I remember standing in a line and noticing a guy in front of me had a pornographic image of a woman for the wallpaper on his cellphone. I don’t recall if my eyes rolled as I thought, “I can’t believe he likes that wallpaper.” Even though an eye roll would have married up nicely to the tone in my head in that moment, in the next moment my thoughts turned to wonder in an academic tone: “Wait a tick, does he really like that? What if he’s covering something up?”, like I was at the time.
When guys are still coming to terms with something like being gay, or in my case being transgender, an easy way to demonstrate how “straight” they are is to ogle women. Ogling is a “boys will be boys” thing to do after all. When I was set on the idea of passing as a guy in High School I once dove to the bottom of the swimming pool during gym class to look up at the girls swimming above me. I remember feeling wrong at the time, and I still feel ashamed enough about what I did that it’s hard for me to admit here.
Today I happily embrace the woman I always have really been. A 5’10” slender blonde woman which has ended up amplifying my regret, because the female experience hasn’t changed much since I was in High School. Now I get guys looking me up and down and going, “Damn!” while I walk past. Or coming up to me and telling me he likes my legs while I’m trying to fix my purse. Or hitting on me via one of my online profiles. I’ve been put in head spaces by unwelcome male advances where all I wanted afterward was some kind of security frumpy to put on after being made to feel objectified just because I’m a woman.
For almost 35 years I was just another brick in the wall. Now I feel more like a disco floor. Cross me with any random guy and there’s a chance that my light will be on and catch his attention, triggering an unwelcome advance. I don’t know these guy’s justification for why they feel they are privileged to interrupt and impose upon women’s lives. I just know they are out there and that their advances should be stood against, because not only do women deserve the peace and respect that I once knew from being just another brick in the wall, there should be absolutely no place in society for these unwanted advances.
The thing is – regarding those most intense advances – I don’t know that both sides have a real picture of what it means from the female point of view. For me, I now know I had only an academic understanding in my old life.
I never much liked it when people referred to decimating the opponent camp as “base raping” in online games of Capture the Flag because I knew rape meant something bad. Out of context, I felt that the word rape was in the same category as the word shit: words you’re not supposed to use. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep anyone from saying shit, so I kept my mouth shut about using the word rape. Today though, the word rape used out of context has for me reached the class of words that aren’t used in casual conversation because of the seriousness of the offense. I came to my new understanding during the very first days of me claiming my womanhood when I met a beggar asking me for money. After a brief verbal exchange including me saying no, I’m not going to recount what he went on to say, but the conversation turned and what was said gave me a personal experience to define the word rape.
After my encounter I carried on with my day and I was proud of my doing so. It wasn’t until very recently that I realized that he left a scar on me. I was only a block from my home and it’s a disturbing thing to go from someone who is trying to have her good graces earned, to some thing to be used for someone else’s pleasure in about a second of time passing. It’s like a jump scare in a horror movie, only real, and it still haunts me.
Countering misogyny, and this idea that women exist for the pleasure of men, are a pressing feminist goal. What I’m dismayed by is how much I didn’t know in my old life, and that I don’t know how to communicate the seriousness of the threat to those who still have my former academic understanding of the matter.
All that said, I feel I should say I’m not insensitive to the need of romantic advances and that the female experience of some men’s behavior can over complicate getting a romance going. For me, I was made to be afraid to approach women I was interested in because I didn’t want to trigger something in them. So when a friend of mine recently quoted a friend of hers that had said, “If I or any woman wanted a boyfriend all we need do is find the guy sitting alone at the end of the bar and ask him about his problems. Said boyfriend will be had before the night is out!” my reaction was, “You mean I was that obvious?” Fear of approaching women, unable to deal with really being one, I was so looking for some woman to swoop in and save me that in my history I was there at the end of the bar, playing a game on my laptop hoping some girl would come over and ask me what I was doing. As further proof to who I was at the time, I offer that I also had Stabbing Westward’s music on my iBook and their songs of co-dependence along with Aerosmith’s Angel, “Come and save me to night!” Oh! Was I invested in those songs and lyrics.
I got better.
From those and other media influences, I had no idea how ill my behavior was in the moment. I thought the sentiment “You complete me” was a good thing. I was oblivious to the tremendous amount of pressure that it puts on who those words are said to. How can the listener not end up thinking, “If I complete you, what will happen to you if I go?” I was looking for someone to save me from the fact I was trans and lonely and I wanted to be fixed. Fortunately when I did find someone we were able to transcend my issues and land somewhere healthy. We got to our good place in large part because I took responsibility for myself and realized I wasn’t broken. I just had a very cool path to walk put in front of me.
Still, the notion that women are caretakers had me looking to burden some woman with my problems. Women need to be seen as companions and partners, and feminism can help lead us there. It’s not right that the culture I was raised in gave me the expectation that it was ok for me to either use women to run away from my problems or to save me. I want feminist advances in terms of respect and equality to happen in part because I don’t want those coming up behind me to have such an easy go making the same mistakes I made and I would prefer no one else made them at all.
I do hope that this post gave ya something to think about and thanks for reading. I am planning a follow up that’s got emphasis on the female experience I’ve been set free to enjoy very, very much and I hope to see you again then!
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4 thoughts on “Sliding Across Genders, Waxing on Feminism”
Hi, Paige. You have a unique perspective not many others share. Your vision into the structure of a male-dominated society is vital to all people trying to understand the inequities involved. I’m looking forward to reading more from you in the future.
I have always maintained that if women asked men out it would tilt the dynamic and even the playing field. As it stands women in most cases don’t want the power and the pitfalls. Men are convinced culturally that a woman will love them if they get to know him. This is why you have the nice guy/friend guy who waits for a woman to be single to then make his move. It’s always why no matter what a woman says a guy still tries. Because if she gets to know him she’ll want Him. And why the way women brush guys off without trying to hurt their feelings just doesn’t work.
When more and more women assert themselves in the dating world as something more than a prize to be won or prey to be stalked we will have thia change.
It’s a bit dry but this is important for all to see as well: http://thoughtmaybe.com/the-codes-of-gender/
I see women asserting themselves in the dating world as part of our own part to play in relationship building, but what I think you might be getting at is making the first more. On the first move, I think there might well be something there as a cultural norm to address. Case in point, we have Sadie Hawkins dances. Well, girls asking guys out probably isn’t best served as being a novelty.
But as with most things there is no silver bullet. If the novelty is removed from women making the first move that would likely help. However, the other point you made “Men are convinced culturally that a woman will love them if they get to know him.”seems unaddressed in your comment. If that isn’t addressed too, how would male behavior grow to be less conceited or at least rarer beyond whatever impact women asking guys out becoming the norm would have? If the guys that think in the way you describe aren’t asked out in such a culture, my concern is
misogyny might increase so it would be best to approach this as a team effort.
So again, I think you’re on to something, we just need to close the loop. 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing your story Paige! 🙂