By now we’ve all seen the #yesallwomen campaign that continues to trend on Twitter. For a place that traditionally abandons causes after a few hours, the staying power of this discussion is noteworthy all by itself.
I haven’t added my own tweets, because as I thought about it (and read about it, and pondered it) I realized that it would take an ocean of tweets to tell all of my stories. Despite the fact that the stream updates so fast you almost can’t read it, I wonder how many other women are not posting because it’s just too much to deal with.
Here’s the thing.
I have never been raped, and I still say all the time that I’ve been lucky. I put myself in dangerous situations. I made bad decisions and bad choices. I was naive. I craved male attention as balm for my low self-esteem. I dressed and acted in ways designed to attract that attention and looking back, I cringe at all the near-misses and could-have-been-worse moments in my life.
But even then, shit happened all the goddamn time. Shit that no one took seriously because it was just expected that these things would happen.
In grade six, I was taken aside by a teacher and told to make sure my t-shirt didn’t slide off my shoulders, showing my bra straps. “It’s just not appropriate,” she said, as if I were yanking that sucker down on purpose so the boys would have more reasons to make fun of my rapidly-developing chest.
In grade nine, a male classmate leaned across the aisle one day and grabbed my breasts. When I swatted him away, his defense was “well, they’re huge! I just wanted to see if they were real!” My female teacher smiled at him and shook her head, in the way I do when George eats his mashed potatoes with his hands.
In high school, a male student (and supposed friend) asked me out a few times and was politely turned down. He showed up to school drunk one day and made a big show out of ripping branches off of trees and threatening to cut himself. “He’s drinking because he feels so bad that you won’t go out with him,” said one of his friends, helpfully. And I ended up feeling bad and sitting with him for an entire free period, trying to console him.
And then there was the one “Nice Guy” that was in my life through junior high, high school, and university. He was good friends with my first boyfriend. He was in the circle. There was no avoiding him.
He would fall madly “in love” with one of his female friends after another. None of us wanted him back. He was needy. He wasn’t as smart as he thought he was. We liked him just fine as one of our group, but none of us felt romantically toward him at all. And this was somehow our fault.
You girls have never been attracted to me … I don’t know why … I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourself at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman. – from Elliot Rodger’s YouTube manifesto
I heard that speech from Nice Guy half a dozen times, at least. I heard it about my three closest female friends. When I stopped hearing it and he started sneaking up behind me to suddenly rub my neck & shoulders because I “seemed tense”, I knew he was saying those words about me.
I tried shutting that shit down. One day when he went for the unwanted touching I shrugged him off, annoyed – and he turned on the hurt-puppy I-was-only-trying-to-be-NICE act. I defended myself weakly before I ended up apologizing to him because oh sweetie, you need to be kind. Let him down easy. He can’t help the way he feels about you and god forbid you should ever cause anyone pain.
Meanwhile he was still friends with almost everyone I knew. He was buddies with my male roommate for a while. He’d come by our flat practically every day and if we weren’t home, he’d wait on the deck until we got there.
It fucking sucked, is what I’m saying, and the only time he didn’t drip all over me in an inappropriate and unwelcome fashion was when I had a boyfriend, because he respected the boundaries of ‘ownership’ laid down by another man, but not the ones laid down by me.
The events of this week have stirred up a lot of feelings I’d thought I had dealt with, but apparently haven’t. I am sad. I am frustrated. I am feeling the responsibility of raising my boys to NOT feel that sense of entitlement.
Most of all I am angry that boys & men who claimed to be my friends, who claimed to care for me, used my basic decency and desire to not hurt anyone against me. I am angry that I felt guilty because I didn’t love these people just because they loved me. I am angry that I’m now disappointed in myself for not taking a stronger stand. I remember once saying “fuck, am I glad he’s decided he has a crush on Other Friend now instead of me” and then doing nothing to protect her, because I was so relieved to be out of his clutches myself.
So no, #notallmen. But #yesallwomen.