M: “I don’t often forget my whiteness or middle-classness in relation to my woman ness”


1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in?  Emotional spaces?  How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?

i feel safe at home and at work, physically speaking and also emotionally (not sure if that’s what you mean), and i feel pretty safe in most areas of suburbs and city up till maybe 10 pm, less so after that if along.  i know that i feel safer as a woman now that i’m older, even though i’m not sure this makes sense.  i also think that my race and class privilege have something to do with my feeling of general safety  in the world.

2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women?  How do you think others perceive you physically?  What elements contribute to these perceptions?

hmm, well i generally feel pretty good about my physical appearance, and i think i appreciate a fairly wide range of appearances in other women.  in terms of others’ perceptions of me physically, i think it depends so much on who the others are and their contexts.  especially in terms of body weight – perceived as ‘small’ especially by larger women.  also i think i’m perceived as relatively young-looking for my age, not sure whether/how this relates to viewer and her/his context, though. 

3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman?  Safe, unsafe, targeted, ignored, harassed, invisible?  Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?

usually pretty safe and ignored, much more than when i was younger i’d say, but also true that i’m in less and less varied places probably than when much younger.  but even so there’s some variation with how dressed, more with who i’m with and also time of day/night.

4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other elements mean to you?  I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.

intersection of woman-ness with race and class is most evident to me most of the time, especially race, i don’t often forget my whiteness or middle-classness in relation to womanness, in fact those other identities tend to come to my awareness first but i do think my sense of my own gender is deeper than i sometimes think.  now, getting older, and also working with young people, i’m also pretty aware of age, and what it means to be a getting-older, white, m-c woman, how the age dimension orients me differently in relation to others, to my own wishes and concerns, etc.  i tend to take my sexual orientation for granted, though less so when i’m around others who don’t share it, or even don’t take it for granted.  and ability, hmm, in some ways i take it for granted, like more socio-politically, but in relation to age i also really value my physical ability, and do think about not always having it.  i don’t think that much about learning ability in my life, but do in the context of my work.  and think of mental health a fair amount but maybe not so much in relation to gender.


3 thoughts on “M: “I don’t often forget my whiteness or middle-classness in relation to my woman ness”

  1. My annotation/response:

    I think the age thing is really interesting, and ageism is one of the isms I wish we had gotten to in the class.  Too many isms, too little time;)

    Someone else who did this with me mentioned a quote from Six Feet Under. It was this scene where Kathy Bates’ character is convincing another woman in her early sixties to shoplift and she says, ‘no one pays attention to us, we can get away with anything.’

    So deep to me, the way we dismiss women when we can’t hyper sexualize them…although even to say we can’t is a bit of ageism.  When they no longer fit OUR definitions of sexual. How are we defining ‘sexual’ then? Is it when men deem us so? And that then is so heteronormative. If so, in our sexist, heterosexist world, we are validated or made invisible by the male gaze, then evaluating ourselves in as not sexual, in a never-ending cycle…? Sometimes in losing our sense of ourselves as sexual must contribute to the feeling of invisibility. Likewise, in a world that values women’s sexuality above all else we offer, it is practically one and the same.

    Do you feel that invisibility/de-sexualization at all? Either as a loss, or as an element of safety?   Or do you feel that certain other things, marital status, job status, gives you a different perspective?

    Do you think any of these feelings will change when you guys move from the suburbs? Statistically age doesn’t make as much of a difference as we tend to think and I wonder how feelings of safety will change when you’re back in an urban neighborhood.

  2. M:
    love the line ‘too many isms, too little time’  🙂  and yeah, you ask great questions about the age thing.  something about that number 60 has made this visible — also interesting — to me in a new way.  so yes, i’d say i feel the dismissal as both a loss and a gain, a gain in the safety sense andbut also in some way that frees me to develop my own sense of myself in terms of appearance including sexuality.  and good point about marital and job status providing a different perspective, i’d say these both provide some kindof buffer too… and yes, i know that the stats show that age isn’t as big in this as we feel it is, and thinking about it now, i think maybe the ‘free to define myself’ aspect may be a bigger part of this than i originally thought/said.  like i feel free to exhibit a kind of openness with my body and appearance that have a sexual aspect but the whole thing doesn’t feel so loaded as when you’re younger, and always close to that issue of ‘provocative’ in relation to others/guys being invasive.  and in some way being married and being a professor are both identities that underscore that sense of ‘permission’ — i mean after all, i’m not ‘available’ on the one hand, and i’m always around/working with younger women on the other.  and yes, i think some of this will shift with urban move, partly b/c that involves a level of anonymity that works against the shields of married with children and professor, and partly just b/c i think i’ll be on streets more rather than in car and aware of issues about where to walk, when, w/whom.  y’know.

    hope i didn’t cross any boundaries here in terms of what you want to hear from your mom!  and just btw that is a bit of an inhibiting factor, but not too much:)

    about the pregnancy piece:  it is stunning how people feel so free to touch your body when pregnant.  i remember being in the subway when pregnant with you and people ON THE SUBWAY who you’ve never seen before just feeling completely free to feel my belly!  and i think sometimes that actually felt ok, esp at first and b/c i was excited and proud, but also it got kinda old, like it happened quite a bit and then started to feel pretty invasive…

  3. Annotation/response con’t:

    You say that age leaves you free in some way to define yourself, including your sexuality, that also your marital status and profession “underscore that sense of ‘permission.'” I am jealous. I want to be sexy without giving anyone “permission.” i want to be sexy and safe. I cannot believe, even as I type it, that this is such a novel concept, that I don’t believe in its possibility, at least under these circumstances.

    So many intersections: age, race, class, class combined with neighborhood: yes it will be different to not go everywhere in a car. To walk, to ride public transit, always thinking about where and when and who with. Yes, this is a middle-class middle-aged White woman perspective. It is somewhat ironic to be jealous, as all things point to me being this exact intersection in 30 years! Yet I am. It’s been so long since I’ve enjoyed my own sexuality, either in outside or intimate situations: it has so often/almost always been through the lens of my partner (being sexy for him) or the lens of men on the street (trying not to be so sexy I catch their attention).

    It is surely ridiculous to be jealous of my own mother. But I want to “feel free to exhibit a kind of openness with my body and appearance that have a sexual aspect but the whole thing doesn’t feel so loaded as when you’re younger, and always close to that issue of ‘provocative’ in relation to others/guys being invasive.” I want that openness/freedom. I suppose I Should be happy that I may have it someday. Some women never do. I’m not happy.

    That word ‘provocative’….what are we provoking? It is such a subject-object-subject word. Women are provocative- we provoke what comes our way- what comes is done to us.

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