“Women Need Other Women”
In June of 2016, Alexis Tyler put together three posts from Tumblr and posted them to her Facebook page. Her post has over 8,000 likes and almost 700 comments. And, for some reason, that FB post seems to be making the rounds now at the end of 2019. It has been reposted on Distractify, Humans of Tumblr, Magazine Aisle, Pupperish, and others.
In the first story, one user (get-your-ass-in-the-impala) writes of a time when she left a bar after drinks with a friend. Outside the bar, three women surrounded her, and told her that they had overheard some men in the bar talking about following her out of the bar. She remarks on the “sanction of my own gender.”
Another user (ofgeography) writes of a time she got out of the subway when a woman took her arm. A man had been following her from the train, and the unknown woman escorted her home safely. She writes: “protect your friends. protect strangers.”
In the third post, a user (actualginnyweasley) writes of leaving a grocery store late at night. An older man had been looking at her. As she left the store, she met eyes with another woman, and they left together. They made certain that they each got their groceries stored in their cars. The other woman waited in her car until actualginnyweasley was safely in her car and driving away. “And that was the moment I realized how much women need other women.”
To be sure, the comments on the Facebook post are filled with other similar stories.
On the one hand, these are stories of uplift, of support, of common decency, and of shared experiences. And from that perspective, they are wonderful stories. It is gratifying to hear of such selfless acts in our seemingly ever more craven world.
On the other hand, though, they should never happen. They should never have to happen. They signal and highlight the great distance we need to travel to any semblance of gender equality. They illustrate in full color the lack of complete integration of women into social life.
You see, these are also stories of masculine privilege. They are stories of a freedom of movement that men have and women do not. How often have men shared stories of a time they decided not to go out to get groceries or a drink because they didn’t want to put up with the threats? How often have men shared stories of driving to the store and then leaving because the women (or men) in the parking lot seemed threatening? How many times have men scouted a parking lot in order to find an open spot near the door, or under a working lamp? Not because they don’t feel like walking, but because they are afraid to park that far from the store. How often have men shared stories of a time when they were at a grocery store and felt threatened by a woman looking at them? How many times have men had to make sure they have their phone, and their keys, and their packages all ready so that they can get into the car quickly?
All of those calculations just to go to the grocery store. Or the mall. Or a bar. Or a park. Those are the calculations of someone who does not feel like a full member of society. Those are the calculations of someone who does not feel as though she belongs. Those are the calculations of someone who does not feel safe.
actualginnyweasley writes that “we can’t win this war without each other.” And it really is more than the metaphorical “the battle of the sexes.” The battle is literal. And it persists. And the causalities mount.
All too often, people (politicians, my students) proclaim that we now live in a post-gender society, that the playing field has been leveled, that gender bias and sexism have been eradicated.
Here, and now, I will not go into the hundreds of ways in which that is not true. Here, and now, I will simply point to the stories of get-your-ass-in-the-impala, ofgeography, and actualginnyweasley as evidence that we are not there. Because this is the thing: if you cannot move freely about your world, you are not free. If you cannot move about any public space and feel safe, then you are not equal. The playing field is not level. The bias has not ended.
I am also not suggesting that I, or any other man, approach that woman leaving the bar or the store or the subway. She does not know anything about me; she does not know if I’m just another creepster. That would not allay her fears.
No, instead, approach the men following her. Misdirect them. Refocus them. Confront them. Educate them. Could it be dangerous? Could it be threatening? Don’t want to put yourself in harm’s way? Well, there you go….
Ritch Calvin is an Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at SUNY Stony Brook. He is the author of Feminist Epistemology and Feminist Science Fiction and editor of a collection of essays on Gilmore Girls.