So far since turning 20 in January, 2015, I have been:
1. Threatened with rape by a hostile man on a train, who went on to explicitly lay out the ways he would do it.
2. Asked to flash a group of men I passed.
3. Been hit on by a middle-aged man at a gas station as he blatantly ignored the family sticker on the back of his car, as well as the baby carseat.
4. Been stared at openly by men of all ages, most with a following look or whistle of appreciation.
5. Catcalled from passing men on the street or in their cars as they drive by.
6. Harassed to go on dates on 3 separate occasions by men who refused to take no for an answer, until I finally had to block them.
7. Had a creepy old man yell "D***, nice t**s" as he biked past my house where I was just arriving.
8. Watched as a high school boy on a bus stared at me as I waited to cross the street, then proceeded to made a disgusting hand gesture, as well as mouth something. I won't describe further, but needless to say it boiled my blood.
Why is this the norm?!
Growing up in the south (aka Alabama, for me), and particularly in a church culture, it was always hammered into me that it was my job not to tempt boys, or later men. The dialogue was such that they can't control themselves because they are visual creatures, and quicker to act before they think. Therefore, it was my job to always cover my shoulders and everything else, cover as much skin as possible, and pray I didn't tempt my brothers.
This same sort of mentality is echoed in rape culture, where the defendant's lawyer, the reporter, and random facebook commenters constantly say: "Oh that's so terrible, but..."
There is no "but" when it comes to this. It doesn't matter what the woman is wearing, how much she's been drinking, where she is walking, or any of the other circumstances that inevitably get brought up in such cases. In Brock Turner's case, the victim talks about what an impact those sorts of questions had on her here. In this letter, she makes the excellent point that, at the end of the day, they were both drinking, but he was the one who decided to sexually assault her. Under the same influence, he had it in himself to rape somebody, and she did not. His act of violence could not be excused by an influence they were both under at the time.
Just because I choose to wear red lipstick one day, or dress up, does not give any man the excuse to objectify me. Does this mean a compliment such as, "Hey, you look nice today," is unwelcome? No, but if it's followed by, "Why don't you [insert verb] my [insert body part]," that is not okay. Smiles are welcome! Winks, licking lips, and other gestures or crotch-grabbing is so not.
My body is my body alone. The female figure was not put here for your amusement, pleasure, or use, and the sooner you all learn that, the better. Obviously, this problem is widespread and deeply ingrained thanks to years of demeaning advertisement campaigns, films, TV shows, posters, pornography, and systematic degradation of women in society and the workforce.
The conversation is FINALLY getting started as to what sexual harassment and rape culture is, and how to step away from it. Advertisement campaigns like Aerie's are calling for the end of the use of photoshop to modify women and make them more sexually enticing. People are calling out against sexist dress codes in school that are so strict in some cases as to be laughable (not saying they should be completely removed, but plenty of reform is needed there). But it's not enough.
Be the Change
Educate yourselves, please! Take on compassion and learn what it means to be a woman (and this isn't even counting the mass rapes and enslavement impacting women in underdeveloped countries today). We go everywhere in groups, because that is safer than taking a walk alone. We walk through the evening to our cars and homes on high alert, keys sticking out from between the fingers of our clenched fists. We endure crazy amounts of verbal assault and unwanted physical contact, then are blamed for anything that happens to us.
It takes very little effort to be a decent human being, and I know that you all have it in you to be one. Educate yourselves, make female friends, read articles or blogs like this one that maybe give you some insight, and then correct your behavior. Correct your friends or that jerk on the street who you catch making a girl feel uncomfortable. Be her brother, her protector, her support. And when it comes time to marry and have your own sons, raise them up to treat women with equal respect to that which they'd give other men. Please, read this article by Christopher Finke and learn.
Stop judging each other so harshly. Do not make excuses for pigs who take advantage of women, conscious, unconscious, drunk, or sober. Don't whisper "bless her heart, but she really shouldn't have been wearing that dress." We are on the same team and this is a harsh world for the "fairer sex" to be living in now, as it always has been. We have this amazing opportunity to lift each other up and refuse to accept that this is just the way things our. It is not our job to cover up for the sake of men, nor is it our job to strip down for them.
Just as with the men, call those men out who you see harassing a fellow woman, and stand with her rather than staring at her from afar. If you don't want to go out with them, and they won't leave you alone about it after a polite refusal, then it is fully within your right to use whatever means necessary to get them to leave you alone. The second you feel uncomfortable and he is not treating you with respect, then every bit of courtesy owed to him as a human being disappears and you are allowed to get away by any means necessary. You do not owe men anything: not a smile, fake laugh, kiss, or even a response beyond "No."
It's Time to Make the World Spin
Jackson Katz speaks more on this topic in in his TED talk in which he said that men are the biggest threat to women's health, so it's no wonder we are afraid. What would it look like to live in a world without sexual assault, violence, and harassment, a world in which men and women respected each other as equals? It's not a far off dream, and it's not impossible to comprehend.
The change is you, men and women. You have been shaped by the previous culture, but now it's time to shape your own. Are you content to remain a bystander, judging and silent, or will you cry out against injustice and bring others to task until we can all feel safe and sure of ourselves?
Think about it. Read about it. Talk about it.
Be the change.