Still getting snagged

Dear President Trump,

The other day I saw a woman with blond ringlets riding on the back of a motorcycle a little ahead in the next lane over. When I glanced back, I saw I’d been mistaken and the woman I’d assumed was riding behind someone was actually riding alone. It was pretty disconcerting both from the standpoint of having been so sure I was seeing something else and because I knew immediately that my gender bias was in full throttle; my brain registered a woman riding on the back rather than driving the motorcycle herself. Sigh.

The other ordinary, not very momentous, but still kind of telling gender-related-thing from this week is that I’ve been practicing crossing the street in a more dignified way when cars stop for me. Before last week, whenever a car stopped for me I gave an enthusiastic thank-you wave and smile as I stepped off the curb, another one in the middle of the street, and then yet another when I’d made it across. Basically, I acted like they’d just done me a huge favor that I didn’t deserve and I had to show how beholden I was. I was vaguely aware it was ridiculous, but it was only when I started paying attention to pedestrian behavior when I was driving that I realized I needed to stop it. It took me decades, but I began noticing that when this sort of over-enthusiastic pedestrian thank-you-ing happened it was always a woman doing it, never ever a man. Not all women, of course, but with men it was noteworthy when they acknowledged at all that I’d stopped and not a one ever engaged in the three-thank-you routine. Finally a little light bulb went off and I realized that a single small wave and smile suffices when someone is courteous. I think it boils down to me realizing I get to take up space in the world, it’s ok to inconvenience people a bit when I need to cross the street and I can simply express gratitude that isn’t freighted with anything else.

I know it’s a small, fairly silly thing, but by watching more carefully how men and women navigate the world, I’m figuring out how to consciously behave in ways that feel better, that are more dignified and gracious rather than frantic and beholden. Hopefully this will also help me do a better job of not being snagged by my implicit gender biases because, sadly, they are clearly still lurking.

May we feel safe to take up space.
May we be happy to let people cross.
May we express healthy doses of gratitude.
May we practice radical respect for one another and ourselves.

Tracy Simpson

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