By Sophie Alexander
I was nine years old when a boy first called me sexy. I ran home crying and locked the door behind me in fear that he had followed me. At nine years old it was already ingrained in me to be apprehensive of “boys being boys.”
I was twelve years old on my way to the movie theatre alone when a man leaned out of his car window and whistled at me. I had never felt less comfortable or in control of my still prepubescent body. My eyes welled up with tears and I wanted badly to turn around and go home. Despite my fear I convinced myself that my experience was a normal one that I would have to get used to. I was overreacting. Women get whistled at all the time.
I was sixteen when I got a job at a local pizza parlor. I worked behind the counter, which was open to the kitchen. I started noticing that when the men in the kitchen asked me to grab something on the lower shelf, they were all staring at my ass. One day while I was in the walk in refrigerator filling the Parmesan cheese shakers, a cook followed me in and put his hand around my waist. He lowered it incrementally as if it were a game he was playing. How close will the teenage girl let me get to touching her butt? I stormed out on the verge of tears before he made it below the belt. I quit after three months of harassment and never told anyone why.
I was seventeen when I walked in on my friend with a boy at a party. She was pinned down, shirtless and crying as she tried to push him off. As soon as I opened the door the boy on top of her let up to see who came in. My friend grabbed her shirt and ran out of the room as the boy screamed at me for coming in. My friend and I went home and never talked about it again.
I was eighteen when my friend told me she was raped. We were in college by then, so she filed a Title IX case against her attacker. She lost the case and decided to drop out of school when her attacker returned to campus.
I just had my twenty-first birthday and luckily I have never been sexually assaulted. I am one of the lucky ones who have made it unscathed while more than half a dozen of my friends have been raped. But that doesn’t mean my life has been free of harassment from men. The examples mentioned above, though they are relatively minor or secondhand, are only a handful of the experiences I have had. This is however the first time I have written (or talked about) most of them.
Throughout my life I, along with most women, have been conditioned to ignore harassment because that’s just the way it is—boys will be boys. If a woman feels like she has been mistreated, she is encouraged to ask herself what she may have done wrong: What were you wearing? How much did you drink that night? Did you lead him on? If all else fails, we are told to forget about it. Maybe it was just a compliment and we should feel flattered. We are trained to accept our treatment as if there is nothing we can do about it. The #MeToo movement has made me realize that is not true.
#MeToo was created ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke and was only recently popularized when actress Alyssa Milano used it in a tweet about her experience with sexual assault. Though the movement is problematic in many ways because it pressures women to recall traumatic incidents and hasn’t been as accessible to femmes of different identities, I have found it empowering. As more and more women come out with their stories of sexual harassment and assault, I feel like it is my turn to share my experiences. I hope speaking out about my own experiences will validate the experiences of other women and force men to recognize the treatment women endure.
Harassment and assault are not acts that are only carried out by men in power like the Donald Trumps, Harvey Weinsteins, Al Frankens, and Charlie Roses of the world. Women are harassed or assaulted by all different types of men. And not all cases are obviously egregious crimes like the one committed by Brock Turner. Women are harassed and assaulted every day and some cases of harassment are so normalized that people don’t recognize the harm done.
Kenyon is not free of the mistreatment of women. Despite the fact that Kenyon feels like a liberal bubble isolated from the real world and therefore exempt from its dangers, this is not the case. There were 30 cases of rape reported on campus from 2014 to 2016, according to the College’s Clery Act Crime Statistics. That statistic obviously does not include unreported rapes. Only 20% of college age women report sexual assault, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Most of my friends who have experienced sexual assault never reported it.
Though I want to encourage women to speak out about their experiences, I understand some experiences are more traumatic than others. It is perfectly understandable that someone would not want to go through a legal process that forces her to recall her trauma and face her attacker—especially when it is so hard to prove the absence of consent. But speak out if you can. As Oprah said in her powerful Golden Globes speech, “Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” We need to start an open dialogue about how women are treated in this country and it starts on this campus. If we don’t continue to call out wrongdoings, we will never make progress.
But this change cannot be left only to women—men need to have these conversations too. Men, you must start talking to each other about the way some of you talk about and treat women. Let’s start with the obvious: Women don’t find catcalls flattering; we find it threatening. And remember, sex without consent is not sex—it’s rape. But you must also recognize that the language normalized by the culture of “boys will be boys” is destructive. Talking about women you have sex with as if they are conquests, and calling women bitches and sluts is objectifying and it contributes to a culture of violence against women.
I can guarantee you most women you know have experienced similar forms of harassment or assault as the ones I described before. But your personal relationship with some of these women—whether they are your girlfriend, sister, or mother—is not what should make you upset about the harassment they endure. Women are people too (obviously) and we shouldn’t have to put victims in terms of your close female relationships to make you feel like something should change. Men are in a position of immense privilege and power. Nothing will change if you don’t use that power to start holding other men accountable.
So, women, speak out if you can, but don’t feel like you have to if it is too difficult. And men, you should have realized by now that there is a problem with the way women are treated. So do something about it. If most men aren’t the bad guys, then why aren’t more speaking out about this issue? If you feel like you’re one of the good guys then call out the bad guys. Think harder about the way you and your friends talk about and treat women and don’t put up with wrongdoings. If you haven’t realized the problem by now, you’re ignoring it– maybe because it makes you feel uncomfortable. Just imagine how it makes us feel.