- Written byKatrina A. Maurer
Living in the Liminal: A contemporary feminist’s experience living in the in-between
Street harassment walked into the media spotlight recently after the release of the video 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman. Street harassment is a primary example of women’s spaces being violated by the male space. The lack of boundaries both physically and philosophically between men and women creates space for intimidation and dominance often exerted as male-on-female. Street harassment has been shrugged off by some as hypersensitivity but it represents the depth and permeation of patriarchy that prevents women from feeling safe and existing in an autonomous space. The tyrannical control over women’s spaces is multifaceted. Women are not reasonably represented in positions of power -100 in Congress, while encouraging, is still not equal- and should not expect the male life experience. The male life experiences postulates that street harassment is a form of flattery. This attitude escalates and perpetuates such myths as ‘politeness from a stranger is consent to have sex’ or that ‘a miniskirt justifies rape.’ The contemporary woman is forced to negotiate between these two mentalities and to repeatedly ask herself: I’m being told to stop complaining because of how good I have it and yet I’m faced with sexism every day that tells me I need to continue to fight for equal treatment. How should I proceed? The female experience can be defined though liminality. Women live in the same physical space as the dominant culture but do not live in the same societal space. Women exist in a liminal space – liminal coming from the word ‘threshold’ in Latin, līmen- meaning they are existent but not present, exposed yet overlooked, neither here nor there. Living in a liminal space leads to isolation. The space becomes smothering and convinces its inhabitant that she alone exists in the invisibility. The dissociation from the dominant culture occurs as a result of being societally degraded. Women are further distanced when repeatedly told that their value lies in the body; our only purpose, we’re told, is to provide sexual pleasure for men. This superficial interpretation of women’s value carries deep and damaging meaning. Extending that interpretation reveals that when women are told to be thinner or smaller they are being told to take up less space, to have quieter voices, to hold less power, and to have less control. This meaning manifests in self-isolation and arguably appears in the form of depression, which women present with a staggeringly higher prevalence than men. This interpretation highlights importance of intersectional feminism. The modern feminist must raise awareness surrounding gender discrimination as well as all other forms of oppression. The layers of privilege between persons put psychological space between them. This allows the dominant culture to dehumanize the Other, which creates acceptance of violence. Each layer of privilege adds another wall and creates additional space between individuals. The more dehumanized or objectified a population is considered by the dominant culture, the higher the acceptance of violence is toward that population. How else could it be that one in three women on the planet are raped or beaten in their lifetime, but the Earth’s population continues to exist unperturbed? The only established remedy is exposure in the form of knowledge and experience. When a person comes to understand another person’s perspective, the layers of space and privilege between them fall away. They are able to enter the liminal existence of another person. The challenge of the modern-day feminist is to inform the dominant culture about the isolated space in which many women exist, and provide education to help others understand the liminal existence. By removing the layers between the space of the dominant culture and exposing the female experience, global perspectives are formed. A decrease in violence should follow, but for now a walk to the subway without catcalls would make my day.