I already compiled my resolutions for the new year, but in light of recent events, I’m adding one more and moving it to the top of the list:
Men, if you commit sexual harassment, assault, or just general unwanted creepiness, I am calling you the fuck out.
I’m done. Time to burn this motherfucker all the way down. And y’all are on notice. Don’t act surprised when I tell folks how you really are.
First, let’s set some parameters. There’s definitely a spectrum when it comes to creepiness. On one side is unwanted messages from men we don’t follow on social media asking for dates, pictures, to know more about us, etc. Gross, but that’s what the block function is for. On the other side is full on life-shattering sexual assault. In the gray area between these two poles lie microaggressions, gaslighting, unwanted sexual advances, pressure for sexual favors, victim blaming, retaliation, and the list goes on. And on. And on.
Men, if you do any of this shit going forward, get ready to be exposed for the disgusting POS you are. I plan to go out of my damned way to make sure people know.
Why the sudden need to put all of this out there, you ask?
I just got off the phone with a close friend who called me first thing in the morning to tell me about some creep that sexually harassed her at a business meeting. At one point, he followed her into the bathroom, locked the door, and attempted to go even further. Thankfully, she was able to escape. Though shaken emotionally, she said nothing and tried to continue doing her job, which was why she was there in the first place. But this dude wouldn’t stop. He kept making advances and being handsy. When it was finally clear that she wasn’t interested, he ended by calling her a bitch in front of another man involved in the meeting. She left the situation as quickly as possible.
When we spoke, she was angry, frightened, and at a complete loss as to how to move forward. This meeting was about future consulting work. Should she tell others involved in the project? Should she pull out of this business opportunity so she wouldn’t have to see and work with this attacker moving forward? Should she make a big deal out of this? Or just get on with her life?
This helplessness, this terrible, roiling fury that too often ends up turning inward to eat away at us, is such a fucking textbook response to the kind of situation that can happen to women anywhere and at any time. We are always in danger of harassment and assault. We learn to live with it, because what other choice do we have? We teach our daughters how to live with it. We shore up the crumbling defenses of our friends when they take a hit, no matter how severe, and then we do what women have always done: we pull up our big girl panties and we get back to our lives.
It’s unconscionable that we live like this as a culture, that half the population just has to suck it up, buttercup, while the other half gallivants through life, setting fire to the women around them at will.
I’m calling bullshit. I’m not playing the game anymore. I’m done.
While I was talking to my friend, she repeatedly mentioned that she hadn’t been wearing anything that could have led this asshole on (see: appropriate business attire). She mentioned a few times that this was a business meeting that took place in the middle of the day (socially acceptable time for women to assume personal safety). She mentioned that she hadn’t done anything at all to make this POS think it was okay to follow her into the bathroom and then continue to harass her throughout the rest of the meeting (society teaches us that our behavior is directly responsible for how men decide to act). Even as she corrected herself, sometimes mid-sentence, to acknowledge that she understood it didn’t matter what she was wearing or what time it was, it was important to her that I knew she was dressed appropriately and that this occurred in broad daylight.
This call isn’t the first conversation I’ve had with a female friend about a situation like this, and it won’t be the last. Some situations haven’t been as severe, and some have been much, much worse. But the emotional aftermath looks the same in every case: the woman is left feeling helpless, angry, ashamed, and unsure of what to do next. Should she report it? What would happen? Would anyone even believe her? If people did believe her, would they care? What about retaliation? Should she quit her job? Or should she just take a personal day, cobble herself back together again, and then pretend nothing happened?
We should not have to live like this.
This is my solemn oath that if some man says or does something shitty and I find out about it, I will talk about it loudly and openly. I will out you, and I’ll keep telling people until someone fucking cares. If it sets your personal or professional career ablaze, that’s on you. Because women have been paying the high price for men’s decisions for centuries. And silence only helps the aggressor. It allows for the creation of additional situations in which other women are victimized by repeat predators. Even worse, this silence causes our insides to corrode over time. It poisons who we are. It makes us question ourselves and other women. It isolates us.
This bullshit has to stop.
Women shouldn’t be forced to continue removing themselves from professional and social situations to avoid men who have attacked or harassed them. Why do men get to continue on in their lives and careers unhindered by their own behavior? Why are women routinely left to bear the consequences?
I know women who have left jobs, who don’t volunteer with certain organizations, who don’t leave the house at night alone, who refuse to date, because of things men have done to them. I know women who are horrified to learn that I go running alone before the sun comes up, because of what a man could do. But I prefer to run in the dark. Running when the sun is out invites honks, shouts from open car windows, and men pulling their vehicles over for an unwanted chat. I also altered where I run to avoid main roads, which, together with running in complete darkness, has really cut down on the harassment.
That’s the long and short of what women have to do to get by: alter our lives to cut down on the harassment. Choose another route home from work. Quit your job. Start shopping at a different grocery store. Stop taking public transportation. Walk around with headphones jammed into your ears, even when you aren’t listening to music. Move to another town. Don’t make eye contact with male strangers. Only go out at night in a large group. Dress in less form fitting clothing.
But it’s never enough. No matter how disciplined we are in policing our own behavior, we can’t control what men will do to us. Because the problem isn’t us. It’s them.
Men, you are the problem. Your behavior. Your sense of entitlement. Your belief that women are here for your enjoyment. In 2020, I intend to make it my duty to disabuse as many of you as possible of the notion that we are simply receptacles for your unwanted attention, abuse, and harassment. We aren’t in the workplace, gym, store, classroom, social gathering, or wherever waiting for you to notice us. And we aren’t the ones that need to leave a situation after you do something wrong. You are. And, please, let the door hit you on the way out.