Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Woman's World

Mansplain: a term used to describe the act of men "teaching women," often about things directly related to women's experiences (like sexism, or abortion) without any recognition of (or interest in) the woman's actual knowledge of the topic. 

Mansplain has many definitions, but this one is my favorite, I think, because it hits all the major points without being extraordinarily broad.  If you look at the Urban Dictionary definitions of 'mansplain,' it becomes clear what, precisely, mansplaining is, as [presumably] men have taken it upon themselves to create their own definitions of 'mansplaining.'  It is, they explain, "stating verifiable facts that are inconvenient to the feminist worldview."  But, that's not what it is.  It is many things, but it is certainly when men tell women how women experience things or the world.  Most women have encountered this phenomenon at one time or another, whether in person or on the internet.

Recently, I had a bit of this happen to me during a discussion, and it was endlessly frustrating. As individuals, we cannot say what it is like to live in the world as someone other than us. We all have our own individual thoughts, experiences, voices, etc. that set us apart--that keep us from experiencing any event, good or bad, the same way.  But, even more than that, we cannot say what it is like to live in the world as a member of an oppressed class, the lower part of a dichotomy equation.  As a white woman, I cannot say what it is like to be a black woman.  And as any man, you cannot tell me what it is like to be a woman.

During the course of this conversation (which was actually fun to have, I don't really partake in face to face debate since leaving college), it became painfully clear to me that a lot of men (I'm not willing to say most, but a lot of men) have actually little to no idea what it is actually like to be a woman in America. Since America is my primary country of residence, that's what I'm choosing to focus on, though it can certainly be said that these problems and fears are felt by varying degrees by women around the world in both developed and undeveloped countries.

There is, of course, the larger picture of sexism--of being passed over for a position because you are a female--a thing which you have often suspected but actually can't confirm.  There's the staggering statistic that over the course of her lifetime, women make approximately $450,000 less than male counterparts presumably in the same position.

Mansplainers across the internet and indeed in real life (as I am told everyone on the internet actually exists in real life, though I am often reluctant to believe it because how sad) will say that this pay gap discrepancy is because women choose different careers--instead of choosing to be a doctor, they choose to be a nurse.  Instead of choosing to be a school administrator, they choose to teach.  However, let me be clear that when you make this argument (and ones like it), you are completely and totally ignoring the underpinning of the actual issue--you are simply saying that women choose these careers, and you are ignoring the why.  The why do women choose these careers? is actually the most significant part.  And many say because women are nurturing, and these same people ignore the fact that women are taught by society from a very, very early age that these are the careers they should aspire to.

Only recently has this started to shift--before, women were nurses, men were doctors. And if you think that this history, and the way that society engenders women from the moment they are born has nothing to do with this, you are dead wrong.

Anyway--yes, there are these large things that I could write about all day that men will never understand. But, there is also the small stuff, which is actually what I want to focus on.  

It has become increasingly clear that men--even nice, respectful men--when a woman says to them that she shouldn't have to worry about x, y, or z (say, how she's dressed for instance) will agree.  These men will say 'Yes, I agree, they shouldn't have to...' (ladies, you know what's coming next) "But that's the world we live in." (or some other platitude that sounds very similar).  And how nice that you, man, are using the Royal We, but I have to break it down for you and say, quite simply, no. That is not the world that "we" live in.  That is the world women live in.  Not men. You have your own little world that you live in, where you can say "Yes, I agree, she shouldn't have to," and then walk to your car alone at night in a safe neighborhood without even thinking twice.  Sorry, but WE, as women, do NOT live in that same world.  And that is why we find the notion that it's 'just the way it is' so damn infuriating. It's so passive... and also, so inaccurate.

The world WE live in as women is why we are so damn tired of you telling us that we need to watch what we wear, because that's just the world.  It is NOT just the world.  It is MEN in the world, and it is the society that produces the MEN in the world. And we have to worry about things you've never even thought of.

Men, there are a million things you take for granted--things you do without even thinking twice, and the really amazing thing for you is that you get to do that. The truth is this: women don't.

As a woman, I have my own experiences which I will share--but, I took to social media to ask other women about their own experiences, and I would urge you to read them--they are collected from women across the United States, and there are many repeats on the list as well, meaning many women expressed concern about the same mundane things, though each is only reproduced here once.

These are all simple things--things that most men can do confidently in a neighborhood or city that is deemed as 'safe.'  (Please note, I'm not talking about walking around in an unsafe neighborhood--these are fears women feel in areas that are considered safe by normal standards). These fears were submitted by young and older women alike.

-Order a pizza/take out food.
-Get in an elevator, particularly if there is a man in the elevator.
-Take a taxi or other rideshare service.
-Sell a bookcase/anything on Craigslist.
-Going for a walk/run on the streets alone during the day.
-Going for a walk/run on the streets alone during the night.
-Hiking alone (day or night).
-Going to the laundromat in broad daylight.
-Going to the laundromat at night.
-Camping alone.
-Backpacking alone.
-Wearing heels where you'll be walking alone.
-Checking into a hotel room alone.
-Walking through a suburban park when it's not broad daylight.
-Going to the dump.
-Taking trash to the dumpster.
-Going to a gas station at night.
-Downtown Los Angeles at night.
-Parking garage at any time of day, especially at night.
-Going to the grocery store at night.
-Walking a dog at night/evening/morning.
-Taking public transportation (bus, metro, subway).
-Walking along a nature path 1/2 mile from your own home, without a male.
-Going to the gym at night.
-Leaving doors unlocked ever.
-Having windows open.
-Leaving the blinds up.
-Driving a car with the doors unlocked.
-Driving a car with the windows rolled down.
-Walking home from work.
-Answering the door.
-Coming home at night to an empty house.
-Riding a bike anywhere.
-Not being able to find your keys right away.
-Saying 'no' when asked for your number at a bar, bookstore, restaurant, etc.
-Going anywhere alone.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. There are thousands of small things that women fear because of what could happen to them.

And, if you're going to say or thinking that everyone should be careful, and everyone has to worry about these things, not just women, let me just stop you right there and say: you're kind of actually missing the whole point.

We can't stand up for things we believe in--someone I know from college witnessed a violent man beating his dogs, and being without her cell phone, she was unable to do anything to stop it.

Beyond these fears, there are stories--there are little things that we all do, as women, to make ourselves feel more comfortable.

When we order pizza, we turn on a sports channel--we put our husband's/boyfriend's/male shoes on the porch.  We turn the bedroom light on and yell, "Pizza's here!" to an empty apartment, so that the pizza delivery man won't think we are home alone.

So we don't have to come home to an empty house, we stay barricaded in our homes so that we don't have to leave and come back to an empty house, where a guy might have figured that out.

When there is a knock at the door, and we're home alone (sometimes even if we're not), we won't answer. Not because we're annoyed or frustrated that we are being bothered by evangelists or a salesperson, but because we are afraid of what might happen to us if we open the door.

When someone asks us for our phone number, we invent a boyfriend, even if he doesn't exist. Or, we give a fake number--or, we give a bastardized version of our own phone number that we memorized so we don't have to be caught off guard.  (Do you understand that many of us often do not even feel safe to offer a simple 'no' when a man asks for our phone number?)

When we are driving home, we constantly check the rear-view mirror to see if anyone is following us, and if we even think that they might be, we continue driving around until the person turns or goes past us.

The moment we get in our cars when we are by ourselves, we lock the doors. We don't 'dilly dally' in the car, texting friends, or checking facebook. Instead, we immediately start our car and drive, aware that we may simply be a 'sitting duck.'

We live in fear that someone will learn our route home from work, so we drive, and sometimes we take different routes, and drive extra slowly or leave work a little earlier or later, so that no one can define a clear 'routine.'

We sleep in tennis shoes, in case we need to run or kick--so we won't have to do it in our bare feet.

We avoid eye contact during public transportation, we park under lights, we have an escape route, or an exit plan, or a plan for if someone breaks in.  We consider putting locks on our closet doors and charging our phone near the closet, in case we need to get in there and create an extra barrier of protection.

We look over our shoulders in supermarkets, retail stores, malls, restaurants, making sure no one is following us, and if we think they are, we wait until we think that they're not anymore, and when we walk to our car, we use extreme caution.

These are all real things that only a handful of women do, or have done--there are more.  There are so many more.

So, pardon us if we don't think that "It's the world WE live in" is an appropriate response, excuse, platitude, or way of thinking.  It isn't.

This book is recommended to us by the women's magazines we read: The Gift of Fear - a copy sits on my bookshelf.  Articles in magazines tell us how to safely travel alone, if we must, because women who travel alone are often a target.

We carry pepper spray on our keys. We carry The Cat. We carry every warning everyone has ever given us, and they all run through our minds when we are walking to our car. It's exhausting.

The 'personal alarm' is a product on Target Shelves, and all three brands have a woman on the front: 

Personal Alarm
And you wonder why we are not appeased with or resigned to the notion that "this is the world we live in."

It's because this is the world we live in.

When I moved into my first apartment with an elevator, my mother took great care to explain to me that if a man got on the elevator with me, I was to pretend I forgot something, and step off.  I was never to, under any circumstances, ride the elevator with the man.  I ended up always taking the stairs, but this advice stays with me now, and even at work I feel a little panicky when I am stuck alone on an elevator with a male. 

My mother has never ordered a pizza--and my dad picks up the phone any time he wants one.

Society teaches women that they should be polite--that they should let a guy down easy, that they shouldn't be rude, or profile.  Society teaches us that we shouldn't trust our instincts, and women get killed for being polite, for NOT stepping out of the elevator she was riding alone when a man stepped on, lest she hurt his feelings.  

And then that very same society raises men who think they have a right to our bodies, and other men who agree that it's "so sad" but "that's the world we live in." And men who question why we want 'herstory' and 'womyn,' because they don't realize that going out into the world is such a scary thing that we have to face every day, and that we sometimes have to rely on other people for our safety--whether it's a companion, husband, friend, father, or whether it's simply relying on someone else NOT to hurt us (which is never a guarantee).

It's the world we, as women, live in.  And pardon us if our 'F' word is showing, and so sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, but you don't get to mansplain feminism to us, and you don't get to tell us about the world we live in.  Because we're here. Every day--that list up there, that's our lives.  And that's not just the world we live in--it's the world that was created.

And it's the world that will someday be destroyed by that pesky little F word and every single person who doesn't just lament 'it is what it is.'  Because, that's only true until it isn't.

*Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their stories with me, it is much appreciated.

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