Every so often, people will tell me that my low trust level with men is reverse sexism. Or they'll say that I'll never find the boyfriend I want so badly if I keep being so picky. Other times, they tell me that feminism is no longer a necessary social movement, that sexism is over.
These statement are incredibly infuriating, because they so deeply invalidate my experience as a woman dealing with men in modern society. The fact of the matter is that men pose to a very real threat to women today, a threat that the very real sexism in our society encourages and ignores. I have been a victim of this. All women have been a victim of this, and because it's a reality, we have to act accordingly: with caution towards the individual and a justice-focused rebellion towards society. I've talked plenty about the second, and will continue to do so, but today, here's some thoughts on the first: here are some of the reasons why women like me have to be cautious of men.
Men can be victims, and that matters. But women live in this state of victimization all the time.
And this is about more than just statistics. The Internet is full of stories shared by women about the ways that we are threatened by men. Everyone's got a story, and I know how eye-opening that can be, especially for people who don't know about it themselves. So here are some of my stories, coming from someone who is very privileged in many ways, but nonetheless has been hurt, as a woman, by men.
That experience does contribute a great deal to my caution: especially knowing that it means, statistically, I'm likely to fall into that pattern again. I'm more likely than women who have never been in that situation to end up in an abusive relationship. (In some ways, though, because I'm aware of that and because I know what it's like, I'm less likely.) But I've also been through more than that.
Eleven years old. A man tells me that when I'm married, I need to have sex with my husband whenever he wants it, whether I want it or not. I feel extremely uncomfortable and afraid, but I've not been taught about consent. I don't know what marital rape is, and I won't until I'm in college. This incident helps to fuel a fear of sex that causes me to repress a lot of natural feelings and still haunts me up to this day.
Twelve years old. I'm stalked through the halls of my middle school by a boy who is over half a foot taller than me. I become terrified and paranoid, always looking over my shoulder, ducking into the girl's bathroom and turning to see him glaring at me from the doorway. In class, he pokes my butt with a butterfly net. On the bus, he and a girl bully me about my looks, my clothes, my intelligence, and more. I am afraid and I am ashamed. My mom calls the teacher of our class, who has a stern talk with the boy. The boy (and especially the girl) are still pretty rude, though not nearly as bad as before.
Despite all of this, I fall madly in love with that boy, a long and intense and obsessive and unhealthy situation, fueled not only by genuine attraction, but by my OCD, my desperate need for validation, "broken wing syndrome," a lack of positive romantic examples, and the many, many times that I've been told that male bullies "just have a crush on you." This "romance," which I still don't know how to frame in my own mind, will lead me to the brink of suicide and back.
In one of those skewed church lessons where they attempt to teach chastity and modesty by teaching fear rather than respect (I could do a whole other blog post on that), I'm told that guys think about sex every six seconds and that it's my job to keep them from looking at me like that. I can't look any boy in the eye for nearly a month afterwards.
Thirteen years old. I'm bullied in P.E. by a bunch of girls. One of them has a crush on a boy who has been showing some interest in me. The girls' bullying, though, doesn't hurt me, only perplex me a bit. I later transfer out of that P.E. class, not because of the girls, but because of the boy, who has become steadily more aggressive--touchy and grabby and even causing me physical pain with the force of his touch. I have no idea what to call it--it seems too harsh to call it sexual harassment, even though that's exactly what it is.
In the class I transfer into, a different guy does exactly the same thing, and has to be moved across the room by the teacher. Another guy becomes interested in me, and he attempts to manipulate me into going on a date with him, even though I tell him my religious beliefs mean I can't, by crying and talking about how I've broken his heart. A week later, he asks out my best friend, and a week later, another one of my friends. (When we're eighteen, my friend is coerced into actually going on a date with him and he touches her against her will.)
In the lunch line, some dude snaps my bra, and I'm terrified to even look around, but another guy, a popular kid who has always been nice to me, jumps in to talk to me, protecting me from a repeat episode.
I also experience a slew of "Mormon-baiting" from guys. One goes on and on, using explicit language, about the weirdness of my religion, particularly the "saving yourself til marriage" part. One constantly shoves sexual things or alcohol references into my face, trying to "corrupt" me in some way. Another, a Mormon himself, encourages me to prove that I'm not as innocent as I look. Because I want to be taken seriously, because I don't want to be thatinnocent blond girl who doesn't know anything, because I feel dark and afraid and like I'm suffering, I do. I sit there and laugh while he draws phallic images all over my paper, even though it bothers me.
Another boy in my history class, out of nowhere, tells me that I'm "so fat and ugly I shouldn't come to school and make people look at me." It's the cruelest thing anyone's said to me, especially considering the severe body image issues I was suffering from.
My friends are all going through even worse experiences with boys who won't stop following them, boys who physically attack them, boys who call them nasty names, boys who cheat on them, boys who pressure them to do things they don't want to do. These are not my stories, but they affect me deeply.
A truck drives slowly by my bus stop where I am waiting alone for my mom to pick me up. This happens for a few days, and then stops, possibly when the guy figures out that I am always on my phone with my mom.
The adult son of one of my teachers regularly comes to our class, sits in the back, and stares at me and my friend, making us both uncomfortable. Later, my friend hears him tell his mother that we're "hot." His mother doesn't seem at all fazed by this.
Sixteen years old. As soon as I'm old enough to date, a guy friend of mine asks me out. I don't want to go on a date with him, but at the same time, I feel like I don't have the right to say no, that I should feel lucky to have someone be interested in me. I'm also afraid. So instead of telling him the truth, I wait until the day of the "date" and hide in my house while he calls me repeatedly. He's nice and respectful when he realizes I was trying to say no, but I'm so ashamed I don't speak in the class I have with him for the entire rest of the year. It was a definite mistake on my part, but it's also something that society and past experience has trained me to do. Nobody ever taught me how to say no. Nobody ever told me it was okay to say no.
Seventeen years old. A guy friend tells me that another guy is in love with me. Even though I'm not really that interested, I decide I want to go to Homecoming with him. After all, I'm a sappy romantic who has yet to actually go on a date. When I ask my guy friend to help me set it up, though, he laughs in my face and tells me it was all a joke.
Eighteen years old. Me and my friends get catcalled walking down the street. We have no idea how to respond.
Then, my first semester of college, a guy in dark clothing follows me halfway across campus, making strange noises. I am so terrified I can't breathe. All I can think is that I'm about to be raped. Please God please let the doors to this building be open, let someone be there. I make it to the place where my friends are waiting, and he turns around and leaves, but I am inconsolable. This incident triggers a breakdown that will eventually lead to my OCD diagnosis.
To try and convince me to go anyway, he comes over to my house when my parents are gone. I sit on the couch as far from him as I can, piles of laundry between us. He moves the laundry to sit next to me and starts rubbing my back, telling me that he'll protect me. In my panic, I freeze up. I think that maybe if I lean into it, if I let him hug me, it won't feel so awful, but it still does. Afraid and full of shame at my own inability to fight back, the only way I can think to get him away from me is to promise I'll go. He leaves and I spend the next hour crying harder than ever. I manage to get out of going only after my brother sits on my packed bag, refusing to move until after the car has left. For weeks, I can't leave the house without having a panic attack, especially if the destination is church.
Twenty-one years old. Thanks to social justice advocates on Twitter, I finally understand consent well enough to address my fears about sex and start coming to terms with my own feelings. It's a huge step for me and a major weight off my shoulders. However, a part of me still worries that when I marry, I'll discover afterwards that the guy doesn't understand consent and doesn't care about how I feel when we're having sex. This thought will probably bother me until the moment comes, possibly even after.
Twenty-two years old. When a friend and I meet in an online chatroom to discuss plans for the next session of Ch1Con, a man signs in pretending to be a teen girl named Emily. My friend and I quickly figure out that something's wrong and decide to leave, but not before he manages to get a video feed up of his genitals. I have three different arguments with meninists who don't recognize my personal knowledge on the subject and who try to invalidate my feelings and experiences. A guy on Twitter also responds to a feminist-themed tweet of mine by describing a sexually explicit thing he wants me to do. Another cusses me out.
I struggle, every day, to hold onto hope that this world can change, and that somewhere out there is a good guy that I can love, because after everything I've been through and everything I know, I cannot settle for less. I deserve more than this.
All the women of the world do.
We deserve better. That's what it comes down to. I have a right to protect and take care of myself, because I, like all woman, possess infinite worth. Feminism isn't about hating or demeaning men, it's about loving women. It's about asking more for women. But because I live in this world, where these things happen all the time, I have to be wary of men. Those are the facts.
So to all men: you do best by respecting my feelings and my boundaries, listening to the stories of women who have been through this and worse, and not thinking that your experience is the only one that exists. You can help by genuinely being good. That means being respectful. That means caring. That means recognizing that feminism does still matter.