When I first put fingers to keyboard yesterday, I wrote knowing that my experience wasn’t a unique one. But it was only after reading comments and receiving feedback that I realized just how prevalent it was. I’m not sure whether the responses have been more uplifting or disheartening. On one hand, a lot of girls â€“ too many of my close friends to count â€“ share my fears and concerns. On the other, there’s a certain solidarity in knowing that you have support in confronting these obstacles. I’m speaking for a lot more frustrated women than I thought.
I want to clarify a few things. It’s pretty obvious that I hold some feminist beliefs. At the same time, I wouldn’t identify myself as a feminist, because there are many aspects of my life that don’t align with feminism at all. That being said, I think people need to understand that what I’m discussing here isn’t about feminism and isn’t even about equality. Rights, fair wages, and non-discriminatory policies are all good and fine â€“ but sometimes I worry that in pursuit of these very worthy causes, society is forgetting about the most basic courtesies, the everyday actions that are the best indication of how women are really viewed in the world.
I think JB’s comment is the most telling. From a non-female perspective, it seems that women have all the same rights and opportunities as men. With affirmative action and diversity programs, some might even argue that women have certain advantages. But it’s only when you look beneath the surface and walk in our shoes that you realize how difficult it can sometimes be to live as a woman.
Although I’m not exactly known for being complacent, I’m hardly violent or belligerent either. Until yesterday, the single physical altercation I have ever been involved in occurred on a playground. My reaction on the bus was pretty uncharacteristic. It is far more likely that I would have simply not said anything at all and moved away had the crowd permitted. But I think the reason why I chose to lash out instead was because I had finally had it. The anger I’ve accumulated over the course of many years reached a boiling point when that man violated me. He wasn’t the first, nor will he be the last, but at that moment, he was the one thing I could fight back against. That’s why I yelled at him, that’s why I kicked him, and that’s why I wouldn’t have stopped if it wasn’t for the bystander who calmed me down. Considering my stature and physique, I was hardly in any position to do real damage, but if I could’ve done real harm, I would’ve. I wanted to draw blood yesterday. I wanted him on the floor. I wanted my heel on his neck. I wanted him to feel the way he and other men have made me over and over.
You hear stories on the news all the time about women who kill their boyfriends and husbands because they’ve been physically or emotionally abusive. I’ve always written these women off as mentally unhinged, but on some level, I think I can understand. I donâ€™t want to kill anyone but like them, I’m sick of being a victim. I try not to feel like one, I try not to live like one, yet time and time again, someone does something to remind me that I am one.
When I was 12, I sat down on the floor of my local library beside Rolling Stone archives and thumbed through an issue about the Backstreet Boys. Shortly after, a man took a seat next to me and opened a magazine in a manner that allowed the back of his hand to touch the side of my breast. I shifted. He opened his magazine wider. I shifted again. He did right along with me. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know how to. I wasn’t sure if I was just paranoid. I didn’t want to make a scene for no reason. But I left that situation feeling at fault for letting myself be victimized.
I’m 19 now, fully grown, a Harvard student, and headed toward a promising future. I lead meetings, I head organizations, I take on enormous responsibilities. But every so often, I feel like that 12-year-old again. You might say that the guy on the bus and the man from the library are predators, exceptions in the grand scheme of things. But what about men who catcall at underage girls? What about the frat boy culture that permeates male-dominated workplaces? What about guys writing off their female coworkers as “bitchy” when they try to lead like them? Every one of these situations leave me feeling just as helpless and without recourse as I did all those years ago on the library floor.
The man on the bus may have crossed the line in a way that most people wouldn’t dare, but everyday many men toe that same line. Iâ€™m not saying that every guy does, but enough guys engage in that behavior to make a significant portion of women uncomfortable. I’m tired of being dehumanized and objectified by lewd glances and come-ons. I’m tired of feeling intimidated and scared when walking alone on the street. The reason the man on the bus thought he could touch me was because men escape unpunished for degrading women all the time. What happened yesterday was not his fault alone. His crime falls on the shoulders of an indifferent society.