Monday, July 27, 2020

Male Menace

Surprise, surprise: a man just called me a “fucking bitch” on the street today.

We were both on bicycles. I was going across the street, and he was going perpendicular to me; but we were both on the curb at the same time. I was headed down the little curb-cut across the street, but I was in his way and he wanted to go across my path. He had to swerve. So he yelled, “Up yours, you fucking bitch.”

Wow, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and I have this in common, too.

I’m sure any other woman and I have this in common, too.

I just finished reading Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. We may all know the big ones (drugs not tested on female subjects, female prescriptions not covered by health insurance, etc.) but Caroline Criado Perez uncovers hundreds more. Glaring examples of how science, government, and corporations cater to the Default Male.

In one section, she looks at all the behaviors that men do that “make – and are often calculated to make – [women] feel uncomfortable … that add up to a feeling of sexual menace.” Mostly, these don’t happen when women are accompanied by men, “So men who didn’t do it and didn’t experience it simply didn’t know it was going on. … Another gender data gap.”

So, for example, you can use Google maps to get directions that are the fastest, that use the least mileage; but can you get one that shows the “safest” route? Men don’t see it, don’t collect it, don’t care to make that information useful to women. It took women to create Safecity, which crowd-sources personal stories of sexual harassment in public spaces to create a map indicating trends at a local level, mostly in India, but around the world.
A couple weeks ago, before Anchorage had a mask mandate, Tim and I went to Baskin Robbins for ice cream. Baskin Robbins has plexiglass to keep the staff separate and decals on the floor to keep the customers separate. It’s hard when everyone wants to look at the ice creams to see the selection, so I stayed way back, waiting my turn. I was the only one in a mask. (Tim was in the car, still futzing with trying to tie his on.)

One unmasked man kept moving over towards me. We weren’t near the counter, so there was no reason to. I moved away. He moved closer. I moved away. Finally, I told him, “I keep moving away, you keep moving closer. Please keep your distance.” He walked right up to me, stood in front of me, swelled his body, and STARED. I stared back and walked out.

I passed a now-masked Tim just coming in and told him we were leaving.

Yes, yes, Covid-19 has added a new agenda to the world, but he was an asshole looking for an excuse. And yes, I’m a reasonably assertive woman who can hold her own. And no, I don’t think I attract any particular negative energy in the universe. And no, I’m not a “victim.” And no, I was not going to get the young, teenaged, ice cream scooping staff involved in this. And yes, I’ve gone through multiple after-the-fact responses I could have made but didn’t and wish I had.

So this is what I’m doing. I’m reporting these instances of female-targeted male aggression to my husband. To my brother. To men around me. They’re all nice men, men who treat women with dignity, but I don’t think they know how common “fucking bitch” behavior is. And they need to know this. Not to protect me, but to know.

Actually, I experience it less often during Covid-19 because I’m not near other people, but obviously, it still lurks.

I don’t even have to ask any woman: you know what I’m talking about. I will take any and all suggestions for responses. Ones that illuminate, educate, humiliate preferred.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Making of a Recluse

Uh, oh. It’s happened. I’m a recluse. A hermit. I’m no good around people.

It’s always been brewing. You can’t be a writer and a distance runner and not be comfortable with solitude. And if your other pursuits are reading and art and lap swimming, you’re not quite a party animal.

So when Covid-19 and self-isolation first hit, it was almost business as usual. I remained absorbed in my projects, my reading, my quiet contemplation. My well-developed art of doing nothing. My mother used to say I needed five hours of alone time a day in order to be good around people. Even though Covid-19 gave me lots of Tim Time, we’ve learned to be alone in our house: I go downstairs; he stays upstairs. And Tim’s not a chatty guy.

Withdrawal crept up on me gradually. Most of my human interactions involved doing things with other people. I’m good at finding things to do, and other people make it more enjoyable. Want to see the quilt show with me? Want to go to the movies? Want to come over for dinner?

When things-to-do shut down, things quieted. Then there was Zoom.

Lovely Thursday and Friday morning gatherings became Zoom gatherings, as did book club. For a while, that was a New Thing and it worked. We could stay in touch. But after a while, the faces in the gallery became facsimiles of people, mug shots. Staring at mine was disconcerting at best, excruciating at worst. I took to turning off video. That helped, but it’s still video conferencing – for meetings! – not relaxed human conversation and play. (Except my weekly sibling Zoom call: siblings can still tease, play, and goof on Zoom. It’s innate.)

Staring at a screen is now torture. I’ve gone way past Zoom fatigue; I’m in Zoom abhorrence.

Fortunately, there are now social distancing meetups. My art group was my first, and it was glorious. We sat in a very wide circle on the unoccupied university lawn and heard real human voices with real human bodies. Then my book club did it, too. Hooray!
We have visited with friends sitting six feet apart outside. I have walked and biked with friends six feet apart. So why am I now a recluse? Why now do I feel socially awkward, like a misfit who would do socially inappropriate things in public?

I often do socially inappropriate things in public. (Ask my daughter.) It’s a battle I’m constantly fighting because there have always been rules my mouth and I just don’t get. Until I get home and review all the mistakes I’m sure I’ve made.

Now, some people might say, “Oh, Barbara, recluse isn’t you! You’re such an extrovert.” Actually, introverts are mistaken for extroverts because we overcompensate when in public – we can be ebullient in public! – even socially inappropriate – but then we have to recover in private.
The thing is, if we don’t have a “public” for months on end, we forget whatever social skills we might have had. Or we become convinced we’ve forgotten. It’s not exactly fear, more like reluctance or resistance. Or fear. It’s not the fear of catching the virus; I protect myself enough for that.

It’s simply the fact that I’m out of practice with being around people. For communicating. It even makes writing difficult – even this blog – because I’ve become so well-separated from communication. And it actually started with texting-instead-of-phoning; we’ve all been on elaborate back-and-forth texts that could have been resolved with one phone call … but the phone call doesn’t happen. Now Covid-19 has introduced even newer walls in our lives, but they don’t get dispelled with conversations, time together, empathic listening. Like I’m a bumper car banging around – bumping, not touching.
Lately, I’ve seen articles on “How to be Alone,” advising people how to use Covid-19 time as an “opportunity not to escape solitude but to lean into it.” But nothing about the people who’ve leaned in so far they’ve tipped over.

I think I’ve tipped over. Sometimes I actually hide. Tell me, am I the only one this is happening to? Hello? Helllllooooo???

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