Systems and Effects: #YesAllWomen #EachEveryWoman

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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.

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This week, I ignored a homeless man who wanted help.

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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.

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Every day men on the street want something from women.

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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:

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 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.

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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.

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Systemic misogyny and rape culture are ordinary.

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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.

Yes All Women

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And that is a shame.

 

 

 

 

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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.

19 Responses to “Systems and Effects: #YesAllWomen #EachEveryWoman”

  1. Cathie Rayes

    Thank you for this, Thorn. You’ve articulated the situation well, and truly spoken to the reality of my life.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Cathie, I just feel sorry that this is the reality we currently live in. I hope someday we see change around this.

      Thanks for writing in.

      Reply
      • Cathie Rayes

        Earlier this year, a man I love helped me find inner healing around this situation. He was shocked by my attitude towards men-in-general, and the danger I perceive in everyday situations; shocked that I don’t feel safe walking down any street, anywhere. It took us a lot of work before I could let go of that fear even partially.

        I knew I had made real progress when a man walking past me at the plasma center gently said “Hello, beautiful,” to me and I took it as the compliment he intended it to be. It was an amazing milestone in my life.

        Reply
        • Liz

          I am so happy for you that you have found a way to release some of your fear.

          Reply
          • Cathie Rayes

            Thank you, Liz. I’m totally blessed to have been able to let it go.

            Reply
  2. Tzipora

    Thank you. I join you in hoping that someday we can change this reality. The sad reality is just how much of this violence comes from “trusted” friends and colleagues.

    Reply
  3. Beth

    This is really good, thank you. I am glad you shared this experience and the conflicted feelings. It really speaks to me.

    Reply
  4. Crow

    Thanks for posting this, Thorn. I’m finding the #yesallwomen discussion to be incredibly necessary, heartrending, and triggering. The ways in which I’ve modified my behavior because of my experience are probably too many to count, some of which I’ve made conscious efforts to change because I notice them and don’t like the way they make me feel, though I’m sure others are invisible to me. Thank you for instilling a bit of wondering about this for me.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Thank you for writing, Crow. Here are a couple of thoughts that echo yours:

      Behavior modification in the face of abuse is an understandable learned response. Children do it. Battered spouses do it. And yes, women walking down the street do it.

      All learned behaviors need to be questioned after awhile and we need to decide: what is prudent still, and what has become too small a cage?

      Reply
  5. Ursyl

    I have felt those exact feelings in response to choosing to not stop for hitchhikers, whom I am sure were perfectly lovely persons and would have been interesting to have a conversation with, but.

    But….

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Yes. And so our world grows more limited. And though it sucks to say it, you are right to not stop.

      Reply
    • Keechy

      I do this too, Ersyl. i actually quietly say to them as I pass them, “Sorry dude, but you know, I’m a woman on my own.” Not so they can hear, but because I feel bad for them, and because I need to remind myself why I must not stop.

      Reply
  6. Sea Serpent

    I cannot count how many times I’ve ignored and blown off men in the street because I felt it was “safer” to do so.

    It’s really scary how in this society it seems to be OK for men to reject women, but not OK for women to reject men:

    http://whenwomenrefuse.tumblr.com

    Reply
  7. Keechy

    I remember reading on a fat acceptance blog about how women’s behaviour in public is not only modified by the risk of actual physical harm, but we also try hard to not tell an intrusive man to leave us alone because we know that might set him to yelling insults at us for even presuming he might be interested. Instead we try to gently show we aren’t interested, and then they tell us we are giving mixed messages. That really opened my eyes to just how much our daily behaviour and even body language is conditioned to appeasing men to avoid conflict. I too have my stories of experiences to tell. I wonder if there is a single woman in the world who does not?

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Keechy, I don’t think there is a single woman without a story. This is most clearly a systemic issue. Even though most men don’t harass, there is a culture of harassment in place that goes mostly unchallenged.

      Reply
  8. Sea Serpent

    I have been catcalled in the street a lot; so many times I grew desensitized to it. It was easy for me not to take these men seriously because they were often drunk or stoned when they did it. When they weren’t, if they asked for help you were never sure whether they were being truthful or they have an ulterior motive (usually, it’s the latter). I don’t like to think all this might have made me callous to the street men who were really in need, but I’m sure there were probably times when this was the case.

    My experience with my stories is: when it’s verbal, I just tune it out. It’s when they follow you, or get physical, that it’s a problem. Then you go into fight or flight mode.

    Reply
  9. Hannah

    Yes!

    And thanks for mentioning other affected groups too. The mechanism is the same, and there are intersections.

    I’m avoiding quite some behavior, alas, sometimes because I’m a woman, sometimes because I am/was trans* and still sometimes suffer mistreatment because of that too, sometimes because of both.

    And this is while I think I’m still _relatively_ privileged myself.

    Thanks for writing this, thanks that you reflect your behavior and the underlying reasons and mechanisms so deeply.

    Hannah.

    Reply
    • Thorn

      Hannah, thanks for writing about your experiences. Trans* people, Latinas, Black women, Native women… all have it worse than cis female presenting white women. And yet the latter has it so bad, it must feel harrowing for the others.

      (BTW, sorry that I waited so long to unscreen some comments! I had checked several times and not seen any more.)

      Reply

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