Thursday, November 4, 2010

Day 308- Bitch

Dear Mr. President,

While I'm certainly not going to win any prizes for equanimity, I'm not particularly short tempered. Being called "bitch" by a man, however, is perhaps the quickest way to trigger a really irrational amount of anger. So tonight, when a man trying unsuccessfully to steal from my store called me "bitch" I just about lost control of my temper. I won't claim it is at all the same level of offense, but I think this is the closest emotional experience I, as a white, straight, woman, will ever have to being called a racial or homophobic slur. There might be worse things to call a woman, but I doubt there are many words that have so frequently accompanied by physical violence. And while my female roommates and I may toss it back and forth casually, the sound of it in a man's mouth makes my skin crawl. Perhaps it's irrational, perhaps it's an unfair double standard, but I think there are some emotional reactions that simply can't be entirely logical.

Once I calmed down and dispassionately contemplated the incident, it was clear that the man was just trying to intimidate me. I like to think that, regardless of how it made me feel, I managed not to exhibit the kind of weakness he was hoping to find. While discussing the encounter with a female coworker, she recalled a similar incident with a man on the bus with her. "It just makes me mad," she said, "because he never would have acted that way if I were a man. I hate being seen as an easier target just because I'm a woman." Maybe it's because I'm three books in to a series that describes an actual war between armies of men and armies of women, but I definitely have felt what she's talking about. I want to walk down my street at any time of night (and in any length of skirt) without getting shouted at. I want to live free from those who would assume that my abilities and vulnerabilities are defined by my sex. For a moment I was caught up in that simplistic us versus them mentality that I so often dismiss as intellectually lazy. Then I thought about Michele Bachmann. And Sarah Palin. I remembered that no classification as broad or as simple as gender (or, to be fair, political party) is an apt indicator of friend or foe.

While the narrative about the role of female candidates in the most recent election cycle was repeated often enough to seriously grow annoying, i do have to appreciate the effects. I think we've come a long way from McCain's "beat the bitch" rallying cry against Hillary Clinton. Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman and Sharon Angle lost, not because they were too smart or too assertive, or not attractive enough, but because they were not effective or qualified candidates. Their opponents beat them on merit- not on sexist stereotypes. Patty Murray and the other women who won their races demonstrated that a smart, dedicated candidate with a persuasive enough message and the courage of her convictions can prevail, no matter what gender.

When I came home tonight I saw this story about a mother who had to defend her 5-year old son's decision to dress as a female character for halloween. While her impassioned defense of her son's choice and condemnation of the judgement he encountered from the mothers of the other students was inspiring, the sad reality of her contention, "If my daughter had dressed as Batman, no one would have thought twice about it. No one" reminded me that being a man isn't exactly easy, either. I'm glad that I'm able to calmly and reasonably analyze this tendency I have to view all men as opposition, and hopefully overcome that immature prejudice. I would imagine that this is far from the last time that a man is going to call me bitch and I will have to walk away let it go. It will probably always make me angry. Still, I suppose I can take comfort in the fact that, even if I am kind of a bitch, at least I'm not a scrawny skateboarding punk who tries to steal hats.

And that's enough, for now.

Respectfully yours,


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