Monday, May 26, 2014

Why #YesAllWomen Matters Most For Men

This morning, I read a piece on The Atlantic about the #YesAllWomen taking twitter by storm in the wake of the UCSB shooting. It resonated with me deeply, as I'm sure it did with every single woman who read it. Because these tweets aren't exceptional examples of misogyny. These are examples of the everyday, the norm for all women.

I think the hashtag is wonderful for women, but far more important for men because it sheds light on an issue that they don't believe exists. Or if they do believe it exists, they don't understand the extent of the problem. They don't understand the feeling of panic when a man is walking behind them when they are alone. They don't understand the hoops we must jump through just to feel marginally safe. They don't understand how different the world looks when you've been taught, all your life, to fear it.

But the one problem I see most in the good men I know (which is the majority, I might add), is that they don't think acts of misogyny happen to the women they know and love.

 It does. It happens to all of us. Every. Single. One.

When I would walk to the grocery store with my friends, men would catcall from their trucks. Sometimes they would slow down, make sure we heard them loud and clear. We would walk at the same pace, stay quiet, because anything else might provoke them. We were 11, maybe 12 years old. It grew worse as we grew older.

I remember a Halloween when we were 13 and we were allowed to go out in a large group to trick-or-treat in a gated neighborhood. We were chased and called-after by a group of teenage boys. When we ran, they ran after us getting angry and loud, calling us names, throwing things. We dispersed. We hid. We hoped we'd all find each other safe, and thankfully, luckily, we did.

I went to a Christian school where dress code was always a topic of great importance for girls. We were told to dress for the Lord - to dress modestly so we wouldn't cause boys to think impure thoughts. One day I came to school in pants that a teacher thought were too tight. I was publicly shamed on the blacktop. Didn't I have any idea what boys were thinking when they looked at me? Didn't I realize how "easy" I looked?

And do we really need to talk about high school? About the unwanted gropings at parties, at dances, in the hallway as we were going from class to class? About the anti-women jokes we were supposed to laugh at? About the advances we were supposed to feel flattered by? About how we stopped walking anywhere at night without boys we knew? About how we stopped walking anywhere without boys at all? About those nights when something horrible could have happened because we dropped our guard for a moment?

In college I never put a drink out of my sight. I walked with my hand on a can of pepper-spray in one pocket and my keys laced between my fingers in the other. When I worked the night shifts at the mall, we walked out to our cars in groups, drove one another to our cars. I started to favor a pocket-knife instead of keys - we'd all heard the stories of what might happen, what had happened, to women who dared to walk to their cars unarmed.

After any outing we text each other that we got home safe. We live terrified for one another.

Even now, older and married and a mother, I find myself in the grips of that fear. A few weeks ago, I walked an extra half-mile home from the grocery store so I didn't have to walk through an alley short-cut, because a man was following me and my daughter. I have a long list of trails I cannot run alone while I am training for RTO. I'm still harassed on the street, even with children in tow.

And for all the folks who want to write off the hashtag as man-hating, it's not. #YesAllWomen isn't attacking men. It's attacking misogyny. It's attacking the dangerous cultural norms women are taught to live with. It's exposing the everyday fears we talk about amongst ourselves, but rarely with the men we know. It's not an attack, it's an opportunity for understanding. It's an opportunity for change.

I think it's eye-opening and important, and I hope all the men I know take the time to consider #YesAllWomen without becoming defensive and missing the heart of the problem. It's a problem women alone cannot fix. We need the good men in our lives to listen, to understand, to acknowledge rather than dismiss. Because the problem isn't only the bad guys, it's the good guys who let it happen.

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