I told myself I’d write this column four months ago, but it’s been nearly a decade in the making, ever since I hit puberty, since the first time a man hollered at me on the street.
Fortunately, my mother was there at the time, and she defended me, telling the man that I was only 15. He apologized. But it wasn’t the last time it happened.
Since that day, I’ve been honked at, yelled at, followed and even grabbed by strangers on the street. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing or what I’m doing. I am still harassed. And I’m not alone.
I am one woman living in a culture where women are dehumanized and objectified, repeatedly told that we exist solely for sexual gratification and “punished” when we refuse to “put out.”
Recently, a young man took to the streets of Isla Vista for exactly this reason. He felt that women existed for his pleasure and, though he barely spoke to them and never made an attempt to befriend one, when he remained a virgin he decided to take his frustrations out on the women of the world by stabbing, shooting and running down anyone in his path.
Strip away the extreme narcissism, the debate about mental health care and gun control, and the scariest bit is that his hateful rhetoric sounds an awful lot like what women have been hearing from men most of their lives.
Just last month, I was walking to my bank when a strange man told me how sexy I looked and how he’d like to get to know me. I didn’t know him, and like most women, I’ve been taught to be wary of strange men, so I kept walking. Immediately, his friendly overtures turned to profanity and rage. And there are plenty of men like him.
Not all men, of course. Whenever women bring up the misogyny they face on a daily basis, the response is inevitably, “Not all men.” And this is true; not all men hate women. But as a recent Twitter trend showed, #YesAllWomen have faced sexism and misogyny in almost every aspect of their lives.
Women across the world shared their experiences, talking about how sexism had affected them. Some women talked about the way they’d been shamed — for reporting their rape — by family, friends and police officers. Other women talked about the way they’d been discouraged to enter traditionally male-dominated fields, such as physics or biology. Other women, like me, talked about being followed on the street and harassed when in public.
This column was inspired during a conversation about street harassment with my co-workers. When I told them I’d been yelled at on my way to work because I was wearing short sleeves, they were shocked, speechless that men existed who would treat women that way.
These were good and respectful men who had never made me feel different, inferior or sexualized because of my gender.
And while not all men are perpetrators of misogyny, it is up to all men to fight it. Up to all men who see another man hollering at a girl on the street to call him out for sexualizing a child. Up to all men who see another man coming on to an unwilling woman to tell that man to back off. Up to all men who hear someone discouraging a woman from pursuing her dreams simply for being female to tell her that she can shoot as high as she wants.
I think we need to have a conversation about the deadly hatred of women that the tragedy in Isla Vista has revealed. Women deal with this hatred every day, in ways big and small. And until we can talk about that hatred bravely and openly, we will never be able to combat it.
It is up to each and every one of us to eradicate misogyny. The first step is a conversation. Open your ears, talk about it. Listen. What you hear may surprise you.
Victoria Billings is a copy editor for The Tribune.