S: “knowing I am more likely to get harassed on the street with my hair done”

4/10/13

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 safest in middle-class urban environments (this is difficult to pinpoint, but I’m going to go with the parts of cities filled with businesses, moderate-cost housing, with mixes of blue and white-collar workers): this is probably due to being raised in a predominantly white, middle to upper-middle class suburb. Being mixed race, I feel safer around racially diverse areas, and being a sexual minority, the city provides me with a much larger community of other sexual minorities to feel more comfortable around. 
As far as emotional spaces, I feel most safe in spaces that are open-minded and liberal. Because I am often faced with environments in which I am a minority, openness helps to ease my discomfort with being different.

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?

I perceive myself to have a mildly masculine presence in comparison to most other women. I feel most comfortable in men’s clothing (however, due to the lack of masculine clothing cut for women’s figures, this is difficult to accomplish). I think others perceive me to be more feminine than I feel at times, but this is usually heterosexual women that I feel that from. At least heterosexual women with little exposure to masculine women. I think this is maybe because my face has soft features, and I like to wear makeup, and I have a curvy body.

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?

When I am by myself and my hair is down, I am more aware of being stared at and am more alert, knowing that I am more likely to get harassed on the street with my hair done. I don’t necessarily feel unsafe, but I feel mildly uncomfortable. This discomfort is heightened when I am alone in lower-income areas with a predominant Black/Af Am population. This could be for a number of reasons, but sometimes I feel it might be that I’m perceived as more attractive in these communities, or it is just more culturally normative, but I’m not sure.

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.

I enjoy being a part of the LGBTQ community, because I don’t feel as much pressure to conform to the generic expectation of what a woman should look like. I still cave partly to this pressure in professional settings (like I won’t wear a tie to an important interview even though I want to). Also professionally, there is always a women majority in any setting I’m in, which I think actually helps in expressing myself as whatever type of woman I want. I think that’s because I expect diversity in a large group of women, whereas if I’m in a group of men, I feel like I’m almost representing all women in a way.

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3 thoughts on “S: “knowing I am more likely to get harassed on the street with my hair done”

  1. My annotation/response:

    The thing about where you’re uncomfortable is striking to me because I feel a similar way and I’ve really been trying to interrogate this feeling recently, a lot as a result of this class.  It makes sense for you, as I think you may fulfill a different type of attractiveness, as you said, being a WOC.  But I hadn’t thought about the element of cultural normativity.  It does happen to me way more in say, my neighborhood here, which you saw, or in deep west Philly or Kensington than Center City or Times Square. It happened to me a lot when I was in Guatemala.  So maybe there is a cultural element?  It’s hard for me speak out against street harassment when I feel like its also about speaking out against poor men of color!  But when it’s drunk white frat boys on 40th st, I got no problem…

    The masculinity thing is interesting- we always talk about not being homophobic but why can’t you wear a tie to a job interview?  Do you ever feel either racism or homophobia walking with A (S’s girlfriend, a White queer woman)? I can’t believe I’ve never asked you that before…

  2. S:
    lol yeah I actually kind of cringed saying it might be culturally normative, for that exact reason:  I didn’t want to sound like I was villainizing poor men of color. Ha but yes, somehow the drunk white guys are just drunk assholes when they do it, and it’s ok to say I wanna steer clear of them.
    About the tie thing, I wouldn’t wear one because to wear a tie is to clearly defy gender norms. If I’m wearing men’s dress shoes, no one notices, but a tie is such a clear “man thing”. This isn’t to say that I would totally be discriminated against for wearing a tie, but to wear one says something about me, and being in a point in life where I have little power or choice in professional positions, I am leery in taking the chance that that might rub someone the wrong way, or that it will make that person feel like they can’t relate to me.
    I can only think of once where someone made A and I feel uncomfortable, and it was in Chinatown, Yakatori Boy specifically, this middle-aged white guy was staring at us in this way that made it feel like he was fetishizing us. It was very creepy, but didn’t make me feel unsafe or anything like that. Just creepy. We guessed he was probably in from the suburbs and never saw lesbians in real life before, lol. Who knows?

  3. My annotation/response con’t:

    But I think in a way talking about cultural normativity makes sense to me, at least, more sense than saying its just those poor men of color. I mean to me it implies a certain system of interaction, communication, etc that’s accepted within certain communities.  Whether there are problematic gender roles involved could also be true.  

    I think people are so eager to steer clear of claiming Whiteness as a thing but it IS.   Saying it’s not is just keeping it as the default which I feel like is worse. Drunk white frat boys are definitely culturally normative in a different way that is harder for me to name because it’s so normative…or because we’re so used to pointing a race or class finger.

    Somehow I think maybe because street harassment is considered “low class,” it’s only when White men are drunk or otherwise uninhibited that their true feelings about women come out. Or at least that was my experience at Pitt.  But whereas I feel dehumanized by the flattery of an old Black man in north Philly, I feel utterly despised by a drunk White boy in “university city.” It feels like it comes from a place of hatred, maybe because it’s been so repressed. And what about the White middle and upper-class men who harass their colleagues in office buildings? Where is the accountability for them, the movements against them?  I think it’s clear that “sexual harassment trainings” are insufficient.

    Re: the tie. I totally get the leeriness, as much as I can, it’s something I rarely have to think about. More heterosexism and homophobia.  Actually my friend asked on the way to class this morning whether i had an interview later and I laughed:…no, this is my salsa skirt! 
    …In fact if my interviewer is a male I feel like I can dress in a shorter skirt and higher heels.  Instead of a woman, who might be jealous or bitter, a man would be manipulated. More heterosexism and misogyny. I never think about ‘doing my gender’ the way it seems like you do. The way I ‘do’ mine is more acceptable because it is more heteronormative for a female. It makes me wonder whether I ‘do’ my gender for me or for straight men. I’m not sure.

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