Last week, guest contributor Karen Robles enlightened us with part 1 of her #MeToo Prologue, discussing the other side of the #MeToo Movement: the men’s perspective (and how they can do more). This week, we invited Karen back to the RGF blog for part 2. Read on…
Note from the Author: My original post can be found here; this version of my entry presented by Real Girls F.A.R.T. was edited for conciseness with my permission.
I remember this one occasion—I must have been around 14 at the time—I was in a downtown market with a bunch of my family looking for some video games. We had all split in order to cover more territory, and also because we all had different interests (let’s just say my mom could care less if I was able to find the right 007 Golden Eye or Mario Kart 64). The market is a very tight space with a ton of people passing through every second. As I was browsing a table that a vendor had set up with hundreds of games, I felt a hand graze down my ass, giving it a really good squeeze. I froze for a second, not letting go of the cassette and pretending to read the label. It felt like an eternity, but it was probably two seconds. Then, I calmly put the game down, turned around and walked quickly to try and find my family. I was able to find some of them, and I told one of the adults (I don’t want to specify whom), and that person simply said “well, I mean look at you, you have such a nice body, it’s practically asking to be touched!” I could not believe my ears. I felt so embarrassed, so stupid, so dumb. And in case you were wondering if I was wearing “provocative” clothing, I was wearing regular blue jeans, a green t-shirt with sleeves and my hair was in a messy bun, no makeup, wearing runners. It was a weekday, and it was about 6 pm, in a lit place full of people. So no, I don’t think I was asking for anything. After that, I don’t think I ever told any adults about any other kinds of experiences I went through.
The #MeToo movement highlights a conversation that began hundreds of years ago, an issue that has been evolving and changing through the decades—and that issue is the respect (or lack thereof) that women of all ages and all backgrounds deserve, simply for being human. Now before some of you get all hot-headed and start thinking (or writing) things like “Oh no here goes another crazy feminist rant,” let’s all get on the same page: What is feminism?
Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies, and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes. This includes seeking to establish educational and professional opportunities for women that are equal to those for men. (Wikipedia)
Now, I have bolded the phrase “equality of sexes” because this basic portion of the definition seems to be twisted or forgotten by some individuals that identify themselves as “feminist,” or perhaps there are some people out there who feel threatened by the “F word” alone. Emma Watson spoke about why the word feminism seems to put men off, to make them feel attacked almost instantly:
I think the word is really difficult because it seems to inherently suggest a preferential treatment of the feminine over the masculine, because it has the feminine in the word. And I think that’s a real oversight and a misunderstanding. This isn’t girls are better than boys or boys are better than girls, this is just everyone deserves a fair chance.
See, being a “feminist” does not mean you are against men. It simply means you want equal rights and opportunities as men, not that you are trying to take away rights or opportunities from men. However, I do believe that some men think that objectifying women, degrading them, threatening them and even demanding sexual behaviors from them (especially from a position of power), IS somehow a right they have, and that they should be allowed to continue to behave like this simply because they are men. It’s not their right, and they will not continue this behavior. So, unless you believe that as a man you have the right to take advantage of a woman simply because of her gender, or that women are somehow inferior to men, then you don’t need to worry about anything. You’re alright!
So, just how long have women been fighting for equal rights and fair treatment, as compared to their male counterparts? Well, for instance, it was in the 1800s when laws first started to change (in Western cultures) to give women a few rights here and there, widely depending on where in the world they were. For example, women gained the right to vote in the following places, during the following dates:
1918: Britain (over 30),
1918: Canada (except Aboriginal women/women of color, had to be 21 or older)
1920: US (white women only)
In the US, for example, it wasn’t until 1965 that racial minorities could vote, and in Canada Aboriginal women didn’t get included, either, until 1960 (but who’s counting?). This is why it’s said that the “first wave” of the feminist movement took place in the late 19th century, and as you can see, there were decades upon decades of oppression for women in all parts of the world to get the right to vote, own land, claim custody of their kids, and then even more time had to pass for “other” women to get the right to vote. However, in a country like Mexico, where I am from, women didn’t have the right to vote until 1953, and the feminist movement there looked a bit different than in the US. Without going into too much history, the feminist movement in Mexico mostly began around the time of our revolution, and is now divided into the following stages:
…the Revolutionary period (1915-1925), the Second Wave (1968-1990), and the post-1990 period. In Mexico, women’s equality demands stem from women’s struggle between household commitments and underpaid jobs. Most Mexican women in the upper and middle classes are provided with domestic help, causing those women to be more accepting of traditional gender roles. For many Mexican women, assisting other women through benevolent organizations and charitable works is in line with a traditional view of womanhood.
Then came the great (“great,” as in size) world wars and huge numbers of men and boys who were drafted from their homes all around the world, with many dying in the process, creating an influx of women in the workplace simply out of bare necessity to produce goods. This is where I start thinking about the famous “We can do it!” poster with the woman wearing a bandana on her head, her denim jacket sleeve rolled and her arm flexing in a powerful pose. And, in fact, it was shortly after WWII ended that women in Mexico finally gained their right to vote! But then the war ended, men returned and women were no longer as “necessary” for work (especially in North America), so, instead, they went back into the home, and it’s in this Post-World War II life that we saw the huge encouragement of the classical “housewife” behavior and etiquette; women were encouraged to stay home, focus on their looks, appliances and so on. Again, this is specific to the US, Canada and some European countries. All of a sudden, the very same women who were working in factories to do their part in the war were being told to go back home and “look pretty.” The “second wave” of the feminist movement started in the early 60s, and by now, women of color in the US were also included (yay!). A “third wave” of feminism started in the early 90s, both in North America and in Mexico, and it’s considered to be the current wave we’re experiencing now. This third wave is focused more on reproductive rights, compared to the first wave where it was all about voting, but I hope this super simplified, summarized timeline of events puts some of women’s struggles and concerns into perspective.
It’s 2019, and we are still living in a world where femicides are happening, and in some cases on the rise, where survivors of sexual assault are being questioned and blamed for their experiences, and where most forms of media utilize women’s bodies for their own financial benefit. Violence against women is an escalation of the gender inequality and mistreatment, and there are examples of large scale abuse of women all around the world. In British Columbia, for example, up to 40 women and girls (mostly of Indigenous descent) have gone missing since 1969, and if you have never heard of it, I suggest you look up The Highway of Tears and The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (and the full report here). In Mexico, we had a similar situation in the border city Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, where about 370 women have been murdered since 1993. We refer to them as “Las Muertas de Juarez”, which translates to “the dead of Juarez,” but it is also known in English as the “Female homicides in Ciudad Juarez.”
So, now this brings me to my next point: speaking out. The women and girls who are abducted, murdered and missing indefinitely did not get a chance to ask for help, to share their stories, to be saved. Those who go through harassment and violence, no matter what type, and survive can speak up, but they sometimes don’t. There has been a rise in the number of women who have found the strength to come out and share their stories in the last couple of years—from celebrities to Olympic gymnasts (153 of them, to be exact) to authors to non-celebrities—and I think that’s a wonderful and empowering thing. But women who do speak up also have to worry about other people around them, especially in the workplace, treating them differently or simply avoiding them entirely. Women have to worry about how to navigate their careers carefully, not only to be good at what they do, but to survive without harassment, or at least being able to minimize it. The following is a quote from a young actress in Hollywood, answering to the reporter on the topic of speaking up about harassment:
Reporter: Have you ever felt like you have been punished for being outspoken?
Actress: I have witnessed somebody I work with inappropriately touching somebody else who I worked with, a minor. I reported it privately to our show runner after the set had wrapped. I found it very disturbing, the person who was touched was obviously disturbed. I talked to the show runner and I said ‘I do not want my name attached to this”, because I know how it will go for me: “Diva, doesn’t want to work with anyone, blah blah blah”, like you just know how it goes for you. But this happened, and I want this dealt with, because I do not feel comfortable witnessing that in the set. The next day, nobody talked to me and said that I was trying to ruin this person’s career. Literally, I felt helpless, literally nobody will believe me.
I find it absolutely disgusting when someone, who already had to summon the courage to speak up, is not only questioned, but sometimes accused of making things up or trying to “stir the pot.” This is ridiculous, yet very true. It will take monumental efforts from both men and women to change this climate, to make it safe for others to speak up against harassment and abuse, to make it second nature and to decide to care about others. There are still thousands of people who probably do not feel ready or safe enough to share, and the same goes for men. And if you are still skeptical about just how widespread the experiences of being harassed, abused or even violated are, I invite you to ask ten women you know about their experiences in this matter. Ask them if they have ever experienced any situation of sexual harassment, whether it was a guy sending them an unsolicited dick pic, a stranger masturbating in their presence, a medical professional touching her in areas she did not feel comfortable or something more violent like a rape attempt or a stranger spiking her drink at a club. It can be very frustrating for us, as women, to try and explain to men just how often we have to face situations that call for our full attention and, in some cases, survival skills. Let me give you an example. Let’s play a little game, shall we? Imagine this scenario:
Imagine you go out to dinner with some girlfriends. You’re walking back home, alone, and just two blocks before reaching your house, you walk past a bus stop. At the bus stop, there’s a middle-aged man sitting on the bench, and as you pass by him, you feel his hand touching and then squeezing your butt.
Hypothetical situation, but let’s just now analyze some options. What would you do? What should you do?
Do you stop and confront the person?
Do you run and yell for help?
Do you ignore it and keep walking? A bit faster maybe, but avoiding confrontation.
For each option, try to imagine what the man would do in response. Would he:
Apologize right away and leave?
Confront you back, aggressively if necessary, possibly escalating his behavior?
Laugh and tell you to relax, that you should take it as a compliment?
Obviously, this is a hypothetical situation, and the possible outcomes are endless, but I hope that I can at least make you think about it. As women, any time we are alone or in public but “vulnerable,” we have to be vigilant. If something does happen, we need to very quickly decide how to react, and be ready for any kind of consequence. Depending on the level of danger, we might choose to confront or call out the assaulter, or we may ignore it simply in fear of getting into more trouble. The thing is, when things do happen and women do speak up, a lot of the times, women are not believed. The comments like “Well, what were you wearing? Where were you going? How were you walking? Did you wear a lot of makeup?” Those reactions are messed up. “Boys are boys, you know?” or “Well it just means you’re pretty,” or even worse, “Are you sure that’s what happened? You’re not exaggerating?” Or my favorite, “No, that sort of stuff does not happen here” or “No, I know him, he would not do that.” Man! It’s such an automatic and an acceptable thing to simply turn around and blame the victim, question them, pull apart their story. It has happened to many, and that includes me.
For decades, women have had to live where these kinds of harassing behaviors were encountered almost daily by all types of men, in or out of the workplace, and it simply was seen as “just how it is.” Things do not have to be this way, so that’s why women around the world are standing up and saying #MeToo, and many men are identifying as “allies” of the movement. I believe that the #MeToo movement serves two purposes: 1) to raise awareness about how the sexual harassment is an epidemic worldwide, and 2) demand our society to change, so that women are treated with respect and can thus come closer to being equals to men. #MeToo is meant to symbolize exactly that phrase, “me too.” When a girl is sharing a story about how she might have been groped on the bus, or approached (sexually) by a colleague at work, or cat-called on her way home, some of us will think to ourselves “me too.” We see parts of our own stories, and that it has been happening to us, to our moms, to our grandmas, our great grandmas and so on for a long time. So, if you ever have a close friend, a colleague, a sibling, a student, anyone approach you who wishes to share their story, please just listen, and try to remember that there is a lot of history behind these behaviors from other members of society, and that the women who are sharing their stories have been facing these kinds of situations for a long time. It does not matter why she decides to speak up when she does, it just matters that she did, and that she is listened to, not blamed. I leave you with a quote from spoken word poet Yazmin Monet Watkins:
“Just listen. Listen to our stories. Listen without judgement.”
A huge thank you to Karen for her informative, powerful contribution. If you’d like to read more of Karen’s works, visit her blog, License to Feel.
Want to share your thoughts? Have a question for Karen? Leave a comment below!