Saturday, May 31, 2014
When my kids were heading into adolescence and starting to travel around the city on their own, I had very different admonishments for my son and my daughter. My son I cautioned to carry himself in a certain way on the streets. I knew that some cops would look at my Black teenaged boy and see, not my precious child, but a possible criminal. Such is the media soup in which we all marinate, but that's a post I've already written.
My daughter on the other hand, I cautioned to be always aware of her surroundings, in particular of the men on the street and how they were behaving, how they were noticing her. I tried to give her an earlier curfew than my son, which she and my husband objected to, so I gave her a credit card and told her to take a cab home after 11 pm, rather than the subway (never mind that this would have been a useless instruction for my son, as cabs seldom stop for young Black men—again the soup).
I further instructed my daughter that as soon as she got into the cab, she was to text me the cab number and to call and tell me in the cab driver's hearing that she was on her way. Again, my husband objected. Why should our son be free to access public transportation at any hour while our daughter had to be cosseted in a cab? My husband and I debated this for weeks and then agreed to disagree. I could not make him understand that it was not sexist to be concerned about potential threats to our daughter from predatory men. Just because he was not such a man did not mean they were not out there. Our daughter, by the way, mostly ignores the cab instructions, taking the train at all hours, though I do believe she is very street aware.
This week, in the wake of the Santa Barbara shootings targeting women by a troubled young man who felt they had sexually ignored him and so should be made to pay, women across the country began tweeting their sexually objectified reality with the hashtag #YesAllWomen. I could barely read some of the tweets, so intensely did they reveal my own nearly constant sense of potential jeopardy, less for myself at the age I am now than for young women everywhere. I didn't want to invest that sense with more energy than it already possessed.
But watching Melissa Harris Perry this morning, my husband's eyes were opened by her discussion of how many of the mass shootings in recent history, including the Virginia Tech tragedy, actually targeted women in a twisted misogyny. Listening, my idealistic, feminist, egalitarian husband began to understand.
Yesterday, Vesuvius at Home wrote a provocative reflection of #YesAllWomen here, and Elizabeth Aquino linked an explanation of the hashtag here.