…One for the Ladies
So International Women’s Day has been and gone, and predictably, I re-posted and re-tweeted some things, got into a Twitter fight with some man, and then swanned about the rest of the day, culminating in a lunch with some girlfriends. I didn’t realise it was IWD when we planned our catch-up, but I chose to see it as synchronous.
To be honest, I’ve never taken much notice of IWD, being in a profession where I get paid the same amount as my male counterparts, and living in a home where we share the domestic tasks evenly. So most of the inequality applies to other women isn’t apparent inside my little bubble world. Sure, I had to pop out and then suckle the two parasites, but I was able to work around that without too much of a detour in my career path. The things that happened later with Coco’s diagnosis and re-structuring, were of my own choosing. Nath could (and would have) just as easily been the parent shuffling things.
This whole IWD thing has got me to thinking though, and there is one thing that I can’t shake off about the inequality between the genders, and that is something that isn’t really talked about very often, other than when some atrocity is committed, and that is the safety of women.
I suspect it’s not spoken about, because fear of men, usually unknown men (even though statistics tell us, women are more likely to be harmed in their own homes), is something that many females carry within themselves, subconsciously, and without even realising. It is endemic, and we no more examine it, than stare at our finger-tips and wonder why are fingerprints are shaped just so.
From a very young age, girls are told to be careful, keep away from strangers, and be home before dark. Girls of my vintage were told to sit with our “knees together” because it was “ladylike”. (Not to be confused with those Grade Three sluts who sat legs comfortably akimbo, clearly ‘asking’ for the boys to come and have a squiz.)
All of this because men can’t control themselves.
As a girl, and then young woman, I was what would be considered reasonably attractive, with a okay figure. This meant that I often attracted the unwelcome attentions of men. Taxi drivers would make lewd gestures from the the safety of their cabs, men would yell things from construction sites, blokes would grab my bum or my boobs as I passed them in crowded bars. Once I even had a man grab me by my long hair and force a disgusting slobbery kiss on me, holding me hostage with my tresses (I now have short hair, because I felt like the very hair on my hair was a liability). Every single time, these comments and whistles would make my heart race, flooding me with fear, and later, much later when I felt safe again, my blood boil. I usually reacted with a stony-faced snub, which would be followed up with the call, “stuck up snob”, or, if I did react, “shut up, bitch”. I’m sure none of these men saw themselves as menacing or dangerous, or woke up thinking, “I’ll go and abuse and frighten some chick today”, but that is exactly how it felt. And it felt that way because I knew I was weaker than them. It felt that way, because I felt vulnerable.
I am now forty-three years old, and I don’t put up with much shit, but then I don’t get the wolf-whistles or hang out in clubs any more, so maybe I think the problem is solved when it is just diverted.
A few weeks ago I was sun-baking at a fairly quiet beach in my sleepy town, and a man came and sat quite close to me. It felt too close, too creepy, but I convinced myself that I was being silly, turned up my iPod and tried to ignore him (Which is what women do first: ignore their instincts). I stayed a little longer, but I couldn’t shake the feeling, so decided to leave. As I was folding my towel the man caught my eye, gave me a slimy wink and said, “Nice box”. At first I just stared at him, not comprehending. He gestured to his pelvic region, “Nice bikini bridge. I could almost see the tunnel.” Words escaped me for a moment, as they always do when I’m confronted with a sub-human, then, in a flurry I told him he was a pervert, a weirdo and a few other choice things, peppering the tirade with some pretty good swears. He looked at me nonplussed throughout and said, “I was just giving you a compliment. If you don’t want me to look, then you shouldn’t wear stuff like that.”
Weeks later, and I’m still a thinking about the whole thing. The look on his face, the fact that he thought I should be pleased some freak was trying to look down my jocks, and the way I felt afterwards. The shaky, scared, vulnerable, weak, small, slutty, angry, violated way I felt. Simply because I am a woman. And the superior, justified, sleazy, unapologising attitude of his. Simply because he is a man.
Like I said, I’m forty three. I have a husband and two children. I run my own business. I am capable, assured, confident, bossy, independent and successful. And yet a dude on the beach with half a mongrel in his speedos can say a few words, and I allowed myself to feel the opposite of all those things.
International Womens Day? Wage equality would be good. And so would a kick-arse Wonder Woman suit.