My online feelers have been pulling in a lot of talk about sexual harassment, assault, rape culture, sexism, etc. This is in addition to events that have happened both in the news and around me. This is not a new development, but a particular aspect of these discussions has reached a critical mass for me and it's affecting me in disturbing ways. Namely, the sheer number of posts where women account their personal histories of harassment: drunken cat-calling on the street, strangers groping under skirts in elevators, men who erupt with rage when a pass is rejected, or follow her for days after.
Let me be clear: these stories need to be told. A lot of people, mostly men, have no idea that this happens. That it has always happened, that it continues to happen, that women develop strategies and collaborations to minimize the harm they suffer from it, and they do it mainly alone, because attempts to bring this to the attention of men results in censor and ridicule. And maybe if enough people come forward, then we can all stop pretending that this isn't a thing and actually take steps towards change.
Here's the thing that I'm having trouble with. Because so much of this behavior is gendered, because it is usually men harassing women, and because of a larger cultural system that minimizes women's experiences and devalues women's bodily autonomy, because it is women who are used to being dismissed as overreacting (as women are wont to do), the voices speaking up are saying
This is what it means to be a woman in this world.
Or, at least, that's what it sounds like, to me. And once I start to hear these individual voices speaking, not as individuals with personal experiences, but as women speaking about what it means to be a woman, then I feel—perversely enough—left out.
Because this is not my experience. Because I don't think that anyone has ever cat-called at me. I suppose that, maybe in my twenty-one years of having boobs, someone has said something to me on the street about my body parts or what he would do to them, but I really can't remember anything. Hell, I'm not sure if I've ever been hit on. Strangers don't try to start conversations with me on the subway, so none of them have ever been mad at me for not responding positively to the intrusion.
It is ridiculous to be upset because men don't harass me. And yet, my jerkbrain says, why don't they? Do I just not count as a woman? Am I not pretty enough? Even though none of this behavior is a complement. Even though it devalues rather than flatters the subject. Even though it has nothing to do with what a woman wears or what she looks like, I feel like there must be something wrong with me, because it doesn't happen to me.
I want to be attractive. I want to be desired. And even though I don't want the men who would harass me because of it, part of me thinks that they don't want me because no one wants me. Because I am unworthy of desire.
Dear Reader, I know. I know. I know so many things that prove wrong all the things I just said. And then I feel bad for feeling bad, because it reinforces the myth that harassment is just a compliment, that he was just trying to be nice, or just wanted to flirt. And that's bullshit. I know. I'm sorry. I wish that knowing made me feel better.