A couple of months ago I got into a discussion with a guy about feminism (will I ever learn…). He said something along the lines of ‘I wouldn’t say I’m a feminist because I don’t like the word but obviously I agree with gender equality’.
Here we go, I thought.
I proceeded to listen for 20 minutes about why this white, educated, middle class guy felt marginalised by women because we didn’t let him voice his opinion about the women in our society. Apparently we get too defensive and emotional (I’m sure I’ve heard that argument somewhere before…).
Isn’t that a surprise? How dare I get a bit pissed off when men try to talk down to me because they happen to have been born with a penis and I wasn’t. I must try to contain my feminine hysteria better next time.
I joked with him about his tendency to mansplain. His fragile masculinity crumbled and his rage boiled over.
‘I actually find that really insulting and you basically just proved my point so well done.’
Then followed another 20 minutes in which he mansplained ‘mansplaining’ to me. Hilarious at the time (probably the most ironic conversation that only women will truly appreciate). The more I thought about it, the more it rightfully annoyed me. I had laughed about the conversation with my female friends who are all too familiar with this topic, but this attitude is becoming more and more prevalent amongst my male friends and family members. I often hear men close to me describe themselves as being pushed out of a discussion because of their gender.
To this, without any hesitation or shame, I say ‘Suck it up.’
You may think you understand the basics of what I go through as a woman. Maybe I’ve ranted about the harassment, or maybe I’ve stressed my annoyance at being underestimated, and maybe you’ve seen me impose impossible physical expectations on myself. But many (of course not all) continue to underestimate my experiences. They continue to overlook daily oppression of mundane life as a women.
But I am sick of having my achievements seen as surprising. I am sick of constantly being aware of my vulnerability when walking home alone. I am sick of my hobbies being sexualised. And I am so utterly sick of trying to overcome an endless double standard.
I commend male friends for showing their support for the women in their life but I also think that they do not truly understand what it is to be a woman.
I know I am incredibly privileged. I am white and from a relatively affluent background. Two things that give me a huge step up in life. I have never faced systemic discrimination because of my skin colour, or because of the people I choose to love, or because of where I come from. As far as women go, I have it easy. So what I experience is nothing in comparison to other women, in other parts of the world and from other backgrounds.
Nothing made me understand my own privilege more than reading a book by Reni Eddo-Lodge entitled ‘Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race’. This book taught me about how to describe the privilege that I was up against and more importantly taught me about my own privilege and how I can never understand another woman’s experiences. I only have my own to go on and I think every man and woman should remember this. The lesson to take away from the book for me, was to never assume what someone has been through and never assume you can fully understand another persons experience just because of how they look or act now.
Yet, I’ve put up with creeps in clubs, I’ve screamed at guys at football matches and I’ve called friends when walking alone to show that someone knows where I am. Find me a woman that hasn’t experienced at least one of these forms of harassment.
Recently a man close to me was surprised to hear that getting catcalled on the streets of London was a regular and sometimes daily occurrence. Men simply don’t notice the stares and comments and shouts that we are so acutely aware of. So why would they consider it a big problem? If this is your experience as a man, I’m not surprised you think I’m making a big deal out of it. You don’t see it so therefore it must not exist, right?
I am incredibly aware of my gender because I am reminded of it daily. Just because you see a women in front of you does not mean you get to call her your sweetheart, honey, babe, habibi, princess.
If you shout one of these ‘compliments’ to me across the street in front of your equally idiotic friends, is this supposed to impress me? Should I just take my clothes off right there and fall madly and passionately in love with you? More likely you will put me on edge, ruin my day and make my libido shrink until it’s the size of your undoubtedly small penis.
I truly understand where men are coming from when they complain when they feel like no-one is listening to them. And I understand this because in so many situations I, alongside many other women, are the ones not being listened to.
So this is an appeal to all men, if your female friend is talking about a journey home that scared her, don’t try to explain away the culprits actions, or even give them advice. Just listen to them and be there, as a support. Every woman has a different view on how you can handle this situation and I can never speak for another.
Text by Millie Grace Cartwright
Photos by John Conner Fleming