It's been a while since I last blogged - over a year in fact! Life happens, we get busy...but I missed writing so much. Here are some recent thoughts.
A few days ago, I was yelled at by someone I considered a friend. He accused me of oppressing him by trying to assert my control of the situation we were in and said I could take my feminism elsewhere. In this situation several factors were at play, namely mental health issues. Nonetheless, after being publicly vilified by this older, stronger male (I happen to be 5'2" and about as petite as a 14 year old girl) I was certainly shaken and felt shamed. I had already apologised to him for my false assumption that had caused the conflict; my mistake was genuine and my remorse expressed. Yet I believe because I was a young woman this man felt a need to assert his masculinity in front of our group of friends by putting me 'in my place'.
Now, this occurrence is not necessarily an unusual one. Women are put in their place (deemed fit by society) every day, either through similar public confrontations or through subtle and coercive tactics. However the following evening as I was walking home from work, another incident occurred which made my rage at both men hit boiling point. Hell hath no fury like feminist irate.
It was 9:30pm on a Monday night and I was walking home in the dark, albeit on the main road with plenty of lighting and pedestrians. My work is a 15 minute walk from my house and I do this four times a week with very little trouble. On this night, as I turned off the main road into my street, I noticed a group of three young men on the front deck of their house drinking and socialising. Another woman was walking in the same direction about five meters ahead of me. As soon as we both walked past them on the opposite side of the road, one of the men yelled out "Hey ladies! Both of you, come over here!" Accustomed as many women are to street harassment, both of us ignored his calls and kept walking. I initially wanted to reply to him - perhaps confront him with "Why would you assume I would be so inclined as to entertain your wishful thinking?" Or even more to the point, "Fuck off". However, considering the fact that the men were drinking and in a group I thought it wiser not to aggravate them. The response to our silence then led to the same man continuing to yell; "Come on now, we all know you're both sluts anyways!" I walked the next 200 meters home trembling with a mixture of fear and rage.
The thing is, when I came home and vented to my (female) flatmates about what I had just experienced, they were not surprised. Empathetic, yes. Frustrated on my behalf, yes. But women being yelled at, called sluts for no reason other than the fact that they do not conform to men's expectations or wishes, and harassed both in public and private? Women know these things happen and, despite the rage we all feel and the temptation to fight back against the constant objectification, the response is an all-too-familiar weariness and resigned acceptance.
As my flatmate reasons, a whistle from a man on the street to a woman passing by is a relatively trivial matter. We swallow it up and continue on our way, perhaps with our eyes a little lower to the ground. But when we consider the wider context of that whistle, we see that is a harmful part of an even more destructive whole - that is, the regular, socially-affirmed incidents in which the movements and behaviours of females (as well as people who are queer, coloured, disabled, poor or in other minority groupings) are deliberately controlled and directed in public through street harassment, slut-shaming and body-policing. When a particular group of people continually call a less politically, emotionally or physically powerful group of people out on their behaviour, publicly humiliating or intimidating them, I do not think it is a stretch to say that the former group doing the harassing are doing it to both maintain and exhibit their power.
The question is, how does one respond to such situations? I like the idea of calmly asking people why they would say such a thing, but I never seem to be able to gather the courage to do so. The easy option is to put our head down and keep walking, ignoring the harassment. But is this not remaining complicit in the act? Is remaining silent just a way of letting people know they will face no consequences if they threaten or yell at women? I don't know. How would you respond to the above situations I have experienced?