Being a woman is really something special. We are magic; we are divine creatures made up of tenacity and spirit. I have grown to feel a special sort of kindredness towards the women that I know and meet. Despite our age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and religion (or a lack thereof), we are all part of a larger sisterhood. There is so much commonality in being a woman, and much of it is joyful. However, we also face a very common threat.
I have spent many evenings in bars with my sisters, some that I have known better than others.
Sometimes we’d hit that point in the evening after we’d gotten a few good drinks in and the topic of our relationships with men would come up. If you’ve ever enjoyed a couple glasses of wine and feel much more open to venting, then you know the feeling.
If it was a “good” night, we’d talk about the men in our lives that were annoyances.
The type that told us we could stand to lose a few pounds, the ones that wouldn’t stop calling after we left them or kept sending unsolicited “dick pics” after we demanded they stop… The men that didn’t care if some of us weren’t straight and definitely weren’t interested. The ones that talked dirty about us on social media when we blocked them from our contacts.
We’d talk about the times we had been cat-called and escaped from the bar, the mall, or even a college campus unscathed. Those were the easier things to speak about. These things felt almost oddly conversational, like we were revisiting a routine doctors visit. Clinical… factual… because it was such a well known collective amongst all of us.
Sometimes these nights drew darker. The alcohol would become an antiseptic, cleansing us of the things we never felt brave enough to share. The conversation would shift from our moments of irritation to our moments of fear: the times that we had been hit, pushed, and humiliated.
I know a woman that was kicked out of her boyfriend’s car, along the side of the freeway because one of her other male friends was “too friendly” with her at a party.
I know multiple women that have been drugged at bars. Some were “lucky” because they were with friends that were able to get them to safety. Some of them woke up in hospitals, disoriented and terrified of what may or may not have happened.
I know women that have gotten intoxicated around their male “friends” that they trusted, only to wake up with said “friend” inside of them, violating their bodies and their trust in a way that is irreparable. This will always leave a scar.
I, myself, was in a relationship with a man that would force me to have sex with him by driving me out into the orange groves when we were supposed to go to the movies. The place so isolated, that nobody could hear me scream or cry when he unzipped his pants and pulled me into the backseat of his car. He would tell me, “I love you so much” when he finished, despite my tears and shaking body. Then, he would tell me that nobody in the world would love me but him because he had claimed my virginity. I was a teenager and very ill-equipped… I thought I was used goods.
I stayed because I didn’t understand that this was abuse. I stayed because nobody told me that consent still exists within the confines of a relationship. I stayed because nobody told me that this was rape. I stayed because he taught me that I was unclean. He had to be right, because in High School, the girls that have sex are always called sluts and carry their reputations like a handbag of bricks.
All of these stories are too familiar. My sisters and I have been hit, slapped, raped, brutalized, told that we are worthless, and taught that our bodies are commodities by men. Every sister of mine, every sister that I’ve ever met, knows these experiences in some form or variety. We carry around a sense of underlying fear… am I going to be the next woman in the community to end up on the ten o’clock news? If you cannot honestly name one woman in your life that has never suffered at the hand or the voice of a man, then you’re not listening, or perhaps the women in your life do not trust you.
We women walk within this world with our car-keys held as weapons and then second guess ourselves after an attack, because we had the nerve to enter the twilight alone; deep down we question whether or not the fault lies within ourselves. Society instructs us that bad things happen to women and girls that roam the streets after dark, but what do they say about the men that attack them?
If you’ve been near a television or the internet in the last six or so months, then you likely know the name Brock Turner. He served three months of his six month prison sentence, after brutally sexually assaulting a woman on a college campus. His mother famously asked the judge for leniency and was quoted in saying:
“My once vibrant and happy boy is distraught, deeply depressed, terribly wounded, and filled with despair. His smile is gone forever– that beautiful grin is no more”.
His mother communicates that her son’s “remorse” for the ordeal means that he shouldn’t be punished with hard time. However, if I walked up to a random white man on the street and shot him in the back, it wouldn’t matter how sorry about it I was: I’d still go to prison (and would likely serve longer than three months). However, sexually assaulting a woman somehow counts for less, despite the fact that victims of rape are highly likely to suffer from long term issues such as PTSD and depression. Brock Turner is just another white rapist with an early release.
The justice system continues to fail female victims (especially transgender women and women of color) of physical violence and sex crimes. Dealing with the aftermath of violence is difficult enough, but the added whispers of the woman’s involvement make it even more difficult. People love to speculate: what was she wearing, was she drinking, and why did she go out in the first place?
If she suffers at the hand of a boyfriend or spouse, then she’s automatically faulted for not leaving him. Because of this, it should not come as a surprise that on average only 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assault cases are reported and only 25% of physical assault and battery cases ever make it to the police station. When it boils down to it, this is why I am so deeply bothered by the men that will read this and automatically retort:
“But I’m not like that! I’d never hit or rape a woman! Not all men are abusive!”
I’m naturally an incredibly empathetic and sensitive person (an INFJ to be exact) but this is one of the few times that I’m flat-out going to state, I do not care about your “feelings”. This is not a commentary that I or any other woman, wants to hear when they’ve been having a discussion about about themselves or other women being assaulted. The presidential candidate representing the entire Republican party made a comment about grabbing a woman by her pussy… so maybe instead of talking about how not all men are bad, we can address the actual issue: women are assaulted and raped at the hands of men at an alarmingly high rate. Male entitlement to our bodies and lives is a disease.
Men, if these words offend you more than the actions that I am discussing, you are part of the larger problem. What you’re communicating to women everywhere is that you’ve got the luxury of letting this issue damage your ego. You do not have the right to derail these meaningful conversations with your superficial interjections of hurt feelings when a woman is raped every two minutes in the United States alone.
To those of you that genuinely care for the women of the world (not just your sisters, wives, or relatives: all women are valuable whether or not they are a part of your life) I ask you to consider this: turn to all of the men that you know and speak to them about gendered violence. You are going to face resistance. But in order to change the culture, you cannot be afraid of the criticism that you will face. As someone that strives to be intersectional in politics and feminism, I understand the feeling of discomfort that occurs when being called out for engaging in problematic behavior. However, it is inherently important to put your own feelings of discomfort aside, and look at the bigger picture. Women are dying.
When your male friends begin to unfailingly interject, “Bro, I’m not like that. Not all men are like that” you should respond:
“No, not all women. We cannot let this keep happening to all women.”