Wide Awake: The Girl at the Bar
Seeing sexism through a man’s eyes

One night after returning from a business trip, my husband Joe was quick to tell me about the woman who sat next to him at the airport bar. As he spoke, my eyes widened and I wanted to jump out of my chair. Joe had seen firsthand what the world can be like for women. He was shocked. I was shocked that he was shocked.

A woman in her 20s sat next to Joe at the bar. A rather large and loud man was seated a few stools down. That man thought the young woman was pretty. We know that, of course, because he largely and loudly told her, repeatedly. He made enough comments that Joe was about to tell him to “back off,” when the man paid his bill and left.

Joe couldn’t get over how this young woman wasn’t able to sit in peace. He knew if she had said anything to quiet the man, she would have worsened the situation. Joe was painfully aware that she was sitting there, uncomfortably pretending to be immersed in her phone while hearing the man’s comments. Joe thought this was so very wrong.

This is where I jumped out of my seat. I quickly and emphatically told Joe that every woman in the world has experienced this. And not just that, every woman in the world knows this can happen at any time, at any place. Women are keenly aware that wherever they are, a man may say something sexist or inappropriate or crude. It can be in an elevator, in the office or even walking down the street. For the most part, women are trained to ignore the comment, look the other way, get out of the elevator or keep walking. But the majority of women will have the same reaction – a jolting discomfort because suddenly someone has crashed into your world uninvited, and you simply don’t know what’s going to happen next. I couldn’t stress this enough to Joe: Women know this can happen to them at any time.

But nothing like that happens to men – ever. That would explain why Joe was surprised by what he saw. His reality is different from mine. When he witnesses sexism, he’s reading the newspaper or watching a movie. He doesn’t see everyday examples, let alone experience them. My hope was that I could use what he witnessed in the bar to get him to see sexism, really see it.

Honestly, I don’t think he did.

Joe was about to speak up in the bar because the young woman reminded him of his daughters, and he hopes someone would do the same if one of them were ever in a situation like that. He didn’t see every woman sitting there. He couldn’t take this one incident and translate that to the larger social issue of sexism. It made him think for a minute, and it made him uncomfortable and angry – that is good. But it’s understandable that one experience can’t demonstrate what sexism is like for women. I just had no idea he didn’t really know. But how could he?

Women know. All women know, because we’ve lived it. Each woman’s experiences are different, but the result is the same. Sexism – in whatever form it presents itself – is humiliating and painful and unjust. I hope men will begin to understand that every woman experiences sexism – every woman. We know it can happen at any time, any place. And it does.

May 2015
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