Disclaimer: The words women and men are not intended to be exclusionary, nor are they intended to be all-encompassing of every person who identifies as such.
I can’t remember the first time I was called a “dumb b*tch” but I know it was in the presence of a man. The two men just stared at one another as the exchange dissipated and I was left to lick my wounds on my own.
Being called a name is mild, in comparison to all the other assaults women endure but it is by no means the least. I recently left behind a career I seemed to fall upwards into, but nevertheless at which I excelled. I worked in high-end hotels in a number of cities, managing entire departments. But when the time came for me to finally quit, cold turkey, with nothing to fall back on, it didn’t come down to the grueling hours, the long nights, the never seeing my husband, it came down to the repeated insults and intimidation from men. Some were customers and some were those with whom I worked. Men whose advances I rebuffed, men who wouldn’t take no for an answer, men who disliked seeing a woman in charge and men who need to make others feel small in order for themselves to feel something.
I came to this country to escape the overt sexism of the Middle East. Where women are kept out of positions of power and influence and only used as ornaments. It still thrills me to see female politicians, regardless of which side of the aisle they sit on. But it concerns me that the rhetoric around female political leadership is becoming increasingly volatile.
Take New York congresswomen, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC, was an educated and hard working twenty-something bartender when she saw her district and demographic being underrepresented. She ran a grassroots campaign, literally walking door to door until the soles of many pairs of shoes ground to dust, as she campaigned against a 10 year incumbent, who didn’t even bother showing up for the debates, the town halls, the junkets. Like her fellow congresswomen Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Talib, she must stand up to anti-woman attacks every single day, all while the polarized talk box stays clear of her male counterparts. AOC and her “squad” are labeled “bitches”, “leftist whores' ' and more, all in the name of political discourse. Last year, in an interview with GQ, AOC was asked about her political goals, would she consider running for president? Her response was this: “My experience here has given me a front-row seat to how deeply and unconsciously, as well as consciously, so many people in this country hate women. And they hate women of color”. This, in true form, brought a world of verbal viscera to doorstep once more, not that it ever really left.
Perhaps this is low hanging fruit. Indeed, it is easy to paint men as the villain of this narrative. And while there are concerning tides of change coming from men’s rights movements, lead by reality show hosts and 15-minutes-of-famers like Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson, the incel movement is growing and with it, a deepening hatred of women. Where women carved paths out of bedrock to live lives beyond the claustrophobic existence of kitchens, men’s rights movements are calling for a return to a time in history when they perceive the genders acted out their divine roles.
Women are not innocent in the subjugation of women either. Margaret Atwood paints quite a picture of this in The Handmaid’s Tale. In it, men begin as puppet masters and soon, women need no puppeting in order to perpetuate cruelty to other women.
I look back at the 2016 American presidential race and cringe at the rhetoric hurled, by both men and women alike, at the most educated and experienced woman to ever run for office, the most experienced person to ever run for that office - Hilary Clinton. After years in politics, serving as Secretary of State, living her life ever so gracefully in the public eye after her husband’s sexual exploitation of his aid made international news, the shouts of “dumb bitch” and “lock her up” still ring in my ear. This too, goes for the ongoing disparaging talk around Monica Lewinski, who continues to be the butt of every sexually-tinged joke, even though Bill Clinton was in a position of power and manipulated her. We may think we’ve come a long way in our thoughts and the dynamics of sexual exploitation but reckoning with the past is not yet on the docket.
We need not look into the history books or even at episodes of Mad Men to look for instances of women being treated badly in broader spaces. Women can be at the top of their fields and yet continue to be second-guessed, their qualifications and education valued far below that of men. The internet is ablaze with the terms like “mansplaining”, a sociological phenomenon wherein men, who have little to no education on the matter, talk down to women who happen to be experts in the field.
Women are second guessed in everything. As mothers, their caregiving is under scrutiny; their behavior is watched and carefully evaluated. If the child screams, they are chastised, silently or otherwise, if the child plays on their own, mothers are regarded as distracted and reglectful. Fathers, however, are hallowed in the halls of parenting, seen as present and active when simply being there for the child they helped create. There are even jokes about active fathers bringing a new level of attraction to the dating scene. Meanwhile women aren’t even trusted to make their own decisions about their bodies. They aren’t trusted to know when to abort a child, when to give up a child or the pain of either of those decisions. When women share that they may not want to have children, the loneliness of the decision is overshadowed by the thickness of doubt in the air.
There is an ever growing rhetoric that if the feminism that women fought for, has arrived. Women have achieved equality! And yet we continue to see women paid less, valued less and seen as less than men.
Being seen as less than and harassment seem to go hand-in-hand, a universally shared experience by women, regardless of geography. It is also very much alive and well on the internet. In the mere three posts I have written before this, I have opened countless messages here and on my facebook page calling me a “dumb bitch” and telling me to “leftist whole” over things like immigration and human rights violations in my home country of the UAE. The spaces women occupy are so small, yet so threatened. So, when you don’t hear from me, that is where I am, holding on to a shred of safety and dignity in myself and my own thoughts, away from here.