not okay 

Fall is in full swing and I haven’t written a blog post since August. This summer was particularly intense for a lot of us, with the election and so many social issues catching fire. I have been in a season of serious soul searching and have mostly steered clear of my blog of late. But right now, I need to write and share about an important subject that has recently gained traction. I need to connect.

We all heard Donald Trump boasting about his fame affording him the ability to do whatever he wants with women and “grab them by the pussy” and I’m not sure many of us were shocked. Appalled, disgusted and angry, but not shocked. I’ve heard a number of people, including the offender himself, repeatedly say that these are “just words” and they have assigned it the charming label, “locker room talk.” As many of us know all too well, these are not just words.

We are talking about real actions of assault and violation. It was real for me when I was grabbed in the “pussy” by a famous baseball star.

{Using this word absolutely makes me cringe, but let’s be consistent with the language that triggered this discussion. As I’ve said before about other topics, getting uncomfortable with the things we discuss is the best way to change the status quo, so I guess that’s true of the vernacular within the discussion itself.}

I was a 22 year old waitress and college student. I had just moved to Chicago from my small town roots and was still finding my footing but thought a job at a sports bar in my well-lit, populated neighborhood was a safe bet. Like every other young woman I knew, I regularly secured my keys between my knuckles when I walked home alone – I thought that was the most likely time and place for an assault, so I was on my guard at all times.

I’ll never forget that night the Cubs clinched the division and the infamous slugger who thought it was okay to do whatever he wanted with my body, as I served him the drink he’d ordered. I shot him a horrified look and hit his hand away from between my legs. Without flinching or skipping a beat, he did it a second time, this time even more aggressively. I hit his hand again and bolted.

This is where the story gets even better. I went straight to the manager, a nice guy who always looked out for the waitresses and bartenders when customers got aggressive or inappropriate. How quaint and naive of me to think that he would be equally horrified and kick him out, because guys had been kicked out for much less in the past. But this wasn’t just any random guy. The manager said, “there isn’t anything I can do because he’s a celebrity.” And there you have it.

Men in power think they can get away with whatever they want because they CAN.

This power doesn’t just apply to famous men. Men can gain power over women in other ways. For instance: The college professor who regularly ogled me and touched me inappropriately while I was seated at my desk or handing in an assignment – but he was my teacher and elder. The former boyfriend who sexually assaulted me and left both physical and emotional bruises – but he was my boyfriend. Sure, I could have filed a complaint against the professor or broken up with the boyfriend much sooner, but I felt powerless and afraid. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers or make the situation worse. The idea that women do not have agency over their own bodies is rape culture. Sometimes rape culture is actual rape and assault and other times it’s an unwelcome touch or demeaning language, whether in or outside of the presence of a woman. This culture leads to offenders like Brock Turner and those who justified his actions and lightened his sentence.

Rape culture goes further, with the overwhelming emphasis on making oneself desirable and sexy in the eyes of a man. There are entire magazines devoted to teaching young women and girls 27 ways to blow his mind and a step by step guide to make sure you successfully transform yourself to fit his idea of what you should look like, what you should wear, how you should act and who you should be, because only then will you have value. For your convenience, 45-51% of those magazines are ads for the products that will help you to achieve the goal of desirable vixen. It took me years to deprogram myself from that mentality. What’s more, because my husband never asked me to change anything about my appearance and never expected me to fit this mold that I had learned, I thought something must be wrong when we were first dating.

Watching this campaign has been difficult for many of us and has elicited a visceral response in me. That response has only grown more intense as the insults and “othering” have compounded, but it wasn’t until I read a piece about domestic abuse victims being triggered by Trump and his campaign, that it finally hit me: for months, this has been a trigger for me as well and I didn’t even realize it. I just thought I was going mildly crazy. Watching him has made me feel raw, vulnerable and absolutely terrified. It’s made me angry, it’s made me want to hide and it’s made me want to fight back. I’ve had panic attacks and one utter meltdown.

There was a 33% increase in calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors being triggered by Trump during the second presidential debate and the onslaught of media coverage of the Access Hollywood tape. Liz Plank with Vox, posted an excellent video {highly recommend!} that went viral on social media last week. Plank concisely illustrates why Trump isn’t actually a bully, as he is often described, but that he has consistently exhibited many classic traits of an abuser, such as gaslighting, humiliation, deflection and making threats.

Writer, Kelly Oxford asked women to tweet her about their first assaults 10 days ago. She has since received millions of tweets from women, describing their experiences with sexual assault.



There is now widespread acknowledgment for this broadly defined culture of disrespect and abuse, that we have been taught to shrug off because it’s just the way things are. Women are voicing their outrage with the realization that it is not actually their fault. Men share in this outrage, but several men have associated their outrage with the chivalrous need to defend their wives, daughters, mothers and sisters. Rather, shouldn’t men be outraged, not for the sake of women but for the sake of human dignity? Not outrage on behalf of women, but also on behalf of men. Last night, my husband said that it is easy for a man to be outraged when thinking about this culture and its effect on his own loved ones, but the next step is to go beyond that personal scope and feel that same level of outrage when considering the impact of rape culture on society at large. Further still, to feel outrage for the boys who are taught these behaviors in the first place.

The resounding message from so many voices telling their stories, is that it is no longer our burden to carry this shame. Let the shame fall to those who perpetuate rape culture and those who deny dignity to women. It is not okay. We can and MUST do better.

 

If you are a survivor of sexual assault, please visit RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) for support.

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800.656.HOPE

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