But not the way Shania intended it. I am violently forced to think of myself as a woman, defined through my body shape and my reproductive abilities. I'm visiting my hometown, where patriarchy still rules. In the first ten minutes of being there, two taxi drivers have already managed to remind me that patriarchal systems are all about oppression. It's the middle of the night, and two women head towards their car, passing by the two taxi drivers. There's no man around the two women, and this absence makes them vulnerable. The taxi drivers start making comments about the women. It doesn't matter to them the women could potentially be paying customers: they are - first and foremost - women. In other words, a prey. A prey to be verbally abused.
This was my entry into my hometown. At first, I felt angry. I'm no longer used to being labeled a 'woman'. I am no longer used with being approached and related to as a 'sexual object'. But can I start a fight with two men in the middle of the night in a parking lot? Maybe I should. Maybe I should tell them to shovel it. But I don't. The men know I won't. And even if I dare say something, they know they hold the upper hand: they'll only start calling me names and become more and more vulgar, reminding me of what I am to them - a sexual object. They'll laugh and make obscene sexual signs to me. And, if I piss them off too much, they may even cross that thin barrier that holds them back and start tossing me around like a toy. Because they can. So I swallow my anger, and I am left empty and humiliated. The only thing that could have saved me would have been the presence of a man around me. Then, and only then, the taxi drivers would show respect - but not to me, to the man to whom I (even if temporarily) belong.
I've been thinking about this incident for the past couple of days. I have been thinking about how this oppressive system rests upon the internalization of our gendered roles. And upon the humiliation of women. Anger giving way to powerlessness giving way to frustration giving way to humiliation giving way to numbness and conformity. There's nothing more powerful than taking away one's dignity. If the only way I am to preserve my dignity is to have a man of my own, then I'll do it, just as the other women before me have done it. That's what I'll tell my daughter, just as my mother has told me. Not because I want her to internalize the patriarchal rules of the game: but because I want her to be safe, to protect her from humiliation. Isn't this a vicious circle?