I March Because I Know There Are Good Guys Out There

Beautiful weather does not go unnoticed in January in Ann Arbor, Michigan. My energy bill informed me that for this past billing cycle, the low temperature was -16°F and the average was 11°F (and the only reason the average was that high was a random outlier morning when it reached 52°F). So when I walked down South University Avenue in 44°F weather this past Saturday, holding a sign that read “Patriarchy is NOT God’s dream for humanity”, my heart was filled with a particular kind of hope.

Last December, I emailed my dad an article about the #MeToo movement that I found particularly compelling. In his response, he said that he would love to talk to me more about this era and how I see and experience it. It’s a valid curiosity. After all, the patriarchy has had a minimal grip on my extremely privileged life. Do I even see a necessity for a Women’s March?

Given my life experiences, it would be easy to act like there’s no need for the Women’s March and the patriarchy is a thing of the past. My parents ensured that brother and I were given the same extracurricular opportunities, held to the same standard of academic excellence and expected to help around the house in the same way. In school, I never felt like I was less competent than my male counterparts. (My parents still love to talk about how in first grade, I was the only girl on my reading level and yet the reading group was officially called the “Pink Unicorns” because I convinced all of the boys to vote for that name.) When my mom decided to quit her law firm to stay at home with my siblings and me, I understood it as her personal choice and not her innate duty as a woman.

I was raised in a culture in which I did not have to see my gender as a barrier for academic and career success. I knew the men and boys in my life respected me and I never felt uncomfortable when spending one-on-one time with them. There was no reason for me to think about sexism except when we learned about it in school. And that is precisely why I march.

One day over winter break, I sat around my kitchen table with my mom and some of her friends, who are all incredible, powerful women. We were discussing an article I wrote, in which I addressed mine and my roommates’ experience at a club in Toronto. I was still pretty upset about that night. My roomies and I had just wanted to dance and enjoy ourselves, but the men at the club would not leave us alone.

At first, I made a joke of their persistence (I told more than a few men that “if you go up to the DJ and request ‘Despacito’, then maybe I’ll consider dancing with you”), but eventually it got to be too much.

We repeatedly told one man that we didn’t want to dance with him, but he proceeded to stand right by us, watching us and even following us when we moved across the dance floor. Then one of my roommates finally looked him in the eye and said, “Dude, you need to fuck off right now. We have made it so clear that we don’t want to dance with you and this is absolutely not okay.” That worked on him, but then two other men started following us. This continued the whole time we were there.

I thought this story was absolutely appalling and I was almost afraid to tell my mom because I thought she might get scared and tell me I couldn’t go out with friends anymore. Instead, all of the moms around the table agreed that “that’s just how boys are.” They didn’t approve of it any more than I did, but they warned me that as long as I went to clubs, I should expect to be treated that way. I realized exactly how privileged I am when I said, “That’s not how boys are in Ann Arbor.”

I’m not much of a partier, but I’ve spent my fair share of nights out in sweaty frat basements and clubs. Yes, the boys at those events are clearly there to meet girls and I’m aware that there is no shortage of sexual assault in Ann Arbor. But the vast majority of my experiences with boys at parties and clubs includes them drunkenly putting a hand on me, as if in question. When I say no or shake my head, they stumble away to the next girl.

My mom and her friends were surprised when they heard this. Their experience with boys in college had left them believing things would never change. I was proud to tell them how respectful boys can be, even when they’re drunk and searching for a girl at a club. The reason I was so disgusted by the men in Toronto is that I know that sexual harassment is not wired in men’s DNA. I know they’re capable of heading out to meet girls and not harassing them in the process. Harassment in clubs, even when it’s as seemingly harmless as following a woman around after she tells you she doesn’t want to dance with you, perpetuates more serious forms of sexual assault and violence. There is no reason to excuse this, especially when we’ve seen a better way of doing things. That is why I march.

Last school year, I moved out of my family’s house for the first time and into a dorm at the University of Michigan. My life in the dorms was incredible. I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had and I stayed with them in their rooms until late almost every night, laughing and doing homework and being dumb college students. One night, I somehow ended up being included in “bro time” with a few of my guy friends. I have no idea why they didn’t wait to have their “bro time” until I was out of the room, but I was pretty close with all of them, so I guess none of us really thought twice about it.

When Access Hollywood released tapes of Trump bragging about sexual harassment, many claimed that although his rhetoric is disconcerting, it is common “locker room talk” among boys. This broke my heart. Perhaps it is common, but is that an excuse? Do we really think that men lack the intelligence and respect it takes to have a conversation about women without talking about assaulting them?

As someone who has had the weird and slightly uncomfortable privilege of being there for the “locker room talk” of college boys, I have full faith that they are capable of more than bragging about sexual assault. Yes, they are gross and vulgar, and I’m sure we could have an discussion on whether it’s excusable to talk about women in this manner at all. But, while I’m aware that the “bro time” I’ve witnessed is much tamer than what actually goes on in the locker room, the conversation never once bordered on promoting sexual assault. In fact, it did just the opposite.

At one point, the topic of conversation was whether they would ever try to hook up with a girl at a party who was clearly drunk. They all agreed that the answer was no. One of them shared that once, he had hooked up with a girl who was drunker than him and then in the morning he woke up and thought, “Oh, shit, I did stuff with a drunk girl.”

The other guys agreed. They said, “Yeah, dude, you really can’t do that. That’s the kind of shit that puts you in prison for life.” They all casually and nonchalantly agreed that they would never try to get with a drunk girl and then the conversation moved on.

In the Access Hollywood tape, this is how Trump described his encounter with a woman: “I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married...I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her...You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait...And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything...Grab them by the p---y...You can do anything.”

I don’t care how common that kind of conversation is. Excusing it as “locker room talk” is a slap in the face to every guy who has the basic human decency to have a conversation in the locker room that doesn’t promote sexual assault. It’s disheartening that our country has such a negative view of men that we don’t see any hope in holding them accountable for this behavior. Men are capable of conversations that don’t encourage sexual assault! We should get angry when they speak the way Trump did—we should protest it, we should let them know we expect more from them. That is why I march.

When we first arrived at the Women’s March, one of my good friends got a text from her boyfriend, who is a mutual friend of ours, saying that he was also there. He eventually joined us and even held one of our signs. (It didn’t really make sense for him to hold it, because it read, “Our bodies, our choice, our power,” but it’s the thought that counts.) The power of his presence is not lost on me. Most boys would not be caught dead at a Women’s March, but I have friends who she me that masculinity does not have to be so fragile that it is shattered by gender equality.

Every day, women are faced with genuine concerns about their own safety. Some of my closest friends have opened up about sexual assault that they have faced and they live every day in fear because of the trauma in their past. Nine in every 10 rape victims are female. One in 3 women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime.

There are so many women who have lost their hope in men — and rightfully so. They have no reason to believe that the Women’s March will ever do any good because they have no reason to believe that men are capable of anything other than violence and assault. And yet, many of them are still marching.

So here I am, an extremely privileged young woman who has been surrounded by kind, respectful men from the day she was born. I know what men are capable of, because I know my dad, my brother, my friends. Their love and compassion fills me with hope for the next generation of men. I know then men are capable of respecting women and I will protest until everyone holds them to that standard.

That is why I march.

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Hannah is an editorial intern for Her Campus and the editor of the High School section as well as a chapter writer for the University of Michigan. Achievements include being voted "Biggest Belieber" (2010) and "Most Likely to Have a Child Born Addicted to Starbucks" (2016), as well as taking a selfie with the back of Jim Harbaugh's head.  Goals for the future include taking a selfie with the front of Jim Harbaugh's head.  She's also an obsessive Instagrammer, so hit her with a follow @hannah.harshe

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