What It's Really Like to Live a Day in the Life of an American Woman
The immense popularity of the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter has helped create a new space for the important and ongoing conversation regarding the daily doses of sexism all American women deal with every single day. While some men continue to express skepticism when women "complain" about the microaggressions, implicit biases and gender discrimination they face on a daily basis, the experiences of women speak for themselves, and the hashtag continues to offer a window into these experiences and a demand they be taken seriously.
Male privilege dictates that there are simply certain things that men do not have to think about before venturing out into public spaces. Young men often appear puzzled when I question them about their outfit choice, asking them whether they experience a moment common to women do when they do an assessment of how much street harassment their clothing may generate that morning. Indeed, according to a recent report, nearly two-thirds of women (65%) have experienced street harassment, while 41% have experienced aggressive forms of the harassment.
As the weather gets warmer on the East Coast, this becomes even more of a challenge, as higher temperatures require less clothing. Less clothing often means an increase in daily harassment — but it shouldn't be that way. Everyone should be able to walk around in public, free from harassment. And any harassment, even if minor or simply a nuisance, is a problem we need to address.
From morning to evening, sexism and discrimination pervades culture in large and small ways, dictating choices and influencing actions. Below is a brief summary of a day in the life of a typical American, urban woman.
1. 7:00 a.m. — Wake up and pick an outfit.
One of the first things most women do in the morning before leaving the house is assess whether or not their outfit is "appropriate." With businesses and schools nationwide drawing fire for dress codes that suggest women's bodies are somehow shameful or unprofessional, it's no wonder why most women can't simply put on and outfit and go outside.
Recently, a Nebraska federal judge landed in hot water himself by suggesting women clerks not dress like "ignorant sluts." In describing one of his clerks, Judge Richard Kopf said, "She is brilliant, she writes well, she speaks eloquently, she is zealous but not overly so, she is always prepared, she treats others, including her opponents, with civility and respect, she wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes."
The problem here isn't that women are inappropriately dressed for the office, or for school, but that men and boys are simply given a pass for "not being able to control themselves." If we demanded professionalism and respect from men and boys that resulted in consequences for those who do not abide by these basic tenets of human decency, we could do a lot to make the workplace a little less sexist for women.
2. 9:00 a.m. — Leave the apartment.
Street harassment is finally getting the national attention it deserves, especially in my neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. As the national report on street harassment shows, a majority of women have experienced street harassment in their lives: "23% had been sexually touched, 20% had been followed, and 9% had been forced to do something sexual." One-quarter of men have also reported being harassed, and LBGT men are more likely to be harassed that heterosexual men.
In 2010, I stopped working out at the gym in an effort to avoid sexual harassment during the walk there. I've been called a bitch when I responded back with a hello, when the man wanted more than a hello back, and I've been called a bitch when I've ignored explicit comments completely, pretending as many other women to do to listen to music. In my early 20s, a man approached me and commented on how we had the same type of cell phone. I said, "Okay," and turned to walk away, but he grabbed my hand and began dragging me up the block demanding that I talk to him. As horrible as this sounds, my experiences are not unique, and Stop Street Harassment's report is finally validating what so many women have been reporting on sites like Hollaback! for years.
"There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about what street harassment is," Stop Street Harassment founder Holly Kearl said in a recent interview. "A lot of people think of the stereotype of a woman in a short skirt walking by a construction site, when it’s so much more than that. It really has a negative impact on harassed people's lives."
3. 10:00 a.m — Take public transportation to work.
According to Stop Street Harassment report, 23% of street harassment occurs when people are on public transportation like buses and subways. As a long time New Yorker, I've been groped multiple times, both on crowded subways, walking up and down the steps at the station, and when even on an empty Subway can men always seem to find their way to your side.
The old school notion that street harassment only happens to a woman walking by construction workers is belied by the fact that sexual harassment happens everywhere. When so many Americans are unable to move freely in public spaces, we have a serious problem.
4. 2:00 p.m. — Interact with colleagues.
Mansplaining is when men explain things to women that they already know, rooted in the belief that men are more knowledgeable than women. Women at every level have to deal with mansplaining, at work, at home and everywhere in between.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to deal with a full day of mansplaining when she testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January. In a room full of at times overtly hostile and patronizing men, Clinton put on something of a tutorial that all American women could learn from. Certainly, there are appropriate moments when colleagues who happen to be male explain things to other colleagues who happen to be women — this isn't labeled mansplaining, it's just a collaborative work environment. But men should also be able to assess whether they know more about a topic than the person they are talking to before they assume they are in control of the conversation.
5. 5:00 p.m. — Attend happy hour.
Happy hour is that great moment at the end of a long work day when you can go grab a drink with your friends and colleagues to relieve stress. Unfortunately, for too many people happy hour can quickly become decidedly unhappy if you are put in the position of having to turn down an admirer.
One of the most popular tweets during the #YesAllWomen campaign was, "Girls grow up knowing that it's safer to give a fake phone number than to turn a guy down. #yesallwomen." Recently, a young woman was stabbed to death for turning down a man's invitation to prom.
Smartphones and a more aggressive dating scene in general means it's no longer as simple as giving an-overly attentive bar patron a fake number. More often than not, women today are having to reject men, with no way of knowing how they will respond.
And yet it's also risky to say yes. Comedian Louis C.K. nailed the problem on the head recently with his spot-on description of the risky calculations women make every time they agree to go out with a man.
"The courage it takes for a woman to say yes [to a date with a man] is beyond anything I can imagine," the comic noted in his routine. "A woman saying yes to a date with a man is literally insane, and ill-advised. How do women still go out with guys, when you consider the fact that there is no greater threat to women than men? We're the No. 1 threat! To women! Globally and historically, we're the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women. We're the worst thing that ever happens to them! If you're a guy, imagine you could only date a half-bear-half-lion. 'Oh, I hope this one's nice! I hope he doesn't do what he's going to do.'"
6. 11:00 p.m. — Travel home late at night.
After happy hour it's time to head home. If it's past a certain hour, I would normally hop into a cab in lieu of taking the subway, because it's been drilled into me by both the media and society at large that walking home alone late at night or taking the subway alone after a certain time is dangerous for a woman like me.
Unfortunately, taking a cab or car service is not always safe either. Women have come forward repeatedly with stories of being molested or even raped by their taxi drivers. Meanwhile, earlier this month, an Uber driver was arrested for a driver was arrested in Los Angeles for allegedly kidnapping a drunk female passenger. This is only the latest in a long string of alleged incidents, however, causing some women to rethink the car service model.
But even if the cab or private car driver does everything right, there is also the risk you might be assaulted by someone else, including the police.
In 2011, two NYPD officers were acquitted of raping a woman after being called to help her to her apartment by a cab driver. The woman was intoxicated, and like so many others, took a cab home. The cab driver called the cops to help her inside her building, but instead she claims the officers raped her.