Tuesday, October 17, 2017

It Needs to NOT Be Normal

Content Warning: Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, Victim Blaming

For 11 years, 3 months, and 9 days, I have been married to the greatest human being I have ever met. My husband truly is an incredible man. He is kind, caring, compassionate, and just all around wonderful. I am incredibly lucky to share my life with him, raise our children with him, and call him my best friend. But, you know, I wasn't always so lucky. 

I have been sexually harassed (SH) and sexually assaulted (SA) more times than I can count. By boyfriends, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and authoritative figures. I honestly don't even know where to begin. I'm not afraid of saying I've been SH/SA, but I also haven't told any of my stories.

Why? Why haven't I told anyone?

Because our society is a victim blaming one. We worry more about the nice guys who had their whole lives ahead of them more than we worry about their victims. We worry more about the sweet father figures and their lives being turned upside down more than we worry about their victims. We worry more about the affluent guys who earn their careers by working hard more than we worry about their victims. I haven't told anyone because I was positive no one would believe me. I haven't told anyone because I thought it was normal. I haven't told anyone because I was told boys will be boys. I haven't told anyone because I was told boys are sexual creatures who only want one thing. I haven't told anyone BECAUSE I THOUGHT IT WAS NORMAL. It is normal. But it shouldn't be. This should not be normal. Women being sexually harassed and sexually assaulted should not be normal.

Why am I talking about it now?

Because I'm part of the flood. I read an article yesterday that explained it so well:

Have you ever watched videos of dams breaking? It starts with a leak, some space in the wall that hasn’t been patched well enough or made thick enough to hold a trickle of water. One woman is the trickle, and in her path more can follow until the wall falls down, crumbles under the pressure of all that water, and nothing can be held back any longer. I’ve watched this happen in diners, in classrooms, in small booths at dirty bars like some kind of twisted icebreaker. One person shares, then another, and then the dam breaks. This is what it means to grow up. This is what it means to become a woman.

Women get tips on how to stay safe while getting dressed in the morning, walking to school, walking home from school, leaving work during the day, leaving work at night... we have special tools marketed for us specifically to help keep us safe in the event that we are attacked.

We are told to go to the bathroom in groups. (Yes, guys. THAT is why we go to the bathroom in groups. That is why we tell the women we are in a group with: "I'm have to use the restroom," and why the other women get up and go with us.)

We are taught to put our keys between our fingers. We have pink pepper spray in our purses and our cute cat key chains that you can put your fingers through like precious brass knuckles, meant to gouge at our assailants. Spray and gouge them!

We are taught to ignore those who honk and whistle at us, even though they don't stop until we look at them. And when we show we are visibly uncomfortable, they laugh at how pathetic we look then proceed to make kissy faces and other inappropriate gestures.

We have been taught to be quiet, as to not draw attention to ourselves. Loud girls get noticed. Don't be too pretty, pretty girls get noticed. Don't dress in a skirt, or in shorts, or in shirts, don't wear things that hug your body, girls who wear form fitting or revealing clothing get noticed. 

When guys won't stop bothering us, we are taught to tell them we have a boyfriend, because men only respect other men. Property lines and all that.

We are taught to not put our drinks down. Hold them as soon as we get them and keep them close, because someone might put something in it. There are even folks working on nail polish you can wear that changes colors when it comes in contact with drugs commonly slipped into drinks.

People have written hundreds of apps for our phones, designed to keep women safe and call a trusted person as soon as we let go of the button because we've probably been abducted.

There are underwear designed as modern chastity belts, so men have a harder time tearing them off to rape us.

A google search of "women's safety" brings back about 305,000,000 results, talking about tips and tricks and group efforts and classes and hidden deterrents that you can whip out to save yourself... a google search for "men's safety" returns about 89,500,000 results, and they're all for men who do manual labor, like neon vests and steel toe work boots and safety glasses and gloves... 

305,000,000 vs 89,500,000. 

305 MILLION results with tips on how women can save themselves when attacked. 

89.5 million on what work boots are best for guys who work construction.


I am not naive. I am not stupid. I know men are SH/SA, too. I am sorry for your experiences, and I hope we as a society can collectively be educated to make better choices, ask for consent, and treat people with kindness and compassion. 

I do have a question, though, for those men who keep shouting that at us while we try to let you know just about every single woman you know has experienced and regularly experiences SH/SA.

I ask you*, how do you get ready for your day? What do you do to deter a potential attack? What steps do you take to (hopefully) ensure you won't be sexually harassed or assaulted today? 

What do you do? 

I encourage you to ask a woman how they get ready for their day. Ask them what they do to deter a potential attack. Ask them what steps they take to (hopefully) ensure they won't be sexually harassed or assaulted that day. Learn about our experiences.

*This question is inspired by Jackson Katzs: The Macho Paradox.


Listen, I know this is a large pill to swallow. It is. But unpacking your privilege and recognizing it is exactly what is going to help us. All of us. Not just women. Stand up and speak up. Do not be quiet. Do not ignore it. Do not turn your cheek to it. Look at it head on, call it what it is, make people uncomfortable, and say something.


When I was young, I did what I knew how to do. I survived, carried on with my life, and did the best I knew how to do. I know better, now. Which is why I am speaking up. It's why I am teaching my children the right things. It's why I'm honest with the people I hold close to me. And why I am writing this. I know better, and I am doing better. And I encourage you all to do the same.


I will end this with the words of Maya Angelou, because she is so much more eloquent than I am. 
“I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes- it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘Well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all. So you say to people who you think you may have injured, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then you say to yourself, ‘I’m sorry.’ If we all hold on to the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can’t see what we’re capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one’s own self. I think that young men and women are so caught by the way they see themselves. Now mind you. When a larger society sees them as unattractive, as threats, as too black or too white or too poor or too fat or too thin or too sexual or too asexual, that’s rough. But you can overcome that. The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself. If we don’t have that we never grow, we never learn, and sure as hell we should never teach.”
 ― Maya Angelou

*This post was written by a CisHet woman and her experiences growing up in a fairly gender normative society. I recognize the LGBTTQQIAAP community, I support them and the challenges they face every day.

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