Every time I read a blog post or letter or article about or by a victim of sexual assault or rape, my throat gets tight. My eyes start to tear up. I sniffle a little, and then I get angry.
The anger seeps into my memories, haunting me with snippets from my past, things my friends have told me, publicized sexual assault cases, media portrayals of females.
I get angry that someone was forced to feel so belittled and violated because another person chose to make her feel powerless. Chose to violate her. Chose to do whatever they wanted, regardless of what she wanted.
I get angry because I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. Lucky that I was not raped when I awoke around 5 a.m. one morning because a male I barely knew was laying next to me on a futon after a party. I had fallen asleep on that futon with my friend—a female I knew—at a friend’s house. This guy had somehow slipped between us later that night.
His hands kept touching me, and silently I removed them. But they continued to reappear. He was persistent, so I asked him to stop. He didn’t acquiesce to my request, so I peeled his grubby tentacles off of my body and groggily stumbled out of the house.
I was 19 years old. I’m lucky because I didn’t freeze up in that situation, as some women do. I’m lucky because I was only harassed and assaulted, not raped.
Lucky is a weird way to feel about something like that, but I am lucky.
However, this isn’t about me, and rape is just the tipping point—the most heinous act; seemingly the only thing that gets this nation of people fired up when there are so many other things, so many “lesser” things, that happen daily to half of us.
This is about all of us. It’s about the perpetual perpetration of ignoring reality. It’s about pretending things don’t happen when they do.
It’s about watching the things I’ve let slide every day since I was old enough to notice enacted against a woman who has chosen not to let the bias against her prevent her from achieving what she wants—regardless of the man she chose to marry, the man who is running against her, or the detractors who indemnify her for the way she dresses, smiles, or makes a statement.
It’s about listening to a man whom 30 percent or more of the citizens in this country make excuses for. Because of the way he talks about people of color, people of lower means, people from other countries, people of the opposite sex—people who disagree with him. Because of the repeated demeaning statements he has made about females. Because we have lauded him for his behavior, calling him a man who speaks his mind, rather than shunned him as someone who can’t deal with reality in a rational way.
And I can’t help but wonder if the same things we gloss over today would be ignored if Donald Trump were running against a man. That sentiment—implicit sexism—is one that festers the shadows that spread behind my interactions with some people. Would I be treated differently if … ? It’s a question I bury deep in the recesses of my mind, because I don’t want to believe what I know will be its inevitable answer.
Before we get any further, though, I just want to say that I think you should vote for whomever you want. I’m not here to state something on New Times’ behalf. We don’t endorse candidates. The only thing we endorse here at New Times is for you to vote. Exercise your right as a participant in American democracy as only you can.
However, as a journalist, I often don’t get to exercise my own right to free speech within these pages. Rather, I’m an advocate for others and for the public’s right to know. But I feel compelled to exercise my right today, because I want to speak my mind. Because I am a woman who is trying to deal with a reality that needs to change. And calling Trump a sexist pig isn’t going to change how we, as a nation, view women—whether we recognize it or not. Apparently, I am a feminist who didn’t realize it until now.
I’ve never considered myself to be a feminist, although that surprises most people. I’m fiercely independent—which some people tell me is intimidating. I speak my mind—which some people feel is inappropriate. I pretty much do whatever I feel like doing—which some people have classified as “brave.”
But I always felt it was just me being a human, until recently, when I realized how much of our population equates those characteristics with being male. It was only then that I realized how much we still need feminism. And how it shouldn’t be a dirty word, equated with braless man-haters.
We, as females, shouldn’t feel lucky that we didn’t get raped that one time. We, as females, shouldn’t have the sexual harassments and assaults perpetrated against us by prominent political figures used as pawns in a political game during an election year. We, as females, shouldn’t have to clutch our keys between our knuckles as we fearfully walk to our cars alone at night. We shouldn’t have to worry about being drugged and raped—assaulted, yelled at and harassed, belittled for what we look like or wear. We shouldn’t have to deal with men and women who are threatened by female independence, capabilities, voice, and choice.
We should be taught that we have all of those things.
We, as a nation, shouldn’t give a young man the audacity to walk up to a girl leaning against a wall in a bar, pinch her butt, and tell her she has a nice ass. We, as a nation, shouldn’t be shocked when someone like Donald Trump talks about grabbing women “by the pussy”—because of all the other things he’s said about women and their appearances. We shouldn’t be shocked when a father accuses the girl his Stanford water-polo-playing son raped of ruining his son’s life.
All of those things are part of the reality we choose to ignore. We enable all of those things, simply by choosing to believe that they are isolated incidents. I can tell you they are not isolated. They are consistent and persistent.
We, as a nation, need to stop ignoring the implicit sexism that follows women around daily and start paying attention to the reality that we want to change. We all need to be feminists. It’s the only way to make a difference.
Editor Camillia Lanham knows you probably have feelings about feminism. Write her a letter and we’ll publish it in the paper. Include your name and your town. It’s time to have a conversation. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.