What I dislike about life in Maringouin is the invasiveness — all the assaults on space and integrity and dignity. You have to have better protection than I do to avoid this, and you have to stay on guard at all times, which is not my personality. That is why I like to go to New Orleans and Houston and Mexico — so I can relax.
I do not relax here because I can be in the office with a do not disturb sign on the door, yet the janitors open it with their keys, and students grab the doorknob and shake it while knocking insistently. Or I walk down the street to the mail box, and pickup trucks stop to ask whether I “need a ride” — or police stop me to ask whether I am hooking. Once a feminist professor stopped to say I looked like I was hooking because I was walking along the sidewalk in the kind of clothes one would wear to teach, and not in an official exercise outfit.
These things make me somewhat agoraphobic here and I do not really feel comfortable until I am into 5th gear on the freeway, breathing a sigh of relief because I feel safe at last. That is why, here in Maringouin, I stay at home as much as I do, and why it has been so traumatic these last months to have that home invaded by this painter who just had to ask questions and make remarks like:
♦ If I were your student, would you give me a good grade because we’re friends? Really not? Wow! That really shows something about you! What a strong character! I wouldn’t have expected that! Let me ask you again, would you give me a good grade because we’re friends?
♦ What are your parents like? Why aren’t you married? Why are they? Who are you sleeping with? Do you do women? I am a Christian, but I am not opposed to adultery. Are you? Will you come to our church?
♦ The reason the job in this room is better than the job in that room is that I decided to help you out by doing a better job in that room for free. (Z: No, we negotiated the job quality of the first room very specifically, and of the second room quite specifically as well.)
It has been exhausting and I am exhausted but it is over. I wish I were finished paying this person so he could be definitively gone. I am sorry I turned out not to like this person because it is hard to find people. He does good work when he wants to, and the men he has working under him are nice. The other problem is that I know these people even at their worst are not doing a worse job for me than they would for themselves — it is just that they are billing themselves as experts, and do have expertise, and are being paid much more than minimum wage (actually more than I make, hour for hour) because they have that expertise.
I wish the kind of invasiveness, the manipulation, and the humiliation I have gone through with this person did not raise in me this flaming, draining rage, but it has; perhaps that is why we have the term outrage. I keep thinking there is some ultra dignified way I could be so that these things did not happen, or wishing I could learn to have ultra quick responses.
What really happens is, I feel blindsided and go into shock for a day or so. Then it takes me another day or two to understand why, what the structure of the interaction has been, why it is I feel dishonored — walked on is one of the images, and the other is beaten up and then thrown out of a pickup truck onto the side of the road. Then I feel the white hot rage, sometimes in precise proportion to the event which has taken place and other times, and sometimes not. Then I have to figure out what to do about it, and then recover from that, and it is all very exhausting.
It is as though I had played possum in order to survive while a bulldozer rolled over me. Then, waking up and surveying my injuries, I am incensed. The mundane meaning of this could be that I never learned to deal with conflict and anger, but there is a political meaning to it, too, which is the title of this post: sexism and gender harassment.
It is partly because of these reactions that I prefer not to live in colonial spaces or sugar producing societies, and not to deal with conservative Christians since they are so misogynistic and see the abuse of women as so normal. Maringouin, of course, has all these characteristics and attributes. This is why I feel so unsafe here and why it is so hard for me to concentrate on anything — and why I feel so ashamed that mere discipline and scheduling does not work for me.
I am a day person but I often stay up most of the night, often, because the nighttime feels so much safer; I am so much less likely to be accosted by someone then. I must, must learn how to reclaim my space. My former method was to live in New Orleans and commute to Maringouin, but this is not possible for me now. What people with a little more disposable income than I have do is, be in Maringouin when classes are in only, spend all their time in the office, leave Friday at the close of business, leave for weeks or months at a time as soon as they turn grades in.
Men and tourists do not always understand this methodology and I have heard it called “snobbish” more than once, but I really think it is a measure taken in defense of psychological safety and so as to put oneself in a position to do good work. It is not available to me, however, in any kind of reliable way and I must learn how to repel the local intrusiveness in a better way.
I think two elements in this would be to endow oneself with power — we are told to protect ourselves but I think it is more effective by far to be powerful — and to see everything as funny. So, rather than, “What happened? … Oh … I just had my integrity and honor insulted … How irritating,” one would have an instant response to these remarks sallies that came from a very secure place and thus enabled one to see them as funny.
Like me, responding to piropos, or like the job candidate we had once long ago, in one of my departments, who kept laughing at the (highly) inappropriate remarks made by several full professors. “Haha!” she would say. “Is it still legal in this state to say that? Haha! Let’s move on to talk about books!” (Yes, she got the job.)
Yet still, the correct situation would have been not to put her through an interview run that way, and the correct situation for me would be to not have to sit here trying to reconfigure myself such that I can have the best possible reactions to sexism and gender harassment. (Note too that I tend to think I overreact, but when I tell people what has gone on they usually say I underreact.)
4 thoughts on “On Sexism and Gender Harassment in Maringouin”
I would really, really like to live in a gentler culture and also a more cosmopolitan one, where women weren’t so abusable by definition.
But also: this has to do with my upbringing. It was so not allowed to have a different opinion or to notice mistreatment that we all put a lot of energy into suppressing it … and then we have to put a lot of energy into seeing it when seeing it is necessary … and then we have to get confirmation, did this really happen and was it really bad … and by then we are exhausted and also dominated by this thing which has taken on a life of its own. So we’re all weirdly cowed and then in the end surprisingly willing to defend ourselves, and I at least seem to experience defending myself as abusing others.
I think people like this painter sense that and exploit it. I think … anyway I am so tired of all this, and I so did not expect it to be so hard and to take so long, and to end with an argument. … Why do I feel as though I’d been beaten up … (I have answered this question for myself before, in the past, and the answer tends to be, because I have been; who did it though, did I participate?)
So this is interesting. I’ve been feeling since these painters got into their job that I was in a domestic violence type situation and now I’ve felt all day that there was something wrong with me that I was this upset with the head painter’s behavior, and had been so inept at curbing it. Was I the abusive one? I had started to wonder.
What I learned from Googling around was what I already knew: (a) you can’t negotiate with someone whose intent it is to oppress, and (b) that feeling of being caught in someone’s words is precisely the confusion they are trying to cause.
This comment from Comrade PhysioProf on IBTP (esp. the second paragraph) was helpful: http://blog.iblamethepatriarchy.com/2011/06/27/spinster-aunt-answers-eternal-question-should-i-dump-him-and-if-so-when/#comment-179148
So I guess the confusion has to do with not being able to identify abusers or the abuse they hand out. If your mother had been like mine, a woman who complained loudly and clearly whenever she was abused (which was a lot), you would at least know when it was happening.
I cut abusers off right away. They are dangerous.
And they are, and I only do when I figure it out. Which always takes a while since I come from an abusive family, and feel guilty about not being able to take more, function better with it, notice it less, and so on.