— Dudes Who Are Nice Guys (@NiceGuyDudes) December 19, 2020
Sitting down to write, all the excuses, usual deflections, and mansplaining I am conditioned to hear float to the surface of my mind.
I want to walk away from the computer, but the last unsolicited message has been the straw on the camel’s back, and I am tired of watching movements like #metoo drift off into past news article or written into the history books like it has all of a sudden come to an end.
My reference here is to the unsolicited messages, comments, innuendos, and touching men give to women on a daily basis, and I am tired of it. Is there no place a woman can feel safe anymore?
Can we not go to work or join a hiking group through a Meetup app without being solicited by men?
I once wrote a short story in high school about a girl who had an uncomfortable experience with a drunk man at the age of 14. My teacher asked me to stay behind in class as she wanted to speak to me about the story. She stated what I had written was professional and powerful; however, so real to her she had to ask if it was from my own experience and if I needed help. I took this as a compliment to my writing and softly said no, it was not, and then walked away.
The truth: the story was something that had happened to me, and it was not the last time either. Instead, I ate, I drank, I didn’t wear makeup, I dressed down, thinking this would make me invisible, and men wouldn’t notice me. In some ways, this worked. In others, it stole my identity, and for a time, I became a condition of my past and dove headfirst into cause and effect and allowed my self-esteem to feed off the advances of men.
In my mind, I was always to blame.
Women have been conditioned to take the blame for any action a man takes upon them—not just men, but society as a whole and, truthfully, even by women. I have been guilty of judging a woman for the very things I have wanted to scream out is actually my right as a woman to do, wear, say without judgment or blame.
Constantly, women are asked, what did you do? Did you give off a vibe that you were open? Did you lead him on, did you drink too much, was your skirt too short? What did you do to make a man show you a photo of his penis, or touch your leg under the table without provocation, or message you on a non-dating app?
My most recent experience was when I joined Meetup, an app where you can join groups of interest to meet like-minded people. I joined a hiking group and a book club. I changed my picture to one of me holding a piece of cake and smiling; it was a current photo of myself and would help people recognise me when I went to the meet point for the hike. I was then messaged by a man I do not know, nor have met—you see, I have not even been on a hike yet. The message was: “Hi, beautiful, what a shining smile you have.”
At first glance, perhaps it’s an innocent message—“just someone trying to be nice” would be the sounding voice from others. But I have been in this game long enough to know when a message is just innocent and when one is not, and please, tell me, when has a message from a man you do not know been anything but innocent with him just wanting to make friends?
Sadly, my first reaction was: what did I do, oh I should have had a photo of my husband and me in it, perhaps this would have shown I am unavailable.
The thing is, I and all women, should not have to have a picture of their significant other to show they are unavailable. And even when we do, in my experience, which has made me delete the app Words With Friends, it does not stop the unsolicited communication from men. I have, however, changed my photo and since then, the man has deleted the message and moved on to his next target. Phew, this time I was lucky; a photo of my husband showed I was taken and not available for that man.
This makes me angry too: women are not material objects to own. We should not have to show we are in a relationship with another person, whether it be a man or woman, so as not to get unsolicited advances. This is not okay! These actions are the lower scale of what women go through on a daily basis, but these lead to rape, cyberbullying domestic violence, and murder of women, our friends, mothers, sisters, daughters. None of which is okay just because we wore a shorter skirt or glanced in the wrong direction and accidentally made eye contact or joined a damn hiking app because we love the outdoors.
So, what can I do? A question I have asked myself so many times and just as many times have lowered my head and felt defenseless, feeling unable to do anything. Who would believe me? I hear people say, “But he has a wife and three kids,” and “But he is such a lovely guy, he would never do that,” and “It’s the digital age, and it’s just the way it is.”
As I type, the condescending voices pound through my head, and I ask again, what can I do?
I can speak up. I can #metoo and keep it moving because I am not alone, and the power of talking about our experiences and what’s not okay and why will reverberate change in the youth of today. I hope to educate the man with the wife and three daughters to stop and ask themselves before they send that message or show the coworker at lunch his penis in a photo—what if she was your daughter?
What would you do then? Today, that’s what I can do.
What can you do?