I rarely post anything serious or profound on my blog. My purpose here has never been to provide deep, thought provoking insight or earth shattering social commentary. To be honest, this blog has been little more than a scrapbook outlining various aspects of my book publishing journey, with a few random subject posts thrown in for good measure. And you know what? I'm OK with that for now, because it provides a landing spot for my author persona that says YAY I exist here's some stuff I've done!
Anyway, since the #YesAllWomen hashtag appeared, I've seen a whole slew of tweets, posts, articles and essays on the subject. I've also seen a great number of arguments crop up surrounding the various related topics, many of them quite heated, some of them downright hostile. And in a way, I can see why--when we see phrases like 'rape culture' and 'misogyny' and 'gender double standards' tossed around, they evoke powerful emotions. They're negative things that nobody wants to associate themselves with. And they exist everywhere to varying degrees.
Relax, I'm not here to preach. I have no statistics to share. I'm not an activist. And I've never, thankfully, been beaten, raped, or otherwise assaulted. I can only offer the experience as being a white, American, college-educated female and how it has shaped my perspective.
I grew up believing that I could do most anything a man could do--gender never entered the equation for me when thinking about school, jobs, or things that interested me. To be honest, I've never spent much time worrying about whether or not I was taken seriously in any of these things, or whether I should be comparing myself to my male counterparts or not. If I wanted to pursue something I did. If I lost interest, I dropped it. One door closes another one opens, and all that. In that sense, being resilient and persistent are great traits to have.
I've found, over the years, that I happen to enjoy a lot of things that are considered male dominated interests--like watching ice hockey, for example. And I've learned to laugh at the inevitable surprise when a male acquaintance first finds this out, because I can acknowledge that I am in the minority with this. I'm OK with that. I don't expect any pats on the back, or an all-access pass to MANTOWN--I simply enjoy watching the sport. And when another hockey fan is around, it's a great topic for friendly conversation. I like putting other people at ease. I feel good about myself when I'm genuinely nice.
So you must be thinking, well...where is she going with this? I'm not going to address the extremes within our society, or the truly horrific things that happen to people. There are bad people out there. Bad things that happen. What I'm going to talk about is more subtle. It starts with the realization that it's very difficult, as a woman, to just be 'one of the guys'.
A lot of it probably boils down to biology and how both sexes interact. I don't have an explanation, only that I know what it's like to feel vulnerable. Let's face it--in most cases, men are physically stronger and more powerful than women. This doesn't make men monsters, it's nature. What this means, however, is that I, as a woman, need to be aware of my limitations. I recognize that a six foot, two hundred pound guy could easily overpower me, and I have to always consider that the potential for this to happen is out there. Screw statistics--I don't know what the odds are that I would ever be attacked in my lifetime; probably pretty low. I only know that I'd be a fool to think it could never happen. That, in its very essence, is what it means to be a woman.
It means I need to be aware of my surroundings at all times. I need to be sure my friendliness hasn't been misinterpreted as romantic interest. I need to be on guard, constantly, because I don't want to to be forced into the uncomfortable situation of having to turn a man down, or worse, fend off his advances. I've been there. I've lost friendships because of it. I'm not a flirty gal. I'm not touchy feely. I don't dress provocatively. I've always purposely avoided all of these things when I'm around guys I don't have romantic feelings for, or that I don't know, because I don't want to give off the wrong impression. It doesn't change the fact that, despite making an effort to avoid these so-called triggers, I still managed to get myself in some hairy situations when I was younger. Thankfully the men involved did back off when I made it clear I wasn't interested, but what if they hadn't?
So what did I do to make any of these guys believe I was interested? Friendly conversation? Take a ride home that was offered? Who knows. I guarantee I wasn't flashing cleavage or telling him I wanted to hook up. And this is something that has always bothered me. Why couldn't I just shoot the shit with a guy and not have it mean anything special? After all, a group of guys can do that. They don't have to get paranoid that their buddy is going to pull the car over on the way home and try to make a move.
Yet, if I told you, when I was 18 or 19 I left a party alone with a guy I knew, because I'd wanted to leave and he'd offered to take me, you'd say I was stupid, right? I should've never gotten in the car with him alone, right? Because saying I don't want to be at this lame-ass party anymore to the person you happen to be chatting with actually means the same thing as I'm interested and want to be alone with you, right? Not all men will make this assumption, but you know what? I guarantee I'm not the only woman this has happened to.
This is why women can't afford to be naive. Why they become frustrated with double standards. Why so many have found a sense of solidarity in #YesAllWomen and used it as an outlet to vent their frustrations. Because we are told on one hand that we are equals to men, while on the other, taught that we should avoid certain behavior, habits, or choices to keep ourselves safe from them. It's something that most women have accepted as a fact of life, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating.