When you’ve been assaulted, the whole world as you know it changes. The lens through which you see the world changes and the innocence you previously cultivated was all for nothing. Before, when I would walk around the streets, go out to the bars, or interact with men I didn’t know in public, I did not think twice about the quality of their character. But after, I could not scrutinize more and this is the habit I maintain today.
I pick up on subtleties and when the #yesallwomen posts came out, I could certainly relate and if you’re a woman who’s had a trauma at the hands of a man (which is statistically likely), you are shockingly all too familiar with your vulnerability at the hand of gender relations. You know the fear you experience when you walk down a street at night. I always position my keys in-between my fingers, a makeshift weapon. The fact that my relatives got me pepper spray amongst the ramen noodles and bath towels for my “Congratulations You’re Going to College” care package is telling. It’s especially telling when you realize that pepper spray is in no way meant to protect against other women; everybody knows it’s to protect against an attack from a man. Yet, what I find most disturbing about bringing these gender issues into the light is that the more I think about it, the more alarming example I can come up with, the more insidious examples I can recall.
Men are not all brutes and yes, not all men are misogynists, but all men can help to change the ingrained gender inequalities of experience. In fact, some of the instances of men behaving disrespectfully towards women come from otherwise kind and educated men. It’s an awareness, ignorance, and respect issue with them. You do not have to know what it is to be a woman to treat women with respect and I believe just as the gender issues cripple women in their relationships, their walks to their cars, and their careers among other issues, they also cripple men in their ability to cope with their emotions and be more intentional and analytical about their interactions. In order for any of this to change, men have to treat themselves and each other better and I don’t believe enough people are talking about this dimension of it.
We have to teach men that their worth is not determined by sexual exploits, othering women, or financial status and that it makes them more of a man to understand their emotions and respect women. While women are othered because of their gender difference from men, I believe men who speak out against these dynamics are othered by their own gender. And the issues persist because it is human nature to want to fit in and is uncomfortable to be othered.
I feel othered by virtue of my awareness. My world flipped upside down and I have no option to go back to the way life was before; my lens changed. I cannot see the world with such innocence ever again and sometimes I think about the blissful ignorance I maintained so well in my youth and if I would want it back, but I don’t because I believe in progress. So when I have a man over to my apartment and he asks to stay, I fight the urge to apologize when I say no, because I have no obligation to have him stay over and therefore nothing to apologize for. When he asks again, despite my earlier refusal and explanation, I have a sinking feeling in my stomach. He is no longer an educated man I enjoy spending time with, but another man living in ignorance of the gender dynamics we all live with.
Even though I believe much needs to change, the painful reality is that I rarely meet a man who does not need to check his gender privilege and that leaves me frustrated, distrustful, and alone much of the time. My disillusionment with gender relations leads to exacerbation of depression and when I interact with men, I have an underlying anxiety about how they will behave and what they will say. I wonder if gender relations improved if my mental health issues would as well, but in the meantime, I cannot ignore the inequalities and objectification. It is not an option for me anymore.