Against the Culture

img_4831

(Trigger Warning)

There’s a cyclone building — a furry of sentiments fighting to be heard in an already volatile storm of fear. My challenge to you is to step outside of those whipping winds that are drowning the world and hone your ears towards the whispers and whimpers of a voice that has long been muted. There is a culture that has been ignored with downward cast eyes accompanied by an awkward shrug of the shoulders. Sometimes it has even been seen with a spotlight cast over it but quickly swept under the rug. Well, friends, that rug is starting to bulge and the nails are beginning to stick through. Those eyes need to look up with hands ready for education and action. It is time that the shadows where sexual harassment, aggression, assault, and rape cower are extinguished with light. No longer can it be made a pawn for political positioning. Not one more victim should be made a martyr for the cause of human decency. The voices of these children, women and men must echo over us until we, as a collected global entity, finally come to understand what we are doing to ourselves when we continue to silence it.

A woman posted on a business Facebook group asking the company if they sold maternity bras. A man unrelated to the company saw her post and responded to her asking if she had a picture of what was to go inside the product and added “lol jk.” The woman kept her composure, despite being made terribly uncomfortable by his comment, and replied respectfully saying she noticed his profile stated he was in a relationship, how inappropriate it is for him to be making such a comment and to please leave the post.

Sadly, this sort of exchange is no surprise to any woman who interacts on social media. It is no surprise to the women who interact with the world outside of social media either. What is surprising is why this woman put this exchange on another large social media group asking if her response was acceptable. Her mother saw the interaction and told her daughter that her response was inappropriate – that she had let it get under her skin and should not have said anything at all. The woman was now seeking advice from the other ladies of the group to see if she truly was out of line.

Reading both parts of this post, I had simultaneous reactions of heartbreak and rage. Like countless others, I have also been in situations where men responded inappropriately and unsolicited – and I have been told that I was overreacting with my response.

The first time this happened – I was nine years old. A little boy in my class had a crush on me, and our mothers thought it was adorable enough to get us together to kindle a friendship. I remember it being bitterly cold outside. There was snow on the ground – just enough to blanket the soil of the harvested corn fields outside our farm house. That’s where we were playing. We were pushing each other around in a blue plastic sled when he simply stated he wanted to go inside. As any good friend would, I obliged. Warming up, we sat on the floor in front of the TV in the living room when he said he would be right back, got up and walked away. Some time passed. I still sat on the floor, knees under my chin and arms wrapped around my shins, when he came running into the room knocking me over and pinning me to the ground with his body. Holding down my arms, he started kissing all over my face and neck, trying to move down my body, as I wrestled to break free from him. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I knew something inside me was violently fighting against it. Something was screaming – telling me my person was not my own, my body was being taken advantage of – I was being taken advantage of – but I didn’t know why or for what purpose.

After a few short seconds, I was able to kick him off. I ran upstairs to my bedroom and sat at my desk wondering what had happened and what, if anything, was to be done. At that time, I only had beads hanging in my doorframe – and no means of locking him out. Moments later, he came charging again into my room. Several strands of those beads were ripped, the strings broken off of the doorframe. He landed on my bed, and before he could say anything, I stood up and finally yelled at him to get out – we were no longer friends! He showed remorse and said he was sorry but stayed in my room until his parents came to pick him up.

I remember standing on the stairs next to my mom watching him leave. Once the front door was closed, I turned to my mother and told her what had happened. “He pushed me to the ground and kissed me,” I told her. I didn’t have the words to describe any other details about what had happened. I didn’t know to say, “Mom, I was harassed. Mom, I was forced into a sexual situation that I didn’t want and didn’t understand.” Instead, I had to let her know in the simplest form. Her response was much like what the woman who had shown the Facebook posting to her mother received – and much like what many of us women are told when we share moments of sexual harassment. “Oh, he just likes you,” she said. “It’s no big deal.” You’re overreacting. You’re making too much out of this. Brush it under the rug and be sure to wear shoes while in the house.

My mother and I turned and walked back up the steps.

I didn’t know the consequences that would follow me through the years from this experience. Only recently have I come to discover that this moment was a catalyst in a life of trying to reconcile wanting, and at the same time not wanting, attention from boys. I even dumped a boyfriend when I was 14 for kissing me on my cheek without asking. My consciousness still had not been able to clarify whether this was right or wrong. But again, I was berated for my response to the kiss – I was overreacting. Such attentions are suppose to be flattering.

At one point in my life – shortly after college – I believed I had reconciled what had happened. They were just kisses. It wasn’t really a big deal. We were both so young and surely he didn’t know what he was doing at the time. As social media is designed to allow us, I reconnected with him with a simple friend request. He is married with a wonderful family. He looked happy through the limited window that social media gives us. All things were great. But something was still not settled. Each time I saw one of his status updates come across my news feed that antsy twitch would start again in my consciousness. My heart rate would pick up, and I would become anxious. No, I couldn’t do this to myself. I unfriended him and decided it was time to truly examine my experience. It was no longer something to be brushed away. It was time to allow its true definition to be written. I had been sexually assaulted. I no longer needed anyone else’s approval of this definition. I had it for myself. Now, I could move forward.

Years later, while in a successful, satisfying and joyfully overflowing marriage full of love – I am able to look back on these situations, place identity on them and sort through them. It leaves me with an enraged voice for the women (and men) who are continually harassed and told to be silent by the generations before – and even our own. Without a shift of focus on what sexual harassment truly is – and the broad scale it encompasses – we will never start to educate and begin the change that needs to take place to stop it. We will continue to make excuses for those executing it, and we will continue to silence the voice of those who are victims. Let’s not allow another generation of children to be raised to think that the calling for a woman to smile to make her more attractive for a man is just a consequence of her gender. A woman contributing to the commerce of a business should not be the subject of a trolling man seeking his own sexual satisfaction. A little girl kissed against her will should not be told it is playground antics. It leads to men who believe women are made for their pleasure – who are meant to be objectified and ranked according to their desires – and it leads to women who believe a whistle on the street is flattering when the tiny voice of panic is doused with “but it’s okay.” Stop justifying!

By allowing such things, we give rise to children with sunken shoulders. We give rise to women under the outstretched palm of an an overbearing man. Instead, let’s empower! Let’s educate our children. Let us listen to what they are trying to tell us. Let’s give voice to our own grown society and stand in unity to fight against the oppressors who cultivate the rape culture of our society. Give back the faith that there is community and comfort on the other side of such pain – and offer light for a future where this culture is no more and their voices no longer muted. #womenunited #empoweredvoices #neveralone