#YESALLWOMEN, #YESALLMEN

I’ve been seeing a lot of the #yesallwomen posts. I won’t even get into how women are treated in some other countries. I think we’re all aware of the horrors women can suffer in some countries. I just want to share some thoughts on our culture and my personal experiences.

In spite of the horrible reason the tag was created, I find it to be a very good thing. I hope it is truly eye opening. I have been discussing things with my boys (age appropriately) again, making sure that they have a firm understanding of how girls/women should be treated at all times, which is the same as they treat boys/men/the elderly/all races/everyone else, and the way they want to be treated themselves - as people and with respect

I try hard to impress upon them that not only are they responsible for how they themselves treat women, but also for speaking out if they see them (or anyone) being mistreated. Silence can be powerful in many situations. In some cases, it can be construed as approval. 

I believe many men are sympathetic to women, but I don’t know if any man can truly understand what it is, how it feels, to be a woman in our culture. 

The #yesallwomen has made me try to remember when I first felt disrespected, less than, objectified, or downright fearful. Was it 5th grade when a boy kept insisting I be his girlfriend and I kept saying no and trying to avoid him? Was it when he grabbed my arms anyway and kissed me when I wanted no part of it?

Maybe it was 6th grade when boys started making comments to all the girls about who they thought was pretty or ugly, commenting on whose breasts were developing and whose were not yet, tormenting those who didn’t need a bra yet, determining who did and did not wear a bra by grabbing and painfully snapping bras on the regular.

Maybe it was the confusion of being admired by some boys for being smart and being told by others to shut up for making them look bad if I knew an answer that they did not or getting better grades than they did.

It could have been in junior high when my girlfriend and I walked home from school every day and had to pass construction workers who never missed an opportunity to whistle or make a stupid comment such as, “Can I get fries with that shake?” and think they were oh so very clever, followed by much ruder comments when we did not respond. It was very uncomfortable and I remember our conversation would become hushed and we would get tense as we approached that part of our walk, we would walk faster, and we wouldn’t relax and resume normal conversation until we were out of their sight.

I think the fear really began to creep in when I would go for walks in the summer evenings in the middle of my small town, thinking that would be the safest place to walk. I wore headphones because I enjoyed music, but also so I could stare straight ahead and pretend not to hear the honks and comments from passing cars. I discovered this really was not much of a deterrent.

At times it backfired on me, because more than once I had a car actually pull in front of me and cut off my walking path so that they could be sure to make me see them and hear their comments. One guy did this to me and insisted repeatedly I get in his car and go to dinner with him and was not happy that I politely declined.

These are the mild instances. I could go on and on about the fear of having to be escorted to my car in the dark after work after having a total stranger aggressively want my personal information because he happened to see me at my place of work; about a coworker who told me about a pair of guys who grilled her for information about me, including very personal information such as did she know whether I was a virgin; about one who followed me from work so I didn’t go home, but rather drove to the State Police post and parked until he was gone, and I then took a long way home, checking my mirrors constantly to see if I was being followed.

I could tell you stories of how for several years I wore a fake engagement ring when I went out as well as to work, and even stating I was married too often didn’t phase some men in the least, but instead they actually seemed to take it as a challenge.

College certainly ramped up my fears. There was the guy who entered my room while I was sleeping when my roommates went out and forgot to lock the door.

The guy who approached me out of nowhere on the sidewalk on a bright sunny day to suddenly fall in step with me, making the creepiest comments that immediately made me look around for other people I might call to for help.

There was the time my roommates and I were followed most of the way home after dark by a group of guys calling out to us that we’d better run, that they were from the TKE house and they were rapists (the TKE house had recently had a sexual assault incident at that time).

There was the guy who met me once and decided I should be his girlfriend, that I should be his, found out where I lived, came pounding on my dorm door looking for me, and 2 of my roommates hurriedly buried me deep in a closet to hide when he pushed his way past my other roommate and into our room, not believing them when they told him that I wasn’t there, and searched the room looking for me as I held my breath in fear. 

There was the guy who was a hall monitor in our hall, whose job was basically to patrol the halls at night and make sure all was well. We thought he was a friend and he would stop at our room and chat with us often. You’d think he’d be one of the safe ones, right, since protection was his job? Late in the year we found out he’d let himself into a girl’s room and crawled into bed with her in the middle of the night, and we were floored and questioned our ability to know what guys you could really trust. 

I could tell you about walking through a crowded street party with my friends and being at the back as we wove our way through the crowd single file, and a guy much bigger than me saying something about he liked how I looked, so he simply plucked me from the crowd, literally picked me up as I was passing by and held me there and wouldn’t let me go.

That was a moment of sheer terror for me as I watched my friends getting farther and farther away, and I screamed my head off for my friend Bob, who thank God heard me, came back, and pried the guy off me. I don’t think I let go of Bob the rest of the night, I was so shaken. I remember it vividly.

It’s a hard thing to explain, but it was that total loss of control of my own autonomy, feeling helpless at someone’s mercy, of someone just deciding to literally take me on a whim as I passed by them, that was utterly terrifying, and nobody around me in the crowd did or said anything to him to make him let me go.

There are so many, many, many instances where it is so clear that I have been a “non-person” to so many men. I don’t think guys understand that they can go to a bar and have a drink with their friends and think nothing of it. When I went out with my friends, I’m trying to think if there was ever a single time I went where we were able to just relax as a group of women and have a good time without being hit on, having guys just pull up a chair uninvited and refuse to leave, or turn ugly when told we were having a girls night and politely asked them to leave us. Those are the more “innocuous” things men did.

There were many times men would feel free to loudly verbalize exactly what they thought of how I looked, what they thought of my body, and what they would like to do with it in detail, while their friends agreed or chuckled. I won’t even get into the times I’ve been violated by being groped because those moments left such residue that I don’t want to even think about them.

Those things are not compliments. They are humiliating and reduce a person to feeling like an inanimate object, and it feels very much like an implied threat. Even more so when I did not respond and that earned me a verbal barrage of another type which felt even more threatening. Sometimes they would follow us to our car and continue making comments and wanting to know where we were going. 

I’d like to say these are extreme examples, but sadly they’re not, and the list goes on and on and on. I have so many stories like this, and there’s nothing special about me. I am just an average woman, and I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t have a long list of their own stories. They have been a very regular part of my life. It happened to a friend just the other day.

I have been put in some incredibly uncomfortable situations and been made to feel embarrassed and apologetic even this past year when someone I consider a fairly good guy has felt the need to comment on my body in front of his wife. I think it was awkward and uncomfortable for both of us women and so unnecessary if he’d simply have thought before he spoke.

The saddest part of all this and the part that makes me the angriest is that nothing has changed. In fact, I think it’s even worse now with social media and technology making it even easier to terrorize women and to do so anonymously. My teenage daughter simply walked down the sidewalk last summer in our small town and had an older man make a crude sexual comment to her.

There is a “secret admirer” page for her college campus on Facebook. It is all anonymous posts. Last year, her freshman year, there was a post made about my daughter and her roommate. The page admin said he had received the submission multiple times and finally posted it, after “cleaning it up a bit.” What was actually posted were comments about the physical attributes of my daughter and her roommate, things he’d like to do to them, including a threesome with them, that my daughter’s hair made him think “really kinky things,” and a clear statement that he knew where they lived and had been observing them on multiple occasions.

They were understandably freaked out. They were actually so scared they had a guy friend escort them whenever they left their room for weeks, actually being more afraid to walk around inside their own dorm than out on campus, because he knew where they lived. Her boyfriend 6 hours away was beside himself with concern. My daughter wore her hair in a bun for weeks to hide her hair. 

This is so important. I want to get this across. The girls were afraid to walk around inside their own dorm and my daughter was afraid to wear her hair down. These were not harmless comments. They made these young women literally change the way they lived and acted for weeks out of fear, because they felt unsafe in their own living environment. The fact that my daughter felt the need to wear her long beautiful hair up in a bun, not because she liked the hairstyle, but because she felt the need to hide it because some creep saw it as sexual and she was afraid to let it be seen lest it encourage such thoughts, enrages me.

Absolutely not all men are like that. Of course not. I have always known that. Some of my best friends have always been, and continue to be, male. There are men on various sites who are speaking out on this subject.

I know for a fact there are men who also sometimes feel objectified and devalued as a person when women just want to use them for sex, but I don’t think they have the same accompanying fear for their safety or the constant lack of respect that is so pervasive for women, and on so many levels. 

The point is that #yesallwomen experience these things on an alarmingly regular basis. This is our daily reality and until we really know you well and trust is established, we have no way of knowing which men are the “not all men” and so, like that m&m analogy, we have to assume they might be poisonous until we can sort out which ones are safe, because to assume all are safe until we discover which ones are poisonous could cost our safety or even literally cost us our lives. Sometimes it is one we have come to trust and think of as “safe” and a friend who then turns into one of the “poisonous” ones.

It’s a hell of a way to have to live, and I think it is particularly difficult for people like my daughter and me who see the good in everyone and whose instinct is to trust until someone proves they cannot be trusted, which is the polar opposite of what we are taught as women in our society. We have to fight that impulse. Intuition goes a long way, but we have to use our intellect as well, because we live in a culture where women too often simply are not safe, not respected, and too often not even seen as actual people.

We live in a society where we teach our daughters and have to know ourselves how to hold car keys as a weapon, to park in a lighted area, to check under cars and back seats before getting in, to constantly look over our shoulders, to be ever aware of our surroundings, self-defense moves, to be aware of how we dress, and the list goes on and on of shoulds and should nots to follow every single time we leave the house.

That is what I don’t think men can truly grasp, what it is like to have to be ever vigilant and never able to let our guard down. It is mentally exhausting. It means we carry a certain amount of physical tension when we’re out in the world almost all the time without even really be aware of it, it is so ingrained.

We need to teach our boys to respect women as people, but also to stand up and protect them, to speak out when they see other men disrespect them instead of remaining silent or chuckling, and I think many men are doing this.

What we need is not so much a #yesallwomen tag to point out it affects all women in all walks of life, because that’s pretty much a given.

What we need is a #yesallmen movement where men stand up and start declaring it’s not a women’s issue, it’s a societal issue, it’s a person issue, a human issue, and that #yesallmen need to stand up, speak out, refuse to stay silent, refuse to chuckle at “boys will be boys” behavior, where #yesallmen insist that #yesALLmen treat women with respect, on the street, at work, at school, in the bars, in the grocery store, on the bus, in the classroom, in every walk of life. 

The men who treat women poorly don’t care about feminism. They don’t respect women, so they aren’t going to listen to women. They need to hear it, in no uncertain terms, from other men, their peers, who they are more apt to listen to and respect.

I believe the “poisonous” men are the minority, but they are a very loud and very verbal minority, and until the majority of good and decent men start being louder and using their voices not only to support women but, more importantly, to speak directly to those men, every time they see it happening, my children will still find it necessary to teach my future grandsons that women should be treated with respect and my future granddaughters that they need to be on guard at all times.

I want a better future than that. I want my daughter to be respected in her chosen profession that’s a traditional men’s field simply because she’s intelligent and good at it, the same as the men. I want her to feel safe as she moves through the world, not viewed as a body or made to feel like an object, or less than.

I want my future grandchildren to live in a society where it doesn’t occur to them to consider gender, because people are all valued simply as people.

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