Years ago when I was in university in New York, I took a class called American Pluralism. It was about diversity and living with people who are different from ourselves, and the aim was to sensitise us to other people’s experience of this world.
It was a graduation requirement so it was a big class with about 300 of us in there, every Tuesday night from 6pm to about 8.30pm. The teacher was mordantly obese and her email address was ‘[email protected]… blah… blah...’
Anyway, one night when class began, she asked all of us to stand up and then said that we were to sit if our answer to any of her questions was yes.
I forget the exact order but she asked questions like, have you ever won a physical fight? Do you think about your personal safety on campus? Will you ask someone to walk you to your car after class? Is there someone you will call when you get home safe? Do you carry mace?… and others.
Eventually, all the men had sat down and only the girls were left standing. That little exercise only took about two or three minutes but it had a profound impact on me because it illustrated, without a doubt that men and women live in different worlds. Women live with a world where we are under constant physical threat. Men live in a world where they are physically safe.
Last Sunday, my mother hosted a lunch for family friends and a bunch of my cousins. At one point, us ‘kids’ were sitting at the dining table talking about experiences with gay people and my cousin shared his experience at his very good friend’s birthday party. His friend is gay and so the party was filled with gay men.
My cousin said he felt so uncomfortable that he could not walk around the party and sat down for most of it. I asked him why he felt threatened and he said, "Ai! You know at a party like that, I am suddenly a chick? I didn’t want to walk around and have other men looking at me and sizing me up."
I said, "Welcome to our world. That is how women live and that is what we feel like every time there is a man in the room. Only it is worse for us because while you know that you can fight off attackers because you are strong, we know that in a physical fight, we will probably come out the loser.
The thing with gay men is that they shift the balance. You imagine that they have your strong sexual desire and masculine strength and that it is all directed at you. That is how women live. We only experience true safety in the absence of men, or with a handful of men whom we can trust."
He laughed, as did my brother and a few other men at the table but I hope they got it.
About a week ago, I read a very powerful article on this topic at www.diasporadical.com called: Feminism, Racism, And The Rape Debate. It is so well written I am still suffering a serious case of ‘writers envy’, I wish I wrote it. Make sure you check it out and if you know the writer, please share her name?