My 16-year-old sister recently went to my mom and asked if she would get in trouble for hitting someone at school. "Well," Mom replied carefully. "What do you mean?" Here's what she learned: there were two boys that had lockers near my sister's, and they had been making comments about her ass to the tune of liking it and wanting to touch it. One boy said he would, in fact, grab my sister's ass. She told him no. At some point later on, he brought it up again, this time saying that he and the other boy wanted to "each grab a cheek." My sister slammed her fist into the locker loudly and told the boys that she would smack them across the face if they did.
She asked my mom again: "Would I get in trouble if I hit them for grabbing me?" My mom said no, of course not, that if any guy put his hands on her without permission, she always had the right to defend herself.
At first, I felt proud upon hearing this. My sister is a badass teenager who isn't afraid to voice strong opinions and retains a very clear sense of right versus wrong. "Hell yeah!" I thought. "I'm glad she knows how to stick up for herself."
Then I caught wind of the now-viral #YesAllWomen thread on Twitter, and watched the number of tweets go up, and up, and up. Thousands of 140-character stories noting experiences of harassment, fear, and sexual assault.
And I thought about my little sister, who is funny and smart and kind and thoughtful. Who is only 16. Who already knows that saying no to some men is not enough. Who has already learned that responding with anger or violence is the only way to be heard by some men who want what they want. Who has already realized that defending oneself against a guy might mean getting in trouble. Who knows that talking to the school about getting comments from teenage boys will likely result in further unwanted attention and a response from leadership to the tune of "boys will be boys."
This devastates me. This is why #YesAllWomen is important.
I can obviously only speak to my experiences in response. And in some ways, I'm lucky. I've never been physically assaulted. I've never been raped. I've never been harassed at work. I've never been followed down a dark alleyway. For the most part, I'm a straight white woman who has thus far lived a life of relative privilege and yet, one thing that the #YesAllWomen trend powerfully showcases is that at the bare minimum, all women experience a daily, low-to-moderate level of harassment and misogyny from men.
In my life, #YesAllWomen because of:
- All the times I've said no to a guy, only to have it turn into a negotiation about my personality or behavior. Recently I was at a conference, met a new group of people, and a guy in the group repeatedly told me to relax and have fun and stop being so uptight . . . after I declined his invitation to scoot next to him in the cab on the way to a bar.
- All the times I've thought about or planned for my safety while walking somewhere: to my car, in a stairwell, in a parking garage, down the street, on a run in the park, etc. When I'm by myself, I take note of my surroundings, note characteristics of all men in the surrounding area, panic if I forgot to bring my cell phone or mace, put my keys in my hand to use as a weapon if necessary, worry if it starts to get dark, etc.
- All the times I've been told to stop being so "serious" after calling someone out on a misogynistic or racist or just plain rude comment. Or heard, "it's just a joke." Or refrained from calling someone out in a social setting -- usually a guy -- as to not rock the boat or ruin everyone's night or be perceived as . . . an uptight feminist.
- The time I asked my ex-boyfriend not to follow me to my car after a graduate class. He did. I asked him not to get in my car. He did, and when I refused to drive him to his apartment, he screamed in my face that I was an insensitive bitch. He only left me alone after I filed a restraining order.
- All the times I changed what I was going to wear out for an evening as to ward off unwanted male attention. Unless I was going out with a guy or group of male friends, because then I knew I wouldn't have to worry about it (as much).
- All the times a guy offered to buy me a drink at a bar or started to dance by me at a club, and I said I had a boyfriend because I knew saying no meant nothing.
- The time a guy kept grabbing my ass on a porch at a college party, and I told him to stop, and he only did after my then-boyfriend shoved him.
- All the times I've heard a guy joke about putting something in a girl's drink, call a girl a slut because of what she was wearing, or say that a girl said no, but didn't mean it -- and then upon being told to stop saying such things, claimed it was all in the name of fun. What is fun about that conversation?
- The time I heard a friend had been previously sexually assaulted, and the administration at her school did nothing because it was "a case of he said/she said."
- All the times I read that women shouldn't wear yoga pants or [insert whatever clothing item here] because it is too distracting to men.
- All the times a random male stranger on the street has whistled at me, stared aggressively at my body, or told me to smile as he walked by.
- All the times I learned over the years that sleeping with too many guys meant you were slutty and no "good" guy would ever want you, and not sleeping with anyone meant you were a prude that guys would never be interested in. Because if you're a woman who chooses and prefers a sex life, whatever that entails, that life obviously has conditions... Set by men.
- All the times I've been told I'm "difficult" or "bossy" because I have an opinion or disagree -- oh wait, all the times I've been interrupted by a man while expressing said opinion because his words are viewed as more important than mine.
- All the times I've been guilt-tripped about not liking another guy who has romantic interest, because I'm putting him in the "friend zone" and that's not "fair" and I should just "give him a chance."
And so on. Note that writing that list took only about 10 minutes.
It caused me to wonder, when's the last time I shared these kinds of stories? I usually don't, and a lot of women don't share these anecdotes of varying degrees of harassment and misogyny because it has become a normalized aspect of the female experience.
If I tell a girlfriend that over my lunch break today, I took my dog for a short walk around the block, and I was wearing a dress, so I made sure to grab sunglasses and put my "bitchy" face on due to walking near a busy street, and sure enough, I got hollered at about my body by two cars full of men, and it was awkward and made me feel tense and worried -- chances are high that my friend is going to be like, Oh I know, that sucks. Because she knows it's true. She's likely experienced it. Too often, it's just the "way it is" for women.
Unfortunately, after sharing these thousands of stories on Twitter, a mostly male response of #NotAllMen unfolded. "Not all men are like this!" exclaimed male Tweeters.
Well, duh. Of course not all men are like this. I can't even imagine that sort of world. Saying "Not all men!" is a moot point; it adds nothing valuable to the conversation that's happened about what WOMEN are experiencing. Not you. Not other men. If I share my experiences of #YesAllWomen with a man, and his response is some variation of "That's awful, but I would never do that" or "Not all men are like" or "Men like that give us a bad rap" -- I'm instantly pissed off. Because he's missing the point. It's not about what he would theoretically do, or what he thinks about it. LISTEN to what I'm saying, to what your sisters and daughters and mothers and aunts and cousins and wives and girlfriends are saying. We're women, and we're being loud on Twitter for a reason -- so LISTEN UP.
We know that #NotAll Men promote misogyny. #NotAllMen are entitled assholes, or have contempt for women, or verbally/physically harass or threaten or harm women. But ENOUGH men do.
So many, in fact, that there are websites like this. ENOUGH men are this way, as shown by the endless headlines of violence against women in the news and the 1 million tweets from women who have experienced rage or contempt or anger by a man that they know or don't know, in real life or on the internet.
If you're a man, and you say you're not like that, and #NotAllMen are -- fine. Then tell me the last time you worried about how your clothing at work would affect a promotion. Tell me the last time you went for a run or walk, and changed your route because you thought you were/might be getting followed, and it was getting dark and therefore not safe. Tell me the last time someone made an uninvited sexual comment about your body, or went so far as to touch parts of your body without asking. Tell me the last time you were told to be nice and smile so that the opposite sex would like you and find you valuable. Tell me the last time you were out and lied about your name or phone number or relationship status so that a woman hitting on you would back off. Tell me the last time you said no and knew you would not be heard.
You say #NotAllMen are like that? That yes, some men do know how to be respectful toward women? That yes, some men know that no means no? Then all of you who aren't like that, who do value women, speak out and speak up and be louder. Because there aren't enough of you.
We live in a world where women are kidnapped for wanting an education, and stoned to death for having sex, and raped for acting like they "wanted it," and cat-called while working out, and told to smile by men on the street. Where some men think they are entitled to sex and smiles and attention, and then when they don't get it, shoot a bunch of people.* Where my little sister has to worry about getting her ass grabbed in the hallways at school. It's heartbreaking.
Read the #YesAllWomen tweets. Speak up about your own stories of harassment, no matter your gender or sexual preference or race. Teach your friends and dads and uncles and husbands and sons to respect women, and if they already do, ask them to be more vocal about WHY respect is important. I don't want my little sister to grow up thinking this is just the "way things are."
*I'm leaving all mental illness and gun control issues out of this conversation for now. Both deserve a mention, though.