So here we go.
The last few days of women stepping forward with their experiences of sexual harassment, assault and general sexism has been a mix of emotions for me. Angry, proud, sad, inspired, frustrated are some that come to mind. The one that doesn’t come to mind is surprised.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Should I say anything? Does it really do anything to speak up? Will this be a fad as many other similar campaigns have been? Why even bother? What more could I add to the story?
I’m shaking while I write this. I shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be controversial to say anything like this. It shouldn’t.
So yes, I join the group who waited a few days to say anything. People (men and women) who don’t generally count forms of sexual harassment as such because it’s so damn normal in this day and age and therefore questioned the validity of their story. I’ve even forgotten most of the details of things that have happened to me because I just shoved it in the back of my mind as “men will be men.” But there are a few. The teacher who grabbed my ass when I was 14. Fourteen!!!! The man on the street who asked if I’d like a kiss. The creepy old men whose “Hey there, little girl”s make my skin crawl. The whistles on the street. The cat calls while walking to my car.
I don’t feel safe. Ever. I went on a walk by myself one time early in the morning while it was still dark outside and jumped at every little thing. In my neighborhood!! Never again. It adds a whole layer of anger and frustration that I have to rely on my husband to come with me on every walk for me to feel safe. (As much as I love my husband and enjoy our walks, sometimes it’s not possible to go together. ) It’s something that I think many men get to take for granted. That feeling of safety. Not feeling the need to carry pepper spray, or a sharpened pencil, or their keys in between their fingers. Other rules I follow when walking to my car (even in the daylight now!!): Keep your head up, look around, only unlock the driver’s side of the door, don’t park next to vans, don’t look at your phone when you get in the car, turn the car on and drive away.
When I go out to drink–and I haven’t in a long time–I shouldn’t have to feel like my only valid refusal, is to point at my ring and say, “I’m married.” The accepted excuse should always be, “No, thank you,” and leave it at that.
Shall we even get into the multitude of sexist comments I have received? Does that count? I think it does. Because they spill into each other. The “You look tired”s and the “Your hair looks better [insert different hairstyle here]”s are just the tip of the iceberg. The mansplaining I got while I worked at Best Buy was ridiculous and the assumption that I don’t know anything about any type of technology drives me mad.
Sometimes these comments come from nice folks. Sometimes they come from people whom I respect. Sometimes people I care about use words like “p***y” and phases such as “don’t be such a little girl” and I have to have a debate in my head on whether it’s worth having the conversation … nay … the argument. Do I really want my experience to be put down and invalidated today? I usually choose to leave the room.
I generally think of myself as a bad feminist because of this. Why don’t I speak up? I guess it’s because I’ve been shot down so many times rather than listened to, I’ve just become used to it.
What can we do? I don’t really know the answer to that. I suppose a good place to start is to listen. Listen to the stories of what people have gone through. Listen even if they are lacking details, because it’s not your right to ask for details, but their right to give them. Listen if someone feels ostracized (this includes race, religion, creed, sexual orientation, etc, etc, etc.) and don’t invalidate it. Humans are so good at communicating. We could all use some work on listening.
Maybe another is to pay attention. Pay attention to your thoughts. Pay attention to how you phrase things. Pay attention to how someone reacts when you speak. And if they tell you something you said bothers them, don’t defend yourself. Don’t debate it, don’t give an excuse. Just don’t. Apologize, take note of how you phrased whatever you did, and don’t do it again. Because chances are if it made someone feel lesser, another human is affected in the same way. And no matter what you say, it doesn’t make it any less real for that person.
I say these things as an ideal. I am not perfect and have a long way to go on working on things like this myself. It took me forever to stop using phrases that were demeaning to women and others and I know I still have a few floating around in my mind that I haven’t caught yet.
I don’t really know how to conclude this. I suppose just: be nice to each other, treat human beings as human beings. There’s a lot of mean out there, but there’s also a lot of nice. Let’s choose the nice.
For further reading on this topic, please check out these articles: