It’s an avoidable fact that many men — even really, really good men — don’t always get what the hell women are talking about when we talk about being the constant objects of various kinds of unwarranted sexual attention, whether it be passing comments, hard-core harassment, or the handsy-ness that the world has only recently begun to realize is actually assault.
Even really, really good men will often think “Well, the guy was giving you a compliment!” or “He was just joking!” or “He was just talking big, he would never have actually done that, ” or “Wow, that’s not cool. Did he think you were interested?”
I’ve racked my brains, for years, trying to think of some path to a simple, straightforward explanation that would just: Boom! Reveal the reality! And I’m still not there.
I have, however, finally come up with a kind of analogy – though it’s kind of a bad one. It falls through at a lot of points. But I think it’s a place from which men might begin to understand what the hell we’re talking about, at least a little better.
Like sex, money is a fact of life. Like sex, people are weird about it, but there’s a near-universal desire to have it, and many people wind up wishing they had more than they do. Also like sex, money and its availability doesn’t define us as people, or it certainly shouldn’t.
So here’s the analogy, as weak as it may be:
Imagine you have money on your person at all times — people know this, but mostly it doesn’t come up much, because mostly people are busy with whatever they need to do. But every day, or every week, someone hounds you for the change in your pocket — and 99% of the people doing the hounding are bigger than, and/or enjoy social dominance over, you.
Every now and then, a friend will say: “Wow, I could go for some pizza,” and you’ll say “Let’s order in!” and they’ll say “Ah, I’m flat right now, I can’t do it,” and you’ll say “Don’t worry, I’ve got it!” This decision to give someone your money involves a prior relationship (even if brief), and a conversation, and ultimately an offer on your part. No demand, no threat, no hounding.
But every day, or every week, someone you don’t know well, or someone you do know well but with whom you don’t have a “bro, can you lend me some cash?” relationship, or someone who is your boss, or your therapist, or your co-worker, or your brother’s friend, or a complete and utter stranger in the street surrounded by other complete and utter strangers — 99% of whom are bigger than, and/or enjoy social dominance over, you — will hound you for money. Often without anything even remotely like a warning.
Some do it in a jokey fashion. Some run after you telling you that they know you really want to give them your cash. Some scream and yell at you for failing to turn around when they tell you how nice it must be to always have money on you. Some turn to you, in the middle of a work presentation, say, or as you’re reaching for something on a high shelf, and start to reach into your pockets. And you personally know a good handful of people who have been beaten up in such circumstances, their money taken against their will, sometimes by people they thought they could trust.
Can you imagine how that might shape your life? How you might decide to avoid certain people, or certain parties, or that one office where you’ve heard the bosses are FOREVER hounding employees for their change? Can you imagine that having to think about this all the time might be exhausting? Can you imagine that you might get thoroughly sick of other people insisting that they get to talk about your money whenever they want to? How frightened you might occasionally feel because, and I really want to stress this again: 99% of the people doing the hounding are are bigger than, and/or enjoy social dominance over, you.
That’s (kinda) what it’s like to be a woman. Being told, all the time, that your physical autonomy and something that is genuinely yours — isn’t really just yours. Whoever wants to demand it of you, or pass judgment on it, or insist that you change it, can feel free to do so, and if you don’t like it, it’s because there’s something wrong with you.
Only in our case, it’s not something in our pockets — it’s our actual bodies. All the time.