I recently read this article in the Washington Post by Liz Gorman and how she was sexually assaulted in the middle of the day on a street in a “safe” neighborhood in Washington, D.C.
It got me thinking and I can bet that every one of my female friends can relate to me an incident where they were harassed on the street, or worse sexually assaulted. When it is estimated that one in four women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime, it’s a safe bet that lesser incidents of harassment of a sexual tone has happened to every single woman I know. Gorman has received a huge out-pouring of emails and comments from other women telling her of their own assaults. Clearly, this is a not spoken about enough epidemic.
The first time I can remember being “catcalled” on the street happened when I was about 13. The junior high bus dropped me off and I proceeded to walk home. I took a different bus than I was supposed to (in order to be with my friend) and therefore had to walk several more blocks by myself. The high school bus drove past me and about three boys leaned out the window and yelled “nice ass” at me. Now, I don’t know if they actually were giving me a complement or engaging in the male activity of trying to belong and prove their collective manhoods by degrading a girl. But it was a significant enough event in my introduction of “this is what it means to be a woman” that I remember it clearly 20 years later.
A woman who doesn’t have a car who walks or uses public transportation is probably really used to catcalls and degrading comments. I highly doubt that when a woman walks out the door for frozen yogurt she expects some predator on a bike to come up behind her and think he has the right to stick his hands in her private places, like what happened to Gorman. But every woman I know of purposely chooses what she wears, how she walks, what times of day she is outside, whether to walk to her car alone, and other behaviors based on trying not be sexual assaulted. Ah rape culture…how I hate you — you teach the victims to be in charge of preventing their own victimhood instead of teaching perpetrators not to assault other human beings.
When my two oldest were very young I decided to take them in their strollers on a walk to the grocery store to buy diapers instead of wasting gas driving two blocks away. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I thought they would love to get out of the house. I was a block away from my destination, and crossing the street, when a car full of young guys turned right passing me. They did it slowly so they could assault me with sexual language letting me know how attractive they found me and what they’d like to do to me. I was shocked because I erroneously thought that being a Mom somehow rendered me exempt from this kind of street harassment. I got very upset and yelled at them, “I’m with my children asshats!” and one of them said, “that doesn’t matter.”
The “that doesn’t matter” has always bothered me since. It doesn’t matter what I do, as a female my body is considered public property that creeps feel they have the right to comment on. It doesn’t matter what I wear because I’m still at risk of being sexually assaulted just for being a woman. It doesn’t matter that I’m a mother and I have young children with me, I don’t have the right not to expect to be verbally assaulted and humiliated in front of my children. It’s also been insinuated to me that how I dress could not only get me raped, but someone else.
I mean, does it really need to be said that it doesn’t matter what any woman wears she doesn’t deserve to be treated like a piece of meat? Does it really need to be said that a woman has the right to dress to her own comfort and satisfaction without having to worry about the reaction of the thousands of men she might encountered in a day? Does it really need to be said that a woman should be able to walk down the street in broad daylight and not become a victim of sexual assault?
Judging from a few incredibly sexist and victim blaming Facebook memes going around lately it’s unbelievably obvious that those above statements DO need to be said.
And that to me, in 2012, is incredibly sad.