Last week I posted on the Advanced Reporting blog about the frustration of being a woman in, yes, 2013.
Oh god, not another complaining girl, you may think. Well, cowboy, hold on there for a second.
I wanted to take more time to write about that semi-off-the-cuff post. I wrote it very quickly and in kind of an emotional rush. I meant every word I said, but I feel the need to elaborate on it because I can’t seem to not talk about it.
I guess I should go back to when I first realized my perspective on women was crooked. It was a couple years ago when I saw the film Miss Representation that I first cared about women’s rights. Before that, I was one of those women who think that we should just deal with it and stop complaining. So, any of you who are sensitive to women’s activism, I get it. I used to think that way.
But after this film, and after talking to my sister on a New York subway about womanhood and women’s unfairly low notch on the societal totem pole, I made a huge and intentional 180 in my perspective. I almost couldn’t believe that I used to think women’s rights weren’t important.
Some people may say that it’s overreaction. You make more money now. Yes, we make more money than in the 1960’s and 1970’s when we made a little over half of what men made. I think now women made about 80 percent of what men do. But just think about that. It’s still 80 percent. Not 100 percent. It’s the concept of making less than a man that’s hard to get over. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but…no. (I’m trying to find a way to localize this to write about it, because I’ve been wanting to write about women for a while but I haven’t figured out the avenue in which to do it.)
The main reason I’m jumping back to this post is because of a very, very important event that’s happening in Ohio. I’m talking about the Steubenville rape case that was decided this weekend with a guilty verdict for both accused rapists.
What’s interesting about this case is that it’s probably the most chock-full example of women’s rights and youth and the culture of men v. women: it brings together social networking, chauvinism, football culture, “inappropriate behavior” from women like “flirting with a guy at a party” (seriously from one testimony) (because women are totally trying to get raped when they flirt), victim blaming, women blaming women, sexual consent, drugging, the bystander effect, pornography, drinking, shaming, social isolation, oh, and most importantly…rape.
(But seriously read this NYTimes article about the case because it’s one of the best I’ve read in a long time.)
I’m not sure if it’s overexposure or if I’ve just become hyper-aware, but the rape culture has become increasingly prevalent recently. (Don’t bring any pitchforks to my house, I don’t know the stats behind it, but that’s what it feels like.) But that’s not the issue. Rape is not a new thing. Hating on women and victim blaming is not a new thing. Female degradation is not a new thing.
Don’t think that these issues with women aren’t in your own backyard. The devaluing of the woman is in our own lives, in our houses, on our TV screens. It’s hard to say that our culture has developed beyond the tendency to destroy women’s role in society when Seth McFarlane is cracking jokes about nudity at the Oscars and when someone at Esquire actually tells journalism students that they don’t hire women (although I wouldn’t really want to write there anyway but still) and when Daniel Tosh jokes about how an audience member should be raped and people still laugh about these things. Laugh.
People have talked about rape and humor. I’ve read a lot of different articles from journalists and comedians combined that delve into the science of humor and stand-up and when rape is funny and when it’s not. But hey, guys, here’s an idea: how about you don’t joke about it? Is there really not enough in this world to joke about? Seriously. Donald Glover joked about being a kid in Home Depot (I think Home Depot?) and I was crying from laughing so hard. Mike Birbiglia joking about his childhood also induced tears.
Rape? Not so much. I get it. It’s such a ridiculous concept to rational people that it seems okay to joke about it. But that’s the problem. We say that we can joke about rape because it’s so unheard of and so outrageous but that’s the problem. It’s not unheard of. It’s not outrageous. (Note: women rapists do exist but I honestly don’t know enough about the issue so I’m not going to talk about it here.)
And rape has been a “thing” for a long time. It’s in Greek mythology, for goodness’ sake. I mean, have you ever read the story about the “abduction” of Europa? Totally ridiculous story, by the way. Girl is gathering flowers. Girl then gets “stolen” by Zeus in the form of a bull. You can figure out the rest.
But rape is perceived as some kind of elusive folklore that everyone knows about but nobody thinks actually happens. But it does happen, and in many forms.
Whether it’s in the form of pressured sex between partners or oral sex between a football player and a drunk girl, rape is serious and disgusting and it’s the ultimate manifestation of how women are still disrespected, used, taken for granted, devalued, blamed, hated and perceived only as surface-level physical beings.
But even beyond rape lies the dangerous animal of women being secondary and suffering from a panoply of double standards. Female politicians are not, at first glance, criticized for their foreign policy theories; they are judged on how they dress and how their hair looks today and why does Hillary Clinton look so old? The “innocent” image of womanhood runs parallel to slut-shaming and the heralding of stale Puritan values via Taylor Swift songs and fairy tales and romantic comedies. Our conservative male (and female) politicians are literally trying to take away and shame away women’s control of their bodies and their reproductivity.
Oh, and violence against women? Important? Not to Sen. Roy Blunt and 21 other senators.
I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of politicized opinions on women because that’s too exhausting. What frustrates me is that every single woman deals with discrimination or shame or disappointment in themselves on a daily basis. I know this because I experience these things on a daily basis and I can’t be the only one.
I frequently wear pants instead of a skirt because I don’t want to deal with the glances and the subtle comments. I feel bad when I wake up from a night of drinking because I feel like I’ve made mistakes and I feel shameful and dirty. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but I feel it anyway. I don’t wear much makeup mainly because I don’t like wearing a lot of makeup but I also know what a lot of makeup implies. I have always been self-conscious about my body because it is athletic and not tiny and waifish. For a long time I did not want to be too passionate about anything because I thought it came off too strong (fortunately I don’t do that anymore). I judge myself when a guy doesn’t text me. Sometimes I make fun of other women – not maliciously, but I have to admit that I do it, and I feel awful about it. I try not to sashay my hips too much even though it’s my natural gait.
These are natural things that women consider. It’s a slow process, but I’m making myself more aware of what I do and I’m trying to improve. I even got my hair cut very short recently and it looks wonderful and it gave me the most liberating feeling. Maybe it’s shallow, but just doing something like that helped me.
There are many issues with women’s rights today, and it comes from all angles: it comes from women, from men. It’s a hard issue to tackle, but I’m going to try.
Let’s straighten some things out.
1. A girl who freely chooses to have sex is not a slut. A girl who freely chooses to not have sex is not a prude. Either way, it’s her choice, not her identifier.
2. A drunk girl is not asking, in any way, shape or form, to be raped.
3. A girl wearing a “slutty” outfit is not asking to be raped (I had trouble with this one for a while but I now wholeheartedly believe it).
4. A flirty girl is not asking to be raped. A girl is, in general, never asking to be raped.
5. Rape jokes are not okay. Ever.
6. A woman wearing a lot of makeup is not asking for attention or anything derogatory.
7. A woman walking down a street doesn’t want to be cat-called.
8. A hungover woman is not a slut. (Cue in everything wrong about the concept of the “walk of shame”)
9. Sleeping with someone shouldn’t say such ill things about a woman’s character. It conveniently doesn’t ever reflect a man’s character, so it should be the same for a woman.
10. Sex in general shouldn’t be so derogatory.
11. A woman who is ambitious and assertive should not be considered “like a man.” (That one will probably never change though.)
12. A woman who chooses to not have sex before marriage or until she’s in a relationship or whatever is great, but that doesn’t mean her convictions are stronger than a woman who does have “casual” sex.
13. BUT, a woman should never feel obligated to have sex in any form if she does not want to. If unwanted sex happens, it is not her fault and she should have no blame washed over her.
14. Women need to accept chivalry and kind actions from men. Saying “thank you” goes very far. I know we’re angry about mistreatment, but that doesn’t mean we have to close up when a man tries to do something nice.
15. When women’s rights come up, we should not be afraid to talk about it. Talk about it, rant about it, waste time talking about it, thinking about it, etc. It’s an issue and we don’t talk about it enough because the culture for some reason tells us it’s not worth talking about.
These are things I need to tell myself frequently to maintain my sanity. Putting these in this post helps solidify it for me.
The most productive thing I can say right now, I think, is that, deep down, shame is at the core of many social issues for women. Shame is a painful, scarring feeling, and it’s different from guilt, as described in this absolutely beautiful TED talk from Brene Brown that Allie posted the other day.
“Guilt is saying ‘I made a mistake,'” she says. “Shame is saying, ‘I am a mistake.'”
Women are told that what they do are mistakes. Wearing a short skirt is a mistake. Getting pregnant is a mistake. Getting drunk is a mistake. Taking birth control is a mistake. Being aggressive in the workplace is a mistake. Talking about women’s rights is a mistake.
But, more importantly, we are told that we are mistakes.
But we are not mistakes.
We must stop telling ourselves that we are mistakes and we as a collective whole must stop telling other women that they are mistakes. We need to not judge each other’s clothes and each other’s actions and we need to stop judging each other in general and we need to resist being judged.
Wanting to change this whole culture is not just a woman’s issue, and that’s why being in support of women’s rights is not equal to an anti-man sentiment; I’m the last person to say men are the enemy and I think that argument is tired, dangerous and counterproductive. I think men are vital to the equation, and women get too defensive towards men. That’s the wrong idea. If anything is going to change, perspective-shifting will need to happen in both genders.
We are not mistakes.
It’s just a matter of believing it.