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What does that even mean? I know you’re trying to compliment me, come onto me, but, seriously, what does that mean? I’m too sexy to be a librarian? Because I’m sexy I should be in a profession that values my sex appeal over my intellect and imagination? Would I have let this comment go more easily if it happened yesterday, as in the day before this sexual harassment situation exploded into a movement?
I told my friend about this comment and he said the man was just trying to hit on me, and that he didn’t mean to offend me, surely. But isn’t that the problem? That he thought this comment was completely appropriate? Of course I enjoy being pretty, as any person enjoys being good looking, but I like to believe that I dress and style myself for me, not to necessarily attract anyone or anything. And how can I help it if I’m sexy in my uniform? It doesn’t matter what you wear or really even how pretty you are as a woman; every single one has been harassed in some way – having attention called to our appearance for no other reason simply than we are women. I do believe that.
The fact that sexual harassment is actually being addressed at large and dealt with now is a good thing. But it’s also very scary. And that’s the reason why we have been so silent. We, as women, have become so accustomed to being harassed that, it’s been more of a pain to confront it; it’s easier to ignore it, and sometimes we do so subconsciously. Katykatikate addresses the complexity of siding or not with victims of harassment and assault in her recent article “not that bad.” We’ve normalized bad sex. Of course we don’t want to relook at our past bad experiences, and we definitely don’t want to admit that we’ve been assaulted. We’ve been hiding from the shame of it.
But empathy is the antidote to shame, as Brene Brown says, and the most powerful words when we’re in struggle are “me too.” She also says, shame is saying, “I am bad,” and guilt is saying, “I did something bad.” Let’s shame society and deal with the guilt, so we can change society and forgive ourselves. Let’s let the girls say #metoo if they want to, but let’s let the boys say it too, as in they have, too, been products of a society that has normalized misogynistic behaviour and now, along with us, have to work to make it better.
Ultimately, boys, what we really want, or at least what I really want, is an apology and a commitment to do better. If we are accusing you of making us feel uncomfortable, you were probably out of line and should learn from this and own it. Don’t avoid admittance or feign ignorance, just own it and apologise. Be sorry that it happened, actually mean it, and then be better.
Although it is terrifying to come out with the truth about being harassed or assaulted, for both girls and boys, I hope it is a step toward dismantling the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality. Like Zootopia teaches us, anyone can be anything, and biology is no longer an excuse for maintaining gender norms. Predators aren’t savages, but the truth is that we have been allowing and cultivating the attitude that men are predators and women are the prey. Yes, we are accusing you of being predators, but no, we are not wholly blaming you necessarily for why this happened. Yes, we all should’ve known it was wrong, and no, you shouldn’t have done it, so just own it, apologise, and let’s move forward with the problem solving conversations. Let’s teach boys and girls more fully about what is aggressive and what is consent.
You do not have the right to say something sexual to us or to touch us in any way that is not a culturally appropriate greeting, regardless of how we look. You do not have the right to comment besides to politely compliment, and if we say that something makes us uncomfortable, just stop and carry on. No really does mean no. This might still be confusing for both boys and girls, as if boys should be more persistent if they get a negative response. There is a difference between persistence and aggression. And if both sides are really drunk, we both need to try a lot harder to pump the breaks. Maybe there is a fine line between drunk sex and consensual sex, but trying to take the time to ask the question could make all the difference. Let’s talk about how much better sex is when it’s with someone you really enjoy and like. Let’s talk about how sex is better for both parties when their partner is focusing on the other’s pleasure. Let’s talk about sex just for sex’ sake and what that means for girls versus for guys and if there is a difference. Aren’t we just all looking for connection? Can we meet somewhere in the middle of emotional and physical connection?
It comes down to respect. Let’s not take advantage of each other. Let’s have some humility. Feminism isn’t trying to one-up the patriarchy. We literally just want to it to be an equal playing field. Yes, there are differences between men and women. Ultimately, though, we are all just humans that are products of the society we live in and are trying to find our place in the world. We don’t want to be treated as objects that can play a role in your male gaze. Again; we do not want to be objectified. We are not decoration or on display for your benefit. We want to be acknowledged for the intellectual and creative beings that we are. We can’t help being sexy, so don’t blame us for it, and don’t assume that’s all we’re good for. ‘Cause we’ll come at you, us librarians, too.
To zoom out; “In wealthy countries of the West, discrimination is usually a matter of unequal pay or underfunded sports teams or unwanted touching from a boss. In contrast, in much of the world discrimination is lethal.” – Half the Sky.
Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn describe how we can start “Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” What we are experiencing in Hollywood is a First World problem that must lead us to highlight the issues that face underprivileged and impoverished girls that have a much harder time due to gender inequality, and that is what the movement Time’s Up is all about. It is not to belittle the struggle of any woman, but to open the door to voicing our need for respect and attention. These issues with sexual harassment are the tip of the iceberg of what we need to deal with worldwide when it comes to the patriarchal oppression of women.
As Oprah said, we are on the horizon of the day when no woman will say “me too,” but we have a lot of work to do. Whatever your definition of feminism, and as Roxane Gay says, there can be many meanings, let’s work towards a spiritual one, a belief or understanding “that we are inextricably bound to one another by a force greater than ourselves, a force grounded on love and compassion.” (Brene Brown, Daring Greatly).
I don’t think we should dismiss the struggles of the male gender, specifically the pressure to be strong. That is a real issue, as much as being quiet and modest is an expectation placed on females. What we all need to see is that vulnerability is not weakness, as Brene Brown contests. As women, we are very vulnerable in speaking out because it goes against what we’ve been taught to be; pretty helpless princesses, and I hope that we can inspire men to be vulnerable by going against what they’ve been taught to be; stoic saviours. Instead, be sympathetic, be an advocate; help us help ourselves. That is what any marginalised people needs for empowerment.
“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world.” – Half the Sky.
Let’s lead this struggle in the developed world to the one in the developing world. Let’s not see the world as us and them. Let’s not train ourselves to be divisive and reductive to gender norms and stereotypes. Let’s fight the internalised misogyny that has pervaded our societies for way too long.