Warning: Sexual harassment and assault
Yesterday, I wrote about how “not all like that” is often code for “I don’t like something about you but I’m trying not to be a jerk.” Today I’m going to talk about a different sort of “not all like that”–the kind that gets defensive when there are people “like that.”
Every day, women put up with (often in silence) all manner of harassment–on the street, on public transportation, in the workplace, in church. Catcalls, leers and jeers, whistles, groping, comments about our bodies, name-calling, angry retorts when we don’t respond. We bear it, usually because someone has told us it isn’t a big deal or that we must have “been sexy that day” or we’re overreacting. We’re made to feel alone, as though we’re the only ones who have ever experienced it, and we must somehow be responsible for it.
I’ve been there. The boy who cornered me and grabbed my breasts until I screamed for help. The classmate who ran his foot up my leg during study hall and whispered dirty things he was going to do to me. The religious authority who forced me to feel his erection. The student in my lab who gave me his assignments with “bitch” and “whore” scrawled at the top. The kid who wrote in my year book his offer to “let” me give him a blow job. The men who whistled at my sister and me on our way to the theater and called out,”Heyyyyy, ladies!” The man in the bar who put his arm around me when I wouldn’t give him my attention.
The problem isn’t just that these men and boys exist. It’s that whenever we talk about it, the automatic response from at least one man will always be, “But we’re not all like that” or “Well, I’m not like that” or “”Men get harassed too, you know.” Well, cheers to you that you’re not like that, but don’t expect me to pat you on the back and give you a gold star for not being a dick to women. Would you like to know some better responses? Here you go:
My God. I’m so sorry that happened to you.
Next time I see someone doing that, I’ll speak up.
It’s wrong for anyone to be treated that way.
It’s happened to me, too. (Because it does happen to men, and that’s just as shitty, and men shouldn’t be shamed into silence either.)
Unfortunately, too many people believe that these are isolated events perpetrated by a few folks with boundary issues. It’s not, though. Millions of us have experienced these things, and they happen everywhere. I hope that when confronted with the facts, the denial and the shaming and the victim-blaming will unravel. The UK-based Everyday Sexism Project seeks to make that happen, fighting the lie that it’s not common or it’s the fault of the people on the receiving end. I highly recommend following @EverydaySexism and the hashtag #SHOUTINGBACK on Twitter.
Take a few minutes to watch this video (it’s probably NSFW; there’s explicit mentions of specific kinds of harassment, including public masturbation).
Don’t excuse or minimize this behavior; don’t remind me that you don’t participate; don’t play the “what about the men” card. Please just help make a difference.