When the UCSB shooting happened on May 23, and it became clear that the Elliot Roger acted not because of racism, or political terrorism, but out of misogyny and hate which no one else successfully cured him of, people began to use the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter to talk about why not all men are awful, but yes, all women experience some form of sexual harassment.
I didn’t join in, not at first, even though it’s a subject we should all talk about. I have talked about it, a bit, in posts like this one, but that’s not enough. As long as there are still big groups of people, men and women* both, who think a woman owes something to the men around her simply because she’s female, this is a conversation that we need to have.
And, it is dangerous to have this conversation, when you’re in a female body. For the last week, men have stood up and said, “No more”, and whether the people around them agreed or not, they generally were insulted but not threatened. When women have said, “No more, and here’s my experience,” they have often been not only insulted, but threatened with violence, and with rape. Because, how dare they, some men think. We should be so flattered, so lucky to have men find us attractive, that complaining is offensive to them. When I posted last year about sexual harassment at cons, some of the reactions included people talking online about how I must have invented my experiences, because (those men thought) I wasn’t nearly attractive enough to be the kind of girl who got sexually harassed. My friend Mercedes wrote this post about the
reaction threats she got after using the hashtag to make two comments on Twitter last week.
Two comments. Two.
I won’t link to everyone else who’s written eloquently about their own experiences. You should go find them, and read them, and see a little more clearly how our world works. This post is about sharing mine, because I respect the others who have spoken up, and I don’t want them to be standing up alone.
I’m putting the next part behind a cut, and warn you that it’s triggering, for all the things you can imagine might be next.
… I don’t talk about rape and sexual abuse and sexual harassment, hardly ever, because I have had so much of it in my life that I don’t know how to share that without making other people feel sorry for me.
… There is a type of doorknob that I was terrified of from the time I was 7 to sometime in my 20s. There is a flavor of ice cream that I will forever associate with the person who gave it to me, when I was 7, and the things he did.
… When I was 9 or 10, I was at the store, looking at something I wanted to buy for my mom. I must have been standing there with the money in my hand because an elderly man asked me if I was short. I said yes, 30 cents, and he said oh don’t worry I have that come right outside with me, it’s in the car. It was the early 80s; I didn’t know you couldn’t trust people. His car was in front of the store, it was broad daylight, the giant glass windows meant anyone in the store could see us, and the man didn’t ask me to get in the car with him. I walked out, he got into the driver’s side, shut the door. Then he offered me $3 if I let him touch me. I immediately turned around without saying another word, went back into the store, and stayed there for an hour, wandering around, hoping the man wasn’t waiting for me to come out, until the clerks asked me to leave (I think they thought I was stealing).
… When I was 13, I suddenly got curves and 4″ of height and fit perfectly into my petite mother’s jeans and boots, which I was wearing because I’d outgrown all of mine within a couple of months. Men her age started asking her how old I was and if I was available. They started asking me. I didn’t know what to say, so I hid. My mother told them to stay the fuck away from me or she’d run them over with her car.
… But she also took me to buy baggier clothes and told me not to show off. She couldn’t think of how else to keep me safe. And it didn’t work.
… After I was raped, at 16, the guy’s girlfriend found me at school and started a fist fight with me. She thought I was trying to steal him away. I knew I wasn’t, and I knew that I had to be her friend even if she wasn’t being mine at at that moment, so I stood there and let her slap me in the face while a couple of dozen of our friends stood around us. Because “it wasn’t my idea” and “it wasn’t my fault” and “I said no” weren’t good enough. As far as I know, she never forgave me.
… I had heard “I can’t help myself, you’re too pretty” so many times, before I was even out of high school, that I can’t remember them all.
… I have a line here where the part about my father should go, which I can’t post, because I have sisters who I care about who don’t have the same relationship with him that I did.
… In my 20s, I gained 100 pounds, because being overweight was the only kind of protection I could count on. And, it didn’t work, it didn’t keep me safe, but it took me another 15 years to think I looked old enough that maybe my age would be another kind of protection, so I could start losing weight for health reasons, and a few more years after than before I felt strong and confident enough to decide I willing to take the risk of becoming more conventionally attractive. Because it is a risk.
… Most men think “I’d hurt anyone who treated you badly” and “tell them you have a husband/boyfriend” and “I’ll go with you so no one harasses you” are kind and supportive things to say, instead of realizing that they’re suggesting you tell guy X that guy Z owns you instead, so guy X knows not to step on guy Z’s turf. I’ve heard phrases like this hundreds of times.
… Most women have to say “yes, please defend me, thank you” because without the defense of men, there are too many guys who will hurt us. We have to let someone else mark us as property just to get through the day.
… I’ve been told so many times that because I write about sex in a positive way, I am open and honest about enjoying sex with the right people, I have edited/published erotica, I must be asking for it.
… I’ve had countless strangers touch me without asking me for permission first to see my tattoos. Everything from grabbing my arm to lifting my hair off my neck to moving my clothing to get a better look, and they all think they’re flattering me because each unwanted touch comes with “your ink is so pretty!”
… As I’ve lost weight and transitioned from wearing baggy clothes to the sort of thing I love to wear — mid-century inspired dresses with hourglass shapes, fitted tops, and jeans which are actually the right size — I’ve been warned to be careful about my appearance because “you look great but you know how guys are”. Because even though I cover up more than 75% of my body on a daily basis (between ink that isn’t always work appropriate and pale skin which burns easily, I almost never wear shorts, tank tops, or skimpy dresses) if I wear clothes which reveal my actual shape, I’m “asking for trouble”.
… when I write rape or sexual harassment into my fiction, I have to ask someone else to read it so I know whether what I think of as “moderate evil” is really as normal as I think it is, and if “very evil” isn’t more than they can stomach. (I’m almost always wrong.)
… the couple of stories I’ve published which do touch on those issues are always on my mind when I consider adding them to a new work, because there’s a limit to how often I can discuss them before I become “that woman”. Because I might exhaust my readers if I talk about it too often.
… the last story I wrote with abuse in it got kicked back by my critique group for being overwhelmingly sad/horrible. It was difficult for them to believe one person’s life could be that bad. I only used three or four examples from my own, real life, and I didn’t think they were the worst ones.
… some of the best men I know struggle every day with the place where “I love you, I respect you, I would never let anyone else hurt you” and “I’m entitled to take out my bad day on you, I have a right to be angry when work is hard, I have to keep control over you and us and everything else because it’s my right to be the man, I’m entitled to your time, you have to pay attention to me” meet. And they are the best men I know because even though they were raised to think in terms of entitled and control they still work every day to be someone better.
None of us are perfect, and quite a lot of us are raised to be selfish, cruel, demanding, and to think we deserve for other people to make up for all of the ways that someone else failed us. That sucks, but we don’t have to accept that and just be horrible to each other.
What matters is whether you try to be someone better. Do you listen? Do you learn from your mistakes? Do you work to figure out where you’re wrong and how you got that way so you fix it? Apologize when you’re wrong, or awful, or selfish?
‘Cause if you do, and if you are better than you were before, then thank you for being a part of the solution. Not everyone is.
As Mercedes said:
I see the most extraordinary people stand between those they love and harm’s way. People who have rushed to help others. Sometimes it’s the little things, like sending a cheering email. Sometimes they do it by simply not being a jerk. Sometimes they literally jump in front of bullets. Choose how you’re going to do it, but do it. I believe that you can. I believe in you. Do you know why? Because we are people. Because you are a PERSON, you have a portion of my respect. When I learn more about you and who you are, most likely you’ll earn much more of it. But threatening women who have something to say? It isn’t cool. #YesAllWomen Because I was threatened for opening my mouth. #YesAllWomen Because some random whackadouches just proved why this hashtag is necessary.
#YesAllWomen because I don’t want to be thought of as strong enough to get through this, or a survivor, or a victim. I want to be a woman. Just a regular person. Like everyone else. #YesAllWomen because this list is only a fraction of what I’ve experienced, and I shouldn’t have had to go through any of it at all.
* Unlike most of my writing, which I aim to make as inclusive as possible, this is an issue largely being spoken about in gender binary. That doesn’t mean it’s only people born into female bodies who present as women that get singled out — genderqueer, andro, and trans* people face a huge amount of harassment, sexual and otherwise. When I talk about the threats and fear and attacks and harassment women face, I mean all of them, cis- or not. #YesAllWomen is for everyone who identifies as a woman, everyone born into a woman’s body, and the people who love and support women. It’s for all of us.
Looking for a man’s perspective? Read this.