I have been hesitant to jump on the #YesAllWomen bandwagon, the hashtag and social media movement that arose in the wake of the horrific killings in Isla Vista last week. Yes, the 22-year-old killer was full of hatred for women, but he was also mentally ill and privileged and so it’s way too complicated to call his murderous actions pure misogyny.
Of course, #YesAllWomen created a backlash, which Slate’s Phil Plait addresses beautifully in an article on how #NotAllMen derails the discussion of what women go through.
And, yes, we women do go through things.
This is not to diminish what men go through, the abuse and violence they experience at the hands of women and other men (let’s not forget that men were also victims of Elliot Rodger’s rampage, and that he raged against men he envied or perceived as getting in his way. And how often have we heard about men who were abused as boys by priests and coaches?).
It’s also not to diminish the astonishing numbers of men, typically incarcerated, who are raped in this country every year, as Jill Filipovic writes in the Guardian: “however you cut the statistics, it is clear that men in the United States are sexually assaulted in enormous numbers – they’re just men we don’t care so much about, or that society has decided deserves it.”
It’s also not to diminish the number of false accusations aimed at men, especially during divorce proceedings.
Men often walk around somewhat guilty until proven innocent, and automatically assuming the worst of men is a type of discrimination and it’s wrong.
That said, I have endured a fair share of unhappy and uncomfortable moments at the hands of men:
- When I was in my teens and early 20s I was called over by men in cars under the pretense of asking me a question but, as I got closer to the driver’s side, discovered he was naked from the waist down and masturbating. This occurred at least a half-dozen times.
- I was thrown from my bike and left battered and bruised after a car full of young men came close enough for one to reach out and pinch my butt.
- Almost daily, a man would grind his groin into my backside as I stood on the subway to and from Manhattan in my 20s.
- A man I worked for as an independent contractor when I was a teenager pulled me into a dressing room of his store one time and forced my hands onto his dick.
- When a married neighbor learned that I was recently divorced, he offered a hug of condolence — and then decided he’d also squeeze my butt.
- A boyfriend once grabbed my throat and pushed me up against the wall in anger.
- A different boyfriend threatened to push me down a hill (I was in a wheelchair for the summer after an injury) in anger.
Those were the more egregious incidences; there were, of course, the usual catcalls, rude remarks (“Hey baby, sit on my face”), etc., etc., endured on the sidewalks of cities from New York to San Francisco.
Most of those incidences occurred when I was in my 20s or younger and I — foolishly — accepted them as something that just happens (and I have no idea why my younger self didn’t bother to question, why must it happen?) To my knowledge, my sons, at 20 and 23, have (thankfully) not had to face any uncomfortable sexual situations although, yes, both have been cruelly teased and experienced violence not only by boys but also by girls.
I, too, have been physically attacked by women, twice. I also had a female boss who gossiped about me to the point that I became physically ill before finally quitting. Emotional abuse can be as devastating as physical abuse.
As a mother of two kind and respectful young men, I am loathe to think that some woman somewhere will feel uneasy in their presence simply because they are men. At the same time, I am quite aware that the fear of something bad happening is a reality for women (although for the most part women are more likely to victimized by individuals they know than by a stranger). Cumulatively, the #YesAllWomen stories reveal a sadly fearful society, one in which half of the population just doesn’t feel safe (and much more more if you include people of color and LGBT people).
The groping, catcalls and other uncomfortable situations I faced in no way come close to the real and horrific violence women endure — from kidnapping to stoning to rape to human trafficking. Yet, neither I nor anyone else was enraged by those situations; they were just something to be accepted if you’re a woman. The question is, why?