To men who are genuinely interested in learning how to be allies to women who endure gender-based harassment and violence:
I took an Uber, alone, from the airport to my apartment on Sunday night. It was just before midnight. It was a week after the #MeToo Campaign flooded social media platforms around the world. The 15-minute ride was relatively pleasant and normal. (“Unpleasant” and “abnormal” in this context do not refer to a driver who is annoyingly chatty when you just want to put in your headphones; I mean someone who says, “You have nice eyes,” or “You look like someone who is looking for a good time,” or asks, “Are you going to meet your boyfriend?” This happens a lot.) My driver barely said anything to me until he pulled onto my street. He turned to me and said the following:
“You are really hidden away here. No one would know how to find you.”
My thoughts snapped from wondering whether I had anything edible in the fridge for lunch the next day to getting the fuck out of this car. I thought about where my keys were. I thought about leaving my suitcase behind. I thought about how fast I could run to my door.
I’m going to break this down for you, gents:
For me, it was not an option to try and educate my driver – to say something like, “That comment makes me uncomfortable,” or “It might be best when you drive single women to not say things like that.” There are 3 likely responses I have to consider:
- He gets defensive and backs off. He might tell me he’s sorry for making me feel uncomfortable. The more likely response is for him to not take ownership of the way his comment made me feel and say something like, “I didn’t mean it like that.”
- He gets defensive and angry. He says something condescending like, “Don’t be so sensitive,” or “Fuck off.”
- He gets physically aggressive. (Even if I said nothing, my elevated heart rate was already warning my brain of this outcome.)
So here’s what I did: I laughed courteously, murmured something like “Uh huh,” waited by the curb as he got out of the driver’s seat to get my luggage, and said, “Thank you,” as he drove away.
Think. About. How. Fucked. Up. That. Is.
I had to THANK him after he made me feel threatened. Rather than engage him in an important conversation – and, by the way, give him the benefit of the doubt that it was his lack of awareness and NOT and actual intent to harm me that motivated his comment – I had to prioritize my safety. I was effectively silenced because of this intrinsic, slippery power dynamic that demands women to watch out and be careful and make good choices rather than obliging men to be decent and considerate and kind.
So now, here I am at 1 in the morning, fired up, writing this shit, AND knowing that my driver has my fucking address.
Men, here is what you can do to be allies:
1. Read this.
If you don’t understand it, read it again. If you still don’t understand it, ask me about it.
2. BELIEVE ME.
Believe me when I tell you that this shit happens all the time. If you don’t believe me, ask yourself why you don’t. If the truth makes you uncomfortable, keep reading.
3. Don’t act like I’m exaggerating.
If you think I’m blowing this out of proportion, think about how that permits you to disregard my discomfort. Think about how that silences me. Think about the fact that even though my driver probably didn’t want to hurt me and that “nothing actually happened,” that is NOT the point. Think about the likelihood that he would NEVER say this to you – that this means his comment is inherently based in sexism.
4. Don’t blame me.
If you think, “Well, women shouldn’t take Ubers/Lyfts/cabs by themselves,” you are blaming me. You are being complicit. My other options were to bother friends with cars at midnight on a Sunday or take public transportation for over an hour at midnight on a Sunday. (Incidentally, I would have been told to “be careful” if I chose the latter.)
If you think, “well, this is just what happens to women,” you are still being complicit. I have plenty of male Uber drivers who are capable of not being assholes to me. Maybe see how they manage to do it.
5. Try to understand the consequences.
TRY to comprehend the consequences of these incidents happening over and over and over again to me, and to other women. Understand how PISSED OFF I am that I am made to be quiet when all I want to do is change things.
6. Think critically.
Especially about how the language you use perpetuates this shit.
7. Teach your children.
If you’re a father, teach your sons to be kind to women. And “kind” doesn’t mean holding doors and patting yourself on the back for being chivalrous. If your definition of “kind” does not extend beyond that, educate yourself.
Teach your daughters to be bold and brave and daring, and not to shrink themselves in the face of the patriarchy.
8. CALL PEOPLE OUT.
You DO have the power to shift things. I have just explained to you why it is so hard for me to do it myself.