Content warning: This article discusses sexual harassment and sexual assault.
When I was nine years old, my mom and I stayed in a hotel. As we stood in the parking lot, removing our luggage from our car, a group of men on the other side of the small lot began calling out to us. My mom ignored them and told me not to look at them. I don’t remember exactly what they said, but I remember them asking what room we were in, making comments about my mom’s appearance, and telling me how beautiful I was. I remember wishing my dad had gotten the luggage and my mom had checked us in.
One warm spring day my freshman year of college, I went to an acai place to get a bowl. A man sitting outside told me, “You should smile more.” I gave him my practiced glare and listened to him scream about how much of a bitch I was. He continued raging at me for two blocks as I walked away, never moving from where he sat.
When I was a sophomore in college, I was walking to Target when a man whipped his truck into the crosswalk and blocked me from being able to cross. His smirk disgusted me and his words made me feel small, but I stared at him with a hard expression until he lost interest and drove off.
At a club in Puebla, a man asked my friend to dance with him. She kept saying no, and the guy didn’t leave her alone until our male friend stepped in and danced with her. The man then turned to me. I kept telling him no, and when he finally grabbed me to try to pull me closer to him, I shoved him as hard as I could and screamed no. He got embarrassed by all the people looking at him, called me a bitch, and stormed off.
When I go to restaurants to pick up food or leave work to get back to my car, I am paranoid. I don’t tell people when their car doors are left opened; I always check under my car before I open the door. If I see a plastic bag or piece of paper stuck to my wheel, I’ll drive to another location before I remove it—even if it turns out it was just the wind that put it there.
One time in high school, I heard a statistic that one in five women will be sexually assaulted by the time they finished college. That day at lunch, I realized I was sitting in a group of five girls, all of us about to graduate. I felt a cold pit in my stomach and wondered if one of us would be the one. Later, I found out one of us experienced it before we had graduated high school.
When women talk about our experiences with sexual harassment and sexual assault, one of two things will happen. The first is that a man will talk about how men get raped too. This man will never bring this up outside of women trying to share their own experiences. The second is a man will say something along the lines of, “Damn that sucks, but not all men are rapists.”
Let me be clear: I don’t care that “not all men” are rapists. Enough men are that I need to worry about every single one I pass on the street. When my brother’s friends sleep over, I sleep with my door locked. At any time of the day, if I see a man walking toward me, I’ll cross the street; if I see a group of men, I try to move a block over before continuing my journey.
In the four years I’ve been in college, the numbers have changed. One in four women will experience sexual assault before they graduate. The rates go up for women of color and queer women. I am both. Sometimes, I feel like I have to consider myself lucky that the worst that’s ever happened to me has been catcalls and boys trying to manipulate me into doing something I don’t want to. I know the one in fours. I’m friends with the one in four. I’m friends with way more than four.
Earlier this year, a study found that 97% of women have been sexually harassed. When women began sharing their outrage and grief, men on the internet were quick to point out that “not all men” are rapists or creeps or stalkers or whatever. But in a way, aren’t they? How many men have ignored other men catcalling a woman on the street? How many men have let their friends get away with saying shitty comments about women’s bodies? How many men have brushed off misogynistic “jokes” their buddies have made because it “wasn’t the right time” to educate them? How many men have actually thought, “Now isn’t the right time, I’ll bring it up later”? (My guess for the last one is none.) When you see or hear something and choose to let it slide, you become complicit in allowing this culture to continue. Maybe you haven’t catcalled anyone, maybe you aren’t making the bad jokes with your friends, but if you aren’t stepping in and saying something, you’re letting it happen. Women (and nonbinary people) don’t have that option. We live through this, in some cases, every day. When we leave our homes, we necessarily wonder if today will be the day, or if we’ll make it to the grocery store and back home without any comments being made about our bodies. And with 97% of women experiencing sexual harassment, the chances of us making it home unscathed are low.
Our culture of assault is so normalized that freshman year of college when I was stalked by a boy I explicitly rejected on multiple occasions, I didn’t realize I was being stalked. I thought I was overreacting; never mind the fact that I didn’t feel comfortable in my own dorm room because he lived in the same building. Young girls are taught to romanticize abusive behavior—how many girls have heard, “Oh, he’s mean to you because he likes you!”? Probably every single one you’ve ever met.
The worst part is that the fix is for men to say something! This obviously isn’t a fight that women can win alone, which is another infuriating way that the patriarchy continues to control our lives. We need men to listen and speak up. We need men to say something when their friends say or do misogynistic or sexist things. We need men to pay attention and intervene when women are being catcalled or otherwise harassed on the streets. We’re asking for the bare fucking minimum, but that’s still asking for too much. If you as a man aren’t doing your part, you are part of the problem.