Now I Ain't No Hollaback Girl
Warning: Today's post will be serious.
You've been warned. I found this website yesterday. And it made me kick myself for not thinking of a more altruistic purpose for my blog. But I suppose I can right wrongs by linking to it here. It goes with the whole theme of my week.
Although the theme of my week was supposed to be "spring break" (I can't even say it inside my head without adding "Woo-Hoo!"), I didn't feel very "spring break-y." Perhaps it had to do with my choice of reading material (not just my students' papers - I should be used to that level of depression by now.) I read a book that I actually bought quite some time ago, but let it sit on my road-to-hell-paving bookshelf until this week. "It's spring break," I thought to myself. "I don't have to read journal articles, or textbooks, or self-congratulatory e-mail missives from my professors. I can read whatever I want." So guess what I read? Transforming a Rape Culture. Boy, talk about rockin' good times! Teacher Lady, she knows how to get her party on!
Folks, talk about depressing (I can hear the "duhs" from all over cyberspace) - it is a collection of essays and articles about violence against women in all sorts of environments. I read an article about Tailhook. Another article about rape and fraternities. About how young boys are socialized into our rape culture. About the "commodification of women." (And just in case you don't find this book depressing enough - read Ordeal by Linda Lovelace - yes, that Linda Lovelace, aka "Deepthroat." - not the Watergate informant, just an FYI.) And while I'm glad I read the book, it was just exhausting. It was exhausting to think about all the ways in which women are not still fully "at the table." And, to quote one of my students, "Not that I'm a big feminist or anything, but I still think violence against women is wrong." (Sorry - another aside/rant - why, in this day and age, do even 18 year old girls/women feel compelled to preface a statement about women and rape (or women and violence or women and abuse or women and pornography, the list is endless) with, "Not that I'm a big feminist or anything." What does that mean? Why is that such a horrible label? Why can't we say, "Women in this country and in this world are raped and abused and used and victimized and bought and sold and paid for, and you know what? It SUCKS." Period. End of story. No excuses, no, "Not that there's anything wrong with that, but personally I don't like it." Phew. Sorry. But I digress.
Back to the hollaback site. I don't live in NYC. But apparently, it's not easy for a woman to traverse the five Burroughs on a regular basis without encountering some idiot doing or saying something lewd, crude, rude or all of the above. The Hollaback site suggests that women "hollaback" by taking pictures of these idiots with their camera phones and posting said idiots on the site, along with story of idiot's offensive behavior. I love this idea. But at the same time, I have to wonder, WHAT is wrong with these men? Don't get me wrong - I'm sure women hoot, holler, gesture lewdly and proposition men as they go about their business. But my hunch is that by and large, it's men who do this to women. In 2006. In America. The greatest country in the world. Supposedly.
While I was reading the site, I found myself thinking, "This doesn't really happen to me," and then I remembered: I was wrong. It had happened to me. On more than one occasion (but a few stand out more than others), in fact. For example:
I was 19 years old, home for the summer after my first year of college and I was driving across the state, by myself (for the first time) to take a job at an amusement park (that job is worthy of 27 posts in and of itself, but that's for another time). I vividly remember being at a confusing juncture in a major city - one of those setups where 3 freeways merge into one for one or two treacherous miles - everyone is flying by, merging and weaving like crazy, and if you don't pay attention to the very poorly organized highway signs, one minute, you're on your way to the Land of Fun and the next minute, off you go to Secaucus - if you manage to not get yourself killed in the process. I was trying desperately to figure out which lane was mine and heard someone beeping - not in a leaning on the horn kind of angry beeping, but a frantic, almost helpful, beep-be-beep-beep-BEEP! kind of way. Sort of a "look out!" warning, if you will. I looked to the left, thinking I was getting ready to hit someone and wanted to see who I was going to hit before I met my maker, and there was a man driving alongside me (the frantic beeper) looking at me, giving me the universal sign (tongue included, thank you very much for the nausea!) for oral sex. I almost crashed my car. The reason for the frantic beeping? Clearly, he wanted me to see his little show before HE had to merge off the freeway onto another one. So I saw 5 seconds of his lewd little sign language and then he accelerated and sped off into his unfortunate little suburb. And I was: sickened. shocked. scared (I almost crashed my car, for chrissakes!). perturbed. upset. annoyed. freaked out. mystified. And did I mention sickened? What was the urgency? (Besides the fact that he was exiting the highway?) What would have happened if his whole little display went unnoticed? Would that have ruined his day? Because I sure would have hated for THAT to have happened. How awful for him. What a bummer.
Why do men do this? I know I don't have a lot of male readers, (maybe none, after this) and I certainly don't want to put Colorado on the spot, but can someone please, please, please explain this phenomenon to me? Because I have a feeling that even though I don't live in NYC, I'm not the only non-NYC-dwelling woman this has happened to. Or happens to. And you know what? It's freaking exhausting. It's exhausting to think about, to try to understand, to wonder about, and to experience. I want an answer so I can be done with this particular issue. That's not too much to ask, is it? Thanks. I didn't think so.