I hope you feel uncomfortable, uneasy, and understandably upset while reading this.
Super uncomfortable, even. Uncomfortable enough to want to click away to something more jaunty, more on-the-surface. Less laden with hurt, and less truth-filled. But, fight the discomfort. Keep reading.
Why? Because I want you to change, even in the smallest way. I want you to quiet that voice in your head that automatically puts this blog into ‘another story of men treating women badly’ bucket. And, I want you to care enough by the time you reach the last word to actually do something about sexual predatory behavior against women.
I want you to feel uncomfortable as you read this for a litany reasons. So many reasons. And, if one thing comes of you reading or sharing a story like this, I hope that you’re able to empathize with, or start to understand how I (and many women) feel in public when we leave the fortress of our own safe spaces – that is, if we’re among those who have safe spaces at all.
Put simply, when we’re out in the world full of rushing, commuting, hustling, working, moving people – we’re at risk. Constantly.
This is our world today.
A world where men still belittle, sexualise, harass, stifle, and expect women ‘just take it.’ Openly. Randomly. Continually. At work and at home – and beyond. And, before we start off with the ‘not all men’ argument, I’ll put this right up front: I know not all men objectify and harass women. Good men are all around, but most good men don’t speak out. Don’t act out. Don’t stand up against daily micromoments of sexual harassment. I, for one, have been lucky to have grown up with – and in adulthood been surrounded by – good, strong, kind men. I’m under no illusion that some men truly do work hard to ensure women are safe. Because of this, I love men as I love women. As equals. As friends. As colleagues. But, I’m also a realist. We’re not equals. Not by a country mile. Not yet.
Let’s get real.
Men objectify women constantly – even when they don’t know they’re doing it. It happens in small moments, in big moments, and in the moments in between where a long glance, a throw-away statement, or a slight unwarranted touch still go unmentioned or unnoticed. It’s in-built into even the most liberal of societies that masculinity, at its core, is synonymous with being somehow bigger, brawnier, and entitled than women. And these traits transcend physical size (Believe me, I know. I’m a big woman.)
As you read this, and as you read article after article about Trump, Weinstein, and other depraved men, I want you to feel lots of things, but mostly gross. Gross because my story is average. In the great bell-curve of humanity, my experience and existence is akin to that of most other women. Right in the middle – but to both ends of the extreme curve, too – we have similar stories to tell. That in itself is gross. I also want you to feel as gross as I did when an old man on public transport in Rome thought that dry-humping me in public was okay. As gross as I do every time a man puts his body in my personal space and touches me without consent. As gross as I do every time I speak, type, post, or otherwise communicate while having to wonder ‘will this be read as flirting?’
I want you to feel the fear of walking alone after dark. And the intense anger I have to internalize when I walk to work in the morning while men in trucks lean out of their windows shouting degrading, disgusting words in my direction. You want to see my tits? That’s too bad. It ain’t happening, asshole. There’s a reason I’m wearing three layers on a hot day. You like my legs? Well I’d like it if you kept that to yourself. I’d rather you, Mr Catcaller (and all of your friends who laugh & think that public harassment is okay), knew just how intrusive your jeering looks, non-consensual touching, and degrading words make me feel.
I also want the other guys in said trucks to shut their friends up. To make everyday sexual harassment taboo. If you don’t speak up, out, or against – you’re part of the problem.
If you’re still here, keep reading.
If you’re online at all, I’m sure you’ve noticed the #MeToo posts across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter this week. Hundreds of thousands (perhaps, by now, millions) of women are using this succinct, powerful hashtag to show just how prevalent sexual harassment and abuse is against women. It’s disheartening. It’s scary. It’s banal in that we need to keep coming up with impactful ways to show just how widespread the mistreatment of women and girls in EVERY DAY LIFE is. Last night I thought about the #MeToo hashtag. I thought about my mother, my daughter, my fiancee, my friends, my colleagues, my heroes… and I realized that I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have a story about male predatory behavior.
Not. A. Single. Woman.
In thinking long and hard on the subject, and in trying to find ways to make meaningful discourse commonplace across the world – I retreated to the place I always retreat when I’m feeling ponderous. My own head. I started writing this blog before every putting pen to paper, and hands to keyboard. I thought about the innumerable times I’ve been harassed, felt unsafe, and been talked down to because of my gender. The unwanted gropes in rugby clubs. The unwarranted catcalls and professional moments of being called Sweetie while being talked over by men. I hoped beyond hope that my own daughter would suffer less vile behavior over the course of her lifetime. I hope.
It’s fair to say that I don’t know how to force a change in male behavior or shift the narrative around poison views of masculinity that drive such behavior. But, I have some ideas on where to start.
What follows are a few things we can all do to stop the normalization of sexual harassment. Hopefully, together, we’ll not see another generation of #MeToo posts. But, the cynic in me, sadly, thinks we will.
1. (Dudes) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
In the world we’re living in today, masculinity is judged in thousands of different ways – and most of them all lead back to sexual conquest. In fact, potentially all of them do. That means that even the idea of standing up for equality for women, and in treating them as equals goes against everything society says makes a man. My take is simple. Get uncomfortable in your own skin. Actively challenge how you measure your own worth as a man – and as a human. Dig into learning about what bothers/scares/worries/belittles women in interactions at work, in public, at home. Read blogs by women who have been raped, assaulted, or harassed. Don’t click away. Feel anger on the behalf of those who’ve been hurt, yet see their words as harrowing. Also, know that painful memories are shared with in hopes of stopping similar behavior in others. The truth of the matter is this: women feel uncomfortable almost all of the time. Those who say they don’t are either magical unicorns who never leave the house, or are absolutely drinking the proverbial Kool Aid of patriarchy. Here’s a quick win, don’t get all up in my grill. Don’t think it’s okay to put your body in my space without express consent. Don’t exacerbate the problem at work and come up to my desk, or any woman’s desk, and put your foot up on my chair so that your crotch is in my face. Don’t. Do. This. I’ll call you out on it. Loudly. It’s gross. It’s in appropriate.
2. Be hyper-aware.
Be aware of your body. Your voice. Your aura. Your manspread. As women, we’re aware of all of this all of the time. We know how much space we’re allowed to take up. We know how much we’re supposed to say in meetings before being spoken over or not spoken to at all. Be hyper-aware of the fact that all women have, in one way or another, been objectified (if not worse) by a man. And every time it happens, it hurts. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Treat all women like you’d treat The Rock. I mean, you wouldn’t inappropriately touch, fondle, catcall or speak down to (or over) Dwayne Johnson would you? Not if you valued your life and physical well-being you wouldn’t! Not only would The Rock immediately let you know of his displeasure, he’d probably go to great ends to make sure you never displeased him so again. Also, an important fact to be aware of is that most women really like most men. We do. But just because we laugh at a funny joke or smile at you, doesn’t mean we want to go to bed with you. Most often, we only want to interact as equals. Be aware.
3. Stand up, Act Up, Speak Up
If your friends are the idiots leaning out of car windows wolf-whistling and shouting obscene sexual profanities at women while they walk or jog in public, and you don’t shut them down or speak out – then you’re an active part of the problem. If you’re in meetings at work where women are spoken over, call others out on this and make space for female voices to be heard and acted upon. And, if you see someone who is uncomfortably close to a woman and feel her discomfort, help. Do something. Don’t just shrug and move on. To be better, you need to do better. Act better. Speak out more. Standing up for women is a great first step in bucking a centuries-long tradition of belittling them. We all have the ability to do this in moments both big and small, day in and day out. We’re all in charge of our actions and reactions. Take ownership. Even the smallest actions you take powerful ones.
While the above is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to changing how society views sexual harassment and equality, I think there are some good nuggets to chew through when it comes to making sure women are respected in daily life – not harassed.
Women, we need to speak up, too.
Loudly. I know it’s scary, and it’s hard being that b*tch who calls people out on their bullshit. But we need to do it. The onus falls on us to act in solidarity. This doesn’t mean we all need to go out and burn our bras (but oh, a life without bras!), it simply means we need to be vigilant. We need to actively speak about our consent or non-consent. We need to yell right back at the catcallers if that’s what it takes. If all we do is giggle at jokes that men in power tell (jokes that are meant to put us in a subservient, cliche, weak position),then we’re propagating the problems as much as our male counterparts are. We all need to work together on this one, Team. We need to read more, learn more, act more, speak more, do more. Be more.
I hope this made you feel uncomfortable, uneasy, and understandably upset.
I felt that way writing it. I feel that way living it.