I just read an article that’s been getting quite a bit of attention, and it should. For once, the thing making the rounds on Facebook isn’t an attention-craving Hollywood spectacle or something one candidate or another said in our ridiculous circus of an election happening in the States.
It was, instead, something that I’m sure some people will frown at, others will scoff at, but most will shed tears of solidarity over as we nod and silently agree with every single word read. This is an article about women, but it’s for both women and men. It’s as lengthy as it is because they probably didn’t have enough virtual print space for it to be longer. There’s too much to say, literally, on the subject. And yet, it’s something we rarely talk about. We are silenced so often that I am actually having an extremely difficult time forming the words.
It’s about women like me, women like you, women like every single woman you’ve ever met. That’s how big this is. That every. single. woman. that you have ever met has experienced a horrible situation and been forced to be silent about it. Every single one. Close your eyes and think back on the first time it happened. The first time you were sexualized and stripped of innocence. I was young because I developed young. I was the juvenile, pony-loving age of nine. This was back when we rode our bikes around the neighborhood until the sun went down, and we played with anyone we could find.
I’m gonna rape you in the alley.
My breathing stopped, caught up in my throat. Sweat prickled my skin and something heavy fell to the pit of my stomach. I felt, for the first time, the terror of vulnerability that would accompany me for the rest of my life simply for being a girl.
This came out of an eleven-year-old boy’s mouth. Where was his mother teaching him how to treat a girl? Where was his father to teach by example? Oh, they were ten feet away, in the house, and his father was the next one to say disgusting things that made me resort to the nervous laugh I still use today.
That’s my youngest memory of verbal assault. What’s yours?
What are you supposed to do at nine-years-old? What am I supposed to do at twenty-seven?
I still don’t know. I’m still surprised every time it happens. I’m still dumbfounded to the point of silence. I still resort to the “I’m meeting my friend. Oh, that’s her over there!” while my fingers search my purse for my pepper spray.
And then there are the ones who say that we don’t live in a culture like this. That Rape Culture is just another attention-getting buzzword. It might seem like that because you don’t realize that it happens. Because it’s become such a normalcy to accept this garbage as a determined part of life.
How can we just sit here and say it’s not happening when it is? When every single one of us has had a “bad boss”, relative, co-worker, friend’s brother or parent, etc. Some of us, myself included, has had several. I’ve been body-blocked from leaving the work office. I’ve had rumors spread about me so hideous I had to report them only to find out that they had stemmed from that boss’s very mouth. Someone I trusted. Hell, someone whom I had considered a friend. But that’s what happens when you are friends with men, right? She’s nice to me so it must mean something.
No. Just, no. Unless it’s spelled out with exact words, then a smile is just a smile. We are not asking for anything no matter how we look, what our attitude is, what we wear. The only time we are ever asking for it is when the question comes directly out of our mouths.
I was not asking for it when I was walking to school at fifteen and became a victim of enticement by the newspaper delivery man. And yet I felt shame as I recited the case to my best friend who urged me to go to my guidance counselor. There, I recited the story several more times for the law enforcement who eventually found the man. He received 90 days in jail for child enticement. Twenty-two years later my hands still shake when I think about what would have happened to me if I hadn’t whipped out my phone and told him I had 911 on speed dial. Why didn’t I call? Because even at that age I knew how quickly I could disappear in comparison to the time it took for the cops to show. This was only a year post a massive multi-employee incident that I was included in at my work. One that resulted in nothing other than shamefulness when the law wasn’t on our side. Because we were just a bunch of teenage girls working for a fast food chain. We weren’t anyone to listen to.
There is something wrong with our society when I start naming things that have happened and I could talk for a year. Or, when I begin to list names of people I know who have been assaulted or raped. There is something even more wrong when I realize that it’s every female I’ve ever met. We all have scars that run deep. We’ve all been harmed in one way or another. We all have found ways to cope with it, somehow, and we’ve all found ways to live half lives to make sure it doesn’t happen anymore.
Don’t go anywhere alone. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t lean into your car. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t wear your hair up. Don’t wear make-up. Don’t wear fitted clothing. Don’t carry a purse. Keep your cell phone handy. Find a man who can offer protection. Find a way to protect yourself from that man should he turn on you. Don’t smile at strangers. Don’t feel badly when you’re called a bitch for not smiling. Get comfortable with the comments and let them roll off your back. Don’t be surprised when the comments come from men old enough to be your father. Don’t be surprised if they come from family or friends’ family. Never make a scene. Remember it’s how men think. Men are pigs and you have to live with it.
Right? Right?! These are just some of the things that we have to recite like a mantra in order to be safe. Otherwise, we are asking for it. That’s the belief, anyway.
I’m writing this not just for women, but for men. Because there are a few out there who are better. And every single one who isn’t has the potential to be better. And until men start to step up and women continue to speak out, nothing will change. The same patterns will continue from generation to generation. Until people make a concerted effort to be better, there will always be an eleven-year-old kid looking to his dad for ways to talk to girls. And there will always be a nine-year-old girl scared for her life, never able to fully let that moment go.
Please feel free to write about your own experiences in the comments below. I think it will help everyone here to hear them.