Not All Men: April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

A week or so ago, a friend and I attended an event for sexual assault awareness called “Take Back the Night.” And it was…. an experience. It started in a local park where we all gathered. A friend of mine read a beautiful poem, others shared their stories of recovery, and some even sang. This was a very healing part of the night. Everyone was so respectful, kind, and vulnerable, which really helped me be vulnerable, too—remembering all the times I have been catcalled, had an unwanted hand on my thigh, or an uncomfortable comment thrown at me by peers. I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t experienced something like this or has been in a more violating situation, and it was very powerful to see everyone supporting one another. There were also multiple men who attended. To the men who were there as allies: thank you for the support. It’s powerful. To the men who were there as survivors: I believe you.

 

After the readings and performances, we started to walk around the town with signs as a protest to rape and rape culture. We shouted slogans like, “End the patriarchy,” “Stop the violence, no more silence,” “We believe survivors,” and other phrases that exude justice and general badassery. At first, it felt like everyone in a two-mile radius was looking at me, and I was really reserved. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. Then I realized, “You’re at a rally for awareness and you don’t want to draw attention to yourself?!” I was with a group of powerful and unapologetic individuals, and as they grew louder and more passionate, I realized that I was shouting, too. I have a voice, too. And I’ll be damned if I don’t use it. There were a few people in their apartments yelling for us to be quiet, and a car that got angry because our accessibility car was going slower than the speed limit. They honked and revved their engine, but we just continued.

 

We marched for about a half an hour before they said, “We are headed to campus now. If you need to go home and heal, we totally understand, but we’d love to have you join us.” I looked at my friend with my eyebrows raised, asking her if she wanted to. She nodded. So, we drove back to campus and found our group again. We began marching next to some residence halls, and as we went, I heard shouting. Above us were girls sticking their heads out their windows to cheer us on. I felt adrenaline, empowerment, love—until we got to the boy's side of the dorms. There, we were met with a little more hostility. This time, the shouting wasn’t kind. It was “Shut the f*ck up!” or “Go home.” I was a little jarred by this. Obviously, I knew people like this existed. I knew they were around. But before this night, the things I participated in like Pride were always in huge groups, and the hatred was completely drowned out. But here, it was different—it was more personal. These are the boys who I go to class with; who go to parties; who are around campus when I’m walking home at night. And I let it get to me. I yelled back at a particular window, full of four or five boys shouting and laughing. In the moment, I got so caught up in my own vulnerability and anger that I lashed out, against my moral judgment, and I later regretted it. I realized that we could have conveyed our message stronger if I had stayed quiet and focused. I considered this, beating myself up about it for a long time until I thought, This would also be a lot more effective if we didn’t need events and rallies and marches for this sh*t. I shouldn’t even have to think about defending myself against anyone. Me and my little-to-no-filter mind is not the problem. Do you know what the real problem is? Rape culture, toxic masculinity, and anything else that contributes to the silence of survivors. If anyone reading this feels offended or attacked by these statements, you’re part of the problem, too. To all the women who have personally been affected in related incidents, I’m sorry that we have to learn different lessons on safety.

 

I’m sorry that we have to learn to go everywhere with two or more friends, to never accept open drinks, to carry our keys between our knuckles, to never let a friend go home with someone they just met, to always carry pepper spray, to draw as much attention to ourselves as we can if someone attacks us, to fight back and scratch them to get their DNA under our nails—I’m sorry.

 

I wish we could let our guard down. To all the men who are survivors, I’m sorry that our culture doesn’t allow you to talk about what happened. I believe you, and it was not your fault. You are valid, and I believe you.

 

I stand with you.

 

And I will defend you until my lungs run out of air, until my arms are sore from holding protest signs, until my legs collapse from marching, until my hands hurt from voting, and until there is justice.

 

Like I said, I have a voice; and it’s going to kick ass.