Last week in Florida, Ellie and I were wandering around a bookstore when a man got really close to me and made a weird comment about my body.
I was immediately uncomfortable with how close he got, how familiar he acted toward me.
As I continued to browse, I watched him wander around the store talking to teenage girls.
Soon, the man went up to three girls. He said he was a photographer, did they play sports? Did they need senior pictures or anything done? Do you want to see my portfolio, he asked.
I froze in place.
I could tell the girls were uncomfortable. But they—like all girls—are taught to be polite to strangers. So they stood and listened, glancing over at one another, as he talked about how good he was at photography and where were the girls going to college and did they want to see his photos.
I stood at the next table trying to figure out how to join the conversation, how to tell the girls it was okay to leave, how to let them know they didn’t need to be meek and accommodating, especially when a grown man made them uncomfortable. And I could tell they were uncomfortable.
Soon, the guy wrapped up his conversation because the girls weren’t really engaging with him. He wasn’t getting what he wanted, so he moved on.
As we left the store, I reminded Ellie she’s not required to be nice to strange men. That she doesn’t have to stay in situations where she feels uncomfortable and just walking away, with no regard for being polite or gentle, is completely acceptable. There’s no reason for grown men to talk to teenage girls in a store with no other adults around. We raise our girls to be kind and say please and thank you, but we also need them to understand not everyone is owed their respect or time. As they say on My Favorite Murder, fuck politeness. Especially when you’re feeling unsafe or creeped out.
I was reminded of this story as I read the news about yesterday’s women’s Iowa v. LSU game. We want women, especially Black women, to be kind and gentle and polite. Society demands it and we echo the expectation in our social media posts and critiques. How dare women be competitive and challenging and not polite on the basketball court. How dare Black women be bold and proud and energetic.
Our misogynistic society has so many expectations for women, and we double those for Black women. Women will never meet the standards society expects of them, and Black women will surely not. Whatever the standard, it will be bent and stretched and changed when Black women get involved. To be accepted here, you must be what we demand. And when you meet that demand, we will change the rules.
Women must be humble and not brag and never direct. They must be meek and quiet and never boast.
Black women must be that and more.
Always more, never enough.
If people are made uncomfortable by a woman, it’s always the woman’s fault. Boldness will not be tolerated. Be good at your job, but don’t acknowledge you’re good at your job. Do not be proud you’re good at your job.
And what’s worse (if this can be worse?) is White woman are normally the first people to line up to pile on the misogyny. Misogyny continues to thrive because White woman uphold it, ensure its place so Black woman can be put in theirs.
We honestly believe if we hold others down, we’ll be lifted higher. We don’t realize that while we drown others, we’re standing in the same deep water gasping for air.
As Ellie and I walked away from that bookstore last week, I kept telling her she doesn’t have to meet society’s expectations of meek and polite while she’s out in public. If the situation warrants it, she gets to be rude and walk away. She doesn’t have to make herself small and uncomfortable for the sake of others.
And the same goes for women who play basketball on national TV.