A Letter To The Guy Who Harassed Me Outside The Bar: So what? You say. So you get a lot of attention, why is that such a bad thing? Annoying, maybe, but no harm, no foul! You know you mean no harm, but how do I know that? When women get harassed on the street, or at a bar, or on their walk home from work, do you know what we think? We wonder, am I going to get out of this safely? Am I going to walk away from this? Where are my keys if I need to stab someone in the eye? Are there people on the street? Will they hear me? Which way will I run? Solar Plexus, Instep, Nose, Groin. I’m exaggerating, but only so slightly. Does it disturb you that we think like this? That we have to think like this?
I tend to read stuff like this with a more critical eye than usual...or more to the point, I tend to read it the way I would if I weren't the target audience or demographic. And I read the part about asking your female friends if they've ever done X, Y, and Z, "just in case", and I heard this little voice say, "Big deal. Guys sometimes do that stuff, too, you know. It's just about being smart and safe, not about guys being the enemy."
And it's not about guys being the enemy. All guys aren't the enemy. It's about this culture that we've somehow created, where it's deemed okay to be aggressive towards women, but it's not okay for women to call men out on it.
I will never, ever forget a night in my life that illustrated this so perfectly for me: I was at the Green Mill in Uptown with my friends Karah and Chelsea for Happy Hour on Wednesdays, the way we did every single week. Chels, myself, and Karah were standing at the back bar, and this group of three guys sidled up to the bar, next to Karah. As Karah and I talked, I could see, out of the corner of my eye, one of the guys start to pay attention to our conversation. He interjected with a dumb comment. Karah looked at him, rolled her eyes at him, and turned back to me and kept talking. He interjected again. Karah ignored him and kept talking. He interjected a third time, and Karah stomped her foot, turned and faced him, and yelled, loudly, "Dude! NOT INTERESTED!" He mumbled something about just trying to be friendly, but she wasn't having it. "You're interrupting our conversation, rudely, and you've done it multiple times. Not okay. Please leave us alone."
I was, admittedly, taken aback at first. The old social voices ran though my head - she should have been polite, there was a nicer way to do that, she should have just laughed it off or ignored him. And then, as if Karah could hear what I was thinking, she said, "I'm not going to be nice to that guy, because he's invading our space and interrupting our conversation. That's how girls get raped and attacked. I literally just read a study about that: Women are always so afraid to look like a bitch and we're told that we're supposed to be nice all the time, so we don't confront the guy who's following us home, or tell the guy who's bothering us to leave us alone. We tell ourselves that we're exaggerating the situation and so we don't stand up for ourselves, and then men prey on that and that's how women end up getting raped and killed in the lobby of their own apartment building."
And you know what? She was right. How many times, as a girl, have I let some creepster invade my space at the bar because I was afraid to hurt his feelings (and how fucked up does that even sound, when we say it out loud?)? How many times have I let some guy, whom I've had no interest in, interrupt my conversation with a friend or the activity I was engaged in, because I didn't want to be rude or be perceived as a bitch by telling him to get lost? How many men have somehow made me feel like I was being rude because I wouldn't give in to their repeated insistence that I let them walk me to my car or buy me a drink? And the thing is...I knew better, and they did, too, and so do you - these are not the type of guys who were merely trying to be chivalrous. These were the type of guys who were doing something to appear chivalrous in order to take advantage of women, in some shape or form. And you know how I know? Instinct. The inner voice and life force I was born with, that was created distinctly to keep me from harm. The very thing that society blatantly tells us girls to ignore during our formative years...that we are to discard it especially when listening to it means that we'll act in a way that won't be nice.
I am tired of telling our girls to be nice. I am tired of our girls being lectured and punished - either directly by parents and role models or inadvertently through social and media messages - for not being polite, for not being sweet, for not being nice to everyone. That's it's more important to be liked than it is to protect yourself. To stand up for yourself.
One thing I know for sure, based on life experience, is that the only people who tell women that they're blowing stuff like this out of proportion are people who are wrong and feel cornered about it. People who take liberties they know, in the back of their mind, they shouldn't take, or who let others take liberties that they know, in the back of their mind, shouldn't be taken. Men who are defensive, women who want to appear "cool", and people from both camps who simply do not value women.
This isn't even about feminism, when you get right down to it. It's about humanity. It's about teaching our girls to stand up for themselves, and teaching our boys to respect those girls when they do. It's about teaching manners - teaching that gentlemen value their companion's comfort and well-being more than anything else, and teaching that ladies can and should be responsible and respected for teaching others how she would like to be treated.
I'm tired of the culture of fear. I'm tired of women being afraid of standing up for themselves due to outdated social values. I'm tried of men being afraid to speak up when their buddy is making a girl uncomfortable. I'm tired of people allowing these things to happen because they're afraid to stand up for others. We talk a lot about how much less safe our world - our cities, our towns, our neighborhoods - are than they were twenty years ago, fifty years ago, etc. And they are, because we've allowed them to become that way.
And I'm not doing it anymore.
When I reposted this article on Facebook (special thanks to my friend Alexis Bell for the original posting), I asked all of my male friends to please read it, even if they felt like it might not apply to them, and I asked all of my female friends to "Like" it if they've ever done any of the "just in case" scenarios. 25 girls clicked "Like" on the post. 25 of my girl friends have felt uncomfortable, have felt in danger, have felt threatened by guys who either thought their behavior was okay, or just didn't care if it was or not. Some of the comments are harrowing.
And I know it's easy to throw up our hands and ask how we can possibly change it, it's never going to change, men are just as afraid of women, blah blah blah. And that's bullshit. Any great, effective change starts with one person. One person who speaks out. Who teaches someone close to them why certain behavior is or is not okay. Who cares enough to be willing to make a difference. My poor little brother...I post stuff like this on his wall all the time, even though I know that his frat buddies and girl friends probably see it and ask him about it, or make jokes about it, or roll their eyes about it. And I don't want to embarrass my baby brother, but when it comes to stuff like this...frankly, I don't care. I keep doing it, because god damn it...I want my little brother to not just respect women, but to care about them. I want him to be the kind of guy who sticks up for girls and protects his female friends and offers to walk a girl to her car not because he's hoping to get some action out of it, but because he wants to make sure she feels comfortable and safe, all the time. And I want him to know that when he does stuff like that? There's a girl in his life who is so, so proud of him.
That's what it's going to take. It's going to take a constant, mindful, courageous course of reinforcing and modeling the great behavior we see, and having the guts to call out shitty stuff. Because this isn't just on men...it's on us, too, as women. We need to be more like Karah...willing to stand up for ourselves and set our boundaries and tell guys that it's not okay that they're making us uncomfortable (and fuck their feelings if they are). We need to teach our girls that it is totally okay and right to speak up if someone is making them feel uncomfortable, and then show them that it's okay. We need to stick up for our friends and our fellow women when we see them being bothered or harrassed. We need to stop being afraid of being called a bitch or a nazi feminist or whatever other labels are used to try and degrade and shame us, and realize that people who call us that? Don't get to change or comment on our behavior because they're just given up their right to our respect.
And we need more articles like the one above. Articles that speak our stories, so that we don't feel so alone, and so that others know that we're not alone. We need more absolutely fantastic articles like this one and this one and radical videos like this one, both from men, both so perfectly spot-on that it's heartwarming and shocking and amazing, all at once. Because this isn't just a girl problem...it's a community one. A social one. And it's time for all of us to change the story.