Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Yes, ALL Women

It's a trending Twitter topic, and has been for a while now. It's been in the news, and it's stirring up discussions everywhere it pops up.

This is good.

What's bad is that they are real women and real stories, and the need for these discussions exists at all.

Is it really all women? Probably. A lot of it is likely stuff the women around you barely think about anymore, because it's so ingrained. Carrying keys as a weapon, being leered at/catcalled/harassed by strange men on the streets or the bus, wavering uncertainly between being a prude or being slutty (The Breakfast Club, anyone?). If you try to remain pure, innocent, picky... then you are probably not enjoying life enough. You probably don't know what you're doing. You probably just haven't gotten it good yet. If you embrace your sexuality and try to own it, you're a slut. You're desperate. You're dirty and probably diseased and not worth actual love.

I wasn't as careful as I should have been with men in my life, for a zillion reasons, many of which can be traced back to low self-esteem. I'm often floored by how fortunate I am to have escaped such behavior with as little trauma as I have... and then I'm equally floored that I should feel that way. I was open and trusting and talked to people (men and women) everywhere I went - sounds like a recipe for fun and adventure and lots of new friends, right? And most of the time, that's what it was. Unfortunately, the fact that I still sometimes feel like maybe if I'd been less so, if I'd done x or y differently, then Bad Things wouldn't have happened to me... makes me feel ashamed.

Am I victim-blaming myself?


It's hard not to, when so much of the rest of the world does it. When you feel like yes, if I had not gone home with that man, I would not have been raped by him. But... that doesn't make it my fault. And it's a struggle to remember that key piece.

I've been insulted many times by boys I was dating, from adolescence through adulthood. I've been told I should dress "more like a girl" - by both men and women. I've been offered unsolicited "makeovers" by more than one woman in my life. I've been held down and restrained when I was upset and yelling at a man I was involved with, and told to shut up, and I was scared so I did.

I thought my worth was bundled up in my body and how much I did or did not show of it, how much I did or did not offer of it. I've had sex because I felt it was expected of me and I wasn't really sure how to navigate my way out of the situation otherwise. The man I lost my virginity to told me I wasn't beautiful, but also questioned my claim to virginity because apparently I didn't act like a virgin that first time. I've had my butt grabbed at concerts by total strangers - once the man didn't even try to be subtle about it, to the point that another man (whom I will always remember and wish I could thank) saw what was happening and stepped between us, glaring at the molester and giving me a sympathetic look.

Just a few weeks ago I honked at some jaywalking young men - maybe late teens or early 20s - because they were, you know, jaywalking. On a rather busy street. I didn't hold down the horn, I didn't flail angrily or yell at the window. I tapped my horn once, rather politely, because they were in the direct path of my car, sauntering along. They didn't react by waving apologetically and scurrying along; they reacted by stopping, turning and walking CLOSER to my car (I had to swerve), gesturing and yelling that they would "fuck [my] ugly ass up."

I had a bit of a stalker for a while. I was raped by a man I'd slept with before (I was reluctant the first time; I was outright crying and saying "no" the second), and it took me almost 2 weeks to recognize that's what had happened and to call a spade a spade. I vividly remember going to lunch with a friend, and as we were chatting, I hesitantly told him, "I.. think I was raped." I remember feeling numb as I said it, and half-expecting him to tell me I was wrong or blame me (thankfully, he did not).

Another boy I'd thought I was dating (in retrospect I realized I was simply a warm bed and body for him when he was drunk) came over one night a couple of years after we'd stopped seeing each other, and forced himself on me - he removed his shirt, he laid on top of me, he kissed me forcefully. He repeated this several times despite me trying to push him off, turning my head, telling him over and over to leave. The first time I told him to leave was when he told me he had a girlfriend at home, which was news to me. For days after the incident (it took me over an hour to get him to actually leave) I was heartbroken that he thought I was the sort of girl who would be into that scenario. Scared that I hadn't been able to fend him off - he was stronger than me, and I was tired, confused, and scared. Should I have yelled? Scratched? Hit? I'd thought we were friends and just catching up. He got in touch not long after, not thinking he'd done anything wrong.

I've been nervous to be alone with men (especially after that last incident). I've wanted to chop off my hair, wear the least flattering clothes I could find, eschew all makeup, just to keep men from leering or making inappropriate comments. Not that I am especially good-looking; I'm not. I'm simply a woman. I have breasts and hips and thus, I am there for the commenting.

I realize it's difficult sometimes to compliment another person without coming off creepy or solicitous, and so I often let a lot of things slide. It's not walking that fine line, though, for a man in his late 20s or early 30s to ask a teen-aged girl working at Wendy's, when she asks if you'd like anything else with your order, how much she costs. It's not walking that line to tell a girl she has "DSL" ("dick-sucking lips," in douchebag lingo) and think she will find that flattering.

It's not okay, and the generations of girls growing up now need to know that. They need to be taught to fight back - and yes, it's awful that my first go-to is that the girls should be taught. In my unrelenting, slightly optimistic, open-and-trusting nature that still has yet to be completely quashed despite all this, I still have this feeling that it should be common sense to teach boys not to treat girls that way. That boys should be raised in such a way that maybe they don't even have to be explicitly told. That they will grow up and be the men who step between the woman and the creepy man at the concert, keeping her safe without being asked. But that leaves the big gaping hole where the creepy men are raised, doesn't it? They come from somewhere, and not all of it can be blamed on mental illness.

What can we do but keep pushing this discussion? Keep trying to drive the point in, because it's not in yet. There are still people who don't know this is happening; women who don't realize they can stand up to it all; men who don't realize their friends and neighbors and co-workers are perpetrators. We just have to keep talking about it, and try to make change where we can.

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