caption (image above): © Riccardo Angei, from Glue and Souls.
I’d like to state, with a certain amount of certainty, that the only thing that sets men and women apart is that we’ll never be able to explain to men what it feels like to be a woman in a men’s world. They know, they empathize, but it’s not a shared experience.
I’d like to state this, but it’s bullshit. It’s nothing but a low level observation. It’s not a men’s world, but a white heterossexual men’s world. I’m often amazed at how we’ve managed to survive in it. Being a woman brings about so many challenges and difficulties, for each one of us, that it’s often overwhelming.
I’m writing this after watching a video where a young portuguese woman, aged 14 and alone, records the moment a bus driver is harassing her, on a Saturday morning, while he corners her on the bus. We know about it because she managed to get out of that situation and file a complaint. I’m not often lost for words, but that’s how I felt while watching the video. My heart shrank as I was reminded of the times I was put in a similar situation. I’d like to say to her that, as one grows old, things get better and they do, though not necessarily for the best of reasons. As we learn, fear gives way to a large array of different feelings and we get more confident, we learn how to defend ourselves. But we grow up collecting stories like that, so it builds up to something…
I have a hard time thinking about harassment, hate remembering that sort of situations and avoid telling about them. I’d love to say I’m no longer affected by it, which would mean I no longer adapt my behavior to avoid certain situations, but it’s a lie and I have a hard time admitting it. To be fair, just this week, as I went out to buy the morning bread, I made a last minute decision and changed bakery because the usual coffee had a line of over 10 men standing at the door. Most days I don’t care and the gaze does not affect me; but then other days it does. If I’m tired, or feeling more vulnerable, I avoid having to face the stare. I often buy a different pack of cigarettes, just because the only place around where I can find “my” brand is usually packed with the sort of mammals who grunt at the passing of women. So it affects me still, though I’m fortunate to say it’s been a long time since I’ve been through a dangerous harassment situation. All women have been through it. It’s an experience we share and is difficult to convey to men.
On the other hand, this gap is probably something akin to all sort of groups society labels as minorities. Although in the so-called civilized western societies, women are not openly labelled like that, we’re obviously still culturally undermined. It’s a fact.
It’s about discrimination. People discriminated by their genre, sexual preferences, skin color, ethnic group, etc., I guess we all share the feeling of being made feel vulnerable by our identities.
The other day, as I was thinking about a student’s project that evokes ideas of immigration, cultural identities and, overall, the longing to belong, I was reminded of how akin those feelings where to my own, even though our experiences are nothing alike. Many of us spend most of our lives struggling to find a safe environment, a place where to belong.
Empowerment and discrimination are themes ever more present in student’s projects. We often discuss the difficult circumstances that give rise to such themes and I like to think newer generations are creating the conditions for the sort of equality that will, in time, crush discrimination. On the other hand, they have a weird sense of community and a (too?) heightened sense of individuality (verging on narcissism), so it’s difficult to see where this is going.
As I was going through Source’s online showcase of this year graduates, the pertinence of such themes felt somehow confirmed. Below, a brief selection of images found at Source: