Calling Out Everyday Sexism
Content Warning: this article contains a discussion of sexual assault.
The other day, my best friends and I were casually chatting in a group message. Between complaining about homework and our crushes, we also discussed the instances when guy’s hands have crept too far up our thighs without our permission, the experiences that left us wanting to file our skin down raw to erase every trace of contamination. We discussed these instances without raising red flags, without explicitly labeling these actions for what they are: sexual assault. I guess it's easy to forget the magnitude of an event that has become a daily occurrence.
The common thread we found in this discussion was the shame that buries in the pits of our stomachs as we speak about these experiences. As if it is our fault for wearing clothes that make us feel sexy and confident. As if it is our fault that others recognize our beauty. As if it is our fault that others think they are entitled to grab our bodies. When, in reality, they are our bodies, our scared spaces, our choices.
As a woman, I am constantly made to feel lesser than others. Debate is a male-dominated space and that fact completely shaped my experience. I joined debate to gain a voice, but it was crushed instead. I have made no effort to tone down my feminist beliefs and debaters on my own team have dismissed me as a "feminist debater" because of this willingness to bring feminist arguments into the debate round. I had to qualify for the state championship before the others guys started listening to my ideas, whereas they didn’t think twice about paying rapt attention to any guy who waltzed in the door. I received criticism from judges for using the same aggressive power that clearly helps my male peers win tournaments. Opponents have told me that, “a weak girl won’t win” before proceeding to bombard me with inappropriate advancements. After I beat them, the comments only get worse.
I can’t tell you precisely the number of times I nearly quit the debate team because of this sexism. One day I sat in debate practice waiting for my male teammates to finish a "Guy-Only meeting" (I was the only girl in the room), and realized my voice had been thoroughly silenced. Their hushed comments and snippy laughs told me they were talking about stuff that Trump would call "locker room talk.” I simply sat there, the rage in my body practically glowing, and considered walking away from debate forever. But I knew that if I walked away, if I left the male-dominated activity, I would just show them that they were right — that I didn’t belong there because of my curves and high voice. I am not the kind of person who walks away, so I stayed.
As frustrating as it has been, this experience has only reiterated that I must continue to fight for women's rights. I will continue to occupy male dominate spaces until we live in a society in which every woman doesn’t have a story of sexual assault or other type of violence or violation; in which a guy can’t casually walk up behind me in a classroom, brush against me, and describe how great my ass looks in tight jeans before grabbing it — in a school classroom without facing any repercussions; and in which a teacher at the same school forced a girl to kneel on the ground so she could measure if the student’s skirt really touched her knees.
When will our society start to understand that the clothes a woman wears (or doesn’t wear) do not cause sexual assault, but rather the mindset predominately among men that woman can and should be treated like objects? What do I have to do for my voice to be taken seriously? Besides being a male, of course. Or maybe that’s currently the only option.
I know every woman’s experience is different. Many women have experienced far worse things than I have and I can only speak from my own experience. But I am really tired of being complacent, of being told that I should be complacent because my experience could be worse. I am really tired of how sexual assault is treated in our society, about how women are treated more generally. And I am really tired of people touching me without my consent.
I keep this in mind the next time I get a text from that same group chat with my best friends.
"Gahhhhhh, he touched me again," one of my friends said.
"I'm sorry, that sucks," another friend replies. "But what can you do?"
I text back: "You can start by addressing it as what it is — as sexual assault. You can report him. You can tell him you are not going to complacently ignore this. You can start to change how our society treats sexual assault."
With that in mind, I will never stop fighting.
More articles by Category: Feminism, Misogyny, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexism, Sexualized violence, High school, Discrimination