The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About

image: Shutterstock
image: Shutterstock

There’s this thing that happens whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues. Things like dress codes, rape culture and sexism. I get the comments: Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Is this really that big of a deal? Aren’t you being overly sensitive? Are you sure you’re being rational about this?

Every. Single. Time.

And every single time I get frustrated. Why don’t they get it?

I think I’ve figured out why.

They don’t know.

They don’t know about de-escalation. Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.

Hell, even though women live it, we are not always aware of it. But we have all done it.

We have all learned, either by instinct or by trial and error, how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable. How to avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all, on many occasions, ignored an offensive comment. We’ve all laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.

It doesn’t feel good. It feels icky. Dirty. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired or labeled a bitch. So we usually take the path of least precariousness.

It’s not something we talk about every day. We don’t tell our boyfriends and husbands and friends every time it happens. Because it is so frequent, so pervasive, that it has become something we just deal with.

So maybe they don’t know. Maybe they don’t know that at the tender age of 13 we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts. Maybe they don’t know that men our dad’s ages actually came on to us while we were working the cash register. They probably don’t know that the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down. They may not be aware that our supervisor regularly pats us on the ass. And they surely don’t know that most of the time we smile, with gritted teeth. That we look away or pretend not to notice. They likely have no idea how often these things happen. That these things have become routine. So expected that we hardly notice it anymore.

So routine that we go through the motions of ignoring it and minimizing. Not showing our suppressed anger and fear and frustration. A quick cursory smile or a clipped laugh will  allow us to continue with our day. We de-escalate. We minimize it. Both internally and externally, we minimize it. We have to. To not shrug it off would put is in confrontation mode more often than most of us feel like dealing with.

We learn at a young age how to do this. We didn’t put a name or label to it. We didn’t even consider that other girls were doing the same thing. But we were teaching ourselves, mastering the art of de-escalation. Learning by way of observation and quick risk assessment what our reactions should and shouldn’t be.

We go through a quick mental checklist. Does he seem volatile, angry? Are there other people around? Does he seem reasonable and is just trying to be funny, albeit clueless? Will saying something impact my school/job/reputation? In a matter of seconds we determine whether we will say something or let it slide. Whether we’ll call him out or turn the other way, smile politely or pretend that we didn’t hear/see/feel it.

It happens all the time. And it’s not always clear if the situation is dangerous or benign.

It is the boss who says or does something inappropriate. It is the customer who holds our tip out of reach until we lean over to hug him. It’s the male friend who has had too much to drink and tries to corner us for a “friends with benefits” moment even though we’ve made it clear we’re not interested. It’s the guy who gets angry if we turn him down for a date. Or a dance. Or a drink.

We see it happen to our friends. We see it happen in so many scenarios and instances that it becomes the norm. And we really don’t think anything of it. Until that one time that came close to being a dangerous situation. Until we hear that the “friend” who cornered us was accused of rape a day later. Until our boss makes good on his promise to kiss us on New Years Eve when he catches us alone in the kitchen. Those times stick out. They’re the ones we may tell your friends, our boyfriends, our husbands about.

But all the other times? All the times we felt uneasy or nervous but nothing more happened? Those times we just go about our business and don’t think twice about.

It’s the reality of being a woman in our world.

It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.

It’s feeling sick to your stomach that we had to “play along” to get along.

It’s feeling shame and regret the we didn’t call that guy out, the one who seemed intimidating but in hindsight was probably harmless. Probably.

It’s taking our phone out, finger poised over the “Call” button when we’re walking alone at night.

It’s positioning our keys between our fingers in case we need a weapon when walking to our car.

It’s lying and saying we have a boyfriend just so a guy would take “No” for an answer.

It’s being at a crowded bar/concert/insert any crowded event, and having to turn around to look for the jerk who just grabbed our ass.

It’s knowing that even if we spot him, we might not say anything.

It’s walking through the parking lot of a big box store and politely saying Hello when a guy passing us says Hi. It’s pretending not to hear as he berates us for not stopping to talk further. What? You too good to talk to me? You got a problem? Pffft… bitch.

It’s not telling our friends or our parents or our husbands because it’s just a matter of fact, a part of our lives.

It’s the memory that haunts us of that time we were abused, assaulted or raped.

It’s the stories our friends tell us through heartbreaking tears of that time they were abused, assaulted or raped.

It’s realizing that the dangers we perceive every time we have to choose to confront these situations aren’t in our imagination. Because we know too many women who have been abused, assaulted or raped.

It occurred to me recently that a lot of guys may be unaware of this. They have heard of things that happened, they have probably at times seen it and stepped in to stop it. But they likely have no idea how often it happens. That it colors much of what we say or do and how we do it.

Maybe we need to explain it better. Maybe we need to stop ignoring it to ourselves, minimizing it in our own minds.

The guys that shrug off or tune out when a woman talks about sexism in our culture? They’re not bad guys. They just haven’t lived our reality. And we don’t really talk about the everyday stuff that we witness and experience. So how could they know?

So, maybe the good men in our lives have no idea that we deal with this stuff on regular basis.

Maybe it is so much our norm that it didn’t occur to us that we would have to tell them.

It occurred to me that they don’t know the scope of it and they don’t always understand that this is our reality. So, yeah, when I get fired up about a comment someone makes about a girl’s tight dress, they don’t always get it. When I get worked up over the every day sexism I’m seeing and witnessing and watching… when I’m hearing of the things my daughter and her friends are experiencing… they don’t realize it’s the tiny tip of a much bigger iceberg.

Maybe I’m realizing that men can’t be expected to understand how pervasive everyday sexism is if we don’t start telling them and pointing to it when it happens. Maybe I’m starting to realize that men have no idea that even walking into a store women have to be on guard. We have to be aware, subconsciously, of our surroundings and any perceived threats.

Maybe I’m starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.

We de-escalate.

We are acutely aware of our vulnerability. Aware that if he wanted to? That guy in the Home Depot parking lot could overpower us and do whatever he wants.

Guys, this is what it means to be a woman. We are sexualized before we even understand what that means. We develop into women while our minds are still innocent. We get stares and comments before we can even drive. From adult men. We feel uncomfortable but don’t know what to do, so we go about our lives. We learn at an early age, that to confront every situation that makes us squirm is to possibly put ourselves in danger. We are aware that we are the smaller, physically weaker sex. That boys and men are capable of overpowering us if they choose to. So we minimize and we de-escalate.

So, the next time a woman talks about being cat-called and how it makes her uncomfortable, don’t dismiss her. Listen.

The next time your wife complains about being called “Sweetheart” at work, don’t shrug in apathy. Listen.

The next time you read about or hear a woman call out sexist language, don’t belittle her for doing so. Listen.

The next time your girlfriend tells you that the way a guy talked to her made her feel uncomfortable, don’t shrug it off. Listen.

Listen because your reality is not the same as hers.

Listen because her concerns are valid and not exaggerated or inflated.

Listen because the reality is that she or someone she knows personally has at some point been abused, assaulted, or raped. And she knows that it’s always a danger of happening to her.

Listen because even a simple comment from a strange man can send ripples of fear through her.

Listen because she may be trying to make her experience not be the experience of her daughters.

Listen because nothing bad can ever come from listening.

Just. Listen.

 

33 Comments

  1. ♡ this article so much, I think I’ve read it about 5 times now and I keep going back to it, as well as sharing it with others

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  2. Thanks for writing this article and giving me and many more men like myself a insight to issues we normally wouldn’t realize exsisted. The other night it finally clicked, I know it’s not much but the other night at the pub, I went in to play the pokies where I noticed a girl following me in and selected her ideal machine which by coincidence was close to me (we were the only 2 there) she keeped looking at me. I then remembered this article you wrote and realized there was every chance she was feeling at very least uncomfortable being the only other person in the same room as me and so I chose to stop playing and walked away back to the bar. Now I realize what every female gos through I will definitely put more effort into little jestors like this one. I know it’s not much but I’m guessing I’m not the only male that’s read this article and hopefully not the only one that is making little jestors like this one. Thanks 😃

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Umm, obiously she was trying to get noticed??.Why else would she follow you in?? If she was afraid SHE WOULD NOT OF FOLLOWED!!! And you completely ignored her??? You IDIOT!!! Shame on you

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      1. He sounds intelligent enough to discern what kind of looks she was giving him. Following him in just means they were walking the same way but he was first through the entrance. If she was truly interested she would have caught up with him at the bar.

        Ffs please stop calling men idiots when they are actually trying to listen and understand. We need as many allies as we can get. You’re perpetuating a myth that fuels the kind of behaviour this article is about.

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        1. By a strange coincidence the obviously not so life experienced Rosie was right. This girl I was referring to is now my girlfriend, some weeks later she ended up getting her freind to ask me on a date in her behalf.

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  3. Thank you very much for writing this. I am continents away from you, living in a country where rape is pretty common, among everything else that puts me on my constant guard. I can relate to every word in this post. EVERY GODDAMN SINGLE WORD.

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  4. This is one of the best articles I’ve ever come across on this topic. You summed up everything I experience on a daily basis but can’t communicate properly to the men in my life without them telling me I’m overreacting. Thank you for this.

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  5. If you are hanging around with a lot of men who think having your ass grabbed or feeling unsafe are topics to be minimized, you are hanging with the wrong crowd. None of the men I hang with consider that frivolous.

    If I could say one thing: if you want men to listen, don’t be counted among those beating men over the head with the “war against women”–especially when that BS that includes changing “manhole covers” to “personnel access ports, etc”. It’s one really good way to get good men to stop listening to ANYTHING further. Ladies, when we tune you out, it’s not too selective. Too many out there diluting your well articulated message with low-priority whining. Don’t be that, and I will listen to you all day and night. Works both ways.

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      1. Honestly I’m not sure how productive your comments are? Well possibly productive if your trying to vent?? “Hint” global thinking vs practical thinking.

        After reading this article a couple of years ago, I’ve completely changed and I’ve been avoiding and ignoring all females (not Mum) and so I’m liturlly doing everything I can to do my bit. And thereford I’ve made myself the completely opposite of those males described in this article. Pretty sure responding to messages isn’t threatening to anyone??

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        1. So… what? The only options are treat women like meat, or ignore them? Ignoring them is literally everything we can do? I can’t help but feel like maybe there’s a middle ground there? Like, I don’t know, treat the women around us as human beings with opinions and hopes and such? Maybe I’m just being weird, thinking things like that are possible, but it makes a kind of sense to me.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I personally have never treated a female badly or done anything like what is described in this article, I am however very guilty of occasionally perving and although I never tried to make it obvious (due to the embassment of getting caught) I’m sure I was caught and now realize how my actions would of sent ripples of fear to through the victims I was looking at.

          Obviously treating females like meat has never been an option, not even sure how come up with the thought with what and how I wrote the previous comment. In a attempt to help clarify myself, yes a middle ground would be great but there is no middle ground currently (takes the whole population to make this happen). So in the mean time while every single female is litturly terrified of males, the only option I have as one man is to avoid and ignore so I’m not seeing to be a threat. The only way I can think of showing respect as just one man.

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        3. You idiot!!! We like been looked at, especially when we’ve dressed up in such a way to show off our assets.. The issues are if you’re old or ugly and you’re looking, that’s it!! Oh and just because we want to be noticed DOSE NOT MEAN WE WANT TO JUMP INTO BE WITH YOU.

          I PERSONALLY find it extremely offensive that you choose to ignore us just because some stupid author couldn’t give a proper explanation, that a silly guy like yourself can understand. On how to act if you’re a single guy.

          DO NOT READ ANYTHING MORE FROM THIS AUTHOR seems like she only knows how to explain this in a manor that only us lady’s can understand. Who knows what the world would come to if every guy read this?? I’D HAVE NO GUY TRYING TO GO OUT WITH ME, NO BOYFRIEND, NEVER GET MARRIED 😤

          It’s ok to look, it’s ok to talk. Not ok to put us into a situation or hit on someone 5 years or more younger than you. If you come across a lady whos scared of you ITS NOT YOU FAULT if you haven’t done anything wrong, it’s her problem and you should just ignore it, Don’t read into it.

          PS:

          WE LIKE BEING LOOKED AT, TALKED TO AND TAKEN SERIOUSLY. If respectful…

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    1. It happens in public when we are not hanging out with anyone! How many times as a 12/13 yr old did you get honked at or whistled at or had sexual comments shouted at you while just walking down the road to the train station. All this behaviour is normalised in our society and men do it thinking it is harmless, but it isn’t. The greatest tragedy is then women start to value ourselves based on how attractive we are to men.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Speak for yourself, I’ve always been worried about how good I look TO EVERYONE and it’s just really empowering having someone notice and appreciate the effort I put into making my self up. Its a FEMALE TRAIT stop passing the blame game.

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        1. Oh wow that is depressing Rosie, I am sorry to hear that if you are indeed really a female. You think by being sexually harassed someone is appreciating the effort you have put in to look attractive? You only have value if you are sexually desirable and get hooted or whooped at or grabbed by someone you don’t know? A man can’t find a way to approach a female he finds attractive in a more respectful and human way?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I think the writer of the article is right, perhaps most men actually aren’t aware of how often it happens, and it isn’t just when a woman is dressed up to the nines. Women need to start talking to men about it, rather than just amongst ourselves. I can’t even count on my hands the number of times I have been harassed, grabbed, hooted and whooped at in my lifetime and I am not a women who spends hours and hours getting ready, I don’t wear makeup, I don’t wear fancy clothes. I just wear simple clothes and leave the house clean. I dread to think what happens when a woman actually does dress up to the nines!

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Guess I shouldn’t pass judgment on comments. Old people like my mum who’s now nearly 40 said it was a thing back in her day. So guessing it’s maybe a generational thing the old women had to deal with? Or a cultural thing? I’m Aussie, which given the details must be better than your country and so I must live in what is the best country in the world. Either way I haven’t had any issues, seems strange to me. Reckon I might have to venture out of Logan qld and see what the story is?

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        4. I am from the UK and this kind of behaviour is still really common there. : (. You must ask your mum what the women of her generation did to turn things around. I am in my early 30’s but I don’t think much has changed in the UK… : (. Actually now I live in a Muslim country and I haven’t been harassed, hooted or grabbed since living here. So I do accept there must be places it doesn’t happen. In the end the behaviour is learned and so it is cultural… and culture can be changed ….

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        1. Interesting. We have the laws in the UK but nothing really happens when you report these kinds of things so most of the time women don’t report, unless it is something major like rape. There was an article on the BBC news not so long ago when a lady had been walking to work each day past a building site and they had been verbally harassing her. The harassment was so persistent in the end she did report it. The local news then picked it up and she was ridiculed. Everyone saying she was making a big deal over nothing etc etc. Thing is though it should be a big deal. Why should a woman have to put up with being spoken to and treated like she is a piece of meat when she is walking down the road on the way to work, minding her own business.

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  6. I discovered whilst pregnant that all that shit stops once you have a baby bump. Occasionally a guy would try something or yell something but then get embarrassed and apologetic when they saw I was pregnant. Only one revolting weasel seriously propositioned me. “I’ve never fucked a pregnant chick before ! He said expectantly, like because I was single (my partner left me when I became pregnant) I should help him tick that off his bucket list.

    Of course I did the right thing and exercised and worked off the ‘baby weight’ after my son was born, but then it all came back. I even had a guy come and sit across from me in a train, whilst I was feeding my son, with his eyes traned on my covered breast area, hoping for a glimpse when I changed sides !

    I started to miss being pregnant and I started to eat whatever the hell I liked. I’m overweight and its bad for my health but as a rape survivor and a woman who has felt like a vagina on 2 legs since I was 12 years old, I will take all the “pig’ and “lazy fat c**t” comments and shouts any day. I NEVER get groped by men I don’t know and I’m mostly ignored. Not a good solution, I know that, and I was once indecently assaulted by someone I knew (an ex-lover who thought he was entitled) as a fat woman, but I am addicted to being ignored.

    Liked by 1 person

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