Trigger Warning: Sexual harassment and assault
It was a stranger on a crowded bus. A man in a shopping mall. A “friend” who was a little too free with his hands. I have been lucky. For me it was just unwanted touches or getting “felt up.” It was inappropriate comments I don’t even remember clearly because that seemed too “common place.” It was disturbing and violating, but it was not scarring.
Sometimes I wonder if there are women who have not been sexually harassed in some way or another. Some of these things are seen as so ordinary we view them as just part of the life experience, as if the stranger on the street has a right to make unwanted sexual innuendos because that’s just how guys act. And nothing happened. And he was just joking, lighten up.
Yesterday on Facebook I started seeing posts of “me too,” women sharing that they had experienced sexual harrassment or assault in an attempt to bring light to the pervasiveness of the issue. I didn’t think too much about it honestly, because there is always some movement going on in social media. We can’t be aware of everything, okay?
But I was surprised when I started seeing more and more of these statuses from friends and family. Really, her too? When I thought about all the people who didn’t post because they don’t use Facebook, or aren’t addicted and on it every day, or don’t feel comfortable sharing about something like that, or don’t feel safe because they are still experiencing some form of abuse, suddenly it was staggering. All these were normal people living normal lives - students, mothers, teachers, doctors, women in the military, overseas workers. How did this become so common place?
I’m not sure if it has become more common or if, I suspect, people are speaking up about it more. Victims of sexual violence or abuse are very unlikely to speak up because of the consequences.
I thought maybe I was just being too sensitive. That’s what my “friend” said, “Just lighten up! It’s no big deal.” I felt very uncomfortable but maybe it was just me. That’s what I thought until I talked to another friend who had had been treated the same way by the same person. I finally realized, oh it’s not me who is the problem, it’s him.
I was lucky not to be in a high stakes situation. It was not my boss or my church leader or a family member. I didn’t have to see the person every day. But still, I didn’t say anything. It was just “something that happens.” Besides, I had heard what people say.
Be more careful.
Why is she making a big deal about it? She just wants the attention.
Are you sure that’s what happened?
She was probably asking for it.
He wouldn’t do that - he’s a good guy!
Maybe you have never said that to a victim’s face, but if you have talked about another victim in that way, even one you didn’t know, we remember. We know not to tell you.
I will try to be more careful. Not to take a bus? Not to go to a mall? Not to be friends with guys? None of these things happened in dark alleys or nightclubs. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but I can assure you it wasn’t seductive.
And you know what, it’s not about the clothes or the makeup. Wearing a short skirt is not saying, “Come and act like my body belongs to you.” In no language is too much eyeliner code for, “Please abuse me.” Flirting may be an invitation to flirt back; it is not an invitation for date rape. The very nature of harassment, assault, and abuse is something that is not wanted, not asked for. It is a violation. We must Stop. Blaming. The. Victim.
When I am not sure if I am overreacting about a gender issue, I generally find it clarifying to ask, “What if this happened to a man?” In what world has anyone ever said to a man, “You didn’t have a shirt on so what did you expect? Of course she grabbed your crotch. She just couldn’t help herself.” Who would ever say, “Dude, you had an inappropriate saying on your shirt, or you made a inappropriate joke - didn’t you kind of expect to get raped?” “You put your arm around her shoulder - naturally she thought that meant she could touch you wherever she wanted. You can’t just turn a girl on like that and then decide you are uncomfortable.”
Can you hear how crazy these statements are? These are the things said to your sister, your wife, your friend, your daughter. These are the ideas we too often accept. We have a president who graphically talked about wanting to assault a woman, talked about taking advantage of women, and called it all joke. And we elected him anyway. (Yes, before you go there, I know about Clinton. If you remember, we were horrified and impeached him.)
Sure, I could be making it up. Maybe I just misunderstood. But I am trying to understand in what situation is it okay for a stranger to grab a woman’s breast? Why does a friend or even a boyfriend have the right to treat a woman’s body like it belongs to him? How can we possibly justify a counselor or a pastor taking advantage of the person coming to him for help?
I have been fortunate because I learned that women should speak up for themselves, not that women should be kept silent. I learned that women were equals with men, not made to be subjected to them. I knew enough good - and respectful and self-accountable - men and enough strong women. I knew this wasn’t just “the way men are.” They don’t all abuse their power. They can practice self-control. They can be respectful. They don’t get to blame their actions and choices on others. We should not demean men by expecting so little of them.
I know this post is a little angry. You know what, I don’t know how to talk about this topic without a little anger. Less for myself and more for my friends and family members and so many innocent children who have been harassed and assaulted and abused. Think about your daughter, your sister, your mother. If you saw her being abused, would you laugh? Would you blame her? Would say she was overreacting? I hope to God you wouldn’t.
The next time you hear of another woman being harassed, imagine it was your daughter, it was your sister, it was your mother. Because probably, it was.