Programming Note: In The Spotlight will return next Tuesday, 15 March. This isn’t really a crime fictional post, but it’s International Women’s Day, and I’ve got something to say about it…
Why am I talking about International Women’s Day on my crime fiction blog? Because I am worn down. It’s the little things, really, much more than the big ones. Oh, don’t get me wrong. The big things matter a lot, and I’ll get to them. But honestly, it’s the little ones that wear me down.
It’s constantly being on guard when I walk alone or stop for fuel. I don’t live in a high-crime area, but I still have to be alert when I take a walk, and make sure I have my keys with me in case I need something strong and sharp. It’s going to home repair places alone, even if I’d like my husband’s input, because if I go with my husband, the employees address him, even if it’s a project I’m doing. To my husband’s credit, he sets them straight and directs the conversation to me. But it wears me down that this happens. Ditto looking for a car.
It wears me down to see the hype for yet another crime fiction novel/series that features young girls being abducted, or the heroine being trapped, or a serial killer who targets women. It’s even harder when those books become bestsellers. That encourages more books that feature women and girls needing to be rescued.
It wears me down not to be able to make my Facebook posts public, especially when I have big news, like a book coming out. Why can’t I do that? Because if I do, I get all sorts of creepy comments from complete strangers. I know, it’s a little thing, but it wears me down.
It wears me down to see so much media sending my granddaughter messages about how she ‘should’ dress and look. And those messages are confusing, too. On the one hand, they often seem to celebrate women and girls as sexual objects. On the other, there’s just as much online gossip, etc., about girls and women who are perceived as ‘tramps.’ Helping her (and before her, my daughter) to navigate those choppy waters and come to a strong, positive identity as a woman is exhausting.
It wears me down when I’m staying at a hotel and have to remember to double-lock my door when I’m in the room. Sometimes it makes me feel like a prisoner. If I go down to the hotel bar for a glass of wine, I know it’ll be best if I strike up a conversation with another woman. That way, I’m not as likely to be harassed. And, if I have to use the ladies’ room, I won’t have to gulp my drink quickly or take it with me to the restroom. Most of the time, the person I start talking with understands exactly what I’m doing and why. Still, it’s exhausting.
It wears me down to watch carefully where I stand or sit when I’m on public transportation, especially if there’s a big crowd. Making sure I’m near a door, checking to see who’s near me, etc. are all safety measures I wish I didn’t have to take. So is carefully choosing the gym equipment I use, so that I have a straight path to the receptionist and the door if I need them.
It wears me down to use Uber. Ride sharing means I have to carefully check the license plate on the car, make an assessment of whether I’m likely to be safe, check that I can get out the back door if I have to, and strike a difficult conversation balance: being pleasant without giving any hint of encouragement that I’m ‘available.’
If you think we’ve gotten past all that, that I’m paranoid, and that it’s easier to be a woman now, think again. Just a few years ago, I was involved in a business meeting, and one of the (male) participants made a remark about my appearance. This wasn’t the 1970’s or ‘80s. Just three years ago, I was at a conference and went to the hotel bar/restaurant to eat. Before long, there were a few of us women there, and we all took turns minding each other’s drinks for restroom breaks. We had to. The things you read about in the media do happen.
I know there are plenty of men, like my husband, who do treat women with respect, listen to our ideas, and support women in leadership roles. The trouble is, people don’t walk around with signs that tell you what they’re like. And I can’t take a chance. Neither can a lot of other women. So, yes, I am worn down by the little things.
Oh, I know. There are big things, too. A quick look at the statistics of human trafficking, child marriage, domestic violence, and so on, shows that many women have much more to deal with than I do. And I benefit from white privilege, middle-class privilege, and education privilege. Women who don’t face much more daunting challenges than I do. Those things need to be addressed.
I also know we’ve made plenty of strides in the last decades. There are female heads of state, and women are top CEOs, top academic leaders, and more. In that sense, there are some big things that are much improved.
But if you’re wondering why we still need International Women’s Day, it’s not just because of those big things. It’s the little things. The daily reminders that we still have a long way to go. The comments that are ‘just jokes,’ but are not funny. The message that not getting harassed or worse is my responsibility, and that somehow, if something happens to me, I’m the one who wasn’t careful. The constant need for vigilance about health care, voting rights, and more. Those small, bitter things that wear me down, exhaust me, and gaslight me into doubting myself. And I don’t think I’m alone. That’s why I observe International Women’s Day. Because I am exhausted, but I’m not giving up. Too many big and little things are at stake.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Otis Redding’s Respect, made famous, of course, by the one and only Aretha Franklin.