Sometimes I find myself wondering…
Is he staring at me, or at something just behind me?
Did that man whisper what I thought he whispered into my ear as I walked past, or am I imagining things?
Did that guy blow a kiss at me, or does he just have one of those mannerisms with his lips?
One of the things that gets me the most about patriarchal society is that women are made to be constantly watching out for our own protection, even while we are simultaneously taught to dismiss our opinions, insights, and instincts as wrong or insufficient.
Sometimes I am not sure if I am reading something innocent through the context of a thousand other actions that are not. Sometimes I am worried that cat calls or leers are being directed at me that I am missing because I am so used to keeping my head down and my walk quick. I worry a lot that I am still so under the rituals and sidesteppings that make up patriarchy that I do not read the signs correctly, or cannot trust myself enough. I expect that sometimes I, like all of us, misread something as a threat, or else fail to understand a threat as wrong and undeserved because it has become so embedded in the ways in which we all go about our business.
And I guess that’s part of why, on top of shock and fear and safety concerns, so many of us freeze and don’t do anything when we know for sure that someone has harassed us or assaulted us, because there is still the always seeded (and unjustified!) doubt: did I do something wrong, am I something wrong, to deserve that?
This pull between trusting other people, or myself, or conventions, or the general presence of nastiness came to the head for me the other day. I was crossing a busy road (I had the green light, of course) and someone hooted loudly. I turned to glare in their general direction and turned back as I boldly and firmly raised my middle finger in said direction. Was it harassment because I was wearing a fitted skirt, or was it someone annoyed that they had to obey the road rules and wait for pedestrians to cross, or was it directed at a fellow stationary driver? I am not sure, actually, but I chose in that moment to trust my impression. I was so tired of women being surrounded by delighted, smirking harassers who rely on vagueness and unidentifiability and victims’ reluctance to rock the boat that I was drawn to mark my defiance in this rude gesture – perhaps to a bewildered and undeserving driver! It says a lot about the general state of things that we are meant to endure a vague and constant environment of harassment from people who will get away with it, and hard it can be to delimit one’s responses correctly when one is so close to the edge of watching and worrying about one’s own judgement and expecting something awful at any moment. Even as I’m writing this, I’m wondering if it makes any sense to anyone else or if I was unjustifiable or if I’m undermining other people’s capacities for judgement, because how can you even talk about such a bind?
It’s hard to live like that.
(And something awful did happen on the way back crossing that road for a second time, again with the light: I was almost run over by a motorcyclist who missed me by centimetres when I was most of the way across the street! A climate of generalised rudeness, negligence, and wanting your own way is rampant, even when specifically gendered instances are not present.)