Lately, I have had the phrase “angry feminist” bouncing around in my mind. In the wake of the UC Santa Barbara shooting, the #YesAllWomen trend on twitter, and a recent personal experience (plus a lifetime of less recent ones) — I have been thinking a lot about the way that women, men, and society relate, and the day-to-day consequences of these relationships.
Disclaimer: Some of the discussion below contains sexually graphic material.
The shooting in Santa Barbara made me feel sick. I lived near Columbine high school and I remember clearly the day it happened — the fear, the grief, and the ultimately unanswerable question of ‘Why?’ That the shooting in Santa Barbara was motivated by gender-based hatred, and predominately affected women makes it even more sad. People were murdered in cold blood, with the justification: ‘She wouldn’t sleep with me.’
In reaction to the tragedy, a hashtag began trending on Twitter: #YesAllWomen.
#YesAllWomen Because when I walk home alone at night and I see a man ahead, I pre-dial 911 so if I am threatened I can just push send
— Morgan Sullivan (@morgansullivan0) May 28, 2014
This is a true story. Not only do I pre-dial 911, I also cross to the other side of the street and slow down, so as not to come into the immediate vicinity of the man ahead. That guy in front of me is probably a nice person, but a lifetime of experience and a mountain of anecdotal evidence has, in that moment, turned him into nothing more or less that a potential attacker, a potential rapist.
Last week, I was sitting on the subway and noticed a man staring at me. As this was not a new experience for me, I chose to ignore it. Later, he sat next to me. Also, not that strange — it was the only seat available. He continued to stare and I continued to ignore. About ten minutes had passed and I was getting up to exit at my stop, when I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked over. Having strategically placed his backpack on his lap to hide what he was doing, the man had taken out his penis and was rubbing himself. Sitting literally right next to me, as in our shoulders were touching, the man next to me was masturbating in public as he stared directly at me.
As I exited the train, I simultaneously felt like yelling, crying, and throwing up. In retrospect I wish I had knocked his backpack to the ground and revealed what he was doing to the rest of the train. But it all happened very quickly, I was at my stop, and I was too stunned to act in time.
So, at the moment when I think about those words “angry feminist,” I think about them as they apply to me. Those who decry the feminist movement use like-phrases as a derogatory slur — code words that signify other meanings… Over-reactor. Troublemaker. Man-hater.
Let me be clear. This has nothing to do with hating men. Not a single thing.
I am angry because I have been shouted at, whistled to, cat-called, harassed, grabbed by strangers, followed, and now publicly masturbated to all on account of one thing — the fact that I am a women.
I am a feminist because I believe that women absolutely should have the exact same rights as men, and we absolutely do not. Though the word feminist comes with a mountain of negative baggage, in its simplest definition all it means is this: the belief that women are entitled to equal rights as men. Look it up. We have made great strides in terms of our legal rights, that much is true. But what of our social rights? In that area we all have a lot of work to do.
Again, this has nothing to do with hating men. In fact, quite the opposite is true. I’m saying this because the actions of those men who regard women as nothing more than objects for their sexual satisfaction — as the ‘bitch’ who wouldn’t sleep with them, the pretty face of the train, or the “sashimi” at the end of the night (real quote from last weekend) — they degrade the integrity of those men who do perceive and treat women as their equals. They create a stain and an uphill battle for those men who would be part of the solution, instead of perpetuating a problem that plagues ALL of us.
This is a problem for all. Not just women. Not just men.
Sex, gender, and sexual orientation aside…
This is a problem for people.
The harassment and the violence need to stop. They need to stop now. It breaks my heart to think of raising a daughter who has the same fears I do. To tell her how to use her keys as a potential weapon, or to cross the street when she sees a man ahead, or not to wear a short skirt at night because not only could she be raped, she could then be accused of ‘asking for it’. It breaks my heart to think of instilling that kind of fear in a child. But I would without question, if I thought it might save her life and her dignity.
In turn, it also breaks my heart to think of raising a son who has to fear for his sister’s life and dignity. To tell him that he will meet men who will not agree with the way I raised him, and who will urge him through word and action to abandon those principles. To raise him with the knowledge that women could fear him simply on account of his masculinity. To make him understand that his mother, his wife, or even his own daughter is at risk.
These things make me angry, but more than that they make me sad.
It doesn’t have to be this way. And yet, it is.
It has to stop. It’s toxic. And as the shootings at UCSB so painfully and so publicly proved, it’s deadly.
Because #YesAllPeople have the responsibility to act, in order to change perspectives and halt a violent trend that is detrimental to all and beneficial to none.