My mother, sister, friends, and acquaintances too.
I do not know of a woman who has not experienced some form of sexual harassment or trauma.
Since the explosive Harvey Weinstein allegations, powerful men everywhere are bracing for their own fall. It’s invigorating. But it’s not enough. I’m coming for the men with no power. I’m coming for the homeless man on the corner who says “Smile, sexy.”
Pitchforks are being sharpened.
We’ve reached a point where we can’t go back. Did you grab an ass in an elevator in 1994? We know, and it’s not ok. Do you have a reputation for cornering drunk girls and forcing a makeout? We already know. If you’re reading this and getting nervous, good. We’re taking names. We’re printing receipts. It’s not ok. It never was.
I had a family friend who painfully pinned me to the ground in 1st grade and tried to kiss me, because he “had a crush.” There was the grown man in the coffee shop where I worked at age 17. He waited for the elderly coffee klatch to clear out, and then slipped me a note offering me money to sleep with him in the hotel next door. The teenage boys who yelled out, “Suck my cock” to my friend and I, walking to the ice cream store one summer day, when we were 10 years old. These are just some of the experiences that come to mind when I search my own memories for all the moments, big or small, when my gender made me a target.
The most shocking discovery is that none of these examples are shocking. They are common-place. Women have been running through these events together since the dawn of time. We’re reminded when our fathers hand us pepper spray for protection when we sign up for a night class. We’re reminded every time some well-intentioned product hits the market like nail polish that detects date rape drugs, or apps that send distress texts to your friends when you’re walking home alone. The fact that we’re shamed for having the nerve to exist in the world alone. That we should “know better,” watch our drinks, adhere to the buddy system, and dress modestly. That no one has acknowledged that it shouldn’t be our job to not get raped. That no one has told men they should “know better” than to commit assault.
A woman reports being groped by an elderly man, and responses include “Focus on the real issues like rape.” Are you telling me that my body is only entitled to a finite amount of respect and autonomy? That we have to pick and choose the ways in which we are not assaulted? That our asses are fair game because no one got physically hurt? IS ANYONE ASKING THESE QUESTIONS?
We prop up this illogical institution by holding men and boys to a low standard. That standard is supported when girls are sent home from school for wearing shorts in the second grade. It sends a clear message:
“We can’t trust boys not to behave inappropriately.”
Even more than that, we don’t want to trust them.
Studies have shown that a simple course on consent could have dramatic positive effects on campus rape statistics. But we don’t hold them. We like our institutions to be convenient. If we acknowledged that consent is but one factor in the overall picture, we’d have to admit just how badly we’ve failed our women historically. Some men are uncomfortable that we’re approaching a shift in perception. They’re outraged that we ask, time and again, to leave us alone.
I call upon men to be brave. Don’t let this society tell you that because you have a Y chromosome you can’t control yourself. Don’t believe it when they tell you that a woman’s body is owed to you — you’re fully capable of finding sex or love without cashing in on this backwards expectation.
The longer we continue this cycle of fear-mongering and denial, the longer you remain a threat. I believe in you. I ask you to speak up, and then step aside. Speak up when you see garbage behavior. Step aside when we need to be heard. Live up to your potential as humans and stop dining out on the free pass of toxic misogyny.
You should know better.