Man To Man: On Female Invisibility

Illustration for article titled Man To Man: On Female Invisibility

This weekend I went clay pigeon shooting. This is when you go to a place where you're the only brown person and machines shoot clay discs into the air and you try to shoot them with a shotgun.

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I was a baby about it for several reasons: I am not a fan of hunter/gun culture. I associate it with the Tea Party. I assume that accidents will definitely happen and they will happen to me.

Unfortunately I did not much enjoy the shooting (the kickback was too jarring) but that is a story for another time.

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This is a story about a different thing. Something I call Man to Man (M2M).

Examples of M2M:

1) A woman is walking down the street with Man A. Man B approaches the two to ask for directions. Man B speaks only to Man A, ignoring the woman.

2) A woman enters a store with Man A. The store clerk (Man B) approaches and asks if he may be of assistance. He speaks only to Man A, ignoring the woman.

3) I go clay pigeon shooting with my man friend. The white, working class, 17 year old lad whose job it is to show us the ropes, speaks only to the (white) man friend, never speaking to me.

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You get the picture.

Every woman has experienced M2M. It's old news. We're not taken seriously, we know. I must have avoided M2M for some time however, as I was surprised to meet it again at the gun club (…though where else would you meet it if not the gun club?)

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This strapping young 17 year old thing was a nice enough fellow with the pleasant demeanor usually associated with much less attractive high school boys. Few of us can escape the charm of good looking people with an incongruous lack of confidence, and perhaps this is one reason I was able to consider the situation with an uncharacteristic lack of hostility.

The instructor spoke only to my male companion.

He did say one or two words to me. He showed me how to load the gun so I wouldn't die etc. But when it came to giving helpful tips or information on the game he addressed my friend. Even when I had the gun aimed and ready to shoot, he turned and gave shooting tips to my friend. This was especially ridiculous but I did nothing to correct him. He didn't see me and so I let myself be unseen.

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It occurred to me that this boy could very likely go through his entire life without having anyone bring this habit of his to his attention. I am making some grand assumptions about his friends and family here, but consider this: My male companion, a highly educated, upper middle class, white liberal male, was not himself aware of M2M's prevalence until he became involved in activism post college.

And what role did race play in my invisibility? It most definitely played some part. I am sure he thought I was Asian. An Asian-American not an Asian immigrant and I'm certain he did not think I was black. How different would his interaction with me have been depending on how he perceived my ethnicity?

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Once a person has decided how they're going to interact with you, it can be difficult to change. Changing it demands a degree of aggression. The constant fight for visibility is exhausting. Sometimes we don't want to deal with it and sometimes we just don't care. In this case, I was more amused than angered. But what the hell does that mean? The simplest answer is that it's easier to feel amusement than anger. But I also I cut him some slack because of his youth and aforementioned pleasantness. I also realize only now that I felt some power over him because of our age difference and so did not feel threatened. If he had been an older white male I most likely would have asserted myself and attempted to change the interaction, forcing him to see me the way I wanted to be seen. I didn't do that with this boy however. I saw what was happening and I sat back and let it happen. I didn't care and I'm bothered by that. Perhaps I felt I could afford to have such an attitude since the men I usually interact with on a daily basis are somewhat aware of gender imbalances. But what a stupid false sense of comfort.

You see, when you live in a liberal state and surround yourself with "progressive" types, even those with the most cynical and mistrusting nature (like this moi) can temporarily forget that this bullshit happens all the time.

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This post originally appeared on the blog This Moi (RSS feed here). Republished with permission.

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DISCUSSION

Devil's advocate time:

Could it simply be that some perceive it as rude to address one's female companion directly? It may be assumed that said lady is romantically involved with the guy (naturally, some exceptions would be glaringly obvious), and that a direct communication would be inappropriate and violate that bond. Yes there are guys who would blatantly hit on someone's sweetheart right in front of him. Personally, I usually go M2M initially as a courtesy. If all is well, then there's no issue with M2F communication.

Not because she's invisible or have no voice of her own. Nevermind the tendency of some people to flip out when "some other dude is talking to their lady".

That's not to suggest that such instances of sexism do not occur (like racism, or any other -ism, for that matter). But often, we can allow our own views and/or experiences to color our perception of things. Case in point: something as simple as offering to hold open a door to one can be viewed as chivalrous, but to another, sexist/chauvinist. Yes, I've actually been told "I don't need no man to hold no doors open for me! I can do it myself."

Finally, I will say that sometimes, the truth lies in the context. If one finds herself/himself in an area where the local culture regularly engages in sexist, women-as-2nd-class-citizen practices, then such a perception would likely be accurate. The whole point of this diatribe is that judging someone's intent, while lacking clairvoyance or ESP, can be a slippery thing.