Dear Everyday Sexist,
Sometimes I manage to delude myself into believing that sexism is something that is reserved for the older generation; that only men born in the 1940s and ’50s, probably wearing tweed and smoking pipes, genuinely feel that women are the inferior sex. Then this lovely delusion is shattered when I come across you. And you remind me that even among the supposedly progressive younger generation, sexism is rife, perpetuated by a ‘lad culture’ that posits degrading women as an indicator of ‘masculinity’.
Last week, I must have been in the throes of my sweet naivety, as I was genuinely shocked when you stopped me and demanded that I give you a smile. I tried to ignore you, but you were with your friend so I couldn’t be allowed to belittle your ‘lad’ credentials. You demanded I smile, and then demanded that I say hello to you.
Several things flashed through my mind at that moment. Was my skirt too short? Had I accidentally made eye contact with you? Was it really a good idea to walk down this small street all by myself?
And then I realised this was bullshit.
Whether I’d been naked, whether I had made eye contact with you for a split second, whether I was by myself or not – you had no right to coerce me into performing for you like some kind of wind-up doll. Like so many women, I had momentarily bought into the slut-shaming, victim-blaming culture that we live in. This is something women face continuously, so many of us think that when we are accosted by men like you demanding we perform our ‘femininity’ better, we think that we’ve done something to deserve it. In reality, the onus is not on us to prevent you from acting like a dick – if it’s really that hard for you to walk around without making misogynistic comments every few minutes then perhaps you’re the one who should stay home. Watch the Great British Bake-Off or something. Make yourself a sandwich.
We cannot do the most mundane thing, like walking down the street, without being rudely interrupted by you. In public spaces, you regard us as performers, rather than as people. You want us to smile, to wear clothes that are sexy but which don’t indicate promiscuity, while being beautiful at all times. All these rules are really very confusing; maybe you should send out guidelines or something. Simone de Beauvoir had it right when she said, “One is not born a woman, but rather becomes, a woman.” Your unwelcome commentary and groping is a constant reminder that there is a very strict ‘woman’ mould, and that if we do not contort ourselves to fit into it – and even if we do – we will inevitably be publicly shamed.
Unfortunately for you, women are people too. This means that sometimes we’re in a bad mood, sometimes we leave the house wearing tracksuit bottoms, sometimes we trip over cracks in the pavement, and sometimes we just don’t really feel like brushing our hair and putting our make up on. Oh, and above all, sometimes we really, really, really don’t want to fucking smile for people we don’t even know.
This is the real problem, Everyday Sexist. It is not that women don’t have a sense of humour; it isn’t that we don’t ‘get’ your charm; it’s not that we’re ‘frigid’. It’s that you are creepy, misogynistic, and you don’t seem to understand that we are human beings.
It is not just evident in the way that you try to dictate our behaviour. It’s also the way you lean out of car windows and whistle. Or make kissing sounds, as if communicating with a dog, not with a person. And like a dog, you expect us to run up to your car window and lick your face. Or something like that. To be honest, I really don’t know what on earth you are expecting to get out of that kind of behaviour, but do you seriously expect women to be falling head over heels for someone who won’t even bother to talk to them like a normal person?
And that is why, when we met last week, I turned around and very loudly reminded you that “I. DON’T. KNOW. YOU.” And more to the point, I really don’t want to. It’s not ‘just a bit of fun’ to be intimidated, humiliated and objectified constantly. I am not too ‘uptight’ to engage with you; I want to do it on my terms, and I want you to approach me with a bit of respect. This is ultimately what it comes down to.
Everyday Sexist, I’m quite sure your days are numbered. Sadly for you, we aren’t in the 1950s anymore, and most women won’t just shyly blink and blush when you wolf-whistle, or tell them to smile, or pinch their bum on the dancefloor. We all need feminism, but you need it most of all. You need feminism because patriarchy tells you that acting like an asshole to the opposite sex makes you more of a man. You need feminism because you are scared of strong, independent women – and there are simply too many of us for you to keep being frightened. It’s time to get your head out of the ’40s, and into 2015.
And read some bell hooks while you’re at it.