Yesterday, I tried to tell a story without knowing all the plot lines (because I don’t personally know the people involved) and without naming names or using details and it came out as kind of a weird mish-mash of words that really didn’t make much sense.
Today, I’ll just get right to the point. Aggression, especially sexual aggression, is a problem in this country. I understand how some people don’t see it for what it is, because it isn’t always about rape or physical attacks. And just like I feel vaguely guilty when the conversation turns to white privilege, I think men feel guilty when talking about stuff like this. I understand that, but it makes a rational conversation almost impossible.
I am at an age where I’m not getting catcalled, no one is checking me out as I walk down the street, men don’t try to get me to smile at them before they give me my cup of coffee or whatever. I’m invisible to a large section of society and I’m fine with that. But just because I’m no longer considered ‘fair game’ doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak up when other women are still dealing with it every day. Things can’t change if we don’t understand what needs to be changed.
In my twenties, when I was arguably hotter, I did deal with it a few times. It wasn’t anything major, I wasn’t raped or attacked. In fact, it was so minor that I brushed it off at the time. But in thinking about this other blogger, about Weistein and all the things that are coming out now, it made me realize that by brushing it off, I ended up contributing to the problem.
Here’s what happened: I knew a guy who was much older and kind of creepy, but in a way I thought was basically harmless. He would tell jokes that were just a bit off-color but he had one habit that bothered me to the point where I finally called him out on it. He liked “side-hugs”, so he would approach women and put his arm around them, but with me (and others), he would try to wedge his hand between my arm and my body – thereby grabbing my boob, in effect. I would walk away, I jabbed him in the side with my elbow more than once and finally I said, “Would you STOP trying to grab my boob?” – and I said it in front of several people. He laughed it off, denied that’s what he was doing and I just let it go because … why bother?
Around that same time, I was thinking about buying a car from another older dude. I looked at the car and we stood around talking for a while and then it started to rain. So he suggested we get in the car and I agreed – because it never occurred to me that he would try anything. As it turned out, he didn’t try anything, but he did manage to steer the conversation around to the time he first saw a woman naked. I ended the conversation as gracefully as I could. I thought it was creepy, I thought it was weird and gross, but I didn’t tell anyone because he didn’t hurt me and he didn’t touch me.
Here’s the thing: That’s not okay. It’s not okay to try to get some sick thrill by telling a woman half your age about your first sexual experience. It’s not okay to try to force your hand where a woman doesn’t want it – even if you’re just being “friendly.” And it’s not okay to not say anything about it when it happens to you or when you see it happening to someone else.
We have a saying in this country “no harm, no foul” – I’ve said it myself. But harm isn’t always visible. I didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about what I did to cause those two men to act that way with me. I knew it was their issue, not mine. But that’s only because I had some self-esteem and I had resources, should I have needed to take other action. Not everyone has that. Just because that guy didn’t touch me, didn’t mean it was okay to tell me that story. I didn’t start it. I didn’t encourage it and I certainly didn’t ask for more details. He was gauging my reaction and if I had done anything differently, I might have a different story to tell.
I’ve heard plenty of men say “Well, I always treat women with respect.” Do you? Do you tell ‘jokes’ just to get a reaction? Do you invade a woman’s personal space and/or get offended when she doesn’t respond? Do you use your physical size to intimidate women? How can you be sure you’re always respectful when the lines are so blurred because women don’t want to make waves and men live by the ‘no harm, no foul’ rule?
How about this? I saw an article that suggested using The Rock test. If you want to flirt, or you feel you might say something inappropriate to a woman, just imagine her as The Rock. If you would say it to The Rock, it’s okay to say it to the woman. I would take it one step further. Imagine it’s your mom. If you wouldn’t say it to your mom, you probably shouldn’t say it to a cute woman you see walking down the street.
We have made amazing strides but we still have so much further to go. Just because YOU treat women as you would your mom, or The Rock, doesn’t mean all your friends treat women respectfully. When you see it, when you hear it, call it out. Stop contributing to the problem. Stop being the problem.