The Reality All Women Face, Which Men Know Nothing About
There’s this thing that happens whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues. Things like dress codes, rape culture, and sexism.
I get the comments: Aren’t there more important things to worry about? Is this really that big of a deal? Aren’t you being overly sensitive? Are you sure you’re being rational about this?
Every. Single. Time.
And every single time I get frustrated. Why don’t they get it?
I think I’ve figured out why.
They don’t know.
They don’t know about de-escalation. Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.
Hell, even though women live it, we are not always aware of it. But we have all done it.
We have all learned, either by instinct or by trial and error, how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable. How to avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all, on many occasions, ignored an offensive comment. We’ve all laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.
Related: Why Women Don’t Want a “Nice Guy”?
It doesn’t feel good. It feels icky. Dirty. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired or labeled a bitch. So we usually take the path of least precariousness.
It’s not something we talk about every day. We don’t tell our boyfriends and husbands and friends every time it happens. Because it is so frequent, so pervasive, that it has become something we just deal with.
So maybe they don’t know.
Maybe they don’t know that at the tender age of 13 we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts. Maybe they don’t know that men our dad’s age actually came on to us while we were working the cash register. They probably don’t know that the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down. They may not be aware that our supervisor regularly pats us on the ass. And they surely don’t know that most of the time we smile, with gritted teeth. That we look away or pretend not to notice. They likely have no idea how often these things happen. That these things have become routine. So expected that we hardly notice it anymore.
So routine that we go through the motions of ignoring it and minimizing.
Not showing our suppressed anger and fear and frustration. A quick cursory smile or a clipped laugh will allow us to continue with our day. We de-escalate. We minimize it. Both internally and externally, we minimize it. We have to. To not shrug it off would put is in confrontation mode more often than most of us feel like dealing with.
We learn at a young age how to do this. We didn’t put a name or label to it. We didn’t even consider that other girls were doing the same thing. But we were teaching ourselves, mastering the art of de-escalation. Learning by way of observation and quick risk assessment what our reactions should and shouldn’t be.
It’s the reality of being a woman in our world. It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.”
We go through a quick mental checklist. Does he seem volatile, angry? Are there other people around? Does he seem reasonable and is just trying to be funny, albeit clueless? Will saying something impact my school/job/reputation? In a matter of seconds, we determine whether we will say something or let it slide. Whether we’ll call him out or turn the other way, smile politely or pretend that we didn’t hear/see/feel it.
It happens all the time. And it’s not always clear if the situation is dangerous or benign.
Watch out the video to know about the journey of a woman from emotions to transformations:
It is the boss who says or does something inappropriate. It is the customer who holds our tip out of reach until we lean over to hug him. It’s the male friend who has had too much to drink and tries to corner us for a “friends with benefits” moment even though we’ve made it clear we’re not interested. It’s the guy who gets angry if we turn him down for a date. Or a dance. Or a drink.
We see it happen to our friends. We see it happen in so many scenarios and instances that it becomes the norm. And we really don’t think anything of it. Until that one time that came close to being a dangerous situation. Until we hear that the “friend” who cornered us was accused of rape a day later. Until our boss makes good on his promise to kiss us on New Years Eve when he catches us alone in the kitchen. Those times stick out. They’re the ones we may tell your friends, our boyfriends, our husbands about.
But all the other times? All the times we felt uneasy or nervous but nothing more happened? Those times we just go about our business and don’t think twice about.
It’s the reality of being a woman in our world.
It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.
It’s feeling sick to your stomach that we had to “play along” to get along.
It’s feeling shame and regret we didn’t call that guy out, the one who seemed intimidating but in hindsight was probably harmless. Probably.
It’s taking our phone out, finger poised over the “Call” button when we’re walking alone at night.
It’s positioning our keys between our fingers in case we need a weapon when walking to our car.
It’s lying and saying we have a boyfriend just so a guy would take “No” for an answer.
It’s being at a crowded bar/concert/insert any crowded event, and having to turn around to look for the jerk who just grabbed our ass.
It’s knowing that even if we spot him, we might not say anything.
It’s walking through the parking lot of a big box store and politely saying Hello when a guy passing us says Hi. It’s pretending not to hear as he berates us for not stopping to talk further. What? You too good to talk to me? You got a problem? Pffft… bitch.
It’s not telling our friends or our parents or our husbands because it’s just a matter of fact, a part of our lives.
It’s the memory that haunts us of that time we were abused, assaulted or raped.
It’s the stories our friends tell us through heartbreaking tears of that time they were abused, assaulted or raped.
It’s realizing that the dangers we perceive every time we have to choose to confront these situations aren’t in our imagination. Because we know too many women who have been abused, assaulted, or raped.
“Maybe I’m starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.”
It occurred to me recently that a lot of guys may be unaware of this. They have heard of things that happened, they have probably at times seen it and stepped in to stop it. But they likely have no idea how often it happens. That it colors much of what we say or do and how we do it.