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[personal profile] abigailnicole
Lately I've been noticing, among college-educated, liberal-arts-degree males, more and more sexism. These are men I am friends with, men I respect, men I cook dinner for and invite to my parties. They are men I sit in class next to, volunteer with, participate in clubs with.

They are men who would be offended if I ever mentioned this idea to them, who think they are champions of women's rights, who--because they 'respect' the ideas of a few women--think they give women equal treatment.

They are not men who 'disregard' women. They are men who do not think of women. If they want someone to talk to, they will run through a list of all their male friends and acquaintances. If they find something they want to tell people, the ones that come into their heads will be exclusively men. If they see women they are courteous, nice, and can engage in an intellectual conversation with her, usually with no problem. But no matter how stimulating this conversation is, these men will never think 'yes, I should talk to this person again sometime!' They do not think of women as 'people'--they think of them as women, as girls, and that is their primary classification. They don't disregard women. They just don't regard women in the first place.

These are the men who, last night at the coffee shop, told me that because I had read 300 pages of Nabokov's Ada in three days, I was reading too fast, and couldn't possibly understand it all. These are the men who, after I've been showing up at the Bike Help Desk every week all semester, finally say something to me like "hey Nicole, you know stuff about bikes, right?" These are men who always call my boyfriend to hang out and talk about books and, even though I'm the one who tells him to invite them over for dinner to hang out with us, never bother to get my number. These are the men who will cook for your parties but never clean their own dishes. They just don't think about it.

I could name names. I could list, off the top of my head, ten men I personally know well who fit this description. Some of them have gotten better over time, some have gotten worse. Some of these men are the kind who sleep with women at parties and then get upset when their friends do the same. These are men like Wes Anderson's self-obsessed men, like John Cusack in High Fidelity, like the Brothers Bloom, like every Zach Braff character, like Robert Heinlein books, like James Bond, like comic book superheroes, like all the other examples we can think of. We all know men like this. We have dated men like this, or our friends have dated men like this; men who are sexist because it is an extension of not thinking of other people.

Is this what causes sexism? racism? People who assume that other people are like them, and when they're too far removed, they simply ignore all those too far outside their category of sameness.

I don't know. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about sexism or racism; I don't see that I can do a lot about it. I'm not an activist, I don't think about what social change I could be making or that needs to be made. I tend to accept the way things are and work on a small scale to make things work for me within my own life--isn't that what we all do? Isn't that why this problem exists? Maybe I am part of the problem.

I let men sit down next to me at coffee shops when I'm reading alone, I feel like I must listen to them when they want to idolize me as their dream girl because I'm reading their dream book. Is this sexism? This is just how gender dynamics work in my life. Those same men watching me read their favorite books will need to explain to me their interpretation, and want to read me their poetry, and they don't want me to critique the use of "us" versus "I" and the annoying didactic tone in their poetry--they want me to quietly admire and appreciate Poetic Genius. They want to give me their number. The power I have is not power to say: "Hey, please leave me alone, reading a book in a coffee shop does not mean I'm out fishing for men" because that's rude. The power I have is to tear up that phone number later. The ways in which politeness and personal space intertwine, the ways in which a woman is regarded and is expected to act in public.

Outside a bar my roommate told me that if a woman is alone, at night, and sees a man walking down the sidewalk towards her, she should cross the street to avoid him. She said that a man should not be offended by this, and that the woman is not trying to give offense and is not acting in a frightened way. She said that this act is empowering, that it is a necessary act of self-protection, and that the man and woman should both understand this, and be able to greet each other from across the street. She said that politeness takes a backseat to self protection, every time.

In that same conversation I told my roommate that, since I'm graduating, I was thinking of writing an email to my ex-boyfriend, the terrible one, the alcoholic, suicidal, depressed, controlling, manipulative one, to say something like "I hope you're well." Just to leave college with a clean slate, no grudges. Earlier that day I had had lunch with my ex-boyfriend's new ex-girlfriend. She's wonderful, a very nice lady, who I would like to be friends with if we ever get the chance. They had just broken up, and she was moving out of their shared apartment to get away from him. Listening to her describe their fights, complain about the way he came into her room, drunk, and yelled at her for an hour, told her they were over. She said, "fine." He begged her to take him back. Ad nauseum, ad nauseum.

That day I opened a fortune cookie that said

Let hate turn to friendship because of your existence.


They were wrong. Being polite, making amends, being friendly, being "the better person" does not mean subjecting yourself to re-opening communications with a person who hurt you, who is depressed and manipulative and taking his anger out on you, who is not seeking help, who will not get better. Protection, not politeness. "The better person" doesn't put themselves at danger to help another. You don't have to take abuse, and keep taking abuse, in order to help someone else, and you should never do so. I am not saying men should not abuse women. People should not abuse each other.

How do you recognize the self in the other? Is that the foundation of sexism or the end of sexism? Is selfishness the cause of all these problems? I don't know. I am mad at those people, at those boys who sit in all-male circles reading poetry to each other at parties I attend, at the offhand comments they make about "a man's job", at the girls I see at parties who complain about "the drunk sluts at the Boot," at those men I sat next to at a coffee shop last night who laughed at four girls on the corner in minidresses and heels taking a picture together, at one boy I am very good friends with who talks about how stupid and entitled his girlfriend is when she's not around. It's not okay. It's just how it is.

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Nicole

March 2013

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