The other day, I made a “friend zone” joke here on the blog. I acknowledged that the whole concept of a friend zone is sexist and gross, but I still played it for laughs. The UCSB shooting happened shortly thereafter – a massacre motivated by the same sexist concept, that men are entitled to have access to women’s bodies.
I was making a point about how the characters in Dickens and Hugo who are “friend zoned” end up sacrificing themselves, as opposed to whining about why it’s not fair that the objects of their affection won’t sleep with them. My joke isn’t that bad. You can find something more offensive almost anywhere. But it’s not anywhere, it’s here, on a blog about books, written by a feminist. This stuff is insidious. It’s everywhere. Yes, I’m calling myself out. I’m also sharing some stuff I learned because most of my readers are young women and this is important.
I’m reading and participating in #yesallwomen which is a reaction to the instant refrain of “not all men” that comes up when an event like this is viewed from a feminist angle. Suggest that this massacre was motivated by misogyny and aided by a sexist culture, and you will immediately be informed that Not All Men are misogynists. Not all men think that way. Not all men abuse women. This isn’t a feminist issue, they say, it’s about gun control. It’s about mental health (and yes, it’s certainly those things too.) And women are saying, yeah, we get that. Not all men. But all women ARE affected by misogyny. Every woman has a story, probably many stories. Go ahead and check out the hashtag. It’s relentless, repetitive, and extremely disheartening.
(If you haven’t figured it out, this post isn’t about books and it’s about to get really personal. )
I’ve never been raped. I’ve never been hit. I’ve never been stalked. But, reading the stories, I found I could relate. Off the top of my head, I’ve been called a slut, called a tease, cat called, followed, offered “a ride” while walking at night, threatened with sexual violence, guilted into sex, badgered into sex, groped in public, groped at a party while nearly unconscious, verbally harassed, interrogated on my sexual history, repeatedly asked to do things I said were off limits, received obscene and harassing phone calls and sent pornographic pictures. I have pretended to pass out, to be sick, to have a boyfriend, to have somewhere to go, because I was scared to say no. I have reason to believe a video of myself in a sexual situation (which was consensual) is out there on the internet (not consensual.) I will never know, and even if I did, there’s nothing I can do about it.
I’ve never made a list like this before. It sounds kind of bad, all together. But all of this stuff is completely normal. Yes, all women have stories just like these. Many have stories that are far, far worse. I’m one of the lucky ones. Never raped, never hit, never stalked. Never financially dependent on a boyfriend or otherwise hindered from leaving. Privileged by almost every factor you can think of except my gender.
Also worth noting: all of these things happened in my teens and early twenties. Men feel entitled to women’s bodies – especially young women.
And the biggest realization for me? Most of the men were people I knew. People I loved. People who loved me. None of them were evil. The first person who called me a slut was my dad. The second was my boyfriend. I was 16. Most of the other things I listed were at the hands of long term boyfriends. This is what it means to live in a culture where misogyny is normal.
A commenter on a Facebook thread said the UCSB shooter was “not an aberration, but an extremist.” That’s the point of #yesallwomen. Men feeling entitled to access women’s bodies, to dehumanize women, to guilt and shame and demean women, is normal, common, expected behaviour. We accept it. Then we are surprised when a young man is radicalized and instead of harming individual women, goes on a spree.
I don’t have an answer. I don’t know how to stop accepting it. I don’t know how to teach my kids not to accept it, not to perpetuate this behaviour. I don’t know how to explain an event like this, and am thankful I don’t have to, yet. Even if we can just be more mindful that yes, all women carry these experiences with us, that’s something. Call it hashtag activism, slacktivism, what you will, this was powerful and eye opening and I encourage you to go and read and listen.