Have you been catcalled walking down the street? Called “sweetheart” at work? Had to plaster a smile on your face while clients hit on you because “you’re in a customer-facing role”? Forced yourself to laugh along with the taxi driver because it’s dark out and he knows your address? Walked the last few blocks home with your keys out, grateful your mom taught you this but wishing she’d never had to?
Have you said “I have nothing to wear” not because ladies are ditzes who buy too many clothes, but because you’ve still not found that magical outfit that will protect you from the leers and comments and gropings of strange and familiar men in the workplace, the subway, the bar? Have you worn what you wanted to anyway, and tried to not think “you knew what you were getting when you put this on” when the leers and comments and gropings appeared?
Have you tried to turn the times you’ve been sexually harassed into comic stories – you have to laugh or you’ll cry? Have you kept the incidents that are too serious to be turned into a funny story to yourself?
Did you at one time believe them when they said you were too fat or too ugly or too something for anyone to want to assault you? Did you feel somehow doubly betrayed when they assaulted you anyway?
When you were assaulted, did you immediately remind yourself that others have it much worse, and that comparably what you experienced is not so bad? Did you not tell anyone for some time? Did you find it hard to name it to yourself?
Have you noticed that I haven’t even used the word “men” once yet? Did you not notice because there’s no need to name the thing that is always there, the menacing presence that hovers on the periphery of your daily movements, and all too often forces itself into the center of your life?
Are you deeply distressed that “a menacing presence” is a valid way of thinking about men, since statistically speaking they are the ones who harass, beat, rape, abuse, murder? Do you wish there were some failproof way to know if any man you meet is going to be one of those ones? Do you have many wonderful men in your life? Do you wish you had more?
Are you wondering why more of the men in your life aren’t speaking up today? Wondering why you don’t see them taking concrete steps to intervene when they see sexual harassment, to call their friends out when they say something sexist, to take a friend aside and ask if they realize that what they’re doing is hugely harmful? Wondering why men aren’t proactively suggesting rigorous (not checkboxes-style) sexual harassment training at work? Why they’d still rather make a joke than a real change in their behavior?
Are you reading this and feeling unseen and unknown, because you are a man or non-binary person who has experienced sexual harassment and assault? Or because a woman is the one who assaulted you? Or because your experience includes additional layers of abuse involving race, religion, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, class?
I see you. I believe you.
Are you angry that even though we’ve said it over and over again, we’re being asked to say it again? Are you furious that it is on the survivors and victims to say something, that the harassers and abusers and rapists can continue on with their day unaffected – which is always true for them anyway? Are you livid that the norm is for their lives to be wholly unaffected by what they have done to you, while you’ll carry it with you for forever?
Are you heartbroken by the sheer number of people who are posting today – and from such a wide swathe of your life? Have you seen your former teachers post, the priest of your childhood church, parents of your friends, community elders, not to mention what seems like every single one of your peers? Are you holding them all in your heart, including those who don’t use social media or chose not to post but definitely have experienced sexual harassment and assault?
Are you holding a bit of hope that maybe this time, more HR departments will fire the harasser instead of retaliating against the whistleblower, more colleges will expel the rapist instead of punishing the victim, more people will say “we’re on her side” instead of “I see both sides and I’m sure he’s sorry,” more men will do the hard work of holding each other accountable instead of looking away and feeling guilty? That maybe more people who have felt alone now feel less so?
THANK YOU, Lisa, for articulating this so meaningfully. Are you hoping and praying and working so that your teenaged granddaughters and young women of their generation will never have to experience such destructive behavior in any arena of their lives? ME, TOO! Carol
Thanks for the work you do, Carol! I hope the best for your grandkids, too.
Very well said, Lisa. >
Thanks, Shannon, glad it resonated.
Ohmigosh, Lisa, I don’t think I’ve ever read such a heartfelt, _calm_, clear, rant against the Being of a woman.
I’m one of the lucky ones; I’ve been relatively unscathed, although not unaffected.
Thank you, from all of us.
I’ve always thought of myself as one of the lucky ones too, but (to reframe the saying) a death by a thousand small cuts is still a death of something in your soul. ❤
This was so well-written. And I wish you hadn’t had to write it. But then, I’m glad you did. And I hope it helps move us a little closer to when nobody has to write it.
I do think it’s one of the best things I’ve written in a while. Rage can be a good editor.