So, this share showed up on my facebook this morning. Of course, I was procrastinating writing so I had to think about it. And then I went to work, and I kept thinking about it. And I thought and I thought and I thought. And I know you all can’t wait to hear what I thought.
First because that snapshot is really small, the text of this mobile download reads: “We were discussing homosexuality because of an allusion to it in the book we were reading, and several boys made comments such as, ‘That’s disgusting.’ We got into the debate and eventually a boy admitted that he was terrified/disgusted when he was once sharing a taxi and the other male passenger made a pass at him. The lightbulb went off. ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘I get it. See, you are afraid, because for the first time in your life you have found yourself a victim of unwanted sexual advances by someone who has the physical ability to use force against you.’ The boy nodded and shuddered visibly. ‘But,’ I continued. ‘As a woman, you learn to live with that from the time you are fourteen, and it never stops. We live with that fear every day of our lives. Every man walking through the parking garage the same time you are is either just a harmless stranger or a potential rapist. Every time.’ The girls in the room nodded, agreeing. The boys seemed genuinely shocked. ‘So think about that the next time you hit on a girl. Maybe, like you in the taxi, she doesn’t actually want you to.’”
So, like is so often the case, what I’m about to say might not be that popular, but just stay with me. Of course, I don’t disagree with the sentiment behind this post. Violence against women is a reality, no doubt. I was molested by multiple men as a child. I was the “victim,” if you want, of male aggression from multiple sources. To be clear: I have been hit. A lot. And most of the women I know–truly most–have been sexually abused, raped, or assaulted at least once. Most of them. I in no way want to downplay the reality of or devastation that results from male aggression towards women. And I don’t think that a lot of men know that this is the state of things. Years ago I tried to mount a project called the “Zeus Project.” I was going to have a dozen women drive around the country and interview men about the women in their lives, and then interview those women to see if the men knew just how big a problem this actually is.
All that being said, I want to suggest that 1) not all women feel this way. And 2) that we, as a society, or possibly even just as a gender, might want to evaluate this emotional response and see if it’s helpful and if there’s something we should do to change it.
Of course, everything that I write about stems from my personal life experiences. So, a story: When I was 14, I convinced my mom to let my cousin move in with us. He was a year and a half younger than me, and he’d run away from home because his caretaker was a real jerk. And when he was dropped off at our house, the three of us made eye contact and spontaneously broke into the song “reunited” at the same moment.
But besides being a lovely and funny guy, my cousin was also a drug dealer and juvenile detention had pretty much turned him into a hardened criminal. He was stronger than me. There is no question that he was stronger than me. We would get in the biggest fights. On one particular occasion he threw a pencil carefully calculated to miss my head by an inch. The impact of that throw was so great, that that pencil actually broke the chair that I was sitting on. Now if that had been my head? The reality is that I knew that he could kill me. He knew that he could kill me. And we got in so many fights, it’s not as though he didn’t have the chance.
Now conventional wisdom will have it that I was a victim, and I was terrified. And this terror will have informed every interaction I’ve had with men since then. And we need to educate men to behave better, and fight for stronger anti-assault laws, and teach girls self-defence, etc.
I’m not really arguing with any of that. BUT, and it’s a big but: the emotion I felt around my cousin was not terror. It was rage. Rage that he was, simply put, stronger than me. That I was not strong enough to beat him. I was really really strong, but he was just stronger and that drove me mad.
I remember one day he made me so angry that I opened up a can of soda and poured it over his head and then ran like hell. And I managed to slam my car door shut just before his retaliatory pop-can collided with it–it made a huge dent that I was never able to fix. But I didn’t care because for that one time at least, I had won. I was so elated that I drove to school, and when the band teacher came in to class ten minutes later and politely asked if I hadn’t left my keys in my car by any chance . . . well, I went back outside and discovered that was an understatement, to put it mildly. In fact, I had left my car running with the keys in, the headlights on, and the driver-side door wide open.
I am so sick of being told by society that I was a victim. That, in a male-dominated society, I am still a victim. That, in fact, I will always be a potential victim. This is my blog, so I think I’m allowed to cuss on it. And to all of that, I have to say: horse shit!
I am not the strongest woman in the world. I am certainly not stronger than every man. And I don’t even want to argue the fact that most men are stronger than most women. But in nearly every circumstance that arises, I can take care of myself. Whether through brute strength or wits. So that’s the first point I want to make: it never occurs to me when I’m around a man that he might hurt me. I am not afraid or intimidated–it doesn’t even occur to me to be. And I think that’s because I know that I can handle myself.
Ten years ago, when I was not nearly so buff as I am now, I went to a women’s self-defense class with a friend just because it seemed like a good, enlightened thing to do. But after a class or two, she and I started talking and we realized that the class was making us both uncomfortable because the instructor was talking to us all as though we needed to constantly remember to watch what was going on around us because we were, as this mobile upload implies, potential victims. And this made both of us uncomfortable because we both knew that we weren’t.
It’s not that I can not be hit. Or that I am so different from other women. Anyone can be mugged. Anyone can be attacked. But not everyone is a potential victim. And not everyone who is hit is a victim. And some people really are less likely to be assaulted than others. Because the truth is that violent men are cowards mostly.
A man was following me in a train station in New York City for too long for it to be coincidence. He was going to mug me. But I turned around and I looked him in the eyes, and I asked him why he was following me? And he turned red and practically ran away. And, likewise, if a man tries to rape a woman in an alley, he’s going to think twice about it if she doesn’t instantly cower down and look petrified. I’m not saying he won’t still do it, but he will be less likely to.
So 1) I am sick of people assuming that I am weak and that I, like all women, walk around slightly fearful of men at all times. 2) I think we do girls a huge disservice by treating them like they are potential victims. Because that engenders fear which makes it more likely that they will become victims. Women may not, in general, be as physically strong as men. But they don’t have to be as weak as they are. And they aren’t as weak as we treat them. And they are much stronger, by and large, I would guess, than they think themselves.
So, yes, part of the solution is for men to become gentler, more sensitive, more aware of women’s needs. But the other part is for women to toughen up and stop acting so weak. I would contend that walking around fearful is almost as damning as being hit. At least, I’d rather walk around with the constant knowledge that if someone hit me, I could damn well hit him back, than with the constant knowledge that I am a potential victim.
Think about it.