May 12, 2021

Believe It or Not

Guest Column
By Mary Keyes Rogers | March 23, 2019

Back in high school, there was a week each year when the Life Skills class would bestow a baby doll with an egg inside to each student who then attempted to balance the lifestyle of a teenager with the 24/7 reality of caring for a helpless infant.
Real parents, with real babies, benefit from the soundtrack familiar to all parents, the never-ceasing background song with ever-repeating lyrics in their own head:

Is the baby hungry?
Protect the baby.
Is the baby too warm or too cold?
What time do I pick up the baby?
Lessons were learned by the teens pretending to be parents, but the Life Skills baby dolls took it on the chin.
Similarly, community leaders will subject themselves to sleeping outside for one cold, maybe wet, night to understand the challenges of homelessness and hear the homelesses background song:

Where will I sleep?
Where will I find food?
Walking in somebody else’s shoes, even temporarily, exposes us to the 24/7 reality of others. My point is that until that reality is your reality, the background song never really kicks in.
There are realities of one person’s existence that are simply too far of a stretch from one’s own to truly accept the every-minute-of-every-day immensity.
The blind woman has learned how to best navigate her world, but I cannot begin to comprehend, nor can I hear her background music.
I believe that men are likewise deaf to the collective experience of being a woman. More specifically, being a woman in a world dominated by men who hold power over them.
In the spirit and celebration of Women’s History Month, I hope to shine some light on the blind spot when trying to understand the gaping divide between the realities of the genders. The reality of moving through the world as a woman is only understood by a man when he accepts our background music even when he is not personally responsible for it.
As women have wrestled with fighting against their own good-girl nature, all men, including men who support a woman’s right to equality, could give us an assist by accepting the uncomfortable fact that they are oblivious to certain realities of womanhood that make our very existence quite different than theirs.
This is why a mildly sexist comment may get what seems like an oversized reaction — it made our music come on. This is not a blame game. It is a reality. We hate when our background music comes on because now we have to deal with whatever comes next.
Something as simple as parking and walking to and from a store alone after dark raises our awareness of danger. A man has no grasp of what goes through the woman’s mind when she questions the degree of caution that she must exercise before doing this very simple thing.
To a man, the chance of his being sexually assaulted can be filed under “If I Ever Get Sent To Prison.” Women must consider the vague but real possibility of falling victim to a man’s behavior every single day. It is, in fact, the background music that keeps her safe and alive.
Am I safe being alone with this man?
Is he going to hurt me?
Is he going to take advantage of me?
Is this man expecting that I am going to sleep with him?
What did that touch mean?
Is he going to kill me if I leave him?
I am not overstating this. White women, black women, rich women, and poor women all experience this. The volume changes, but not the lyrics. We are our history. More to the point, Gentlemen, we are your history, even if you’re a good guy.
Usually, the music is so low that women don’t hear it. Then, something small happens, and it picks up. Sometimes, we go from peaceful silence to the blasting of screaming punk rock.
About 99 percent of the time, it’s a false alarm because 99 percent of men are good men. We know that. Women also know that 99 percent of the women beaten, killed, sexually assaulted, cheated out of a job or the paycheck she deserved, or maybe just treated as a lesser person would point to a man as the human being who did “it” to “her.”
Can you imagine that? Always knowing the volume could crank up at any moment — during a job interview, while on a run through the neighborhood, commuting home from work to your family, going on a first date with a guy you met at church?
Twice this week, my music came on loud and clear. And then it stopped, and I went about my day.
Imagine telling a parent to stop thinking about the safety of their baby. This is the experience of being a woman in 2019. Every. Single. Day. Believe it or not.
Mary Keyes Rogers is a Traverse City resident, blogger, and podcaster.


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