I recently overheard a conversation about the panic response women feel when men raise their voices. Discourse about physical responses: crying, shaking, cowering, squeezing your eyes shut. A conversation about guilt; the women felt irrational reacting this way to men they “knew wouldn’t hurt them.” I listened, and related, and understood their guilt that had been my own, and realized that this physical response is our defense mechanism against men we think we know. Countless women end up dead at the hands of someone they “knew they could trust”. Women are battered by their husbands, by their boyfriends, by their fathers, by their brothers, by their friends. Women hear a raised voice, see hands flying, feel cramped as a man moves closer, and generations of this ingrained response come out. It is shown that black women have a higher stress level which leads to a higher mortality rate during birth, due to the constant burden of racism. LGBTQ people commit suicide at a shockingly high level. As do war veterans. Without doing research, I can only imagine how this proven manifestation of a stressor could similarly translate to an even broader category of of the female gender and sex. We are afraid of people we “know we can trust”, because we are afraid of the ones we thought we could trust, because we are afraid of the ones we don’t know.
I recently watched a video about the issue with calling full grown women ‘girls’. We call boys what they are, we call adult men by their name; but “look at that girl over there” is commonplace for ages 0-40 of women. It’s just a little too hard to distinguish a child from an adult female, I guess. This language, among other cultural instances, has long since been pointed out as infantilizing women and reducing any ground of maturity or experience we have. Powerful women are called girls to take away their power. Boyishly skinny is the standard for models and other women in the male gaze (everyone), dating back at least to art made in the American Revolution, where men purposefully portrayed women as young and without womanly curves to separate them from the hard working “broads” of Europe. Tropes from the “crazy ex girlfriend” to the “angry black woman” to the “basic white girl” to the “quiet asian” all exist to reduce our voices to stereotypes any time we actually show our feelings. We call adult women “girls” to take them down a notch from a successful and powerful man or even a casual guy. To make it all worse, it’s not even a conscious decision at this point; it is so far ingrained in us that I had to be told it was a problem to even notice it as one. Even still I belittle myself, my friends and family, and complete strangers with this language on a regular basis–still unable to completely remove it from my system.
I recently listened to a friends recounting of the book Lolita. She took months to finish the 300 page book, constantly overwhelmed with a sick feeling at the pedophilic prose. This book is widely known and looked down upon for patronizing a pedophile, but it is largely still accepted. People look down at the word, but there is still a culture of “call me when you turn 18”. There is still a culture that seems to say, “if there was no law I wouldn’t be waiting”. It isn’t a moral issue that most men have with underage women, it’s a legal one. “If it wasn’t illegal, I wouldn’t be waiting.”
I recently read a Vogue piece titled “Why I haven’t dated since Trump got elected.” I coincidentally, haven’t dated since Trump was elected (though I don’t date much in general), and in reading her story I felt a wave of admiration and understanding of her words. She spoke about the day after election, where, in New York, the subway was silent and glum. She spoke of her office which was the same, until a male boss instructed people otherwise, liking a “cheerful office”. She spoke of not spending emotional labor to be nice to a boy who wasn’t worth it, and not feeling guilty for her words. I nearly cried at her revelation that Trump took away her belief in love and in America, and how tied up both of those are in men.
I’ve recently become tired of forgiving men for things in which they don’t deserve forgiveness.