Tell me what you wish men understood about being a woman.
March 24, 2011 5:24 PM   Subscribe

I'm a guy who's interested in learning about female experiences—particularly the kind to which men might be oblivious—particularly those which will help me understand feminist ideas and perspectives. I prefer personal stories and informal musing to the dense academic stuff.

Obviously, female experiences are as varied as male experiences—but I'm talking about the overall experience of being a woman in modern First World (and particularly American) culture, as it differs from the overall experience of being a man. Some examples I've seen on MeFi and elsewhere: being told to smile by strangers; a waiter handing the wine list and to the check to the man at the table (even though it was the woman who asked for them); not being taken seriously by doctors and salespeople; being heckled on the street as a daily fact of life.

Maybe this sounds like I'm saying "point me to some examples of guys being assholes to women", but that's not exactly what I mean. Examples could be positive, too: things that women are socially permitted to enjoy that men aren't; useful knowledge or abilities you were raised to have which men typically aren't.

Basically, I want to learn more about what it's like to be a woman. Yeah, it's a lot like being a man—we're all human. But there are differences, too—and they aren't always obvious from my perspective. What are those differences?

Answers could be anything: a personal anecdote from you, a favorite MeFi comment or post, a link to a blog or a specific blog post, essays, videos available online, etc. (I'll consider book recommendations, but my attention span for books has been sadly lacking lately.) Anything is fair game in terms of tone, subject, and treatment.

posted by ixohoxi to Human Relations (121 answers total) 162 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is chatfilter, but I do like it that strangers will often let me pinch the cheeks of their babies, and I don't worry about asking a kid on his own if he's lost and I can help him find his parent. My husband can't do that.
posted by freshwater at 5:28 PM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

read - it's really smart and funny. you'll get lots of insight.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 5:30 PM on March 24, 2011 [7 favorites]

Fear. Fear of violence (especially sexual violence) is a huge thing that I think many enlightened guys understand intellectually, but not at a visceral level. It's something many women think about on a daily basis, and even just the need to be aware of the danger changes your life in subtle or not-so-subtle ways.
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:31 PM on March 24, 2011 [57 favorites]

There have been some fantastic discussions on MeFi where women shared their experiences; I'm not sure how to find them at the moment, but somebody can probably point you in the right direction.
posted by languagehat at 5:36 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's one of them. (Long, informative thread.)
posted by languagehat at 5:37 PM on March 24, 2011 [8 favorites]

I don't know if this is just me or if it has to do with being female (though I suspect so), but I often find myself aghast, repelled, or saddened at displays of violence or gore that seem to excite/exhilarate/entertain our society - like boxing matches, violent scenes in movies, images of war, videos of accidents, etc. It kind of horrifies me a little to watch people's faces flush as they're excited by all that.
posted by Ashley801 at 5:38 PM on March 24, 2011 [12 favorites]

This thread and the associated MetaTalk thread are two long things worth reading. Here's a list of more discussions about sexism on Metafilter.

on preview: ah, languagehat beat me to the first link! The rest are good too though.
posted by bewilderbeast at 5:40 PM on March 24, 2011 [7 favorites]

I highly recommend the book "Self-Made Man" by Nora Vincent. The author disguised herself as a man and wrote a whole book about her experiences with dating (women), working, socializing, etc, and compared them to her life as a woman. Fascinating stuff.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 5:46 PM on March 24, 2011 [14 favorites]

You might be thinking, "Wow, that Mefi thread languagehat pointed to is really long -- I'll just wait for some other suggestion." In case you're thinking that, I'm nthing that link. It's an amazing, amazing discussion. Read it all.
posted by meese at 5:50 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, the truth is that sometimes we're not that different from guys. This book talks about being a single woman.... all the gross stuff we do when we're alone. For instance: some days I eat cold macaroni and cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Because it's easy and I don't have anyone to impress.

note: not true of all women.
posted by lockstitch at 6:11 PM on March 24, 2011

I work with mostly men. The other day, a few coworkers and I were talking about car shows and hot cars. I related a story about how when I was growing up, my uncle had this super cool restored '57 Ford in his garage. Every time we'd go visit his house, we'd walk through the garage to get into the house, and we'd walk by his awesome car, and my eyes would bulge and I'd want to get in and I'd reach my hand out to touch it and my uncle would shout "DON'T TOUCH THE CAR!!!"

It was so cool, and red, and nifty. I just wanted to get in it, to pretend to drive it, to smell the leather, all of that stuff. But it was not to be.

One day my uncle sent a copy of a car magazine to my dad. He sent it because the very car in the garage was featured on the cover. But it was just not his car on the cover, oh-ho, no. Perched atop my uncle's beloved car was a greasy looking model in a tiny bikini, sitting nearly bare-assed on the hood. I remember how mad I was at eight years old, at the unfairness of it -- I can't even TOUCH the car, or get near it, but this lady can rub her naked butt all over it? NO FAIR.

Anyhow, I relate this story to you now because as I told the story one of my coworkers laughed loudly and then said in all seriousness, "I feel like this story explains everything about you to me."

I know that this experience wasn't the genesis of my perspective on this, but I am genuinely aware of and deeply bothered, daily, but the way in which male desire is catered to so cavalierly and universally. Sometimes as a woman it feels as though our culture puts men's simple pleasure far above the feelings of the women who are either being used to cater to said desire, or cast aside or barred from realizing their own dreams or desires because they don't fit in.

This is a little difficult to put into words, which is maybe why you asked for the anecdata in the first place.
posted by pazazygeek at 6:15 PM on March 24, 2011 [125 favorites]

How men act when other men aren't around. A lot of misperceptions men have about street harassment safety issues for women comes from the fact that 95% of the time men who harass women restrain themselves if another man (not someone they know) is present. Even simple things like staring age far less likely to happen if a man is walking with a woman.

I also think the "male gaze" is a difficult thing for most men to understand. The being watched, noticed, even in a totally non threatening manner can really put you on edge and make you feel perpetually on display.
posted by whoaali at 6:17 PM on March 24, 2011 [34 favorites]

There is also a tremendous feeling of sisterhood, even with strangers. That you can strike up a conversation with another woman while waiting in line in the bathroom, that you can find common ground with someone at the next table in a restaurant, that even a woman you've never seen before will side with you if you and your SO have a public disagreement. And if you ever get into a really dangerous situation, it's reassuring to think that some other woman will probably intervene to help you.
posted by DrGail at 6:49 PM on March 24, 2011 [8 favorites]

Also, some personal experiences that I have had as a woman:

When I was 15, I had a Doctor tell me that my excruciatingly painful periods, which caused me to be unable to sit upright, stand, or walk, and caused me to miss class "would get better once you have a baby" and "couldn't be as bad as you describe - periods just aren't that painful." It was years until the medical cause of my severe period pain was properly diagnosed, because Drs dismiss women's experience.

When I was 15, I was walking home from school in school uniform on a sunny afternoon, and a strange man in his 40s said something I didn't hear. Being polite, I said "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that?" and he said "Fancy a fuck?" I was deeply shocked, he was my father's age and dressed in a business suit.

While I was still at highschool, I went to an ordinary outdoor concert with friends and had a total stranger grab my breast painfully, hard enough to cause big purple bruises. In response to my look of shock/appalledness/outrage, he grinned at me and stuck his tongue out and waggled it. He refused to let go off my breast until I thrust my fingernails towards his eyes, prepared to try to gouge his eyes out to make him let me go. I had a panic attack, and had to go sit by the first aid tent.

When I was 19, I had my bottom pinched from behind by a total stranger while dancing with female friends. I turned around, and couldn't find out who did it. It soured my whole evening.

When I was at university, I had a male philosophy professor tell his almost entirely female philosophy class "Women are no good at philosophy."

In my 30s, I've had plumbers, electricians, mechanics, removalists act as though my opinions/wishes/preferences about the service that I am purchasing are of no value, because I am a woman so clearly I don't matter/don't know what I am talking about.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 6:54 PM on March 24, 2011 [9 favorites]

I think, within certain limits, our culture negatively sanctions women less for "masculine" traits than men for "feminine" traits. I say within certain limits because after a certain point, tomboyish gets called butch and Lord knows that is not sexy or okay, amirite?! But a woman who likes playing flag football? Would generally be considered hot. A man who is a ballet dancer would be more likely to be subject to a lot of name-calling.

When we say that patriarchy hurts men too, this is one of those ways. Because femininity is less valued than masculinity, it is less okay for a man to display characteristics which could be construed as feminine. Which is why, a mere 11 years ago, it was still hilarious to crack jokes about a man being a nurse in Meet the Parents. Or even today, a guy could still get beaten up for wearing a skirt, even though... y'know, it's just a garment. It just means that women may tend to have a wider range of acceptable ways-of-being than men. I guess in a way, one could consider it a positive for women, but I don't really think it's ultimately a good thing for either of us.
posted by hegemone at 6:58 PM on March 24, 2011 [19 favorites]

even the most enlightened dudes are in the habit of assuming that femininity = heterosexuality. it's exhausting, annoying, and sometimes very scary.

on the positive side, i guess i know what it's like to be a queer lady, which i wouldn't trade for the world.
posted by crawfo at 7:12 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

On the flip side if you're young and cute you really can get away with murder for a while. I can't tell you how many times I looked cute and contrite and got out of a traffic ticket but it was a lot of times. Also people offer you drugs constantly.
posted by fshgrl at 7:32 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

You are expected to love cooking and cleaning and desperately want a baby. Things are very socially awkward for you if you are a woman who does not love these things. In a lot of female-only crowds that pretty much means you are utterly left out of the conversation. If you are female and married, you are expected to spend every family gathering in the kitchen from the time you arrive to the time you leave, except for the actual meal time. If you are not married, you can get out of this one on a technicality, but people will still stare at you funny.

Similarly, a lot of people will treat you like a giant loser if you are not married by oh, the time you get out of college. Married-with-kids seems to be a huge part of The Female Experience. You will get constant guilt the older you get because of OMG BIOLOGICAL CLOCK. The entire world reminds you regularly that when your beauty goes, you are a useless human being, so you have to hurry NOW for everything.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:34 PM on March 24, 2011 [8 favorites]

You are expected to love cooking and cleaning and desperately want a baby.

I've never had that experience at all. Although I do like cleaning...
posted by fshgrl at 7:37 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Literature wise, apologies if this has already been mentioned, Margaret Atwood really put a few things into perspective for me. Particularly The Edible Woman. So many pressures that I'm unaware of/used to just shrugging off, never knew it cut a different way.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:41 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

To be fair, while I'm not sure how the math on this is supposed to add up, if you are a woman of a certain age without children, it is seen as a deficit or lack in a way it isn't for men. I am percieved as missing or lacking something in a way my husband is not.

Additionally, when our house is a mess (which it routinely is) it is seen as my failure rather than his becase the domestic is still assigned to the female sphere, even in 2011.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:43 PM on March 24, 2011 [11 favorites]

In my class this evening some of the women and I were actually commenting on skills that otherwise competent men lose after they get married -- most notably, even in very egalitarian marriages, women are expected to be the social secretaries. Men who ran their own social lives before they got married often grow to expect their wives to handle all of that ... largely because everyone else expects it too.

All the women in the class were also commiserating that their husbands eventually stopped keeping track of details -- where are my car keys? where is my blue shirt? -- that kind of thing. I can't imagine it's a universal experience, but I do think wives are much more often the domestic finder-of-things.

If you take your children to the pediatrician as a couple, the doctor will almost always turn to the mother for answers about the child's daily activities, illness, general well-being, etc.

One thing that kind-of continually aggravates me -- I read that 80% of consumer dollars are spent by women, since women still do the bulk of the shopping for household and family (kids, etc.). WHY WHY WHY is so much advertising geared towards men when they control only 1/5 of consumer dollars??? Why are men ages 18-30 the desirable demographic to advertisers? With women controlling the VAST BULK of the consumer economy, why is advertising so geared towards men, and why are advertisers so interested in them? It completely puzzles and aggravates me. I mean, honestly, I'm even the one picking out the beer -- why are all the beer ads aimed at dudes? At least the Old Spice ads get that many, many men get the deodorant their wives pick out! But it's like being totally culturally invisible, when you wield 4/5 of the dollars and advertising is STILL aimed at men!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:50 PM on March 24, 2011 [21 favorites]

My car got towed last year (still not my fault, douchebags) and the jerks fucked it up. Bent the lower rear control arms to the tune of $1000 repair.

When I went to talk to the towing company to show them my car and have them line it up with the tow truck to prove that I didn't do it myself, I brought a (male) friend along with me. I brought him because he's a car guy (and I'm definitely not), and I wanted him to observe and make sure they didn't try to fuck me over.

All of the (male) towing company employees directed their Q&A at my friend. My friend kept saying, "I don't know anything about this, it's her car, you need to ask her." And each time, again, they'd address him.

And then, because they wouldn't respond to any further correspondence from me, my dad called them. Guess which one of us got attention?

And in case you're wondering, the asshats still denied that they were at fault.

Oh, and not to piss on the men too much here, even though the towing company guys definitely deserve it, Sean, the guy actually fixing my car who was the one who showed me how it got pwnd in the first place, always talked to me like an equal.

But yeah, if you're a dude, you've probably never experienced the invisible-person-in-the-conversation phenomenon. It happens a lot and it sucks.
posted by phunniemee at 7:53 PM on March 24, 2011 [7 favorites]

I'm enjoying being a woman of a certain age. In these years I'm judged by what I say and how I act, instead of being immediately sized up by what I look like. It's very liberating. It's no longer appropriate for me to wear a skirt so short that I have to be careful how I sit, much less try to get into a car. And to hell with thongs- my underwear is comfortable! Not that I don't care about what I look like- it's that nobody else notices. I dress to please myself, and got a new piercing at 50. It's great. It's the reward for living through menopause.

Speaking of menopause... what a joy THAT is. A year of murderous mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats. Periods when you least expect them. Knowing that now there is no changing your mind, you're never going to be a mother, and not being ready for that. Not just yet.

And then, peace. A few grey hairs. A few wrinkles (when did that happen?). You start to see your mother in the mirror. You remember how beautiful your mother's skin was at 80, and you're a little pleased.

I'm not quite over being shocked when I'm offered a seat on public transportation. But I smile and take it. I'm not a chick anymore, I'm a lady.
posted by puddinghead at 7:54 PM on March 24, 2011 [20 favorites]

Sarah Haskins' 'Target Women' videos really resonate with me about the differences about the (hilarious) differences between media portrayal of womanhood and the actual experience of it.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 7:55 PM on March 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

I dunno. Most of my friends are male (not the stereotypical macho males) or females like me that are... well.. I wouldn't say "tom boy". Just monotone and simple... sarcastic... dark/dirty sense of humor.

One thing, as you mentioned, is having to deal with some men. Catcalls, sexual comments from strangers, etc.
I'm a nervous kind of person, so sometimes previous exes didn't understand why I wanted them to come with me to certain areas of cities and things like that.

As I've gotten older, most men understand that women having their periods isn't something of an excuse to not want to go out on the town or used as "an excuse" to leave early from work.

Regards to cooking, I hate cooking and never have received negative comments about it. Most of the men I've dated enjoy it, so thats worked out.

And regards to having kids, some of the older ladies I've worked with (especially since I've been living in the South) seem surprised when I tell them I don't want to have kids. But I don';t think they old it against me or anything. Neither do the members of my family.

I do feel some pressure (especially being American) that I am to dress feminine and look awesome... buy nice clothing and shoes. But I dunno. There's plenty of women who don't and I've never had any real issues with it. But sometimes I feel like I should go get manicures or learn to walk in heels. But. I don;t.

So, in summary, I haven't really dealt with any negative issues besides feeling "unsafe" in certain areas when alone. That's just because of past experiences of living in cities and areas where things like men catcall and ask personal sexual questions on the street.

Positives: ummm... I would say I'm average, but I've never had a hard time finding a date.
Sometimes I do the asking, but most of the times the men do it. I appreciate that men are steretypically the ones to do that because I'm not good at stuff like that.
posted by KogeLiz at 7:55 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

On a wider note, one of the things people joke about but I don't think men typically give a lot of weight to is the burden of beauty standards. For my partner to be ready, he pretty much has to take a shower, brush his teeth, and put on deoderant. Every four weeks he gets a 6 minute, $10 haircut. He can wear black trousers, a black button down, and basically look fine.

Me, I'm supposed to wash and condition my hair, shave my legs and armpits, wash and condition my hair, slather my body in cream, brush my teeth, blow dry my hair, tweeze my eyebrows, put cosmetics on, and wear perfume. Every six weeks I am supposed to get a $60 haircut with $80 color. This process takes two hours. Professional waxing, nail care, and skin care, while optional, are also intensely time consumptive. I am also judged much more critically on what I wear, which also takes more time, effort and money.

And believe me, if you saw me, you would not be impressed. About 5 years ago, I ran out of the time, energy and money needed to achieve the kind of polish I pulled off in my 20s. I seriously hit the absolute minimum required to fit into my social and professional circle these days, and it still takes VASTLY more for me to be able to do that then my male partner.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:55 PM on March 24, 2011 [32 favorites]

This might seem weird but my roommate and I were talking about her boss' reaction to the movie Taken and we couldn't figure out why he thought it was just ok until we realized it is because he has NO understanding of a father/daughter relationship. That relationship is my whole reason for loving that movie (and Liam Neeson is pretty awesome), and he completely missed it basically.
posted by magnetsphere at 7:56 PM on March 24, 2011

the time, energy and money needed to achieve the kind of polish I pulled off in my 20s

Oh good lord is it expensive being a girl. I can never get out of Target for under a hundred bucks, and when I mention this to guy friends they look at me like I'm some kind of big spender. Nope. Just a girl.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:59 PM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

I know it's just a big punchline these days, but the mood swings that accompany PMS are very real for a lot of women. Perhaps once or twice a year, I find myself suddenly fighting back tears at work, or desperately trying not to lose my temper. The situations at hand are never that bad - it's my hormones at work, and it can be really embarrassing if anyone notices.
posted by jenmakes at 8:00 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ooh, I also want to mention footwear. When you're a woman and you need to look polished and professional, it's typically going to involve high heels. Doesn't matter how fancy or high quality your flats are, they're still probably going to be considered on the casual side. I have never worked in an environment that required that kind of look, thank God, but my friend works in a marketing department in a corporate type building. She says there's no actual rule in the dress code for it, but there's an expectation that women's footwear will mostly involve a heel.

A lot of guys seem to take for granted that heels are a fixture of women's wardrobes and therefore, not a big deal, so why do I bitch about it? At that point I ask them if they ever had to practice and learn how to walk in their dress shoes. I like the thoughtful silence that follows.
posted by hegemone at 8:03 PM on March 24, 2011 [15 favorites]

Also periods themselves really suck. It's bad enough just bleeding heavily for five days on end (The mess! The cost! The having to plan what you wear! The not going anywhere without supplies!), but many women also get bad cramps, back pain, and assorted other symptoms. Imagine having the flu every month for a few days - that's the kind of stupid inconvenience and disruption to your life we're talking about. I work in a male-dominated field, and it always really pissed me off that everyone else would feel fine while, oh, lookit, I'm out of commission again. I ended up getting a hormonal IUD that eliminated my periods, so, hooray for science!
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:06 PM on March 24, 2011 [8 favorites]

A few links from threads here over the years that have some interesting anecdotes:

Nattie's comment in the Hi Whatcha Reading thread about the effect of daily unwanted attention

decathecting's comment in another thread about being seen as "an ATM for attention"

What are some things men encounter or do that women don't know about? - this turned into a wide-ranging discussion with plenty of tired stereotypes which you can skip, but also a few surprising and interesting revelations on both sides. (many about bathroom or bodily topics)

Anecdotes about whether women live with a baseline level of fear of physical attack, an old thread from 2004.

How does it feel to have your period?

If you're a woman and you wear makeup, why do you wear it? (a ways down the thread there is interesting metacommentary on whether it's possible to just be neutral on the makeup expectation by not wearing makeup)

If you carry a purse, what do you keep in it?

Tell me about power dynamics between women, which men may not realize are happening
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:06 PM on March 24, 2011 [24 favorites]

Building on something DarlingBri said: I've noticed that my in-laws gripe about how their daughter keeps her house such a huge mess all the time, even though she works full-time and has a husband and two nearly grown children living there. She keeps the house a mess. And that's family.
posted by Knowyournuts at 8:12 PM on March 24, 2011

Peggy Macintosh on white privilege's "Invisible Backpack", and a followup by B. Deutsch with a list of items of "male privilege" - A pair of brief articles, each with a checklist, of "privileges" that people enjoy as a result of being white or male, which they may not even notice since those privileges are their default. One might debate over some of these, but it's a nice listing all in one place of some things one might not be aware of.

A few examples from the "male privilege" checklist:
9. If I choose not to have children, my masculinity will not be called into question.
10. If I have children but do not provide primary care for them, my masculinity will not be called into question.
11. If I have children and provide primary care for them, I'll be praised for extraordinary parenting if I'm even marginally competent.
13. If I seek political office, my relationship with my children, or who I hire to take care of them, will probably not be scrutinized by the press.
The particular items on this list have been debated in many places online if you're interested in some followup on this, too. (search "invisible backpack"+"male privilege")
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:16 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

ha, a story about mechanics--

I have a hard time getting mechanics to take me seriously. By the end of the conversation, sometimes they will, but not always. I never realized how bad this was, though, until I took my car into the shop in my hometown. My grandmother (same last name, phonetically similar first name) had happened to schedule an appointment the same day with the same mechanic for her car to get an oil change. It took me literally ten minutes for me to convince him that there were two different people, and then to convince him that I didn't need an oil change. Admittedly, it was a confusing situation, but I'm also pretty sure that part of the problem was that from the moment I walked into the garage, that guy was not going to take me seriously.
posted by geegollygosh at 8:29 PM on March 24, 2011

I'm really surprised at how negative this thread is. I think being a woman is pretty awesome and, having three brothers who like to talk about their feelings all the time, I'm not sure it's inherently harder than being a man is. Or maybe they're just whiny.

Anyways: I just forwarded this question to my mother who is 70 and lives in Old People Town, The Desert. She says "as women age they generally become more open minded and more interesting while most men become more narrow-minded and fearful of change". I think that's a really interesting point as most of my friends have much better, more relevant relationships with their mothers than their fathers.
posted by fshgrl at 8:30 PM on March 24, 2011 [13 favorites]

I think it's focusing on the negative for two main reasons - one, these are the things we wish men understood, so of course they're mostly going to be negative. And two, we're guilty of the same thing that men are - it's easy to forget that the upsides to being a girl are privileges.
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:34 PM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

Lots of good major stuff covered above, especially around issue. s re: fear/vigilance regarding violence, having our personal space violated in public, having medical concerns dismissed by doctors (I'm positive that both my cancers were delayed in getting diagnosed because two different doctors -- my first endocrinologist and my first gastroenterologist -- read me as overreacting to my symptoms), etc. So here's a more lighthearted example.

I am somewhat of a sports fan. I don't follow them nearly as much as I used to, but I certainly know my way around a discussion of football, baseball, and basketball. My boyfriend, on the other hand, has very little knowledge or interest in sports (though if you looked at him, you might assume he's a sports guy, mainly because he's pretty muscular and wears baseball caps).

I have lost count of the number of times we've been out in public (say, at a bar or restaurant) where there's a game on and I'm the one paying attention, commenting on the game itself, etc., and in response to my comments, men who hear my comments (say, sitting next to us at the bar) will turn to my boyfriend and continue the conversation. And even when I answer, the guy will keep talking to my boyfriend, even though the words are coming out of my mouth, as if it's some knd of clever parlor trick or ventriloquist act. After all, the woman is talking about football while the man's mouth isn't moving. How can it be?
posted by scody at 8:52 PM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

Definitely seconding puddinghead: as I get older, I get more and more invisible to men. And I am NOT the quiet, retiring type. It's actually very freeing -- and it has a positive flip side: when I do decide I want to make a man pay attention to me (see comments above) it's much easier to actually make it happen. And the older I get the easier it gets; I think it's because I'm starting to resemble The Mother. Everybody had one, and no matter how they loved her, she was sometimes Big and Scary. I'm invisible until I'm angry, and then I can be powerful. Of course, the older I get the fewer things seem worth getting angry about, but that's another thread.

However, I think the most amazing thing about being a woman is what DrGail said: sisterhood. When my daughter was expecting her period to start, she was worried it would start in public and then what would she do? I told her -- and this is absolutely true -- that she could ask ANY woman for help, and if she could help she would. Just quietly, "I just started my period." Old women, young, rich, poor, Goth, Christian .... it's just something we do. I can't think of an equivalent for men. Other ways of sisterhood, too; chatting with unknown women in public bathrooms, keeping half an eye on other women, especially other women with children (this may be more common with older women). But helping someone if she's unprepared for her period is so intimate, but seems so natural.
posted by kestralwing at 8:59 PM on March 24, 2011 [26 favorites]

I am a woman and work in a heavily female dominated industry (public libraries). I love that my co-workers and I are truly close friends, held each other as we wept in despair and laughed uproariously together in joy (often on the same day) I have not seen very many male dominated workplaces where that behaviour would be appropriate. Anger, power plays, and intimidation that I witnessed in male dominated workpaces is almost unknown among my women. I think the validation of our feelings is a huge strength and makes us stronger.

Also, it was cool to be pregnant the first time and have a friend that was already a mother remind me that I was now part of a larger group of women that included Cleopatra, Queen Victoria and peseant women in the developing world that shared the amazing, miraculous experience.

It is nice that menarche is a visible diving line between childhood and adulthood. The roles still bleed into one another, but it is a chance for public acknowledgement that this girl is becoming a woman. My husband and I are looking forward to sharing this with our daughter and making her feel really special when it happens. Their are only artificial ceremonies for boys becoming men that are not nearly universal and that is kinda sad.
posted by saucysault at 9:02 PM on March 24, 2011

The fear thing you're a kitty! mentions is a big one. If I'm out at night, I'll never go to my car alone it's parked off the main street, I won't take public transport at night, prefer not to take a taxi home by myself (if I'm sharing with friends, the last person out will always text the previous to let her know she got home okay), if I do happen to be on a dark street at night by myself, my keys are always in my fist with a key sticking out between each finger. If I go on a date where I'm meeting someone for the first time, at least two friends know I'm going (and where) and I'll always text them when I get home. And that's the consciously-done stuff.

When I've mentioned these things (or just my fear) to male friends or family, some have admitted they've never had to think about these things at all.
posted by prettypretty at 9:07 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Eye contact. If I accidentally make eye contact with a strange man, I get anxious and immediately look away in case he thinks I'm sending him some kind of signal and inviting him to start talking to me or following me down the street. I love wearing opaque sunglasses because I don't have to worry about where I'm looking. I find that most of the street harassment I experience comes from guys whose gaze I happen to have met.
posted by prefpara at 9:10 PM on March 24, 2011 [9 favorites]

I loves me some menfolk, and I wouldn't switch places for a moment, but I could rant War & Peace on this. So so much of this is language: think "doctor" or "judge" or even "person" and you (you, man or woman) probably automatically think "man." Think, a lot, about supposedly neutral language.

Also, my 25-year-old Barbie self still wants to throttle every half-toothed middle-aged Gomer who assumed that pretty+female=here for my clumsy unattractive enjoyment. Dear God it's a relief to be in my forties and be able to get petrol or buy beer and (usually) not be taken for the male employee's entertainment.

Sorry. I don't mean you guys, I mean THEM.
posted by cyndigo at 9:22 PM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

I can give some silly benefit examples. I never have to plunge toilets or kill spiders (now that I'm married) ... I COULD, but those are man-jobs and nobody thinks anything of it when I hand them off.

When I'm faced with a pushy salesman trying to upsell me (on anything but clothes), I just say, "Oh, but my husband told me to get EXACTLY THIS, I don't want to get it wrong." Untrue, but people are totally willing to believe my marriage exists in 1950. (Flipside, my husband says, "Boy, I'd love to get the super-fancy XXR 7.0 deluxe, but my wife will kill me if I spend more than $119.75 on gadgets this month ..." and it works just as well! Still not true!)

I can cry in public and squee over cute animals and go see romcoms as well as explodey movies. Men can't do those things so much. And while I may HAVE to be the social secretary, the flipside benefit of that is that it's much easier for women to form friendships, with other women and with men too. Adult friendship is harder for men to form and navigate, and it can be especially difficult for them to make friends with women.

In the workplace, women are often more tapped into communication networks (i.e., office gossip, but non-destructively). In law offices dominated by men but with one or two women lawyers, I've heard the guys say wonderingly, "I don't know how Sheila always knows what's going on in the office ...." Well, it's because she chats with the (all-female) secretaries, dummy. Also, it's easier for women to play a negotiator role in heated discussions, which can be a position of great power if used properly. Women are expected to negotiate and peacemake, and many combative types are reluctant to be seen as attacking a woman attempting to calm the argument. I've learned phrasing MY idea as if I'm negotiating a sensible middle position that incorporates others' ideas, rather than just arguing why I'm right, usually means I win ... even if my idea only SOUNDS like it's a sensible middle position that incorporates others' ideas and doesn't really do those things at all.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:25 PM on March 24, 2011 [9 favorites]

I haven't seen this one mentioned yet. Several years ago, an older friend told me to pay close attention to what happens when I'm walking down the hallway at work or down the street or whatever, and I'm about to collide with someone else. When I did, I noticed that men do not move out of the way or alter their path. Ever.

Women? Always veer out of the way, both for men and for each other. I don't think they even realize they're doing it. I certainly didn't.

For the record, I don't think men are consciously deciding not to move out of the way, but it is absolutely another example of one of those things that women have been socialized to do since birth and men haven't. Experimentally, I began making sure I wasn't the one automatically moving out of a man's way if we were on a collision course, just to see what would happen. And you would not believe the number of times I was given dirty looks, exasperated sighs, or walked directly into, because they have come to expect that I will always be the one to step out of the way.
posted by anderjen at 9:27 PM on March 24, 2011 [38 favorites]

I'm female, born and raised in the USA.

I said I wanted to be a construction worker, and got laughed at by a man, who told me that while he was sure I could do it, I'd never be accepted into the field.

I asked my father to let me help with the plumbing. He refused. I told my father I wanted to work on the motorcycles with him, and he promptly sold them. He didn't want me ending up working in male sorts of jobs.

I volunteer at the local Bike Collective. We can't get women volunteers to stick around - it's run mostly by men. Many bike collectives (including ours) have a women's night (Women/Trans/Femme is a popular name for the workshop) because there are a lot of women who don't feel comfortable working in the shop during regular hours; they find it intimidating.

I do not spend $100 in Target. Nobody notices that I'm not spending a dime at Target (the local thrift store mostly only has clothes for women).

I don't usually wear heels, and I don't spend any time on my curly hair, don't wear make-up, and don't shave. The only one that really seems to bother people is that I don't shave. If I am a female, then the hair on my legs and under my arms is feminine. By definition. Social norms have trained perfectly feminist-minded men to have a hard time fighting against themselves to see it as acceptable.

The thing that bothers me the most is that I'm pretty sure I'm taken less seriously. I can't really tell if this is because people think I'm a lot younger than I am (I'm an undergraduate student in a college town) or if it's because I'm female, or because I'm me.

I can break up a fight. I worked in a homeless shelter for a couple years, and most of the homeless people were men. I think this is because women have an easier time finding a place to stay if they would otherwise be homeless. Not sure why that is. Anyway, I can break up a fight. I'm nearly positive that this is partly because as a woman, I was less threatening. ... oh. like Eyebrows McGee just pointed out.

The gaze thing, like prefpara said.
posted by lover at 9:31 PM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm always surprised how many guys think it's a good idea to pull over in their car, as I'm walking along the sidewalk, and drive along veeerrry sloooowwwly next to me while trying to convince me to get in their car.

I'm not a woman who's bothered much by guys in public catcalling or gaping at my boobs or whatever. I find my life is more pleasant if I try to take that sort of attention as a weird compliment and suppress being slightly disturbed. After all, it happens maybe half a dozen times a day, so if I let it bother me it'll make me pretty miserable, pretty regularly. I kind of let it wash over me and keep walking briskly by.

But the driving alongside me trying to get me in the car thing? That happened to me four times last summer (seems to be a nice weather thing). It is very, very threatening and always leaves me shaken.
posted by ootandaboot at 9:36 PM on March 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was told something similar to anderjen once regarding eye contact. Say you're walking down the street and a strange man is coming in the opposite direction. Nine times out of ten, when you make eye contact, the woman will glance away first. It's a completely subconscious, and in my mind, submissive gesture. I tried to change the paradigm once, and deliberately held my gaze until the men looked away first. It feels quite aggressive and confronting, and is probably taken as either that or as sexual interest by the man. I didn't do it for long...
posted by Jubey at 9:36 PM on March 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'll ditto pretty pretty. My husband just doesn't understand why I want a pick-up and don't want to ride the bus or train late at night. I don't live my life fearfully, but it's a reality that a smaller person like myself faces. He certainly doesn't have to worry about purse snatchers.

I noticed that someone mentioned that the comments seem negative; personally I am quite happy to be a woman. I guess I can't really say why - I am just happy to be me :-)

But yeah, if you're a dude, you've probably never experienced the invisible-person-in-the-conversation phenomenon. It happens a lot and it sucks.

Oh, does it ever. I remember shopping for my first computer and enjoyed being able to peacefully compare models while the salesman tried to explain to Dad what the difference between the CPU and monitor was. I think the thought that I had the money to pay for a computer was just unimaginable for the salesman. I could list more examples :\

But, you know, sometimes this works to our advantage. My husband has a higher tolerance for salespeople than I do, so while they butter him up, I'm working the online reviews on my phone and then I can hit them with questions about bad reviews or cost comparisons. I wish salespeople wouldn't assume that my husband is the sole purchaser.

I really dislike it when salespeople at Future Shop or Best Buy assume that I am dumb too. When widescreen TVs were new, I just wanted to check that I was buying the right version of a DVD or a friend. The salesman asked me if his TV was square or rectangle when all I asked him was if the DVD was widescreen or not :\
posted by Calzephyr at 9:41 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Men do find themselves invisible in conversations -- about their children, which is sad. With the pediatrician, at the parent-teacher conference, even at dinner parties when it's about kids. Everyone assumes the woman knows more about the kids ... and expect the woman to do the lion's share of the arranging/tracking/caring for the kids.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:48 PM on March 24, 2011 [14 favorites]

A few things:

1) Yes, read (or re-read) the "Hi whatcha reading" thread.

My boyfriend and I saw Black Swan together, and discussed it at length afterward. I mentioned in passing that the scene where Natalie Portman's character gets sexually harassed on a subway car seemed very true-to-life to me. My boyfriend said something like "I can't believe some guys actually do that." I don't think he meant he literally didn't believe it, but rather, he was saying that it was totally beyond his experience—he'd never witnessed that kind of behavior. And I was like, "Yeah. Exactly. In the movie, the subway car is empty except for Nina and the harasser. This stuff happens when you aren't observing it, because the creeps make it happen that way." It might be an empty subway car, or it might be a jam-packed one where a harasser rubs his erection against a woman's buttocks but nobody else notices that anything other than innocent mass-transit crowding is going on.

2) I can't speak for anyone but myself on this point, but as someone who doesn't have kids yet and isn't sure whether she wants to have them in the future, I feel increasingly bothered by myriad cultural signals that the work of raising my hypothetical future children will fall disproportionately on me rather than on my male partner. Advertisers tell me that "Moms know kids love $product" or "Moms know $product is best for kids." A consumer study of pediatric health care seeks to recruit "women with children ages 5-8." Exercise classes are marketed as being for "Mommy and Me." News pieces about children's health and safety issues inform me about what "moms can do to help their children" or what "signs mothers can watch for." (Do you notice this, too? Do you mentally substitute "parents" wherever "moms" or "mothers" is used in reference to a parenting activity other than breastfeeding? Or is it invisible to you?)

3) A lot of women's clothing is made without pockets, or with pockets that (because of their size or the drape of the clothing) are impractical to use for something the size and shape of a wallet. Think about what you carry in your pockets every day. What would you do with that stuff if you couldn't stick it in your pockets?

4) My IUD cost me $800 out of pocket. It has effectively reduced my sex partners' costs for contraception to $0 (after an initial phase of using condoms while waiting for STI test results to come back). I haven't tried to charge my partners for their pro-rated half of the cost of the IUD's 5-year lifespan, but perhaps I should.

5) Once upon a time, my boyfriend and I were talking about what hypothetical names we might like to give to our hypothetical children. He said he'd always liked MaleFirstName, because "MaleFirstName Boyfriend'sLastName" sounded so good. I realized that although I've occasionally contemplated hypothetical baby names, I have never chosen them to be good combinations with my surname, because I can't assume that my kids will have my surname. It's possible that they would, but I just can't take it for granted the way my boyfriend did.

6) We could write volumes about the difficulties and complications involved in having breasts, especially large breasts. My breasts are not huge, but large enough that I had to go to a special store to get properly fitted for a bra. I need solid support at all times when I am vertical, or I will be in pain. If I put on my pajamas but don't plan on going to bed for a while, I need to wear a bra under the pajamas until I go to bed. If I don't want to get dressed right away when I get up in the morning, I have to at least put a bra on under my pajama top. When I go on daylong boating expeditions, I have to either wear a sports bra under my swimsuit or wear a special (read: expensive) swimsuit with underwire support and extra-large cups. My underwire bras, which cost over $50 each, cannot be casually thrown in the laundry, or they'll be destroyed; they have to be hand-washed and hung up to dry. Etc. Etc.

7) On the positive side, female ejaculation is fucking awesome.
posted by LBS at 10:02 PM on March 24, 2011 [8 favorites]

Buying clothes! Men's sizing is consistent, women's sizing is anything but.

Along the lines of what scody said - the whole assumption that if you're a woman, you hate sports and resent every minute your man spends watching sports. In every relationship I've been in, I've been the bigger sports fanatic by far.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:17 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think the fear thing is universal. I know plenty of men who are more concerned about violent crime than I am.

I have never encountered many of the things frequently mentioned--being told to smile, or ignored by salespeople or doctors or waitstaff. I do think I get taken less seriously by colleagues sometimes, though, although it could be related to my work persona--hard to tell, since I'm the only woman in my group, although there was the time when a co-worker told me that I was probably helped in my application to my prestigious undergrad via affirmative action toward women (which the school does not practice and never has). I used to get randomly hit on but only when I would be on public transit at night or outside in my sketchy that I live someplace nicer and drive more places it doesn't happen anymore.

People (actually, really just men) often offer to do stuff for me that I don't think they would do for men. Carry my bags or open doors or help me dig my car out or whatever. This can be nice, but sometimes they have a hard time taking "no" for an answer, which is awkward.

Women can be really awful and judgmental of other women to an extent I'm not sure men are often aware of. This can get magnified in all-female groups.

I agree with previous posters that it takes more effort and discomfort for women to conform to societal expectations of appearance, you're considered much more of an oddball than a man if you don't conform, and (see the above paragraph) I think women are much more judgmental about this lack of conformity than men are.

A surprising amount of popular media assumes its audience is heterosexual males and a lot of everything, from information on dress codes to medical studies, assumes the audience or default person is male. People on the Internet or corresponding with me via email call me "he" or "Mr." all the time--even sometimes when I'm writing to them from an email address which has my obviously female name but signing off with my gender-neutral nickname. Sometimes it feels like being female is a weird exceptional state.
posted by phoenixy at 10:39 PM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

At various times in my life, I've lost a noticeable quantity of weight due to stress. And other women in my life will invariably chime in, "you look good, girl!" and assume that I wanted to lose that weight and was trying to, because I guess we all are trying to lose weight so we can look like the perfect woman, right? So I hate two things about that: 1) the assumption that I'm too fat no matter what anyway and that I want/need to lose weight, but also 2) the idea that my body is something for other people to track changes on and then comment to me about. My body is considered public property no matter what I do or wear or where I go or what I say or how I act.

Something else is the difference between the word 'girl' versus the word 'woman'. I know a lot of people who call me a girl--I'm 28 and look younger than that by a lot, but I've EXTREMELY RARELY been called a 'woman' by other people, male or female. But I'm an adult woman, and I haven't been a girl for over 10 years.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:21 PM on March 24, 2011 [13 favorites]

Well, here are a few experiences I've had that I'm quite sure most men haven't had:

-I play pick-up soccer once a week in a somewhat sketchy part of Oakland. There's a grass field with lights, next to a basketball court. There are always groups playing basketball, minding there own business, while we play soccer. We play there in the winter even though it's a crappy field because it's so rare to find a free field with lights. Anyway, it's mostly guys plus me, about 8-15 any given Tuesday. Pretty much always, I arrive and there is already a group there, but one night I was the first to arrive. Immediately, the 3 guys playing basketball came over to talk to me, "pretty girl, you play soccer?" "you any good?" "can I play with you?" These same guys who never normally interact with us at all. I then started warming up, and another guy came through the park and walked over to look at my bag. I had to call out, and ironically the annoying basketball guys scared him off. I can handle myself alright but I did feel quite vulnerable, and when the soccer guys showed up I was completely relieved. I mentioned what happened and they all seemed totally surprised, because like I said, the basketball guys normally never acknowledge us, and no one has ever come near our bags.

-Another soccer story: at the same pick-up game, one new guy started showing up to join in the game, and no matter whether I was on his team or opposite, he always seemed to find away to be near me and find some way of grabbing my arm, running into me and putting his arm around me, etc etc. I took to playing on the opposite side and switching around a lot to avoid him, then I watched to see if he did it to the other woman who occasionally plays. Sure enough, he totally did. I complained about it to my guy friends (I just brought it up over beers, not as anything I wanted them to handle), and they couldn't believe it, thought I was imagining it, and even kinda felt bad for the guy when I took to calling him "the groper."

-As a freshman in high school, I moved to a new area, didn't know anyone, and had recently developed into quite a busty young lady. An asshole on my morning school bus ride took to harassing me loudly, lewdly, and constantly during the long ride to school (a very rural area). I never looked at him or acknowledged him in any way, but this in no way dissuaded him. The bus driver, a well-meaning but completely mis-guided woman, tried to encourage me to stand up for myself by telling the guy he had a small penis. I ignored it all and sat stone-faced while inwardly humiliated into a million pieces. This kept up every school day for about three months, until we moved again. It actually makes me incredibly angry to think about, because I wish the driver had kicked him off the bus, I wish I had reported it, and more than anything I wish I had shocked him one day by slamming my huge chemistry textbook into his face.

Anyway, I'm sure I could come up with many more distinctly woman experiences, and many of them positive as well, but for some reason those three things are what popped into my head. Go figure.
posted by JenMarie at 11:50 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is profoundly cliche, but most men probably don't have the pleasure of learning what it's like to be repeatedly shut out of laboratories, film sets, classrooms, garages, IT departments, art departments, and corporations just because you're a girl. Apparently attempting to play in those sandboxes with the big kids without being branded a bitch or a whore is laughable.

Nthing the thing about fear. When I enter a location, be it foreign or familiar, I subconsciously but immediately do a quick scan of the environment to a) locate potential threats, b) locate escape routes, and c) see if there are people I could call upon for help if I need it. I do this every day. I especially do this at night, in parking structures, and in parking lots. In anxious circumstances where I feel particularly vulnerable, I begin to weigh whether or not it would be worth it to fight an attacker, or if giving in would be safer. My anxiety is not pathological. I have been sexually harassed by teachers, classmates, and passerby, and have escaped assault twice. I rage against people who say that it is the GIRL's responsibility to protect herself from assault and rape, but continue to endure the weight of that burden because I have no other choice.
posted by patronuscharms at 12:05 AM on March 25, 2011 [6 favorites]

One thing I forgot to say... the number of elderly men (strangers) who have told me to "Smile!" "Smile, it can't be that bad!" etc in public places, on buses, trains etc is huge.

And it's really, really annoying.

Make no mistake, if you tell a woman you don't know to "Smile!", no matter how she reacts, on the inside she hates you for it.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 12:17 AM on March 25, 2011 [24 favorites]

While shopping with my husband in a department store, I ended up standing on an escalator behind a woman with a little girl. As they got to the top of the escalator, the little girl panicked and was too scared to step off, and due to a trick of bad timing the mother was already off. Without even thinking about it, I tucked my hands into the little girl's armpits and plucked her off the escalator onto the non-moving ground. As her mother (I assume) thanked me profusely, I thought, wow, it would NOT have occurred to my husband to do that, and if he had done it, this woman would be completely weirded out. I'm not a mother myself, and am not really anywhere close to being one, but a lifetime of babysitting, leading Girl Scout camps, and playing auntie and big cousin and big sister have made me comfortable doing small good deeds in life to take care of other people's toddlers. And other women's lifetimes have made them, for the most part, comfortable accepting that help from me.

I don't have the fear that so many other women write about above, and it worries my husband to no end. He thinks I lack a sense of self-preservation because I'm willing to take the bus after sunset. It's not that I feel no fear at all - I'm always aware of who else is on the street when I'm walking alone, always aware of who's getting off the bus at my stop, full of motherfucking tricks about ducking into stores or pulling out my cell phone to loudly say "Yeah, be there in 5 minutes, keep it on the stove" or grabbing a key in one hand for a little stabbity stab just in case or whatever - but I can't let it rule my decisions or I don't feel life's worth living. The fact that my husband fears for my safety pretty much all the time makes me very depressed.

I'm the only woman in my group at work. If you've never had your tipsy coworker tell you he thinks you're hot, at a party of 40 people at which you are one of three women, as other tipsy coworkers chuckle nervously, you haven't lived.

And oh my god yes women's sizing. TRY buying women's clothes online. Even if you stick to the same brand, hell, even the same trouser, it's never the same. I find shoes are getting worse and worse about this too. I own shoes from size 7 to 9.5. WHY. Men wonder why we have to shop for shoes. It takes me hours and hours in the mall to find shoes that stay on my feet and don't rub like crazy et voila, they're hideous and cost $200 and they'll be woefully unfashionable by the end of the summer.
posted by troublesome at 12:18 AM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

My personal anecdotes off the top of my mind:

-If you are a tall woman, you are expected not to wear high heels. People get weird when you are so much taller than them already, and then to be that way on purpose? Unfathomable. Speaking of shoes, we have a gazillion more choices than guys do (yay)!

-Restating that women are really judgmental about other women; many books on this (Catfight was the first I read several years ago). Most pressure about child-rearing, appearance, etc, I hear/feel coming from other women.

-If you don't take your husband's last name, you don't fit into some database systems. With our car insurance, my last name (and all correspondence) has a fake hyphen. I think our dentist had some trouble too.
posted by Kronur at 12:18 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Most pressure about child-rearing, appearance, etc, I hear/feel coming from other women.

Too right. I know most men don't notice how I dress unless I'm really in rare form. I expect women notice every blasted detail and when I meet a woman who doesn't, I'm surprised and a little weirded out. I don't naturally notice haircuts and I taught myself to because I noticed other women were hurt when I didn't comment.

Also, I noticed a crazy double standard at work! (OK this is the last one and then no more women thread for me.) I keep a very, very messy desk. Always have, don't know how not to. I do my best, but the clutter just gets wild quickly and it doesn't bother me so I don't clean it. I sit a few seats away from a guy at work who also keeps a messy desk. I'd say we're at about the same mess level. I noticed that all the guys we work with were teasing him about his clutter and giving his crap about how gross it was, but nobody said a word to me. I've been puzzling over this one for a while. Is it that:
- they didn't feel comfortable telling the only woman they work with to clean her desk?
- they didn't notice it was that messy because they assumed a woman kept a neater desk?
- they think I'd take any comment they'd make about it the wrong way and don't want to offend, or can't think of a way to say it without being sexist?
- I'm not "one of the guys" to the point where they feel they can tease me in a good-natured manner about my habits?
- my mess was papers rather than anything with visual interest or decay potential so it didn't bother them so much?

If I were a man the last option would be the only one that made any sense. As a woman these are questions I get to turn over in my head as I think about how I'm perceived at work. I guess to some extent all minorities feel this way about some of their interactions. It's just a lot of what feels like overthinking but also feels like maybe it's underthinking, if that makes any sense.
posted by troublesome at 12:57 AM on March 25, 2011

I don't have the energy today to tell stories about physical or sexual violence and intimidation. Others have told those stories really well.'s a story about shopping.

I recently had this conversation while trying to buy a mobile phone:

"Hi, I'm looking for an Android phone. Can you show me the spec list for that one there?"

"Sorry, no spec list." [holds up phone] "Actually I recommend this one because it's smaller and easier to carry."

"Um...okay. Can you tell me how much RAM that model has? Does it run Android 2.2?"

[rolls eyes] "Oh, it has enough for everything you want to do, you know, Facebook, MySpace, everything. Also, it comes in red, special for Christmas!"

"..." [silently boils with rage].

Later, my male partner -- who had previously been lurking in the background, quietly fearing for the sales guy's life -- sidled up to the counter. A brief guy-guy chat and suddenly, a spec list appeared and was enthusiastically discussed. Then, my partner and I went around the corner to a different shop, where I bought the phone from a woman.

This kind of thing happens a lot. Sometimes I think men don't really understand just how unsurprised women are by this kind of behaviour. I mean, it's outrageous and offensive and it makes me angry as hell, but it's also what I've come to expect when I buy anything of a technical nature. I go into the store knowing that I will be treated badly and I try to think of strategies to mitigate that and come out with the product I want. Sometimes it takes a man being angry on my behalf to remind me that that kind of treatment is flat out unfair.

(Incidentally, I think this is the same response that white people often have to systemic racism - mostly we're oblivious to it, but then when we finally notice it happening, we can't understand why people of colour aren't jumping up and down in anger every day of their lives. Answer: Because being disrespected happens so often that it becomes part of the wallpaper, and fighting it can be exhausting. That's a thread for another day, methinks.)
posted by embrangled at 1:12 AM on March 25, 2011 [23 favorites]

Back in Australia I trained at a powelifting gym. For the first year or so there was only one other woman, an incredible, calm older woman who did not suffer fools, but when she wasn't there it was nothing but men. I put up with an awful lot to train there, but the worst was the feeling of, first, being a perpetual butt of a joke and, second, being excluded from the gym culture. The men would sit around and talk and laugh and argue, and I just couldnt join in. It eased a bit over the years, but I never really felt like an insider there, despite training for 2-3 hours twice a week.

There were a couple of really dark moments. In the aftermath of one of the AFL rape scandals one of the older men took it upon himself to follow me around making rape jokes, telling me I was 'just jealous' of the woman involved. Another time a man offered to spot me on the incline bench. As soon as I pulled the bar to my chest he said 'don't mash those tits before I get a chance with them.' my mind went blank, and I finished the set while he kept making similar comments.

I love training, I love the sport, but I also go through shit no man ever does to do it, and it's fucking unfair.
posted by nerdfish at 1:14 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, let me second LBS on the bras. Seriously, I am relatively frugal and I don't buy anything particularly fancy yet I own HUNDREDS of dollars worth of bras. You (as a man) could buy an iPad or two with the money I have to spend just to keep my perfectly ordinary breasts supported in relative comfort.

A quality sports bra costs upwards of $80. I can't exercise without one, and I can't afford one for every day of the week. I have to hand-wash the four I do own between visits to the gym. If none of them are clean, I can't work out Exercising without proper support means excruciating pain. When I was poorer, I had to make do with old bras that didn't fit properly, and the underwires would leave big purple bruises under my arms.

Then there are the everyday bras, which cost at least $50 and can cost over $100 if you're unlucky enough to need something beyond the standard size range. A pair of briefs designed to match a bra (and yeah, that's a luxury, but it's also something men generally expect in bed) can cost $20 to $30. When was the last time you, as a man, paid $30 for a single pair of jocks? Multiply those costs by the number of days you usually leave between doing loads of laundry. What does it add up to?

I'm not suggesting that women are oppressed by having to wear bras - most of us have no interest in bra-burning because wearing one is simply more comfortable. But as a man, you might not realise how much the female-specific costs of everyday life add up. Whenever I see cool technology being marketed towards men, I wonder if it's partly because women have little money left to spend on gadgets after they've accounted for the daily costs of simply being a woman. Add moisturiser, cleanser, makeup, tampons, haircuts -- the very basics of being presentably feminine -- and that's a whole lot of money I'd much rather spend on something that's actually fun.
posted by embrangled at 2:20 AM on March 25, 2011 [13 favorites]

Oh god yes, treatment in stores. Even for simple things.

I went to a big home improvement place that has a huge selection of light bulbs, and that orders for you if they don't have something in stock. I needed two GX53 bulbs (big, round, flat) for a light fixture I got recently. It's great because that type of bulb is both big and ecological; you can find LEDs and CFLs that give off loads of light at low wattages.

At the store, I checked the two walls of light bulbs from top to bottom and couldn't find what I needed. Meanwhile I overheard another shopper, a man, asking the salesman about a particular bulb he was looking for. The salesman was very helpful and looked through the walls-o-bulbs with him, then offered to check the stock on his computer. Turned out it was an older format that's being phased out, and so is only carried by specialized electrical shops. The salesman then recommended a nearby shop that fit the bill. The man thanked him and left. I was relieved that the salesman seemed so helpful.

I approached the salesman, smiling, and said "Hi, I'm also looking for what seems to be an odd-one-out bulb."
Salesman: "Yeah," not looking at me.
Me: "...It's a GX53. Do you know if you carry it?"
Salesman: "Never heard of it."
Me: "GX53, see," and I pointed to my sheet of paper.
Salesman: *snort* "Never heard of it."
Me: "It's flat and round."
Salesman, visibly and audibly impatient: "I told you I've never heard of it. Flat and round? Pffft. We don't carry it."
I looked him in the eyes (which he continually avoided), assertively, without a word.
Salesman, now less abrasive: "Sorry. I don't have it."
Me, smiling politely and keeping eye contact: "Goodbye."

I'm not ever returning to that store. I ordered my stinking light bulbs online. Upthread it was mentioned that women do the bulk of spending: in the last few years, after time and again being treated like I don't even exist despite a willing desire to give people my money, I've decided that if a store treats me like an idiot, they will not get any share of my finances. I don't even care any more whether they know it or not; they just won't get anything, period.

Count me in as another woman who's too tired to share stories about physical violence, intimidation and stuff. It's just so frakking tiresome.

As for the working world, I'm in a sort of no-(wo)man's-land. I'm tall, have a deep voice, grew up with very equitable guy friends (my family was another story...), and so from them I learned how to assert myself and be seen as an equal in the world. I did not realize how uncommon this was until I joined a company (I started out as a freelancer) and started being bullied for being a woman (overtly)... Suddenly, I had gone from being perceived as confident, skilled and insightful... to being an idiotic, overbearing bitch who needed to wear tighter pants and makeup so I would be "easier on the eyes and so easier to deal with." (Literally. Told to me outright by a couple of clients. Harassment? Yes, but were there witnesses? No! Welcome to life as a woman.) I was taken to task for being "direct". I asked for specific examples; none were given – "I've just heard that you're direct. You should be more feminine. You know, softer, gentler." Again, I asked for examples in relation to what I was supposedly doing wrong. None were given, I "should just know better." I asked the person giving me this advice whether they themselves, in the two years they'd been working with me, had seen any such "direct, difficult" behavior on my part. "No..." and that finally started them thinking.

I stayed true to my values (I do accept constructive criticism that's based on facts, but not sexist nonsense). I have continued to be my assertive, confident self, and y'know what? People are starting to realize that I actually know my stuff. People recognize that when I say something, I mean it, and I have facts, documented research, experience and insight to back it up, when they bother to listen to me (which they finally do). It's taken six years.
posted by fraula at 2:25 AM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

I'll list some positives, since a lot of the negatives have been covered. To be fair, I've never been male, but I've experienced being female in a number of cultures.

- The Damsel in Distress tactic works brilliantly. Forgot a document for an application, overweight luggage at the airport, don't have enough cash on you for a purchase? Big sad eyes, compliant but sad, most of the time you're offered discounts/waivers and don't even have to ask. In general, you can often manipulate people by playing to their expectations of your stupidity or weakness.

- It's possible to alter your visibility with men. Working in an office full of salesmen, if I wore a flattering outfit, contacts, make-up, they would chat and joke around with me, were more responsive to requests. On the flipside, hair in a ponytail, glasses, crappy clothes - I got left alone to do my work.

- Sisterhood FTW. In women's bathrooms, if a lock is broken, women will hold the door for each other as they wait in the queue. Everyone chats if they feel like it.

- No homophobia: this plays into the bathroom thing too, but women express affection for each other freely. You can hug, kiss, cuddle and confess your love to female friends without bringing your sexual orientation into question. Two guys doing this in a western country are assumed to be gay.

- Clothes! There's a much wider range of sartorial self-expression available to women. And a whole industry catering to helping you choose. Also, make-up, hairstyles, jewelry etc - a much wider range of appearance customization. The flipside, of course, is higher expectations re: appearance. And as above, you can tweak the extent to which you are noticed or taken seriously by tweaking your grooming.

- Not having testicles is nice in a fight. Or even while sitting/climbing on things.

- Sex can be quite passive. In general, you get away with being passive and lazy in a lot more scenarios.

- As fshgrl said, you can get away with a lot. Being argumentative, contrary, or even hostile to an extent that would get a man punched just gets you labelled as spunky. You can use a men's bathroom, in a pinch, and just get hostile stares, whereas a man using a women's bathroom would get arrested.
posted by jetsetlag at 4:04 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid, I watched Muppet Babies every morning before school. Skeeter was my favorite Muppet Baby, because Baby Miss Piggy was annoying as hell and Skeeter was the only other girl. It took me a couple years to come to the conclusion that, actually, I liked Rowlf better.

Kids tend to gravitate towards characters of their own gender, and when you're a little girl you have fewer options and you know it. There was only one female Smurf, and she was really boring. You automatically liked Princess Leia. You tried to figure out whether Little Bird on Sesame Street was a boy or a girl, because he had a girly voice, and who else did you have, Prairie Dawn?

In video games, you had your choice of kidnapped princesses, or sometimes kidnapped non-royal women. You chose Princess Toadstool every time in Super Mario 2, even though she was awkward and slow, just because you could. It was a big deal that Samus turned out to be a girl. It was not lost on you that not only was this astonishing news, and really shouldn't have been, but that her gender was disguised until you'd bought and beaten the game.

Toy lines marketed for boys - G.I. Joes, Transformers, etc., often had good guys and bad guys, and you knew who was who. There were no explicit villains in Barbie or My Little Pony, so you had to make your own. All your dolls and ponies started out as best friends, and as you played, one or two of them would turn antagonistic. Conflict is an essential part of storytelling, and girls know that as well as boys.

As I got older, the gender line just grew brighter. Happy Meals started offering separate toys for boys and girls more and more often. Legos, which I had loved as a kid, grew more and more action-figurey, and to accommodate the girls they started offering dumbed-down pink sets, with one piece for an entire wall instead of forty bricks, but look, horses! Video games got worse, not better: I played Chun-Li like ninety percent of the time, and I didn't really like fighting games, but it was what my brothers were playing, and of course I'd lose and Guile would tell me to "go home and be a family man." And games just got more and more fighty and shooty, and the women, when they were there, got more and more eyecandyish.

I pass a school on the way to work. I'm not sure if it's preschool, kindergarten, or a young elementary grade, but the kids are pretty little. And every single little girl has a pink outfit, a pink jacket, or a pink backpack. Every last one. Although I love pink and wear it to this day, and I spent the first six years of my life kicking up a fuss if my socks didn't have little bows on them, seeing that is just too much. I look out over that playground at all the girls in their pink, and all the boys in their black and red and blue, and I think to myself, "wow, I don't think I want kids."

None of this is as scary as being alone in a strange neighborhood at night, or as painful as wearing "professional" shoes that dig into your heels or squash your toes together, or as humiliating as being published online under your real name and reading comments wondering whether you're fat or a slut, or assuming that no one wants to fuck you and that's why you're so angry. But the message of "you're a girl and girls are different" starts early, and it adds up.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:12 AM on March 25, 2011 [50 favorites]

Oh, yes. The gender divide starts so young. I had a 4-year-old tell me last week that he doesn't watch Dora the Explorer because "Dora is for girls". Dora is so gender-neutral, the only thing distinctly "feminine" about it is that Dora is the lead character and Dora is a girl. Therefore, Dora is for girls, and boys don't watch girl shows.

It seems like there should be more options by now but it's pretty much princesses and... fairies... and if pink is too girlie for you (but every little girl wears pink) you can wear purple! Shopping for my daughter is nuts. I'm not trying to dress her androgynously, but it's so hard to find little girl clothes that aren't ruffled or puffed or bows or PINK or "Mommy's Little Angel" or "I Love Shopping!!" or sparkles or, my personal favorite (not), tiny little girl jeans that are tight in the butt and flare at the bottom with a low rise... for a 3 year old. It's not that the clothes are a little bit cute and girlie, it's that everything is just so over the top (and inappropriately sexualized, I feel, even when it's not super-obvious - but little girls are KIDS and don't need to dress like grown-ups just because that's the cool thing to do. It's like dressing toddler boys in saggy pants and skulls, I guess, I understand the impulse but it feels wrong to push adult ideas of cool on little kids. Let them just be kids for a while! It seems like they don't get enough time for that as it is... that's another comment entirely probably).

And when I express my natural reservation at pushing this on my daughter (I'm not a girlie-girl myself, although I wouldn't say I was a tomboy type either - of course, even a little bit of not-so-girlie-girl is automatically tomboy it seems) people really push back on me, HARD. "Little girls like to dress up!" "Little girls just want to be princesses!" "You're telling her being a little girl is a bad thing!" "She would be SO CUTE if you dressed her up!" But I don't feel I should impress on her, at 3 1/2 years old, that it's important for her to be CUTE, the most important thing, and I think that is really being pushed, and it worries me.

Let me not get into the not-quite-4-year-old boy that complained to me and another mother at playgroup when my daughter (then 2 1/2) was playing with the bin of toy tools... "Why does she have the tools? That's a boy's toy. She shouldn't be playing with them." It starts so young and - I really identify with what Metroid Baby says - and I think it's gotten worse, not better since I was a little girl.

The trap is that we're still told "girls can be anything they want to be" and "we don't have to worry anymore because of course women are equal to men" so why are you stressing this kind of thing? The hyper-pink is just GIRL POWER, yo! We own our pink and our high heels and our lipstick! We choose our choice and it just happens to be the convenient slot society (advertisers) made for us! Sigh.
posted by flex at 5:43 AM on March 25, 2011 [23 favorites]

Oh. Not to go on, but here is a personal anecdote. When I was in my early 20s I bought a book about "how schools are failing our girls" or something like that off the remainder table at B&N. It was an okay book, made me think about some things I hadn't considered before.

I remember being particularly struck by a chapter that talked about a study where they asked sixth-grade boys and girls to write an essay about what would they do if they woke up suddenly one day to discover they were the other gender. The girls wrote stuff like "well... I like being a girl but it would be interesting to be a boy I guess... I would ride my bike really far and I would climb trees and my brother would have to let me play video games if I wanted and..." you know, that sort of thing. Some of them were not very interested in the idea but talked about things they might try. Some of them were pretty interested by the idea.

But the boys, ALL the boys, wrote stuff like "If I woke up and I were a girl I would kill myself. I would stab myself until I died. I would run away and hide and never let anyone know I was a girl now. To be a girl would be the worst thing in the world. Girl stuff is horrible and boring. I wouldn't get to do anything I liked anymore because girls can't do boy stuff." Like, not even idle curiosity, not even "well I like being a boy but if I were a girl I guess I'd try..." It was so vehement and so violent ("I would kill myself"?!) it startled me, the idea that a kid couldn't even IMAGINE (or at least say publicly that he could imagine) being a girl because being a girl was so wrong and so... other and so... lesser.

I really didn't realize boys and girls were growing up with such different ideas until I read that, or how prevalent this idea was that being a girl was Just Not As Good. So we don't get girl leads or characters because boys just can't, won't identify with them the way girls have learned to identify with boy characters because we don't have many options and the token girl characters are often so one-sided Generic Girl Character. The flipside, of course, is that because Boy Stuff Is Good And Right, women have the choice of feminine and masculine stuff, but men can't be seen liking feminine stuff.
posted by flex at 6:09 AM on March 25, 2011 [45 favorites]

I wish everyone understood that every time I read one of these questions, it makes me feel like a circus freak because these are not my experiences at all.
posted by Lucinda at 6:31 AM on March 25, 2011 [7 favorites]

A positive thing: I had an easier time coming out in high school than my male friends, in some instances, it seems to be much more acceptable to be a lesbian than a gay man. Although, I do think this has to do with the rejection of femininity, a gay man can't present as feminine without fear of violence, while I can wear men's clothes all I want.

A silly thing: Many women's clothes don't have real pockets. It sucks. I refuse to carry a purse.

A serious thing: In my experience, in male dominated fields, women have to fight hard to be taken seriously.

Communication can be a fuzzy thing. When we're conversing with someone or someone asks us a question, unless the question is perfectly clear, we unconsciously fill in the blanks with our own knowledge. The amount we do so depends on how much we assume the other person understands. And men, whether they deserve it or not, are typically given more credit.

I've had to change the way I communicate with certain men so that I make myself perfectly clear, to not give any leeway to assume that I don't know what I'm talking about. Because they would, at every chance, assume that I know less than I really do, and use that as an opportunity to mansplain. These same people never acted this way towards men. I've seen this pattern with so many different people, directed towards me and others, over my entire academic and professional career starting in undergrad, that I just expect it now.

And don't get me started on being talked over in professional settings. Especially when I'm the expert at the table.

It is interesting - I moved recently from a male-dominated field of study (astrophysics) to a much more mixed field (environmental science). And my experiences in the two fields has been like night and day. I haven't had to deal with a fraction of the sexism in my current career than I did in my former life. So definitely, I think some women just haven't had to deal with much sexism in the workplace. I envy them.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 6:51 AM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

I guess this is positive (for me) but it bugs me on behalf of my guy friends. I have recently received a camera as a gift and I am enjoying traipsing around and snapping photos. No one has ever given any indication that I am threatening or have a camera near where there are kids (although I take pics of stuff not people). I have heard (anecdata!) that sometimes guys with cameras are treated as suspicious.
posted by pointystick at 7:03 AM on March 25, 2011

I have been very obvious in my ambitions in my carer and very vocal that I want to be a CEO. I have gotten amazing support from so many women and men, co-workers, managers and friends that this is a great goal to have. My male co-workers that also want to move into management have not gotten quite the same vocal support because everyone assumes they will simply be placed into management without any effort whereas I will be expected to prove myself. I am not extrapolating that by the way. I have had many men and women outright say that men are simply assumed to be competent managers but women are not and I had better keep showing I can do the job outside of the old boys club.
posted by saucysault at 7:14 AM on March 25, 2011

Not having equal representation in media: the lack of strong female lead characters that girls can identify with.

I remember the incident that made me realize that I was viewed differently simply because I'm female. I had grown up watching movies and tv shows that typically had a man as the "hero" character and of course and as intended, I identified with the hero. Of course the viewer imagines themselves as the sword-weilding person that saves the day and it never occurred to me that it would be odd to imagine myself doing this. But one time when playing an imaginary game with one of my cousins, I announed I was playacting as this (male) hero character and was then confused by his derisive laughter. He said of course I couldn't play that person because I'm a girl. Then in frustration, I realized that if I had to play a hero that is a women, I didn't have any choices! It was that moment that I realized that even though I always naturally identified with the lead character regardless of gender, boys always naturally thought that girls would NOT do that and that they can't even if they want to.
posted by Eicats at 7:17 AM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Not having equal representation in media: the lack of strong female lead characters that girls can identify with.

Related to this, I saw a youtube video a year or two ago asking you to think about the movies you've seen and see how many (if any) meet these criteria:

1) There are at least two female characters (they don't even have to be main characters) who both have names known to the viewer...
2) ...who have at least one scene where they talk to each other...
3) ...about something other than a man/relationship.

I can think of, let's see...Mildred Pierce? Kill Bill? Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Maybe Do the Right Thing?

The point is, the list is pretty small. Now think of all the movies that fit that criteria for male actors.
posted by phunniemee at 7:30 AM on March 25, 2011 [7 favorites]

-If you are a tall woman, you are expected not to wear high heels. People get weird when you are so much taller than them already, and then to be that way on purpose? Unfathomable.

I hate this. Coupled with the perception that women in heels are more professional, and the fact that I actually like wearing them.... It took me years to get over it, and I still go into my day fully expecting (nice! liberal!) guys to comment on it every. single. day.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:35 AM on March 25, 2011

Women and girls are constantly, consistently under estimated. I remember reading about Iraq when troops first went over there and were raiding houses looking for "the enemy." A lot of articles (including some in the NYT) would point out that the women of the household would come out and basically put up a huge fight, the men would hide ( related- these occurances and the "sisterhood effect" were one of the reason the military trained women to go on the front lines with the men - so they could talk to the women who were ready to fight the men).

People seem to think that being a feminist woman requires a lot of philosophy about dismantling the patriarchy or something, when really there's millions of women out there who want to do "unfeminine" things and just do them without fanfare.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:29 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Someone mentioned thrift stores above, so just to expand on that: one good thing about being a woman (and a bit of a mitigation for the extra $$$ spent on clothing) is that it is surprisingly easy for me to buy second hand clothing that fits me and looks good. I attribute this to the relative speed of fashion trends and the greater form-fittingness of women's clothing - I am buying things that were given up because the owner got tired of the style or changed size, not (only) because the item of clothing got stretched out or shabby-looking with age.

Note that I am young, able-bodied, not overweight, a student, which means that there is a lot of stuff available that fits me (as with new clothing), and I can get away with looking slightly odd/'arty' if I like - but I still think I have a much easier time relative to guys in my same demographic.
posted by heyforfour at 8:31 AM on March 25, 2011

I used to work retail sales at a large chain camera store. I very frequently found that customers did not respect my opinion, I think partially because I'm a female, and also because I look younger than I am and have a baby face. The crazy part was this would happen with male and female customers, and even if a male coworker would say "actually she's the person you would want to talk to" about X issue.

On the other hand when I changed careers and went from working in a male dominated enviroment, to a female dominated one (retail pharmacy), I found that often times the exact opposite would happen. If a patient would be talking to a higher ranking male, often times they would want a females 2nd opinion.

My guess is that its probably comes back to gender roles. Your dad takes care of man things like fixing things and technology, and your mom takes care of you when you're sick. It's strange, but I'd never argue with (even just the appearance of) being more respected. I guess that's my biggest complaint, I kind of feel like Rodney Dangerfield, I can't get no respect. I mean, I can get it, but you have to work harder for it if you're a female I think, and especially when you have the baby face... not gonna lie.

But its not so bad because I can act silly and goofy, and be myself, and it seems to be what people expect of me, so when they find out I'm actually intelligent its like a surprise! Wow she has depth!!
posted by Quincy at 9:21 AM on March 25, 2011

A recent New Yorker magazine had a Personal History essay by Tina Fey that addresses this nicely.
posted by theora55 at 9:36 AM on March 25, 2011

So blah blah right you get all this unwanted male attention from complete strangers and it's just normal and you learn to ignore it, but here's an example of how completely that affects your frame of mind, all the time -- a couple months ago as I was walking to the T, a middle-aged guy on a bike was approaching the place where my path on the sidewalk and his path (from bike path to street) would intersect, and I did the sort of pause-step-pause dance because I wasn't sure which of us was going to cross first, or if I should wait until he'd passed. He stopped so I could cross first and said "Don't worry, you're too cool to run over!" And this instant joy just welled up in me the moment I heard him say "cool" instead of pretty, hot, sexy. anything of the things I was prepared to hear and ignore as soon as he started talking. It was sort of pathetic, in hindsight. I smiled back and said "thanks!" and sort of bopped off to the train like, hey, I am too cool to run over! That's right! You said that to me like I was an actual person! It was just so surprising and pleasant to me, it was ridiculous.
posted by little cow make small moo at 9:57 AM on March 25, 2011 [50 favorites]

I guess this is kind of a trope, but I love being able to have private conversations through eye contact:

"Hey, this is Joe, we just met over at the bar. He wants us to go with him and his friends to another place down the street. What do you think of him, kind of cute right?"
"Oh really, what bar? Yeah he's cute, but his friends seem weird."
"I don't know the name, it's not that far though. Please?? I really think I like him. Let's just see and we can leave if you want."
"Yeah sure, that sounds great!" You owe me big time.

This is maybe very uncommon, but you know how they say "men fantasize about sex 80 times a day" or whatever? That is probably how often I fantasize about getting married and having kids. So yes, on our first date, I really am evaluating you as a potential husband and father.

Relatedly, I don't think there was an exact moment, but I gradually started to understand that men really do think about sex way more than I do, and way differently than I do. In high school, I was friends with a big group of guys and we would all play around very physically--tickling, sitting on laps, wrestling, grabbing. To me it was all nothing. I didn't get a thrill from sitting on a guy friend's lap, and it was just a funny joke for me to pinch my friend's ass. But looking back I just can only laugh at what must have been going through their heads. I am just lucky that they were all decent guys because there were plenty of opportunities to take advantage.

I feel a lot of pressure to carry around a Marry Poppins-style purse. Either internal pressure, like "Oh God, what if I need ____!!!" and external, like "Ugh, girls are always supposed to carry___!!!" So I walk around with a ten-pound bag on my shoulder (in addition to the eight pounds on my chest) just in case I need: tissues, gum, my digital camera, Advil, a regular tampon, a super tampon, an extra pair of stockings, a book, a cell-phone charger, a match, hand sanitizer, hand lotion, chapstick, lipstick, a mirror, tweezers, a pen, another pen, a bandaid, another hair clip, a bobby pin, a safety pin.... It is a crippling (literally) compulsion to always be prepared with these little necessities. I just seethe watching men walk around with nothing--nothing!-- complaining about the thickness of their wallets in their pockets; I don't even get a pocket!
posted by thebazilist at 9:58 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

You see this AskMe?

little cow's story made me well up at my desk. That's how different and freeing it would feel to hear that.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 10:04 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a guy, so I don't really want to comment in this thread, but there is something I've been thinking about a lot lately and will mention it because it doesn't look like anyone else has yet.

So, I have two sisters who are about to graduate from high school this year and go off to college, which is a great time to experiment with alcohol and drugs. I didn't get around to experimenting with alcohol or drugs until later on, but it was a life changing part of my adulthood.

I wonder if men realize how much freedom we have in being able to experiment with drugs and alcohol without fearing that someone is going to take advantage of us. I've never ever had to worry that someone was going to take advantage of me because I was drunk or high, and it's because of this that I can view my experimental drug and alcohol use as positive life changing experiences.

Whether they choose to experiment with drugs or alcohol is their choice, but I wish that they were free to do it in a safe environment, where they can focus on enjoying the experience rather than having to worry that someone will try to manipulate them or outright take advantage of them.

Of all the things I'm beginning to worry about, I'm not sure why I decided that this one needed to be shared, but there you are.
posted by sambosambo at 10:14 AM on March 25, 2011 [13 favorites]

I second what ootandaboot said about men wanting to pick you up by the side of the rode. Last fall, I was walking to work and had no less than seven men literally lined up in their cars to offer me a ride. I turned the first one down and then he drove off and the next one rolled up a few feet and asked me if I was absolutely sure I didn't want a ride. And so on for each car, like I was an attendant at some super creepy, sexist tollbooth. I get an offer for a ride almost every time I walk, and it's always men*.

It's annoying as much as anything--it's not that it scares me because think that they're all rapist/serial killers or anything (though the more they try to insist that they're "totally not creepy," the more suspicious I get), it's that around here, women don't walk. If I mention to anyone (male or female) that I saw something while out walking, or whatever, they freak out and insist that I should call them next time I want to go anywhere and they'll give me a ride. On the other hand, my male co-worker who walks everywhere is complimented for his dedication to physical fitness. On the other hand, this comes in handy when it's late or raining and I don't feel like walking, whereas he doesn't have a whole network of people who are apparently willing to drop everything to chauffeur him around.

On double standards about physical appearance: a couple of anecdotes:


When I was entering my freshman year in high school, I developed a (at at the time) mysterious ailment that more or less prevented me from eating. Any time I ate anything, I'd end up throwing up. The only things I could reliably keep down were yogurt and watermelon. The doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with me, and I was losing weight at astonishing rates. Over the course of about a month and a half, I dropped from a "slightly overweight" 140 pounds to under 100. I was terrified that I might be dying, and knew that if they didn't figure out what was wrong with me soon I'd suffer serious, permanent complications from malnutrition.

And everyone in the world kept complimenting me on how great my new "diet" was working out. I'd always thought I was pretty confident about my body, but I realized that up until that point, I'd been sort of physically invisible--I was the "smart girl," and wasn't expected to be pretty. Now I was flooded with male attention. Guys I had been friends with since second grade suddenly decided they had been "in love" with me for years. Girls enviously asked me what my secret was. Once, fed up with the latter, I responded by telling them what was really going on. They were quiet for minute, and then one of them said, wistfully, "That would take so much less self-discipline than bulimia..."

The guys I knew, on the other hand, were more often than not deemed "too skinny" by both the men and the women.

This is the other side of the coin. Women are allowed to play with their appearance way more than men.

When I worked at a preschool for awhile, we had a huge box full of adult clothes of various types that the kids liked to play dress-up with. The girls got the full run of the box--they could put on the "men's" clothes (a couple of button up shirts and a vest) or in the "women's" clothes (dresses both formal and casual, blouses, skirts, jewelry, etc. etc.). The boys, on the other hand, were roundly mocked (by both sexes) for wearing anything but the "men's" clothes**. I had one little boy who always wanted to wear the blue sequined dress--not because it was a dress, but because it was "sparkly." He kept asking everyone why "boy's" clothes weren't sparkly and were, instead, "boring." Nobody had an answer.***

Along the same lines, a few weeks ago I had to go in to campus for a day of meetings but didn't have to teach, so I took the opportunity to dress in some of my more "fun" clothes--stuff that's still professional, but too fashion-y for standing in front of a class (I look pretty young as it is, so I have to dress a little older so I don't look like my students). I had a lot of fun picking out the right makeup and wearing the cute heels I can't stand in front of the chalkboard for hours in and so on, and I felt great getting to be a little more self-expressive with my clothing.

One of my male colleagues had the same idea. He wore a neon-green tie, and told me later it was because he felt like being "playful" that day. He confessed that he was always listening to the women discussing fashion and the ways we constructed unique personal styles, and was completely envious. He was also envious of the fact that women get to compliment each other all the time on how we look. He liked the idea of his body being an aesthetic object, and was kind of bitter that his options seemed to be "get some tattoos" or "wear a funky tie."

This got way too long.... sorry about that.

*Except once, where it was an adorable ninety year old woman who was driving in circles around town waiting for her husband to get out of a medical test and wanted a distraction from worrying.
** I tried to stop the mocking, of course
*** Interestingly enough, one of the frats on campus here makes their pledges wear sparkly, sequined things to "humiliate" them. One of my students confessed to me when nobody else was around to hear him that he really liked the feeling of everybody noticing something that he was wearing like that, and wished that it were "allowed" more often.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 10:16 AM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Related to this, I saw a youtube video a year or two ago asking you to think about the movies you've seen and see how many (if any) meet these criteria:

The Bechdel Test. That site maintains a list of movies and their Bechdality.
posted by mrgoat at 10:17 AM on March 25, 2011

little cow's story reminds me of something that happened to me a few years ago! I was on my way home from a coffee place by myself late in the evening. While waiting for a light to change so I could cross the street, a guy who was also waiting made eye contact with me and smiled and said, "Hey, has anyone told you?" I said, "Told me what?" He said, "That you're really great!" And then the light changed and he hustled off into the night.

I had braced myself so thoroughly for intrusive flirtatious ugliness that a random, totally non-sexual kind thing was a huge shock! And I had had sort of a tough day, but that was all it took to cheer me up completely! And it still makes me pretty happy to remember.

I think about that whenever someone tries to argue that women should interpret street harassment as a compliment, like "hey, they're just trying to tell you that you're fuckable, and you should be grateful for the reminder and the attention." It's not a compliment. "You're too cool to run over!" and "You're really great!" are compliments. There's a difference!
posted by bewilderbeast at 10:25 AM on March 25, 2011 [12 favorites]

For a long time, I made more money than my boyfriend, and we really liked going out to dinner. Because I made more money, I usually paid for dinner, which seemed natural to both of us. Over time, though, we realized that not only would most servers give him the bill originally, but a large majority of them would also give it back to him (sometimes with a snappy "thank you, sir!") after they'd run my credit card (with my very obviously female name on it), even if I'd handed it back to them to run the credit card. This is a relatively minor thing, but was so incredibly consistent, even in a very liberal area, that it just started to disgust me. More major things have been described really well above, but this kind of quotidian sexism can be totally invisible and incredibly demoralizing. My response was to start tipping even better when waiters got it right, but that doesn't change much.
posted by dizziest at 10:50 AM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

One other thing, as a 28 year old single woman, I often get unsolicited assurances from people that, "you shouldn't worry, you'll find someone because you're pretty." Usually this is from older coworkers. This is not in response to me griping about being single. I've never heard of my male friends being reassured for still being single. I'm also regularly reassured that they've seen guys looking at me or so and so was clearly flirting with you, etc. This is in a work situation. It comes as often from women as men, but there is a constant assumption that I need and want constant male attention and to be sexually attractive at all times, to all men, including at work. I'm also told it's really good that I don't come off as panicked or desperate given my situation. You know because being a 28 year old single female who lives alone, is financially independent, with a large group of friends and hobbies is clearly a pretty dire situation to be in.

I'm also asked constantly in work situations how old I am and am regularly asked if I'm single and questioned about my personal life by people I barely know.
posted by whoaali at 12:08 PM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've had some upsetting experiences, some scary experiences, but for some reason the most infuriating experiences, the ones that have had the greatest long-term impact on me, are the ones like phunnieme, embrangled, and dizziest describe.

For example, when I went shopping for a laptop with my boyfriend (now ex) in tow, the salesman treated me as though I were entirely invisible. Once he heard the word "laptop" from me, he turned to my boyfriend and started trying to schmooze a sale out of him. Their body language said it all. Once the conversation began, they turned toward each other and away from me, and then fully turned their backs to me so that I was shut out of the discussion. The fact that I would be the one to decide on and pay for the purchase seemed to be such a foreign concept to the salesman that he continued to ignore me even after I interjected in a rather pointed tone, "Actually, *I* am just looking, *I* won't be ready to make a purchase today." No acknowledgment beyond an irritated glance in my direction.

What made it worse was that my boyfriend didn't notice how I'd been blatantly disrespected, and in fact, my boyfriend had ignored me just as the salesman had. To top it off, he thought I was the one being rude because I took a tone with the salesman and stormed off without a word of thanks (for what?!). I had to spell it out to him, lead him through the preceding events piece by piece, before he finally understood. He was just so accustomed to a culture where the women hush up to let the menfolk speak that he noticed nothing amiss about our interaction with the salesman... whereas I was so infuriated precisely because it's such a common occurrence.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:49 PM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Although I'm a guy, close observation of life with a wife and sisters has shown me how frequently the issues like that described above by keep it under cover and others occur. It sometimes works the other way as well. As an trial attorney, my wife negotiates for a living and is extraordinarily good at it. My sense is that things often get fairly rough and tumble in her world and therefore on those occasions where shopping involves haggling, she would simply prefer not to the be the one that deals with it. Accordingly, our internal division of labor involves me handling those interactions, which (as noted above eloquently by so many women) is often what the sales people tend to prefer anyhow.

One evening we were arranging to purchase some furniture from a store that we knew to have a culture of attempting to dramatically overcharge for things, running sales every weekend and generally settling on a price of about 67% of the original ticket. Early on in the negotiating process, I advised the salesman that things would go better for him if he concentrated on negotiating with me which he seemed to understand. Except at some point he couldn't resist an appeal to my wife with some condescension, asking if she wouldn't be happier if she could take this lovely set home now. Despite this, she just advised him that he really didn't want her involved in this conversation. Although I recognized her tone as an ominous one, he couldn't resist another shot with some comment about pretty things for pretty ladies. Fifteen minutes later, as she was deep into a detailed explanation of all the things she found odious about their business practices, pricing strategies and negotiating tactics, he was silently pleading with me for help and all I could do was laugh.

We ended up with the set for half price, an apology from the manager and a very unhappy looking salesman. I love that woman. Not only has she opened my eyes to a lot of the subtle and unsubtle ways in which woman are treated badly, but as a civil rights litigator she sometimes gets to make the bad guys pay.
posted by Lame_username at 1:32 PM on March 25, 2011 [18 favorites]

I worked in a government department staffed by attorneys. 7 women, 1 man. Emails from the public to the department were regularly addressed: "Dear Sirs" or "Dear Gentlemen," even by women. It drove me insane.
posted by elpea at 3:20 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, to have certain jobs at the state capitol where I live, women have to wear heels, skirts, and pantyhose. We aren't talking cocktail waitresses here, but people who work with state legislators.
posted by elpea at 3:22 PM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

One thing I recently have been giving a lot of thought to is the way women interact when men are involved. I used to think I was above the sort of vicious shit that teenage girls and other women do to each other, but...

I have a close friend who dated a man I was really physically and mentally attracted to. I even had hopes of dating him before they got together. I remember being bummed when I found out.

As their relationship went on, I flirted with him in front of her, not knowing what I was doing but KNOWING it at the same time. My behavior was due, in part, to probably just a visceral attraction. There were also some darker things going on, too. I wanted to punish her, I think, for choosing a man I wanted even though I don't think I ever expressed my interest in him to her. I wanted to prove I was better than her, too, and could be closer to him without even having sex. I got a really humiliating, thrilled feeling when I was successful with it.

She later returned the favor to me by excessively flirting with one of my boyfriends, who I don't even think she was attracted to. She went even further than me by sexually commenting on their features and calling him on the phone. I never did find out what she called about. I never asked or wanted to know, I guess. I did eventually bluntly call her out on it and she said she wasn't intending to flirt. I believe her, but don't, too, because I, of course, have done the same thing.

I'm still friends with her, and I am grateful for that. I think she is, too. I'm still impressed by how manipulative we can be to each other, though.
posted by amodelcitizen at 3:22 PM on March 25, 2011

I'm not sure this is directly contributing, but my wife of 22 years is Dutch and she would never stand for half the bullshit I've read above. She can rewire the whole fucking house by herself, explain to the auto mechanic the 20 ways he's trying to rip her off and why, and generally run circles around me intellectually; and I'M the one in the intellectual job! I've seen her (when she didn't know it) fend off four far better looking than me silver tongued Irish devils in a bar without ever once being rude, leaving each with the impression that they were special, but she wasn't interested. Yes, she is a badass.

I guess this is just to say that cultural norms play a large part in this. Many of her friends in Holland are equally capable . In my defense as the Helpless Male, I do all the cooking as she literally can't boil water without harming my Belgian copper pans.
posted by digitalprimate at 4:00 PM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Men do find themselves invisible in conversations -- about their children, which is sad. With the pediatrician, at the parent-teacher conference, even at dinner parties when it's about kids. Everyone assumes the woman knows more about the kids ... and expect the woman to do the lion's share of the arranging/tracking/caring for the kids.

True. I actually ran into an old co-worker yesterday and we had a wonderful chat about his kids. I can't recall not having a nice chat with any father about their children actually. Personal experiences are relative like that, aren't they?
posted by Calzephyr at 4:06 PM on March 25, 2011

I clicked over to read this creepyfilter post and it reminded me of something I don't think has been posted yet.

I have to be really careful about what pictures I post onto Flickr, and I'm not talking about anything even remotely saucy or provocative. If I post photos of my socks/feet (like, to show off cute new socks to my friends, or standing in the ocean, that kind of stuff) - they get added to the favorites of people who trawl Flickr to create fetish collections. I just had to make private one with my mouth in it because it got added to seven of collections, each with their own huge variety of "photos of girls with open mouths" images.

It's not causing me physical pain or emotional distress. I am not against porn. But come on, I know what they're being used for, and the thought of a part of me - without my permission - is being abstracted, collected and wanked over creeps me out.

That second that I have to take before I post something, wondering, "Is this going to be one of those pics?" - that is the kind of minute but constant vigilance that women have to deal with.
posted by lhall at 4:44 PM on March 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I absolutely agree with the comment about women being social secretaries -- in fact, I think they tend to be in charge of any social obligations. This includes gift-giving (most moms do all the Christmas shopping, for example, and when there are adult siblings, the sisters generally plan the gifts for the parents and the brothers sign their names); calling (or "nagging" a partner to call: "It's your Mom's birthday; you should call her"); making plans to have people over; preparing for people to come over; etc.
posted by cider at 5:02 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

digitalprimate, I'd be really interested to hear your wife's perspective, if she's willing to contribute. Maybe her culture is different. Maybe she's quick to call out sexism on the spot, but is tired of it all the same.

I don't think you intended it, but your comment demonstrates two more things women regularly encounter: the "well, here's a woman who doesn't take that sort of bullshit" statement (with the implication that those of us who have ever taken that sort of bullshit are weak), and a man's speaking for a woman.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:18 PM on March 25, 2011 [21 favorites]

The comments about the media and movies -- They remind me of my early twenties when I slowly became aware of the fact that almost all women in the media are overtly sexualized. Everywhere I turned, there was a hot girl showcasing some level of T&A. I remember having a meltdown and just despairing that I would have to see these sorts of images every day for the rest of my life.

But of course - just like everyone else - I eventually was able to (mostly) ignore it. Now I only take notice when a woman is portrayed as being talented, or smart, or a normal girl AND she's not using her body like it's her most important trait. How sad is that? It's pretty rare, which is why I flipped out over Janelle Monae
posted by jenmakes at 5:29 PM on March 25, 2011 [8 favorites]

digital primate, like Metroid Baby, I'd be interested in your wife's perspective. In particular, regarding this incident that you describe:

"I've seen her (when she didn't know it) fend off four far better looking than me silver tongued Irish devils in a bar without ever once being rude, leaving each with the impression that they were special, but she wasn't interested. Yes, she is a badass."

I understand your admiration of your wife's social graces, but right there, implicit in that appreciation, lies one of those all too familiar female experiences - receiving unwanted male attention and then having to walk that fine line between coming off as an icy bitch or a cock tease.

As a girl, you learn that hurting a man's pride can be a mistake with dire consequences (see the links upthread for some examples of those consequences) you have two choices. You can coddle a man's pride while searching for an out, hating every sugar-coated word that slips from your fake-smiling mouth (men love this, they eat it right up... as you say, it makes a man feel "special"). OR, you can decide that you're not going to play that game and simply endure the consequences, whatever they may be. Women usually switch up their strategies on a case-specific basis.

Btw, I'm not saying all male attention is bad attention, but even well-meaning male attention may be unwanted and that is something that many men don't seem to grasp. And as so eloquently explained in this post, it eventually gets tiresome.
posted by keep it under cover at 6:15 PM on March 25, 2011 [8 favorites]

This has been a totally interesting thread.

I notice that menstruation (cramps, tampons, the sisterhood aspect around this--anyone will spot you a tampon or pad in an emergency) has come up a few times. But I think guys really don't think about how blase and commonplace it is to, you know, bleed from the crotch for 5 days out of 28. So, like, 1/6 of the women of childbearing age around you are bleeding at any given time and generally it's unremarkable. (Once upon a time I used to teach introductory forensic science, and when I pointed this out in a discussion of the evidentiary value of blood--lower than you might expect, because it is so commonplace, in particular because of menstruation--the guys in the audience were totally grossed out. This, though the autopsy pictures and blood spatter pattern analysis were not problematic. Y'all are a BIG BUNCH OF BABIES. I digress.)

All the discussions of salespeople, etc, addressing male companions of female shoppers reminds me that on every single joint account or joint purchase (mortgage, deed of a house, whatever) my husband's name precedes mine in the record, even though I am the CFO of the family and he has *never* instigated any of the financial decisions or applied to open any of the accounts.

The clitoris is the only organ in all of human biology with no purpose other than pleasure. Multiple orgasms rock (and rock, and rock, and rock.) 'Nuff said about that.

Pregnancy and lactation are totally freaking amazing. Having the ability to create and feed another human being is goddesslike and mystical. Absolutely is the hardest work I've ever done and the trials and tradeoffs are well documented but bar none this is the most fantastic thing biologically about having a female body (though the multiple orgasms thing is a lot more fun.)

Living the experience of pregnancy, labor, birth and childrearing converted me to female chauvanism all the way to my bones. I think this is not uncommon, though not frequently discussed. You know all that Joseph-Campbell-hero-myth stuff about the hero having to go on a journey, undergo a challenge or initiatory experience, and come back changed? Men have to go off and do that shit intentionally because mother nature has build that psychological framework into womens' experience of perpetuating the human race. Becoming a father certainly has aspects of this, but the physical experience of it is huge, huge, and men just don't go through that in babymaking.

I second, third, Nth, umpteenth the mind-boggling expense of maintaining a mainstream female wardrobe. I am so nonacquisitive compared to the "average woman", but I do need to maintain a professional wardrobe, and it's so fucking expensive. Even with nice work clothes from the consignment store--shoes and bras will fucking kill you.
posted by Sublimity at 6:43 PM on March 25, 2011 [6 favorites]

I took my anti-terrorism training the other day at work for the first time, and realized 90% of it was completely obvious stuff to me, as it's what I do all the time. I make sure not to get hotel rooms by myself on the first or second floor of a hotel, or by the stairs, if at all possible, I glance over my car before I get in to make sure there's no one in it, I don't park behind larger cars that will shield me from security cameras or the general public walking by and I don't get on empty subway cars, or empty except one or two guys subway cars. And being mugged at night would be the absolute best case as far as crime goes, and I'm constantly aware of that. There were other examples that I can't remember right now, but after I talked to a couple of guys who'd also taken the training, I realized that most of them were treating the course as viable safety tips and not ingrained day to day functioning. Basically, there was an entire course and certification based on teaching men stuff virtually all women have internalized before they leave high school. (Except for the weaponry part, obviously.) Or maybe I just work with really unsafety-conscious men.

Another thing that's different, negatively, is movie and book portrayal of coming-of-age stories. Boys' stories are inevitably cooler. Almost all the classic coming-of-age stories are boys. In these stories, boys usually learn something about personal values or their ability to make a difference in the world (or lack of ability), sometimes while having adventures. Girls' stories typically revolve around relationships, either with boys, men, or girls. The way the heroine learns to view herself apart from her romantic relationships is usually an afterthought, and there are very rarely cool adventures. And since little kids do frequently identify with portrayals of similar-gendered characters, this leaves kind of When fictional kids hit the teen years, suddenly girls' purpose in life is circumscribed, whereas the boys' expands. This wasn't something I consciously noticed till I hit grad school and developed a love for YA lit, but it explains why I skipped from reading kids books to adult books as a young adult myself. The media marketed toward me didn't have any portrayals I identified with at all. In contrast, almost every guy I know has that one coming-of-age movie or book where they over-identified with the main character from about sixth grade on.

Basically, boys are somehow socialized to have adult heroes whereas girls aren't, or those heroes presented to them are only considered outstanding because they're pretty or married well. This isn't necessarily bad by itself, but it leaves a divide in the understanding of role models, coming-of-age, and what to aim for.

Showering takes such a damn long time. Also a negative. Washing longer hair, conditioning it, shaving, blow-drying hair and trying to get it to look acceptable...ugh. And if it's swimsuit season, there's bikini-area maintenance. I'm pretty fast at getting ready in the morning but the shower process doubles my time from 20 minutes to 50. So if I don't shower the night before, I have to get up half an hour earlier in the morning. I get the impression running a bar of soap over themselves and maybe washing their hair takes a guy about 5 minutes, if he rushes.

Positively, society is more accepting of me if I cry in public when I get hurt or have a bad day. Also, sometimes standing out in work environments (my field is about 80% male) sometimes works in my favor at conferences, as people are more inclined to remember me and my work at a later date (I may be the only female under 50 they talked to). I also get away with more informal language. Though the clothes are more expensive and uncomfortable, I also have more choices. Makeup is both a positive and a negative. Being expected to wear it sucks, but being able to cover up a zit or draw attention to your good features is nice.
posted by wending my way at 8:36 PM on March 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

Women really can be nasty to other women, but a lot of the time it is subtle and passive-aggressive, which is the worst because you can't even respond straightforwardly by asking what is the problem.
posted by citron at 10:33 PM on March 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Not only am I currently living in the Middle East, but I am also in a serious relationship with an Arab man. I grew up in a bastian of liberal thought in the Pacific Northwest and nothing has made me notice my sexuality more than being a part of the social fabric over here. However I must admit, both cultures respect and disrespect women in very different ways.

If I had to provide any sort of insight to this wonderful thread, it would be that don't put the United States on a pedestal. Though certainly not without its problems in terms of women's rights, at least over here I would never a car advertisement with Jessica Simpson dressed like a hooker.
posted by northxnorthwest at 1:27 AM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is difficult for me because in my experience I wish more women would listen to other women how it feels to be a woman. I feel like most guys I know have accepted me as a me while a lot of women around me feel like I fail somehow as a woman.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:44 AM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

Work issues
The bigwig at the uni I work out sent round a self-congratulately email on international women's day about how wonderful the uni was to work at for women, rah rah rah. He neglected to notice that of the administrative (ie non academic staff), 99% of the workers in levels 4 & 5 were women, and of the higher ranks, only something like 35% were women. There's a huge bottleneck, and the gender imbalance in administrative is not maintained at the higher levels. I feel like women in administrative roles are generally considered incapable of more.

Male appropriation of female bodies

If it happens to come up in conversation, with pals (female and male) that I intend to get breast reduction surgery as soon as I can afford it because my G-cup breasts make it difficult to buy bras, and have shifted my centre of gravity etc etc, the guys feel fine to say it's a crime against nature. I can't think of a body modification a guy would get that would cause women to say the same. I hate that my daughter (19) regularly experiences random strange men yelling sexual come ons at her while she walks. It never happens to my son (20) from women or men. I HATE that my mother, myself, my daughter, my sister-in-law were all sexually assaulted as children by male relatives. It's so frigging common. It's unbelievably common. Where the fuck do these kinds of people get off, how can they believe they have the right to do this?

One of my colleagues introduced me to a student (I usually deal with staff) in passing for the lulz. He became effusive about my name, how pretty it was, how beautiful. I can't imagine him speaking the same way to a male staff member. I just can't. I've spoken to students before about inappropriate behaviour, one of them when introduced (and he's in his late 60s) said, "Oh, they keep the pretty young ones away from me, which is why we haven't met before." I had no problems telling him this was unacceptable, that I was at work to do a job, and not be pretty for him or anyone else, but man, I get tired of males thinking their being nice by saying such stupid things.

It's not about you, it's about me
Sometimes, I get very tired about injustices to women in general, the way my country can sometimes be so chauvinistic and blind to it, as well, and I might start to tell a male friend about my frustrations, and he may say, "you know what else isn't fair, I'm tarred with the same brush, all women assume I'm a chauvinist or a sexual predator..." and I'm left speechless because, hey, here I am dealing with ongoing daily prejudices where a significant proportion of the people I deal with decide something about me ONLY because I have a vagina, and he's got it tough, because all women blame him.

Maybe it's just me
and my friends, but every close female friend in a married with children relationship seems to have to be responsible for scheduling everything, for maintaining family relationships, for care of the children, from decisions and task about their schooling, their health, their social lives. The men in the relationships who are so capable at work, who are responsible for multi-million dollar budgets come home and say, oh I'm tired from working all day, I just need to chill out, and even though she's worked all day too, she still has to make sure the clothes are washed, the kids do their homework, the dog gets his vacinnation, the bills are paid, and if she's lucky, he'll help out, because all these things are her responsibility, and he's a kind and good and loving husband to support his wife by giving her a hand.

On the upside
I love being a woman. I love the way my body is curvy, and soft. I like how awesome my biology is and that I made two children, and felt them quicken, and pushed them out of my body. I like how I can be nurturing, and a caregiver, and/or a decision maker, and team leader and a thinker and a dreamer and ... well, pretty much anything I want. I like that I can cry without feeling ashamed or less of a person, that I can express creativity through what I wear, or how I arrange my household. I like that I have cycles of hormones, that my reproductive organs behave differently from week to week. I'm very impressed with my clitoris and how if I have a "wet dream", there's no mess to clean up. I like that I can still be nurturing with my now adult children, and there's no societal barrier to it, like there is for their father.
posted by b33j at 7:24 AM on March 26, 2011 [10 favorites]

Now I only take notice when a woman is portrayed as being talented, or smart, or a normal girl AND she's not using her body like it's her most important trait. How sad is that? It's pretty rare, which is why I flipped out over Janelle Monae.

This! Also she's genius.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:32 PM on March 26, 2011

Another media comment:

In many films made back in the 30s and 40s featuring a plucky young heroine, at some point said heroine was literally given a spanking by the hero. Male dominance having been established, the hero could then kiss the heroine and the way to married bliss was cleared of pluckiness/sassiness/intelligence. Seems we may have grown out of this one.

But not another: in almost every horror movie I've ever seen, with notable exceptions like Halloween and Alien, the females always 1) trip and fall down when fleeing attackers and 2) scream noisily during flight, giving away their position and wasting valuable breath. I don't know about you, but in the (very) rare situations in which I've been exposed to attack, I fled and/or fought SILENTLY. And um, successfully.
posted by likeso at 3:17 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think one thing that's important to keep in mind is how much the experience of "being a woman" changes based on socio-economic class/status, regional location, age, and other things. As others have noted, many of the things said here are pretty foreign to my personal experience, though I am well aware they happen to other people. For example, not since high school have I been around women who are "mean" to each other on purpose -- either passive-aggressively or otherwise -- as a matter of course. My guess is that because I am young enough to have grown up with men who were ALWAYS sharing top accolades with men, and I went to an elite college and have always worked in professional environments as an adult, women I know mostly don't feel unempowered or trapped, and my adult workplaces have always been fairly free of sexual harassment. Women, therefore, aren't powerless and forced to behave in subtle ways to gain or maintain power (as someone pointed out above is a common accusation leveled against minority and oppressed groups). (I feel like I'm phrasing this badly.) However, it's a mistake to generalize from my fairly privileged experience of other fairly privileged women to what ALL women experience.

Which maybe is a huge point to make for the OP: Not all women's experiences are the same.

I had to think back to the last time I got cat-called ... and part of that is that I live in a car-dependent area. There isn't as much opportunity. (And part of it, I suspect, is that I live in a more reserved part of the country, where it seems to be less common even in foot-commuter areas.) I know my experience of that would be very different in New York City, for example.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:21 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

*men always sharing with women, doh.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:22 PM on March 26, 2011

I find it funny that women have historically been characterized as being subject to their biology, when to me, men are the ones blindsided by biology.

My perception is that, although men are also subject to their own gender roles, women go through life continually reminded of their gender. I feel there are less spaces for women to just be people. And in fact, it's not only a matter of being reminded, but a threat of forgetting- and not being able to anticipate. It's incredibly jarring for me when that happens.

Maybe that sounds too extreme, but what I'm trying to communicate is the kind of insidious omnipresence of it all.

Well, wait, this is just a roundabout description of marked/unmarked categories.
posted by abirdinthehand at 10:54 PM on March 26, 2011

Did a trek to Machu Picchu a few months ago and one evening my (male) partner and I were chatting with some female trekkers in their 20s. They asked us what our hobbies etc were - I said we were both really keen cooks and was told that that doesn't count as a hobby for me, I'm a girl so cooking is just something I should do. It was, however, a valid "hobby" for my partner and they spent the next 20 minutes questioning him on his passion for cooking...
posted by nothing too obvious at 4:03 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Along the lines of menstruation being common - most men, to my experience, are unaware of how common miscarriage is. They may not even know that the women they are close to (mother, sister, etc.) have had miscarriages.
posted by bq at 7:05 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

bq: Along the lines of menstruation being common - most men, to my experience, are unaware of how common miscarriage is. They may not even know that the women they are close to (mother, sister, etc.) have had miscarriages

Or had abortions. Or been raped. Or had other "unfortunate" things happen that people tend not to talk about. I have an ongoing fantast about getting on a subway one day and passing out a postcard with a pop-quiz on it:

This subway currently carries 100 adult female passengers. Using statistical averages for the US population, please estimate the number who have or will have:

a. Had one or more abortions: ___
b. Been raped: ___
c. Had a miscarriage: ____

Please turn over for correct answers.

a. 26 b. 16 c. 12
posted by DarlingBri at 10:22 PM on March 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

The thing that I find most crazy about living in a female body is that my weight fluctuates A LOT. Almost every woman I know keeps a range of several sizes in her active wardrobe. I am very fit; I exercise a lot and regularly, I eat pretty strictly, and I weigh myself daily and my weight fluctuates by about 30 pounds. I do think I am an extreme example, but over a span of 2 months this year I went from a size 8 to being almost too big to fit into size 14. (And now I'm in the process or re-losing that weight.) It's fat, too, not water or muscle. I put on and lose fat rapidly and constantly, and it's difficult to cope with. I am pretty sure that it's in part related to hormone levels.
posted by palegirl at 11:55 PM on March 27, 2011

You grow up being told that you are "other" and male is default and correct. It's in the language (English). We do not have an acceptable non-gendered way of speaking about an unknown third person. The "proper" choice is "he" and that negates my existence on some level.

There can be no true gender equality when I am legally required to tell the government whether or not I have a vagina. There is no valid reason to be required to have a legal sex definition, other than to enforce gender discrimination and roles.
posted by MightyNez at 1:04 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

A simple thing: we have pants and skirts we can only wear with certain shoes. You buy a new bottom, you decide if you'll wear it with high heels, low heels, or flats, you get it hemmed for that heel height. I totally resent the fact that half my wardrobe doesn't work depending on the shoes I'm wearing.

It drives me nuts that men's pants are sold in inch length increments, and that generally all waist/length combinations are availabe. Women's bottoms are almost always one length per size (and never the right one) and on the rare occasions when petite or long sizes are available, they're often special order items.
posted by peachfuzz at 10:51 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, this is way way late, because I accidentally reread the question. Originally I answered the wrong question: What's it like being a woman, good and bad?

But the real question and it's embedded in the URL:Tell-me-what-you-wish-men-understood-about-being-a-woman and therefore this is not directed at the asker. Okay, are you ready?

The answer is: I am a person just as valuable as you are. I think and I feel, and my thoughts and feelihgs are as worthy and as important as yours simply because I am a human being, a member of the same species (honestly) as you. When you ignore/denigrate/reject me (and my thoughts/feelings/opinions) just because I am a woman, it diminishes you, not me.

I have a dream. I have a dream that one day, my daughter can live in a place where she is not be catcalled because she has a vagina, can walk home in the dark in the same safety as her brother, will not be discriminated against in her studies or her employment, and that no-one in her workplace will dare say, oh how pretty you are - that must make you a great receptionist - or - I bet you go that job because of your massive boobs.

This will be the day when all people will be able to sing or tap, or sign with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Let freedom ring."

Let us all be free at last. Women, men, children, people who live in their country of origin, and those who live in their country of choice. Let us all be equal and free human beings and citizens.
posted by b33j at 3:27 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is very late to the game, but I thought of a few things I didn't see above:

Dealing with disgusting levels of misogyny and sexism in classic works of literature and philosophy. Reading a beautiful work of great literature and feeling like you were hit in the solar plexus when the author decides to declare something derogatory about women. The inevitable feeling that a beloved author will disappoint you in this regard. It's an awful feeling (especially when you're growing up). (I felt genuinely inferior when I started reading these statements in serious books.)

Occasionally wondering out of the blue, "Are they right? Am I stupider/sillier/a slut/a bad driver/stereotype, stereotype, &c.?"

Google image searching "blonde woman" to browse haircuts and turning up copious amounts of pornography.

Not being able to find pornography that is sexually appealing to you-- literally not being able to find it despite knowing what you're looking for, especially not for free. And if you do find something, knowing that it's not "for" you, because it was made for straight or gay men. (See the phenomenon of James Deen, who young women are flocking to simply because he makes eye contact with the women he then usually aggressively dominates). (This is definitely not true for all women, but it's an experience of mine.)

Being told you're "ruining things" when you focus on a female character or experience, or protest sexual harassment, no matter how obvious it is.

Knowing that a normal monthly bodily function that involves a fluid as common as blood is totally repulsive to most men (who seem to have no problem with it while watching an action movie shoot-out), and having to hide it and never joke about it in mixed company.

Being very aware of your clothes/shoes/makeup until you get used to them. Not touching your face for most of the day while wearing makeup. Not licking your lips, eating and drinking very daintily while wearing lipstick.

The bizarre expectation that you'll have no hair on your genitals.


The sexual harassment is ubiquitous, but I've had a man in a business suit call me a "bitch" on the sidewalk because I didn't smile at him in a snowstorm, and another man yell "fuck you!" unprovoked and spit at me while I was walking alone at night. You start to feel like a human garbage can for pent-up sexual rage.

The main one though is definitely the feeling that you are completely disposable compared to a man's carnal pleasure. From the trivial (seeing naked, unrealistic women everyday) to the serious (knowing someone watches pornography involving coerced women, &c.). I would never for a moment imagine that the world was made for me.

No one is concerned with your comfort level; you're concerned with everyone else's comfort level. You take up less space so men can take up more.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:10 PM on March 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

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