A New Kind of Resolution

The Christmas season is upon us now and with that comes the hustle and bustle of the season. Hordes of fevered holiday shoppers descend upon shopping malls, mistletoe appears above every door frame, the Hallmark Channel has the same actors in the same familiar holiday love stories and the nostalgic chorus of “Jingle Bells” fills the air. For me, Christmas has always been my favorite holiday with the snow, the cheer, presents and lights. It’s a truly magical season, especially because now I get a whole month off to enjoy the holiday.

However, I have little fondness for New Year’s. It always felt like a let down after a fun holiday season, a reality check so to speak. Snow was no longer powdered sugar dusting the roads but rather thick gray slush. Gone were the presents, the lights, the festive drinks and decor and back was school and responsibilities. Even worse, it was a new year, which in theory seems exciting, what with the new possibilities and opportunities for change and growth, but the concept of a new year has been twisted to be associated with regret.

Every year, millions of people make New Year Resolutions, promises that they’ll do something different in the new year because they regret what they did the previous year. Now, this is not to say these are bad, after all resolving to improve oneself is a great thing, but very rarely do people follow through with their resolutions. What a great way to start a new year; school, freezing temperatures, a deluge of snow, a palpable sense of regret and a feeling of failure.

However, this year I have a real resolution, one that I didn’t have the courage to do before. But, if the women of the #MeToo movement and the celebrities in Hollywood can find the courage to come forward with their heartbreaking tales of sexual assault and harassment, then I can find the courage to stand up for myself.

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4 times.

4 times this semester I have been cat called and sexually harassed and each one stands out in horrific clarity.

The first time was only a few days after move-in. My friends and were walking back to our dorms, a pack of girls exuberant and practically high off the excitement of starting college and being out at night without parents breathing down our necks asking what we were doing and where we were going. A guy in a truck with an UA bumper sticker came barreling down the road, shouting obscenities out the window.

Suddenly, the warm summer night air was suffocating. We laughed it off saying he clearly did not pay attention to the sexual harassment portion of the Title IX meeting that happened earlier, but it actually wasn’t that funny and I felt extremely grateful for the girls around me.

However, sometimes it's late and there’s no one around. One night later in the semester, I was rushing to the Student Union by myself to get dinner before it closed. I wasn’t actually alone though, as the two males that popped out of nowhere made me acutely aware of. They passed me and one of them muttered something. When I asked them to repeat themselves they laughed and said they were just saying hello. I responded with a flat hi and continued hurrying along, but I wasn’t allowed the final word. They shouted back, laughing loudly, like it was the funniest thing in the world, telling me to “be safe”. After all, there’s nothing like two strange guys telling a girl all alone at night to be safe to make her feel definitively not safe.

Another day, in broad daylight as the sun streamed down from the height of the sky, two men brushed past me and my roommate with a prerequisite muffled word clearly in our direction that I, obstinate and tempestuous as I am, challenged, asking them to repeat themselves. Like an all too familiar nightmare, they said they were only saying hi. I ignored them and kept walking but they flipped the script and turned to follow me and my roommate back to our dorms. One of them saying loudly to the other, “I’d the fuck the shit out of her”.

We kept our heads down and kept moving, but once again the scene was not over until the catcallers got their say. The man who so politely discussed he’d be interested in engaging in sexual activities with me, shouted at me. He asked me if I had liked that, if I had liked that, if I had liked that, over and over, until I replied no, hoping he’d leave. He said his friend told him that girls didn’t like being talked to like that and he was sorry which he followed up by shouting over and over and over again, asking for our names as we hurried, finally, into our dorms.

Just last week, I walked down to Main St. to get chocolates from the Peanut Shoppe and as I passed a man with a green mohawk shouting agitatedly into his cell phone, he abruptly paused, and when I glanced back to see why, out of mild curiosity and a growing sense of fear, he shouted back at me, “I’m sorry, I'm just admiring the view.”

I grimaced and kept going, wholly aware of just how cold it was and how alone I truly was. After all, if something had happened everyone would react the same way: “What did she think was going to happen walking in Akron alone?”

These are far from the only cases of sexual harassment I have experienced, but these are the ones that stand out by far. I find that when I dwell on this topic too long I start to hear their words swirling in my head: “be safe”, “just admiring the view” “what’s your name” “i’d fuck the shit out of her”.

This is not to say that I think I’ve had it the worst. I know that there are plenty of girls who can’t even count the number of times they’ve been sexually harassed. I know that there are catcalls far more vulgar and threatening. There are girls who have been sexually assaulted. However, that’s how it starts: when flippant dismissal over who had it worse turns into ignoring those who come forward because there’s somebody worse off.

I’ve always held a theory about how people justify their heinous actions. How they get up in the morning and justify cheating on their significant other, how they justify shouting at the barista, how they justify cutting people off when driving or how they justify writing insulting comments on social media. I once heard that the majority of people can only see themselves as the hero of their story and the protagonist in their script; that’s just how their brain works. That when making the movie of their lives they can’t help but slant the viewpoint, so that the girl cheating on her boyfriend is doing it because she feels unloved and that’s okay, the audience will cheer her on. When people act in ways I can’t fathom I remind myself that they do this because they think they’re right. But when it comes to catcalling, I just can’t imagine how men can slant the script so much that they’re the protagonist, that they can justify shouting at girls.

How do these men remember these interactions? Are they in stunning technicolor or a blur they only remember when their buddy nudges them with a chuckle? Am I just another girl in a thousand they’ve shouted at?  Do they read pieces like these and seethe with hypocritical rage that men talk to women like this? Do they realize how they make women feel?

Perhaps they truly don’t understand the ramifications of their actions. This is most definitely naive and overly optimistic, but that optimism has gotten me this far. This is in no way an excuse for their actions or a denial of the patriarchal power structure regarding women, objectification, sexuality and control that allows men to think this behavior is appropriate, but I have to start somewhere, I have to do something.

So, this New Year’s, I resolve to talk back. I resolve to speak my mind. I am tired of putting my head down and giving the polite nod or tight lipped smile. I’m exhausted of hurrying past catcallers or bracing myself when passing a group of men on the street. If I feel safe I’m going to start speaking up. Telling them how I feel. It’s my turn to flip the script.

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“Don’t talk to me like that.”

“That makes me uncomfortable.”

”What makes you think you can talk to me like?”

“I don’t know you, don’t talk to me.”

“That was disrespectful.”

Maybe my words will start ringing in their heads.