The Divide That Need Not Conquer Us

A very old resentment of mine was piqued by a recent “Southland” episode.  A woman who was a former rape victim believed – wrongly as it turned out – that the black man following her from the market had evil intentions. When he called out and tried to intercept her, she pulled out the gun in her purse and shot him. He was attempting to return her keys.


However, what really fried me was the conversation between the police partners after the incident. The female cop, played by tiny Lucy Liu, was compassionate about the woman’s action, given her past rape experience, though the policewoman didn’t justify the shooting. The male cop on the other hand, big and heavily muscled, cut the woman no slack whatsoever. She should have talked first, called the cops, done anything but fired the gun.


But here’s the deal. Men—except perhaps those with PTSD or ACES trauma themselves who have some therapy background—just don’t get it. On a very deep level, men coming at women are scary as hell, even without the actual experience of rape. In almost every instance, they’re just lots bigger than we are. Their musculo-skeletal structures are different than ours – mostly harder, stronger. Furthermore, they are culturally conditioned, from the time they are very young, to be more physically aggressive than women and their greater testosterone happily moves them along that path—pushing, shoving, hitting, shouting—much more than girls and women do (though “mean girls” certainly don’t get a pass).


My point is that most men who aren’t predators have absolutely no comprehension of this fundamental difference between them and women. They really don’t know how much fear they inspire, at least on any conscious level. They don’t know that simple things like walking down a city street by oneself, or parking in a garage, or even going shopping, is a very different experience for a woman than for a man. A man takes his physical strength for granted. He is accustomed to the assumption that he can take care of himself physically. A woman is accustomed to being constantly on the alert, knowing that she is a victim waiting to be hurt.


Of course, these basic physical and cultural differences are also part of what constitutes sexual attraction, and who knows? The complexity of this mix may account for the popularity of rape fantasies in women. But in the real world, aggressiveness in men—whether real, perceived, or anticipated—often creates a cascade of effects in women that play out to their great detriment.


Examples?  Domestic violence—women who are beaten, even killed, by men. On the extreme end, we know that it usually takes six to seven assaults before a woman leaves. We wonder why, even when we know that the reasons are complex, frequently involving children and money. Less obvious, is the fact that many more of us are not free of violence and intimidation ourselves. We have partners and spouses who don’t hit us, but demean and denigrate us regularly, in a variety of ways. And then they yell, and don’t hesitate to take that big step in our direction, threat implied. Yet we stay just like domestic violence victims, and though we sometimes claim our anger and resentment, we less often confess our fear. 


And then there is unreported date rate, which I have personally suffered, more than once, when I was a young woman. What happened to me, and I am fairly confident happens to others, is that it is simply easier to say “yes”, or simply not say “no”, than to risk what feels like the potential for who-knows-what violence from a determined and aggressive young man. And especially when your own hormones are in the picture—even when your intellect and your spirit and shouting “no, no no” to you. It’s just less frightening to go along. And we don’t call it rape. But psychologically, it really was, and the burden of shame can be intense, because we didn’t say no.


Another, and more subtle? One of my best friends is ending a contract with a client, but has avoided sending the final invoice for weeks. Not only that, but in their last phone conversation, without any prompting from him, she assured him that she would “be gentle with him” on her rates. Why? Not because he is impoverished, but because he is going through a difficult time personally, and tends to adopt verbal attitudes when he is stressed that she finds aggressive and unpleasant. So she defends against that possibility by diminishing her value—literally—and avoiding a potential confrontation when the bill arrives by not sending it.


As women, what are the many subtle ways in which we have internalized our physical and psychic intimidation by men? And if we are in any way abuse survivors, how has this added to our burden?  How do we say “no” in large and small ways to ourselves instead of “yes”?  How do we diminish our value?  More importantly, once aware, how can we stop these self-denigrations and love ourselves more?  Most of us will never get larger of much stronger, so where will we gain the strength of spirit to stand up to our imbalance of body size? And perhaps most critically, how can we lead new generations to understand something new about their roles in relationship to each other?





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