Saturday, February 2, 2008

Living While Female

Read this, please, please!

It's an entry at "The Burning Times" on "Street Harassment, Privilege, and Lies." The analysis is as good as it gets.

I'm going to add some of my own experiences, but I can add nothing to the analysis at "The Burning Times." Put me down for "ditto, what she said."

Women are living in a war zone.

Living while female means constant harassment, men approaching you and frightening you, touching you without permission, following you, strangers making demands of you, angrily bossing you in ways that they wouldn't dare with a man. It means your body is always available for public scrutiny and comment. It means you are walking along, lost in your own thoughts, wrapped in a thick winter coat and covered by a hat and scarf, and some men in a truck drive by and yell at you, scaring you and leaving your heart pounding long after they've driven away laughing. It means a man throwing water on you while you're jogging. It means a man yelling at you, "You'd better watch it, girl," when you're bicycling and forty years old and obviously no longer a girl. It means never, ever having the freedom to walk down the street, unmolested, safe, truly free and alone with your own thoughts. After all, isn't a woman alone merely a walking invitation for male intrusion of some sort?

It means that road rage escalates to a level that it does not with men (although - to the credit of New Orleans men - this doesn't happen in New Orleans, it happened to all the women I knew when I lived in Spokane). Living while female means that a man who is angered by a woman driver will follow her to a parking lot, will exit the vehicle to scream at her and will immediately stop and quietly slink away only when the woman's male lunch companion emerges from his vehicle (with another man present, she now belongs to that man, so the public aggression stops).

It means even when you're obviously underage, you will be followed and frightened and harassed and badgered for sex (meaning, "allowing something inside your body" kind of sex). It means grown men following you home from school, as you carry an armload full of schoolbooks, insisting that you accept a ride from them or even, sometimes, just outright demanding specific sexual acts ("come on, baby, you know you want to; I know you're not a virgin; come on baby..." - of course, if you're not a virgin, that means you're available to him now). It means one of them following you right to your driveway until your mother takes off down the road after him in her car, yelling, "Get back here, I'll kill you, you son of a bitch" and zipping around the city in a dangerous car chase while you stand in the driveway crying over her safety, feeling guilty that you caused the commotion and thinking that if your mother dies in a car wreck this day, it will be your fault. It means your mom saying she no longer believes in God, because if there were a God, it wouldn't be this difficult to keep three beloved daughters safe. It means three teenaged sisters having a peeping tom for two solid years, one who waits for their boyfriends to leave before immediately ringing the doorbell then running to the window and demanding "show me everything." It means the police can't do anything, for two years, and it only - finally - stops when a very large boyfriend in full military uniform chases the peeping tom down the alley with a piece of pipe.

It means being twelve years old and eating an ice cream cone in McDonald's with your elderly grandmother and having grown men at a nearby table saying to each other, "Mnmmm, God, I wish I was that ice cream cone." And when you don't respond, since, after all, you're blushing in front of your grandmother, the men just keep saying it louder and louder to make sure that you heard.

For a mother, it means walking down the street with a teenaged daughter and having mother and daughter treated like pieces of meat, men howling and hollering at both. It means a teenage daughter asking, "Mommy, what do they want?" What indeed!

It means you and your mother sitting in a coffee shop, teenage daughter and niece at their own table nearby. A man takes a table next to theirs, but on the other side of the glass storefront. He begins gesturing to the thirteen year old, flashing her a Post-It note on which he has written, "I (heart) you." He starts flashing his credit cards around, gesturing for her to come outside. She is frightened. The police interview her, but she feels guilty and thinks she did something wrong and is afraid of getting the guy in trouble.

Living while female means being in a state of constant alertness that burns up lots of emotional, spiritual, and physical energy before you even begin to gather your strength to compete with men at school and at work. It also means that the men around you are oddly oblivious to the fact that you live and function inside a war zone, while they function in the mythological great American meritocracy. Either men don't know or else they just refuse to see. Maybe they truly don't know, since that kind of blindness is a hallmark of privilege. Or maybe they refuse to see. After all, if more men had to get real about what the women they care about are dealing with, then they would also have to get real about the times when they have been the perpetrators - and who wants to have to examine their own privilege, without fear and with total commitment to justice?

Check out the link!

1 comment:

Debs said...

Brilliant, well said, really great post. More women should speak about these 'everyday' experiences. We are living in a war zone, you're right.

Thanks for writing this. x