Compared to most women over on Twitter right now, I have exceptionally little to complain about. I have never been raped. I don’t walk around with any serious fear for my physical safety. I had kind of chalked it up to the fact that I was never all that pretty. Guys only assault pretty girls, right? (Rolls eyes at self.)
Even in college, at my absolute most attractive, I was more charming than pretty. This weekend, Twitter has taught me that I have been lucky, because “charming” could very easily be mistaken for overt flirting which, it seems, can be taken as an open invitation to sexual assault. But that isn’t what I want to tell you. I want to tell you two stories – from work – that illustrate the extent to which I have adapted to male bullshit regarding women.
First. It will surprise no one that in my seventeen years working in Human Resources, I have investigated one or two sexual harassment complaints. I am happy to say that they have generally been matters of cluelessness rather than malicious intent and the “accused” have generally been genuinely sorry to have made someone uncomfortable and wanted to apologize more than anything else. One case in particular struck me because I worked rather closely with the “accused”. I was asked whether I ever felt like the guy was talking to my breasts. I hadn’t noticed. I’ve had people staring at my chest since I was 10 years old. I stopped noticing sometime in high school. I never once gave an “Eyes up here” or made a complaint or even offered a knowing glare. I didn’t make a conscious decision to ignore that behavior as a general practice but, hell. I don’t have the time or the energy to get upset about that stuff, let alone confront it all the time. So I block it out.
I am not proud of this. It is just how I have operated. I am a bit ashamed, now that I am typing it out loud, that with my general confidence and competence and ability to confront people that I have been too lazy or weak to do so. But there it is.
The second one is worse. A few years ago a young lady in my own department told me that she had a troubling experience when she went to speak at a conference. The weather had been bad and she’d gone to the bar to watch a game and get a burger for dinner. Harassing experience ensues. She wasn’t physically threatened, but felt way uncomfortable and the dude was, by extension, a client. My first reaction, God forgive me, was “I wouldn’t have gone to the bar by myself to watch a game and have dinner.”
How m-f brainwashed am I that the thought even entered my head. How brainwashed am I that I wouldn’t even consider watching a game by myself in a bar on the road over dinner? I sit in bars by myself when I am waiting for people. I eat dinner in restaurants by myself all the damn time. I have stopped in front of random televisions in a thousand public places, by myself, to watch some sportsball item or another. I have gone to sporting events by myself.
This isn’t even a conscious decision. This is an “it would just never occur to me”. Is it some great hardship? No. At the same time, it is only happening because I am female.
So. Yeah, yeah. Less than a First World Problem. But if you are asking the question, “Really? All women have been affected by a male culture of sexual dominance/violence/intimidation in this country?”
Yes. We all have.
P.S. I sorta want to delete that last post about guys in bars. But I’m not going to.