I wish my brain worked faster. It seems I need some time to stew in order to really figure out how I feel about things, and why, which can negatively impact my ability to write timely, relevant blog posts. Sometimes, it takes me months to figure out why a book, joke, or incident made me depressed, happy, or angry.
Several months ago, an incident at work made me so angry I couldn't see straight, and even though I complained (and got good results) at the time, I still felt as though I had not fully articulated my position. I was almost there, good enough to set the record straight and demand better behavior, but it has taken me until now to have down what I really think: I don't want protection.
See, women have made great strides toward equality in our country, so much so that men are starting to take up the feminism banner as well. But we still have a long way to go toward true equality, and most of the battles we fight in the future are going to be the 'hearts and minds' type that are so much harder to win. Not just with men, but with women themselves. Oppression can be really comfortable. It can feel like protection. For instance, no one really wants to be drafted or to go into combat, so it has fallen far, far, down the list of ways women fight to be equal to men. But if we want to be truly equal, we have to take up the responsibilities of equality as well as the rights, and we will have to take them up ourselves, and not wait for men to step aside and allow it.
Protection, chivalry, 'acting like a gentleman', and other such euphemisms stand for a particularly pernicious type of sexism that I abhor. Yes, yes, there is a difference between common curtesy and treating someone like they are weaker than you because they are female. Let me tell you what happened to me at work.
We instituted a new policy, that we station an employee at the front door as a monitor for the customers leaving, and trying to come in, at closing time. I assumed, because I am the senior employee (under the managers) on the sales floor every night, that this would be my responsibility. But a (male) manager told me I was absolutely not to do this job, because I am a woman. He only wanted male employees to do this job.
It sounds logical, even benevolent, doesn't it? It sounds like he's trying to protect me, to give me privileges, even, because I am female. But I don't want that. Because to me, in that moment, when he looked me in the eye and said: "I only want a man to do this," I was scared of him. Why was I scared of a man trying to protect me?
Why did protection feel like a threat? Because it's not really protection when it's a protection racket. Physical strength is the only thing men have left with which to dominate and intimidate women. We make our own money, we get custody of our kids, we hold positions of power and influence in politics and society, but the one thing we cannot yet reliably do is physically defend ourselves from assault and rape. Maybe some men really are kind, and believe that they are doing good, even being feminist, when they offer us protection, but I cannot help but wonder: what kind of ego boost do they get out of reminding us that we still need their protection?
It feels to me like offers of protection are merely reminders of weakness. It doesn't matter how smart or accomplished women become, we can still be raped. So we better let men go ahead of us, and walk behind us, and set themselves as a shield between us and the big, wide, world so they can police our behavior, just as if we were not smart or accomplished at all, but the same, weak, childlike brides we always were. Let us protect you, or something bad might happen. Need us, or we'll turn on you.
An offer of protection feels intimidating when it's just a subtle reminder of how easily you can be hurt, especially since conservative estimates say that two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. It's not just a feeling. Statistically, you are in more danger from the white knight walking you to your car after dark than the random dude minding his own business in the parking lot. Because when we know someone, we trust them, and we let our guard down. This not only leaves us more vulnerable to assault, it also makes it infinitely harder to defend ourselves. Carry a gun if you want to, but be prepared not to shoot a stranger, the bogey-man jumping out of the bushes, but your friends or even family members. Could you do it? (Remember, don't take your gun out of your purse, just shoot through the purse. You'll be much faster that way.)
If you are a man reading this, and you're horribly offended and think I've just called you a rapist, well, you may be right. It wouldn't be the first time I've offended people. But if you thought that you were doing the right thing trying to protect the women around you and now you feel hopeless and unappreciated, take heart. There are still things you can do to prevent rape and protect the women around you, but it will take far more effort on your part. It only takes a small amount of false courage to walk a women out to her car. It takes a much larger amount of huge, brass, courage to make yourself a better man; to hold yourself and the men around you accountable for your thoughts, feelings, and behavior concerning women. When it comes to rape and sexual assault, men are the problem, therefore men need to focus on policing themselves and other men, not women. (That could be a whole other post.)
So I'll stand in front of the door every night, and I'll go without the protection. I know that I am taking risks, I know that I could die taking this risk, but I believe that if women are ever truly going to be equal with men, we have to present ourselves that way, and not cower behind men until they decide to grant us the safety of their self-control. The more of us who stand up and demand to be treated with respect, the faster we will earn that respect.