Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Another Story Among Many

Via WCASA

Two summers ago I spent the break in Seattle, Washington, a place completely foreign to me. It seemed unfamiliarly liberating. I was in the other half of the country, I knew no one and it let me entertain an uncomfortability and freedom I’d never experience before. As I do every summer, I was trying to catch up on my feminist literature. I felt a sense of pride being on my own. I was optimistic and filled with an unquenchable, passionate fire that burned with desire for change.

One day I decided to branch off on my own. I walked to a local bookstore and picked up a copy of “The Feminist Mystique,” by Betty Friedan (a historically classic necessity for every aspiring feminist.) I then proceeded to walk around downtown.

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Just as I was looking for a place to settle and crack open my book, I heard four men approaching.

They were talking about me. I tried to ignore them but a deeply pitted fear had suddenly encompassed my stomach. My breath shortened and my lungs felt increasingly heavy.

I distractedly read Friedan’s paragraph over and over again without truly processing it as I was consumed by the men’s lewd remarks. My intuition and mind were arguing with one another. One told me to signal my fight-or-flight response while the other reminded me that I had as much of a right to be there as they did.  Via Sacha

The words got clearer and more crude as I sat there debating what my next move should be. I let several moments pass before standing up to leave. The commentary was enough to subdue my fiery spirit and make me feel unsafe and unwelcome.

I briskly walked a few blocks to a more populated area. Of course, it was Seattle at 5 pm so that wasn’t hard to find. When I turned over my shoulder the men were still there. They’d followed me all over the hills, zigzagged pathways and unorthodox route I’d taken. When they saw me turn my cheek their remarks returned. Each statement was a sting that weakened me. Finally one of them yelled, “you shouldn't be allowed to go out in public looking that sexy” while trying to grab me.

Via SACNWGA

At this point, people had noticed and jumped in. Yet, the men were only fueled by the attention. A man nearby called the police.

Several minutes later the cops arrived. After seeing who the men were they opted to avoid the situation. They politely explained to me that these men caused issues like this regularly and that it would be easier if they just drove/escorted me home. On the drive back, they gave me “practical precautions” to follow like walking in streets that are busy (but not too busy), avoiding dark alleys and using my keys as a weapon.

I got home feeling so humiliated. The pride and independence I’d experience earlier had been replaced by defeat as I realized that I was not entitled to the same space and security my male counterparts were. The harassers’ reaffirmed the idea that my sexuality wasn’t mine; rather it’s intended for their satisfaction.

Likewise, the police officers’ recommendation points towards how our society does nothing to prevent this sort of behavior. The fact that we call sexual harassment and assault a “woman’s issue” is baffling. According to a 2010 survey by the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence report, 90 percent of sexual violence against women are committed by men. Telling women how to respond to male attackers does nothing to change the flawed gender constructions we hold on to so tightly when male are more often than not the perpetrators.

Via Paola Bailey

This month is sexual assault awareness month and it only felt appropriate to acknowledge that like my story, most women have a unique, albeit thematically similar story of their own.

These stories are so common in fact that we as women are conditioned to live in fear. We jump when someone walks behind us because we fear an attacker. When we walk at night, our knuckles are clenched tightly around the keys we are instructed to use as weapons. In the dark we pass a light and panic at the appearance of our own shadow. We are taught to go unnoticed, take up little space and avoid trouble by hungry, uncontrollable men whose desires supersede our own.

That night when I arrived in downtown Seattle, I had felt empowered and fired up with the idea that I as a woman was on equal footing. By the time I left, I realized my naivety. My lungs felt tight and spirits were low for I realized that my appearance hindered me. I felt my chest deflate as I realized that the bra straps men used to identify and objectify my womanhood were suffocating my lungs and containing my spirits.