women” in it that would only later hit Mila like a ton of bricks with its complete effect. What angered her all the more with her retrospective knowledge of the full weight (no curves pun intended) of what he had mocked her for was that her own teacher, a woman who supposedly prided herself on the achievement and potential of the females she taught, did nothing to intervene. And even if part of that stemmed from not wanting to worsen matters for Mila by making it seem like she favored her in some way, it would have been nice if Madame Gueresney could have just said in reply, “Hey Jean-Luc, comment dit-on ‘prickhead’?” Oh how satisfying and awe-inspiring that would have been. But no, instead it was nothing but unmitigated tittering allowed to run rampant in exchange for Mila also unwittingly alluding to a piece of literature that was well ahead of its time. For, more than asserting a woman’s right to be self-accepting, it is Josefina López’s original play that dissects the constant fear of embracing one’s identity in America as a Latino out of the constant terror that comes with the looming threat of ICE. But would Kelly be capable of seeing or understanding that? Kelly who had likely never even cracked a play as simple and requisite as The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet? Of course not.
As Mila sat in her partitioned workplace desk spacing out on her inane task of the moment, she reflected back to this “random” instance in class, all those years ago. She couldn’t precisely say what had triggered it or why it suddenly seemed to be affecting her so. Was it that, only hours earlier, she had been “passed on” for a promotion by her male boss who thought that another male co-worker with less experience and time spent at the company somehow had the “chutzpah” needed to take on the role. Yeah, sure. She knew what chutzpah fucking meant. It meant her co-worker had a dick to swing around and she didn’t. Just like it was in French class when everyone, even the so-called authority figure, bowed to Monsieur Pénis. Because le sexe de l’homme was what must always be adhered to, bowed down to. To fight against it, let alone express an opinion that “ruffled its (pubic) feathers” in any way, was to blaspheme in the House of the Patriarchal God.
For Mila simply to have uttered a sentence as middling as what movie she had gone to see that early spring of 2002 was enough of a threat to Kelly’s very manhood that he felt the uncontrollable impulse to publicly belittle her. It was infuriating, and it made her blood boil even now as she thought about how nothing had changed since that day. A “real” woman, as far as anyone like the antithetically named with regard to his “raging masculinity” Kelly, could be told what to do, molded to whims of physical desire and “appealingness.” It harkened back to Ana’s speech to her own mother, Carmen, herself yet another woman more misogynist than a man after years of brainwashing. After reaching her wit’s end in the face of Carmen constantly telling her to lose some weight, Ana snaps, “How dare anybody tell me what I should look like or what I should be? When there’s so much more to me than just my weight!”
To eunuchs like Kelly, there was nothing more to a woman than her meekness and docility wrapped into the “pretty” package of wispiness. The same went for her current boss, who didn’t see a qualified candidate that could make his business flourish, but a “dowdy” “middle-aged” incompetent as a result of being a brown-haired woman in her thirties who wore skirt suits. As the latest version of Kelly in her life walked past her cubicle to express, once again, his “sincerest apologies” that things couldn’t “work out for her” in seeking a more elevated role, she decided that, this time, she wouldn’t take it mutely. And as she heard the deriding words, “Comment dit-on ‘chick flick’?” reverberate in her mind she snapped back, “Comment dit-on ‘prickhead’?”