I was sitting on the train this morning when I came across this post my daughter shared on Facebook. I first came across #yesallwomen when Chuck Wendig wrote about issues surrounding it on his blog. His post started my thought process, then reading the one today pretty much threw me over the edge. I can’t say I was sobbing on the train, but to say tears welled up in my eyes and I had such an influx of emotion that I felt ready to burst would be just about right.
I don’t own a twitter account, but I feel strongly compelled to share some of my experiences. So many women have already done it and I applaud each and every one because it isn’t easy. It especially isn’t easy when you receive the kind of comments and feedback that are happening on the Twitter feed. Don’t think this is easy for me either, because it isn’t. Even as I sit here, I’m wondering if this will stay a draft or if I should really do that thing where I hit “Publish” and send it out into the big bad world of people scrutinizing it and judging it either good or bad, right or wrong. At this point, I’m not sure what the answer is, but if I knew for certain my story could help just one person, I wouldn’t hesitate. In her article linked to above, Janne Robinson wrote, “I do identify as being an activist, and an advocate for human rights.” I believe I fall into this category as well and if I can do one small thing, then I will, even if it matters not at all in the sum total of everything.
The sad thing is, when I started thinking about #yesallwomen, I wasn’t really sure if I was “one of those” women or not. But even from just the few posts I’ve read from the Twitter feed, I realize I have more experiences, more stories than I’m going to mention here – when I titled the piece “My Story” it is really only small snippets, moments among many that have happened in my life. In fact, the more I thought of it, the more I remembered; the more I realized I have behaviors that are directly related to these experiences. Some of the experiences happened in public places, but far too many of them were men I loved and trusted.
I walk about two blocks from the train to get to work every morning and yesterday morning I accidentally made eye contact with a guy walking in the opposite direction. I gave him a small smile of acknowledgement then quickly put my head down. He proceeded to make a point of looking directly at me and said “Good Morning”. I looked up and mumbled good morning than walked a little faster the rest of the way to work. It is heartbreaking to me that I have been taught to be cautious on the street; that god forbid I make eye contact with a man lest he take it as some sort of invitation; how when he said something, my stomach jumped into my throat and it actually scared me; how I questioned his motives in simply saying good morning to me. But honestly, we (all women) have been trained to be this way. We have learned to be cautious and to not give too much lest it be taken in ways we don’t mean.
I have had men lean out of cars and cat-call nasty shit to me, whistle at me, you name it, just for walking down the street. I’ve been that woman who said NO but it happened anyway. You really do think all the things you hear: he’s my boyfriend/husband and we do this all the time; what’s the point in fighting; let’s just get it over with so I can get the hell out of here or go to sleep; maybe I pushed him too far and he really can’t stop… I pushed him too far, like I have more power than he does over his sexual drive simply by my femininity. It has happened several times and one of those times I was drunk and barely coherent enough to put up a fight, but I did say NO and I damn well know I didn’t participate in any way, shape or form. He was drunk too… I told myself all the excuses, but should there be even one excuse for it? I’ve also read that this shouldn’t be considered rape. And the sad thing is, I’m on the borderline of thinking it isn’t either. Because it wasn’t violent… Because it was someone I trusted and loved…
But looking back, I still felt violated. I still felt like something happened that shouldn’t have.
I was working a few years ago as an administrative manager in a sales office. We used to call it working in hell because there were pretty much zero redeeming qualities about it, except they paid relatively well and I kept telling myself there was no way I would find another job paying what I was making there without a degree and the type of work I do. There were two salesmen who started within a few months of each other (they were brothers) and right away, all the women realized these two had no sense of personal space. I cannot tell you how many times I told both of them to back up, to not touch me, to not say those things to me. I never went to HR, because, I don’t know… I handled it. I have a voice. I can tell them to fuck off, and I did. So. Many. Times. One day, I was helping one of them and he was grateful for the help and I guess he thought he would thank me by rubbing my shoulders. Now, you might think this is pretty innocuous behavior, but it made me feel uncomfortable so I asked him to please stop. He put up his hands and spluttered some halfwit apology and then he proceeded to say “I didn’t know…” Which pissed me off. I ended up raising my voice – I had told him multiple times and of course he knew and blah blah blah. Once he left my office, I let the matter go because, status quo, and again, I had dealt with it. The guy ended up telling his boss, no idea why, and I ended up in HR. But not for the reasons you would think. They did the obligatory are you okays and what happened routine, then proceeded to ask me if I had yelled at him. Later the same day, he had come back to my office to ask about his SPIF money, which I happened to be in charge of, and I snapped at him. I did. I’m not going to lie. I was tired, he was still on my shit list for sexually harassing me, I was overworked and buried up to my eyeballs… I could count the reasons. Anyway, I ended up getting in trouble. I was told he had been talked to as well, but it struck me as utter bullshit because it screamed to me of retaliation and they bought into it. Poor guy… he was short on funds and wasn’t making money and somehow I’m supposed to be sensitive and nice even though he can walk around invading my personal space, touching me and saying vile shit to me, but that’s okay because… I don’t know… It isn’t okay, but the message I got from that employer was, you can’t be angry. You can’t snap at them, even when they cross the line, especially when you cross the line too, even though you had ample reason to be angry. So I continue to ask myself, did I really cross the line? Really?
I was told by my first boyfriend that it was my fault we had gone too far because I decided to wear leggings (we were Christian and not supposed to have sex until marriage). I think I remember this one so vividly (it was 21 years ago) because it is difficult for me to wear “revealing” clothes. I could say I was shamed by my father as a little girl when he would yell at me for wearing something he didn’t like and tell me to change – because religion and a male not taking responsibility for his thoughts but instead blaming it on his female daughter? I don’t know. But, to this day it is hard for me to wear certain types of clothing. And that day, I had stepped out of my comfort zone to wear something that empowered me as a woman and made me feel good about myself, only to be told “that turns me on, so it’s your fault I can’t keep my hands off you”.
I could honestly go on and on, but at the end of the day it just makes me sad. It is sad that we live in this type of culture. That men believe some of the shit they say and mock us for telling our stories. That the victim is blamed more often than not. That high schools actually have unfair policies about what young women wear as compared to what they allow young men to wear to school. That it feels unsafe to walk down the street and do what comes naturally to me as a human – to smile and say hi to a man – simply because I’m a female.
I agree with Janne Robinson, it will take both genders to fix this problem. It will take us all looking at that thing we do when we say things like “that’s a girl thing” or “that’s for boys” because when we say things like that we continue to buy into the separatism and inequality that persists in our culture.
There are great men out there. I know this. I believe I’ve finally found one, but we struggle every day because I’ve had some pretty awful men do bad shit to me in my life and it makes it hard to trust. It makes it hard to have a meaningful relationship because the men I trusted most in my life were usually the ones who hurt me the worst and sometimes I see them in my boyfriend. But we continue to live and survive and love because I love that wonderful thing called love. I do. And that, along with strength in unity, is what can help solve this problem.
All women have stories like mine. Yes, it is all women.