One day, I was standing outside of a store waiting for my dad to meet me. While I was waiting, I made a phone call to my mom. While I was on the phone, I was approached my a man who was obviously more than twice my age who tried to engage me in a separate conversation. “Hey baby. I like them pants. What you up to tonight?” While there are so many ways in which I could have responded to him, I settled for a simple “I can’t talk right now, I’m on the phone” which he followed up with “Damn, girl I’m just trying to get to know you”. I suppressed a severe eye-roll and politely asked him to please leave me alone. When I didn’t respond to his advances, he proceeded to berate me with so many variations of “prude bitch”, my head began to spin.
I can’t walk down the street, pump gas into my car, shop in a grocery store, even sit in church without a man feeling entitled to harass me. They tell me to smile, they follow me around, they stare and whistle and honk their horns at my backside. They reach out and touch me without my permission. Some even take pictures!
When I don’t acknowledge the man cat calling me from across the street, I’m a Stuck Up Bitch. All because I inform a man that my name is not “baby“, “sweetie“, or “ma“. I’m told “If I don’t want attention, I shouldn’t dress so attractively.” Some would say I shouldn’t be offended. This isn’t harassment, this is a compliment. If my boss, a strange man on the street, a security guard or store clerk wants to talk to me or stare at me or compliment me or follow me around, it’s just because they think I’m attractive. I should be honored. Shouldn’t I?
Let me go on record and say no, I shouldn’t be honored. This type of behavior isn’t a compliment, it’s harassment. I’m not obligated to smile just because a man wants me to. I don’t exist for the visual pleasure of men. I’d don’t have to speak to satisfy a man’s physical attraction to me or perceived “courage” in approaching me. And I’m not a bitch just because I don’t want to talk to a man I have no interest in.
Society has not changes much since the days in which Nathaniel Hawthorne penned “The Scarlet Letter“. Women are still judged harshly for our actions (and for our inaction). Only instead of having embroidered letters slapped upon our breast, we are instead being stamped with #hashtags in social media and with harsh labels from society and our peers.
Women in bad romantic relationships are labeled #SideLineChicks, #Sluts, #Hoes, etc. As if being in their predicament represents a character flaw on their part, not on the man who created the love triangle. A women who is assertive, aggressive, and is confident is labeled a #Bitch or #Bossy. A woman who enjoys sex and explores her sexuality is called a #Whore. When I don’t want to give my phone number to a stranger, I’m #StuckUp. A man being the boss, having sex as much sex as he wants, or wanting to be left alone is labeled a man.
What gives men the perceived right to label, ridicule, harass and demean women they don’t even know? Why is the biological fact that they are “men” enough for them to communicate with and about women in any kind of way? People say “that’s just how boys act” … “oh, he’s just being a man”. To me that’s barely an excuse. How can a man born of a woman be naturally inclined to treat women with disrespect? Sometimes, people assume I’m just a jaded woman. They tell me “you must not like men, that’s all” or they ask me if a man hurt me in my past. Why does there have to be something wrong with me just because I insist on being respected?
I tell people I’m a feminist and they look at me with confusion. What is a feminist, anyway? Many people (male and female) hear the word and they think of a radical bra-burning, man hating, ugly, lesbian who is under the delusion that they’re lives and treatment need to be equal.
That’s both offensive and limiting. Women are diverse. Our wants are diverse yet men assume we are all the same and treat us as such. A feminist is someone who believes in the social equality of all people regardless of gender. A feminist is someone who believes in respect for another human being regardless of gender. A feminist believes that being a man does not make you more powerful or more entitled to me, a woman. But I’m finding out now that people who hold this belief are few and far between.
Sexism is another unbelievable term. Even today, men are startled by the idea that women are oppressed anywhere outside of the Middle East. Why is it so unbelievable that in 2014 there is still harassment and discrimination against women? Why is my word and experience not enough to prove that the tragedy still exists?
It saddens me to admit that most of this discrimination and harassment comes from black men, my so called “brothers”. How am I supposed to be responsible for lifting your spirits in a world that beats down upon you while you, the black man, is constantly berating me? Not only must I bear your suffering, but I must suffer under you. That’s not to say men of other races are excluded from harassment epidemic. When white men approach me the first thing they comment on are my lips, my hair, my hips, my breast and how they “always wanted a black women” as if all women of color are interchangeable and to have one is to have us all. As if having me at all is even an option, just because you want me. As if!
I confess to feeling a little depressed and powerless in these scenarios because in reality, I am somewhat powerless. Sometimes I feel like the only beings with the power to make any real change in the way women are treated and reacted to are the main ones responsible for the oppression. Women’s issues are everyone’s issues. And yet I feel constantly alone and criticized for crying wolf and calling men out on their privilege and outrageous behavior.
To the men out there, in case you still need convincing of your innate privilege given to you simply by being male (especially if you happen to be a white upper middle class male over 5’7″), allow me to break it down:
- No reporter ever asks men how they plan to balance both their family and their career. (That’s a woman’s concern, right?)
- Should you decide to run for office, political commentators will have nothing to say about what you wear to the podium.
- Your value and intelligence are not directly linked to your sexual expression or lack thereof.
- What goes on in your reproductive system is not under government regulation.
- You can expect to see a group of men on a reality TV show who are not fighting. (“Bad Boys Club” just wouldn’t sell)
- You can walk down the street at night (or anytime of day, really) and not be concerned for your sexual safety. (Do they make anti-rape, boxers yet?)
- You can go nearly anywhere in the world and be allowed to wear what you want, go where you want, ride a bike, vote, go to school, work, pretty much do anything you want because you have a penis.
- You aren’t criticized or called some variation of whore for appearing in public in minimal clothes (go shirtless if you want to, guys. Show off those abs!)
- You can feel the freedom and right and even responsibility to comment on this article and tell me that my life experience and my opinions written here are wrong.
I have no ending for this piece. Just a plea for people to treat me (and others) with the respect I deserve not because I’m cute, or because I yelled at you and demanded that you speak to me with respect. But because I’m a human being. Not an object of your affection existing for your protection and attention That’s all.