Paris as Ancient Athens
If some think I am nothing but a fitful fool of a complainer, I will provide a bit more context before the next onslaught of invalidation and mansplains hits —
I live next to the péripherique in Paris, my residence is literally next to it, which means that I live in basically the most urban environment possible. Paris is extremely racially, culturally, and economically segregated and I have to concede that one of the reasons I get heckled so often is that the local population is decidedly not fils de fils, or elites, it is poor immigrants who seem to not have much respect for women out of doors.
When I moved to this neighborhood, I saw a café that moved me more than my favorite in Brooklyn, and it has only grown to take up a sweeter place in my heart. But, being an American at the frontier of Parisian urban life, I wanted more. I searched and searched, and found that on many roads there are only men in the bars. Which is to say that culturally speaking, my neighborhood, is in many respects segregated with respect to gender, which is unsettling. ***I am just going to be more precise and confide here that the fact of certain cultures barring women from bars makes my skin crawl. Further, a local confirmed my worst suspicions: in many brasseries in France, you will find nothing but men, men, and more men at the counters, and zero women. It is not just a trademark of immigrant culture, it is a staple of public life in Paris that brings ancient Athens to mind.
Which is to say that culturally speaking, my neighborhood is in many respects segregated with respect to gender, which is unsettling. However, a local confirmed my worst suspicions: in many brasseries in France, you will find nothing but men, men, and more men at the counters, and zero women. It is not just a trademark of immigrant culture, it is a staple of public life in Paris that brings ancient Athens to mind.
Sometimes I honestly think things haven’t changed much from those times in Athens when women weren’t allowed to go out of the house unchaperoned — all the leering and aggressive behavior are simply reflections of the fact that women are not allowed to hold public space, and our bodies are scrutinized and looked upon as a public good, or worse, as property. It’s historical attitudes playing out. A lot of the time, thinking about how women weren’t even allowed in public (and still aren’t in many cultures) to act as independent agents helps me to understand why exactly I feel unsafe and menaced.
Hence also the immediate
women in public = sex workers
jump that misogynistic people like to make. it is still like that in enough cultures that to some extent you feel it no matter where you are.
We share the distinction of many minority groups in that for most of history we have not been recognized as human beings, nor capable of intelligent thought, or independence for that matter. I think that explains a lot about why so many people have trouble recognizing that we need to be able to exist in public without facing an onslaught of dehumanizing, intimidating, degrading, violent behaviors.
***and why not get even more precise: the idea that public life and its role in culture, as being of and about only men reproduced as the factual historical reality of this thing, culture, makes me want to die because it is disgusting, hideous, an eyesore!