Image by Emma Lehman
Eavesdropping on conversations of strangers has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. On most days, I pick a group in intense discussion and enter mid-story. By now, I have walked into, “How do you think the stars got formed?” and, “I think my duck likes to sing,” and everything in between. Thus, a week ago, if you’d have told me I would come across an “unusual” conversation on my way to class, I wouldn’t have believed you.
It was a fine Monday morning, as I walked to my 12 p.m. composition class. I was half sleepy, and already waiting for the weekend to return. The journey was supposed to be a silent one, Youtube taking care of my boredom. I was untangling the wire-knots of my earphones when I heard someone remark about how “feminism is slowly turning into victimism.” “Women have gotten all their equal rights, man. They aren’t being domestically abused or anything. What’s up with all this newsdrama?!” The voice caught me off guard.
“In Nigeria, a man and a woman leave a restaurant after a nice cozy dinner. On her way out, the lady tips the waiter out of gratitude. The waiter, pleased, takes the money, turns to the man and says, ‘Thank you, sir.’”
“In Chile, a husband and wife enter a small inn. The gatekeeper, excited, holds the door open for the couple. Then he asks the man which room they would like.”
“In the US, a girl practices a piano sonata. As she walks out of her room afterwards, she’s greeted by a passerby, ‘Whoa was that you? Really? I thought a guy was playing the instrument. It was beautiful.’”
The voice was right: Harassment of women has declined since the Middle Ages. (American women’s domestic violence rates have dropped from 50% to 35% in the past decade itself.) It’s true; we’re gradually being given equal opportunities and equal exposure. It’s true: others are speaking out and protesting in our favor. But is the awareness only for the inhumane crimes against us? Does the matter have to elevate all the way to domestic abuse? (Which, by the way, is still far from being a thing of the past.) Is it not for all those times when we have felt invisible in small ways? All those times that our decisions were ignored or we were assumed to be sidekicks to our male friends?
There’s still an innate understanding that men are money-getters or decision-makers. There’s still an instinctive masculine generality to most environments. (How many times have you been greeted as “hey guys” instead of “hey y’all”?) There is still a feeble pitter-patter of microaggressions, one which, when accumulated over time, leads to drowning shipwrecked women.
If a change is to come, it needs to begin with wiping the tiny subjugating puddles. It is not just in these loud protestations against grave crimes that we women seek respect, it’s also in these silent conversations.