My goal for this post is simple- If you take anything away from it, I hope it’s the fact that harassment against women is far more prevalent in every aspect of life than you probably think. I say this to you regardless of your gender. And, the “harmless” things you say and do on a day to day basis are not at all harmless, especially in the larger picture.
Every single day, a woman that you know is the victim of some kind of sexual harassment. At work, on the bus ride to or from work, at lunch, on her smoke break, at a bar or restaurant after work. It could be as simple and as seemingly harmless as a co-worker calling her “hon” in passing. It could be a customer who would rather talk to her décolletage than look her in the eye. Maybe it’s the stranger on the bus or train who deliberately brushes up against her, or uses crowded conditions to hide an inappropriate touch. Or maybe it’s that guy at the training seminar who, after a couple drinks at the bar that evening, asks her to smile so he can see where he’s gonna put his dick later.
I know lots of men and women who might say to a female that she’s overreacting or being too sensitive if she were to complain about the word “hon” or the guy staring at her breasts. But the truth is, she’s not. Even though, on their own, these types of incidents seem mostly harmless, added up into daily habits or things that people do without thinking, they become part of our culture, part of what makes the larger transgressions ok. Because once a woman gets blamed for overreacting or being too emotional about one thing, all her concerns start getting dismissed. And once one woman’s claims of harassment start getting dismissed, all women’s reports of this type of incident get called into question. There’s a phrase to describe this type of attitude towards women. It’s called “rape culture”, a culture where guys excuse their or another guy’s behavior as “not that bad”, or “joking”, or “just something that guys do”. Where boyfriends or husbands tell their girlfriends or wives that Bob’s a little crude, but he’s really a great guy once you get to know him. It’s a culture in which women must have been “asking for it” because of the way they dressed, or because they were in a certain place.
The problem is that almost every woman I’ve talked to for more than a few moments eventually will open up about an appalling situation they were in. Many of us have experienced multiple incidents over our lifetimes. Some face harassment on a very regular basis, because they’re a waitress maybe, or because they work in a male-dominated industry where guys think it’s normal to say off-color things about females and women are expected to put up with it or shut up.
This has lately been on my mind quite a bit because of some personal stuff I’m having to deal with from my past. In addition, the LAist blog ran a couple of stories about harassment on public transportation here in Los Angeles, and the number of women (I am one of them) who came forward to talk about what happened to them is appalling. Many of my guy friends are amazed at the prevalence in today’s culture. Isn’t our modern, enlightened society above and beyond this disgusting behavior? Shouldn’t women feel safe not only at home but also in the workplace, or at a restaurant? What about walking to their car? Riding a train in the middle of the day, not to mention at night? The answer is yes, but every time we excuse a “harmless” comment or tell a woman she’s overreacting to a situation, we’re empowering the part of our society that perpetuates this behavior.
Let’s talk about this. Ladies, if you have a story of harassment you would like to talk about, please do so in the comments. Guys, if you’ve experienced harassment I’d like to hear about it too! How have you all felt the impact of so-called “rape culture”, and what do you think can and should be done to stop it?