Last week, this NY Times article appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. Although I got a bit hung up about the slightly misleading headline, the body of the article struck a chord with me — and ultimately is what encouraged me to write this.
Yes, it is very true that sexist portrayals of female athletes in the media have received exponentially more backlash in the past couple weeks than they have in the past because of the Olympics — but it is likely also the case that sexist portrayals of female athletes have always been a problem.
“If we really want to entirely address the sexism that seeps into Olympic coverage, we need to take a hard look at how we do with coverage of female athletes between the Games. That’s the much bigger issue. And I would argue that there’s plenty of sexism there.”
This concept — that media coverage only focuses on the larger events, but doesn’t discuss the smaller, everyday situations — can also be applied to sexism in general.
Yes, cases of sexual assault, like that of the Stanford rape victim, deserve to receive the attention they do. But more attention should also be afforded to the everyday cases — situations that are even more subtle than the three female runners who were sexually assaulted and murdered.
The fact that everyday, commonplaces cases of sexism are often unacknowledged or unaddressed is something about which I feel very passionately. I feel very strongly about the issues of sexism and feminism in general, but this speaks to me on a personal level.
Let me clarify before things get muddled: I have never been sexually assaulted on a level that has prompted me to seek external support. I’m also not trying to downplay the importance of one case of sexism over another. I simply want to draw attention to something I’ve noticed in my personal experiences that I’ve not heard brought up in these conversations.
Every time I’ve had to “reject” or “break up” with a man, I went into the conversation with at least four possible escape routes in mind.
Men, before you get personally offended — don’t. This is often not a question of personal trust. It’s a matter of self-defense and general safety, and simply how many people have come to regard the dynamic between men and women. (Even one of my male friends checks to make sure I’m safe and thinking about my safety with constant vigilance, regardless of how much I or he trusts the man with whom I’m interacting.)
No, I don’t show up to these conversations with my keys in hand, or my pepper spray looped around my left wrist to use both as a spray and a makeshift mace. But you can bet that both things are on my physical person, and not just casually in my purse as it would be on a normal day-to-day basis.
I’ve put extra thought into my clothes — everything from my choice of pants (never a skirt or dress), shoes, and hairstyle — to ensure that I can run or physically lash out and don’t give anyone extra leverage by providing them easy things to grab.
I’ll have contacted at least one friend to let them know exactly where I’m going and who I’m meeting at precisely what time before I head out. They will be waiting to hear from me — via text or phone call — by a particular time, and if I haven’t contacted them by then, they will call me until I pick up and confirm that I am fine.
Again, I don’t carry out these precautions because I don’t trust the man I’m dating/my boyfriend at the time. I did trust all of these men.
But the fear of physical injury — or worse — surpasses trust.
There are far too many cases where women have paid consequences for turning down a man. Women are taught, told, and raised to reject men gracefully more often than men are advised to accept rejection gracefully.
Simply put, the fear is real. (And the “nice guy” dialogue is no longer as nice as it once seemed.)
This may beg the questions: “But isn’t this a two way street? If men aren’t acting in ways that suggest they’ll behave violently or irrationally, or just in ways that prompt women to be on guard, shouldn’t you just relax around them?”
Statistics show that in 2015, 72% of rapes were committed by someone the victim knew. These numbers don’t foster trust.
For me, on an individual, case-by-case basis, my answer to those questions is “Maybe yes.”
Why do I say “yes?”
On a very basic, human level, everyone wants to be able to trust others, and I personally have a strong aversion to making people feel that I don’t trust them.
Relationships — not even romantic ones, but simply friendships — don’t get far without trust. And yes, if a person has given me thousands of reasons to trust them, and zero reasons to not trust them — then it’s simply not fair of me to judge them based on larger societal symptoms.
Why do I say “maybe?”
Because of the numbers, and because I know people often behave irrationally and unexpectedly when they’re angry or upset. This is not to say that people can’t feel upset or angry, but rather that they should use these emotions constructively — not instill fear in another person because of how they might behave.
The fear of being hurt during one of these conversations is very real. I have felt it on several different occasions with several different people, even though at that particular point in time, I trusted all of these men on one level or another.
I also say “maybe” because violence against women isn’t just on the physical plane.
In the wide discussion about consent — from the Stanford rape case to one British police team’s video of tea drinking (featured above) — there’s generally not much mentioned about emotional or mental consent.
Many of the “no”s I’ve said to men were never heard.
These no’s weren’t just in regards to physical elements of a relationship. Yes, some of those weren’t heard, and these experiences only fuel the anger behind what I will address next.
The other no’s that weren’t heard were in regards to my emotions and my mentality — not necessarily about the relationship I was in at the time, but often about my thoughts and feelings on a more general scale.
The body is a physical vehicle. My body is my physical vehicle, but it’s still physical and shares the same basic parts as the bodies of other people. On this level, you, me, and the next reader are not that different.
My mind, however, is me. It is ultimately what makes me and you different from every single other person reading this.
I’ve had my emotions questioned. I’ve had my opinions scrutinized, criticized, and corrected. I’ve been told that I was making the wrong decision, that I was thinking too much for myself and not about him. I’ve been told that I didn’t actually know what I was feeling. I’ve been told that my feelings were just wrong, and I’ve been told that I was deluding myself.
I accept that people will debate about opinions, and I agree that I’m not always right and that oftentimes, I’ll disagree.
I will not, however, deign to justify my emotions or opinions about myself.
What gives anyone, but myself, the right to stake any claim to my emotions? Why are my opinions being corrected, when they’re about me? Why should I not think for myself?
I welcome people telling me that I’m responding irrationally, that I’m being petty or overthinking things. I know not all emotions are logical, but that does not mean emotions should be corrected and adjusted to fit the shape of what someone else believes I should be feeling.
No one has to justify their emotions.
I know — I didn’t have to put up with these behaviors.
I’ve talked about these experiences with a friend, and they responded by saying if any of these things happened to them, they would’ve walked away and dropped this person from their life, regardless of the position they occupied.
At the time, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Because it’s not always clear that this is happening.
It was pretty evident when someone said, straight up, that I didn’t know what I was actually feeling.
Other times, this behavior took the shape of someone — a loved one, a person who I cared about deeply at the time — trying to work through a difficult problem or concern with me. Sometimes, it was a problem we shared; other times, it was a problem that distantly involved them; and occasionally, it was just my own personal problem. And in all of these situations, I didn’t think that this person would try to hurt me, to harm me, to lead me in a direction that I didn’t want for myself.
But it happened.
When I disagreed, they tried to convince me otherwise, saying that I hadn’t considered this perspective or this alternative. I listened because I cared and I valued their opinions, even if I knew I wouldn’t change my mind.
At the time, they seemingly accepted my explanations and perspectives. But at later dates, they only continued to bring up the disagreement with fresh intentions and attempts to sway my beliefs.
They hadn’t accepted my explanations and perspectives. They simply tried to convince me to agree with what they believed to be best, regardless of what I wanted for myself or my life.
Sometimes, these situations are very subtle. It’s hard to realize it’s happening until it’s happened and well-buried in the past.
We don’t think that people who love us will hurt us, but it happens.
I’m not accusing anyone of mistreating me.
If I am in contact with you and we are on mutually-agreed-upon good terms, trust that I am not begrudging you. If there was ever an issue between us, trust me when I say that it’s been forgiven. You will know with stark clarity if I’m holding a grudge against you.
Please do not take this personally. This is not about you.
This is about the situation.
I know: Women are just as likely to emotionally abuse men in relationships; individuals of all genders can emotionally abuse their partners in relationships. I know, I am aware of that, and I tried to be cognizant of this as I wrote this post.
I’m not trying to say that women aren’t at fault. Rather, in my experience, because men are still stereotypically understood as the assertive force in a relationship and the dominant gender in society, men don’t always realize that their perceived diligence, their desire to help and guide isn’t always as supportive as they think it is.
Support is very different from persuasion.