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Fear as a Given

~ Margaret Atwood:

“Why are you afraid of women?" I asked a group of men.
“We’re afraid they’ll laugh at us,” replied the men.
“Why are you afraid of men?” I asked a group of women
“We’re afraid they’ll kill us,” replied the women.

You think it's crazy, don't you; this irritation women have when you make harmless jokes in that funny way you do. You think you're being clever, and you don't understand why I keep telling you to stop calling me baby, and to not send me that email with the funny story about women and kitchens. So let me explain, just a little bit.

When I was born, my society started carefully teaching me some things. It taught me that I was a girl, and that girls are smaller, weaker, dumber than boys. It also taught me that I was expected to be nice, 'ladylike" (whatever that means), supportive, obliging, deferring, and generally to just keep my nose clean so that the bigger, stronger, smarter men wouldn't have reason to hurt me. You probably think I was taught those behaviors, not to keep from being hurt, but to fulfill some other feminine expectation, but I'm afraid you're wrong. See, I was a smart kid, and I learned quickly that if I wasn't a "good girl" then I was going to get smacked. Or mocked. Or demeaned.

I went through life internalizing these carefully taught lessons. I made a mental note, when that boy grabbed my ass when I was eleven, to never wear those pants again. Stopped wearing my hair up for a long time after a neighborhood boy called me a dyke with a ponytail, which I could tell was bad, even though I didn't know what a dyke was. I learned it from the faces, tones, gestures, actions and words of countless males.

And then I learned something else. It started the day I kneed a boy in school in the groin after he grabbed my breast and told me he was going to hurt me. The look of pain and shock and fear on his face made me realize that this is all a game. Boys are told they're powerful and girls are told they're not, and even though both are a lie, we all believe it, and these things are going to keep happening until we make it stop.

When a coworker or friend or the woman at the counter says that you need to stop calling her sweetie, it's not because she doesn't think she's sweet. It's because when you do that, two things are happening; you're demeaning her, and you're tipping the balance of power in your direction. No one likes to be demeaned, and a woman knows that it's not very far from the "sweetie" place to the "do what I tell you" place. And as we have been so carefully taught, you're bigger, stronger and smarter, and you've been threatening us since we were children. We haven't been telling you because it's so common we're almost used to it, but most women live with a certain level of fear as a given. A GIVEN. Think about that for a minute.

Don't believe me? Go read the comments here: "shapely prose"
And the essay here: Tea With Demeter
As well as the one here: Philomela

9:42 p.m. - 2008-08-21

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