I recently came across one of those “If you____, then post this as your status” things. I don’t know what you call those. They’re not “memes,” and they’re not “chain mail,” though they kind of have the feel of both.
This one, though, was posted by someone I know who doesn’t normally engage in those kind of Facebook games.
This was about sexual assault, and the directions were a simple, “Post ‘#metoo,’ so we can share just how prevalent sexual assault is,” or something like that.
I was kind of like, “whatever,” when I saw it. I consider myself an adamant feminist, but things like this don’t usually speak to me, especially in the realm of Facebook and passive activism on social media. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important- I do. I own Indy Moms Blog, I’m certainly aware of the power and reach of digital social connection. There’s just still something about those posts that feels disingenuine to me the same way that “thoughts and prayers” does.
But then my feed looked like this:
These are women I know and admire and love. And I’m not, at all, surprised. I’m a woman, I went to a four-year college, lived on campus, then off-campus with my friends, and had a front row seat to date-rape culture the whole time.
Don’t put your drink down. Make sure you watch them pour it. Don’t walk home alone. Don’t dress that way. Don’t drink too much. Don’t get roofied. Don’t accept the ride home. Don’t..don’t…don’t…don’t do anything, especially expect to be treated with respect when you’re the most vulnerable.
It took me a long time to understand what respect was actually supposed to look like. And now I know why.
In a world where the simple act of being pretty gives license to predatory men (Harvey Weinstein,) or being ambitious is synonymous with “playing the game” (“When you’re famous, they let you do anything…”), I understand why it has taken me 33 years to realize that of course I didn’t know what respect was supposed to look like, despite knowing lots of really good guys, and really good people generally. The sexual exploitation of women is normed, before you tell me it’s because of feminism, let me tell you that it’s not because of the sexual revolution- God forbid women enjoy and name and reclaim sex for themselves without it being co-opted and harnessed and used by predators who want to make a buck. It’s not sexual freedom that’s the norm, it’s the accepted-as-natural exploitation of women..again and again and again. High school girls are sent home for wearing tank tops, being pretty holds more social capital than being smart, and Hugh Hefner is remembered as a First Amendment hero (W.T.ACTUAL.F.).
The control over women’s bodies is, of course, an instrument of political volleying, but it starts out of the womb. Delicate vs. strong, in need of protection and saving, the narratives around girls stave off the inevitable sexual objectification as if it were a given- as if it weren’t completely avoidable, as if it weren’t due to the intentional and knowing choices of the perpetrators.
You know what my favorite part of Nikki Minage’s Anaconda video was? The part where she just walks away from Drake. No, okay- maybe also the part where she chops the banana in half. Like she’s saying, “It’s not for you.” It was so gratifying watching her be unapologetically sexy and then like…”I get to decide.” I loved it because it’s not the message we receive, right? The script is flipped- she uses her power the way she wants to. She walks away with her sexuality, it’s hers, in tact, with “My anaconda don’t,” looped in the background.
No. You’re anaconda really don’t. And it’s amazing.
I don’t really know what to teach my son and daughters about what respect is supposed to look like, because it all feels like pushing against the tide- I will tell them and teach them whatever I want to, but in the end, as long as we, as a society, keep on making excuses for this, it’s going to be on them to figure it out. I can teach them as much as I want to treat other people with dignity, but the sad truth is they live in a world where “dignity” and “women” are still subjected to a social male gaze.
I’m not a cynic. But I’m not stupid, either.
“Locker room talk”?
The time has come to stop sanctioning the objectification of women- on the casting couch, in high school hallways, in college bars, and in the ways we speak and talk about women: about women we don’t know, about our daughters, about each other. I don’ have any answers, but I think the first step is respecting that every person- EVERY PERSON- has an inherent dignity, and we can 1) respect that dignity, 2) teach our kids to do the same, 3) shift the way we think, change the way we talk, and demand our politicians do the same, so that we are acting in the interests of upholding the humanity of all people.