I didn’t sleep well last night, but I woke this morning as I often do: ready.
I’m a morning person, and often before bed I have a dorky thought like “oh goody! Soon morning will be here so I can get started again!” In fact, when I can’t sleep it is usually because I have lots to do, so I just get up and get started.
Today like all days was going to have lots of appointments to keep, papers to grade, people to talk to, and I was ready. I stopped for bagel on the way to work, and as I was crossing the street back to my car someone catcalled me.
This totally jolted me out of my morning readiness. I limited my reply to “Buzz off, leave me alone” and kept walking while he kept shouting at me out his car window. I felt watched. I felt frustrated. I ran through my mental list of reasons why it is absolutely OK to tell someone who is commenting on my body that he should not have said that. I had to justify my distress to myself, and it preoccupied me when I should have been getting ready for my day.
This is what sexism does.
Later in the day people were talking about – what else! – Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony about a potential Supreme Court justice. I saw a few of the pictures and was so upset I had to look away. Here is a woman being watched and aggressively questioned, having to justify having been assaulted and traumatized, and forced to leave her work and family and routine to do something she didn’t want to do.
I felt deeply for her. I thought of all the times I have felt watched, when I have worried about not looking too young or too old, too mouthy or too meek, too angry or too aloof. I felt being rejected, ignored, brushed off. I’m not trying to compare my distress to hers, or hold it up as the biggest tragedy of the day, but it was real and distracting.
This is what sexism does.
It hangs in the air so we can never forget about it. It takes away some of the mental space we could be using for other things so that we can worry about if we are going to pass some invisible, unpassable test. It takes a bit of our focus away from the people to whom we want to be attentive. It takes away the time we could use to change the world.
On top of all the other battles we have to fight, we have to fight the way sexism creeps into our heads and slows us down.
Soon morning will be here so I can get started again.
Kate Isom says
Those of us women who are older have lived with this all of our lives and have seen dramatic changes in the last couple of decades. The best defense has always been an immediate one. Teaching our daughters to be strong and vocal goes a long way in changing attitudes that in the past have passively accepted this behavior. I don’t remember having a single conversation about this in my 20s, 30s or even 40s. Now as I approach my 70s seeing sexism “taken on” by waves of multi generational women makes me wish it was 30 years ago and I could go back to those times when I should have spoken up. That said, I am so proud of today’s young women who are changing things for themselves and for the daughters of tomorrow.