You know the saying “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” (or book title, or whatever)? Don’t get me wrong--I’m a strong proponent of the argument that men and women are more similar than anyone wants to admit--but I’ve come to realize that some attitudes do tend to differ with gender. And part of the reason for this is our differing experience in life.
Because lots of people simply don’t know what many (if not most) women go through on a daily basis, I am going to try to share some of my own life experience (which may not actually be all that generally applicable). If you, the readers, want to share your experiences, you can leave them in the comments or contact us at human @ slutwalksfbay.org [remove the spaces around the @ sign], and I’ll post it as a blog entry (anonymously or not--it’s up to you).
I have been fortunate enough in life that no one has targeted me for violence and I have only had to deal with relatively minor incidents of sexism. But it still sucks. Men have interrupted me and talked over me until I shut up (specifically because I was female--they never did it with other men). This is not particularly egregious, I know, but it still made me feel that (at least to those guys) my voice wasn't as important as a male voice. You’re told that you have to dress attractively to have a social life, but change out of the sweatpants and baggy t-shirt and you face accusations (sometimes from the same people who told you to “put some effort into your appearance”) that “you’re asking for the wrong kind of attention.” To belong, we have to dress in "fashionable" clothing--but if something happens to us in those clothes, we "should have known better."
And the aforementioned examples are just a fraction of the messages we get growing up female. Many of us are told not to take initiative, or boys will think we’re too bossy or aggressive (by the way, this supposedly applies to women who dare to consider asking guys out, too). From an early age, women are lectured about how to balance career and family, or told we have to choose one or the other (and some people even claim that working mothers are betraying their children by not being stay-at-home moms). In school, we’re sometimes discouraged from pursuing academic passions that seem too “masculine.” (That is, if we even try after being told for years that “girls just aren’t good at those subjects.”)
At college, we get lectures on not consuming drinks unless we see them poured--decent advice--but few lectures ever tell people that it's wrong to take advantage of those who are vulnerable (and many girls know from their own or friends’ experiences that trying to get the school disciplinary committee to hold people responsible for harassment or sexual assault is extremely difficult).
In the eyes of many, women are always doing something wrong. If we try to keep ourselves out of dangerous situations, we get told we’re too paranoid. If something happens, we get told we weren't paranoid enough. Really, though, when we follow the usually-conflicting slew of advice, we find ourselves in situations of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Women who learn self-defense and fight off their attackers can be tried and convicted for assault (and this has happened).
A woman who reported her victimization was fined $500 for “filing a false report,” only to be reimbursed a few years later when police arrested the serial rapist and found her photograph among others he had taken to document his crimes.*
We hear about the middle-schooler who reported her assault to school authorities--she confided to trusted adults, as children are taught--only to be punished by those same authorities and, under their neglect, victimized again by the same perpetrator (and then punished again for insisting on pursuing justice without the school officials’ support after her second rape).
A ten-year-old girl in Britain, raped by two adult men (who had confessed to attacking her), saw the judge refuse to sentence them to more than minimal jail time (months as opposed to life) because the judge claimed that “she liked to dress provocatively” and “looked like she was 16.” (Never mind that her “apparent age” doesn’t matter, or that she was a mere child, or that two men attacked her in a park and non-consent was always firmly established. The judge stated that because she was “wearing a frilly bra and thong” under her clothing, she must have been ‘“sexually precocious,”’ which apparently meant her lack of consent didn’t matter.)**
We can’t and won’t continue to allow society to dictate that we be held responsible for crimes committed against us. We deserve to matter equally. To be protected under the law. To have the right to protect ourselves. To know that if we report our victimization, the people tasked with protecting us will pursue justice against the perpetrators, not retaliation against us. We deserve to have our experiences of sexism, harassment, and sexual assault acknowledged and taken seriously. We will not be silenced.
(Feel free to send your stories to human @ slutwalksfbay.org or leave them in the comments section.)
*Source: Jessica Stites, “Police Make Amends for Fining Rape Victim $500,” Ms. Magazine Blog, 29 May 2011 (accessed 27 Sept. 2011).
**Source: Melissa McEwan, “Judge Blames 10-Year-Old Victim for Her Own Rape,” Shakesville, 28 June 2007 (Accessed 27 Sept. 2011).