You’re not the men who shriek from car windows. You’re the men who say nothing while they do.
It’s a real, visceral danger your boyfriend doesn’t understand. Your friends think you should take it as a compliment. Yet, for some reason, it makes you fear for your life.
Maybe it’s because of that one time you didn’t respond to the hollers of the man at the gas station, and he walked up and started banging on your car. Maybe it’s because of that guy from Craigslist who slammed you against a window when you ignored his sexual advances. Maybe it’s because of the three large men in an old Honda who used to wait for you every night in the Food Lion parking lot after you bought groceries, and who once tried to force you into their car. Maybe it’s the married man from your work who followed you home on your bike for five days and threatened to kill himself if you didn’t talk to him. Maybe it’s the boy who ran you off the road on your bike because you ignored him when he told you that you were “fine.” Maybe it’s because-
Maybe it’s because we live in a world where women fear for their lives every day, because you could die from saying no.
Maybe it’s because I can’t walk down the street, or go to the store, or fill up my gas tank, or go to the gym, or go see a movie without being forced into what feels like, and what often can become, a life-or-death confrontation from a stranger who propositions me and waits, no, urges me to respond.
And every time I say nothing and I let that man “holler at” me like a piece of meat, sizing me up for public consumption, I die a little inside. I lose a little piece of my dignity.
His comments are not compliments, or even propositions. They are declarations of ownership. They are threats. They are the intrusive thumb of male privilege and patriarchal violence, reminding me of my place as I move around within public space. They are the put-down, the screw-you, the worthless-slur, the great derision that is a constant, omnipresent reminder that society allows male sexual violence to function commonly as a social norm. It is the constant reminder that I should always be scared. That I am never safe. That someone always wants to hurt me, and that society will always, always turn its face the other way, as seen by the normalcy with which men can publicly deride me with confidence and gusto in their threats.
That is “just what men do.”
And “just what women do” is to be scared. All the time. To go to the store. To smile at a stranger. To ask for directions. To do anything. To walk alone at night. I am scared to do those things because I know I could be killed for doing them, and that is not a far-fetched fear, that is a very real possibility whose similarities of situation I have been thrust into more times than I can count, because I refused to be bound by that fear, and I decided to walk alone anyway- to my peril.
That is my life- my reality- which you, or my boyfriend, can never understand. That is the fear I have to live in every day. Not some abstract SJW complaint of ideology- an actual fear for my life.
Deconstructed, I find its bits and pieces everywhere around me in the architecture of my social world. I find components of its violence in the sexism of your comments. I find it in the way you touch me without asking. I find it in the way you call that girl a whore. I find it in the way you complain about male injustice, and tell me feminism is not that big of a deal. I find its bits and pieces of violence, the building blocks of sexual assault, in the psyches and vocabularies of my boyfriend, my professors, and my friends.
I find fragments of them everywhere. I find them in your voice. I find them in your “Just calm down.” I feel their sting of hot hands on my thighs at a restaurant in your ambivalence and general lack of concern. In your disregard for my suffering, I see a complacency. In your eye-rolling at my very real anger and fear at oppression, I see you acting as their ally. I see bits and pieces of violence in your jokes, in your phrases, in your disregard for me. I see a violence in you when you leave me here with Them, and refuse to even try to understand why I might be scared to walk alone at night. I hear the thoughts behind their catcalling words when you tell me, “Just get over it.” I feel the sting of their hungry white eyes and the crackle of that adrenaline fear when you shrug it off and act annoyed at my panic. I feel like you are one of them, when you defend them like that. I don’t know why the patriarchy has a home and an ally in you.
I hear the, “Shhh,” the voice that says, “Calm down,” as the same voice that says, “I do not care to sacrifice my privilege to protect you from your suffering.” In that voice, I hear a sick justification that says, “I have what is mine, and I won’t give it up, and violence is a natural causality.” I hear in that voice an assurance that says, “Violence is your place, after all, and that’s what you get for being a woman. What else did you expect.”
When you refuse to defend me or even be on my side, I see, in you, a double violence.
For you don’t have the guts to threaten women on the street and engage in an openly repulsive act.
But worse than that, you don’t have the guts to condemn it.
For it is you, far more than the loud mouthy men on Warwick Boulevard, who make this possible. It is the silent men at 711, the silent men at the YMCA, the silent men next to us in cars, the silent men lying next to us in our bedrooms, the silent men we call our best friends, our boyfriends, and our fathers-
It is the silent men, not the loud ones- who permit foulmouthed men to chew me up and spit me out as I walk down the street.
It is the silent men who could have stopped this, but who didn’t care to, because they were busy.
It is the silent men who said “Yes” to violence, and who, in their complicit silence, insisted that my world would be impenetrably loud.
And I’d prefer their foulmouthed threats to the insult of your indifferent silence-
I’d prefer that any day.