The culture of womanhood and silence

I’ve been thinking a lot about rude assholes on the train.

Hear me out.

The other week I was riding home and the train was packed in that way that lets you know just how much junk is in the trunk of everyone around you. It was so packed I couldn’t even look at the book I was reading, so I gave up and stowed it for the 15 minute ride to work.

Next to me was an impossibly tiny woman. She had to way 100 pounds and she was shorter than me at 5’4″. Standing in front of her was a guy wearing an enormous backpack. The backpack was so big that she was physically bending her body backward to avoid being punched in the face with it.

After I stop or two I couldn’t stand it anymore. I tapped the guy on the shoulder.

“You’re punching her in the face.” I said.

“What?” he said, taking his headphones out.

“Your backpack, it’s punching her in the face. Could you take it off or something?”

He turned to look at the woman next to me. The words that came out of her mouth flabbargasted me.

“No no. Don’t worry about it. It’s fine.”

I gaped at her while she and the guy went back and forth for a second. He said something maybe taking the backpack off. She came back with more “don’t worry about it”s and “I’m fine, really”s. Until eventually he just turned away again and put his headphones on. She went back to doing backbends.

The whole time I just wanted to shout: “How is this FINE? It’s not fine. He’s ACTUALLY HITTING YOU IN THE FACE WITH HIS BACKPACK! He offered to take it off and you just polited him into continuing to PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE. Do you like doing backbends? Is this your fucking YOGA STUDIO in the morning? Jesus tapdancing Christ in a clowncar, what the actual Hell is going on here?”

Ahem.

But I didn’t say any of those things. Instead I nodded tersely, smiling like a cadaver when she thanked me for interceding. Fuming, I watched her limbo her face away from the looming black mass of his backpack for three or four more stops. When my stop arrived I stomped off the subway and stewed about the interaction for a good hour. Because I am the Empress of the Land of Not Letting Things Slide.

For those of you who don’t know me in person, who I am on the internet is much akin to who I am in “real life.” I’m loud. I’m direct as all hell. And I speak my mind pretty much unfiltered all the time. I get that from a combination of my mom and my dad. My mom is not a woman with whom to fuck. My dad’s contribution is mostly the swearing.*

So I’ve been stewing about this lady for about two weeks now (don’t judge me). Every once in a while the memory of her face, twisted away from the encroaching backpack, will rise up in my mind. And I keep wondering why it makes me so angry.

I think that women are generally socialized to be quiet and to adjust our behavior in accordance with the expectations and environment around us. I have seen so many women be silent rather than offend the people around them.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have seen so many men vomit words at me as if my ears and attention are things to which they are somehow entitled.  The good guys of the world seem to have some kind of filter (either in-born or trained) that keeps them from saying dumb things. Or they just genuinely do not have horrible thoughts to articulate. But in the case of the rest of the male population, they seem to believe that everything they have to say is important. That they must produce and enliven the space around them with the things inside their heads. Which is why manspreading is such a huge fucking deal. It’s also why I have so many conversations on a daily basis that involve men telling me shit I never needed to hear.

“I don’t like that lipstick you wore a week ago.”

“Women don’t really want to make money, that’s why the wage gap exists.”

“I’d like to fuck you blue.”

“You’re probably a dumb ass fucking whore anyway.”

The generally accepted socialized female response to the above comments is something along the lines of smiling, laughing, and letting it slide. We have all done it. It’s just easier, most of the time, to let that be what we do, rather than having a fight. Because when we do speak back, when we speak up, the general response is shock and anger.

And sometimes we do fight back. But sometimes it is easier, as a woman, to do what is expected. To shrink into the background. To let them have the space. Because sometimes you just want to make it through your day without having to justify your existence to some asshole strutting his stuff in a shitty suit.

The fact that the decision to be silent is the more convenient and safe option in a lot of cases depresses me. Here, have a poem about shrinking women and the impact of silence and smallness.


*I love it when my dad tries to call me out for cursing so much. He’s always like “Do you have fuckin’ curse so much?” And then I just give him the shade that is my “are you fucking kidding me?” face.

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