I will never forget it. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of college and my family was on vacation in California. We had spent three days in San Francisco and were in San Diego for the last four days enjoying the beach. On our first night, we stumbled upon a street fair right outside our hotel and were perusing aisles of vendors, food stands, and shops. My sister and I were a couple feet in front of my parents and brother talking, people watching, and pointing out things we wanted to try.
Minding our own business a boy came up to us and started talking to me. I couldn’t tell you what he said now but I can tell you exactly what he did next. He leaned in about two inches from my face, grabbed the back of my head and tried to plant his lips on mine. My dad, who was still behind us, came from nowhere grabbing the boy and furiously yelling and threatening to hurt him only to be stopped by a bystander who didn’t want the scene to get out of hand.
That was the angriest I’ve ever seen my dad—and trust me, he’s raised two teenage girls, and I’ve seen him pretty angry.
His head was a glowing red, his face was smeared with a scowl I will never soon forget, and he didn’t say one word as we continued walking.
My sister looked stunned. My brother looked stunned. My mom gave my dad space. And I didn’t know what to feel. Was it my fault? Was my dad mad at me for what had just happened? Was I asking for it? What would have happened if my dad wasn’t there? Do I need protected? Would I have stood up for myself? Would this boy have taken it further?
It happened in a millisecond. Before I even had time to register what was going on this boy had interjected his presence into my time and seemingly ruined not only my own experience but my family’s. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right but, unfortunately, it happens all too often and to far worse extremes than that.
As other women’s stories have come out proclaiming #MeToo I have been left feeling pretty enraged, heartbroken, and confused that society still seems so stuck. And this moment in my life was a prominent one but it hasn’t been the only one.
I’ve been touched and groped while studying abroad in Italy, I’ve been harassed and spoken to purely because of the way my body looks, and felt belittled and encroached upon by men who have felt entitled to my experience in my own body.
News flash, this body is mine. Your body is yours. It is here for no one else’s experience but your own and we need to fight for that. And it is not a problem that is an issue in just one industry; it is a problem in all industries—especially those industries that are mostly saturated with men.
I’ve worked in the sport industry and I’ve worked in the fitness industry—mostly ran by men and you hear about, and see, harassment all the time because men think it’s okay to treat women differently based off the way they look and the simple fact that they are women.
I will speak out against sexual assault, harassment, and violence until I am blue in the face. Sexual activity without consent is wrong. No if’s, and’s or but’s and I deeply respect the survivors who have endured much worse crimes than me and I hope they can find the strength to uplift other women.
I think there is something we are not talking about though. And it stems from being able to uplift each other, no matter the circumstances, and holding every person (man, woman, non-conforming, non-binary) to a higher standard. Men should be held accountable for these acts but women should be held accountable for their own acts as well because every action has a consequence.
No, I am 110% not saying that these sexual crimes are a woman’s fault—because they aren’t nor will they ever be. They are heinous crimes and should be treated as such. But if we want things to change we can’t be mad at the system when it turns to harassment but be okay with it when we use it to our advantage.
What I mean by that is, as a woman, have you ever used your looks (or body) to get a free drink at a bar, extra tips as a waitress, to get a little ahead in work, or even simply just to get what you want from a man? I certainly have. It’s called economics—it’s called using what you have to get what you want.
But is it right?
Is it right to speak out against a patriarchal system that allows for it to be okay for men to insert themselves into a woman’s time, attention, and experience in her body when some women use that very same system to get what they want?
We must hold each other accountable not because it’s illegal, immoral, or violating others but because it lowers the status of a female. We should be empowering and encouraging women everywhere to raise the bar because that’s the only way society will change. By raising our bar, we raise the expectations of men and actually force a change. We are multi-faceted, multi-dimensional humans that are far more important than the physical space we take up and to use our bodies to get ahead in this life, at the expense of a man, because that’s what society has deemed as “acceptable” is wrong.
Be important not because of your body but because of the person you are. Be successful not because of your body but because of the hard work you put into something. Be relevant not because of your body but because of the way you are changing the world. Your body is yours. It’s not anyone else’s. Respect it, protect it, and do what you want with it but don’t ever let someone else dictate your time, attention, and feeling of safety in it.
A million thanks to Derek, for hashing out these thoughts with me and always helping me to think about things just a little differently.
A million thanks to Tarana Burke who started the #MeToo movement, it is a movement we need, now more than ever, and a movement I hope will inspire change.
And lastly, a million thanks to the millions of women who are sharing their stories—we need you and we need you loud and proud.