Learning to be a Woman in a Man's World

It's past midnight a few weeks ago, and I'm leaving a local D.C. bar with a good friend. We're talking about the night and trying to figure out how to get home, so I don't notice a group of guys getting a little closer than they should have. Within seconds, one of them slaps my butt, high fives his buddies, and they all walk away laughing. Instead of running after the group and demanding an apology, I scream an insult and pull my friend the opposite direction. She's incensed, insisting we go after them, and coming up with all manner of responses once we do. My reaction is far worse: I try to brush it off, and change the subject, saying it's just something that happens. It isn't until the next morning when I wake up, replaying the night while laying in bed, that I see just how horrifying my response was. It was then that I realized that I had become numb to the small ways in which women are harassed every day, to the point that when someone physically laid a hand on me, I barely blinked. 

Since that night, I have been thinking about all the ways I've come to this point. The sad fact is, I'm not the only woman who has been forced to become accustomed to this treatment. It is no secret that we live in a male-driven and controlled society, even if being a woman in the United States is far better than being one in other parts of the world. Regardless, from a very young age, women are taught, either explicitly or implicitly, to sit up straight, dress modestly, keep our legs together, and make as little noise as possible. Even if our parents do their best to counteract this, society reinforces it through daily judgement of our actions. Worse, it enforces it through catcalling and harassment if we step out of line. This takes the form of men leering at us on the subway, creepy bosses giving us backhanded compliments about our appearances, a guy screaming at us how hot we are as we walk by wearing a tank top, and guys "accidentally" grabbing our breasts or butts at clubs when we have let down our guard to have a good time. 

The worst part is that, officially, Americans try to proclaim that women are equal, and that society has changed for the better. If we are comparing modern society to the 1950s, then yes, I agree with this statement, since women are expected to work, and in theory can gain any job they want. There are more women enrolled in college than men across the board, and women tend to do better in school than men. However, there is still a huge wage gap between women and men, with women paid 77 cents to the dollar compared to men, maternity leave is not guaranteed, and women in office environments have to practice speaking assertively in order to be taken seriously by male colleagues, even in the White House. Women, in reality, are still not even close to being equal to men, something that shows if you bother to look a few layers under the so-called modern exterior. 

We're taught to accept this, or at least not protest, from early on. If a boy insults us on the playground in elementary school, we were told they liked us and that was their way of showing it. If a guy snaps your bra in high school, give him the middle finger and walk away, nothing more. If you choose to wear something tight and short out for the night, don't be surprised if a guy catcalls you, since you dressed in a way to encourage this type of behavior. If a guy physically assaults you in some way, don't expect them to be sent to jail for more than three months (hello Brock Turner), if at all. In other words, smile and bear it.

This is not okay. Let me reiterate. This is not okay. This is not fine. This is not acceptable. This is not something we should have to deal with as women. As American women, we live in the richest country in the world, a place where freedom and democracy are at the forefront and in a country that is supposed to be a beacon for the rest of the world to emulate. Yet, when it comes to the treatment of women, and the way we are conditioned to accept this from day one, the United States still has a long way to go. I can only hope that, if I have a daughter, by the time she is 21, if some stranger slaps her butt, she will have the courage to do what I should have: Face him down, tell him his behavior is unacceptable, and know that society as a whole has her back. Only then will true change have been accomplished. 

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