To paraphrase my fellow Londoner Lily Allen, it's hard out here for a b*tch. By that, I mean that womanhood continues to be defined, at least in part, by an arduous set of daily challenges and sexist micro-aggressions — most of which we've just learned to accept and put up with. I'm not talking about things like trying to run on a treadmill with GG boobs or having periods; not every woman experiences those things, but if you do, you've probably just gotten used to them as things over which you don't have much control. What I want to specifically pinpoint are the daily insidious, encroachments upon the social and economic freedoms of women, which are the result of a set of power structures that have been formed over thousands of years — but which, notably, are imposed, not inherent. The distinction here is important, because it's what makes all the difference.
Just last week, for example, I spent around 15 minutes antagonizing myself in the mirror before an outdoor run. I couldn't decide whether or not my super tight, but very comfortable lyrca shorts should be worn in public, or whether I should opt for my long leggings, despite the hot weather. The reason? I was concerned the shorts would invite unwanted sexual attention and encourage men to approach me. And unfortunately, my concerns weren't unfounded: As I was walking down the street during my warm-up, I felt the shadow of a man riding a bicycle darken the pathway behind my shoulder, as he slowed down to ride alongside me. "What? I'm just admiring the view," he leered. I stopped, stood still, and waited for him to pass with a glare.
Despite having made huge leaps forward in terms of gender equality over the past few centuries, a lot of our lives are still very much governed by patriarchal norms. Personally, I know I waste a ridiculous amount of time worrying about whether the things I do in my daily life will somehow lead me to feel threatened, unsafe or irritated by someone I had no intention of meeting or talking to that day.
There are multiple daily situations in which I have to worry about this — and what's more, I know I'm not alone. Men can usually do these five, completely normal things without a second thought, but thanks to our patriarchal society, women still have to think carefully about them first — even though we absolutely shouldn't have to.
1. Exercising Outside
When you choose to exercise in a public space, your body somehow becomes public property, according to our culture. Catcalls, wolf whistles, and general ridicule have all come my way during a jog — and it's the norm for a lot of women. As a result, I'm constantly worrying about the location of my next run (should I change route to avoid that creepy guy?), my outfit (should I make myself physically uncomfortable and cover my body to appease/avoid the male gaze)?, and so much more. It's exhausting.
2. Going To The Gym
Chances are if you haven't experienced misogyny whilst exercising outdoors as a woman, you've probably come face to face with it in the gym. True story: Last month, I successfully got a guy banned from my local gym after he repeatedly cursed me out when I dared to use a machine he had left unattended for more than 10 minutes. I also have a huge collection of other depressing stories I could recount from friends who've experienced guys using the gym solely as a place to attempt to pick up women. You know how if a woman is wearing headphones, she probably doesn't want to talk to you? That's true wherever she is, whether it's during her commute or while she's on the elliptical.
3. Getting A Cab
Last week my rideshare driver gave me his card "in case I ever needed him for anything." It's safe to assume that I won't. But we now live in a society where texting the cab license plate to a friend before we get in it is common practice and creepy cab drivers are just part of the experience of being a woman. The danger is still there when the situations are reversed, too — as Maggie Young recounted in a harrowing essay for Bustle earlier this year, women drivers are often on the receiving end of everything from aggressive behavior to outright assault by male passengers.
4. Taking Public Transport
Strategically placed bags, carefully-picked seats, and one eye on the guy next to us at all times. Sound familiar? Well, it probably won't come as much surprise that sexual harassment has increased by more than 50 percent this year on the New York subway. And it's happening all over the world, too: In the UK, for example, a 2016 study found that 36 percent of all women feel at risk on public transport; France has just launched its own campaign against sexual harassment on trains; and in Germany, women-only carriages for its route between Leipzig and Chemnitz were introduced in 2015. (Tokyo has been using these for the past decade).
5. Expressing Emotion At Work
We all know that women walk a tightrope at work: Show too much passion and you're termed an emotional wreck who is probably on her period... but hold back too much, and we're also judged. One study last year found that if women also withhold emotions at work, they're judged as emotionally incompetent. More research also shows that the more speaking women do at work, the more likely it is that they will be penalized, but when their male counterparts speaks up, they win praise. Add to the mix the contrasting ways in which being a leader at work is gendered (the word "bossy" is a derogatory term pretty much exclusively applied to women and girls, whereas men are deemed "assertive" for showing the same qualities, for example), and you've got one difficult space to navigate if you're a woman.