I was bicycling home from the Hollywood Fringe Festival
the other day and I stopped at a red light. There were a guy and a gal pedestrian waiting at the crosswalk. They appeared to be together. The light turned green and as I was taking off, the man looked at me and said "See you, baby."
A torrent of profanity-laced thoughts shouted through my lead, the gist being: Why the fuck are you talking to me? Am I your fucking baby? And if that woman with you is someone you whisper "baby" to in the middle of the night, then why the fuck are you looking at/talking to me? And just, why? Who do you think you are and who do you think I am?
I wanted to shout those things in his face. I would probably never actually do that. But what if I did? I imagine the response would be something like what happened to Jinan Younis when she responded to a group of men sexually harassing her and her friends. The men got pissed. As she says, "For those men we were just legs, breasts and pretty faces. Speaking up
shattered their fantasy, and they responded violently to my voice."
How is a feminist to respond to the passing "hey baby"? Is there a way to respond that would promote healthy dialogue with the perpetrator? Usually I'm tempted to flip off the offending party and I don't do even that, but instead just ignore them and continue along my way. I don't feel it's my job to educate every jackass on the street, and I don't want to be met with violence.
But I do want to teach the masses that it's not okay to objectify women.
What a bold statement. Really, if I'm honest, I want the masses to be taught, and I'd like to lend my voice...but I'm afraid. I'm afraid I'll say the wrong thing. I'm afraid I'll sound stupid. I'm afraid I won't have an adequate response if I meet with opposition. I'm afraid of offending people or making them feel bad.
That last one is huge for me. I'm "nice." I get told how nice I am all the time. And I court that opinion by always being helpful, always listening, never offending. And a big part of me is happy to be this way. I like making people feel good. I feel like it's a small way I help make the world a better place. (Aren't I sanctimonious? Of course it strokes my ego to be told I'm nice. Whatever. I'm human.) But sometimes the person on the receiving end of my listening ear says something like, "Well of course we women expect men to treat to us to fancy dinners--do they know how much effort it takes to look like this?"
Too often I let it slide. I don't know exactly how to respond, so I just offer a "huh." In my head, "huh" means "I disagree with what you're saying but don't know how to phrase it or am afraid of offending you or making you feel bad for what you just said." I think in other people's heads "huh" is taken as affirmation of whatever they're saying. So I should probably work on that if I want to be a part of this dialogue.
I guess that's why I'm writing this.
I want to promote open and healthy dialogue about all the shit women face. I want to talk about body image and being a minimum wage worker and armpit hair and how to respond to undesired compliments and all kinds of fucked up and wonderful shit.
So let's do this.
Powerful. Keep on.ReplyDelete
Thank you. I appreciate the encouragement.Delete
looking forward to the dialogue!ReplyDelete
Awesome. Thanks for reading.Delete
A couple days ago I had a conversation with Franzi(roberts girlfriend) and Rita(sebastians roommate). Franzi was bugged by the fact, that people (i think only men) on the street occasional say to her that she should "smile". She had talked about that before but I could not imagine that this happens regularly, so I asked Rita whether things alike this happen to her too, and the answer was surprisingly (for me) yes.ReplyDelete
I guess my point is: I'm always surprised by the things other men are doing. I think i should reconsider my picture of humankind ;)
Sadly I don't think that talking to them in the moment they're doing this shit will do anything. It's like what you described: They will just turn aggressive. Nomatter how intelligent your words are chosen. But I think making more men aware of the fact that this is actually stuff that happens regularly can help too. So carry on and be strong!
Not as pithy as my original attempt, but this was the gist:ReplyDelete
No one is great at calling people out right out of the gate. It takes practice, like any other communication skill. I've started to do this a lot - not with feminist issues, but with racist comments and attitudes - and no one really takes being called out on a racist statement well.
The best you can do is call them out on it, and then calmly, politely and logically state your case about why you're saying what you're saying. And even that takes practice; it's easy to get angry, frustrated and reactionary to an inevitably defensive attitude. It also helps to come across as nonjudgmental; most people mean well. Most people's statements are simply out of ignorance of how they sound to other people. The real thing I'm attacking is language and how that language leads to a culture - not the person themselves. Unless, you know, they're blatantly racist. But in that case, we're probably not friends.
Point is - even if it's uncomfortable, even if you feel like you're doing it "wrong" - say something, because it's unlikely too many others will. Even if you don't necessarily get someone to get to see your point of view by the end of the conversation, at least you'll both have gone through the exercise of having it.
Thank you for your comments, Sebastian and Kashena! I plan to respond more thoroughly in my next blog post, Feminism on Street Corners Part 2, coming up within a week, I promise. Love you both.ReplyDelete