Everyday woman-hating

So this morning I’m driving to work, and I’m stopped, as usual, in a line of bumper-to-bumper traffic that’s trying to perform like an 8-way merge to get onto the highway. And when my turn comes to creep forward another few inches, a guy in a giant pickup truck starts trying to force his way in ahead of me. And because I’m petty and I hate line-cutters with a fiery intensity, I take advantage of the fact that my car is miniscule—a two-door Yaris—to scoot around his front bumper, up to the back of the car ahead of me, blocking him from entering my lane and making him probably 4.2 seconds later for work.

As I continue to make my slow way to the on-ramp—a process that takes several minutes—I hear someone shouting. Through my closed windows. Over my not-very-quiet radio. And what he is shouting is “Stupid whore!” Over and over. Dozens of times.

It is, of course, the man in the giant pickup. Who then tailgates me onto the highway, cutting off someone else in a merge so that another car doesn’t come between us.

He follows me, never more than a car length behind, for a mile, onto the interchange with another highway.

He follows me onto this second highway, still never more than a car length away. He swerves in and out of lanes without signaling so that he can stay behind me. He waits behind me at toll booths, even when I pull up to the longer lines. He follows me, ultimately, for over 20 miles, over the course of half an hour. Never more than a car length behind, even when traffic begins moving at 80 miles an hour.

He does not honk. He does not flash his lights. He does not make rude or intimidating gestures in my rearview mirror, when I dare to look in it. He just follows me, very closely, for a very long time.

Finally, I approach my exit from the highway. I move to the right-hand lane, trying frantically to think of a place where I can pull over that isn’t my office parking lot (I don’t want him to know where he can find me again), where people would come immediately to help if, dead set on an in-person confrontation, he tracks me until I stop and screams at me, vandalizes my car, hits me with his fists, hits me with his car, pulls out a gun. I’m coming up blank. There’s a mall, but it’s probably not open yet. The post office is small and the workers inside are unlikely to hear anything happening the parking lot. The register attendant at the gas station may not want to get involved, and who knows whether there’ll be anyone at the pumps. If there’s a police station nearby, I don’t know how to get there. I am low on gas. I am very afraid.

Thankfully, although he follows me until the very last second, he does not get off the highway with me. I make it to work only somewhat shaken and a few minutes late. I am unharmed, but I don’t feel safe.

Which is the point, of course. To make sure I don’t feel safe.

I very much doubt that the man in the giant pickup would have been so angry if it had been a man who had refused to let him into the line of traffic. I doubt even more that he would have followed a man for 20 miles in what can only be taken as an implied threat of physical violence. It probably wouldn’t have scared a man, only annoyed him. Because the message wasn’t, “I am superior to you in every way,” which is the normal way to show up a man, and would have been better accomplished by speeding past me, flipping the bird.

No, the message was, “I see you, bitch. And I can hurt you any time.”


Ladies and jerks

An internet age ago (Timeliness is a lot to ask of me—my lunch breaks are only so long!) Senator Arlen Specter said this to Representative Michelle Bachmann when the two were talking over each other during a radio interview:

Now wait a minute! Don’t interrupt me, I didn’t interrupt you. Act like a lady.

Yeah, gross, obviously. And over at Broadsheet, Tracy Clark-Flory makes this perfectly valid point:

Many women interpret “act like a lady” to mean “know your place, little girl.” This comes from spending a lifetime being instructed in various ways to sit back politely, speak up only when called upon and defer to the male ego.

But “act like a lady” is more pernicious than that. It sets up a dichotomy between the “right way” and “wrong ways” to be a woman. The concept is ridiculous on its face—all women are real women—and it’s intensely limiting and therefore misogynist without further elaboration, but all that much more so when you realize there’s no similar proscription for men—”Act like a gentleman” is only ever said to toddler boys being told to let a girl go ahead of them on the slide. Good men are… well, they’re just called “good men,” but almost never gentlemen. Bad men are assholes, jerks, bastards, and lowlifes, but never not men. No one ever tells them they’re doing manhood wrong; no one ever threatens to revoke the status of “gentleman” from a man who annoys them.

And that’s exactly what this is: a threat. Ladies are treated as nearly human, and ladies are afforded special protection from all those dirtbags, creeps, cads, and sons-of-bitches out there, as well as from swearing, raised voices, and the burdens of intellectual endeavor. All those not-ladies? Those women? Well, without a man to protect them, without the deference accorded to ladies, they’re vulnerable to all kinds of repellent exploitations, and no man would sully his reputation by being seen to intercede with a reprobate, malefactor, thug, or weasel on behalf of some dirty, amoral, impertinent bitch.

Specter is threatening to revoke Bachmann’s status as a lady, leaving her open to attack—from him and from others—with the strong implication that she will deserve whatever she gets. And I’m not just talking about having her political views mocked in the press. Ladyhood is set up as a status vital to the survival of women, that is granted, very rarely, by men of power, and can be revoked by any man for any reason at any time.

To tell a woman to act like a lady is not merely patronizing and dismissive, it is an overt reminder of women’s lower status in society and the fact that women require men’s assent to achieve anything and for men to behave in a “gentlemanly” manner at all times to avoid everything from social rejection to physical violence.

Major announcement!!11!!eleventy-one!

Hello, my dear readers! My darling, lovely, unfathomably patient readers! I am very happy and more than a little surprised to see both of you still here.

You may wonder where I have gotten myself off to, lo, these many months I allowed this blog to gather virtual dust, and I have an answer for you! The answer is: I was job-hunting.

I mean, I’ve been job-hunting since before I graduated almost a year ago, in a sort of my-this-is-unpleasant-maybe-I-should-just-go-play-some-Rock-Band kind of way, but right around the time my student loan payments started coming due, I decided to really buckle down. And after several months of aggressive, soul-sucking, mind-numbing, exuberance-repressing, swear-swallowing job-searching, I am very pleased to announce that I am employed! Or I will be, come early January. I’ll be copy editing and writing for a couple of specialty magazines that I will decline to name for the sake of both my own anonymity and their ability to not be associated with that crazy ball-buster lady on the internet.

Which brings me to what I really want to talk about: navigating the job market as a big ol’ scary feminist. I remain pseudonymous here primarily to preserve my hireability—not because anything I write here is so outrageous that it should cost me a job, by any reasonable measure, but because employers, especially media employers, can get skittish about people maintaining non-work-related blogs. And I’m just not willing to give this up, despite my occasional prolonged and unannounced absences. I need a place to vent, where I can say, “Just hearing the name ‘Stupak’ makes me want to emigrate,” or, “Has anyone else noticed that most of the ads scheduled to run on that Funniest Ads of 2009 special on TBS aren’t so much ‘very funny’ as ‘over-the-top sexist‘?” without apology or qualification. While I am perfectly happy to accept that the office is not the place for these conversations, I’m not willing to stop having them, or to stop having them with the widest audience I can reach. The easiest way to prevent a company from seeing a personal blog as conflicting with its corporate image is to simply never connect your blogging and professional identities.

But keeping the two separate on job interviews made me feel like I was in the feminism closet, like I was hiding myself and failing to perform the kind of quotidian activism that is often both the hardest and most immediately effective. Not that anyone said anything blatantly sexist in an interview and I let it slide, of course, just that, well, I could have put my blog on my resume. Maintaining a website, writing coherently, commenting incisively—these are skills media employers find useful. But I worried—what if they think I can’t play nice at the office? What if the blog helps get me the job, but then they monitor it and later tell me, you can’t say that, please delete this, would you consider not swearing so damn much? So I left it off.

And at interviews I asked questions like, “Can you describe your ideal employee for this position?” and “What’s a typical day here like?” instead of things I really wanted to know, like, Can I take a half day to go to a rally? Who is That Guy here—the one who will always treat me like a child, because every office has one—and how closely will I have to work with him? Will people take suggestions about changing sexist, racist, ableist, heteronormative, etc. langauge in stride, or will it be a huge fight every time? Can I just tell people that I’m an atheist feminist with socialist leanings, too liberal for even Massachusetts’ Democratic party, and expect acceptance, or will those parts of my identity be relegated to the internet and weekends?

I still don’t have the answers to those questions, but I suspect that when I get them, they’ll be ones I can live with. Although the process hasn’t been without compromise, I’ve been extremely lucky, and extremely privileged, in my pursuit of the dream of steady paychecks and decent health benefits. Now that I seem to have attained it, it’s time for Phase II: sneaking activism into the workplace. Oh, and buying office-friendly pants.

Roofies can be used to facilitate rape! This is apparently news to Double X

Robin Abrahams (a.k.a Miss Conduct) calls attention to a maelstrom of woman-hating insanity over on Double X. A woman wrote in to their friendship advice columnist wanting to know if she should forgive her friends, who, after she’d been roofied, half-assed a response when she called them from outside the club they were at asking for help, and then blew her off later when she called to ask them to keep her company in the ER. The columnist, Lucinda Rosenfeld, tells the letter writer that her friends weren’t obligated to get out of bed at 4 a.m. to come hold her hand, which, whatever. I might not agree, but it’s not clear what the friends knew when, so how they reacted when they got the whole story from her later might be more revealing than their actions that night, and the letter doesn’t mention that. So I’m not going to condemn her for the advice itself.

But the way she gave it! Holy fuck am I going to condemn her for that! Here’s a few choice quotes:

For one thing, it’s not even necessarily safe—depending on where you live and how far you live from the hospital—for a woman to head out alone at that hour. […]

Here’s a little secret. BFFs are great when you’re upset about a boy/sick cat/whatnot. But there are limits to friendship—limits that don’t apply to our romantic partners or close family members. […] I also wish they’d been a less critical of what was, by your account, a freak incident. Why were they so unforgiving? I’d wager a guess that they think you’re lying about the mickey, tales of which are sometimes used as a cover for irresponsible behavior. (Only you know the truth.)

Shockingly, at least to Rosenfeld, the comment section erupted with people disagreeing with both the substance and delivery of her response. Many pointed out that people who ignore pleas for help from someone who may just have been raped are not that person’s friend*. Others pointed out the massive vortex of victim-blaming and slut-shaming that is rapidly sucking away my ability to form complete sentences. So she apologized! Wow!

Except, not really at all! Fuck!

I was struck by how many readers seemed to be hearing echoes of date rape or sexual abuse in “Drugged’s” story. I have to admit, I did not think of that at the time. There is no evidence in her letter that she was a victim of a sex crime. And I believe that if she had been, or thought she had been, she would have alluded to it in the letter. All we know is that something she drank caused her to pass out. Moreover, had I believed for a second that she’d been assaulted, I would have responded in an entirely different manner.

A woman was roofied in a crowded bar and woke up hours later lying in the middle the sidewalk with no recollection of where that time had gone AND RAPE NEVER OCCURRED TO YOU? Well Jesus Fucking Christ, if that’s actually true you should really just resign right this fucking second, because you have the insight and perspicacity of a particularly slow-witted carp, which makes you spectacularly unqualified to give advice on interpersonal relationships.

And, you know, it seems to me that when someone helpfully points out that the number one cause of getting an incapacitating drug slipped into your drink in a public place is that a RAPIST is trying to RAPE you, the correct response is not to act say, “Even though I never thought of that possibility, I also carefully weighed the evidence and concluded that didn’t happen.” Even if she wasn’t raped or otherwise assaulted—and I fervently hope she was not—it seems pretty fucking clear that someone wanted to have access to her when she was in such a state that she could neither consent nor resist, and that’s pretty fucking scary in my book, whether that person succeeded or not.

She also seems to have a lot of rape on the brain for someone who never even considered the possibility that the LW had been sexually assaulted. That stuff about how it may not be safe for a woman to go out alone at night means she is thinking about gendered violence in general and probably of stranger rape in particular. And then there’s that charming little bit about how maybe the LW is lying about the drugging to cover “irresponsible behavior,” which MAKES ME BARF MY FACE OFF, but which also implicitly acknowledges that there are women who are drugged in the exact same way that the LW describes expressly so that some rapist will have an easier time raping them. So if the possibility that someone raped or attempted to rape the LW never crossed her waterlogged fish brain, why is she so afraid that the LW’s friends will get raped by a stranger jumping out of the bushes and into their moving cars somehow? What makes her so concerned that the LW might be one of those slutty-slut-sluts who makes up a story about drugs and rape to cover up for her shameful sluttitude? What mysterious external force that had not one fucking thing to do with the letter she was reading caused her thoughts to turn repeatedly to rape? WHATEVER COULD IT BE WE WILL NEVER SOLVE THIS UNSOLVABLE RIDDLE OF MYSTERY I AM SURE.

There is more extremely stupid shit that really deserves a takedown, but I don’t have the time or the patience. I will say that this kind of shit is exactly why I go out of my way to never, ever click on a Double X story, even if it’s by a blogger I really like. Pageviews make them bigger and stronger, and imply that people accept them as a feminist, or at least woman-friendly, website. The bigger they are, the more weight it carries when they reinforce stereotypes and repeat anti-feminist arguments, because they’re spreading this tripe from a position of authority. I’m not going to fight for social justice here and out in the world only to undermine myself with my clicks.

*In reality, many rape victims find that their friends and family refuse to believe them, blame them, and even become angry them when they share their experience. Anecdotally, it seems women are especially prone to this kind of reaction because many of us want to believe that if we follow the rules, it can’t happen to us, and being confronted by evidence that this is nothing more than a lie we tell ourselves so we can feel safe is extremely frightening.

Saturday afternoon miscellany

Because I am lazy, here are some internet things I have liked recently.

This Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic:

For those who cant see/read the image, its titled Logic: The Domain of Men, and its a man saying to a woman, Its not misogynist! I paid that stripper with Susan B. Anthony dollars!

For those who can't see/read the image, it's titled "Logic: The Domain of Men," and it's a man saying to a woman, "It's not misogynist! I paid that stripper with Susan B. Anthony dollars!"

This Dinosaur Comic:

For people who can't see the image, it's, as always with this comic, T-Rex stomping things and talking to other dinosaurs. Full transcript below.

T-Rex: Some words are special, reserved for only the worst situations, and as such carry weight when we dare to use them! Some words have MEANING, cats and kittens! And because of all this I cringe when someone says a test RAPED them, or that a movie was so terrible it RAPED the excellent book it was based on. Being raped is totally way worse than failing a test!
Dromiceiomimus: “Being raped is totally way worse than failing a test.
T-Rex: What? It’s FACTUAL! People need to know!
Utahraptor: You’re walking on dangerous land, T-Rex!
T-Rex: I know that folks got opinions about rape! I’m one of ’em! But MY opinions are about usage. Let us eschew all this metaphorical rape and only talk about LITERAL rape, okay??
Utahraptor: So, um, when you look back on this, I hope you realize that the reason I left is your phrase “let us…talk about LITERAL rape, okay??”.
T-Rex: Only when my friends quote me in a misleading fashion!! …oh wait nevermind it’s hard at other times too

OK, I’m not totally sure what’s up with that last panel, but then I don’t read the comic regularly.

This guest post at Shapely Prose: “Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced.” It’s a clear, unapologetic breakdown of why women are unlikely to trust strange men, however friendly, who approach them, and what kind of warning signals certain behaviors set off. It’s great in a million ways, but one the things I really love is how it makes so clear what offense I felt was committed in certain uncomfortable situations which, when I relate them to friends, garner not the sympathy and validation I hoped for but rather blank stares. “He sat directly across from me on an otherwise completely empty subway car,” I tell them. Or, “He insisted on helping me find the item I needed even after I said I was fine on my own.” Or, “He kept trying to chat with me about the game even though I was engaged in a conversation with someone else.” “Seems harmless enough,” people say. “What are you so worked up about?” “Never mind,” I mumble, and change the subject. Maybe none of those men had evil in their hearts, but they all knew that there’s a big space between “totally respectful” and “clearly dangerous,” and they took advantage of it. They sidled into my consciousness uninvited, being careful to do nothing to cross the line that would label them an active/obvious threat and therefore drive me to stop being polite and leave, or a spur an onlooker to intervene, or inspire friends to offer the support I was looking for on retelling. But it’s still a way of forcing yourself on someone, and in a world where women have to be painfully, perpetually aware that most men aren’t rapists but any man could be, little violations like that tend to put us on high alert.

Finally, here’s something sweet for you:

I went to the last game of the regular season on Sunday, and afterwards kids were allowed to run the bases. A few of them immediately broke for the pitcher's mound and started playing catch—or, as my brother more accurately termed it, "throw," since there was no catching involved—with the rosin bag. Very cute.

I went to the last game of the regular season on Sunday, and afterwards kids were allowed to run the bases. A few of them immediately broke for the pitcher's mound and started playing catch—or, as my brother more accurately termed it, "throw," since there was no catching involved—with the rosin bag. Very cute.

Sorry about the quality—I have a pretty nice camera, but it’s just not equipped for taking closeups of the mound from the right-field roof.

Here’s a pretty picture of the whole park, though:

Between season and postseason

Must… resist… “birdwatching” pun!

Blogging requires a lot of mental and emotional resources, and lately I’ve been devoting most of what I have to job-searching and paperwork-completing and angry-phone-call-making. I want to blog more, I hope to blog more, but “I’m sorry I haven’t been writing!” posts are boring to read and just make me feel bad, so I’m going to try not to do that. I do promise to post if I’m planning on abandoning blogging, so assume that any future incidents of radio silence will be only temporary. For my part, I’m going to try to make myself post more of the quickies that cross my mind most days, even if it means forgoing in-depth analysis on some posts. I don’t think I really have any Feminism 101 readers anyway, and besides, there’s already a blog for that. We’ll see how this resolution goes.

So! Here’s what got the ol’ noodle noodling today: A Girl’s Guide to Respectful Girlwatching on Jezebel. Sadie gives some anecdotes about creepy oglers and some reasons for why she likes people-watching women more than men. Both she and some of the commenters seem to feel that the curvalicious ladies are more pleasing to the eye than dudes. I’m actually somewhat sympathetic to this—I am a big fan of female beauty, and although I enjoy looking at naked dudes as much as the next straight woman, I see where people are coming from (…hee) when they make cracks about guys looking goofy naked.

But of course, this ignores that millions of ways that people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, are trained to seek out, recognize, and appreciate female beauty. Ads, TV, movies, modeling, magazines, whatever, they’re all trying to associate their product with beauty, and beauty, they pretty universally tell us, resides in women. We have been taught to find beauty in women. Men, we are left to assume, are just sort of… there. They are not for display because they give us nothing worth displaying. But imagine the many varieties of male beauty we might suddenly discover if only we were trained to look.

We have no problem acknowledging that trained photographers are more likely to be able to find the beauty in a moment or vista than those of us who have not been taught to look at the world that way. Yet when it comes to our preferences in human appearances, we believe our sense of what is and is not beautiful, of where to find beauty, is innate, objective, and universal.

And that’s without even getting into the ways in which the things that are most valued in female beauty are themselves often a construction—clear skin and big eyes aped with makeup, slim waists honed through dieting and exercise and faked by “support garments” and tailored clothing, long legs an illusion created by stilettos, and boobs! Forget padding and implants, even all-natural, unembellished boobs, as we most often think of them, are a construction. Breasts don’t stay high and round and small-nippled well into middle age if they are left to their own devices. They sag and flatten and stretch. And I bet neither the Jezebel commenters nor Isaac Mizrahi, whom Sadie quotes as saying, “I mean, breasts! They’re beautiful! All breasts!” were thinking of “National Geographic boobs” when they sang the praises of those luscious curves.

I’m meandering, so in case it’s not clear, let me state outright: I’m not criticizing Sadie, who wrote a short piece on a topic tangentially related to this post, for not shoehorning in some analysis on why so many of us seem to feel that women are more aesthetically pleasing than men. She doesn’t even make the mistake of saying women are objectively or obviously more beautiful than men. But her post touches on an argument I’ve had more than once, where someone says, “Women are just more fun to look at!” and I’m forced to say, “I kind of agree, but I think we need to look at what makes us say that.” And then it gets awkward and shouty.

But it’s an argument worth making over and over, because letting the presumption that women are inherently better-looking than men stand feeds into and provides an excuse for treating women as decorative objects, for expecting them to be on display all the time, for equating them with sex.

In happier news

Yesterday a girl drove in the winning runs in a Little League World Series game for possibly the first time ever.

Katie Reyes hit a two-run single in the top of the sixth to help Vancouver, British Columbia, rally for a wild 14-13 victory Tuesday over Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, in the Little League World Series. […]

“I was excited. I was shaking,” Reyes, 13, said about going to the plate for her big hit. She finished with three hits and three runs batted in.

Playing first, Reyes also caught the last out. She joined her happy teammates jumping on the mound after Canada won its last game of the series.

Canada has already been eliminated, so Ms. Reyes won’t be going on to further glory in the tournament this year, but I think she’s already earned plenty. You go, girl.