May 30, 2014

#YesAllWomen - A Couple Firsthand Accounts of Casual Harassment

I'm a little late to the game on this one.  I didn't feel I had much to say, because I haven't felt that strongly harassed (you know, because just a little is ok) by anyone, at least not since grade school.

There was one time in high school art class that a male classmate was going around the room and putting his arm around random girls.  It was like a game or something.  The girls were always uncomfortable and never said anything.  It made me mad.

Finally, after about a week, he had made his way around the room to my friend.  She sat there and ignored him.  I was furious.  It was like some ridiculous mockery of what couples do, but without permission and with no motive that I could discern other than amusement at our discomfort.  Later that day, it was my turn.  I'd been fantasizing about what I'd do if he put a single finger on me, and my reaction happened before I even had time to consciously react.

He sat, put his arm around me, and amazed, I watched my fist fly out and hit his face.

My god, did I just do that?

He lurched away and called me a bitch, but you know what?  He left us alone after that.

I don't know if you'll say I overreacted or if he deserved it, but I was able to take action and feel in control of the situation.  What I'm finally realizing is that many women are not this lucky and are unable to do this.

I guess I've also experienced what the #YesAllWomen movement is about - casual harassment - and never put much thought into it.  A guy catcalling as I walk by, whistles or stares or rude comments.  It was never enough to make me scared.  Cities are different, but I had always assumed men and women were both equally afraid.

Today, Sister2 emailed us, explaining what the movement is and her take on it.  We hadn't talked about it yet, but damn was this eye-opening!  It never hits home as much until it affects someone you know and love.  Sister2 currently lives in Philly and had a recent experienced that really shook her and proves the exact point this movement is trying to make.

"I don't know if you are aware of the #YesAllWomen movement that has emerged following the UCSB shootings, but I think that it is worth paying attention to. The main idea is that 'No, not all men abuse women, but Yes, all women in the course of their lifetimes have to deal with sexual harassment, assault, and abuse.' And I think in the past I would generally ignored this as a silly feminist thing ([Sister2]'s prior mindset: if women just regard themselves as equal to men and act like professionals, then we are all equal as people, and feminism is unnecessary), but now I really think there's some truth to it. 

Men catcall women all the time and we don't even think of that as out of the ordinary. If your friend told you that a stranger grabbed her butt walking down the street, you would think it was creepy, but not that it was terribly surprising. And if you are somewhere alone at night, you do need to consider whether every man you come across is just a benign stranger or if they're going to harass you or worse. And most men have no idea that this is a normal thing that we deal with on a daily basis

When a stranger violated my personal space and kissed my face/neck, a male classmate blamed me for letting the man get too close to me. It's not my fault for being in close physical proximity to a male stranger; it's his fault for violating my personal space and inappropriately physically touching me! And when women get raped, they are asked what they were wearing at the time, as though wearing something skimpy makes it acceptable for a man to rape them. Men are responsible for their own bodies and their own actions! The fact that people find it understandable for a man to rape a woman because of what she was wearing, or to harass me because I didn't keep a 10-foot radius, is a problem. 

I think that we (the 3 of us) have felt somewhat removed from these kinds of experiences because we are tall and more physically equal to men than most women, and also the two of you may not see if as much because you don't live in cities, but it's a part of our culture, and I think I didn't realize that before."

Hearing what Sister2's classmate said about her experience - being kissed by some random stranger - infuriates me.  She told us this story.  Some man greeted her and went for a hug, like he was someone she knew.  She hesitated because she didn't recognize him but thought maybe he was one of the hundreds of people she's met recently at med school or volunteering, and decided to just go with it.  At the last minute, he instead kissed her, something that made her extremely uncomfortable and that she had shown no desire or consent to do.  And now this is her fault, because she didn't want to be rude to a potential acquaintance?

So I guess what I'm realizing is that I do have plenty to say about this, as should all women.  Because even if you accept that #YesAllWomen have to face this stuff, at least all men should know what we put up with.  Maybe awareness won't solve the problem today.  Maybe there's not a way to solve it.  But we're the ones raising the next generation, and maybe if we're aware, we can raise them to act differently.

Resources she cited and you should definitely take a look at.
Also, if a situation ever escalates and you or someone you know needs help, please use this list of resources for women (and people) in a multitude of oppressive situations.

Tell us what you think!  Share your story or link to your own #YesAllWomen post.