Thursday, June 12, 2014
There is a real problem entwined into the fabric of humanity that needs to be addressed. It is not new, in fact, it has been there since the beginning of time. Misogyny is an epidemic that seems to go ignored far too often. It kills millions of women, it destroys lives and prevents peace and progress in every society. It is ultimately the culprit for serious and ubiquitous issues such as sexual assault.
Gender equality is something that can only be found in a utopian society much like successful communism and a cure for cancer. Men and women are not, and have never been equal, and that is the root to most of the world’s problems as well as the barrier to the solutions.
I was born into a world where sexual assault is the norm, and where the majority of the world also believes that just accepting it is the solution. I hope that if nothing else comes from the tragedy in Santa Barbara, that the taboo surrounding talking about misogyny and all other relevant gender inequality issues becomes eliminated or at the very least minimized.
I was assaulted for the first time when I was 14 years old by a family member, and since then, 4 separate times with different men, each incident being of a varying degree of severity. This may seem like an unrealistic amount of assault for one 23-year-old, but I assure you that several of my friends have endured a comparable amount of assault. Keeping in mind that 1 in 5 women in the U.S. alone claim to be raped in their lives, we all need to agree that something needs to change.
How can we all be okay with living in a world where those numbers are a reality?
Deflecting blame onto the women who suffer from these occurrences is unfair and unproductive. Women will not stop wearing makeup and wearing “provocative clothing” any sooner than men will stop catcalling. But the fact of the matter is: they shouldn’t have to.
Men need to learn how to control their impulses and urges. Better yet, we need to stop raising generations of men who even have those urges in the first place, and are never taught how to control them. Porn culture, advertisements, and music videos that objectify women among other things leave impressionable young men with the idea that women exist for sexual purposes and that having sex is a necessity and that they are entitled to it.
So for any man who has ever taken advantage of a girl, forced themselves on someone, or made a girl feel uncomfortable in any way, or even pushed, pleaded or manipulated a girl into having sex with them: you are a sexual offender. Labels aside, what you did is wrong and no matter how you justify it in your head, it is still wrong.
Regardless of if you are drunk or your judgment is impaired, it is still wrong. If you can’t determine if you are crossing a line, and your morals become blurred while intoxicated, then you have a problem. Alcohol is not an excuse or justification for bad behavior, and a crime committed while drunk is not excusable.
No means no. No matter what tone of voice, no matter the volume of her voice, no matter if she said yes at first, no matter if you think she doesn’t mean it, no matter what language it’s in, no matter the circumstance, NO MATTER WHAT, WITH NO EXCEPTIONS-NO MEANS NO!
Even if she doesn’t say no, even if she doesn’t scream and kick and shout and fight back, that does not mean she wants you to do whatever it is you are doing to her. If a girl is unconscious, or too drunk or high to be capable of giving consent, or if she is in any way impaired mentally or physically, it is not okay to have sex with her, finger her, take her clothes off or touch her. You would think that is common sense, but maybe it needs to be spelled out. It should also probably be mentioned that even if a girl is making out with you or coming onto you, that is not an invitation for sex. Even if you’ve had sex before, even if she changes her mind right before or in the middle of sex, it is still rape.
I can’t really fathom how a man can get off preceding with the act in any of these circumstances, but for some reason- they do. I’ve heard every excuse and justification in the book, but I guarantee that if you have to justify your actions, then they were wrong to begin with. Even if you truly think you did nothing wrong, but she feels like you did, then you did something wrong.
I know that it is unreasonable to expect men to empathize with the pain their actions cause women, so I’m here to explain it.
When a man takes advantage of you in any way, the pain runs deep, it stays with you forever, and it haunts you always. More often than not, the emotional pain is much deeper and longer lasting than the physical pain of the act itself. You feel disgusting, violated, worthless, powerless, angry, sad, scared, anxious, confused, hopeless, regretful, guilty, abused, invisible, and unheard.
You may escape physically intact but you leave a piece of dignity behind and shame begins to fill its place. It hurts in ways that you didn’t know existed and that can’t be fully understood or healed. You try to cleanse your mind, but no matter how many showers you take, you can’t seem to escape that dirty feeling. You spend hours, days, weeks, years analyzing it, why it happened, how it happened, what you could have done differently, where YOU went wrong, wondering why you can’t just let it go, and why it affects you so much, wishing that everyone could understand what you were going through (especially the man who did it). But you never get answers to those questions, because there are no answers to be found. It happened because society let it happen, and you most likely won’t get justice because our society is more prepared and willing to shame women than to enforce retribution for crimes against them.
Eventually you may find ways to move on, and ways to cope with the pain, but it will always be there in the recesses of your brain, and a word, a touch, a thought or even a look can trigger the memory and bring you right back to that vulnerable moment when you weren’t in control of your own body.
Women cope in many different ways, sometimes by suppressing it, sometimes by burying it under distractions, sometimes by pretending it didn’t happen, convincing yourself that maybe it wasn’t as bad as you thought, sometimes by talking about it and getting constant reassurance that it’s not your fault, sometimes by getting solace in the fact that you are not alone in your pain, and sometimes by getting justice (whatever that may be).
The point is: it’s not your fault, no matter what anyone says. You should be able to be drunk wearing your favorite dress that shows cleavage, or be able to kiss a man with the ability for it to stop there, if that’s what you want. You should be able to trust that when you are asleep, unconscious, or impaired that someone you trust will not take advantage of you.
When you do come forward with what happened, you shouldn’t have to face the brutal and judgmental interrogations of people who question the sincerity of your experience. There is a common misconception that if you didn’t scream, kick and fight back with all your might, then it wasn’t rape or assault.
You truly can’t understand until it happens to you, but it’s not that simple. You are in shock, you are confused, you are drunk, you are high, there are hundreds of reasons why you may be incapable of fighting back in the traditional sense. We shouldn’t have to explain or defend ourselves or our actions leading up to it. The experience was traumatizing enough, but we can’t change that. So at the very least, can we agree to allow people the luxury of coping in peace without judgment or blame and if it’s not asking too much, maybe even with support?
Even though that’s how the world should be, it’s not. So know that if something happens to you that makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, you are not to blame. You are not flawed, guilty, gross, invisible, worthless, or powerless. You are a victim and you did not ask for it. You will eventually find ways to cope, and you are never alone in your struggle.
If you’re a man reading this, stop and take a long hard look at your life and your sexual encounters. Have your partners always been fully consenting and capable of making that decision? If not, or if you’re even the slightest bit unsure; own up to it and acknowledge your wrongdoings and acknowledge a women’s right to feel hurt and angry for as long as she needs. Then maybe we can all work towards moving forward. I know that not ALL men are guilty of these things, but if you are a man and you disagree or feel offended by this, then you are a part of the problem.
When we stop getting hung up on labels, the reactions, or lack of reactions by victims, all the excuses and justifications, the fact that it’s so common that it’s become a norm, and therefore we should just shake our heads and accept that it’s a reality of life; then we can begin to fix the problem.
Until then, we’re all a part of the problem. Parents need to raise their sons to respect women, and their daughters to know that they deserve that respect. Not only that, but society needs to accept that, or the point will be moot.
As a friend or family member of someone who experiences assault, you need to be supportive in whatever way that person needs. As the victim, you need to stop blaming yourself and place the blame where it really belongs. Free your mind from guilt and try to let go of your hate and forgive (not for them, but for you).
We also need to stop making it so easy for people to get away with their crimes. The justice system is flawed and ultimately another part of a misogynistic society, and therefore cannot be depended upon as the solution (at least not in its current state). But if enough people react to an assault, then maybe the message will be heard. It is not okay, no matter what degree of assault it is: it is simply wrong.
It is easier to avoid and deny the reality than confront and change the norm. The norm has been built steadily over centuries of denial and acceptance. The whole human race has accepted it and therefore it is. However, acceptance is lazy and only exists so long as we accept that it does. The alternative is shame (for those who do the crime and not the victim), punishment, and justice.
Shrugging it off is simple, but addressing the crime can save us from a world where we say yes to numbing the pain, and no to stopping the cause. Equality for all isn’t just better for the oppressed, it’s better for humanity.
We just have to believe it is possible to live in a world where no means no, and consent is not optional, but a necessity. A world where there is a mutual respect for all things, and not just in the public eye, but behind closed doors when morality is of the most importance.
Men will cower behind closed doors as long as women allow them to. We need to make a generation of women believe they are worthy, and we need to change the minds of a history of civilizations that have accepted our oppression. Our voice can be as loud as we choose, if we all speak together. We just need to give them something new to accept.
So understand your worth and your rights, speak up, fight for your equality, and believe that no one can make your choices for you, and the world will follow.