Is Sexism Real?

Lent is a time for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  It’s also a time for reflection on this desert life—reflecting on the dryness and darkness which we see around us.  Through our focused conversations with God, shedding of unnecessary luxuries, and giving to others, Lent asks us to see differently and to be differently—to pierce through cold darkness, and to bring life to dry bones.

My desert this past week has been parking lots—specifically, crowded, busy parking lots.  Image result for parking lot pictureIn two cases, in two different south-central Indiana towns, something strange happened to me: large men in large cars looked at me with anger, pointed fingers, and shouting.

First, please put all “female driver” comments aside because, in one case, I was a pedestrian!  Also put “young person” comments aside, because (at least in my students’ eyes), since I actually owned a tape deck and remember the Image result for women are bad drivers‘80s, I am in no way “young.”  Whatever.

As for my deserts:  in my first instance, my husband and I were leaving an excellent pizza parlor, where we’d met my parents for lunch.  Because it’s excellent pizza, the lot is always crowded.  We got into the car and, after checking my mirrors, I slowly backed out of the space, and put the car in drive.  To my surprise, a large gray pick-up truck, with a large gray man inside, was blocking my way forward.  I looked at him—it seemed he simply needed to back up so I could finish pulling out.  He did not move.  He pointed and yelled.  It seemed he wanted my space.  I started at him.  As he did not yield, I ended up shimmying my little Ford back and forth, in order to slip by.  He promptly pulled into my vacated space.  Why didn’t he move for me?  Wouldn’t that have been easier?

In my second instance, my husband and I were walking through the parking lot after shopping at the local big box home improvement store.  The store was crowded on the weekend, and there were pedestrians everywhere.  Spotting our car, I looked both ways and began walking toward the lane in which we were parked.  Noticing an oncoming, large, gray pick-up truck about 75 feet away, I held up my hand in thanks, to signal I knew I was crossing (far) in front of the large, gray man inside.  But the man did not pause—he sped up, and began to blare his horn, stopping just a yard or so from me.  He did not move.  He pointed and yelled.  It seemed I was in his space.  I stared at him.  I continued to walk…slowly…toward my car.  He promptly squealed by.  It seemed he thought I was in his way.  Why did he come rushing at me?  Why was he surprised to find pedestrians in parking lots?

After both of these events, my kind husband asked, with some bewilderment—“what was all that about?”  Attempting utter calm, I replied, “I have no idea.  But I think I just got big, bad-manned.”  In my dictionary of life, being “big, bad-manned” is somewhat similar to being “man-splained,” if you’re familiar with that term.  Image result for mansplainedExcept, being “big, bad-manned” usually involves an action (by a male) which makes you (the female) feel stupid, belittled, and as if you were taking up too much space—too much space in the desert.

There may have been legitimate reasons for these men to have been frustrated at me.  Perhaps my pizza parking lot friend did not see me pulling out—or thought I should have pulled out at a different angle.  Perhaps my home despot friend hadn’t seen me begin to cross.  But, I struggle to affirm that these men were right to point, to shout, or to look at me with such disdain.  And…I wonder if their reactions would have been the same if I were a man…and not a woman.

Sexism is real—but it happens in such subtle ways that it is often impossible to catalogue, to cite concrete evidence, or to explain.  And, of course, saying something “feels” like sexism simply reinforces stereotypes regarding female reasoning processes and emotional sensitivity.  In both cases, my big bad-man experiences felt like sexism.  And sexism, along with racism, age-ism, elitism, and a host of other biases, are part of the littered landscape of this Lenten desert.

I can’t change the actions of others—but I can work on my own host of “isms”—my own blindnesses, my own angry pointing and yelling.  Perhaps rather than staring and walking slowly through desert-ed parking lots, I can work on calling others (or even myself) out of the desert this Lent.  With hope, a little Lenten prayer, fasting, almsgiving may help me to see differently and be differently…even in the midst of the big bad men in the parking lots of life.

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4 comments

  1. There is a lot of free-floating anger out there, and it can be scary and dangerous especially when it’s directed at you by a stranger who seems to be out of control of his anger — and is behind the wheel of a car. Small incidents of frustration provoking large responses of rage? Yes, you were not in any way the problem here. The problem was already boiling inside these men who — let’s face it — were acting in a hostile and aggressive manner toward you.

    I think women are special targets of aggression for a certain type of male, and this could well have been a factor here. The bullying attitude is very evident in both stories. Yet a man might also have been yelled at and treated with vile disrespect over a small conflict too. Stories of road rage, male against male, which end in guns drawn and loss of life, are not unknown.

    I am glad you got out safely. Very glad. An automobile is a large, dangerous weapon when wielded by someone in the grip of the demon of rage.

    I am reminded of the Scrutinies which we celebrate during Lent for the unbaptized. In them we “name the demons” that get hold of human beings, and we assert Christ’s power to cast them out. This is a very real thing. I think you were up against some demons in that parking lot.

    1. @Rita Ferrone:
      Free floating anger – an excellent phrase. As an old man I am sometimes the lightening rod for that in car parks.
      Graciousness and patience are undervalued attributes.

    2. @Rita Ferrone:
      “Yet a man might also have been yelled at and treated with vile disrespect over a small conflict too.”

      As I read Katie’s stories, I immediately thought of several instances in which I was behind the wheel, and was the object of the anger/aggression. I wouldn’t be surprised if this sort of thing happens more frequently to women, as the presumption is made that they are “safe” targets. However, in male/male encounters, the need to establish some sort of dominance enters in; especially when you’re the guy in the compact car (me), and the other is in the monster truck/SUV/van, etc.

      I think that sexist actions against women are very real; but if one thinks of “sexist” as attitudes or behaviors that come from some sort of gender-related value system, it’s definitely not exclusively something that happens between men and women.

      I also thank you for the phrase “free-floating anger” and know that, sadly, there will be ample opportunity to use it.

  2. As a follow-up, just this morning I got passed on a two-lane, double-lined road by a man who’d been on my tail through a 25 mph school zone. Once we passed the school zone, he flew by me. The battle rages on….

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