I don't think there was a clear moment when I realized there is something fundamentally different in how society treats men and women. The distinctions have been so subtle, so discreet, that I've always known of their existence, but knew not of how to examine them without sounding foolish, like I'm "reaching" for an issue that just does not exist. Being the outspoken feminist chick isn't so palatable to all. The word "feminist" itself often leaves a bad taste in peoples' mouths. But I don't care about being easy to swallow, or being "tasteful." I need to speak my truth, even it challenges what is acceptable and what people are comfortable with.
To understand the divide between boys and girls, you are forced to delve back into the earliest memories of childhood and examine the most seemingly innocuous details. I remember hearing the mantra "boys will be boys" when one of my male classmates would mistreat a female classmate, pulling at her pigtails, and pushing her down under the guise of being playful. Us girls were taught to be ladylike, to cross our ankles and close our legs, hide our shoulders in school, or face the consequences of detention or being sent home. We would be told to cover up, to be quiet, and to calm down when we expressed our emotions. Our concerns and moments of excitability were dismissed when a boy would ask, "Are you on your period?" Little things like this, such tiny inconsistencies that on the surface seem inconsequential, lead to universal experiences most women can agree are quite detrimental.
It starts with innocent teasing, or sidelong comments, but suddenly you find yourself at age nine shaking in fear because your older neighbour boy decided to be too forceful when you played with him. Or when you're then eleven and are being catcalled by a truck full strange men while walking down the street with your cousin, their whistles ringing through your mind even today. Flash forward to middle school and your female friends' breasts are groped in a game called "swooping" played by the boys. It progresses when you are seventeen, at your first party, when a boy is grabbing at you all night even though the room is swaying and you tried to brush him off. And then you're on a cruise ship, and a middle-aged man, who earlier was bombarding you with sexist and intrusive questions, gropes your bottom and jokes about it to a crowd of people, unapologetic and unabashed. Suddenly you find yourself in college holding your best friend as she sobs into her pillow after a boy took her inebriation as consent for sex. It is likely you will find that by at least nineteen years old, you will have lost count of all the times you or others you know were made to feel small or uncomfortable at the hands of a man. This holds true for myself, and I have been fortunate to not have experienced anything worse. But so many women have not had it as easy.
Sexual assault is what 1 in 3 women will face in her lifetime. 1 in 5 will experience attempted or completed rape. The fact that maltreatment and assault is so common is alarming and absolutely despicable -- yet hardly anything is done to stop it.
In light of recent events where numerous celebrities have alleged rape and sexual assault at the hands of prominent film producer Harvey Weinstein, multitudes of women have shared their stories of assault in solidarity with one another. By using the viral hashtag #MeToo, women have brought light to an issue that has been swept under the mat for far too long. It seems that every time a universally known celebrity or person of power is reprimanded for their abusive behavior, society will express an uproar of dissent, yet almost suddenly stop talking about it when it fades from the limelight... that is, until the next celebrity does something profoundly sh*tty. It's almost as if protesting sexual misconduct is only worth doing so when it's "relevant."
NEWS FLASH: IT HAPPENS TO MORE PEOPLE THAN JUST A-LIST CELEBRITIES.
Sexual assault can happen to anyone. It can happen to your sister, your mother, your close female friends. It can happen to the woman you see at the grocery store, the doctor who worked her a** off to put herself through medical school, the high-ranking government official, the woman who sits next to you on the bus. It can happen to the women who walk around wearing nothing but thin tops and booty shorts; it can happen to the women who wear turtlenecks and ankle-length skirts. It doesn't matter who she is, what she wears, or what she looks like. It is still a very real possibility it will happen to her, and she is definitely not "asking for it". Sexual assault is not some outlandish, anomalous occurrence that happens to a select few. It is everywhere. But so many are willingly blind to this, because they are simply uncomfortable with changing their outlook and challenging what is "normal".
Of course, most men are not abusive, predatory creatures who prey on women. I have known so many men who made me feel safe and valid as both a person and woman. In part with this, women are not all frail beings who are always the only ones mistreated, as there are double-standards with both sexes, not solely just women. Men are mistreated in different ways, too, and even themselves can be victims of sexual assault, which is equally deplorable. To say that women are the only ones who will experience this is erasing and is not representative of all, as 1 in 71 men will be raped or sexually assaulted.
However, I focus my argument on women due to the startling number of us who are sexually assaulted - 1. IN. 3. Get a group of your best girlfriends together and most will digress their accounts of what happened to them. Yet, so many are made to feel as if their experiences are not worth coming forward with, as though they aren't worth making an issue over. So many feel helpless and voiceless from the lack of action or concern that takes place in response to sexual assault. People are still victim-blamed and made to feel ashamed of their traumatic experiences, and often times are even ostracized from their social groups.
To combat this, take the time to listen to the feelings and stories of victims. Assure them that they are heard, and do not push them to speak or act on anything they aren't ready for. It is important that they understand that you support them. No one ASKS to be assaulted, and assuming so with the idea that one was "asking for it" is disgusting. Men, hold your closest friends, your acquaintances, and your family accountable for being predatory. Disown those you know who do complete these acts -- defending them leaves you on the side of the oppressor and exemplifies that you don't hold sexual assault to such a high consequence. Speak up when you see something occurring that you know shouldn't. Don't dismiss someone who is in need of help. Parents, teach your children from an early age how to respect women and all people as a whole so as to prevent future mistreatment from occurring. Raise your children to the same standards, despite their gender. Speak up on issues such as this, even if your children are young, so that they know the gravity of how wrong sexual assault is.
And to anyone who has been victimized, assaulted, or raped:
You are heard. You are loved. Your feelings are valid and important. You are not to blame for something you could not control. And most of all, you are resilient, and your trauma does not in any way mar or diminish your worth.
If you or anyone you know has been affected by sexual assault, please speak to a counselor or someone you feel comfortable with, and if you are ready, I encourage you to pursue legal help so the perpetrator is brought to justice and further assaults can be eschewed. I hope to live in a world someday where it is okay to speak up on these issues without it being taboo or invalidated. Most of all, what I would love most is to live freely without having fear that myself or anyone else will be victimized.
I understand that the world is a dangerous place, and since the beginning of humanity, atrocities and injustices such as assault have taken place. Despite what has been true of the past or even currently plagues our world, it is up to us to make positive change for the future by enlightening ourselves and progressing as a human race. By advancing the narrative against sexual assault and misconduct, humanity is taking a step in the right direction and is setting the stage for future generations that treat sexual assault as the obscenity that it truly is.