I wasn’t going to write about this. But there is one nuance that I haven’t seen much in my spheres – how rape culture affects behavior. I’m grateful to all who’ve been speaking out, and to those who have been listening. I mourn those whose lives have been lost.
This week, I ignored a homeless man who wanted help.
This does not make me feel good.
I took myself out to lunch in the midst of my workday. As I turned the corner from the cafe, from several feet behind me a voice started shouting “Lady! Hey Lady! Lady! Lady! Hey Lady!” as I walked away. Now, the male voice was far enough behind me that he could have been talking to someone else. But I knew the voice was directed at me. I had a moment. An inner pause. He wanted something from me. He likely just wanted a dollar, or for me to buy his Street Sheet. Or maybe I had even dropped something. I just wanted to get back to work. I kept walking as though I had not heard.
As I watched my internal responses I thought, “this.” This is part of #YesAllWomen. Part of why I – someone who has worked to serve the homeless for 20 years, part of that full time, mostly very part time – was not stopping to talk with someone in need. That bothered me.
Every day men on the street want something from women.
Every day. And sometimes I don’t stop for it. Don’t take the time. In this case I was ignoring someone who is ignored by everyone else in society. I was not stopping to give some human contact to someone who is dehumanized every day. That is not how I try to live my life. That is not a way I wish to be in the world.
I chose to keep walking. My choice, yes. But a choice informed by a larger environment. A system. As I wrote on a friend’s Facebook page in reply to someone saying #NotAllMen:
I have read a lot of the #YesAllWomen stories. And you know what? That is what they are. Stories. Story after story of women, all women, dealing with abuse, rape, threats, personal invasion, cat calling, being grabbed etc. If the sharing of these stories is making some people feel uncomfortable, good.
This is not about individual men. This is about systemic misogyny and pervasive rape culture. Women sharing their stories are not attacking men. They are sharing stories about all the ways they have been attacked.
There are plenty of stories of my own.
Being told at age 13 that a man wanted me to walk on a floor of mirrors in a mini skirt with no underwear on. A businessman on a crowded downtown sidewalk grabbing my breasts as he walked by, leaving me screaming on the sidewalk after his back. Being threatened with a baseball bat while walking home at night simply for telling someone that my body was not his to comment on. Oh right, I shouldn’t have said anything in reply. Those are just three of many stories I could tell you – these particular stories span 35 years – and my stories are not the worst. My stories are just every day. Ordinary. But I have them. And I am a person people don’t mess with much.
Systemic misogyny and rape culture are ordinary.
And they shut the world down for women. And they alienate the female bodied and female presenting from the male bodied and male presenting. Systemic misogyny and rape culture make us distrustful, wary, and sometimes angry or frightened. Or to rightfully feel that we are in danger. Add in racism or transmisogyny and the system becomes even more dangerous for a woman going about her life at home, work, school, or walking down the street. More than half of all Black girls are sexually assaulted before age 18. Trans women of color are disproportionately targeted by hate violence. Far too many meet their deaths this way.
Systemic misogyny and rape culture – like systemic racism – are epidemic.
One small result of their constancy is this: some days a person as powerful as I am – a person with a strong center, who works for equity and justice, who tries to be compassionate – doesn’t have the energy to stop for the homeless man who needs or wants something. Because men on the street always want something.
And that is a shame.
Edit: for those who read this earlier today, I had written “Last week” instead of “This week.” The event with the homeless man actually happened earlier this week. It being Friday, I misplaced some time.
Also, I added #EachEveryWoman to the title for two reasons: one it is being said that the creator of the original hashtag has gotten so many death threats this week that she’s asked for us to stop using it. I don’t know if the latter part of that statement is true – though I do not doubt the first part. Second, others have said #YesAllWomen focused on the experiences of White women, and wanted to further the discussion, so changed the tag to #EachEveryWoman. I don’t know which case is correct, but want to reflect the ongoing conversation as best I can.