On Being a Woman

September 12, 2017

I do a lot of reading, specifically blogs, news articles, editorials, etc. Most of what I read I get from my Facebook feed. I was scrolling a few days ago and this article caught my eye. I couldn’t get it to load on my phone at the moment, so I moved on and forgot about it (much like the instances discussed in the article itself, ironically).

Today, it popped up again, this time shared by a friend with her own personal stories of male harrassment and living in a patriarchal, sexist culture attached to it. I was inspired, probably impulsively, to write up a small collection of my own stories. There are plenty more that I could tell, but these are the few that stuck out to me.

graphic displaying the title of the article

True stories from my own life:

When I was on a work trip, unloading boxes from the truck by the street, & Jared was inside the building & not around, & 2 men were walking by on the sidewalk. One of them very loudly says “HEY BEAUTIFUL,” but I ignore it. Don’t make eye contact. Keep unloading boxes. A few seconds later, when it’s clear I’m not going to interact with his catcalling, he says, very loudly again, “WHAT A BITCH!” & suddenly I’m afraid that he might walk over to me, & I’m all alone, praying that Jared comes back soon. Thankfully, he keeps walking.

When I’m fresh out of high school working at Bob Evans as a waitress the summer before college. The customer base is significantly made up of the elderly, but that doesn’t stop old men from grabbing my hands, telling me that I have a nice “figure,” & leaving me one or two quarters as a tip if I don’t smile, laugh, & flirt back. So I quickly learn that to make money at this job, I have to flirt with the men I serve. Like the table of 4 college aged guys that I had to serve once. Everything they asked for was a sexual innuendo, with their eyes following my chest or my butt as I would walk away to get it for them. I giggled & did my best to play it up, knowing that I’d get a nice tip if I did. & I was right, they left me almost a 75% tip on their meal. My manager (also a man) saw my big tip & promptly walked over to me, bent down, & brushed off my knees as if there was dirt on them. The implication being that I was on my knees giving them sexual favors for such a big tip. The whole kitchen laughed, except for one other waitress who made eye contact with me as I blushed.

When I was still working at that restaurant 2 summers later, & I’m the closing shift. The manager on duty has to walk me to my car, because a man has been hanging around the building trying to talk to the servers as they leave. By the time I’m leaving, it’s dark out, & I have to park by the dumpster where there’s no lamp light because you always save the best parking spots for customers. But once, my manager doesn’t walk me out, & I clutch my keys between my fingers, goosebumps on my arms even though it’s summertime. Thankfully, the creep wasn’t around that night, but who knows what would have happened if he had been.

When I was working at Sears one summer, & a coworker kept getting too close to me physically & trying to flirt with me. My manager informed me that “he’s just like that” so I shouldn’t “let it bother me.” He was uncomfortably close one too many times, & I actually asked him to stop (not told, asked. I wasn’t even mean). He then got angry with me, & since I was the new employee, he successfully convinced a large portion of my coworkers that I was a stuck up bitch. It took me weeks (over 3/4 of the summer) to find more than 1 person who would willingly eat lunch with me because of it, although I did successfully re-convince most of them that I was a nice person by the end of the summer.

Minimizing, Suppressing, Ignoring, Denying

The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About does a great job of describing the small incidents that quickly add up in daily life. The glances at our chests, the demeaning nicknames, the way men will stand just slightly too close. Pieces of the bigger picture, one that is hard to recognize even as a woman who lives it. Looking back on most of my stories, I didn’t know that those instances were anything other than normal. I grew up in a culture that taught me to ignore “those” type of men, because their actions were expected. But now, I know that my body is not something to which men are entitled. I know that my time, my feelings, and my affection are not something I must give to anyone who demands it. I know that it is not normal to constantly put my guard up when interacting with men, whether at work or just walking down the street. But I also know that it is difficult to recognize when you are so entrenched in the system, and almost impossible if you are outside of it. I must learn to stop minimizing, suppressing, ignoring, and/or denying these so-called “small” instances and instead, start exposing them.

I’ll leave you with these words:

This line we women dance - of defending ourselves and our right to exist, protecting ourselves from men who feel entitled to our bodies and our conversation, while avoiding angering them and endangering ourselves further - is a daily thing. We can’t go to the store, go for a walk, or go to work without encountering this kind of behavior on the regular. It is exhausting. It’s dehumanizing. It’s being a woman.