It’s Monday night basketball, an all-comers pick-up game, supposed to be fun and a good sweat. But week after week I steel myself against the anger, the frustration of not knowing how to correct the problem, and the despair of not being able to even begin to do just that. Eventually it happens: this time it’s Josh who yells at me to switch, to guard the new grade niner who’s just come onto the court to sub for the guy who’d been guarding Josh and Josh would guard the guy I’d been guarding.
I am distracted, as always, by the insult, the unwarranted assumption that I’m always the worst player there (even worse than the new grade niners) (although I’m thirty-five and played basketball for all of grade nine, and ten, eleven, twelve, and thirteen), and by the faulty logic that weak offensive players* are weak defensive players and should therefore guard other weak offensive players.
Nevertheless, I manage to focus on yet another problematic aspect of the shouted order: that it was an order, and it was given with the full expectation of compliance. How is it, I thus have occasion to wonder yet again, that a kid, a 17-year-old less than half my age, believes he can tell me what to do, believes he knows better than me? The answer is simple: he’s male. And I’m female. If I were a man over twice his age, he’d keep his thoughts to himself. And if he were a girl, he wouldn’t even have such thoughts.
When Chodorow wrote “Being and Doing”, a ground-breaking analysis of sexism in terms of passivity (of being, of women) and activity (of doing, of men), she got it right – but she also got it wrong. Josh is so easy in his authority over me simply because he’s male, simply because he is male. He hasn’t had to do anything to gain that authority, or the respect I feel myself giving him just before I catch myself acting like Pavlov’s dog. The confidence, the assurance, the arrogance that he must have to even think he can just tell me what to do – he has it just because he’s male. And he probably started developing it as soon as he realized he was indeed male: I’ve heard 5-year-old boys speak with the same kind of authority.
Women, on the other hand, have to do – we have to earn respect, we don’t just get it automatically. And I’m not sure we ever achieve any authority, no matter what we do.
And of course it’s not just respect and authority men feel entitled to just because they’re men: they also feel entitled to money (pay, and higher pay) and power (supervisory positions). In short, they feel entitled to dominance, just because of who, of what, they are (not because of what they do).
* I concede on this point, especially when I’m playing with people who are taller than me, who play with a slightly larger ball than I learned to play with, and who, most importantly, recognize only a hotshotting inside kind of game.