Sexism is more than slut shaming and double standards in health care. It is my lack of ability to come home at whatever time of day or night I choose, without fear for my safety.
I am a working musician who happens to have a vagina. I come home late from the recording studio, rehearsals, gigs, meetings, and I don’t avoid my nocturnal career obligations simply because I am a woman.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every person is entitled to freedom of movement, across their country’s borders and within them. I don’t have a legal curfew, and I don’t live with my parents. There is no one stopping me from being out in the late hours of the night and the wee hours of the morning.
Earlier this month, I came home at 1 AM from a performance and realized I had forgotten something in the car. So I went back outside to get it. Sounds simple right?
Two young males were standing on the street corner outside of my building, and I had to pass by them as I walked down the hill to the car, keys in hand. I got the generic “hey cutie, where you going” from one of them, plus a few body scans. While I was annoyed, I am accustomed to unwelcome attention from strange males. I don’t find it flattering, but like most women, I often choose not to acknowledge it.
As I walked back up the hill to my building, carrying the items I had retrieved from the car, he laughed and asked me my name. I had no intention of introducing myself, so I ignored him. But as I turned around the corner of my building, I realized that I had forgotten something else in the car. I was tired after a long night, and just wanted to go home. Had I not forgotten an expensive piece of audio equipment, I might have left it in the car overnight. Exasperated, I walked around the corner to the car again.
If you’re a female human, you have probably been hassled by someone on the street at some point in your life. If you’re from Egypt, where my Dad’s family is from, there’s a whopping 99.3% chance you have been sexually harassed. I live in New York and while watching my back constantly, I think of my female family members in Cairo and hope that they watch theirs too.
Sometimes it’s just as simple as a “hey sexy”. Other times it’s a laundry list of things he would like to do to you. Maybe he’ll tell you you’re beautiful as if his opinion validates you, and/or ask you to smile. Worse, he can take it a step further and assert his power physically.
As I huffed and puffed down the hill looking straight ahead of me, the male said “don’t worry, I didn’t do anything to your car”. I continued to ignore him, rolling my eyes at his one-sided interactions with me. But as I walked past him with more gear in hand this time, he asked me for my name once more. Annoyed at his persistence, I finally mumbled “you don’t need to know’ and turned around the corner. I just wanted to go home. But this time he didn’t let it go.
He turned around the corner after me and forcefully said “Bitch, I asked you a question.”
I froze and turned around to face him, finally making eye contact. And then I asked him, exhausted.
"Why are you following me?"
He stalked off abruptly, shaking his head to himself. I wasn’t sure if he would return with his friend, so I ran: down the block, through my front door, up the stairs, and into my apartment.
Amid all this talk of “privilege” - be it male, white, straight, - we tend to discuss sexism on the institutional level: inequity in the law, places of work, houses of worship, etc. But how often do our male counterparts consider how sexism affects our security?
When I cannot be outside at the same time as a man with confidence, that is sexism.
When a male sound person tells me “don’t worry, hun: I’ll make you sound real nice”, that is sexism.
If you ask me what I was wearing that night, that is sexism.
I am writing this blog post as an appeal to my male counterparts.
Please, UNDERSTAND YOUR PRIVILEGE.
You may have a daughter one day, if you don’t already. You will worry for her.
You may have a son one day, if you don’t already. You will mold him. Teach him to understand the power dynamic at play when he tries to talk to a girl, especially if she’s alone.
Perhaps then, none of us would have to worry for our daughters.