Being a woman: what it’s like to be on the walk of shame all the time

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.)

Anyway. 

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.

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7 thoughts on “Being a woman: what it’s like to be on the walk of shame all the time

  1. I appreciate what you are getting at here, but I disagree (if only people who agreed read posts, what would be the point?) with some of what you say.

    If you ever get paid less because you are a woman then do something about it — I really don’t know what I can do to help that. I honestly think a lot of this has to do with how confident and aggressive people are in the workplace. Everyone needs to be more confident, and especially women.

    Casual sex is bad. I think both men and women who participate are sluts, because men tend not to be called sluts doesn’t make it ok for women- maybe the change should be to call men sluts more often.

    Sexual assault is not to be taken lightly, regardless of gender. As far as I am concerned any sexual offender can burn. On the other hand burning jew jokes aren’t much less offensive than rape jokes if at all. A joke is a joke and as long as the internet lives no joke is off limits.

    There are many forms of disrespect and violence in the world, and none of them are gender specific.

    I will continue holding doors open for women, sorry if that makes me a pig.

    1. Thanks for your response.

      To respond to your first statement, “do something about it” – that’s a difficult thing to ask of a professional woman. Yes, women are statistically less likely to ask for raises. I don’t even know how to talk about changing the wage gap because it’s a cultural thing and it’s not like you can create some economic upheaval so men and women are paid the same amount of money. The difference in wages, at the very least, is just telling of the culture of fear and subordination that can be in a professional environment. You’re right everyone needs to be more confident. But the odds are stacked against women because they have to try very, very hard to be respected but they dually risk being singled out as being too aggressive, masculine or cold at the same time. A female professional experiences a toxic combination of physical, social and professional standards and criticism compared to a male counterpart, and just “doing something about it” is hard when you’re facing a Molotov cocktail of double standards, unreachable goal-setting and responses like “Why can’t you just try harder???”

      About casual sex, you’re entitled to your own opinion. Calling both men and women sluts is counterintuitive; I’m suggesting looking at sex more positively, not berating it entirely. And, at the end of the day (no pun intended), people are going to have sex, whether it’s casual or in a monogamous relationship. Labeling casual sex as some human abomination does nothing for the discussion. Sex happens; it’s time to stop looking at it through the jaded, fearful, judgmental lens of a Sunday school class.

      About your comment about jokes, I’m certainly not saying that “burning jew” jokes are appropriate either. I think there is a small circle of topics (which includes Holocaust jokes, by the way) that – if they’re not avoided as they should be – should be approached very carefully. I appreciate humor, but I also appreciate tact. You can both be humorous and tasteful – they’re not contradictory words.

      Also, I made a point to say that chivalry is still important in the world. I think women are too dismissive about it; I love when a man holds open a door for me. In fact, a man called me “ma’am” today and I thought it was wonderful and I told him so. That’s why I included that little sentence in my post. I don’t think you’re a pig. I think you’re quite the opposite – but don’t use chivalry as a weapon of spite.

      Finally, I want to say that your comment is kind of disappointing. I understand your reservations, but I do hope you realize that I’m not attacking men and I’m not a bra-burning feminist. I’m just writing about how frustrating it is to have odds stacked against myself just because I’m a woman and how even though I don’t know how to change it, the least I can do is stop being shameful of myself and stop being shameful of other women so that it’s all a little easier to deal with.

      And maybe someday I’ll be able to “do something about it.”

  2. Fair enough, and I did effectively say “do something about it”, but more to the point what can I do about it? That’s where I was going with that. Sorry if it came across as a solve your own problem sort of comment.

    1. No worries. I mean, that’s a gaping hole that I didn’t answer. I don’t know if I can answer it. Men are also between a rock and a hard place when it comes down to it because it’s not like they can do much anyway. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that this issue is so deeply ingrained in our culture that equalizing pay and passing a law seems shallow. I kind of just wanted to voice the opinion of a young female; I have no better answers than the professional women themselves.

      I think there are some overarching parts of the culture that men could change. There’s the “pack mentality” that develop among men that tends to single out and sometimes victimize women. I’m not saying have a token women in every social circle or business, but being aware of the pressures women face would be good.

      And one thing that frustrates me about the “rape culture” is that it’s really encouraged by this lax attitude towards rape and women. I understand how joking about rape and sex and boobs makes the sensitive topic more digestible, but it also kind of undermines how serious and devastating the psychological effects on women can be.

      I don’t think this issue is going away any time soon. But what can be done are little active things like looking at women in a new light. Try to empathize with that girl who sleeps around (it’s hard, dude, I get it, it’s hard for me) instead of criticizing. (Or at least try to look at casual sex as a choice instead of a mistake.) Don’t encourage the constant derogatory talk about women. Try to understand why rape jokes make women uncomfortable; they can honestly be really threatening and petrifying. (By the way, these are things I tell myself to do. I think they can work for anyone of both genders.)

      I’m not sure if any of this helps. It’s honestly really hard to answer; I mean, with such a deep problem, is there a solution? What I think would be most practical would be just trying to get individuals themselves to readjust their perspective on sex, respect and shame. Men and women are pinned up against each other too much, and we shouldn’t be. The deeper effects about women’s issues – shame, judgment, fear – aren’t just women-specific emotions. They’re human emotions. So making active decisions – not telling a rape joke or talking to a woman when she’s upset or at least understanding why she’s upset – can really help subvert these often uncontrollable effects, and make the environment a little bit more bearable.

      1. You have good points, and I can’t say I want to contradict them directly. I am glad you took the time to answer my comments with solid answers. I hope anyone else who reads this takes a look at them because they change my perspective on what I thought you were trying to say in the main article.

        Many of these issues are a result of more ingrained social problems. These problems are so large we tend to dismiss them and any problems that look like them. I don’t know the answer either, but I honestly feel that for further improvement society as a whole will need to make some serious changes that lie beyond out lawmaker’s ability to produce.

        Good thoughts Abigail. While I tend to disagree and be “disappointing” in my comments, I appreciate that you went out and wrote about this. I also think there are many many people who would benefit from reading articles just like this – it certainly is good for me to think about what everyone else is thinking once in a while.

      2. Thanks for being so open. I didn’t want to come off as dismissive or defensive. While your comment came off as disappointing, I must say I get where you’re coming from now.

        I really appreciate that you took the time to read it and to respond. Communication always helps!

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