A friend of mine was talking the other day about this guy who was yelling at her on the street, and how uncomfortable it was for her. Not an uncommon event, not even for her, but this one was a little frightening because he started following her for a bit. She posted it on her facebook page, and got the normal comments of support. Then she got this comment:
Oh get over it. You’re bitching that someone though you were hot enough to try and talk to.
Harassment is a compliment, dontcha know. Now, I could just go “Asshole says things assholes say” but I think this is a very small illustration of something that women, particularly feminists who point it out, deal with when we point to the many, everyday ways we have to deal with shit in a patriarchy and how those things are completely minimized.
Liberals and Progressives like to say things like “context matters” a lot. A noose hung at the “white” tree where some black kids dared venture is a very different symbol than a noose in a western movie (though they both have the broad stroke of being “threatening”). The context of the first makes it “racist”. The context of the second makes it different. The same is true of the shit women deal with.
If I was an alien being who popped in from the land of Egalitaria and I have never experienced sexism before in my life, the random frat guy that barked at me when I was waiting for the bus would have been baffling, but not rage-inducing to me. Was I doing something wrong in a social context? Was it a warning that I didn’t understand? I would assume from the looks that were delivered with it and the tone of the barking activity that this was a judgment of me in some context, and a judgment met with approval by his peers with him, but I would probably find it more weird than embarrassing. In the real world, it was rage-inducing because I knew exactly what I was doing “wrong”- I was being insufficiently attractive to a guy while in public. Hell, I’d probably say “I was existing in public while female” and that’s probably all the “wrong” there was. I went to happily joking with my husband while waiting for the bus to mad as hell in the context of a bark. I took care of it in my normally mature fashion*, but I had the added benefits of it being in public, with my Hubby, and they were unlikely to come back and escalate the situation. In a different time and place, I probably would have just been silent, realizing the powerlessness of the situation and the added danger that comes from the ever-present threat physical violence.**
The context of a guy barking at me was a context where guys feel free, nay encouraged, to comment on women’s body’s like they are entitled to them. One incident is something that is easily forgettable. One incident where you know that you are going to get an equal level of social support, or more level of social support is equally forgettable. Such an incidence happen to me once when I was walking down Minneapolis. An extremely inebriated individual yelled at me “Hey! Do you know you have really big tits!” not once, but twice at me and was aiming for a third time when I acknowledged him by saying “Yes, I know”. I had my Hubby, I had my friends with me laughing at this guy, but the friend of this guy was busy trying to get him to shut up and saying “not cools” at him. This incident did not make me feel embarrassed, nor threatened, nor have the effect of taking up any of my mental or emotional state. This event did not cause me to pause at the idea of wearing a shirt that was low-cut or a push-up bra. The only thing memorable about this incident is the fact that it was actually a little bit funny to my social group. This event is something, that while annoying, is easy to “get over”. Someone barking at me is in a context of social encouragement, dozens of similar events that I have to ignore if I want to be in public, and an all-pervasive attitude of entitlement.
One cut doesn’t kill someone. One cut probably doesn’t even scar, especially if you throw on some salve right away. But a million of the same size cuts can kill a person.
*Yelling at him to fuck off while delivering the boob of justice at him- if there’s nothing that I can do to get him to stop I’m getting an emotional release from the encounter.
** Or maybe not. I’ve been known to invade the personal space of someone who has been yelling at me in the middle of the night by myself. Being suicidal is marvelous freeing in the context of not being afraid of death.