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Because You Can't Know Until It's Too Late

Over the weekend, thousands of women used the hashtag #YesAllWomen to talk about the harassment, abuse, discrimination, and fear that they face every day – just because of their gender. These stories only scratch the surface of what many have experienced – including my own friends. Today Becca Rose is sharing more of her story, and why #YesAllWomen matters to her:

When I started dating, I had to come up with a quick screening process for potential dates. No, not a full background check, though I do have friends who use that as a safety measure before internet meetups. The method that I developed to help me figure out if someone is a safe person for me to be alone with is a simple one, and has proven effective time after time.

Before I agree to go on a date with someone I’ve met, I simply find a way to mention the fact that I am a feminist. Sometimes it’s come up without me needing to try, but other times I’ve had to work it into a casual conversation. Seems like a fairly innocuous thing to say, right? “I believe in the equality of sexes.” But you’d be surprised at how entirely indicative of a man’s personality their reaction to that statement can be.

There was the boy who insisted that it was impossible for men to be immodest, that it was a thing dependent on the female body alone. I later found out he cheated on his partners. I told one man that I identified as feminist, and he went into a lecture about how feminists want to tear the opposite gender down. I ended up not listening to my gut and went on a date with him anyway, a date where he talked the whole time, didn’t ask a single question about me, and also used the words “retard” and “faggot” as pejoratives. And then there was the man who I really, really liked, even after he had a tepid reaction to my feminist-bomb. Later, when we were discussing physical boundaries and consent, he told me he’d respect how far I felt comfortable going – but then added “Don’t blame me if I push for more.”

It happens again and again. Tell a boy you’re a feminist and watch him squirm. If he squirms, it is more than likely a solid indication that he’s not a safe person.

Over the weekend, I participated in the #YesAllWomen thread on twitter. We said we were feminists, and that this was why – and men grew increasingly uncomfortable with it. It was a brave conversation between women, a space where we shared the reasons why we fear men. Yes, we know that not all men are abusers, or misogynists, or likely to hurt us. But we have lifetimes of stories between us that prove that we have all been scarred by men, to the point where we have been socialized to fear all of them until proven otherwise. Some of the stories I shared in the thread I have told elsewhere before, and some I have not. It felt safer to be one in a tribe of women sharing their stories than to be a girl alone on a ledge, heart open for the world to see.

The thing about it that I found so sad was not just reading other women’s stories. It was seeing just how many of them have the same stories, over and over again, ones that echo mine. Here are the stories that aren’t just mine, that belong to both myself and women across the globe who answered with “me, too:”

I once told a church administration that I had been physically scared of the man who, during the greeting time, grabbed me while my back was turned and pulled me into a hug. I said that as a woman who’d been abused before, this was very triggering to me, and asked if it would be difficult for them to insert a disclaimer into their announcement. How hard would it be to say, “If you feel comfortable doing so, give somebody a hug,” I asked. In response, they told me that they were not interested in catering to those who were unhealthy, and that if they did that, they’d be lowering the entire congregation to the status of the wounded. They said it was my fault I was triggered, my fault that I was broken, and to get healing before I tried to come back. I never went back.

I was raised to believe that my father, as a man, had ultimate authority over me and my life, even up to when he tried to keep me from attending college. My parents withheld my birth certificate when I left home in an attempt to control me. We were told that a woman should be at home, should be married, should be a mother, rather than pursue a college degree. I still don’t have a birth certificate, but I managed to steal my social security card before I escaped for good.

When I was nineteen, I worked in an office on campus as a secretary and receptionist. One of my coworkers in this office was a thirty-something man from a country in central Africa. It started out in small things, so subtle I barely noticed or acknowledged the slight feelings of discomfort they gave me. He’d mention my makeup, or my hair, or my skirt. As the year progressed and he grew more comfortable he moved on to leaning over my desk, touching me as a I passed by the crowded cubicles, requesting that I wear specific outfits that he liked. He’d say “take your clothes off, girl!” when I draped a cardigan over my chair, then laugh it off. An HR investigation deemed that his inappropriate behavior was due to “cultural differences,” despite the fact that he’d been a US citizen since his childhood. And then I was let go. A year later, a female coworker from that office contacted me to say she’d filed a complaint in the same vein, and asked if I would support her. Again, no one saw anything wrong with it. She quit.

I started out blogging while in high school, and in college I began writing for larger websites. As my internet presence slowly expanded, I got more and more lascivious comments from men. It is widely known that if you are a woman on the internet, this is par for the course, but then one commenter escalated. When I requested he not contact me again and then blocked his email, he created dummy email accounts to send me more and more threatening missives from, culminating in the one where he said “I know where you live,” and provided my address, saying he was going to find me to force me to talk. When I called the police, they contacted him and came back to me to say, “You know, he seemed like a really nice guy.” The guy who’d stalked me and threatened me, to them, seemed nice.

I could go on for days. We could talk about the bruises on my body when I was a little girl, the ones that came from my father punching me over the car seats. We could talk about the men who followed me in their car as I was walking to work, and grabbed my arm to try and pull me in. We could talk about the catcalls and whistles and obscenities screamed at me whenever I walk on the street alone, or we could talk about how over half of my friends have been sexually assaulted and, of the ones who reported, always called liars.

These are the things I think of when I tell a boy I am a feminist, the moments I remember when a female friend laughs and says “well I’m not a feminist like Becca,” the heartbreaks I recall whenever someone declares that feminism isn’t needed anymore.

These are the stories burned beneath my skin, the declaration of truth that no, not all men are monsters, but you can’t know who is until it’s too late.

[ image: pensiero ]

published May 27, 2014

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