Never Alone…in Patriarchy
I do many things alone. I go out to eat alone. I shop alone. I go to fitness classes alone. I go to movies alone. I hike alone. I ski alone. I travel alone. I even went to my Senior Prom alone! I can’t say that I am perfectly comfortable being alone. There are many times that I have just stayed home (alone) rather than go through the trouble of going out alone. Company creates momentum. Company has expectations. Company is also a comfort in unfamiliar situations. While I do things with other people as well, it is the alone time that has got me thinking. As an observation, the vacuum of being alone is always quickly filled by patriarchy.
Let me explain. I am traveling alone again. As I travel alone, I find myself in male spaces and in the male gaze. For instance, I am not an invisible person who ghostlike wanders the streets of Old San Juan. No, I am an object to be called out to, told that I am pretty, followed, harassed, and haunted. These catcalls and compliments are a cultural thing, but it reminds me that I am not alone. My space is invaded. I am sure if I was with a group of females, we might all experience the same. So, maybe it is not only that I am alone. It is a combination of alone and female bodied. More than this, if I consider some of the things I fear the most when traveling the things that pop into my mind tend to be crimes such as sexual assault, being robbed, being threatened with a weapon, or otherwise victimized. In these imagined concerns, the perpetrator is male. Sometimes I walk faster or turn the other way when I see some men. This isn’t to say that a woman could not commit such a crime, but within the context of patriarchy, males are socialized to act more violently and aggressively. When I am alone, I am not really alone, as I am kept company by a sense of fear wrought by the wrongs of patriarchy. If I am not particularly afraid, then I am still haunted by patriarchy in other ways, though mostly all through its distorted relationships between men and women. It may not be catcalls, but simple conversations wherein I wonder if I the man who is talking to wants to talk as equal human beings or if he is only talking to me so that he can make some sexual or romantic connection.
I wonder how others experience being alone. Informally, I have been tracking who I see when I am alone. Each time I went cross country skiing/snow shoeing alone this winter, I only met men who were out alone. But, surely women go out in the woods alone too. I also mostly met men when hiking, including finding a homeless man in the Superior municipal forest. When I eat alone, usually if there are other loners they are also men (elderly men). I have also only noted solo men at movies. Of course, this is a small sample and other variables could come into play (such as skiing certain places and watching super hero movies). And, I am probably not paying attention to the solitary women on the Lake Walk or at coffee shops. So, I am more attuned to the lack of females when…..there is a lack of females. But, it does make me wonder if women are less likely to venture out alone. What are the perimeters of patriarchy?
The first perimeter is fear, violence, rape culture, and male dominated spaces. This keeps women from venturing out alone, as a woman who takes risks (going out at night, walking down an alley, going into a bad part of town, keeping bad company) will be blamed for whatever happens to her. The second perimeter is the traditional social roles of women. Women tend to not be alone…as they are with often with others (children, husbands, their aging parents) as caregivers. A solitary woman has either shunned her traditional role as a caregiver or is escaping caregiving for a moment. Thirdly, when a woman finally is alone-patriarchy closes in again-like a circle of crocodiles-through masculinity’s watchful gaze and sexist (or heteronormative) stilted interactions.
My recent time alone has brought this to mind. Until recently I hadn’t considered what it means to be alone in patriarchy. To me, it means…never really being alone.