I was raised to be a strong woman. I was taught to demand respect, to be soft when compassion was needed, to be tough when circumstances called for it, to stand my ground when the world wanted to push me around. I was raised to believe that I could do or be anything. So when did it become okay for faceless individuals to decide that what I had to offer the world amounted to no more than boobs, an ass and a pussy? That sounded a bit crude for my usual work, didn’t it? Yea, that’s what I thought too. And yet that is the world that we live in. A place where I am judged by the body parts that I possess and what I am willing to do with them.
My daddy never taught me that boys would be boys and could say whatever they wanted about me as they passed me in the street. My older brothers never shrugged their shoulders at the prospect of a man following me down the sidewalk making lewd comments. My fiancé never mentioned that it should be viewed as a compliment for a man to catcall me or reach out and grab my butt on the street because it meant that I was desirable. No, these were not things that I was ever taught. And yet they are the excuses so easily given and readily accepted. I don’t have daughters, but I have nieces. I have a mother, I have aunts, I have a sister. These rationalizations are not okay, and yet we shrug our shoulders and say boys will be boys. I don’t mean to overgeneralize, I know the vast majority of men don’t fall into this category- the men I am close to in my life- they respect women. So where did this idea come from that this behavior was acceptable?
A comedian once asked a sold out auditorium how many of the women had been sent a picture of a man’s penis on their phone- virtually every hand rose. If you pick ten random women on the street and ask them if they have ever been sexually assaulted or felt in fear because of the aggressive overtures coming from certain members of the opposite sex, I can guarantee you will have almost a unanimous yes. Every two minutes another person in America is sexually assaulted. In the amount of time it takes you to read this- how many people have been hurt, have been scared, have had the fabric of their lives forever altered? One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, and nine out of every ten victims of rape are female.
I work in the court system, and one aspect of my job includes a process known as voir dire, although most refer to it simply as jury selection. During this process a group of random people from the community are gathered together in an open courtroom to answer very personal questions pertaining to the subject of the case that we happen to be hearing that day to determine if they can be impartial. We handle a lot of sex cases, and as such, we have to ask these random strangers to voice their own histories. The court or counsel will ask the question ‘Have you or someone you are close to been a victim of sexual assault?’ I was shocked the first time I saw so many hands raise, and even more disheartened when I heard how many people raised their hands for themselves. And then the next question, ‘How many were reported’- it was like a tidal wave of fingers falling from the sky, leaving a solemn few raised alone.
Is this the world that we want to raise our daughters in? Are these the lessons that we wish to impart on our sons? The justifications of what we call social norms have a profound effect on our younger generations and what they will deem to be acceptable. Most young women believe that sexual assault is common, that catcalls and booty-grabbing in the halls of the high school are normal; and sadly, they are right- but that doesn’t mean that they should be. During a 2014 study, sociologist Heather Hlavka questioned young women regarding their views on sexual harassment and assault. One young woman’s answer speaks a terribly revealing truth, “They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean … I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.” These same young women were also very candid about the fact that they probably wouldn’t report any such events, believing that they would be ‘making a big deal out of nothing,’ many didn’t even view it as assault until it crossed that threshold into the realm of rape. When asked why they wouldn’t report it, they stated that they were concerned that they would be labeled as whores, sluts, or be accused of lying and exaggerating. Their silence, our silence, speaks volumes.
The majority of sexual assault victims are under 30 years of age. Females between the ages of 16 to 24 are four times more likely to be the victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault than the general population, the statistics for those enrolled in college drop only minimally- to a mere three times more likely. This was when it happened to me. And I know that I am not the only one carrying the burden of an untold story. In fact, it is estimated that out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only about 344 are actually reported to the police. How many of your friends, coworkers, or family members have one of these experiences that they simply haven’t told you?
All too often the finger gets pointed at the wrong person. It becomes a matter of what the victim did to incite the behavior- as if men are mere animals with no sense of self-control. People assume she must have been flirting, dressed provocatively, over imbibing in alcohol- a million different justifications, as if they excuse the transgression, as if she was asking for it. When I finally told someone about my assault, the response that I received was ‘well, now you know how to not get yourself into that situation again,’ as if it were my actions that forced his hand. When my friend finally found the strength to tell a police office what happened to her, the response that she received was ‘good luck with that.’ My friends, victims of assault find enough reason to blame themselves- and is it any wonder? When we are told that our actions are the cause. Last time I checked, no still meant no, and my body was still mine to decide what to do with. No one has the right to take those decisions from you.
I keep hearing that women objectify themselves; as if dancing provocatively, wearing a crop top and short-shorts or reading a smutty romance novel suddenly invalidates a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. Try reversing this picture: if a man chooses to wear skinnier jeans that show off his assets- I don’t go up and pinch his butt or grab him from the front. If a man opts to watch porn, that doesn’t give me the right to run in and jump on top of him. So how are these examples any different when viewed from the perspective of a woman?
Someone I know recently posted a comparison to a very controversial book relating to some of the political conversations surrounding this topic:
But you see, there is an inherent flaw in this reasoning. My issues with the statements that he made have nothing to do with the ‘naughty words’ that were said. My issue was the intent of those words- it was in the insinuation that a rich man can grab a woman’s intimate parts and that it is okay, hell, that it is desirable. To me that is a far cry from reading a risqué book about the fetishes of two consenting adults. It is the fact that a grown man believes that this is an appropriate way to talk about women- regardless of whether he is in the presence of only men or not. To compare the two is an attempt to minimize the true intent of the statement and to ignore the truly insidious problem we face as a society.
Most men are good men, this I believe. But that doesn’t change the fact that a large portion of the female population will wind up on the wrong side of this equation at some point in their lives. We have cultivated a sense of rape culture by normalizing behaviors that should not be shrugged away. No more ‘boys will be boys’- they know better. We can teach them better. And no more girls blaming one another or themselves for decisions they were not given the opportunity to make. No more calling names likes slut or whore, no more raised eyebrows as we ask what she could have done to avoid the situation. Our bodies are our own, and until that basic human right is given the respect that it deserves, this battle will continue. I don’t know about you, but I am terrified to have my little nieces grow up in a world where they will have these same fears that I had. I am enraged by the fact that so many of my friends and family have a painful history that echoes my own. We are sisters in our suffering. And it is not acceptable.
How many minutes have you been reading this? How many more people have been hurt? While it is true, that the numbers of sexual assaults have been slowly declining over the decades, that does not mean that the problem no longer exists. These are conversations that must be had, stories that must be brought out into the light, experiences that need to be understood to be stopped. This is not a complicated right to be requesting. What do I want? I want to know that I can walk into a bar with my friends without someone reaching out for a touch, that I can go for a jog in my own neighborhood without clutching a can of mace and keeping one earbud out to hear approaching footsteps. I want to know that my sister can walk down the street without fear from the man that started catcalling her and moved in her direction. I want to know that my nieces will be able to walk down the halls of their high school without being touched or put in fear. I want to be able to go out and dance or read a smutty novel without someone acting like that means I have given away my rights to simple decency. I want to be treated like the lady that I am, the ladies that we all are, not an object to be yelled at, taunted, touched or used. That is the world that I want to raise a daughter in. That is the way I wish to raise a son.