That moment when I become consciously aware of the way I walk as a group of men follows me on the street, and decide whether to make it a little quicker, a little more confident, a little more purposeful… that moment isn’t important. It doesn’t make me feel unfairly treated. It doesn’t ruin my evening. It barely registers. If one of those men catcalls, I don’t think about how all men are scum and how much my life sucks; I may roll my eyes, but then I probably laugh — maybe even smile — and forget it.
It’s the accumulation of a lifetime of tiny moments that adds up to an awareness that you don’t have the same freedom in the world at large as a man does. (If you’re lucky they’re tiny moments. If you’re less lucky, they can be huge.) You may have equality, respect, success, and love on a personal, case-by-case level, but your gender makes you somehow constricted. It’s not impenetrable or inescapable, like a straightjacket; you just know that it’s there all the time, making you think about things men aren’t even aware of, putting pressure on you like a tight turtleneck. And you can make observations about that turtleneck, and invite others to observe it and notice their own, without necessarily complaining about it.
On another note, I am continually shocked by the extreme insecurity that society breeds in men and how deleterious that insecure need to “prove oneself” is for everyone. I’m finding it fascinating (I am a little naive, it seems) how immediate, aggressive and hostile some readers are in comment threads to women who write about sex or street harassment (yes, that’s my article! Just plugging myself here! No, no, no, please; hold back the compliments, I’m just too embarrassed by the flattery, really!). Women who speak up for themselves are routinely accused of hating men. Women who say that BOTH genders are deserving and capable of giving and receiving respect are jumped on instantaneously for getting in the way of men “biological imperative.” The lack of empathy and sense of justice is staggering. It appears to me that people who’ve been socialized to see themselves as able to act with impunity are DEEPLY angered and threatened when people who’ve been socialized to believe they are less deserving of respect, comfort and sexual satisfaction suggest that we all cooperate. The INSTANT, defensive accusation that those seeking basic human rights are UNFAIR, MAN-HATING FEMINISTS is such a surprising and obvious example of 1) fear of loss of power and 2) intense projective identification (see Eric M’s comments on my street harassment piece).