To solve the enormous issue of sexual harassment and assault: begin with acknowledgement. This requires an “outing” of sorts, which puts victimized people in an increased state of vulnerability. This is horribly unfair. When they have the courage, believe them.
Maybe you don’t know her story because she feels ashamed. Maybe you don’t know her story because she knows her experience is unremarkable and not worth the mention. She probably has several. The statistics are startling.
Maybe you don’t know his story because of shame. He might have one. He might have more.
The terrible cruelty of assault and rape is agreed upon ubiquitously in our culture. Yet a much larger group perpetuates rape culture through engaging in or being complicit in harassment.
I always knew I was lucky for the men in my life. I grew up hearing, “You’re my hero,” from my dad. He cherishes my mother. I, on an undoubtedly related note, had respectful boyfriends and male friends and an unflinching belief that there were more good than bad men in the world. I’ve been very lucky.
And still I understood that harassment is as much a part of female life as getting your period. It’s unpleasant but part of the deal. In fact, the less threatening forms of harassment have felt oddly validating–as in, no I don’t really respect you as a full person, but I see you there and I notice you indeed are a part of that group.
My induction to that group happened in sixth grade Math class. I remember feeling such palpable shame and sickness. I had won the “Math Award” earlier than year, but suddenly lost focus and found I enjoyed Literature class much more. It only occurred to me, looking at my B.A in English a few years ago, that maybe those inclinations in our lives are not so self-driven. I was consumed by making sure that I wasn’t doing anything to call attention to myself in that class. But that bled into all my other classes, and everything else with time and experience, making it impossible to have true freedom. This is all so normal that I couldn’t have told you then exactly why I made the choices I did. When a woman is able to walk this life with self-knowledge and confidence that our culture denies I am entranced and amazed. It really happens. Some of my dearest friends who have experienced horrendous, violent sexual assault come to mind. They are absolute magic.
But for those lacking this assuredness a boyfriend can be a great solution to most harassment issues. The kind of boyfriend who’ll pull up his own shirt when someone screams, “show me your tits!” at you, or will give you an understanding hug when you tell him angrily that you we just called a “fucking cunt” for not joining those leering bros for their cookout. But he might not be aggressive enough, and when approached by several dudes who casually but convincingly talk about raping you, he laughs nervously and doesn’t know what to do. So you have to get a new boyfriend with the capacity for violence. And again our life choices are sometimes more on the survivalist than thrivalist kind of life. You hear me?
We’ve got to make it stop. When you see it, call it for what it is. You need to tell that friend he’s not cool when he disrespects marginalized groups and he better do better. When he tells you he’s sorry that he, too, is just a cog in this wheel and you’ve held up a mirror for him to become the man he’s always wanted him to be, congratulations are in order. That derailment is a big deal.
And for the few dudes who scoff that they, “can’t say anything these days without offending someone”–tell them to grow up and get some new material or STFU. We’ll be just fine without that noise.