Thursday, November 22, 2007

Post-pumpkin pie tonight, something provoked Brian's mom and me to talk briefly about women's feeling of vulnerability walking alone at night. She said she never worried walking across UW campus when she was in school (I'm guessing in the 70s?), but she feel uncomfortable now in well-lit downtown at night, worries about her adult daughter, nodded understandingly when I said I call my mom when I walk home after dark. I never worried when I was first in college either, but now jsut the darkness frightens me -- whether it's 11 pm or 6:30.

She also nodded when I said this struck me as a big gender difference -- I'd mentioned being home alone at night to Brian, but men don't understand this fear. Girls are raised to avoid every dark street, to travel in packs, to walk quickly and confidantly past strangers so as not to appear vulnerable -- but after years of these warnings, we can't help but feel vulnerable no matter how confidantly we walk, because we know our very identity makes us a target.

I would say it's unreasonable (and proably disempowering) to put fear in the hearts of half our population based just on gender, but I remember as a middle-schooler tallying my friends whose female vulnerability had been taken advantage of, and it was a significant percentage. Maybe I had unucky friends and family, or it was our neighborhood. But as Brian's mom said tonight, it's not just in the city, it's in small towns and everywhere. So maybe as a kid my friends were just willing to out themselves as victims.

I think this fear of some vague "it" that's everywhere is a primary part of my hesitance to have kids. To have a girl would mean raising another person to walk home in fear, and personally perpetuating the image of women as weak by frightening my daughter with terrifying images of her inherent vulnerablity rather than letting her be naive and even more vulnerable. It would mean worrying about her my entire life, no matter how old or strong or successful she became, worrying ten times harder than I've ever worried about myself. But to have a boy would mean being responsible for the other half of this fear dynamic, at the least knowing that no matter how well he turned out, women would fear him if they passed on a dark street. And that he'd probably never notice.

Obviously there's a lot more to life than this particular fear. But it's an intense feeling I can't ever remember not having (or, at my most naive, not knowing I should be feeling even while I walked across campus after midnight).

And then I wonder, without this fear, without the pressure of juggling kids and work and hair appointments and home-making, without an overwhelming culture of body image issues, what do men ever worry out about? Balding? No wonder they control the world.

1 comment:

Brian Alexander said...

.. but we have an attack shih tzu that would smother any intruders in fluff.

buster is also my solution to balding. i'll just let you wonder what that means...