Tits or GTFO

Last month the Taliban shot 15 year old Malala Yousafzai for being female and trying to get an education. This month the parents of a 15 year old girl in Kashmir killed her with acid for being female and talking to a boy outside the family home (warning: upsetting pictures at this link). These are awful, awful things.  People are rightly outraged.  So why are women in the western world still complaining about sexism? Why don’t we just stop whining and acknowledge how good we’ve got it?

Well, things are certainly better. But.
We still don’t have equal pay (for doing the same job). The statistics for domestic violence, sexual assault and rape don’t exactly make for cheerful reading. The Republicans’ war on women in the USA*, with a whole load of mansplaining about why women should be denied control over their own reproductive systems (usually, because it says so in a book written by various people several hundred years after Jesus died, and edited many times, and anyway what does that have to do with law?) is frankly terrifying.  And the UK shows worrying tendencies to follow suit. Then there’s the big corporations’ treatment of women, like KBR/Halliburton. When one of their employees, Jamie Leigh Jones, was drugged and gang-raped by co-workers, the company locked her in a shipping container for 24 hours without food, water or outside contact, then denied her the right to have her case tried in court.  But let’s leave all  the big scary issues aside for a moment and just talk about some day to day stuff.

Let me say up front, I like men and I know there are a lot of good blokes out there. I love my boyfriend; he’s fantastic. I’ve worked in a male-dominated industry all my life, and I’ve got on well with most of the men I worked with.  We’ve shared plenty of laughs. Some of my best friends are men etc. etc. But I don’t know  a single woman who hasn’t been groped, flashed at, yelled at in the street, been ignored or talked over at work, or otherwise had her day or night ruined by some penis-possessing asshat.

I was physically assaulted at work in my first 2 jobs, and in the 3rd a male co-worker spied on me in the toilet**. In the same place, our CEO suggested that single female workers should escort the (male) clients to the Christmas party***. Ok, that was back in the days when we all commuted by brontosaurus, but the same things are still going on today. Guys might not realise quite how much of  this sort of thing happens, because women just take it for granted that they are going to have to put up with this low-grade annoying nonsense and they don’t even rate it as an incident or mention it to the men they know.  Take a jaunt over to the everday sexism project to see what I mean.

I’ve just finished reading “”The Gift of Fear“, in which Gavin de Becker analyses the anatomy of violence and the techniques used by predators. It’s a fascinating book, and great research for writers wanting to learn more about what tips an ordinary person over the line into a villain.  It’s also an education for women on how politeness can get you killed. In one chapter, Mr. de Becker states that the main difference between the sexes is that men fear women will laugh at them, and women fear men will kill them. That hit me like a punch in the gut.

One of the most common incidents reported on the everyday sexism site is for a man to demand attention from a woman (who is reading, or listening to music, or passing by, or just not interested in being hassled by a stranger) and then call her a “fucking bitch” or otherwise abuse her for denying it. This seems to illustrate Mr. de Becker’s point in miniature. The woman ignores, the man feels belittled, the man acts with aggression to frighten the woman and re-assert his dominance. Or to behave like a total shitbag, depending on your point of view.

Groping, pinching, catcalling, whistling, yelling out of cars is not flattering. It does not make a woman’s day. It’s irritating, embarrassing or scary depending on the context. I assume the man who’s doing it knows that.  After all,  he can’t believe I’m going to saunter over, licking my lips and say, “Hey, total stranger! Your amazing whistling skill/creepy staring and rubbing your thigh/completely unacceptable invasion of my personal space has got me totally hot for you. Get your pants off and give it to me right now.” So  I have to assume that his intention is to upset, humiliate  or frighten me, or otherwise put a shitty little smear on my day.

Hey, at least we can come home and shut it all outside. An Englishwoman’s home is her castle, and all that. Well, providing you ignore the adverts on the TV. And you don’t want to play any games online. It’s not just the older generation of men who participate in the torrent of abuse that pours down on female gamers.  There’s plenty of young men joining in the grand gaming culture where threatening to rape and kill somebody is how you communicate. You can find a catalogue of the insults and threats suffered by female gamers in general here**** and by one in particular here.

It might not seem like much to complain about, compared to the experiences of women elsewhere. However,  the abuse, the yelling, the groping  says, “What I want is more important than what you want. You don’t matter as much.” Seems to me that thinking that other people don’t matter as much as you is the first step on a steep and slippery slope with being allowed to do whatever you want to them at the bottom.

So, I’d like to say a big thank you to all the guys  I’ve worked with who’ve collaborated with me on software designs, in the interest of creating something better, and have listened to me when we’ve discussed them. To all the men out there who can appreciate a passing female stranger and keep their hands and thoughts to themselves. To the men who realise that we might be different, but that doesn’t make us lesser beings. To the men that leave us alone when it’s clear we don’t want to chat. To all the guys who talk to us like fellow human beings. Thank you.

As for the rest of you; the gropers, the grabbers, the shouters, the flashers, the ruiners of days:
Go away.

*See John Scalzi’s satirical take on this, warning: very very triggery. USA ladies, go here to see how to take action.

** I stood up and punched him in the face. I got a verbal warning, he got the sack. He was a very stupid co-worker; he had only just joined the company and was still on his initial 3 month probation when this happened.

*** A female co-worker explained to him that we were engineers, not an escort service. It didn’t happen.

**** Coincidentally, I am fattish, less than beautiful and have been slutty, but I’m not a gamer. I’m interested in the games, but I don’t play and I’m not likely to start.

Header image taken from the wonderful Zen Pencils.

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