Monday, July 18, 2011
I started interning at the JFP amid a buzz of activity preparing for the annual Chick Ball. Stacks of donations for the charity auction collected in almost every available corner, and readings assigned to us interns examined past domestic violence cases the JFP had written about.
Coincidentally, I have been doing some reading on my own lately about feminism and domestic violence. I have never been abused or threatened with abuse, and most of the people I meet are generally kind and respectful, but I do sometimes come across people who disrespect me because of my gender.
It's the pattern of little things that determine whether an environment is hostile or safe. Little things like a man's eyes flicking to look at my chest every few seconds while he's talking to me, like looks of surprise when I explain I don't have a live-in boyfriend, like whistles and laughter from across the street, like careless jokes about rape.
These are all little things, but they pile up and weigh heavily against all the nice things people say. The four guys who followed me, laughing, for a few minutes in their car while I was out running one day might not remember it, but I do, and for me that street is no longer safe to run on. Little things can overshadow a generally good experience, especially when they are treated as only little things — normal, unimportant, not worth changing.
The good news is that other little things can tip the balance against a hostile environment to make me feel respected and valued. When I'm waiting on your table in a restaurant, calling me ma'am instead of sweetie or honey makes me feel like an equal instead of a child. Guys, when one of your friends makes a raunchy joke it means a lot to hear you say, "that's not funny;" it tells me that it matters whether people treat me with respect or not. Girls, when you spend more time asking about my job search than trying to set me up on a date, it encourages me to value my education as much as my looks.
So if you want to make the world a safer, fairer place for women, get involved. Sign a petition, support the Chick Ball, volunteer at a charity — all of those are good things. But no matter how much effort you put into making big, drastic changes in society, don't forget the little things. Even little things can make a difference.
Very nicely said, Elizabeth. Very nice.
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