It’s easily the most powerful Twitter hashtag I’ve seen in a while, powerful enough to have earned mention in Time magazine and CNN.
It was in response to what happened in Santa Barbara. I won’t recount it; it’s been in the news enough, and the responses have ranged from inspiring to absolutely vile.
The purpose of the hashtag is to highlight the misogyny women face every day, however subtle, however small, and yes, men are the perpetrators. Please don’t cut in with “Not all men are like that!” – the men that aren’t like that are in the incredibly scant minority, and most of them get to the “not like that” point only when a close female in their lives, whether mother, daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife, aunt, cousin, has gone through something that forced their eyes open. Not all men are like that, but all women have been treated like that. And the American society is why.
The American society views women as objects first. This isn’t just me saying it. Look at a billboard ad: featuring a woman, heavily photoshopped. Look at a beauty magazine: heavily photoshopped woman, cover advertising “sex tips to keep your man” – as though a woman’s priority is to be a sex object in her relationship as opposed to, you know, a person with actual feelings and opinions. All advertising to women is targeted with a message, sometimes subtle and sometimes less, that if she doesn’t buy X product, she can’t be appealing to men. Because if a woman dresses up, the automatic assumption is that she is dressing to impress someone, not for her own confidence boost. Magazines always play up beauty, looks, and sex as the way to catch and keep a man.
Because her feelings and opinions are secondary, if relevant at all.
The American society has been silencing women and keeping them in second place for as long as time can recall. “You’re emotional”. “You’re on the rag”. “You have issues”. “Calm down and stop being so PMS-y”. “You’re exaggerating”. “You’re overreacting”. All of these responses have been issued to a woman with an opinion, especially if that opinion is 1. correct and 2. angry. What do they all have in common? They all devalue what the woman is saying. All of it is dismissing what the woman says, because they’d rather dismiss it as “emotional”. But what if there’s an assertive man saying the same things? He’s “assertive” or “a boss”. Don’t believe me? Sit in a boardroom meeting. This happens all. the. time. Look at the NY Times editor who got fired because…she was “pushy”. Code for “she was a woman with an opinion”.
The American society is taught to hate women. Look at the insults that men receive. “Pussy”. “Effeminate”. He’s teased with having his “man card” taken away. Because the most insulting thing a man can hear is…being feminized. Because being a woman is something awful if you’re trying to “be a man”. He’s taught from day one that he can’t express his feelings, can’t cry, can’t show anything because “only girls cry”. As though emotions are something unique to one gender and not the other. As though a man is some sort of a being above emotional response. Because if he shows any emotion, he’s automatically labeled “a girl”. Don’t believe me? Visit a middle-school playground and listen.
The American society glamorizes misogyny in entertainment. Listen to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines. Look at a rap music video. Listen to rap lyrics and compare them to rap from the early 90s. What, exactly, does this say about how women are viewed then? Look at all the reality-TV shows of The Real Housewives, The Bachelor, look at Kim Kardashian and how she became famous – for a sex tape – and how that got her more money than being a regular girl in the workforce. Look at Teen Mom. What message does this send to impressionable girls and to the boys who watch those things and listen to them?
And women are always the ones who get the short end of that particular patriarchial stick.
If you have a daughter, you automatically fear for her because of the men who will be in her life. You’re terrified that a man will go too far and do something to her. But women all over have to live in the same fear.
If you walk in a parking lot, pay attention to the woman walking from or to her car. She’s holding her keys as a weapon, walking briskly and alertly. She’s afraid of being attacked, and if you’re male, she will automatically think it’s you. Not because you’re a bad person, but because this happens to women every. single. day.
If a woman has to report a sexual assault, she is re-victimized all over by the criminal justice system, which I don’t even address as such anymore, because the first thing the cops will ask is “What were you wearing?” followed by “Were you drunk?” as though either one could possibly justify what a man wanted to do. Because it’s easier to blame women for something completely out of their control than to blame their attacker for his complete lack of self-control.
Every day, there’s a thousand “how not to get raped” leaflets on college campuses. Every day, sexual assault victims leave college because their rapists aren’t prosecuted by either college disciplinary systems or the criminal justice system. But no one ever teaches men that it’s not okay to force women into anything they don’t want. Because it’s easier to put it on the victim than to take responsibility for one’s own actions.
And this is the reality. This is real. This is life every single day for women in America.
Every time I am going home late after a gig, I debate between taking a taxi and getting on the subway. I live in a quiet neighborhood, but more than once, en route there on the train, I got leered at, and witnessed some drunk guy jerking off while a couple of attractive girls were across from him. And I always tip the cabbie extra. Because I know that if I tip him a little extra, he’ll promptly forget where I live, and that’s one less male I need to worry about being a potential assailant.
I don’t go out to bars late. I love going out, I love getting a drink, I hate the stares I get and the men staring measuring what I’m drinking, gauging how quickly I can get drunk. They do it to other women too, completely in the open. That’s when I keep an eye on the women and try and engage them in conversation, because this way they don’t feel alone. Other women watch out for me the same way. I don’t know them.
I have earned my accolades in jazz because of the quality of my photos, but that was a long time in the making. Why? Because I’m young, female, and look cute in a black dress. People assume I’m a groupie to this day. Other photographers would not take me seriously and reply with “You can’t afford it” when I’d ask them about their gear. And some go as far as to assume I’m having sex with the musicians I’m shooting, as though there’s no way that the musicians would be friendly with me because they’re genuinely my friends. Or, even more astounding, because I am a damned good photographer. Nope, it’s a lot easier to paint me as a groupie than to acknowledge that I am working within this industry too. It’s an uphill battle that I still climb on a daily basis.
I have been told that I have issues when I’d state an opinion contrary to other people. It’s a way of life for me because I refuse to censor myself for other people’s comfort.
When I worked at my first CPA firm, people would always assume that being a receptionist was all I did. It wouldn’t cross their minds that I did half the bookkeeping and most of the beginning tax-prep at my firm. In my current firm, the respect that I get for being a quick learner and a kick-ass bookkeeper took me by surprise. Why? Because when I tell people I’m an accountant, their eyebrows always jump a little, because gee, can a girl really be an accountant?
I hear jokes behind my back about how I’m “always on the rag”, because I’m often angry and opinionated. Because I can’t possibly have an opinion. Because it’s more comfortable to keep me quiet than to listen to what I have to say.
In my house, my father always liked to say, “Long hair equals short brains”, and always when my mother or I had something to say that he didn’t like.
So yes, all women are subject to misogyny, however subtle in some cases, and however blatant and infuriating in others. Not all men treat women this way, but all women have been treated this way in one instance or another. And a woman is most likely to die at the hands of her husband, boyfriend, or ex, than she is likely to die of cancer. The American romance with guns doesn’t help matters, because right now, with open-carry laws in Georgia, the gun is right now the first if not the only way for some people to solve problems.
And you wonder why people want universal background checks? So Santa Barbara doesn’t happen again. Louisiana had to actually pass a law that bars domestic violence offenders from owning firearms. They actually had to pass the law, because it just hadn’t occurred to them that someone who was behind bars for domestic violence may likely use a gun to go back and kill his wife/girlfriend/babymomma. What takes most of us plain common sense to understand takes a law in the South. Think about that for a second, and absorb just how disturbing that is.
And you wonder why women everywhere leave the house with a habitual little knot of fear in their stomach, and a furtive glance over their shoulders. They do. And the reason that they do is the American society teaching men that women are something to hate, fuck, possess, and silence.
And if this, or the contents of the hashtag make you uncomfortable – GOOD. It should. It should make everyone a little uncomfortable. Because then you should ask yourself why you’re uncomfortable with it. Maybe you’ll learn something.