If you’re a girl, chances are you were chased around the playground by an obnoxious little boy or had your pigtails yanked on or been made fun of for your “ugly” face or outfit. And chances are, you went home sobbing to have your parents tell you, “He’s doing it because he likes you.”
This is one of the most dangerous phrases you can tell a young girl. After suffering incessant sexual harassment this summer in Mumbai, I made a resolution to no longer accept this commonality, along with other B.S. excuses such as, “Boys will be boys,” and I vowed to never fill my future daughter’s head with that justification for harassment.
I was lucky. I had wonderful parents who treated me the same as my brother and who recognized the fundamental basis of equality that feminism is built upon. But that didn’t stop me from experiencing complacency from my superiors. Elementary teacher used this justification to let little boys continue to be horrible little creatures and to fill little girls’ heads with the twisted ideology that if a boy treats you poorly, it means he cares.
I know to some this argument may seem trivial in the context of children, but socialization and child rearing is critical to how children grow up and assume gender roles. We wonder why so often nice girls (either you or a friend) choose guys who treat them poorly. I believe part of that comes from the lie told to us at an early age that the worse a boy treats you, the more he loves you. Then it becomes an incessant need to please him.
Now think about college campuses. Think about all the times you’ve walked down the street and had some dude screaming something vulgar to you and high-fiving his friends, as if complimenting your “nice ass” will woo you over and make you want to marry him and bear his children. Think about how one in 5 women will experience sexual assault during her time in college.
Although I have never been assaulted or raped, I certainly know what being sexually harassed is like. This summer, I interned with an NGO in Mumbai, India. I was doing so many incredible things, but I could hardly enjoy my experience because every two seconds I was being verbally harassed by a man. In India, I stuck out like a sore thumb with my extremely pale skin and red hair. Similarly to how American women tan, women in India bleach their skin to achieve a more desirable pale complexion (which is a separate problem with how race/color is socialized and perceived). Because I was considered the ideal beauty standard there, and I was alone, I would get harassed all the time.
Everywhere I went, I would be asked to take pictures with people as if I were some sort of celebrity, and when I would refuse, oftentimes men would follow me for several minutes and try to snag a selfie anyway without my consent. From research, I discovered men would like to post those photos and brag to their friends about their latest “sexual conquest.”
One day in particular stands out to me: I was reading on the beach with headphones in when a group of about 12 teenage boys approached me, asking me to take a photo. I kept saying no and tried to ignore them and they bent down and started screaming in my face, calling me all sorts of names. They finally left, but circled around about 10 minutes later with a resolve to get me to acknowledge their horrible behavior. I was trying to get up as they kicked sand all over me, and thankfully a nearby woman started screaming at them. Since she was a female, they didn’t respect her until the husband got involved and got a police officer’s attention. I was extremely grateful to the couple, until the husband said, “You really shouldn’t be coming here alone. You’re just asking for this to happen.”
Are you serious?
I could spend hours unpacking the horrors of victim blaming and the common argument of “she was asking for it because of the way she was dressed or because she was drinking or blah blah blah,” but I won’t. I think you get my point.
I felt the need to share this in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein debacle. I’m horrified to see Hollywood stars actually standing up for his behavior, or criticizing the media for “over exaggerating.” It’s happening more and more. I’m sick to my stomach because some people legitimately believe this is an abnormality. Trust me, as a woman on a college campus, I can assure you it’s not.
It’s time to make a change. We need stricter policies so rapists and assailants don’t get away with this anymore (remember how Brock Turner violated a female behind a dumpster and ruined her life and only went to jail for three months? Yeah. Me too. He’s living in my state now.)
I know whoever is reading this is likely not a policymaker, but you can call your representatives. More importantly, you can treat women with respect. Male or female, you can raise a daughter who knows she can achieve anything and not have the omnipresent danger of testosterone threatening her physiological or psychological safety.