A man sits down across from you, you can tell he is looking for a plug. The research room never seems to have enough and it is a serious design flaw, definitely contributing to the low student satisfaction at the school.
He sits across from you, and you know he wants to plug in his computer. Yours is plugged in, on full charge. You start to think that maybe you should unplug your computer, even though it struggles to function when not plugged in and you’ve got a full day of fourth year research ahead. You know he’ll probably need it, so you could just unplug it now, even though there’s another plug someone else could unplug from.
Then you stop and think for a second. You find yourself wondering, thinking, constantly second guessing: is every instinct to be helpful, to please, to infer someones- no, a man’s needs and act on them gracefully, a conditioning of my gender? Is it my household, my family, or my gender? Would my brother feel this? Would men feel this? If some say yes, are they the exception? Do not shy away from second guessing yourself.
I do not need to anticipate a man’s needs, I do not need to accommodate them. It is not my responsibility. But then why, why does it feel so instinctual? Why did this conditioning prevail over a feminist’s daughter, who is herself a feminist. She may have broken the conditioning, but she could not break free from her own conditioning, and leading by example, her daughter is now conditioned. It is almost, but importantly, not, instinctual. Do not forget it is not instinctual.
You feel serene in your perseverance, your laptop happy and productive. The man who sits across from you goes to plug in his laptop without a word. You look quickly to make sure that your laptop is still charging, thinking for a second if he had the gaul to just unplug you without saying anything, the nerve of some men! But he does not, he’s used the other plug. He sits down. You begin to work, satisfied that you did not accommodate the needs you anticipated.
He asks you if he could borrow a pen. You give him one silently and he says thank you. You sigh. Maybe I overreacted.
Then you think of all the times you’ve loaned pens. How often it was men. Men who had the lack of forethought to show up to university to revise and did not bring a pen. The audacity. A pen? Surely you can bring a pen. Useless.
You feel a bit more rational at the scribbled feminist rambling in your school diary. Then you realise rationality is the least of your worries when dealing with these matters.
It’s important, I think, to reflect on these little interactions, the little things in everyday life and see, reflect on why you feel a certain way. Reflect on why you feel threatened, why you feel empowered, why you feel complacent, or beaten down, or why you feel like being rude and keeping your laptop plugged in, or why you think it’s rude to anyway. I think that’s where people get away with sexism, still, so easily and perversely, and that’s where people get away with racism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia. All the isms and the phobias we think we are over, creep up in these little interactions, almost more in ourselves as reflective, reflexive, than anything.
I think if we second-guess ourselves a lot more, these conditionings of acceptance, complacency, will reveal themselves to us a lot more, and it might drive us insane to do it too much. But I also think it’s much better to live in that insanity than to stay blissfully ignorant of these little microcosms in our everyday life. Its infuriating that some days, just a little thing can drive you up the wall into a feminist rant, into a reflection of how you were raised and conditioned. It’s maddening, but it’s important to notice.
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