It is 5 in the morning. I’m sitting on the floor of the bathroom of the hotel room my family has reserved for our vacation in Paris after being harshly awoken by a nightmare. In this nightmare, I dreamt that two men assaulted my sister, my cousins and me on our way home, late at night. My appetite for sleep vanquished soon after I realized that this scary, nauseating dream could someday easily become reality. My worst nightmare could happen to me, and has happened to multiple other girls.
As I lay in bed thinking, trying to forget what my brain just made me experience, I wondered: How many men have this nightmare? How many men live in daily fear of being attacked, assaulted, so much so that it is the very material of which their scariest dreams are consisted of? My guess would be, not that many.
We live in a world, especially in Lebanon, where men are told that it is fine to do exactly whatever the hell they want to. When a man wants something in Lebanon, he is told to go right ahead and take it. Women, however, are taught to sit quietly, to dress the table and undress it, to make themselves pretty – whether by make-up, or plastic surgery. Women are taught to speak in low voices, laugh in low voices, not to be loud or raucous or too energetic. Women are taught to cover themselves up, not just physically but figuratively, slowly and steadily hiding the parts of their personalities that don’t fit in with society’s standards, with the “norm”. Anything that makes a man uncomfortable, or that makes a man feel less superior than normal, must be gotten rid of.
Men are not used to being told “no” in our world. How many times have I seen other girls experience, and I myself experienced, the grueling and exhausting task of having to refuse a guy making romantic or sexual advances (or both) – a grueling and exhausting task because the word “no” has to be transformed into a beautiful and careful answer, along with a full explanation why – our preferences and opinions and stances as human beings not being enough, or not being existent to some men. The nicest guys will tell you to “think about it”, or to explain why, while the most extreme will buy a gun and shoot crowds of girls at his university – yes, it has happened http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/devon-murphy/yes-all-women-elliot-rodger_b_5399716.html. In all cases, men are in disbelief that anyone could refuse them because most of them have grown up in an environment where the word “no” is obsolete.
Some people act with dismay and honest confusion towards cases of sexual assault in the news: “Why didn’t she just stop him? Why didn’t she say no?” The truth is, a lot of the times girls say “no” to boys they are ignored, snubbed, and not taken seriously. It is completely probable that in most of the cases of sexual assault, the victim not only “said no”, but pleaded and begged with her attacker, asking him to stop. But in a culture where men are used to taking up as much space as they want, while girls learn how to make themselves smaller and smaller, this word is simply not heard. It is not heard when the same guys advance me romantically over and over again, even after I have told them a thousand times “NO”, it is not heard when guys are doing something that makes me uncomfortable – not just sexually but generally – and I suddenly become mute to them as I ask them to stop, it is unheard when girl after girl after girl is sexually assaulted and attacked and screams “no no no no no”. It is not heard. It does not exist.
When I woke up after having this nightmare, and when I lay down and I began thinking on the subject, my fear increased until it was a dark and thick and bitter liquid in the back of my throat. I decided I would never allow myself to come back home walking late at night, alone, or with my girl friends, I will never again walk down the partially hidden and most of the time, empty, alleys that I used to use as shortcuts. No longer will I leave the house in “short shorts” (“revealing clothing”) if I am going out at night, or actually, how about I simply don’t leave the house at all if it is nighttime? I began thinking, and in a matter of a few seconds, increased the already numerous boundaries and limits that set me back every day. Because these are the things I have to do so I can feel safe in my community. But even then, even after I do all these things, and even after I heed all the dire warnings from adult family members or friends (“Don’t every take a drink from someone when you’re out, they might have slipped a drug in it” “Don’t wear what you’re wearing, you’ll excite someone” “Don’t act that way or say these things, you’ll “lead him on”” etc.) I don’t feel safe. And it is obvious I don’t feel safe when my worst nightmare is a possible reality in the world that we live in, a crime that is committed frequently, and one that most of the time, goes unpunished. Who here has heard about Brock Turner? The straight-A, star athlete who started his freshman year at Stanford and, oh yeah, he also raped an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at a frat party? He’s only going to jail for 3 months, though. He can continue his education, or his swimming career, or his business career, or any career at all when he comes back from this short trip to prison during which he has been put in protective custody, by the way. The explanation for such a short sentence in comparison to the one that was proposed (14 years), was that the judge “didn’t think Brock could handle” more time in jail. One has to think about the victim at hand here – who’s protecting her? While Brock is placed in protective custody, and so many are worried about this jail sentence ruining his life, or worsening his mental state, they do not seem equally bothered with the life that could potentially have been forever ruined or the mental state that has already worsened as a consequence of Brock’s actions – as a consequence of his pure entitlement.
Because if there’s anything today’s world should show you, it is the way that most men are so irrevocably and insistently entitled. They feel as though they are entitled to women, sexually, romantically, physically, mentally, and when they are refused, they demand to know why – as though our desires and personal attractions and opinions are not enough for them. When a man sees an unconscious woman, troubled, lying on the dirty ground, he feels so entitled to do whatever might please him the most that he takes her behind a dumpster and sexually assaults her. And this entitlement and the dangers and harm it may lead to most of the time goes unpunished.
And the thing is, there are so few male allies – at least in my community right now. I know that there are many in the world by and large, but in Lebanon specifically it is so hard to find a guy that thoroughly understands, or tries hard to understand, what it is to be a woman in this world – and does whatever is in his (large amount of) power to help, to raise awareness, and to alleviate the struggle that is faced by so many girls. I know it is hard because I have experienced it. I have asked my male peers to walk me home so many times and seen them roll their eyes, sigh loudly, and generally act as though they are doing me a HUMUNGOUS favor when the only thing I want from them is to use their male privilege to help me get home safely. I have seen my male peers laugh or sneer or belittle my and other girls’ experiences with sexual or verbal or physical assault from the men on the street, as we walk to the grocery store or to the gym. I have seen amusement and incomprehension etched all over their faces as they laugh and wave off the attacks on our self-esteem and dignity and self-worth.
During social gatherings or lunch break at school, I have heard the same complaints over and over again: “Why do you hate all men? Not all of us are like this! I don’t rape women!” (Even if you’re not a perpetrator, which you shouldn’t be congratulated for because no one should be congratulated for acting like a human, being a by-stander is not better at all)“Why is it called ‘feminism’ anyways? Why not equality?”(Why does it matter?) “Why are feminists so extreme? The worst of sexism is over, mostly everything is fine now, why do you have to whine so much?” (Because the worst of sexism is not over) and my favorite so far: “We don’t need feminism in today’s society. Women are equal”. And this is nothing compared to the tirade of insults and jokes made about feminism and the sexism that women have to endure. Male feminists, in contrast, are scarce, mighty scarce.
And so I guess I am writing this article as a reaction to the Brock Turner case, and to the lifelong struggle with sexism and misogyny of which I have only experienced 18 years of. I guess I am writing this article as a plea to all the guys in my life, to really listen for once and understand that it is really a harsh and horrifyingly violent world that all girls, some more than others of course, but that ALL GIRLS have to face, and we can’t do it alone. There is still a long, twisting road to go on before we reach the end of sexism, there is still a whole lot of battles to fight before we reach the end of feminism, and this is not a fight that girls can confront by themselves. Not because they are weak, but because everyone in the world, boy and girl alike, is guilty of being sexist, but it stops being your fault when you realize that sexism is ingrained in the society we are living in, and that no one can help learning sexist ideals, but we can all help overturning these ideals, and deconstructing sexism, and diminishing it from our society, and rebuilding a community where the feminist theory is so plentifully existent in our minds and our children’s minds that it is not even needed anymore.
So many guys, when I ask them why they are not feminists, say that it is not their problem.
It is your problem. It is everyone’s problem. When it is negatively affecting and harming and killing 51% of the population of the world, and when it is individuals of your gender that are responsible, it is your problem completely.