It is impossible to call what happened in Isla Vista anything less than a tragedy. The response that has followed with the #YesAllWomen is necessary and brave. People have opened a dialogue about the problems we face as a society. However some of the things I’ve read in response to both the tragedy and the societal response overlook a problem that I think is bigger than hashtags or catcalls.
I’ve been on the receiving end of the catcall and unwanted advances. It is uncomfortable and demeaning. It is inexcusable. There is no question about that.
I have also been out with my girlfriends, seen a guy we all find attractive, and said or heard something similar to a catcall towards him (when we are feeling particularly brazen).
To view this issue as solely a problem with one sex or the other is to miss a fundamental part of the conversation. I am not by any means saying that men (or women) are completely absolved of blame, or that it is EVER OK for one person to ignore another’s wishes, but I think there’s a bigger issue we are ignoring.
What it boils down to is that we no longer respect each other. We no longer live by the golden rule. We do not treat others the way we want to be treated. And that goes for both sexes.
How many times have we heard a group of males ostracize one of the group for some action deemed “unmanly”? They call him a pussy. Or a moron. Or any number of demeaning names.
How many times have your girlfriends said, “What’s up, slut” as a greeting? How many times have we said, “Oh, you dirty whore” when our girlfriends tell us stories about drunken escapades?
In both scenarios, our friendly name-calling disrespects the person on the receiving end. We may not mean it, but we become conditioned to expect and accept being called something mean. Somehow we have come to acknowledge these kinds of comments as normal. We call people retarded, gossip behind one another’s backs, and bully each other.
We’ve stopped treating each other as we want to be treated. As women, how can we expect men to respect us, and vice-versa, when it seems outwardly that we don’t respect each other? Men constantly see us calling each other names, being catty, and putting each other down. In the “monkey see, monkey do” scenario, men see us be hateful toward each other and are allowed to think it’s acceptable to do the same.
I am in no way saying that girls calling each other derogatory names is an excuse for the rampant rape culture we live in, but consider what would happen if we all began treating each other with more respect. Perhaps if we did a better job respecting one another, we would also do a better job taking care of each other.
If it suddenly became inexcusable for one woman to say call another a slut, maybe men would see that we are creatures who respect one another and are therefore deserving of respect.
I am not naive enough to believe that respecting one another is enough to completely eradicate this culture of misogyny. Nor do I think that respect will eliminate all the horrible people in the world. There will always be men willing to take advantage of women. There will always be men who force themselves on women. There will always be horrible people in this world willing to lie, cheat, steal, and harm others.
But I believe that we as humans tend to do what is necessary to fit into the group. We wear short-shorts because our friends wear short-shorts even if we really don’t like how they feel. We are social creatures who need to feel accepted. If we managed to change the culture of the group at large, maybe we can make society a little bit safer.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to a problem of this magnitude. But if we begin to tackle the small problems, we can make an impact on the larger problem.