My Experience As A Woman In Modern America

I remember vividly sitting in my first sociology class in college, which I had enrolled in because it seemed like an interesting Gen Ed. It was a few weeks into the semester, and we were talking about women and their role in family life - as well as society as a whole. My female professor asked the class, “Girls, how many of you carry around pepper spray or mace?”

The question seemed simple enough to me. I raised my hand with confidence, thinking of my keychain with my keys and mace - a gift from my mother when I graduated high school. At first, I thought it was kind of funny how she sat on the edge of my bed, handed me a can of pepper spray, and taught me how to use it; I thought it was funny, until I saw the deadly serious expression on her face. There were almost 200 people in my sociology classroom - at least half of them women, if not more. Slowly, the hand of nearly every woman in the class raised as the men in the classroom looked on with horror. Aghast, they turned to my professor, and one male student had the courage to ask, “But why?”

While this was a sobering lesson for all of the men in the classroom, the women in the class looked around at each other as we put our hands down, feeling a sense of mutual understanding. As my sociology professor began explaining this phenomena, I began to think about growing up as a woman in America. When did my experience with sexual assault (and its prevention) begin? It didn't begin when I was 18 and a friend of mine dropped out of college after being raped after a party, and it didn't begin when I was 14 and a classmate thought it was appropriate to reach out and slap my butt or grab my chest as I walked through the hallways.

It began during puberty, when my body became more developed and “womanly.” When I was 12, my mother told me that no man ever had the right to tell me what to do with my body or make me uncomfortable. However, as I grew older, I began to understand how my clothing dictated the attention I received from the opposite sex. In eighth grade, I stopped wearing tank tops after boys would slap my bra strap against my shoulder. During my junior year of high school, I stopped wearing shirts with cutouts in the back after the boys sitting behind me would un-clip my bra in class.

While my mom remained a champion for me to use my voice and demand respect, I noticed the reactions of the classmates around me as these things happened. The boys often didn’t see a problem with it, and the ones who did averted their eyes. When I stood up for myself, or when other girls stood up for me, we were met with extreme backlash - alienated from the other boys (and even some of the girls) who thought we were being b*tchy and making a big deal out of nothing. The reactions of my classmates, from middle school to high school, began to dictate my own reactions - especially as a young, impressionable teenager who sought to be accepted by her peers. Being silent became the norm, and feeling ashamed became even more normal as the media began to vilify women for speaking out and telling their stories.

At 19 years old, I still carry my keys between my knuckles and hold my pepper spray when I walk across campus alone, even though I feel relatively safe on my well-lit commute home. At 19 years old, I've finally started to come to terms with my own experiences with sexual assault - finally able to speak about it to others, including my parents and immensely supportive boyfriend. At 19 years old, I've finally started the process of realizing that my assault story isn't my fault, and I'm not to blame.

When I finally started this journey of healing and acceptance, Donald Trump was nominated for president. With 22 accusations of sexual assault against him and a vulgar audio recording released, I was horrified when he became president. In my naivety and fear, I refused to believe people didn’t believe his accusers - and I tried not to think about the fact that people put their fiscal views over the rights and feelings of women. With the creation of the #MeToo movement, it became apparent to me that not only were there so many women who had similar, if not worse, experiences like me - but that they also were failed by the government of the “greatest nation in the world," a nation championed on democracy and justice.

When Brett Kavanaugh was appointed as a Supreme Court judge, and supported even after being accused of sexual assault by three different women, it didn't surprise me that Dr. Ford was being blamed and told that she was a liar. It did, however, horrify me that people targeted her home, her family and have responded with such visceral rage and disrespect for a survivor of sexual assault. Countless other women and I have been triggered by her testimony and the testimonies of so many others who have stood up in defense of Dr. Ford. It's exhausting and painful to read through all of the stories and to recount our own in the hopes that it will cause change; women have felt powerless for long enough, and Kavanaugh’s confirmation is a slap in the face to all women. Moreover, Kavanaugh’s confirmation is emblematic of what America thinks of women and their assaults perpetrated against them.

As a woman, I'm tired of being shunned into silence, whether it's from my classmates or senators, so please - vote in the midterm elections. We need to teach the men around us to respect and value women, and we need to teach other women to support each other. Most of all, we need to make America safer for women. This begins with us, as a society, and it begins with the Supreme Court - the highest court for lawmaking and judgment.

A few days ago, Donald Trump spoke in regards to the Kavanaugh nomination, issuing a statement saying, “It’s a very scary time for men... it’s a very difficult time for men…” - but what he, and many other men (especially those in politics) don’t realize, is that it's always been a scary time for women. With every fiber of my being, I hope one day this will change.