I was on Twitter last night, reading all the comments with the hashtag #YesAllWomen. This tag was born in response to the shootings in Santa Barbara, CA. The shooter, Elliot Rodgers, decided killing others was an appropriate response to being rejected multiple times by women. In the ABC news article, they mention some indicators that this guy had other mental health issues which folks brushed off as weird but normal for him. Stories like this make me very sad for everyone involved.
The #YesAllWomen tweets really hit home because it re-reminded me of all the things women feel they must do to keep themselves safe from being attacked or harassed by men. The “boys will be boys” defense has been over-used to justify inappropriate and demeaning behavior from men towards women. It must stop. I have two teen-aged sons and many nephews. Reading all of those tweets last night brought up some memories and made me realise there needs to be more conversations about respect and consent, on both sides.
I’m in my late 30’s. Growing up, I was taught not to question authority (parents, church elders, older relatives), do as I was told and don’t rock the boat. In my opinion, this is learned dis-empowerment. Even now, I still have to shake off the concern that I’ll be viewed as a “bitch” when I stand up for myself. That makes me so angry because I remember a number of times where I could not stand up for myself and no one stepped in to defend me. As I got older, I could have stood up for myself but I didn’t because I was taught that it was not OK to have a voice. Thankfully, I have found that, not only is it OK to be your own advocate but it is necessary.
No one has a “right” to touch your body against your will. Period. I did not know this when I was younger. I’ve had my ass grabbed at the bar. I was groped by a customer (an elderly Native man, which went against his appearance and culture) at my job. When I worked in sales and dealt with angry male customers, I hoped if they found me attractive, maybe they wouldn’t be as mean to me when they were upset. I still walk out of the grocery store at night with my keys at the ready and my head up, scanning my surroundings. I was instructed to do this to lessen my chances of being attacked. Once, I was followed through the grocery story by a drunk man who saw me wearing my “ARMY” shirt. He wanted to quiz me on my connection to the military. Just as I thought I’d lost him, I found him walking towards my truck as I was loading my groceries. I jumped in the truck with my bags and slammed the door as he retreated. I left a job I really liked because of sexual harassment from my boss. I’ve been afraid to say “no” when I didn’t feel up to sex because I’ve feared the consequences. I did said “no” in the past to sex (to an ex-boyfriend), and my wishes were ignored. Twice.
Sexual harassment, assault and abuse happens more often than is reported. Shame and embarrassment keep people afraid to speaking out. These experiences are often downplayed or excuses made for the abusers and that silences voices. We cannot continue to excuse rape, inappropriate touches, aggressive behavior or demeaning comments. It has to stop with us. (<<click for link to Project Unbreakable) Please share your story, you need to be heard.
We need to teach our children to be strong and stand up for themselves. We need to teach our children to respect and treat others as they would like to be treated. We need to teach and show others that it is acceptable to step in and defend those who cannot defend themselves. This is what I am trying to instill in my own two sons.