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.

 

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“Where you born to resist, or be abused?

Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?”

-Foo Fighters, Best of You

Saturday was a fun day. We spent the evening at friend’s house. The kids laughing and playing in the pool while we enjoyed good food, great conversation and more than a few drinks. We all came pouring in the door full of energy and laughter. We shuffled the kids upstairs to get ready for bed. I paused for a minute to soak up the moment. My family. All of us smiling, happy. I was still reflecting on the fun evening whenI grabbed my phone. I popped on to Twitter for a quick peek to see if there was anything of interest happening.

#YesAllWomen. That’s what was happening.

I stopped my distracted cleaning that I had been doing while reading tweets. I had to sit. It was everywhere. Women tweeting. Tweeting in response to the shooting in Santa Barbara. Tweeting about their experiences.

All the things that have been said and done or implied that reminded them that they are less.

Less important.

Less valued.

Less worthy.

Less powerful.

I was taken aback. I felt overwhelmed. I felt tears burn at the edges of my eyes. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt too connected to what these women were saying. I could relate. I knew what they meant. I had experienced so much of what they were discussing. The every day misogyny. It’s not the stuff of news stories or even blog posts. Usually. It’s the stuff that I have brushed off my whole life. The things that I have learned to expect and to accept. And I don’t know if I ever truly realized it until reading these tweets.

I am no stranger to women’s issues, to feminist causes. I have written about it many times on this blog.

I’ve written about rape, the need for Feminism, on-line misogyny, and sometimes just your basic rant against Feminist deniers.

I participate in a wonderful and enlightening #FeministFriday discussion every Friday with some smart and engaged blogger friends. I obviously am very passionate about these topics. But it did not occur to me that I had spent most of my life minimizing and diluting the very thing I was writing so vehemently about.

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I think it went like this:

  • In Kindergarten a boy pulled my pants down. It was nap time aka time for the teachers to watch their soaps. I had scooted away from him and he got mad and grabbed ahold of my pants as I army-crawled to a different spot. I pulled my pants up quickly. The teachers were engrossed in their show. No one saw. Out of embarrassment I said nothing.
  • Boys at school would occasionally grab and grope me in the hallway. I said nothing. It happened to my friends too. We would just roll our eyes and shrug our shoulders. If the offending boy hadn’t darted off we would maybe offer a quick punch to send him a message. But we didn’t make a big deal out of it. It was just what happened. It was normal.
  • During my teen years, it came from adults. Strangers. And I was still a kid. A teenage girl, whether she has breasts or looks mature, is still just a kid. These men had no problem flirting with a cashier who was 20 years younger than them. These men saw nothing wrong with saying lewd things passing me in a parking lot. These men would make obscene gestures at a stoplight. These men thought that a young girl was an appropriate outlet for their sick and twisted and perverted impulses. But I brushed these creepy encounters off. It was normal.
  • On the first day of college we had a meeting in the dorm. A meeting about campus safety. About how to not get raped. Don’t walk on campus alone at night. Don’t drink too much at a party. Don’t go back to a guy’s room. Don’t lead a guy on. But never, not once, did we hear: Don’t rape. They definitely said “No means no.” But this phrase was such a sing-songy vague campaign, in the vein of “Just Say No To Drugs” as far as effectiveness. Repeated so oft it becomes white noise. What would have been impactful was a simple rule book. With one rule. Don’t rape. Instead we all heard “Don’t get raped.” We got the message. The onus was on us to not get raped. We didn’t flinch or question. We’d heard all of it before. It was normal.

I left college unscathed by the horror that too many girls face. I realize, only now, just how lucky I was to have breezed through four years without being violated.

Still, this shit happened:

  • I couldn’t wash my car for an entire summer in my parent’s driveway because the construction workers building the house next door would make disgusting comments.
  • I got my ass grabbed too many times to count by my boss at the restaurant where I worked.
  • I had to fend off a kiss by my boss with a punch in the stomach.
  • I worried when my boss’s started drinking before the end of the shift if this time they would try to take it further than an ass-grab or a kiss.
  • I had to politely, with a smile, derail come-ons by drunk older men at the bar where I worked.
  • I learned to expect that I would get groped at some point at every single concert I went to, at every crowded bar I frequented. Almost every time I would turn around to try to confront the offender, only to see a crowd entangled, trying to edge closer to the stage and/or bar.

And even now, as a grown woman, this shit STILL happens:

  • I stopped by the house we were building to check on something. I got in my car to leave and turned to look at the house from the road, only to see one of the construction workers making very large, dramatic, jerk-off motions in the window. Directed at me. I was stunned and he stopped as soon as he saw me looking. I drove away considering my options. I could call the builder and tell them. But what if they fired him? What if he has four kids and is struggling to put food on the table? Yes, he’s a misogynistic asshole, but I couldn’t bear the thought of someone being out of work because of me. So I said nothing.
  • Condescension. Too many times to count. The baseball coach who said “And try not to be late next time” when I inquired about an upcoming game. I bit my tongue. I wasted my opportunity to school him in how to speak to a woman, to a person. I didn’t take a moment to let him know that the only reason we were late to practice was because my daughter’s piano lesson ended at the same time that baseball practice started and since my husband travels during the week that I have to do it all and be all places at all times and get all of my kids where they need to be and that I have been all over town in a frantic rush just trying to make it all work. All so he can stand there and smack his obnoxious gum and talk to me like I’m his child. And I knew, beyond any doubt, that if it had been my husband who had been standing there instead of me that he would never have said it. Because no one has EVER talked to my husband that way. But I said nothing. Because my kids were standing right there. Because my son still had a whole season of playing on this dickwad’s team and I didn’t want him to ride the bench because of me. So I said nothing.
  • My husband and I tried to have a drink a our neighborhood martini bar. We sat and watched middle aged men ogle the young waitresses. Girls young enough to be their daughters. The two waitresses stood off to the side, their arms awkwardly hanging in front of their bodies, trying to cover themselves from the creeptitude. My husband I sat and watched, disgusted, as the waitresses timidly walked to the tables where these men sat on their fat asses, leering with such entitled lust and righteousness. I wanted to say something. I wanted to scream at these men to keep their metaphorical dicks in their pants. I wanted to get right in their foul smelling faces and demand to know what gave them the right to make a young girl feel that way. I wanted to walk up to the owner of the bar who was walking around chatting it up with patrons, and knee him in the gut and then explain to him how to treat his employees and how to demand his customers treat them. I wanted to take these girls home with me and wrap a comforting blanket around them and feed them some homemade soup. I wanted to tell them that no one would ever look at them that way again. But I would be lying. And I didn’t do any of that. My husband and I sucked down our sickeningly sweet martinis and paid the bill and left, vowing to never give that bar another dime. I said nothing. Even though I really wanted to.

Enough of that shit.

I’m tired of saying nothing. I’m tired of minimizing the everyday bullshit that happens to every girl and every woman everywhere. To me. To my friends. To those waitresses. I spent my life shrugging it off. I laughed it off. And even when I wasn’t shrugging or laughing, even when I was angry, I said nothing. But then I started this blog. And I started saying something. And then I met some pretty awesome bloggers who care about the same things. And together we started saying something. And then I read these tweets and I saw women, all of them saying something.

And I’m going to keep saying something.

I won’t shut up.

I will say something when I see politicians minimizing rape with qualifications.

I will say something when girls are video taped being raped.

I will say something as long as female genital mutilation continues.

I will say something as long as women are subjugated and demeaned and dismissed.

I will keep saying something.

You won’t be able to shut me up.

I’m hoping you won’t try.

I’m hoping you’ll say something too.

 

What are your thoughts on #YesAllWomen? What kinds of everyday misogyny have you experienced? Do you think a social media movement like #YesAllWomen is helpful/ enlightening/ productive? Talk to me…

 

 

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Feminism… sigh….  Why has such an important word that signifies so many good and important things become so vilified? You would think that at this point in our country, in our culture, in society as a whole- that this discussion wouldn’t be necessary. But alas, it   is.

It seems like you can’t read the news, surf the net or get on Twitter without someone declaring their opposition to Feminism. I recently read a female blogger’s comments on a post where she stated that she could not sign on to be a “man-hating” feminist. That she would declare herself a “humanist” instead. I figuratively scratched my head and wondered, can’t you be both? Is there an either or? I am a feminist. I love men. Always have. Growing up I had a lot of guy friends. One of my best friends was a guy. I have been lucky enough to date really great guys. I married a man, one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met. I had a sensitive, caring, compassionate brother. I have a loving Stepfather. A beautiful son. I think most men are pretty great humans. I would not want to live in a world where men were demonized or demeaned or forsaken. And I am a Feminist. Yes, you can love men, appreciate men and be a feminist.

Guess what? You can also dress however you want. You can own your sexuality and celebrate it, flaunt it, embrace it. You can put on makeup and heels. You can enjoy being feminine. Or not. Either way, none of this precludes you from being a feminist.

You don’t have to spend every waking moment devoting yourself to feminist causes. You don’t have to tattoo it on your forehead. It can be a part of who you are and one facet of your world, it doesn’t have to dominate your life. And you can still be a feminist.

The cause of Feminism has changed and evolved over the decades. It was once a fight for the rights to own property and vote became the fight for fair wages (still an ongoing battle) and the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace. Thanks to the men and women who fought for these causes, we can rest easy on some of these issues. But that doesn’t mean that there is no need for feminism in 2014.

The fight now is about many things. It is easier to promote a cause when it is about a specific, tangible thing. When there is a victory on the far off horizon to be claimed. The goals today may be less quantifiable. My reasons for caring about it and talking about and trying to do something about it are varied.

The commonality of sexual assault and rape in our country and all around the world is appalling. The statistics are staggering. 17.7 million women in the United States have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape. (Nat’l. Inst. of Justice and Ctr for Disease Control and Prevention).  One in four women attending college will be the victim of sexual assault or an attempt. This is not the behavior of a civilized world. What are the reasons behind this? What can we do to stop this epidemic? These are the things that I find to be critical issues in the feminist cause.

The fight for women’s rights around the world are important for feminists everywhere. We can’t insulate ourselves and only concern ourselves with what happens in our country. Our world is more intertwined and connected than ever before. I have received comments from women in Pakistan and India on my blog, comments about the limited rights and violence against women in their countries. We can no longer afford to be egocentric and stick our head in the sand when it comes to these issues affecting women and girls all over the world. Child brides are being married off to old men. Young girls are undergoing genital mutilation. Women are being raped as retaliation. There is a long sordid list of injustices happening around the world to women. Our world and these other countries will never be healthy until women are treated as equal.

There’s a thing called Feminist Friday in the blogging world. I first learned about it from a fellow blogger (thank you Gene’O) and since then have connected with other bloggers who care about these issues. Smart people. People with a social conscious and a desire to discuss these things. People who truly want to make things better. They have written some important pieces on this issue. You can read Alva’s Almanac about why Feminist Friday is important to her. Take a look at an important post by Diana at Part Time Monster about teaching our children to have empathy and see the struggles others go through. And check out Gene’O at The Sourcerer. I think it’s vital that men be a part of feminism. I think that men have a place in the discussion and the cause. I absolutely believe that you can be a man and be a feminist.

We will be having a Twitter conversation today about Feminism. About the meaning of the word and the perception of the word. If you would like to join us on Twitter or by commenting on this or any of the above linked posts, please do! On Twitter you can find us by #FeministFriday, or you can find me at @gkelly73.  Happy Feminist Friday everyone!

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