This is how a lifetime of potentially dangerous situations affects every woman.

Whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues — dress codes, rape culture, and sexism — there’s this thing that happens. People ask: Are things really that bad?

Photo by Transformer18/Flickr


Aren’t you being overly sensitive?

Every. Single. Time.

And every single time, I get frustrated. Why don’t they get it?

I think I’ve figured out why.

Some of them don’t know. They don’t know about de-escalation. Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.

Hell, even though women live it, we aren’t always aware of it. But we’ve all done it.

We’ve all learned — by instinct or trial and error — how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable.

To avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all ignored offensive comments or laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.

It doesn’t feel good. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired. It’s not something we talk about every day.

We don’t tell our partners or friends every time it happens.

Photo via iStock

It’s so frequent, so pervasive, that it has become something we just deal with.

So maybe they don’t know.

That at the tender age of 13, we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts.

That the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down.

That our old supervisor used to regularly pat us on the ass.

And they surely don’t know that most of the time we smile with gritted teeth. That we look away or pretend not to notice. They likely have no idea how routine these things are, so that we go through the motions of ignoring it and minimizing, both internally and externally. We minimize it because we have to. To not shrug it off would put us in confrontation mode more often than most of us feel like dealing with.

We learn at a young age how to do this. We probably didn’t put a name or label to it, or even consider that other girls were doing the same thing.

But all the while, we were mastering the art of de-escalation.

We go through a quick mental checklist so that we can make a quick risk assessment. Does he seem volatile, angry? Are there other people around? Is he just trying to be funny, albeit clueless? Will saying something affect my school/job/reputation?

In just seconds we need to be able to determine whether we will say something or let it slide. Whether we’ll call him out or turn the other way, smile politely or pretend that we didn’t hear or feel it.

It happens all the time. And it’s not always clear if the situation is dangerous or benign.

Photo by Thomas Hawk/Flickr.

It’s the boss who says or does something inappropriate. It’s the male friend who has had too much to drink and tries to corner us for a "friends with benefits” moment, even though we’ve made it clear we’re not interested. It’s the guy who gets angry if we turn him down for a date. Or a dance. Or a drink.

We really don’t think anything of it. Until we hear that the "friend” who cornered us was later accused of rape. Until our boss makes good on his promise to kiss us on New Year’s Eve when he catches us alone in the kitchen. Those are the times we may tell our friends or partners about.

But all the other times we felt uneasy or nervous but nothing more happened? Those times, we just go about our business.

It’s the reality of being a woman in our world:

It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.

It’s feeling sick to our stomachs that we had to "play along” to get along.

It's feeling shame and regret the we didn’t call that guy out, the one who seemed intimidating but in hindsight was probably harmless. Probably.

It’s having our fingers poised over the "call” buttons of our phones when we’re walking alone at night.

It’s positioning our keys between our fingers in case we need a weapon.

It’s lying and saying we have a boyfriend when a guy doesn't want to take "no” for an answer.

It’s being at a crowded concert and having to turn around to look for the jerk who just grabbed our ass. It’s knowing that, even if we spot him, we might not say anything.

It’s walking through the parking lot of a Home Depot and politely saying Hello when a guy passing us says Hi. It’s pretending not to hear him berate us for not stopping to talk further. What? You too good to talk to me? Bitch.

It’s the memory that haunts us of that time we were abused, assaulted, or raped.

Photo via iStock.

It’s the stories our friends tell us through heartbreaking tears of that time they were abused, assaulted, or raped.

It’s realizing that we know too many women who have been abused, assaulted, or raped.

It occurred to me recently that a lot of guys may be unaware of this.

They have heard of things that happened. They’ve probably, at times, seen it and stepped in to stop it. But they likely have no idea how often it happens. That it colors so much of what we say or do.

Maybe we need to explain it better. Maybe we need to stop minimizing it in our own minds.

The guys that shrug off or tune out when a woman talks about sexism in our culture? Maybe it’s because they just haven’t lived our reality. Maybe the good men in our lives have no idea that we deal with this stuff on a regular basis. And it doesn’t occur to us to talk about the everyday stuff that we witness and experience.

When I get fired up about a comment someone makes about a girl’s tight dress, they don’t always get it. When I get worked up over the everyday sexism I’m seeing and witnessing and watching, when I’m hearing of the things my daughter and her friends are experiencing, they don’t realize it’s the tiny tip of a much bigger iceberg.

Maybe men won’t understand how pervasive everyday sexism is unless we start telling them and pointing to it when it happens.

Maybe I'm starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.

Photo via iStock.

We de-escalate. We are acutely aware of our vulnerability — that if he wanted to, that guy in the Home Depot parking lot could overpower us and do whatever he wants.

Guys, this is what it means to be a woman.

We are sexualized before we even understand what that means. We get stares and comments from adult men before we can process what they mean. We learn at an early age that to confront these situations could put us in danger. So we minimize and we de-escalate.

The next time a woman talks about being catcalled and how it makes her uncomfortable, don’t just nod. Really listen.

The next time your wife complains about being called "sweetheart" at work. The next time you read about or hear a woman call out sexist language. The next time your girlfriend tells you that the way a guy talked to her made her feel uncomfortable. Listen.

Listen because your reality isn’t the same as hers. Listen because it’s very likely that what you’re hearing about is probably only the tip of the iceberg.

Listen because the reality is that she or someone she knows was abused, assaulted, or raped.

Listen because she may be trying to make sure what she lived through isn’t something her daughter will have to live through. Listen because nothing bad can ever come from listening.

Just. Listen.

More

Comedy legend Carol Burnett once said, "Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head." She wasn't joking.

Going through childbirth is widely acknowledged as one of the most grueling things a human can endure. Having birthed three babies myself, I can attest that Burnett's description is fairly accurate—if that seemingly impossible lip-stretching feat lasted for hours and involved a much more sensitive part of your body.

Keep Reading Show less
Family
via SNL / YouTube

Christopher Walken is one of the greatest actors of his generation. He's been nominated for an Academy Award twice for best supporting actor, winning once for 1978's "The Deer Hunter" and receiving a nomination for 2002's "Catch Me if You Can."

He's played memorable roles in "Annie Hall," "Pulp Fiction," "Wedding Crashers," "Batman Returns," and countless other films. He's also starred in Shakespeare on the stage and began his career as a dancer.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

popular

Gerrymandering is a funny word, isn't it? Did you know that it's actually a mashup of the name "Gerry" and the word "salamander"? Apparently, in 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry had a new voting district drawn that seemed to favor his party. On a map, the district looked like a salamander, and a Boston paper published it with the title The GerryMander.

That tidbit of absurdity seems rather tame compared to an entire alphabet made from redrawn voting districts a century later, and yet here we are. God bless America.

Keep Reading Show less
popular