Feminism, and Both Greater and Subtler Forms of Prejudice

I’m starting to read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan.  It’s next on my reading list and I got it for Christmas.  I self-identify as a feminist, and at some point shortly after I realized this, I also realized there are a few books that any basically grounded feminist should read.

The Feminine Mystique is one of them.

So in the spirit of reading more about feminism, I’m going to talk about some of the prejudice I myself have experienced as a woman.

I’ll go with the most overt example first.  I once had a virtual stalker.  I met him during my foray with online dating.  We only met once for coffee for about an hour; that marks the only time I ever saw him in person.  The rest of our communication was online.  He became obsessed with a person he thought I was via the Internet, and his obsession only increased after I told him, after that first date, that I didn’t want a second one.

His constant attention made me uncomfortable.  I tried to be polite about it, but he wouldn’t take the hint.  He followed me around online.  When I finally told him that this level of attention was making me uncomfortable and I would like some personal space, he flatly refused to stop following me around the virtual world.  That is when he went from awkward but well meaning, to flat out creepy.  His argument essentially was, “It’s a free country.  I don’t have to give you any personal space and I can follow you around as much as I want.”

This implies that it was his right as a man to be able to invade my personal space, but not my right as a woman to deny him that invasion of personal space.  He deliberately did what he did, knowing it would make me uncomfortable.  This didn’t seem to matter very much to him.  He acted like I was the one with the problem, making me doubt my own instincts, which were telling me that he was quite frankly frightening.

Finally, I had to threaten to expose him as a stalker on all his social media sites – I knew how important social media was to him – to get him to leave me alone.  Do not try this at home; this only worked because I’d moved by that point and he had no idea where I was.  He did leave me alone, but not before threatening me and saying he “hoped I suffered.”  He let me know, not only that he was deeply unhappy because he was being forced to stop stalking someone, but that his unhappiness was far more important than mine had been.

It’s been several years and I haven’t heard from him since.  I had to set my Facebook to completely private, friends only, and switch to all-new social media accounts under pseudonyms.  Just to be safe.  He is part of the reason why you will probably never get my location or see a picture of my face on this blog.

Now that’s an extreme example.  But I don’t just get sexism from men – I also get sexism from women.  Yes, that can happen.  While I don’t believe in “reverse discrimination” (discrimination is predicated upon the belief that the discriminated party is a minority) I do believe that women, for example, can enforce patriarchal societal standards because they’ve been taught to.  What is that if not sexism?

I was bullied in grade school.  Women and men alike would call me things like “ugly” and “freak.”  This was because I didn’t quite fit the mold for what a teenage girl was supposed to be like.  I was quiet when girls were supposed to be social, boyish when girls were supposed to care about hair and makeup, and openly intelligent at an age when both boys and girls were not supposed to care about their grades or their books.  I didn’t want a boyfriend, a forbidden desire in a twelve or thirteen year old girl.

The prejudice heightened around my first dorm mates in college.  This is not a post about the emotional abuse I suffered in dorm living, but let me just say that part of the other girls’ constant criticism of me was deeply personal.  They thought I spent too much time by myself, too much time doing things like writing and reading.  They would freak out when I showed evidence of my period, make up a chores schedule for me if I chose not to vacuum frequently enough to suit them, rearrange my things for me in an effort to make my part of the room neater.  Let me be clear, I’m not unhygienic aside from the occasional freak accident of forgetfulness – just very upfront about my body and a bit messy.  And they had a very serious problem with that; that was not how women, in their world, were supposed to be.  Without ever saying it directly, they let me know that they, like the people in middle school and high school, thought I was a “freak.”

They, too, had a problem with the way I dressed.  One of the girls’ friends took her out and bought her a whole new wardrobe because he was offended by the fact that she wore jeans.  I don’t own a single skirt in my closet; you can imagine what they thought of me.

I’ve also been slut shamed.  By my own relatives, no less.  I have some deep issues with my more distant family members.  Once, an aunt of mine embarrassed me in front of an entire room full of people by making fun of me because I’d mentioned two different ex boyfriends in one conversation.  (Those are the only two serious exes that I have, not that it matters.  I could have had ten ex boyfriends and it would still be a shitty thing to do.)

That brings me to ex boyfriends.  I’m not deluded enough to believe that all of my exes are exes because of sexism.  But I do have one ex who – though he claimed to self identify as a feminist – did not act in a very feminist way.

The problem came when he began pushing for more physical intimacy.  I could tell he was ready to have sex, and I wasn’t.  I’ve kissed, held hands, made out, and cuddled, but I go very slowly when it comes to physical intimacy and sex is such a deeply personal act of trust for me that I’m still a virgin.  I told him I needed the physical intimacy to go much slower until I got to know him better.

That’s when the problems started.

He didn’t feel he could complain about that, and said he was okay with it.  But then he began guilt tripping me about other things.  He complained that we weren’t spending enough time together, because in his mind if we spent all the time together we would get to the sex more quickly.  He also pushed in more direct ways – he once asked me for a time table on when exactly I would feel comfortable being physically intimate.  (Because that’s how it works. He didn’t seem happy when I said I didn’t know, either.  How the hell is a person supposed to know something like that?)

And he would deliberately push physical boundaries to see how much I would let him get away with.  Once we were watching a movie together at my place, and we were sitting pretty close but I’d put a remote between us as a physical barrier so he couldn’t get too close.  He knew, by this point, that physical intimacy could sometimes make me uncomfortable.  He deliberately moved the remote away and moved close to me in the place where the remote had been.

He never directly complained about the lack of sex, but all of his actions implied one thing – that I was somehow not acting naturally by not being willing to have sex with him quickly, that he was somehow entitled to have sex with me because he treated me nicely and was dating me.  And the more he pushed, the less I liked him, the more my instincts and guard went up, and the less attractive he was to me.

In the realm of sexism experienced by everyday women, most of these examples are actually pretty mild.

This ended up being a long essay, but I guess when it comes to the topic of sexism and personal experiences, I have a lot to say.  Now I’m off to enjoy my book.

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