This is a health blog, so most of you expect recipes, workout tips and lifestyle posts. But to ignore societal problems is a gross inattentiveness to the health of our society. This series of essays entitled Feminist Letters is a collection of my thoughts on why feminism is still needed in our society, all based in current events and personal experiences.
In freshman year of high school, we had to present long research projects for our class on a topic of our choosing. Mine was climate change. Another young woman in my class chose sexual harassment. She needed survey results, so I took her survey. She asked questions like, “Have you ever been sexually harassed?” and “Do you feel safe at this school?” I remember reporting that I felt completely safe and that I’d never experienced harassment.
Which, I guess, was true in a sense. Because when I answered the questions, I believed it. And even up until the last day of school during freshman year, I thought that what I’d experienced at the hand of a classmate was just an annoyance. But on the last day of that school year, as I was leaving the building, said classmate wanted a hug. And it hit me how little I wanted that hug, and how much I would rather do literally anything else.
With the help of another friend, I managed to avoid the uncomfortable situation, and went to a swim meet still reeling from the realization that I didn’t feel safe. And when the shock subsided, it hit me that I had been harassed. Not just once, but several times, over the past several months. And I’d never thought to do anything but tell the teacher I was being distracted and that I’d appreciate another seating arrangement.
But even after I started making a bigger deal of it–e.g. telling that classmate to stop, threatening him with telling adults–he didn’t ever completely stop. That is, until the beginning of my junior year of high school, when my boyfriend stepped in and told him to back off. And just like that, he did.
As bad as all that sounds, other people go through worse. I know women who have been sexually harassed and sexually assaulted. I have friends who can’t go a week or two without being catcalled on the streets, and friends who are afraid of their exes and friends who are scared for me when I’m alone with male friends.
So many people in the government and in Hollywood are being accused of sexual assault and harassment that I can’t keep track anymore. And for some reason, I’m no longer surprised. Because our society raises boys to think they can take whatever they want, including another human being. We live in a culture where no matter what a woman does, she is in the wrong; the men are the nice ones, the men are the victims and the men are the kings. The women are objects.
The only way to get rid of this toxic part of our culture is to recognize it at its roots: boys objectifying girls in their classes, and young men getting angry when their female friends don’t want to date them and everyone turning a blind eye when women are blamed for everything men do wrong.
It needs to stop. It needs to stop now, and the only way to stop it is to start from the bottom. Remind boys to be respectful of their female friends. Remind them they’re at fault for what they do. Remind them they’re not entitled to anything but social security benefits once they’re of retirement age. Saying “be the change” is sappy, but in this case it works. Be better, and chances are, everyone else will follow suit.