Sexism in the form of a heroic gesture.
I used to drive a Subaru Forester that had a whole slew of health problems, not the least of which was a severe oil (among other fluids) leak that would spray all over my engine as I drove. Once the engine heated up, it would then produce a fun plume of smoke every time I stopped at a stop light and choke me with fumes, while freaking out all surrounding commuters.
At one such stop light, a man in an SUV pulled up next to me with his wife in tow, rolled down his window to get my attention and then informed me that I have an oil leak.
“I used to work on cars a little, so I recognize it. You’ll want to have your husband or boyfriend or someone check your oil level for you!”
In his world, he’s a concerned citizen. He’s taking the time to help a fellow human with his limited expertise. He’s rescuing some poor lady from a death-by-ignorance, of sorts, by her car.
Here’s the problem:
It’s not just presumptuous… How could I NOT realize I had a huge leak? I even had 2 quarts of emergency refill oil sitting in the seat right next to me. Huge plumes of smoke!
But his assumption that I needed a “husband or boyfriend” to do something as simple as check my oil level was unforgivably misogynistic. Worse, it wasn’t as if I were some 16 year old girl that might just not have the benefit of experience. I was 28. And in professional work attire (so as not to be mistaken for a 16 year old).
It makes me wonder what world we live in that wives, sisters, daughters are not taught what men consider to be basic skills… Or at least, not taught regularly enough that this man–and his WIFE–would think this encounter is an act of helpful kindness more than it was a display of alpha male condescension.
Here’s where that story gets really ugly… How many of you read that and thought, “Wow, he was just trying to help. Why are you being so sensitive?” Because THAT, my friends, is why men like him still do things like this.
Let me be clear:
I do not relish a world that people don’t look out for one another. Or one where this man would see my car, recognize the problem and drive on by to avoid some tirade from a crazy, angry hyper-feminist. But I also don’t consider it unreasonable to be approached at a respected peer level rather than spoken down to. It’s okay to recommend I check my own oil. I reserve the right to draw my own boundaries without being put back in my place and reminded to be grateful when a man offers me his shining, armored hand.
“Oh, but this is why chivalry is dying in our society!” Make no mistake, people. This is not chivalry. It is chauvinism. This same man, recognizing a serious problem and offering to personally help me for no reason other than a desire to help a fellow human… That is chivalry.
Sexism in the form of male privilege.
I was sitting in my car outside of an office building with Life Mate. We were early for an appointment with our realtor and killing a few minutes before signing the final paperwork to purchase our house.
A man walked out of the building into the half-full parking lot and headed leisurely for his car, eyes down on his cell phone, laughing at what was on his screen. When he got to his car, he set a briefcase on the ground, put his coat up on top of his car, then began digging in his pocket for his keys, all the while, his eyes still glued to his phone. After fumbling to find the right one, he unlocked the car, picked up his briefcase, grabbed his jacket and finally opened the door to climb in.
The women reading this already know the point.
Men… Let me introduce you to male privilege.
A woman walking through a creepy, exposed parking lot with her eyes on her phone is a member of 1 of 3 groups:
- Pretending to be looking at the phone while secretly scanning surroundings, trying not to look suspicious and/or nervous so as not to draw attention.
- Texting or talking to a friend about your whereabouts, half-joking about a time limit to notify police of a missing person.
- Already dialed 911, finger poised over “Send”. Just in case.
I’m not joking. We really do this. ALL THE TIME.
We will have our keys in hand. Frequently spread between our knuckles that are clenched in a fist. Because basic self-defense is a right of passage for young women and we know how to stop an assailant for long enough to run away. Not only that, but it’s considered risky and irresponsible for us to have keys buried in a hand bag while walking through a parking lot. We’re taught it’s an invitation for predators; all the time they’d need to strike.
Never, ever do we put things on the ground or car roof anywhere that isn’t our own home if there is any way to avoid it (ever wonder why we’re so good at juggling 100 things in our hands at once?). Because we know that it creates delays in getting into the car, and blind spots to our surroundings.
I watched this man casually climb into his car, leaving the door wide open for several seconds as he situated, moved his briefcase into the back, adjusted his coat and seatbelt… before finally closing the door and starting the car.
And I was moved by it.
I was moved by the drastic differences in composure and attitude. I was moved by how care-free the experience was for him.
And it struck me like a bolt of lightning how careLESS that same scenario would have seemed, if he had been a woman.
We are, at all times, responsible for our own safety and not making ourselves vulnerable to an attacker.
Sexism in the form of entitled judgment calls.
Cat-calling. Whistling. Hooting. Licking lips. Kissing at us. Clapping. Grunting.
It is never okay.
Let me repeat that:
IT IS NEVER OKAY.
We’ve heard examples of the ramifications. We know what happens if we incur your wrath. And how it’s our fault that we didn’t just accept it as a compliment. We know you’re just as likely to call us a stuck-up bitch as you are to call us a sexy mama depending on our reaction to your whistles.
If we politely smile, it’s an invitation for more advances. And thus, our fault if we’re attacked.
If we ignore you, we’re just bitches, snobs or prudes. And thus, we antagonized you with our rudeness and it’s our fault if we’re attacked.
Then there’s the ugly underside… How women don’t feel like we can talk about it. If we express how distasteful we find unsolicited advances, we open ourselves up to the final word in cat-calling judgement: The Man.
As soon as we mention an incident of being hit on in a public setting, The Man gets to intervene and decide whether or not what we were experiencing was a true instance of harassment or whether we’re just being sensitive to harmless compliments. The Man gets to decide if we’re conceited. The Man gets to tell us the best tips and tricks for making them stop, because The Man knows what he’s after when he’s whistling at a woman. The Man even gets to decide if we brought it on ourselves by doing something unconscionable like walking outdoors without a bra on. In our own yard. Or a short skirt in a bar. Or a low-cut top in the office.
And worse: The Man gets to decide if we’re actually attractive enough to warrant cat calls at all, or if we just misunderstood… Maybe they were talking to another woman because clearly You couldn’t have elicited this response.
Harassed, embarrassed, self-conscious, doubting, and insecure. This is how we walk out the door; compounded by Every. Single. Time. it happens.
We can do better than this. We can stop laughing it off when movies make the same tired jokes about women. We can stop accepting it as ‘no big deal’ when our friends take a familiar condescending tone about a woman’s place. We can teach our sons that women are no more to be controlled than they are to be feared; that their contributions to society are supposed to be different but it in no way makes them less or more valuable. We can stop assuming that men don’t have the emotional capacity to control their feral urges and therefore women are doubly responsible for actions that might awaken the inner caveman. We can stop associating female characteristics with negative connotations. We can redefine what it means to walk/talk/throw/run/fight like a girl. And we can stop making The Man the official standard for excellence by which we must all be measured.