It’s been a feminism heavy month, hasn’t it? I promise not every closing of the year will be so somber but it feels appropriate considering the current era we are in. Today we discuss victim blaming, playing devil’s advocate and why imaging women complexly will save the world.
The last few posts have been talking about my adventures in online dating and in my essentially gripes about not having anyone I can talk to about the matter. But there’s a common theme in every feminism post I’ve done (even the earlier ones). There has always been someone saying that the situation is “my fault” or to be less hyperbolic “I made it easy for myself to be in that situation.”
My question almost always is: how.
That’s troublesome, isn’t it?
I recently found myself once more in a situation that was less than ideal. I was walking to my bus stop for work. It’s early in the morning on the fringes of the hood here in San Antonio and a man in a van( yes, literally a man in a van) slows down and rolls his window down. That’s already 5 bad signs to a crime TV fan like me. He asks me a question and the first time I didn’t register his question. My music was exceptionally good that day. He had asked me “Do you need a lift?” I promptly said “no” and continued to walk on. I did have a bus to catch, after all. He wasn’t the first person who has asked me if I needed a ride at an ungodly hour mere blocks from my apartment. So, being the bright Southern girl that I am: I asked my friends about the matter. My gut was that it was a very light for of catcalling. Immediately, my more conservative friends chimed in (most of them male) about the matter.
He was just being nice.
Were you rude to him?
He was just trying to help you.
What were you wearing?
How short was your skirt?
Chivalry is dead.
And the counterarguments for a moment made me pause: was I wrong? Was a vicious misandrist harpie? After discussing the matter with fellow feminists it quickly became an issues of “You do not get in a car with strangers.”
I suddenly felt a little more human. I was gracious in my refusal but I’ve watched enough Law and Order:SVU to know that most women that get in the car with a man they don’t know (even with the best of intentions) usually ends up with the woman in a duffel bag dumped off into a riverbed.
It made me recall another incident where a cabbie outside of my apartment slowed down to ask me if I needed a ride and a friend on Facebook asked (likely in jest, but still) “How short was your skirt?”
My dear reader, I was in skinny jeans and a t-shirt. I was covered up and more importantly, even if I wasn’t: am I suddenly more of a target because of what I’m wearing?
When I was catcalled at a public park, immediately the discussion became about what I was wearing and why I was taking the bus anyways. Why is any of that relevant to me being harassed? Does wearing a low cut top or a short skirt or just existing as a female in public somehow mean it’s okay to be harassed?
Victim blaming is real and is a rather sinister aspect of most cultures. Women who report sexual assault or harassment are often times put against a metaphorical firing squad of questions just to “prove” there as a crime.
Were you drunk?
Had you been drinking?
Did you maybe say “yes” earlier in the night?
What were you wearing?
Well, he is a good-looking man. Are you sure you didn’t mean to say yes?
And to mention a point that I will later destroy if you wait a moment or two, there are women who have falsely claimed assault. I won’t say this number is substantial at all but it’s been enough to discredit the majority of women who have filed assault reports only to be sent through bureaucratic hell and having to recount their trauma over and over again until someone believes them. And those little things are ingrained in women from an early age. I know I was always encouraged to dress modestly not just for my family’s Catholic virtues but so that I wouldn’t be so easily sexualized as a teen. But even those efforts didn’t always work. I remember one instance when I was a teenager at Whole Foods Market of all places. I had on a t-shirt that had the Tootsie Pop owl on it (my love of owls even extended to my teen years) and the slogan on the shirt was “How many licks does it take?” (It was the early 2000s. Questionable fashion everywhere). Sure it was a little suggestive but I never saw it that way (I was a potato back then). An older man approached me and said very clearly: “I wonder how many licks it takes to get to your center.”
I don’t remember if I ever told my aunts about it. I didn’t wear the shirt again or if I did it was just with very close friends.
Was it a suggestive top? Sure. Was I too young for such a suggestive top? Probably. Does that mean that I should have had the unwanted advances of an older man? I sure hope not.
Victim blaming takes away the agency of women. It makes them no longer stewards of their own decision making and creates a false slippery slope that makes having a mature conversation about consent, feminism and equality difficult. If I am blamed for getting catcalled based on what top I am wearing it’s difficult to have the real conversation of: why did this grown man feel it necessary to shout lewd remarks at me from his car?
Which brings me back to one of the most unfortunate parts of this whole uncomfortable discussion. What’s even more insidious to me is the devil’s advocate argument. The one of “he was just trying to be nice”. I’ll humor that for now. Even if the man is just being nice, even if he does have the best intentions: unfortunately, there are plenty of men who ruined that kindness for everyone. There’s a reason in most state that hitchhiking is illegal. And are there instances where I am hypersensitive? Of course. I’m a human being and I sometimes get offended when I probably shouldn’t but even that is my prerogative.
And even doing an entire month of feminism has put a wedge between me and some of my friends and those in my spaces. I’ve been told to be careful what I write lest I offend someone. I’ve been encouraged to be less “misandrist” and I’ve been told that I’m being a social justice warrior. I don’t think in any place I’ve been a misandrist. I rather like men but I don’t enjoy harassment and the fact that even talking about these subjects that it could be even considered man-hating.
I’m sure for more of you then I’d like to admit that this has been a difficult topic to cover. I want to encourage respectful conversation in the comments and I want to also encourage you, my readership, to know that I am here for you not as a woman or feminist but as a human person trying their best to survive in a world that is at times less than kind. Know that you have my support, my empathy and my time if you so need it.
I promise we will cover more lighthearted topics as we wrap this year up.
Thanks for listening.