19 04 2012

I recently had a discussion with a Facebook friend about why I wasn’t rising to a really transparent attempt at baiting.  He posted something about the Lingerie Football League, and then wanted me to banter with him about his misogyny.  And I just could not do it.  I couldn’t find the energy to banter in the face of yet more sexist bullshit.  Not that my friend is a bad man.  He’s not.  But he is very much a privileged (and unaware of it) man.  So I wrote more to him today.  Which seemed important enough to save here:

*****

I’ve been thinking about why I was just too tired to respond to what really was obvious baiting.  Part of it is the fatigue of life around here recently.  But it actually goes quite a bit deeper than that.

As a white, cisgendered, abled man, you are privileged in a number of areas.  It doesn’t mean your life is sweetness and light.  But it does mean that there are things you flat do not have to deal with, that don’t even come up on your radar.  As a white, cisgendered, abled woman, I have a bunch of the same privileged areas.  There are things that I simply don’t have to deal with.  But it doesn’t excuse me from the awareness of what other people do deal with, and how it is part of their lives Every. Single. Moment.

So picking up the various forms of gender essentialism and sexism, and waving them around to see who reacts, can seem like a fun game for you.  You don’t live with it, and you have the option of putting the toys down and saying “I was just seeing how you’d react.”  Being a woman, and living in a sexist society, isn’t something that I (or any other woman) can ever put down.  The expectations on women – what they should look like, what their role is in society, how they should behave – are a constantly moving target, and it’s like being in a game we can’t win.

I’m going to tell you two stories that I don’t talk about much.

The first was in high school.  I was a timer for our cross-country and track teams, coached by one of our teachers.  Lots of meets involved travelling and coming back at night.  The team was usually in the back of the bus, with coaches, managers, and timers up in front.  That teacher always found a way to get next to me.  He touched me and talked to me in ways that (I know now) were completely inappropriate.  But at the time I was fifteen years old.  I had been raised to be a good girl, the kind who didn’t yell, didn’t make a scene.  Society said, and I believed, that bad things didn’t happen to good girls.  So I didn’t push back, I didn’t tell him to knock it off – and most importantly, I didn’t tell anyone with the power to make a difference.  I didn’t want to get him in trouble, because good girls didn’t get people in trouble.  Good girls, especially ones who smart like me, figured out how to manage a situation so that everyone could save face.  So I did.  I found a way to put distance between me and that teacher, and (thank God, and I mean that) the situation ended there.  I later heard from other timers (all girls) that he had behaved the same way with them.

The second was in college.  My freshman year I went out dancing with a very handsome  man that I wanted to be with.  We had a wonderful time, came back to the dorm, and I went to his room to spend more time with him.  His roommate was there, and it was all fun and flirty and we were all having a good time.  Then his roommate left.  And it wasn’t fun any more.  It was insistent and unwilling to hear me saying no, and he raped me.   Afterwards he yelled at me for bleeding on his sheets.  He also shared the story of his conquest with all of his friends, so that I got to hear their comments when I walked past their table in the cafeteria for the rest of the year.   I never told anyone in authority.  For the longest time I couldn’t even give what had happened to me a name.  In my world, this kind of stuff didn’t happen to good girls, so I blamed myself for being in a situation where someone could hurt me that way.  I couldn’t call it what it was until just a few years ago.

I am here to tell you that these stories are not unusual.  They are part of life for many, many women.  I’m not saying they happen to every woman.  There are doubtless some who haven’t been on the receiving end of unwanted sexual attention, touching, harassment, catcalls on the street.  We don’t have the option of walking away from it.  We can’t stop being women for the time that someone else wants to play around with misogyny or sexism or gender roles for fun, under the guise of being a devil’s advocate, or trying to get a reaction.

I don’t believe that you, or many other men, are trying to be deliberately mean.   I don’t think you would be willfully cruel in hurting women that you knew had been through bad experiences.  But what I am saying is that many women have been through those experiences, and you may not realize how many of them are in your life.

Society’s ever-changing and unachievable standards of femininity, of what defines a good and worthwhile woman, are part of my life every single day.  So it’s not something that I can easily banter about and toss back and forth like a toy.  This stuff is serious.  I live with it, deal with it, process it, heal from it, every day.

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