Monday, July 1, 2013

Feminism on street corners, Part 2

After rereading my last blog post, I realized a couple things I should have made clearer. One, the post was inspired by this blog in The Guardian by Jinan Younis. Jinan Younis is a teenager in England and the blog post is titled "What happened when I started a feminist society at school." It's a good article, and what happened to her and her classmates is horrifying. Read it. Be informed.

Two, this incident where the guy said "See you, baby" to me was not an anomaly. I'd estimate that I get some kind of comment, whistle, or hoot a couple times a week, usually when I'm bicycling, sometimes when I'm walking or taking public transit.

My friend Sebastian left an interesting comment on my previous post. Two of his female friends regularly deal with men they pass on the street telling them to smile. Sebastian lives in Magdeburg, Germany, and was our neighbor when we lived there for a year from 2009-2010. I recall this same thing occasionally happening to me during that time. It's wrapped in a less obvious package than a whistle or hoot, but it's still a man objectifying a woman. By not smiling, the woman is not fitting the man's fantasy Jinan Younis talks about in her blog, so he's trying to rectify that. 

I've mentioned that I like making people feel good. One way I've traditionally done this is by smiling at people when I pass them in the street. Lately I've felt like I've been hollered at by men less frequently than in the past, and I wondered why. I realized that I've stopped making eye contact and smiling at people as often as I used to.

This pisses me off. I should not have to stop smiling in order to stop receiving sexist comments. And no woman should have to start smiling in order to fit a man's image of what she should be.

My friend Kashena also left a good comment on my previous post. My favorite part: "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."

The other day at work I was carrying a largeish ladder. I had just finished cleaning port glass windows (I work at a movie theatre) and was going to put the ladder away. A young male co-worker saw me and said, "You shouldn't be carrying that! You need a man" and came running to my "rescue." I said "No, thanks, I'm doing just fine" and continued on my way. He insisted. I insisted. We awkwardly carried the ladder together the rest of the way down the hallway.

With my own desires to be more outspoken and Kashena's words of wisdom in mind, when my co-worker said "You're the reason chivalry is dead!" I responded with something along the lines of, "You know, I do have a problem with chivalry. I have a problem with the idea that men can do something and women can't. What I would be fine with, however, is if you saw me carrying this ladder and said, 'Hey, that looks heavy, can I help you with it?'" He responded, "That's the same thing!" I said, "No, it's not. That's a co-worker helping a co-worker. Please remember that for next time, and thank you for your help."

I'll keep on carrying ladders and I'll probably continue to keep my guard up when I travel to and from work. It makes me angry that my smile is viewed as an invitation, but you know, if my lack of a smile helps to shatter some guy's fantasy that I'm just a pretty face, I guess that's one way I can communicate with total strangers on the street.

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