Of late, I have been avoiding the news. My respite from depression is fragile, and I protect it where I can. But I pulled my head out of the sand for a little while this afternoon to get a little more context on the #YesAllWomen hashtag. And then I remembered.
When I was a senior in high school, during lunch period, a boy I didn’t know slapped my ass and scampered away. My favorite teacher saw and reported it. Today I am immeasurably grateful for her contribution to justice in the world, but at the time I was mortified. I was called to the office to confirm what had happened, but other than saying “yes that happened, no I didn’t recognize him,” I wasn’t involved in any proceedings or punishments. I do know he suffered some sort of consequence, because I spent considerable time over the next few weeks defending myself to classmates who wanted me to know “he was just playing” and “you shouldn’t have gotten him in trouble.”
I was fat and ashamed of my body. I was seventeen years old and in a constant state of humiliation and loneliness, and instead of saying “Your friend should have kept his damn hands to himself” I could only try to fend off their anger with a response of “I didn’t even say anything.” As far as I was concerned I had done everything right. I kept my mouth shut and didn’t complain, but I was still at fault because I had a female body, and an imperfect one at that. Hell, I suspected I should just have been grateful for the attention.
And I am without doubt one of the luckiest women I know. I live in an area where I feel safe 90% of the time, in a state where I can identify as a liberal and a feminist without fear of violent reprisal, in a country where my having sex before marriage was unlikely to have me killed by my own family. On top of having a feminist for a father, and another for a husband, I get to work in an organization that has empowering women as part of its foundation. Other than my (male, white) college professor who dismissed another (female, black) student’s questions about the possibility of dealing with racist or sexist patients, saying “We live in a post-racist, post-sexist society,” the above story is my personal worst in this area.
My friend M. who was held down and nearly raped in her own bed because her mother thought his persistence was an attractive quality. My friend T. who lost her virginity at fourteen to a neighborhood boy who said he’d kill her little sister if T. didn’t let him fuck her in the abandoned house down the street. My friend R. who at fifteen had to sit on the lap of the creepy grown man next door because she knew if she complained her mom would call her a slut. My friend J. who married a man she didn’t love because he could protect her from the man who’d started beating her after he got her pregnant. My sister, who was told last month at a job interview that she’d look great in a bikini on the interviewer’s boat. Listening from the next room as L.’s husband slapped her around for wearing shorts he deemed inappropriate. S., who awoke from anesthesia to find herself being groped by the dentist, and was too ashamed to tell anyone until she was in her fifties.
I don’t have a conclusion here. We are half of the human race, yet our needs, opinions, desires are treated as a special category. We are expected to “keep sweet,” smile, let him down easy. I can’t object when someone calls me an angry feminist, because yeah, we have a lot to be angry about.
To those guys who get offended at talk of the patriarchy, of women being afraid, who say “we’re not all like that,” I have an invitation for you. Stand over here on our side. We’d be happy for the help. If you aren’t in solidarity with the men being assholes, how about you expend your energy on shutting them down instead of us?
Oh, and thanks, Dr. Harrison, wherever you are.