Ears Open, Mouths Closed.

This is the phrase that my son’s kindergarten teacher used to use, when she wanted her students’ attention, and I think it is appropriate, today. I’ve spent most of today reading an assortment of social media, blog posts, and news articles regarding the YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter.

If you aren’t familiar with this hashtag, it is a collection of accounts from women, detailing the reasons why and how they have been made to feel unsafe by men, throughout their lifetimes.  This is hard stuff to read. The accounts range from women being followed on the street by men who are begging for sexual favors and/or asking to pay for sex, to women be beaten and raped by men they had broken up with. It includes stories of children–girls only twelve or thirteen years old–who were harassed, touched, and hurt. It is not fun stuff to read, and it is easy to step back and say, “Not all men are like that.”

Of course, not all men are like that. No one believes that they are. The problem is that there is a general stereotype that is held about women. And the really, REALLY big problem is that WE, as women, are helping to continue those generalizations. You know the ones that I’m talking about. Women are sluts if they want sex (or dress in a certain manner, or talk a certain way, or are confident in their sexuality). Women are prudes if they don’t want sex, or don’t dress a certain way, or don’t nod appreciatively when random strangers comment on their ass. Strong, intelligent women are often considered bossy, or worse, bitchy.

And I find myself contributing to the problem, all the time.

My fifteen year old daughter is 5’10” tall. Shorts and skirts that are “short” on others are “super-short” on her, and her legs are so long that they seem even shorter. As summer arrives, I find myself inwardly cringing when she comes down, in the morning. My gut reaction, all wrapped up in a socially appropriate bow, is that she needs to cover up. Not because she isn’t beautiful. Not because there is some crime committed by showing leg. Nope. It’s because I fear that boys (and men) will become aroused looking at her. And the thing is, there is nothing wrong with arousal. It is a natural, human reaction. The problem is that we haven’t had this conversation enough–often enough, loud enough, honest enough–and I worry for her. Arousal can lead to danger. Arousal can lead to pain. Her pain. Her in danger.

A high school in Utah photoshopped some female students’ yearbook photos, without their permission, to make them more “appropriate.” Basically, what that looks like, is covering up the incredibly offensive shoulders and sternums of young girls. Shoulders. And sternums. Because women’s bodies are so provocative that they must be covered up. The arousal of the men around them can incite trouble. Women are troublemakers.

I read an account, today, of a woman who, during the production of a skit, was (without her prior permission or knowledge) held down, mouth taped, and “fake raped.” Her clothes were torn, HER MOUTH WAS TAPED. This was in a professional setting, guys. This was in a place where she should have felt safe.

We have to talk about this. We have to tell people, everyone, that these things are happening. When I was eighteen, I waited tables at a bar. Not the best job for a college freshman, but it was good money, and I needed the money. In my tenure there, I was propositioned, harassed, groped, pulled onto a man’s lap that was well-older than my father, had a man reach up my skirt and into my underwear, and generally belittled. But the money was good.

And because the money was good, I was expected to put up with it. My body was not my own, to make decisions for, or use as I wish. My body was a toy that was to be played with, as desired, by the patrons that tipped me. I was eighteen years old. I was fully clothed, in a college bar. This was not a strip club–it was just a bar. And it was normal.

I have seen forty-year-old men’s heads pivot as my daughter walks past, and the one time that I dared speak up, “She’s a child,” I was told, “Don’t be jealous, Mom.” Yes. Because her safety wasn’t my concern. I was simply asking you to put your eyes back in your head because I was jealous of your pajama-pants wearing attention.  How did you ever guess?

So, I am perusing stories like mine–stories much, much worse than mine–and I start to see the trolls coming out. Men, demanding that women respect their rights, as well. The women, distancing themselves from the “feminist psychos” who don’t understand love. The people wishing cancer on women who dare speak out about being afraid, or hurt, or belittled. Cancer. I worried for humanity, in that moment.

And there will be other moments, I am sure. There is a backlash going on–Men’s Rights Activists–shouting that women are oppressing them, by trying to claim that ALL MEN ARE RAPISTS. You dudes have so missed the point, and you are only feeding the flames. I believe in a very basic set of human rights–the right to be fed, and clothed, the right to be safe. The right to be happy. But none of these shall come at the cost of the rights of others. My feeling safe when I walk across a parking lot at night, in an elevator alone with a stranger, in a bar having a drink, alone–none of these things will harm your safety, or your happiness.

We have to keep talking about this, until it is made clear that consent isn’t implied just because a woman does not state, “I don’t want you to do that.” Don’t do it, until you have consent. Ask permission. If you want to touch a woman, ask. And if she says, “No,” then by all means, don’t touch her. Consent doesn’t just apply to rape, gentlemen. It applies to buying a woman a drink, it applies to stroking her hair, it applies to commenting on her ass or her rack.

It was pointed out to me, today, quite rightly, that women are not the only ones at risk for such . We live in a world where we are finally coming to understand that gender is not binary–there are more “versions” than just box A or box B. Men, too, are abused and mistreated, sometimes by women. I am not glossing over this, or denying it.And that, too, must stop. Human dignity is a right, for everyone. Safety is a right–not a privilege.

And the numbers don’t lie. Women are being hurt. Women are being damaged. Women are being mutilated, raped, sold, and tortured.

We embrace religious canons that say that women are damned, that they are inherently evil. We name them bitch, we call them sluts. We turn women into pieces of meat. Evolution takes a long time. Revolution is quicker. Be the voice of reason. Be the voice of dignity. Don’t be afraid to say, “This is wrong.” What you say, what you do, how you look at someone–it matters. If you are a woman, stand strong, and speak your truth. Say no, or yes, with confidence. Know that there is a noisy, pissed off sisterhood standing behind you. Raise your sons to be allies. Raise your daughters to be strong. If you are a man, be an ally. Hear your own words, analyze your thoughts. See the damage that can be done with words, and fists, and unwanted advances. Learn that consent is sexy as hell. Raise your sons to be allies. Raise your daughters to be strong. Be the voice of dignity. In the long run, it will make a better world, safer for all of us.

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