I’m writing this post in advance of the Women’s March on NYC this Saturday, to express some of the reasons Why I March. There are, unfortunately, many other reasons, but let’s start with the first: I am a woman, and that still means I am a second-class citizen in America in 2017.
Unless you are a woman, there are some experiences of discrimination and misogyny I don’t think you can ever fully understand. For the sake of not airing all my grievances at once (a lady must keep some semblance of mystery), let’s say I haven’t lived everything on this list, just most of it, and it’s nowhere near a complete list. But if it hasn’t happened to me, it’s definitely happened to a woman I know and probably someone you know too.
It probably goes without saying, but fair warning, there is discussion of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence, among other things below.
Unless you are a woman, you probably haven’t…
- Had adult men leer at your pre-teen adolescent body and make suggestive, hypersexualizing statements about how you are developing.
- Been groped or fondled by a complete stranger in public, with no one saying or doing anything. Or had it suggested that you had it coming for dressing the way you did and smiling too much.
- Been told your choice of a major in math or science “isn’t easy, you know,” and been told repeatedly that you would maybe prefer something like English or communications “where girls seem to thrive.”
- Sat through an exam or a work meeting with menstrual cramps that are as painful as a heart attack, knowing you can’t flinch or react because it’s not appropriate to talk about that kind of pain.
- Discovered you were pregnant when you started to have a miscarriage at work, then not being given any time off except the actual time you may have been hospitalized.
- Sought treatment for mental health concerns, asked if better regulating your hormones might help, and learning that antidepressants and mood stabilizers make it that oral contraceptives don’t work; asking why this fact isn’t better known, and your doctor just shrugging because people don’t really research “that kind of stuff.”
- Dated a man who fully expected you to give up your career one day to raise his children and referred to your degree as your academic interest, even when you earned more than him.
- Worked yourself sick at a job while struggling to make ends meet, then learned the men at your office were making easily 2-3 times what you earned and none of the other women had ever gotten a raise.
- Had a construction foreman pantomime to your boss that you should be put over his knee and spanked for a small mistake, then your boss laughing along with everyone on the site who you were supposed to be supervising, even when you asked, “Would you make that joke if [my male coworker] forgot his keys??” (Okay, yeah, this one really happened to me in Paris and it broke my heart.)
- Had a man shove his hand up your dress on the subway with such force that he left bloody scratch marks on your inner thigh, arrived at the office late because you needed to sit in a park and cry for a bit, then been reprimanded for not being friendly when your coworker greeted you with objectifying comments about the dress you would now like to burn. (Yes, this one is also me, and I still can’t wear that dress.)
- Had every bite of food you eat in public monitored and judged, as everyone feels they should offer advice on your weight and fitness level.
- Suffered severe post-partum depression and been told by everyone in your life you just need to shake it off and concentrate on the joy of your new baby.
- Been kept as a contractor for over a decade so your employer could deny you benefits; been repeatedly passed up for promotions because your boss felt the male employees should be prioritized as “they have families to support.”
- Been denied a promotion because it is assumed you are going to marry your boyfriend and quit in a few years to have children.
- Gained 20 pounds when you went on medication and been told “you have gotten so fat I can’t even see you as a woman anymore, let alone find you attractive.” (Yeah, I am not ever going to forgive him for that.)
- Seriously assessed your safety level at a party or bar and concluded if you don’t want to be raped, you need to leave immediately.
- Been told by a professor that you should probably focus on marrying well.
- Known that everywhere you go and at any time, a man can rape you, and you may not legally be able to terminate a resulting pregnancy.
- Been told you should take sexual objectification as a compliment and “enjoy it while it lasts.”
- Dated a man who declared you were solely responsible for birth control, mostly because he didn’t want to wear a condom. Dated another man who refused to discuss birth control or what would happen if you became pregnant because, “That’s your problem, baby.”
- Considered the ways you could make suicide look like an accident if it turned out you were pregnant and not just missing your period from the stress of an abusive relationship.
- Mentioned how encouraging it was to work with an all-women team of scientists at a research symposium and having several men make jokes about your periods syncing.
- Had your neighbors suggest a pattern you could knock on their wall if you ever needed them to call the police on your boyfriend or kick down your door to help you.
- Participated in political conversations about reproductive rights characterizing women seeking affordable contraception as morally loose “sluts” because men didn’t want their health insurance to pay for family planning, while wondering if they considered their wives sluts too.
- Given a presentation while a classmate, professor, or professional colleague openly stared at your breasts the entire time, wishing you could crawl out of your skin.
- Had a strange man masturbate, to completion, while you were alone on a subway car being held between stations, petrified and trying not to react at all. Reported it to the conductor at the next stop and been told the train crew watched it in the cameras laughing, but it didn’t occur to them to intervene.
- Requested an estimate for a car repair and been told you should come back with your husband or father, so he can help you understand it.
- Been raped by a friend and had a mutual friend say it was your fault for leading him on.
- Been screamed at and assaulted at work then had your HR complaint disregarded because you were being “overly emotional” about it. Later having your job threatened because you still seemed upset and uncomfortable and it was bumming people out.
- Been called a bitch repeatedly in the same day, more days than you can count.
- Developed a habit of figuring out how to escape every room and building you enter on a date, in case he decides to pin you against a wall somewhere and gets violent.
- Weighed the odds of a man seriously hurting or killing you against your ability to talk or fight your way out of an aggressive sexual assault.
- Learned that you were hired as a bartender with the intent to convince you to also become a prostitute for the owner, who assumed you understood that’s why he hired you despite your lack of experience.
- Invited a man for dinner to discuss a contract job you’d like to hire him for, and had him say, “Okay, if you bring your best friend so I have something nice to look at while we talk.”
- Discussed stories of the many ways your body has been violated and had a male friend say he is surprised because “you’re cute and all,” but not the kind of woman you’d expect to “get hit on” so much.
- Had a seemingly sane guy you had spent a few hours dancing with wrap his arm around your neck, holding you in some kind of headlock so he could show you the money in his wallet that he offered you if you would go to a hotel room with him right then. (This just happened on my birthday.)
- Expressed a controversial opinion on Facebook and had your face photoshopped on pornographic images and pasted all over your page and messaged to several of your friends.
- Felt forced to choose between education and a career or starting a family. Been called crazy by men who don’t have an expiration date on their reproductive years and can’t understand why you are concerned with not wasting time. Been treated as if you are trying to “trap” a man when you say you only pursue monogamous relationships.
- Only been able to deter a would-be rapist by saying you have a husband, and it happens to be someone he knows.
- Had your concerns about pay equality, reproductive freedom, sexual assault survivors’ rights, and women’s health care coverage dismissed as “whining” and been told, “If you want higher pay, you should work harder for it or get better at negotiating” by men who have known nothing but privilege in life.
- Told your friends and family about a new job and been asked repeatedly, “And are there any handsome men there? Anyone who might make a nice boyfriend?”
- Been sent unsolicited dick pics by more than ten of your completely platonic male friends and anyone you’ve met online, including men pretending they are interested in commissioning art from you or hiring you for a job.
- Spent a date deflecting attempts to steer the conversation toward a man’s salary because you don’t want to be called a “gold-digging whore” when you don’t agree to a second date on the basis of his personality.
- Been referred to as “the girl” well into your 30s and called infantilizing names like honey, sweetie, baby, and dear in public and professional settings by strangers and vendors, whether you object or not.
- Had a rumor spread to all of your coworkers that you got your promotion from $7 to $11 an hour by sleeping with your supervisor and having an entire receiving department of a clothing store pantomime you performing oral sex and telling you everything they’d like to do with you every time they saw you.
- Formed a sincere friendship with a married man and had your coworkers start a rumor that you must be trying to lure him into an affair because they can’t see any other reason he would want to talk with you.
- Been sexually assaulted, then told it wasn’t his fault because he was drunk.
- Gone to an art exhibit and dinner with a professor on the guise of talking about painting, pretended you didn’t notice his “accidental” hand on your thigh or brush of your breast when he helped you with your coat, turned your head and pretended he was just kissing you goodbye on the cheek as he licked your face, then went home to frantically calculate how much of your grade in his class could still be affected. Felt genuinely grateful a few weeks later that he didn’t punish you for rejecting his advances.
- Called the super of your building for repairs to the oven in your first apartment and been cornered in your kitchen with one hand squeezing your neck while he shoved the other up your blouse, thrusting against you. Later had his wife come to threaten you for telling the building owner what he did in your tearful request that he never come into your apartment unaccompanied again.
- Dyed your hair red for several months after a friend of a friend shoved into a bar bathroom with you and tried to force himself on you, excusing himself with, “I can never control myself around blondes.”
- Engaged in constant and exhausting self-monitoring of your posture, bodily position, use of language that could be misinterpreted as suggestive, and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to dress to hide as much of your figure as possible at work so your boss and colleagues don’t treat you as a sex object all day.
- Believed the way men mistreat you is all your fault, or that maybe the way you’re treated really is your only worth.
I could easily go on for another thousand words, but I’m getting exhausted remembering all these experiences. I know that for every man who has treated me as nothing but a body he was entitled to use for gratification, there are other truly good, kind, feminist men out there who would never dream of treating a woman this way. I am grateful that so many of my friends who are fathers are as concerned with protecting the sanctity of women’s lives and bodies as I am, and I have hope that they are raising their sons to treat women better than past generations have. I know there are men who recognized the pay gap and encouraged me to ask for raises, and there are men who have seen me as their equal, or respected me personally or professionally – but they are few and far between. I still find it so incredibly frustrating to discuss issues of professional inequality, objectification, sexual predation, and institutionalized misogyny with most men because they just don’t see it.
I think about all of the experiences above that have happened to me and women I know, and I know not to trust most men to pass laws that affect women’s bodies and access to healthcare. I’ve discussed trans-phobic bathroom discrimination bills with men at length, and they’ve often come back to the myth of a man claiming to be a trans woman so he can expose himself to young women in a bathroom or locker room. They don’t seem capable of understanding that by the time a girl is old enough to go to the bathroom by herself, odds are high she’s already seen more unwelcome male genitalia than she can count, and she would be relieved if this strawman were able to just stick to flashing.
We don’t talk about the manifold ways girls’ and women’s bodies are violated, in part because we live in a victim-blaming culture that repeatedly casts women as wanton temptresses and their sexual assaulters as red-blooded American males feeling their oats. When the president-elect bragged about sexually assaulting women, it was dismissed by some as “locker room talk,” but just about every woman I know recoiled at the memory of their own assaults. Plural – often repeatedly, and violently, by people they should have been able to trust in settings where they should have been safe. I can’t accept that state of being as anywhere near okay.
I don’t know if it is helpful to share these experiences with men and confront them with what it’s really like to be a woman, but I think we should try. Or maybe share them with women and work on ways to prevent them from happening again to others. Because somehow women are still not being treated as equal human beings, and that needs to change right now.
As with other forms of discrimination, I believe that codifying unjust treatment of women by laws that restrict reproductive rights or limit access to healthcare is a way of sanctioning our treatment as lesser, making it the law of the land that our bodies are not our own, but open for others to possess and legislate. I feel it is crucial to protect women’s rights and keep on fighting for equality, now more than ever.