I had an encounter yesterday that so perfectly encapsulates the different ways men dominate women, that it was almost funny. Almost.
Sitting on a crowded bus headed through Chinatown into downtown Vancouver, I offered my seat to an elderly woman who was standing with her hands full of bags. After the woman, who happened to be Asian, thanked me and declined, I had just returned to my seat when an older white man loudly addressed me in his capacity as the Ultimate Authority on Everything [UAE].
UAE: There’s no point, they all get off in Chinatown anyway.
Me [unimpressed]: They all do, huh.
UAE [even louder]: I’m not being racist or anything, all the Asian people do get off the bus in Chinatown.
Me: I don’t want to talk with you.
UAE [angrily]: Go fuck yourself.
Mulling it over, I was astonished at how such a short interaction could display so many different glimpses of the power relations between men and women, and between white people and people of colour.
Upon seeing a woman of colour do something he didn’t agree with, something that didn’t impact him in any way, this white man simply had to tell me why my behaviour was wrong. His opinion, as the Ultimate Authority on Everything, was so important that I simply had to hear it, whether I wanted to or not.
It’s the same principle behind catcalling: men see public space as belonging to them, and women passing through their public space as mere props offering our bodies and behaviour up for their appraisal and comment. And damn it, their comments are so important that we’d better listen – or else.
This Ultimate Authority on Everything’s comment was clearly a racist one, one where he revealed that he thinks Asian people are a monolith, identical automatons as opposed to a diverse group of people with as many varied thoughts, activities and chosen fucking bus stops as white people.
But of course, he couldn’t see his racism. What he could see was me, a woman of colour who didn’t adequately appreciate the gift of his brilliant logic. He saw me, a mere womb-haver who couldn’t possibly have learned more about racism during my life as a person of colour than he had in his 0 seconds.
Men know everything – all of them – all the time – no matter how stupid or inexperienced or arrogant or ignorant they are. – Andrea Dworkin
As a woman who told him I didn’t want to speak with him, I violated his penis-given right to inflict himself however he wants on whomever he wants. And, as men presented with women’s boundaries often do, he reacted aggressively out of his threatened sense of entitlement. I didn’t defer to him and therefore I must be punished.
Experiences like these are all too familiar to women. Men speak over us, they confidently claim they’re right even when we know them to be wrong, and they punish us when we don’t play along. It gets to a point where we learn to stay quiet, to not correct faulty assumptions, to not speak our truths or even offer our points of view because we’re so tired of having to be constantly vigilant and on guard, armed with facts and perfectly, immediately articulate. The impact, like so many other types of male domination, is that we’re silenced while men’s words and ideas become narratives that shape our world. After this man became aggressive, I responded how women everywhere do to protect ourselves from male violence – I quietly moved away and watched him warily until he got off.
By the way, the people who got off at his stop weren’t all white… and the woman who refused my seat didn’t get off in Chinatown. I’m betting he didn’t notice, but what the hell do I know?