The beginning, and the ending.
Now, I know that we here at Total Drek have a long-standing interest in women in general and breasts in particular (along with some of our distinguished readers) but that's not the point. However much many of us like women, I know that I myself have never groped a stranger on the subway, and I'm hoping rather fervently that my co-bloggers can say the same thing. This behavior strikes me as, to put it mildly, quite bizarre. It also sounds like it's a much more widespread phenomenon than I would have expected:
"Every girl I know has at least one story," said Barbara Vencebi, 23, a studio photographer standing outside the No. 6 train station at 116th Street in East Harlem yesterday.
"I looked back and I couldn't do anything because a lot of people were behind me," said Suany Baca, 32, a waitress who was going up the stairs at 86th Street in the No. 6 train station last November, when she was groped by a man who passed her going down.
"I pretended like it didn't happen," she said. "I don't know what they get out of it."
Indeed, whatever these men get out of it, it seems as though there are quite a few of them. Now, we can say a lot of things about this. We can criticize the men who violate strangers, we can wonder about the women who fail to say anything, and we can understand why it might be hard to make a scene. All of this, however, would fail to get to the real puzzle of this situation for me.
The real puzzle for me is that we can be living in a culture where women are ostensibly the equals of men, and yet somehow both sexes regard this behavior as just somehow... normal. And unfortunately, that sense of normality is likely to be passed down from parent to child.
In some ways, groping seems almost an accepted part of subway culture. Stephanie Vullo, 43, said she had dealt many times with men rubbing up against her or trying to touch her on crowded No. 4 or 5 trains in the morning when she takes her daughter to school. "It's worse in the summer months when everyone is wearing less clothing," she said. "The first time I turned around and yelled at the guy, but with my daughter, I don't want to get her upset."
While some of you may not agree, the above paragraph simply struck me as horrifying. I can certainly understand not wanting to upset one's daughter, but what sort of message does it send to do nothing? If one's daughter knows her mother is being touched, or flashed, and sees her mother do nothing, what will that little girl learn? What perspective will she develop about the relationship between people on a subway or even between men and women more generally? Hell, for that matter, what would a little boy learn from watching such things take place? Would he learn that men and women are equals, or that men routinely abuse and humiliate perfect strangers- and that it's okay as long as they're female strangers?
My point here is not that women need to be more assertive about combatting this problem. Certainly that would be nice, but I'm not quite enough of a moron to think I can lecture women on dealing with sexism. No, in this case I think we have an illustration of why unequal social systems are so durable. When we think of sexism, we think of the crude joke in the factory, or the leering in an office, or even the glass ceiling. When we think of working for equality we think of making pay rates more equal, or breaking through gender boundaries on jobs, and even making it easier for mothers to work. Sadly, however, this is not where sexism begins and ends. Sexism truly begins in our daily lives, in our smaller behaviors that display how men and women interact- who can be assertive, and who must passively accept what is done.
And there, beside us the whole time, are curious little eyes learning to do it all themselves.
Sexism begins in our daily lives and it can end there too.