Broken windows

Recently, I began sending my friend Saige my “feminist gripe of the day,” or FGOTD. (Or, #FGOTD. Can I start my own hashtag? What if I only barely know what Twitter is/how to use it?)

Basically, I send her a text when I see something identifiably sexist.

This is how it began:

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This is a fun exercise for a couple of reasons: I can vent; it’s consciousness-raising; FGOTD are sometimes funny (’cause if you’re not laughing, you’re crying!); annnd it allows me to avoid direct confrontation.

The last reason probably isn’t the best reason (or even a good reason lolol???). Sure, I think I’ve got it in me to clock anybody who squeezes my ass on the sidewalk, but what about the next guy who calls me “sweetheart?” (Except for Uncle Venu, who has earned the right.) What do I do then? Probably nothing (see #3 above).

I want to work on that. I’ve been listening to How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran on audio recently. (Hilarious mix of memoir and Feminist primer–highly recommend.) In it, she relates addressing minor sexisms (like pet names or assumptions about who will do the dishes, for example) to the broken windows theory. While the major issues (wage inequality or contraceptive access, for example) are important, so is addressing the minor ones:

In the ‘Broken Windows’ theory, if a single broken window on an empty building is ignored and not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may break into the building, and light fires, or become squatters.

Similarly, if we live in a climate where female pubic hair is considered distasteful, or famous and powerful women are constantly pilloried for being too fat or too thin, or badly dressed, then, eventually, people start breaking into women, and lighting fires in them. Women will get squatters.

Clearly, this is not a welcome state of affairs.

Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

This was a pretty mind-bending analogy for me and resulted in a real epiphany during which I vowed to do better, not only in identifying, but in addressing the broken windows in my own life.

[ENTER OFFICER X.]

It was getting a little late the other day in juvenile court, and Officer X can hardly be blamed for getting grumpy, because everyone gets grumpy after about 2:30 in juvenile court. I feel like we had a good rapport prior to 2:30 . . . But I could tell he was agitated when I walked out of the court room.

OX: [not looking directly at me] “Any telling how much longer this is gonna be, sweetheart?”
ME: “Well . . . Your hearing is happening now and we’re on the last charge, which is yours, so I guess I would probably say thirty minutes at the most? And . . .” I smiled real big at him, a smile that I hoped indicated that I wasn’t blaming him for what I knew was a larger, systemic problem of sexism in our society, and that I knew that he was probably a really nice person who probably even had really nice parents who raised him right, but just didn’t realize that to some people, disparate treatment (i.e., calling me “sweetheart” when he wouldn’t call his male colleagues “sweetheart”) can be offensive . . . I smiled that kind of smile, and I said:

“I’m not a sweetheart–I’m Kaitlin.”

The change was abrupt.

OX: “Well whatever. Y’all should’ve called us first. It’s my day off.
ME: “I’m sorry, I’m sure it’ll just be another minute or–”
OX: “I ain’t got another minute.” [turns and walks away] “This is ridiculous.

Later, when I signed his release, he suddenly shouted, in open court, “What is your problem!? You need to adjust your attitude!”

ME: [ushering him towards the door to avoid further disruption] “Excuse me?”
OG: [outside] “You snatched that paper out of my hands, you need to calm down. Damn!” [again, walking away from me]

I apologized for any misunderstanding to his back and then thanked his partner, who I was signing out, for his continued patience. “You have a nice day.” And I smiled in a way that I hoped indicated thanks-for-not-being-an-asshole.

Had I been anyone else, his outbursts in court, and in the hallway, in front of dozens of people, along with the inquiries from the balliffs about “what I did to him” might have considerably embarrassed me. And–without reflecting on it–this interaction might have caused some subconscious hesitation next time I felt like repairing anymore windows in my neighborhood.

It’s hard enough as it is. I don’t want to be a jerk. I don’t want anyone to think I’m overly-emotional or overreacting. I don’t want anyone to say Feminist with side-eyes in that derisive, “that-explains-it” kind-of-way. Add some public embarrassment and, yeah! Makes for a fun job.

But it is a job, and an important one that we should take on, lest people, after getting our tacit go-aheads, “start breaking into women, and lighting fires in them . . .”

So send someone you love a FGOTD. That Hardee’s commercial where Mystique has to become a dude because the meat-and-cheese monster she is trying to shove down her gullet is JUST TOO EPIC!? That’s a FGOTD. The hundredth person on MSNBC asking if Hillary can be the president–AND A GRANDMOTHER!? That’s a FGOTD. The way real guns and the pink stuff are completely segregated in a gun store?

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That’s a FGOTD.

If you find someone that enjoys bitching about these things with you, it’s fun. And you’ll be amazed by how it snowballs and how–suddenly–you’ll see these little sexisms everywhere. Identifying those broken windows is the first step.

Once you’ve identified them and maybe laughed about them, I encourage you to repair them (if you’re ready). Maybe the situation I described was actually a delightful comedy of errors à la Molière in which Officer X mistook me for a man in women’s clothing! (And . . . it made him angry, or something . . .) But probably not. No one likes being called out for sexism, no matter how graciously, and it’s not typically fun, unless you’re a rabble-rouser. If you’re a rabble-rouser, have fun and thanks for all your hard work so far!

I would love to hear your FGOTD. Please start texting them to me. Until next time!

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2 thoughts on “Broken windows

  1. Now Glendy and I have a name for the back-and-forthing we do with those particular scenarios! We’ll include you in our loop, and will join you in repairing windows. <3

    Like

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