It was late Monday night and, knowing full-well that I had to wake up early for work the next day, I was buried deep in the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen, reading story after story of the aggression women face in their daily lives. Soon, it was early Tuesday morning and I was still awake, still reading.
Nothing that anyone shared came as a surprise. I'm a woman, too, after all, and — like a lot of us — I have turned my keys into a makeshift weapon when walking alone at night and feared for my life in broad daylight when a car full of men pulled up next to me and rolled down its windows, allowing me to hear the horrible and demeaning comments being shouted in my direction from the passengers within.
The prevalence of these stories saddens me. I hate that we've all experienced these things to varying degrees. I hate that I feel lucky for not having experienced worse. I hate that there are women out there who do experience worse, simply because they weren't born white or cisgender or middle class or in a country where little girls have the same right to education as little boys.
These are the things that fill me with rage on a daily basis, but they're not (not explicitly, anyway) what left me shaking in anger as I finally shut down my computer and tried to fall asleep. What made me so mad were the men who had decided to weigh-in on the #YesAllWomen conversation and dismantle it.
"This is misandry."
"Shut up, cunts."
They don't believe us. Hundreds of thousands of women from around the world can weigh in and tell their first hand experiences and there are men out there — seemingly reasonable and intelligent men — who still refuse to admit that maybe, just maybe, we have good reasons to be afraid. A 22-year-old kid spouts the same misogynist rhetoric that my coworkers and I receive in our inboxes on a daily basis and goes on a shooting rampage with the expressed purpose of punishing women for not giving him the sexual attention he felt entitled to and we're still told that we have no right to be scared because #NotAllMen are like that.
As Michelle Dean wrote yesterday on Gawker:
...People who live with that risk learn to presume the worst. Living your life in preparation for the moment when a man possibly snaps and tries to kill you can bring on serious resentment. Resentment not just of men, though there is that, but of the way that even mentioning that risk makes you subject to claims that you are "oversimplifying" how men behave. That you somehow have a lesser read on human nature and violence than the more reasonable sort who, not having had to deal with the behavior, claim you must have imagined it. Even when you literally have the YouTube video proving you aren't making it up.
In college, I had a male roommate who badgered me endlessly about my frequent choice to take a cab home from my restaurant job where I would — more often than not — clock out well after midnight. The walk from work to our house wasn't long (maybe 20 minutes), but it was poorly lit and remote, taking you over railroad tracks and past warehouses. Honestly, it shouldn't have mattered if the walk was 5 minutes and through the busiest part of town — I was paying for the taxi with my own money and it was my own business, but for some reason, it drove my otherwise decent roommate mad. He would call me lazy. He would imply that I was cowardly and weak. On multiple occasions, we got into shouting matches about it that left me feeling stupid, small and crazy.
While we were living together, a girl at our university was murdered by a stranger who broke into her on-campus apartment. They never caught the man who did it and still, my roommate couldn't see why I would get mad when I came home to find our house unlocked and empty or why I'd be mildly nervous about being alone and vulnerable.
That was years ago, but recently, we met up for dinner.
"I've gotta apologize about something, Mads," he said, pouring a glass of wine. "I know I used to give you a hard time about not wanting to walk alone at night, but a couple weeks ago around bar time, I saw a girl get attacked. It was crazy."
To my friend's credit, he didn't stand by and simply watch the attack happen. He tried his best to help, but I still left the conversation with a sour taste in my mouth. I tried so many times to tell him about the scary realities of existing while female and he, like all of those dudes on Twitter, refused to believe me. He had to see someone undergo traumatic assault with his own eyes before he would recognize what we women know inherently.
This roommate's attitude is more the rule than the exception. He might be the unfortunate friend who I chose to use as the example here, but he certainly wasn't the only option.
In a way, I understand how easy it is to deny what doesn't happen to you directly. Privilege can be blinding after all and I say that as someone who's pretty privileged in her own right — not that that's an excuse. Turning a blind eye to suffering shouldn't protect you from other people's anger, it should make you a target for it.
And I'm still angry, still furious. I'm furious that growing up, I wasn't allowed to do the same things that my brother did because it wasn't safe for me. I'm furious that my parents ingrained in me from a very young age that I should never wear heels because I should always be ready to run at a moment's notice. I'm furious that walking alone at night feels more like an act of rebellion than a simple act of transit. I'm furious at myself for worrying that participating in #YesAllWomen would lose me Twitter followers or turn off the boy I'm trying to impress. I'm furious for the women who are afraid to tell a dude at a bar to "fuck off" because they might get bottled in the face. I'm furious at the men who entered this comment thread to complain about how no one wants to fuck them even though they're nice. I am furious at the commenter who read an article about a girl getting murdered by a fellow student after she declined an invitation to prom and then wrote 18 paragraphs on how he doesn't believe in rape culture because he's never seen it. I'm furious that girls get shot in the head or kidnapped for simply daring to go to school. I am furious at my own embarrassing and idiotic impulse to say #NotAllWhiteFeminists when women of color discuss their mistreatment and dismissal by the white feminist community. I am furious about the number of tips we receive daily about the mishandling of sexual assault investigations. I am furious about sexual assault. I am furious at the people who will inevitably tell me to calm down after reading this.
And mostly I'm furious that I'll eventually shrug all of this off, too, because laughing about it is easier than changing it. I'm furious because I don't know what else to do.
Image by Jim Cooke.