Picture a little girl, six years old — all blonde hair and big blue eyes and dirt smudges on her face from playing outside with the boys. She is wearing black, stretchy pants that her mother hopes she won’t outgrow before school starts, a black turtleneck, and Mary Jane shoes with black socks. She wears her mother’s costume belt made of large, faux-gold chain links wrapped twice around her waist like Julie Newmar because the game of the day is superheroes and she, of course, wants to be Catwoman. Her cheeks are rosy from running with Spiderman, Batman, and Superman up and down Batman’s yard for the last three hours. She is the only girl at the birthday party, and the adults don’t supervise the party very well because she is a tomboy, and can handle herself. She’s a tough little girl who won’t take shit from boys in capes.
When the ice cream cake is gone and the capes are hung up, the little girl sits on the floor in front of the couch with the other boys. The boys tell her, “You really should have worn a dress.”
“Catwoman doesn’t wear a dress, stupid.”
“It’s just harder when you wear pants.”
Before I could say, “What’s harder?” Batman, Spiderman, and Superman had me pinned against the floor and three pairs of hands were forcing themselves up my shirt and down the elastic waistband of my stretchy pants. All they did was touch me, because at six years old none of us knew what sex was. But, even at six years old, those boys knew that this is how you treat a girl. You outnumber her, then you overpower her, then you rob her of her ability to say no. When she cries and asks for her mother, you laugh.
My introduction to sexual violence and rape culture came before I knew what rape was. To this day, my parents do not know about the events at this birthday party because I was too ashamed to tell them. I knew — just knew — that I would get in trouble for letting them touch me. I felt dirty, and weak, and afraid.
I’m in my thirties now, and I refused to publish this article with my real name attached because I am still afraid. Not of Batman, Spiderman, and Superman (though they continued to corner me and touch me without consent until middle school), but of the nameless horde of entitled males who demand ownership of my person. I’m still afraid of the man who drugged me on a date and did things to me that I don’t remember. I’m afraid of my male coworkers when they tell a rape joke, or lovingly tell me that I belong in the kitchen. I do not travel without mace in my hand, my thumb nervously caressing the safety catch on the canister. I sleep with a 1911 in my bedside table, with two magazines equipped with .45mm bullets. I glance under my car and in my backseat before I get into my vehicle, and while I live less than a block from a grocery store and a nice lake where I could play with my dog, I’m afraid to walk alone.
My husband has been told (by people that he no longer associates with, because my husband is no dickbag) that I should be beaten or killed for not knowing who an actor was, and having never seen certain movies. He was told this by multiple men, whom he thought could be trusted. Every man is a potential threat until he proves that he is not. Every man is Schrodinger’s Rapist. Last week, I received unsolicited phone calls from strange men who only called to talk to me about breasts that he liked (Dolly Parton’s, specifically), and another man who called to tell me to smile because I sound “like a bitch.”
I was born and raised into a world of sexual violence; a thick fog of misogyny designed to keep women in their place, and keep them separated and weak. Since the murders at Isla Vista, and the nearly 300 Nigerian school girls who were kidnapped to be sold into sexual slavery, and the Connecticut girl who was stabbed to death for turning down a boy’s invitation to prom, something very special has happened, propelled by the Internet and the pervasiveness of social media. Women are standing up, together, and demanding change. Demanding respect. Demanding that the violence fucking stop, already.
I hate that over the last several days I’ve bonded with women over the #YesAllWomen hashtag, which began trending on Twitter after the murders at Isla Vista last weekend. Born as a response to men’s rights activists who are wont to cry “not all men” when confronted with evidence of misogyny and violence against women, the #YesAllWomen hashtag was intended to provide women a platform from which to speak out about their personal experiences with violence — sexual or otherwise. Experiences like:
“7th grade I went to the Principal with a real problem and he said “how dare you come talk to me while breaking the dress code” #YesAllWomen”
“#YesAllWomen because my cousin is no longer here to speak about what happened at the hands of her husband so someone should.”
“There are two kinds of women, those who fear being raped, and those who fear being raped, again. #YesAllWomen”
“#YesAllWomen because I’ve been told to “stop talking about rape” because “its getting annoying.” I’ll stop when my campus is safe.”
“Because when I told my story about my rape on the news, my mother didn’t call me brave – she called me a liar. #YesAllWomen”
I won’t tell you which of those tweets was mine.
In the last few days, the woman who started the #YesAllWomen hashtag has deactivated her Twitter account because she has received an alarming number of rape and death threats.
This culture of entitlement, victim blaming, and patriarchal values needs to be systematically dismantled, and it needs to start in our own homes. We need to teach our children that consent is not the absence of no — it is the presence of an enthusiastic yes. We need to teach our children that their “no” will be respected and that their bodies belong to them — 100 percent. We need to care for victims of violence by holding only the perpetrators responsible for their actions. We need to make it easier for male victims of rape to seek help after their attacks, and dispel the myth that false accusations of rape are common when, in fact, a man is more likely to become a victim of actual rape in his lifetime than to be accused of being a rapist.
#YesAllWomen was born because no, “not all men” have committed violence against women. But yes, all women — ALL women — have experienced some form of violence, discrimination, or harassment from men.
And it has to fucking stop.