It’s a small thing. In the grand scheme, next to violence and employment and education and the right to control one’s own fertility, it might seem nothing at all. Still: it’s something. Maybe something that sums up, in its own microcosmic way why we still need International Women’s Day: why the job that began so many decades back is still no more than only partially complete.
It is about sitting in a restaurant in a town (Zurich) in a country (Switzerland) that is not my own. Attention drifting from the conversation going on around me, I look out the window. Outside are lights, shops, streets: a strange and exciting city to explore.
It is also 11 at night.
In a town and a country that is not my own.
I hesitate. I decide against. Not because I consider the idea intrinsically dangerous. A short walk: a window shop. Where’s the harm in that? The “worst” that is likely to happen is a look, an encounter, a confrontation. I don’t anticipate attack. Still less the attentions of some would-be Swissish rapist.
Though of course, that possibility, however remote, remains always back-of-mind.
So why not take that almost midnight walk? The risk, as t’menz constantly point out, is so very small.
To which I have two answers, neither of which bring great joy to those, today, talking up the progress made by women. I also bring a perspective, a near-unique point of view that I possess. For I grew up enjoying not – as some might argue – absolute male privilege: trans men and women rarely enjoy the full privilege accorded to their birth gender, but a shadow thereof.
Still, there are some privileges I had and that I am very aware of in the not having of them now.
As a male, one may walk easily and without challenge at night. People leave you alone: your presence on the street, unless you are determined to make a dick of yourself, is mostly unquestioned. As a woman, your solitary presence, after some unspoken yet culturally consistent curfew hour is that of guest and interloper.
Violence, challenge, danger are not random events that occur rarely and intermittently: they are the mood music to your very existence.
Alongside the risk is something else, a sense, perpetrated not just by men, but by some women too, that to take that risk is to take on blame. Should anything untoward occur – whether outright violence, or uncomfortable encounter – you should have known better: should have had more sense.
Which, in the end, is why I didn’t do what I very much wished to, and go for a little light window-gazing.
Not because the danger felt all that great. This is, after all, Switzerland, home to cheese and bankers and high standards of cleanliness and interpersonal propriety. But because, with a heavy heart, I know that the response to any waywardness I encounter will not be entirely sympathetic. For work, for a story, I’ll happily run the risk. Because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have a job: would be confined, as generations of women before me, to home and houseworking.
But the truth, as I suspect it is for so many other women is this: I can’t be arsed. Can’t be arsed taking the small risk that walk would entail. Can’t be arsed putting up with the soul-sapping lectures that I suspect would follow.
Is this, then, a smidgeon of regret? A hankering after lost privilege? No.
It is, however, a perspective: a deeply personal understanding, as few others have, of the difference in lived experience. How many freedoms remain a privilege exercised unconsciously and without awareness of how it may be otherwise by the male of the species.
And how a better world does not involve gaining, or regaining privilege: but in simply according equal respect, equal freedom to all, irrespective of gender.