Regardless of whether you’re light or dark-skinned, blonde-haired blue-eyed or brunette, curvy or skinny, short or tall, there’s a certainty all women understand — at some point, they’ll be marked with a target. And for many, it might go so far as to be a daily fact of life. The objectification of women is so ingrained in our culture that it’s become socially acceptable to approach us with aggression. From cat-calling to degrading pick-up lines, to taking their pants off at the beach (I’ll explain this one in a moment), men have been taught that it’s OK to feel the biological primal charge that a visual stimulus produces, put us in their crosshairs, and pounce.
Somewhere along the way, it became acceptable to drop the respect factor. While there are a lot of gentlemen out there who would refute this statement, get a group of women together and ask them to add up how many times they’ve felt like a target in their life, this month, this week. You’d be surprised. I don’t just mean the respect is gone on an individual level; sexual harassment and assault is a national epidemic (the #metoo movement proved it) — and still very little is done to change the way things are, to make women feel like it’s safe to call it out and defend themselves. Yes, some men face harassment and assault, but 91% of sexual assault and rape cases are women. Out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 310 are reported to the police. One in five women are raped.* Let that sink in.
As awesome as it was to see men come out in support of #metoo, they will never know what it’s like to negotiate through life as a sexual target. Every time I leave my house and go out in the world, I remind myself to hold my head high and walk fast, with confidence, so I’m less likely to become a victim. I don’t have to remind myself that several of the men I see while en route to Walgreens are likely some type of predator. I feel stares, no matter how I’m dressed; it just happens. But I’ve learned to move with hypervigilance, careful to not let anyone infiltrate my personal space. I train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, so I know I’ll have an advantage should I ever face an attacker. I live on an island where it’s common to see women in swimsuits with short shorts and showing a lot of skin. After I was riding my bike from the gym to the beach one day, and got a “Nice tits!” shout out of a neanderthal’s car window, I thought maybe I should cover up more, to protect myself from idiot eyes. Then I decided, to hell with that, I’ll wear what I want. I’m not letting men without manners take away any of my freedoms.
The other day I was sitting on a popular beach in town, when not five minutes after I got situated on my blanket a rather doofy-looking tall white guy sat down about six feet away from me and promptly removed his shorts. I looked over in surprise, saw the tip of his penis, and averted my eyes, praying that he was just changing real fast. A few minutes rolled by and I glanced back to see him still sitting there, not a speck of clothing on him. I grabbed everything and headed to the lifeguard stand. An ATV rolled up to the guy and he put his package away. The more I thought about it and talked to people, the more I realized it was a form of sexual aggression, possibly even assault. He should have been arrested, but he was left to roam the beach acting erratic, just watching women creepily.
Now I know this is an atypical experience, but I can count on my fingers and toes how many times I’ve been verbally harassed, and that just plain sucks. Every 98 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in this country. We can do better as humans. I don’t know what the solution is, but I’d like to have a daughter one day, and I hope to God things change so that she never has to feel what it’s like to have a target on her back. Or at the very least, that she can live in a world where the risk of random penis attack is nonexistent.
*according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network