I have been watching the evolution of the YesAllWomen tag discussion in the media and online over the past weeks, and have decided to add my own voice to the conversation. What I will address is my own experience with sexual harrassment and why I believe it to be a relatively unexceptional experience. When I say ‘unexceptional’ what I mean is that what happened to me has happened to so many people that, even though it stands out as a uniquely frightening event in my life, stories very much like mine happen every day.
In brief, my experience was this: while studying abroad, I met a guy at a party. He made it fairly obvious he was interested: “I’d like to see you again, can we go out sometime?” is pretty hard to misinterpret. We met for coffee once, and then met up again later that night at another party. Over the course of the night I began to realize I was not so interested, and also began to notice red flags about his intentions in our conversation. I decided to call it a night and, after a tense exchange as he protested my leaving, headed for home.
Under the pretext of “making sure I got home safe” he followed me there and, though I evaded him before I got to my building, he spotted my roommate coming home and followed her. He tried to force his way into our apartment. It took a few weeks of avoiding him at future events (and screening his texts and calls) for him to leave me alone.
While there are a lot of things wrong with the above scenario, there are a few broader themes I want to address more directly. I was inspired to address them by this video by Sabrina Cruz from Nerdy and Quirky discussing why she needs feminism. Using my own experience as an example, I need feminism because:
1. I never considered that the incident was worth reporting.
It speaks volumes about our attitudes towards gender roles that I felt “nothing had happened” worth reporting. I certainly thought him to be a jerk and I was furious with him, but never considered doing anything else about his behaviour. After all, nightclubs, alcohol, and a skirt that fell short of my knees were all involved in the event. Drawing official attention to that sort of behaviour would only lead to my being blamed for “putting myself in a position” where such a thing would happen.
I need feminism because a man attempting to force himself into my home after a date is not nothing, nor is it my fault.
2. He did not understand why his actions were wrong.
When he found me at a later social event, he demanded to know what it was he had done wrong. Though our exchange was short, it was clear to me he felt that in his mind he had gone down the checklist of tasks that would earn him sex. Having checked all those boxes off, he couldn’t understand why it didn’t happen.
I need feminism because obtaining my consent or permission to come to my home were not on that checklist.
3. My roommate thought his actions were evidence that “he really likes you”.
After we had forcibly slammed the door against him my roommate and her friend laughed and said he must really be into me. Yet his behaviour makes it clear that he never liked me at all. What he liked was the physical gratification he was expecting to receive from me. If I had not been at the party the night we met, he would have found someone else and behaved the same.
His confusion of liking a person with liking the personal gratification of having sex is hardly unusual. We are all trained to think that being pursued for our physical attributes is equivalent to being pursued as a person. When I was in high school I would have given anything to believe I was being pursued for my body, because I had been conditioned to think I would never get attention from the opposite gender unless I had the appropriate physique. Like many women, the body image issues that arose from this perception are an ongoing struggle for me, even though at this point I know better than to believe it’s all that matters.
I need feminism because men should not reduce women to their bodies, and women should not do it to themselves.
4. I consider myself “lucky” because only my pride and dignity were violated.
It could have been worse. I think the worst part of this issue is that I am not surprised by the fact that I was treated this way – I’m mostly just relieved it ended how it did. The truth is that being harassed, dismissed or objectified because I am a woman is a fact of life to me – it has happened, and will again.
I need feminism because sexual harassment should not be a fact of life for anyone. Period.
A brief note on the YesAllWomen tag – the creator wishes it to be replaced, as much as possible, with the tag EachEveryWoman as discussed here. Unfortunately, it seems we all also need feminism because the creator of this powerful tag has received so many death and rape threats she has been forced to withdraw from her previously known accounts and online presence.