By Lizabeth Paulat
There is a disconnect within our culture that needs to be addressed.
The #YesAllWomen tag, filled with everyday harassments and shocking stories of assault, has been making waves across social media. However, it wasn’t long before it found itself crashing against #NotAllMen, who were quick to rebuff any generalizations. Many pointing out that since they’re not like that, they don’t appreciate being viewed as a potential predator.
However, to properly dissect why these two headspaces work against each other, let’s take a look at the advice we give women on how ‘not to get attacked.’ Expert advice (from ABC News no less) tells women to avoid scarves (to avoid being strangled), necklaces and high heels.
Women should make eye contact, keep your hands free, your ears open, take well-lit routes, vary their routine and don’t be too sympathetic. Other advice includes: Be paranoid and suspicious (seriously that’s verbatim). It also notes that women should be aware of men sitting in cars parked near them, evaluating every situation at all times.
To avoid being raped by that stranger in the dark alley (who really, makes up a small amount of total rapes, but let’s avoid that pesky fact) we must go out with our game face on. Shoes we can run in, hair up (but not in a ponytail, otherwise it can be grabbed), skirts or trousers we can kick in, and we must be prepared to fight. Women must ‘wear better armor,’ as one man once put it to me.
That same man also reminded me that life is filled with risks, such as driving a car. That we all have to watch out for drunk drivers, and that’s just part of being human. And yes, we all must be careful when we drive because bad things can happen. But I’ve yet to hear of someone hit by a drunk driver being asked “why were you even driving?,” “why did you drive by a bar?” or “why did you choose a car that wasn’t able to handle an impact?”
The onus is on women to protect ourselves from rape. So we must stay vigilant. And in this constant hyper-vigilance we must also let go of any personal trauma that would prejudice us against a well-meaning stranger who just wants to ‘talk.’
My father once told me a story about the Vietnam War. How every woman and child that wandered into camp was looked on with suspicion because sometimes women and children (not all women and children) would come in crying for help, right before blowing themselves up. Many of us can empathize that after this happens a few times, he and his fellow Marines would be more likely to aim their guns at innocents.
An article came out a few years ago, titled Schrödinger’s Rapist, detailing how men, perfectly lovely men just interested in meeting someone, ought to approach women in public. One example for men to consider: “’If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?’ If the answer is no, then it isn’t appropriate to approach her.”
The backlash was immense. Men were angered by the presumption that they should have to take extra care to not be thought of as rapists. They aren’t rapists; they’re normal guys just looking for love. Why should the burden be on them to consider all these things while just trying to have a normal conversation in a social setting?
Which is where the disconnect between what we teach women about men, and men about women, lies. It should come as no surprise that we can’t, as a society, maintain these two head spaces. That women need to be paranoid and suspicious, but men should not be treated like de facto rapists.
We need to come to a better solution.
Luckily there is one. Unfortunately, it involves accountability from all of us.
Let’s start out with some facts: culture influences the amount of violent sexual assaults against women. Studies have shown that when researching gender inequality, associated with access to education, income, occupation and legal status, across the decades, higher equality does correlate to fewer rapes in the long term.
What does this mean? In a nutshell, it means that as a culture we can control a large amount of harassment and violence against women. It’s an oddly controversial thing to say. We all like to think of ourselves as special snowflakes, making individualistic impacts amongst a few bad eggs. But our impacts, or lack of them, don’t occur in a vacuum. They are heaped upon mountains of accumulated culture that looms over us, dictating our daily lives.
If we want to change the way sexual violence occurs, and how women are told to look at men, we need to shift our society to one of accountability. We must stop dismissing the fears shared by hundreds of thousands of women.
We must create a world where men who holler at women out of cars are shamed by their friends, where those who grab women are ganged up on and told to leave the bar. A world where not respecting a women’s space causes men more trouble than it’s worth, a world where people stop being friends with rapists.
“It takes one rapist to commit a rape, but it takes a village to create an environment where it happens over and over and over.”
– Thomas MacAulay Millar
We cannot continue to exist in a society that tells us to fear all men, but #NotAllMen. It simply doesn’t work. There are ways to unravel this mess. But first we must let go of this notion that on our individualistic levels, we aren’t complicit.
We are. And the sooner we can admit it, the sooner we can move on from defensive ideologies into solutions.
It will never be 100% safe for men or women — after all, the world is a dangerous place. But we could make it better, so why wouldn’t we?
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