On the heels of Brett Kavanaugh's admittance to the American Supreme Court, the #metoo movement has been revitalized. Many women have felt empowered to raise their voices in solidarity and share their own stories, and it is both encouraging and heart-breaking to witness. It is no secret that the voices and experiences of women continue to be undercut and undervalued. It is more obvious than ever before that the roots of the patriarchy are exceptionally deep; if you are a woman, you already know this.
It is also no secret that sexual assault (rape and attempted rape) occurs more often than most of us are willing to believe.
1 in 5 women are raped in their lifetime. A stark 81% of rape victims will live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which impacts their ability to function and has lasting physical, emotional, psychological, and social repercussions. Further, most rapists will never suffer the consequences of their actions. This handy chart from RAINN shows exactly how often rapists go to prison.
Aside from sexual assault, a study published in February, 2018 and picked up by NPR states that 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment, which is "the making of unwanted sexual advances or sexist, obscene remarks."
I recently attended a meeting of over 50 businesswomen and entrepreneurs. When the moderator asked us to raise our hands if we've ever experienced sexual harassment at work, every single hand was raised. It is a dangerous disservice to undermine and negate these experiences. If we want to uproot the patriarchy, even a little, we must be able to hold men accountable for their words and actions.
I've compiled a list of (just a few) of the sexist things said to me at work. As of this writing, I am 25, which means this list is anything but complete.
1. In an interview, "Are you planning on having kids" or "Don't you ever want to have kids?"
2. Entering the building, walking through the office, or while concentrating on a task, "Why don't you smile? It's not all that bad, is it?"
3. Prior to an employee-wide meeting, "Could you make a pot of coffee?"
4. After completing a task, "For a young woman, you sure have a strong work ethic."
5. My boss, before giving me a project, "You look great today, how long does it take you to get ready?"
6. When working on a budget, "I know you didn't study numbers, let me help you with that."
7. When I wore red pants and a black blazer, "Your clothing is distracting."
8. When I asked why my clothing was distracting, "It was just a compliment."
9. On the phone with a donor, "Honey, you speak like a man. You may want to lighten up."
10. Also on the phone with a donor, "Is there a man I can talk to?"
11. And my personal favorite, when being introduced to a donor over the phone, "This is Sarah, she's the new Drew."
"Ah, well I bet she's a lot prettier than he was," said the donor, who happened to be a man.
The implication in each of these examples is that my work or skill is secondary to the fact that I am a woman. In her book Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit writes,
“Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.”
When a man called my office and refused to talk to anyone other than a man, he felt he had the right to silence me. He believed a woman could not possibly be able to answer his question in a professional, efficient manner. Worst of all, by silencing me, he underscored the wider societal subtext that women should be seen, not heard.
At a time when more and more women are courageously finding their voice, it is this simple assumption that will continued to hinder us. It is this simple assumption that will ensure men remain the gatekeepers of information, space, and truth.
P.S. If you have been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (available 24/7) at: 1-800-656-4673. If you are interested in supporting an organization that combats sexual assault, and makes it easy for victims to file reports, check out Callisto. If you are looking for a sexual assault service provider or therapist near you, go to centers.rainn.org.