This is the first time I have ever written something to be posted publicly, at the suggestion of my sister. Even if I did think it was a good idea to take advice from a sixteen year old, that is not the reason why I chose to write this essay. I chose to write this essay because my instinctive response to her suggestion was that I don’t want to deal with the imminent threats of death and rape in response to being a woman speaking her truth, or someone posting my address and urging others to bring harrassment directly to my door. I chose to write this piece anyways, because I am afraid. I am gut wrenchingly, soul achingly afraid. The past few weeks have been difficult in my life for medical reasons completely out of my control, but that is not why I am afraid.
I am angered because the first time I chose to leave my house after major head and neck surgery, a strange man decided to take pictures up my skirt at a gallery opening. Actually, let me rephrase that. It wasn’t just a gallery opening, it was an art show featuring my work. In an instant, the act of one man turned a much needed source of pride and joy in my life into a violating perversion based on his needs and desires that left me feeling more vulnerable than waking up a week and a half prior with my neck freshly sewn shut.
I am frustrated because the following day I found myself and two female friends arguing with a male acquaintance who doesn’t believe that sexism exists in America. He just doesn’t believe it’s a real thing, at all, in any capacity. We gave multiple examples of almost daily street harassment we had collectively faced since the day we were deemed young women, yet he argued that it’s not a valid point if it happens to a few men on occasion. I explained that his argument is like comparing the randomized shooting of movie theater goers in Aurora to the mass genocide that happened in Rwanda. If the street harassment men face is on the scale of the tragic murders in Aurora, then the constant harassment of women in public is on the scale of systematically killing hundreds of thousands of people in Rwanda because they didn’t acquiesce to the demands of those in power. It was large scale, systematic, and everyone in a position of power to stop what was happening either participated or did nothing. At this, he sat slack jawed for a few brief moments with no response. When he finally did respond, it was with a completely unrelated point to further his stance that the lived experiences of half the world’s population is invalid.
I am filled with grief because of the unfathomable horrors of the Isla Vista murders. It pains me to know that the family and friends of the victims are not allowed to grieve privately, and that their lived horror is repeatedly dissected and discussed by media outlets. I am so, so sorry for your loss. I am so sorry that I am one more person who feels the need to talk about something you wish you could swallow whole and bury inside of yourself until it isn’t real anymore. I grieve for you, and with you. Everywhere I turn I hear another argument pointing at how or why or what created a killer, but I don’t have much to add to those arguments. All I know for sure is that the most dangerous weapon humanity has is hatred of their fellows.
All of these things have in turns made me angry, frustrated, and filled me with grief, but they are not why I am afraid. I am not afraid because a single man felt the urge to kill and left a misogynistic, racist manifesto behind. I am not afraid because some men are misogynist. That is the world in which I have always known myself to live. What actually scares me is the conversation that has evolved around the murders in Santa Barbara, in which an outpouring of defensiveness, anger, and deflection has been launched against the suggestion that sexism and misogyny is a problem that needs to be addressed in America. I am afraid because this rhetoric is largely coming from men who state that they are not part of the problem. That they are “not like that”. I am afraid because men that are supposedly “not like that” are refusing to address the bigger problem, which is that there are still plenty of men out there who are “like that”. I am afraid because of the horrifying truth of what that really means. That means #NotAllMen believe the lived experiences of women. That means #NotAllMen agree that there is an epidemic of violence against women in America. That means #NotAllMen will stand up for women against the violence, hatred, and abuse of “those other men”. I am not afraid because some men have the intention and capacity to harm me, but because #NotAllMen have made it perfectly clear that they have no intention of utilizing their capacity to change that. To those who are “Not All Men”, your apathy frightens me far more than the violence of the few. Yes I am afraid, but I learned a long time ago that I have to walk through my fear if I ever want to get anywhere. I’d call this my first step.