A few months ago, I wrote a blog post on the experience I termed “eye rape” which is when someone looks at your body so lasciviously that you feel violated. Someone subsequently left the following comment on that blog post:
“The infantilization of women starts at home. There is no such thing as eye rape. Staring at strangers is rude, sure. But it’s a slippery slope from crying about “eye rape” to things like “air conditioning is sexist” and “retroactive removal of consent” which are both actual feminist platforms. This is why 82% of women refuse to identify as feminist. You live in the most privileged society on earth, and have never in your life experienced true misogyny- like being called a whore for leaving the house without a male escort. I have friends who have. Please, please find some perspective and grow up.”
And this comment bothered me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Because I like to consider myself the type of person who can look at a situation from many different perspectives. My life has afforded me that “privilege”—if you can call it that. It’s what makes me a great mediator during disagreements. So this idea that I needed to “find some perspective” and “grow up” felt wrong to me.
Instead, this question came to mind: Do you have to live in a country where women are overtly oppressed to experience sexism? Like, yes, I know that I have the “privilege” of being able to leave my house without a male escort and not being called a whore for it, but does that mean any oppressive experiences I might have as a white woman in the United States are somehow worth less? Why isn’t “true misogyny” based on the reality within which you’re living?
In the U.S., women have freedoms that women from many other countries can only dream of. So if we compare American women to say, Iranian women, it creates a pretty stark contrast. We could go even further though and really show the disparity if we were to compare the most liberated American woman to the most culturally oppressed Iranian woman. They don’t even look like they’re from the same planet. So we should conclude that American women who complain about sexism or misogyny or “eye rape” are just crybabies who don’t understand the damage feminism is doing to the world.
But then let’s use that logic on something else. What if we compared a child living in poverty in America to a child living in poverty in say, Syria or somewhere in Africa. Again, a stark contrast. And that draws us to the conclusion that children living in poverty in America are just crybabies who….
It doesn’t work, does it? Like, yes, they could be living in much worse conditions, but that doesn’t discount their personal experience of poverty. And so, I would argue that just because I don’t experience the same kind of misogyny in America as a Muslim woman in Iran would, doesn’t mean that I don’t experience sexism in a way that’s harmful in my own reality.
I know that a lot of feminist platforms sound insane. I read an article once on how public bathrooms are sexist which admittedly sounds crazy, but if you look at the author’s reasoning, it does kind of make sense. Public bathrooms are a luxury of the First World. But in the same way lack of access to pads and other feminine hygiene products can prevent girls from getting an education in Third World countries, lack of access to open restrooms can make it more difficult for women to ascend in the business or political world. Okay, but public restrooms aren’t my point. The point is that feminist arguments can seem silly when you first look at them. Like, of course, in comparison to an overtly oppressive culture, my experience of “eye rape” seems tame. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Or that it doesn’t mean anything to me or how I perceive the world or change my ability to trust strange men’s intentions. And some feminist arguments are just that—silly. But you can’t determine which ones are which without looking at each experience with some compassion and open-mindedness.
So no, I don’t think you have to live in an overtly misogynist culture in order to experience sexism. I believe sexism is real and comes in many forms and experiences. And I fortunately have the freedom to try to understand what misogyny I do experience through writing it out and hoping to find similarities with what other women experience.