Gender, Love, Inequality

Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean you can sexually harass me

I remembered stories of women who have been murdered for refusing to give strangers their phone numbers.

Last week, a 15-year-old boy in Idaho was held by police after one of his friends posted screenshots of texts in which he detailed his plan to “kill all the girls” for failing to send him nude photos. In the texts, he details his plan to a friend, explaining how he would bring two guns and a hunting knife to Highland High School. He’s since been charged with threatening violence in a school and telephone harassment.

Screenshots of the texts were posted on Facebook, and show the suspect’s friend repeatedly asking him to “calm down” and “knock it off.” The authorities were notified and the school was put on temporary lockdown. The Idaho State Journal also reported that the suspect harassed female students – particularly, members of the cheerleading squad – and posted misogynistic and racist statuses on Twitter.

Fortunately, the suspect was held by police before anything could happen. We are all heartbroken, frightened and weary by gun violence and mass shootings. This summer feels as thought it has been especially bloody. We were barely able to finish mourning the deaths of church members in a historic Charleston church or moviegoers in a Louisiana theater before they were followed up by multiple school shootings, including last week’s Umpqua Community College shooting.

In fact, it was just last summer that Elliot Rodger killed seven people and wounded 13 more in Isla Vista, California. Rodger posted YouTube videos detailing his plan to punish all of the “sluts” who had refused to give him sex.

In the wake of that horrific killing, women began to tweet about misogyny, entitlement, gender-based violence and the fear women are taught to live with using the #YesAllWomen tag. I remember scrolling and scrolling. Crying and retweeting and sharing a few of my own thoughts and stories. I thought about how many times I’ve been afraid to tell a man that I’m not interested and how many times strangers who felt entitled to my body or attention have grabbed me.

I thought of women who have rejected men and had their nude photos leaked online, how many women have received rape and death threats for expressing their opinions. I remembered stories of women who have been murdered for refusing to give strangers their phone numbers. I thought of how often my friends and family chastise me for shouting back at street harassers, terrified of what might happen if I come across one with a gun.

And so, to read something like this a year later, from another young and apparently violently angry man…it’s terrifying, to say the least. Both stories are a horrible convergence of gun violence, violence against women and social media. They both speak to the fragility of masculinity, the objectification of women and a strange sense of entitlement that some men harbor.

Sometimes, when I hear people speak progressively about equality, read something powerful, or help a harasser realize that they’ve crossed a line… I feel this surge of hope. Maybe one day, I won’t read about stories like this. I won’t have to refuse a stranger’s advances with the same care one would apply to, say, diffusing a bomb. One day, women’s sexual autonomy will be respected. And then stories like this remind me that despite all of the progress that has been made in the past few years, alone, we still have so far to go.

Just for the record, here’s a message to angry young men who feel entitled to sexual favors, nude photos, dates or attention from young women who are simply not interested: no one owes you anything. Women do not owe you unlimited access to their bodies. Women do not owe you nude photos. Women do not owe you sex. Women do not owe you attention. Women do not owe you a “polite hello.” Women do not owe you painless rejections. Women do not owe you acquiescence. Women do not owe you their unrelenting patience. Women do not owe you pretty faces to look at. Women do not owe you smiles.

Women are owed respect and general human decency. Because we are humans. We live and breathe and bleed and cry and love and hate, like all humans do. We have the right to determine whom we sleep with, talk to and dance with. We are not objects on which you can project your hurt feelings and dream-girl fantasies. We are not walking, thoughtless sex organs. We are not pieces of meat meant to provide men with sexual capital. We are not tally marks by which you get to determine your sexual prowess.

When I first read this story, I started to cry. Not just out of frustration that things like this are still happening, but because I was glad that, for once, no one got hurt.