I’d like to talk about what it is like to be a woman in today’s world. I’m going to tell some snippets of moments from my life in an attempt to explain my overarching experience. I will admit it is difficult for me to speak with a clear mind about these things, but they need to be said.
I was once in a TSA line, wearing running tights and a long tunic. “You look good,” a male TSA agent whispered in my ear as I walked by. “Keep working out.”
The first time I had a man grab me on the street, I was seventeen. I was walking around an outdoor mall in Atlanta with two of my friends, when all of a sudden a man grabbed my wrist forcefully. He wanted to ask me out. I stuttered, “I don’t date,” wrenched my wrist away and walked away quickly.
Another time, a man grabbed me around the waist as I walked down the street with a date. I froze, and the gentlemen I was with pushed the other man away.
My first relationship has been chronicled here previously. A man convinced me I had no value. He hurt me and I didn’t stop him because I was afraid of him. It took me years to overcome that fear.
At my first job out of college, I was sexually harassed by a man who was in my training class. At first, I thought he was just being friendly–he was living with his girlfriend, so I was safe. The flirtation was just typical machismo. But at some point, it changed. The way he touched me during class made the two other women (in a class of twelve) feel uncomfortable. His texts were worse. He Snapchatted a picture of me and drew a penis ejaculating onto me.
He was close with my male roommate, another trainee, and one night came back with him to our apartment, drunk. Upon discovering I had locked my door (after anticipating such an event), he banged on the door and yelled, “This was our chance!”
The fear that had been bottled up inside me had manifested in different ways. I scratched my skin off. Every morning, I woke up uncertain I would be able to make it to work. I wanted to quit and move back home.
I Instagram the things that are said to me on dating sites, using the hashtag #lillielooksforlove. I use it to laugh at how horrible men can be, but the truth is that it scares me. The lack of respect necessary to send those kind of messages is astounding. “I once read that a pretty girl with a dirty mind is a keeper. Are you a keeper?”
It carries over to actual dating. A man tries to take things too far. I politely stop him. He tries again. I stop him, a bit more firmly. He tries again. And again and again, until I get angry. But even then, at my angriest, all I can do is try to get away. Another minute in that situation and we’ll be back to the same cycle. And at what point does he become forceful?
As women, we’ve all been there. When a man tries to put his hand somewhere and you pull it away. Or when a man tries to take your hand and put it somewhere. “Why not?” we’re asked. “Come on. Why not?”
I can be in a club, and a man will come up to dance on me, grinding his pelvis against my behind. I’ll turn around, furious, and be met with, “Why not?”
I once had a brief relationship with a coworker–our fling lasted three months. I ended it, because I was starting to have feelings for this person, and he was not interested. But it took nine months for him to stop texting me, asking me the same question. “Why not?”
This world, this country we live in, is trying to tell us that women only serve one purpose. We need to look pretty. Act docile. Smile. And let men do what they want with us.
Sorry, men. That’s just not going to work for me.
I’m tired of being told that being pretty makes it easier if I interview with men–and harder if I interview with women. I’m tired of having men catcall me or wolf-whistle as I walk down the street–and getting the side-eye from fellow women. I’m tired of worrying about what message my outfit sends. I’m tired of worrying all the time.
It’s time to end this.
Women, now is not the time to fight with each other. We have been marginalized for too long. We are paid less, promoted less, respected less. We have to do better than the men in our workplace to be taken seriously. We’re held to a higher standard and have to juggle the need to provide thoughtful, reasonable work with the expectation that we will be cheerful and polite at all times. When we are direct, we are “bossy” or “bitches”. When we aren’t, we are overlooked.
My friends are fierce, strong women. And we are not going to take it anymore. We are going to support one another, stand up for one another, and fight for one another. If someone tries to invalidate our opinions, we will come back more forcefully. If we see injustice, we will make it right. We are going to protect ourselves and our people.
I am going to tell people when they hurt me. I am going to speak up when I hear something inappropriate. I am going to explain my plight and hope to touch the hearts of those around me.
Now, before I get called out, I want to say I’m not trying to generalize. There are decent, kind men. There are men who don’t view “feminism” as a bad word. There are men I would trust with my life, my safety, my love. I’m not trying to start a gender war. I just want to hold humanity to a higher standard.
This isn’t an us versus them. This is us, for us.