I know better

Rachel tweeted a link to a cartoon on street harassment of women and I followed it. The article itself is the same stuff as most of these articles have, as are the comments.

I know better than to read comments on something like this.

I know better because I know what they’re going to say.

I know better because I know how they’re going to make me feel.

The comments never fail to make me sad. Sad because the continue to reinforce the idea that I don’t have the right to be lost in my own world on a public street. If I’m deep in thought or busy working out something in my head I can be interrupted at any point by a random man who thinks I need to pay attention to him. My own agenda and thoughts are expected to take a backseat to whatever it is that any random man wants from me.

It is a deep sadness, one that goes back to the time when I hated being a girl. Why did I have to be female? Why couldn’t I have been a boy? Why couldn’t I have been important enough to have a penis? Why wasn’t I important just because I didn’t?

It’s the sadness that never quite goes away. No matter how much I pick and choose what levels of femininity I choose to conform to. No matter how professionally successful I am. No matter how much I love my life and the people in my life. There’s always that empty, aching hole borne of knowing that I am a girl and thus am worth less than a man.

Reading comments on posts about street harassment is like pulling at a scab. I know it’s a bad idea. I know it’s going to make me ache, even though my own personal level of harassment is very low. I know the comments are going to remind me I’m just a girl and thus not very important.

They remind me that there are places I won’t go to pump gas, even if I’m with someone. They remind me that I make choices about where and when I go in an effort to minimize my exposure to people who might harass. They remind me that I police myself, which is the goal of the harassers: to exert pressure over me and remind me that I don’t have power.

And I’ll write this blog post. Then I’ll go get another cup of coffee and continue working on the presentation that I’m giving to a room full of trainees next week. I will remember that while I am a woman, I am also strong and powerful and smart and successful. I’ll put the bandaid over the scab I pulled off and go on exerting my own power and influence over my own life and in the world in general.

Because I know better.

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