Thursday, February 12, 2015


The idea that many women deal with sexism male chauvinism daily is a lot like saying that water is wet. It's one of those truths that's become so pervasive that it's nearly lost all meaning and faded into the background noise. I can't speak from personal experience, but I suspect that it's a lot like dealing with racism in that one of the sensations that it produces is an isolation from others who don't have the same experience.

The Huffington Post has an article about the #QuestionsForMen hashtag campaign, something that strikes me as part public awareness campaign, part indictment and part support group. In it, Alanna Vagianos selects 16 of her favorite questions to reprint. Many of them are the sorts of things that you'd expect - like: "Question to the male writers/speakers etc out there. Is it common for you to be called an ‘attention seeker’? Or do just women get that?"

But some of them stood out for me.

"When you have a hostile disagreement with someone," Clementine Ford, credited as being the originator of the campaign, asks, "is it common for them to say you’re angry because no one will fuck you?"

And my first thought was: "Not anymore." But I remember this accusation from my late teens and twenties. I don't know if it happened often enough that is qualifies for Ford's definition of "common," but I dealt with similar accusations back in the day. I didn't have a girlfriend as a young adult, a piece of information that I was careful about, because as Jacob Wiesberg once noted in Slate, "Today we find the idea of nonsexuality more bizarre than deviant sexuality." (Whether or not he understood "today" to reach back to 1990, I don't know.) To be sure, I didn't have to deal with the accusation because of my gender, but because of my behavior (or lack thereof), but when people set out to be hurtful, they'll take potshots at whatever target presents itself.

In a job interview have you ever been asked how you will juggle work and home?
Well, yes, actually. There comes a point in time where the assumption that one is married and likely has children becomes the default, and once, when I was interviewing for a job, it was very clear that the interviewer wanted to know if my home life would interfere in my ability to be available whenever needed. (It was a very strange interview - the interviewer took great pains to avoid directly asking any questions that may have gotten him into hot water, but, as a result, the questions were so abstruse that there was another person in the room whose only role seemed to be translating the questions back into English.)
[D]o you walk home with your keys placed in between your fingers? are you constantly looking over your shoulder?
This question stood out for me for a different reason. As I noted a couple of years ago, once, while I was walking home from the grocery store, a White woman walking towards me on the sidewalk made something of a show of taking her keys out of her purse and readying them for use as defensive weapons. For years, what seems to many people to be a perfectly reasonable response to the risks posed by casual sexism struck me as a prime example of casual racism.
Do you get told 'you'll change your mind eventually' when you say you don't want to have children?
This one surprised me, because as a single man, I'm told all the time that I'll eventually want to be a father, even though I'm far past the age when any sane person would want to deal with a newborn, infant or toddler full-time. I figured that every single person in the United States has to put up with this particular form of inanity over and over again.

These last two questions illustrate for me the isolation that dealing with prejudice - especially when it's backed up by violence - inflicts on people. Of course, it would be bizarre for a woman on the street to strike up a conversation with a man she fears means to attack her, but the fact that we couldn't know each other's minds prevented us from understanding the patterns that we were playing out that day in Chicago. By the same token the separation between people that the woman who asked about attitudes towards children experiences cut her off from a wide variety of people who would likely happily commiserate with her over the constant presumption that the desire to be a parent is simply a random epiphany away.

In the grand scheme of things, perhaps the separation produced by prejudice is a minor thing. I'm sure that it beats most of the other effects that our overall willingness to force people into boxes of our choosing visits upon people. But perhaps the invisibility produced by its lack of overt consequences is just as much a tragedy as anything else, along with the irony of millions of people being united in being alone.

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