As you may have seen online on International Women's Day, women around the world tweeted sexist scenarios that they have encountered alongside the hashtag #WhatIWishISaid. Just follow the hashtag, and you'll find a slew of examples:
"Just because I wear skirts, dresses and shorts doesn't mean you can whistle at me like a dog." - @mikkay
"'No, it's not because I have a boyfriend. I'm just not interested.'" - @georginamerhom
"I'm only laughing at your sexist jokes because you won't leave me alone and I have to be friendly, it's my job." - @JillySpach
By the huge number of tweets with this hashtag, it's evident that women leave a lot unsaid. International Women's Day is a great opportunity to make those statements clear, but will it actually change how we respond to situations as they happen? In certain scenarios, maybe. But when you really think about it, there's a reason we leave things unsaid.
I don't have enough fingers to count how many times I've been whistled or yelled at on the street, but I've never said anything in response. Why you ask? Well, it's because of the way my stomach drops -- the way it twists and shrinks in on itself when I think of worst-case scenarios. What if I make some sort of retort and that guy has a gun? What if he shoots me? What if he abducts me or rapes me? So, I stare straight ahead every time. I continue walking, praying that he doesn't follow.
Similarly, women are hesitant to be frank about whether or not they're interested in someone. When a creepy guy expresses interest, rather than simply saying I'm not interested, I'll come up with an excuse (i.e. the time-old boyfriend excuse). Why can't we just be honest? Why can't we just say we're not interested? Again, it comes down to fear, and another flood of worst-case scenarios. What if I hurt his feelings? What if he gets angry and drugs me? What if he stalks me and tries to murder me because I said I'm not interested? You get the point.
And we don't just fear for our lives. We also fear for our jobs. According to The Huffington Post, "one in three women has experienced sexual harassment at work at some point [in] their lives." The article goes on to reveal that of the surveyed women who said they'd been sexually harassed at work, "29 percent reported the issue while 71 percent did not." In other words, a majority of women are choosing to keep their mouths shut. In this case, the lack of action resides in the fear of being fired, or the fear of not getting that promotion even though you're more qualified than your male counterpart. We do everything we can to avoid lessening our chances of further success. We often decide not to call out higher-ups when they make sexist comments or inappropriately invade our personal bubbles because they're the ones who make the decisions. We try not to mention children because it might be perceived as a distraction from work.
As a result, we torment over what we should have, could have said or done. And, as of right now, I think we're going to keep tormenting over those thoughts. That is, until we no longer live in this state of perpetual fear. That is, until we feel safe.
I won't feel safe until parents teach their sons to respect women -- to treat us as the human beings we are, rather than as objects. I won't feel safe until parents teach their daughters to support other women rather than tear them down. I won't feel safe until more people stand up to sexist behavior, men included.
Then -- maybe then -- we'll say what we wish we would have said.