Inappropriate and sometimes downright aggressive encounters are not rare in the life of women today. All women, to varying degrees, experience some form of misogyny, disrespect, or overstepping of boundaries just too consistently.
My stance on feminism has only grown stronger over the past year as I read headlines like “10 Job Sectors With The Largest Pay Gap Between Men and Women” “6 More Women Allege That Roger Ailes Sexually Harassed Them” “White Male Privilege Is Why We Laugh At Lochte And Vilify Douglas” “Poll: Majority of Men and Republicans Think Sexism Is Over” “Spousal Abuse: The ‘silent illness’ driving women into homelessness” “Slap on the wrist for sex assault: Judge sentences University of Colorado rapist to 2 years in work-release program” “How To Be a Non-Threatening Woman” (a favorite satirical article of the year). The feed never seems to end.
Last night I messaged a few close friends about the struggles of living in a man’s world, the debilitating feeling of not being able to do enough in the face of a bro to make a difference or enough impact to risk the barrage of anger stemming from hurt egos. Sharing the journey of a woman in 2016 can be scary, it can be a step onto a ledge where you don’t know if you’ll be alone, and for some- it can be deadly. Whether evading comments in the workplace about how one should smile more, deleting salacious photos and messages from my inbox, witnessing forced and unwanted displays of affection to appease a man’s need for validation, or evading individuals who feel entitled to my time and presence- it’s a constant battle against what intrinsically feels wrong.
It’s not that the forced male gaze or need for control hasn’t always been there; it’s that I am more keenly aware of and what is and isn’t acceptable, fair, and simply right. Back when I was nineteen, I liked a boy. We had fun, we worked together, and he was cute in a rapscallion type of way. So when we were hanging out, watching a film and he decided that we should have sex and I didn’t really want to but gave in after half an hour of pleading- I didn’t think that was rape. For a long time, I labeled it non-consensual sex. Non-consensual sex where the predator thought Death Cab for Cutie would be the best soundtrack for unwanted touch.
Now, I know it was something else much more insidious and a complete invasion of my physicality, emotions, and psyche. If the statistics are new to you- then I recommend educating yourself: “nearly 1 in 5 women have been raped” and “an estimated 19.3 percent of women have been raped at one point in their lives”. Straight from the CDC. Those numbers would be correct as I recount friends and the girls and women around me who I know have been affected and influenced by having someone forced on them.
Rape is an ugly word, for an even uglier act. It boxes people in, it keeps them afraid, and it allows those who rape to continue to do so. When I was in New York, I was talking with a friend and he said he would never want to be with a woman who had been raped because he couldn’t help her get over the trauma. I was disgusted with his lack of understanding of the world we live in and naive, grossly macho posture towards victims of a crime. My experience was not traumatic, it was barely even noteworthy in the grand scheme of my life- and it allows me to see how sneaky these experiences can be for those around me. That these actions can go unspoken about for a lifetime and that the chance of them happening to future daughters, friends, and nieces is strong. So we need to talk about them now.
Someone I admire recently posted an article about a woman who did fight back– and I sent it to myself in an email with the subject line reading ‘READ THIS WEEKLY’. A refresher on this woman facing her attacker literally running head on would have been nice last night as two men sitting at the bar I frequent thought it socially acceptable to discuss my appearance in normal tones right in front of me. They muttered “you’re beautiful” and “you’re really hot” under their beer breaths within the safety of a public place and the blue glow of sports screens, then looked away when I shot them a look of disdain. These were not compliments from men who truly wanted to make me feel good about myself; they are lascivious moments when they feel enough in control to try and make me an object, a piece of meat for them to ingest visually. I wish I had done more than icily stare at them for a split second. Instead I pretended to be working the math out on the bill in my head and when I didn’t respond, prompted one of these mouth breathers to call me a “bitch” under their breath. I ignored it and hightailed away to meet my friends outside. Instead of asking ‘what did you say to me?’ and alerting the man tending bar who I know would have stood up for me, I fled. I walked quickly outside where in a moment of frustration and annoyance and panic, I cried- and then I stopped. I refused to let them take away another ounce of my night and yet, here I am writing about them.
I thought of describing what I was wearing to bolster the ridiculousness of this gross confrontation and realized that it shouldn’t be a damn thing. Whether I were in Daisy Dukes and a sheer bra or dressed up like KeyBoard Cat, the permission to comment on and insult after rebuke was not theirs.
The tricky thing about beginning to understand something is that you want other people to get on the same page; to comprehend the frustrations and risks of simply being a woman sometimes. I’m late to the game in recognizing what so many have experienced before me and will continue to until all things are reconciled. If anything, I feel more vehement towards sharing and urging friends and acquaintances, particularly my male counterparts, to look into their pasts and at their stories and the stories around them and to embrace the softness and warmth of being a woman and honing the sharp, strong edges we have the right to use.