I would like to share something that happened to me while I was selling my work in an art show. Well, more something that happened around me. It was the sort of thing that dismantles some of your illusions and lets you see the world through someone else’s eyes.
I have participated in several art shows and sold my stuff in booths at conventions, but this was the first time that I had brought along hair sticks.
Hair sticks, for those that don’t know, are sticks that some long haired people sometimes use to put in a bun. They’re often chop-stick shaped with a very narrow end and tapering to a wider end. The ones I brought along were hand-forged from steel.
They were quite well received right off-the-bat, with people asking how I made them and being quite impressed with my (admittedly limited) blacksmithing skill and anyone with hair long enough bundling it up to try them out.
This was all very affirming, but after less than an hour, a pair of ladies approached my table. They hefted one of the hair sticks and one said to the other “These would be great if you got attacked in a dark parking lot.”
This was a little unsettling. Not only was I worried that someone thought that my pretty hair decorations might provide some meaningful measure of self-defense, but it was distressingly specific.
I conveyed my concerns about the limited utility of the hair sticks for combat, was complimented for my craftsmanship, and the day moved on.
The second time this happened I was surprised by the coincidence, the third, I was starting to wonder, and by the tenth, I had no doubt. It was clear and it gave me a glimpse into a world that I occupy but do not live in.
A dozen times that day, a pair of women would have the same conversation about defending themselves from an attacker in a dark parking lot.
The exact same conversation.
To be clear, this show was in a rather pleasant suburb in a small and relatively wealthy city in Canada. It is not a particularly dangerous place in the grand scheme of things.
What I was allowed to see, or more, was unable to avoid seeing, was an ever-present worry in the minds of these ladies. They do not feel safe. They live in the same town as me, go to the same places, know the same people, and they feel that they are surrounded by danger, where I worry more about scraping the ice off my car.
I wondered at this aloud among friends some time later, and another layer was peeled away. The one woman in the group informed us that this wasn’t paranoia and that she, herself, had been assaulted in a dark parking lot.
Her revelation was met by a room full of men, sympathetic, kind men who were totally unable to process the information.
It’s not that we didn’t care, or didn’t believe her. It was that we don’t really have equivalent experiences. It’s hard to empathize with someone when their feelings and experiences are alien and in our incompetence, we failed her.
I learned that for the same reason that the clinically depressed, or returning soldiers have trouble telling others about their issues, women often can’t talk about their fears and experiences with men. We just don’t get it. We have nothing to compare it to.
We could be in the same place at the same time and have completely different views on it: In a club, the guy thinking about the overpriced drinks, while the lady is worried about getting drugged; in a parking lot, guy annoyed at not being able to find his car, lady worried that the blinking headlights might lead an attacker to intercept; some rowdy drunks walking towards you in the street, the guy worried he might have to fight, the lady worried that she might not be able to.
The world is a little broken.