“Too many are treating this as just another day’s headline. As if our outrage is overblown or unwarranted. As if this is normal. Just politics as usual. This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is disgraceful. It is intolerable. And it doesn’t matter what party you belong to: Democrat, Republican, Independent—no woman deserves to be treated this way.” ~ Michelle Obama
He would look at me funny and ignore me in equal parts, sneak up behind me and grab my rear when I didn’t know he was there.
I could sense it was a game to him.
It got to the point where I was constantly looking over my shoulder, afraid that he would be there lurking behind me. Whenever I saw him, I would remain facing toward him and exit out of rooms backward.
I was eight years old. He was 17 and sexually assaulted me. I never thought of myself as someone who had been sexually assaulted, because it was never anything more than grabbing me from behind.
I didn’t want to make it more than it was, because I knew other women had been through far worse, even at that young of an age. And yet, sexual assault is still sexual assault, no matter what form it takes.
I remember how ashamed I felt each time it happened. I could see the smirk on his face every time he did it and I remained silent, knowing full well that he could get away with whatever he wanted.
I told my older sister once after it had been happening for a couple of weeks. She was furious, but I made her promise she wouldn’t tell our dad. I thought my dad would be mad and ashamed of me too, which now, looking back on it, would’ve been the furthest from the truth.
Thankfully, the grabbing gradually tapered off. I buried that time in my memories until a few years ago when it happened again while I was abroad.
By the time I was barely a teenager, other men had tried to grab various parts of my body. Sometimes I successfully avoided or physically blocked these men, sometimes not.
I learned to be on my guard at all times, to avoid walking alone at night when possible, and to always have my keys ready between my knuckles in case I was attacked.
I’ve had friends look me in the eye and tell me about that time they were raped. Other friends have had similar stories of groping, sexual assault, and drunken hookups that were in no way consensual.
According to a popular U.S. report, one in five women are sexually assaulted during college alone. I think that rate is actually higher. Almost none of my friends, myself included, have reported these assaults.
Most are too embarrassed or ashamed that they could’ve let it happen, as if they had control over the situation. As if they should’ve had control over it, or that it was even their fault in the first place.
The United States has a long way to go with how we think about the other half of the population—including how females think of themselves.
We are not objects placed here for the pleasure of men, but women as the lesser sex is a concept still very much ingrained in our society.
I read the book Missoula by Jon Krakauer this year. It dives into the disheartening and sickening state of rape culture in the U.S. Especially, the way that we put college male athletes on a pedestal. How quick we are to blame the women in these types of situations.
Krakauer purposefully chose case studies where the women were almost always seriously intoxicated, because a woman’s testimony becomes less trustworthy once alcohol is involved.
At least that is how most rape cases go, if the woman’s character and worth isn’t completely dragged through the mud first. Krakauer was commenting on how unfair this system is, and how many women are never actually heard. How few attackers are brought to trial and the feeble punishments, if any, that they get.
Maybe we’re ready to talk about the way women continue to be treated in this country and worldwide. Maybe we’re ready to talk about why this type of talk should be condemned.
By normalizing “locker room” talk, we allow this cycle of disrespect to repeat itself. I still don’t understand how sexual assault and rape culture is seen as a distraction instead of a major issue in this country.
I would like to think that the Women’s March events around the world are the beginning of a bigger movement. A movement to stop blaming women and change the long-held sexist mindset that lingers at the root of our culture.
I want us to stop blaming women for the unwanted sexual advances that they endure on a daily basis. To bring to light the oppression that minorities, and the genderqueer and LGBTQ communities face everyday.
Is this a start in the right direction or just political fire for the season? We need to ask ourselves in the U.S., and worldwide, how we can use the momentum from these marches for good?
So, where to even begin?
First and foremost, real change comes with education. One of the reasons why there’s such a disconnect and divide in the U.S. is because we don’t understand different point of views.
Our media, family dinner table talks, and even the cultural atmosphere we grow up in, have created such a polarized view of issues that there is no room for a civil discussion on passionate topics.
1. Educate yourself on the feminist movement, but also its weaknesses and what still needs to be improved. Namely, understanding intersectional feminism and the idea that not every feminist is a white, middle class, heterosexual white woman.
2. Help open up the movement to everyone. Keep in mind that as a white female you may be fighting sexism, but that woman of color next to you may be fighting sexism and racism daily. Or that genderqueer individual on welfare may be dealing with many other types of prejudice that you have never experienced yourself. Just because it’s not your fight doesn’t mean that you can’t join together to support your fellow humans.
Make the feminist movement more about inclusivity and equality for all humans. Educate yourself on the Black Lives Matter movement and think of joining the next local protest. Remember that feminism is not just for females, men are invited to the fight for equality too. Even the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, calls himself a feminist.
4. Read books from Emma Watson’s feminist book club—such as Persepolis or The Vagina Monologues. Read more books from all perspectives, such as The Color Purple, We Should All Be Feminists, Borderlands/La Frontera and Sister Citizen. And yes, even read those books to better understand the other side of the political spectrum, such as Hillbilly Elegy, The Unwinding, and Strangers in Their Own Land.
5. Don’t settle for what events like the Women’s March mean to you, but think of what it means for all different backgrounds of people fighting for equality.
6. Look at donating money or time to the causes that mean the most to you, whether that’s Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the National Immigration Law Center, or the Human Rights Campaign.
7. Stand-up in the face of casual racism, sexism, and homophobia, even if it doesn’t apply directly to you. Organize locally and join the movement globally. I don’t want any eight year-old girls to feel ashamed of their body. I don’t want women to continually be groped, violated, and harassed on a daily basis because of how they dress, what they say, or for simply existing.
And most importantly:
8. Start having those difficult dinner table talks with those who disagree with you.
Now is the time to show your support.
One of President Trump’s first executive orders was to reinstate the Global Gag Rule, effectively blocking federal funds from going to non-government organizations that provide abortions or support abortion in any way.
This law doesn’t decrease the rate of abortion, rather it likely increases the rate of women who die from them.
Don’t be afraid to call your senators and local representatives about what you’re most concerned about. Make it a morning ritual to make a phone call with your daily cup of coffee.
Don’t give into political apathy, but educate yourself on current legislation and divisive topics. If you have privilege, use your privilege to give a voice to those who don’t have one. I’m guessing as a decent human being, you want those things too.
The Women’s March was an important step in a national and global movement, to help bring more progress to women’s rights and equality for all people.
It’s a step in the right direction, to make this world a better place in the face of violence, injustice, and anger. The Women’s March wasn’t a distraction from real issues, it is a real issue in the cultural landscape of 2017.
And to that 17-year-old who groped me in 1998, wherever you are now, thank you for making me a feminist from a young age. People like you are the reason this movement exists.
We are stronger together. It’s time to start practicing what we preach.
I’m ready to progress as a society and to make America that kind of great for the first time.
How about you?
Author: Mimi McFadden
Image: New York Times Instagram
Editor: Sara Kärpänen