It's been a tough week for women. I've found myself caught up in a lot of arguments since Sunday, and there have been a number of times that I've thought, no. I can't do this anymore. I don't have any more fight left in me. Why would I ever want to have a child? What if I had a girl? There's no way I could protect her from going through the shit I have. The most loving thing I could do, the only way to protect this theoretical girl-child is to never bring her into this fucked-up world.
The arguments I've gotten caught up in have been about:
-whether the Isla Vista shooter killed because he was mentally ill (as far as I'm aware, he wasn't formally diagnosed by a professional with anything other than autism and autism is a disorder not in any way on par with a psychosis; correlating violence with mental illness because it's more comfortable and convenient to brush off unfairly stigmatizes those of us who live with mental disorders and illnesses and are not interested in undertaking similar violent actions, and it's also incredibly dangerous to write this guy off as "psycho" because it doesn't address the other issues that were in play, such as his naked hatred of women)
-whether his hatred of women has any place in the discussion about his motives (of course it does; killing women because they won't fuck you is misogyny taken to the extreme)
-whether it's appropriate for women to be using this moment as a springboard for the #yesallwomen movement (I believe it is; if their deaths were the trigger for a larger conversation about sexual entitlement and rape culture that might even ameliorate some of that bullshit, then maybe at least something positive can come out of their loss...it's not great but it's something :/)
-whether it's appropriate for the #yesallwomen tag to embrace stories about harassment and domestic violence rather than just rape (absolutely it is—misogyny isn't just about "rape-rape" [thanks so much for that, Whoopi /s]; it's about every microaggression that's aimed at women because of their gender, and trying to reframe the discussion as being about the one-in-three rape statistic misses the ALL part of #yesallwomen; it's not about claiming victimhood or deliberately mislabeling people, it's about confronting something that's a common lived experience that we usually don't have the opportunity to expose)
-whether feminists should avoid using the #yesallmen tag because rhetoric makes us look too extreme and does the cause a disservice (come on, how does that not smack of tone policing? my understanding of that tag's use is that we're talking about Schrodinger's rapist here; although that's not necessarily 101-level info, it shouldn't be hard to grasp the concept that we simply cannot ever know with certainty who will and won't do us harm)
And that's only the ones I've gotten into. There have been others that I saw and considered engaging in, but just didn't have the spoons. Self-care still has to be at the top of the list, otherwise nothing gets done.
In the middle of all the arguing are the voices of women (and men) who are sharing their stories, stories of sexualized and gendered aggression, both on a macro and micro level. At first I was reluctant to participate because I had the impression that it was really only one experience per person, and it had to be The Big Stuff (in A.A. Milne capital letters). It wasn't that I didn't have any experiences with sexual assault or that I was uncomfortable sharing those things. It was that I had more than one experience, and I felt ashamed of that. On a post a friend made, I did something I'd never done before: I told about all three assaults back to back, and talked about my shame around that.
The thing is that I've long had a sense that once is just horrible luck. But when it keeps happening to you, maybe it really is your fault. I want to be clear: I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT. That's just victim-blamey bullshit, the sort of garbage that rattles around in my head when I'm feeling low. The only mistake I made in those situations was trusting the wrong guy, and there was little to no way for me to know that he was not to be trusted. The first guy, I was too young to see it coming. The second guy would have said he was absolutely trustworthy, and really believed it. He probably had no idea that what he did was rape. The last one, I had a bad feeling about but I told myself I was being a judgmental asshole and trusted him anyway. Later, he would nearly choke me to death in my own bed.
A contributing factor in this, and I've talked about this in comment threads on other Jezebel posts, is that women are so often taught to let people invade our boundaries for the sake of being the get-along girl. Let the uncle who gives you the creeps give you a kiss, honey. Give that grownup a hug, even though you don't want to. Ignore your boundaries, for someone else's benefit. It's no wonder we have trouble trusting our instincts.
And that compounds the problem. I feel shame for what was done to me, shame that I didn't prevent it because I should have known better, and shame that it's happened more than once. Striae of shame, like sedimentary layers of shit crushing down on us. It's hard to bear up under that constant pressure.
But then something happened. I saw a post from another person who talked about the stories zie won't tell you , and that made me feel less alone. The reality is that many of us have not just one experience but a litany of them, and if we all sat down and wrote out every single fucking thing that's ever been done to each of us, we would have enough to fill the Library of Congress, I bet.
And it isn't about the Oppression Olympics—who's had it the worst is irrelevant. The point is to be heard, to finally have a chance to say, "Look. Look at what has been done to me over the course of my entire life, over and over and over again, simply because of the body I was born into, because of a thing which I had no say in. I demand to be heard this time, and I want people to acknowledge that the system we live in contributes to allowing this shit to continue. And it needs to stop. Men in particular need to stop turning a blind eye to it, to stop pretending like it isn't as pervasive and awful as it is, and start calling each other out when they see it happening around them. I am not an object. I am not a prize. I am a human being, with thoughts and feelings and my own desires and interests, and if you don't respect that, then you have no right to my time or my body."
This is my litany:
-Being catcalled by guys from cars, and asked "how much"
-Being literally backed into a dark corner and having my neck licked by a stranger
-Being followed for blocks to a point where I hid behind a car to lose him
-Being chatted up while minding my own business, and getting called frigid or a bitch when I asked to be left alone
-Having a guy grind his erection against my ass while I danced, even though I was just there to dance and had no interest in him and he hadn't even said hello to me, even though I told him to cut it out, and eventually had to leave the dance floor and go to the bathroom to get him to leave me alone
-"Come on baby, give me your number, I'll show you a good time"...and having to lie that I wasn't single because "I'm not interested" wasn't a safe or sufficient answer
-Having a guy grab me by the back of my head and force his tongue into my mouth at the end of a date even though I had deliberately avoided his first attempt at a kiss
-Being called "dirty" by my boyfriend because my "number" was higher than his
-Having a guy loudly announce in front of a group of people that because my skirt was short I was obviously a slut and would probably go down on him right there if he asked
-Being pressured by a boyfriend to be sexual when I wasn't ready or wasn't interested
-Being told when I walked into my first shop class that the "home ec room was down the hall"
-Not being allowed to use the same tools as the guys in that shop class, "let the boys use them first" ...I never did get to use some of those tools
-Being locked into the paint room with a guy from that class and him telling me, "You can kiss me now, I know you want to"
-Telling a guy during sex to be more gentle because he was hurting me and having him ignore me completely
-Being told that my discomfort with the idea of using Couchsurf was stupid and paranoid
-Being stalked by an ex for about eight months
-Having a "nice guy" try to manipulate me and buy me with gifts and when I told him no and asked him to stop buying me things, he got enraged and refused to return personal belongings and threatened to hack my computer
-Not having an issue taken seriously by my superintendent/landlord until my boyfriend asked the same question
-My husband being handed the cheque, and then being handed the ATM/pen even though it's my name on the card
-A guy friend making repeated passes at me even though I've told him clearly I'm not interested
-Being fondled repeatedly by a boss who knew how terrified I was of being homeless and that I would put up with it rather than quit
-Having guys talk to my cleavage instead of my face
-Getting messages on dating sites from guys, describing what they imagine I'd be like in bed and what my body must be like
-Getting messages from guys on those same dating sites complaining that my photos don't show my whole body
-Being intimidated into cooperating with a boyfriend through the throwing of furniture, punching of walls, threats of harm to my finances and my pets
-Being beaten and choked unconscious when I refused to have sex with my boyfriend
-Being forced into sex when I was drunk and mostly passed out, even after I said no
-Being coerced into going much further than I wanted to, many times, usually acquiescing out of fear, despair, hopelessness
-Being molested as a preteen by an adult friend of a babysitter
This is why #yesallwomen matters. This is a conversation that needs to be had. These are stories that need to be told, and need to be heard. I'm tired of feeling ashamed, tired of being afraid. I want my friends and family to be safe. I want to feel like if I had a daughter I wouldn't be signing her up for a lifetime of gender-based shit being flung at her. I want to be able to feel like the world is at least moving towards something positive. I want to find and hold onto a little bit of hope. I want to be able to walk down the street without my hackles going up the moment there's a man within five feet of me. I want to feel like being born a woman isn't a punishment. I want to feel like if I wear a dress I won't get harassed. I want to forget that I ever knew what "Schroedinger's rapist" meant.