Monday, March 07, 2011

Simple Sexism: Looking In

I was talking with a woman who works at a cafe I go to about what we each did over the weekend, and I found out that she was in two bike races! I like talking with her because she really likes exercise, and is one of those people who sort of radiates athleticism. Folks like that can be really encouraging to me, when I meet them in day-to-day life, because they can help reinforce the idea that one doesn’t have to be a full-time athlete to be healthy, or even athletic. Weeks ago she had mentioned a tough yoga class she was taking at the college she goes to, and I asked her how it was going now. She told me that she dropped the class--her friends had dropped out of it, it was at an inconvenient time, and there was another problem: Creepy guys from the gym next door kept walking back and forth next to her classroom, staring through the windows at the women doing yoga.

My heart sank.

It’s such a simple kind of sexism, and yet these men managed to discourage this woman enough to have her opt out of her class. It’s a good guess that most of the men don’t even think twice about staring in at the women doing yoga--or if they do, they imagine that they themselves would really love it if women stared at them while working out, not acknowledging the contextual differences between the two situations. And it my cafe buddy made this decision very matter-of-fact-ly: Too many creepy guys, so she stopped going. This is just the kind of decision she sometimes has to make, as if guys looking in at you while you exercise is just something true about the world that you have to deal with, like taking an umbrella with you when it’s raining.

But that sort of sexism isn’t a given--as men, we can recognize how that might make women feel, and adjust our actions accordingly. We might call other men out on it. We might help create a world where the literal male gaze isn’t just one more hazard to be figured in while walking through the world.
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