This morning I was walking into my building and a man was walking parallel with me. He was going towards one set of doors; I was going towards a pair adjacent to them. He smiled at me and gestured me over to his side with a head nod. “Let me get the door for you.” (He meant let me get these doors over here for you.) I capitulated, averted my path over to his doors, smiled and said thank you. Then, as we approached the second set of doors into the lobby, he yelled out, “I’ll get those, too.” He wanted to do it. So I waited for him to catch up. And then out of obligation I thanked him again, but I was annoyed.
I thought of the men on Reddit who call women cunts because some ladies don’t want the door opened for them. Every time I read the men’s wounded lash-outs, I sadly laugh at how they think the thing is the thing. The door isn’t the thing. For me, the incident this morning was a bang-on metaphor for my experiences as a woman. The millions of small ways that I’ve been forced to surrender to men, who made me move or change or come to them because they felt like it. The ways that I’ve had to change my path in magnitudes great and small.
You cannot describe millions of experiences to someone. Its impossible, linguistically, to accurately communicate the constant hum of minor prejudice that becomes the soundtrack to your life. Because something so constant, so slight, so under-the-radar is just … there. It is part of you in a way that feels inescapable, no matter where you go and no matter what you do. Occasionally, the constancy of it gets to you and you slump into a minor depression. Or you focus too hard on the hum and it becomes heavy metal in the brain, raging at you and keeping you up at night.
I can tell a man what it feels like when I’m walking down the street and men lean out of their vehicles to hoot at me. I can tell a man what it feels like to walk through a busy mall and feel sets of eyes fix on you and shamelessly stare at every inch of you while you pass.
I cannot tell a man about the endless parade of minor indecencies, artful put-downs, implicit shushes, subtle dismissals, or friendly coercions under the cover of niceness. Without the experiences to go with it, he simply cannot understand what it’s like to be a woman.
They think I’m trying to tell them that I don’t like doors opened for me. I won’t ever be able to explain it.