I’m tired of thinking this. So very tired. Too often after I make it through another experience of harassment, another leer, another comment, another violation of my personal space, I find myself thinking this over and over. In the moment, my instinct is to deescalate, even though I am burning with anger and disgust from the inside out. But as soon as that moment passes…
I wish I had said something.
I know I could have said something.
I know intellectually what to say.
I know I could walk up to a LEO and ask them to do something.
I know my worth.
But the bridge between that knowledge and putting it into action seems to collapse almost every time I’m subject to another episode of unwarranted and unwelcome male aggression and archaic chauvinism.
Because of fear that’s buried way down deep.
Fear that he might follow me.
Or try to use force.
Fear that if I call him out, I’ll suddenly be the crazy snowflake feminazi that can’t take a compliment, or takes the guy in the zombie costume coming up behind and pressing against young women too seriously because, you know, Halloween…?
[The latter happened last night. My good friend confronted the guy when I couldn’t string words together. He stayed in “character,” shuffling away in silence.]
All that fear is rooted in lies.
Like the lie that no one will listen or believe you.
Or the lie that women just need to put up with being harassed and feeling demeaned because in the grand scheme of things it’s really not that bad, since he didn’t actually assault you.
Or the lie that the burden of accountability for harmful behavior is always on the survivor of those experiences.
Here’s the real, raw deal: many people (I feel I can safely specify many men, because I have been harassed many times and rarely has it been by the same man twice) still live their lives as if these lies were true. They believe them, and play into the power dynamic these lies create, assuming my private personhood is actually a public forum over which they preside.
I’m sure some women reading this may be frustrated by how elementary this all sounds, but I rarely hang my thoughts on something so personal out to dry this way; I would much rather internalize. I was too wound up while writing to keep it to myself (and wanted to be reminded I’m not alone). I know that race, class and other factors add important dimension here; but the sad universality of the female experience is that even though it’s manifested in different ways and degrees, harassment is common, even normal. It shouldn’t be. But it is.
If any of my male friends happen to read this, I hope you understand that I am not unique. I am so very typical, and of the women for whom harassment is close to routine at this point, I’m still probably one of the lucky ones. Some of you may be surprised by this post, because I don’t mention my experiences much. You may not have known. But I need to ask you: don’t make me carry this burden alone. Every time I’m harassed and don’t say something, I feel responsible for the pain of the next girl my aggressor targets, and it’s a lonely guilt. Whether that’s the correct response is beyond me at the moment.
But please, men… don’t make women solely responsible for defending our right to be seen as human beings with God-given dignity. The principle is basic… it’s arguably the very least one human can do for another. So be a figure of accountability. Have a zero-tolerance policy for the degradation and objectification of women. Call it out in others and in yourself, whether it’s a crass joke made over a beer or the guy liking dozens of photos of mostly naked, likely underage girls on Instagram (your buddy might not know that anyone who follows him can see what he likes).
Because also, guys, I’m sick of the “appreciating female beauty” line. The same words your buddy says in his head while looking at the girl on the screen in her underwear are the same words that are said to me when I’m just walking down the street in jeans and a sweatshirt. I know the difference between a compliment and when someone has crossed a line… I know the difference between genuine appreciation and base objectification. I don’t care if those words were “meant well.” They made me feel less than human. Shouldn’t that count for something?
I’m tired of thinking this. So very tired.