Imagine you're walking your dog, wearing black sweatpants and an over-sized sweatshirt. Headphones cover your ears as you listen to your favorite podcast. Out of nowhere, a woman leans out of her car and shouts, "Turn around and let me see your face, bitch!" You don't answer, because you're stunned. As you continue to walk, she yells again, "Not into me huh? Well you're fucking ugly anyway," and drives off to harass someone else. [Side note: this these exact words were shouted at me, I can't make this stuff up.]
Existing in the world in a feminine body makes us susceptible to harassment like this, daily. Walking, running, sitting, standing, being in the world can feel unwarranted and unsafe. Catcalling is harassment, although it's become so commonplace that it is hardly shocking anymore.
One woman told me she was so worked up and felt so violated after being harassed that she threw up while out for a run, "Damn she got a hot body, look at that man! I'd like to get inside of that!"
Another woman told me that her body building coach harassed her via text message. After helping her with a set of pull ups, he told her he was disappointed that he couldn't "catch a whiff" of her "down below."
Here are just a handful of verbal assaults received by various women:
"Girl, your ass is ferocious!"
"I'd tap that."
"Hey beautiful, can I take you home?"
(To a friend), "She'd make a great bang, huh?"
"You don't like me huh? Well I know where you live!"
All of this is not to say that men are horrible and evil. I know someone will read this and think: not all men, though that's not my point. I did have a man reach out to tell me about a woman who grabbed his balls at a bar after he wouldn't buy her a drink. I get it. I don't hate men, and I don't think men are overwhelmingly gross or scummy.
I've known dozens of good men. I have loved some of them and cared deeply about most. But I've also feared many men, for reasons that are both overt and subtle, insidious and sometimes difficult to pinpoint. It could be the way he looks at me, the way he yells at me, jeering when I don't acknowledge his presence. It could be the way he touches my shoulder, my neck, my elbow, my waist as if he hands are accidentally, inexplicably drown to my body. It could be the way he disavows my words or beliefs, undercutting my experiences or categorizing them as "invalid" simply because he cannot understand them.
I do not believe men are the enemy of feminism. Rather, the patriarchy and it's blind devotion to the male species is the root of the problem. Men are, willingly or not, privileged in the patriarchy, and privilege is hard to give up. Many men probably don't even see it. If you grew up always receiving the largest piece of cake, you expect the largest piece of cake. If half of your cake is suddenly taken from you, you'll undoubtedly feel wronged, even if that cake is given to someone who never had any to begin with. The cake, in this instance, is the privilege of walking down the street without someone harassing you. The privilege of strangers respecting the space you occupy in the world is undeniably low-hanging fruit.
The explicitly sexist comments I receive from men are bad, but the subtle ones are almost worse. Men have told me that "I make them comfortable," in contexts where I feel extremely uncomfortable. Some have told me, "I like the way you make me feel," because I'm a good listener, but they in turn, do not listen to me. This sort of exchange is exhausting emotionally, mentally, even physically. I've been on dates with men who claim sexism isn't real, who claim white privilege isn't real, who adhere so strictly to the dogma of radical individualism that they cannot see how unhappy and angry that dogma makes them. One man cajolingly said, "You're not one of those feminazis, are you?"
It is impossible to feel entirely comfortable around men when they treat my body as an extension of their own. When they grab my butt or my elbow or turn to stare at me as I walk by. Walking should not be an uncomfortable activity. A while back, a man asked me to "grab a drink" with him and I politely declined. He was outwardly angry, and I was outwardly bemused, which only flustered him further. This strange interaction prompted me to write a letter to the men who objectify women. You are gross. Be better.
-staring at my ass
-staring at my breasts
-explaining things to me that don't require explanation
-touching my shoulders
-asking to "chill"
-ignoring the actual words that I actually say
-complimenting my body or face as if they are my only and best attributes. "Nice tits," is not a compliment, but rather a description of a body part I had little to do with
-explaining football to me
-assuming I don't know how to add windshield washer fluid to my car
-assuming anything, really
-telling me I'm "cute"
-telling me my writing is "cute"
-offering to drive because you think I cannot
-blaming anyone but yourself for your lack of clean underwear
-blaming anyone for anything
-harassing me on the street, in my car, in Starbucks, anywhere
-projecting historical anger or fear or trauma onto me, or anyone else
-acting as if slaughtering an animal, or driving an expensive car, or earning large sums of money is endlessly impressive
-assuming I want to have sex with you (I don't.)
-assuming any random woman wants to have sex with you (she doesn't)
-asking me not to swear
-assuming I will be free whenever you are free. I do not exist to validate your experiences whenever it is convenient for you.
-denying that you partake in the aforementioned activities, even though I've literally watched you partake in the aforementioned activities.
This list is a bit angry, yes. But it should be. It has to be. I am not, however, here to say that women are bright pink beacons of perfection. One of the greatest downfalls of women is our belief that we can change a man. This has never been true, and honestly, most men probably resent the idea that they need to change.
However, the ideal of a female martyr has been ingrained in us from the beginning of time. Disney's Beauty and the Beast is a perfect example: a monster takes Belle's father hostage, she offers to take his place as prisoner. Then, seeming to forget that the beast not only hurt her father, but has imprisoned her for the rest of her foreseeable life, Belle falls in love with the horse-pig-man. It is only her undying and unconditional love that transforms him into a prince. Sure, it's only a movie, but movies are part of culture, and culture teaches us how to behave and define ourselves in the context of the world around us. The desire to change a man is a futile fantasy. The desire to find a prince charming is not real and never has been. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
Finally, I want any man who may be reading this to know that we (women) are not opposed to you. You annoy us sometimes, you’ve oppressed us for millennia, and some of you are verbally, physically, or emotionally abusive. But many more of you are not, and for better or worse, we, women, need you to be on our side.
P.S. If you've been harassed, drop me a note and tell me about it.