Post by Rebecca Tucker, Relief/HOC Staff
When I was in elementary school, I learned that when a boy pushed me in line, or pulled my hair so hard my neck snapped back, it just meant that he liked me. When I was twelve, a male teacher commented on my “booty” when I wore a skirt to school. By eighteen, every single one of my body parts had been grabbed, groped, or grazed by men, either subtly, or less so. At twenty-three, an angry and entitled boyfriend became so terrifying one night after I suggested we just cuddle that I stopped resisting. At twenty-four, a strange man came up and hugged me from behind as I was waiting to cross the street. After I froze, he loudly called me a bitch, and continued to yell profanities at me as he made his way down the street. I remember feeling terrified and ashamed, and angry at the folks sitting at the pizza place just steps away, who didn’t intervene when they could clearly see my discomfort. Just last week, as I was walking home after a late class, a man on my block was urinating out his second-floor apartment window. He made eye contact, grinned, and shifted his body so that even in the dark, I couldn’t miss the sight of his genitals.
As I write this post, I still feel gut-wrenching, visceral shame, humiliation, and fear. The truth is, I feel uneasy around men, and I hate that. I don’t want to be. I cringe at the thought of living up to the old (untrue) feminist stereotype: that we hate men. I don’t hate men, but I am tired of having to specify this every time I talk about the abuse, harassment, and violence that women experience. We should not have to justify our anger, outrage, and fear with “But I know that it’s not all men.” Just because we know doesn’t mean we should have to sugar-coat our own hurt in order to prevent someone else’s. Instead of turning their anger towards women who are hesitant to accept their advances, men should be mad at other men for hurting, harassing and scaring women in the first place. Women who have had multiple life experiences that lead them to fear, or be cautious of men.
The fact of the matter is, most women (and feminists!) absolutely don’t hate men! And that is why we demand accountability. I like to think that men want to be held to a higher standard than a default state of “rapist”, because they can’t control themselves, and resort to rape in the presence of women. Don’t you want to be seen as better than that? You are!
I have been incredibly lucky to have amazing male allies in my life. Friends, family members, partners, coworkers, and classmates. I have all the faith in the world that men are able to be brilliant allies. I have had men ask me what they can do. How can they help? What do we need? I’m so glad you asked!
First and foremost, please don’t diminish our trauma when we choose to tell you about it. Take our feelings at face-value, instead of questioning if it was really that bad, or trying to explain that the intentions of the person who hurt us were probably complimentary – at this point, it doesn’t matter. Consider why we need space to share stories of abuse or harm, and be an active, supportive listener, instead of interjecting when the issue is not about you. Perhaps, if you feel threatened, think about ways to keep your own power, without resorting to harming us in order to take ours. Understand that if we seem cold or disinterested in public, it is because we value our space and feeling of personal safety above all else. Even with the purest of intentions, compliments can sometimes come off as an invasion of this space. Often, a cold reaction is not personal – just a defense mechanism that has been perfected after being approached one too many times. Forget about the “friend-zone”. There is tremendous value in having friends of all genders, and treating friendship as consolation when a relationship isn’t in the cards is not being a good ally. But valuing that person for who they are, respecting their unique worldview, and celebrating the many ways they add to your life sure is! As far as learning goes, a gender studies course is a wonderful way to engage in perspectives that you may not have had before. WAVAW even offers workshops at high schools and post-secondary institutions!
Above all, we want to be heard. We want to be believed. We want our experiences to be seen as valid, not simply an overreaction or a vindictive act. The best possible thing you can do as an ally is listen to, respect and believe women when we disclose our experiences. It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. It doesn’t have to be scary. It doesn’t have to feel like a condemnation. I don’t have to be terrified of you – you can change that!