The headphones you’ve had in all day come out in favor of listening more closely to your surroundings. You dial up a friend or family member and talk as you walk, just so there’s a witness. Every closing car door or set of distant footsteps makes your heart skip for a second. You keep your head on a swivel, continuously scanning the area for potential threats. You have keys laced between your knuckles like a low-key Wolverine in case one of those dangers present itself.
For many men reading this it sounds paranoid, for most women, it’s just a walk through the parking lot. The majority of women around you will tell you they view life through a different lens than men. That they have to. If you give us a few minutes to talk about it you’ll probably also hear a hint of anger.
Let’s clear this up. We’re not mad at you — we’re jealous, and not in a penis — envy kind of way.
We wish we didn’t need to plan our day around getting to the bus stop before dark. We envy that men can leave a drink sitting while they go to the bathroom, or even while they turn their back to talk to a friend. We hate that when we go out we have to think closely about what we wear because if — and since one in five women experience sexual violence in their life it’s really more when — something happens, people will be more concerned with our outfit than how someone violated our body.
Even female professors feel the need to choose their wardrobe in favor of modesty over comfort because whatever happens, we know our appearance will be the first thing on the stand in a trial of our character.
Did you know every woman around you has been trained by the media to hate some part of her body pretty much her entire life? Let me say this again: we all have something we hate. (Don’t beat yourselves up over it, ladies. You’re fabulous.) But seriously men, we feel your eyes on us before we even step out the door. Commercials, movies, television and every other thing we’ve looked at in our lives has told us this.
The great thing is that it’s easy to be an ally. Things like not laughing at a rape joke or a joke that treats women as just a punchline go a long way. If a woman turns you down, keep your dignity. Don’t start bashing her for not appreciating your attention, just move along. No one is everyone’s type. If you have a female friend getting out of class at night, offer to walk her to her car. Your 10 minutes could save her a lifetime of trauma at worst, and a few minutes of undeserved stress at best.
And ladies, we need to work on building each other up. It can be easy to fall into victim-blaming to give ourselves a sense of security. The reality is that violence against women is just that, violence against all women. It doesn’t care what race, religion or orientation you are because it was never about any of that. Violence is about control. By just believing in one another we give strength and comfort to those around us who need it most. Be the fierce tribe of Wonder Women you all are, not the catty stereotypes the media likes to paint us as.
We love you: our brothers, cousins, fathers, and friends. We know (most of) you think rapists are as bad as we do, so that’s why we need you to listen when you hear us talk about it.
As allies we need you to hear our stories and give them validation. Because a problem can’t be fixed until both sides acknowledge it’s a problem, to begin with.