Monday, October 24, 2005

Personal Experiences with Sexism

I went to see North Country Friday evening after watching Doom and the last 15 min of The Fog (which, btw, don’t bother seeing ever even when it comes out on video). The ideal of sexism has been on my mind the last week as a culmination of things. I’m reading The Wilding of America for my sociology class and discussing the judicial history of sexual harassment, how the laws were decided on and defined by our nation’s court systems, including the Supreme Court. So to see North Country after having to read such cases as Monitor Savings Bank v. Vinson, I was pumped.

I wasn’t too thrilled with North Country but I attribute that to knowing about the original case already (I went on LexisNexis and read all of it). They did not mention in the movie that Jensen worked at the mines for 10 years, beginning in 1976, before the Hill-Thomas sexual harassment hearings began in 1986. She took severe abuse for 10 years. That’s a lot considering most of us, in today’s society, would not take it for 10 months let alone 10 years.

But all this talk of sexual harassment, work as a hostile environment because of sexual harassment and overt sexism even in well-meaning folks got me thinking of all the times I’ve personally had to put up with it.

Interestingly enough, the worst of it was encountered in middle/senior high school when hormones and competitiveness are at their highest. As you may have noticed by the one picture I’ve posted here, I have a scar on my chin. I’ve had the scar since I was 2, when I fell off a captain’s bed in the midst of sleep and promptly cut myself on a heating grate. I remember nothing of the experience, only what my mom tells me that happened.

During Middle/Senior High, it was joked that I had French-kissed a lawnmower, given a blowjob to a guy with a dick to wide that when he ejaculated, it busted my mouth open, I talked so much I over-expanded my lips, etc. I’ve heard a lot of nasty things about one simple scar. Together with my maiden name which is often pronounced as cock (Koch), it could be a trying day at times.

This got me thinking. I’ve seen lots of similar scars on men and, to the best of my knowledge, they didn’t get this kind of ribbing from their fellow men or women. Granted, most of the direct harassment came from the mouths of young boys trying to be cool or macho; however, that is telling of how society sees scars on the separate genders: on boys they’re cool but on girls that means they were doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing, like trying to be a boy. Being tomboyish is okay when they are kids, but by puberty, girls are supposed to want to dress up, wear makeup, do their hair and talk about boys forever.

In 7th grade I attended a school that only had room for that grade (it was very old and very small). I remember being chased around the school yard one day by a guy in one of my classes because he wanted to touch my breast. I finally ran and hid behind some teachers who were talking but they shooed me away. I didn’t tell them what was happening as I remember feeling ashamed that this could happen right there in front of teachers. I avoided that boy for the rest of the year but still never telling anyone it had happened. Upon thinking back to that incident, as well as the many others, I am amazed at how young the shame starts. It took my sister and I several weeks to tell my mom of the guy who fondled himself in front of us because, again, we felt scared and ashamed (he did it outside while all us kids were playing and when a car or adult came up, he either left or pretended he was fixing his bike).

I was the smallest person in all my classes until 10th grade. This also brought on a lot of sexual jokes because, according to many boys, I was just the right height to give blow jobs. I was 12 years old, I think, when this first started. When I got to Senior High School (it was just High school then and it started at 10th grade), I had grown to my current height of 5”6’, grown breasts and a slim figure. Suddenly it was my chest that attracted a lot of attention so harassment started on a whole new level.

By the time I graduated, I had slept with at least 10 boys despite the fact of my being a virgin ‘til I was 18 which happened after I graduated. I had dated the same boy throughout my junior year and only 1 boy for 3 months in my senior year and that was from another rival school (of which I purely enjoyed wearing his sweatshirts to my school, too).

I’ve had my ass grabbed at various stages of my life since turning 12 I think it was. My breasts are unusually large for the smallish frame I have so those get a lot of attention, too. Several times men have “accidentally” brushed up against them. (And yes, I can tell the difference between a purposely vs. accidental brush.)

Before starting school and working here at VCU, I worked at a printing plant in Fredericksburg where the floor consisted of roughly 80 men, +/-. They stared and many tried hitting on me. One guy who was married with 2 kids repeatedly asked me out until I finally told him to shut up and leave me alone. This same guy commented once on how I walked: he said that I didn’t walk like a woman because I walked with confidence, a purpose and strength. Many of the guys there dated (had sex with is a better statement) the women that came to work there whether each was married or not. One guy called me Ms. Jackson, another “juggers.” During my first week, I was introduced to 1 guy called Mr. Wood. He was embarrassed as it was someone else calling him this, but I found out later that’s what the guys indeed called him. He just didn’t want me, a lady, to know about it.

I remember reporting only 2 men to HR and that was because the harassment made me feel uncomfortable despite me telling the guys to their face to leave me alone. Word got out on the floor fast but it was nothing like what Jenson had to deal with at the mines.

After I quit that job, I found out the guys referred to me in extremely demeaning terms, though I can’t remember any of them now. I really did not like that place so was glad to get out of there. I did not look back and really, don’t miss it for anything though I do value the experience as it taught me what job to never take again.

I can’t stand going to clubs anymore because the music is overtly sexist not to mention the ass-grabbing boob-brushing experiences that run aplenty. I’ve gotten in several confrontations during the years I did go to clubs regularly – usually with men over unwanted touching.

Men as infinitely sexist are also why I’m still single, :). Sure I’m not going to find a perfectly non-sexist male out there, but I should be able to find something close.

It's with this very problem in mind that I find challenging for a feminist woman to raise a boy into the mad world of assholish men: I have to teach Peanut how not to be like them whereas with a daughter I'd have to teach her how not to fall prey to such men, to gain her own independence and that she doesn't have to have a man/woman to complete her life. He's only 6 and I'm already getting overwhelmed with how society segregates itself into separate spheres. It seems its always boys v. girls or boys on one side, the girls on another.

Societal perceptions of gender roles can be both overwhelming and disheartening, breeding skepticism and cynicism in people (like me). Sometimes I really wish I could turn all of this off to become one of those "ignorance is bliss" people. Seriously. It's also why there are periods in my life where I make myself not watch the news, read blogs or newspapers and concentrate on desensitizing myself. Even we need to rest on the 7th day.

(Charlie has 2 posts up about sexism, too. Go have a peak.)