Last month, our newsfeed was flooded with stories of rape allegations against Harvey Weinstein. The actress Alyssa Milano took to twitter using the hashtag ‘MeToo’, encouraging women to share their stories of sexual abuse and harassment.
Astounded by the number of women who were sharing and appalled at how horrible our world is, I realized that one in four women have been sexually abused and every woman has been sexually harassed (my own statistics). While some will argue with my statistics, below are some definitions that will help us:
Sexual harassment (n): (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.
Sexual abuse: also referred to as molestation, is usually undesired sexual behavior by one person upon another.
Sexual assault: is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.
I am not using these words lightly. I know every woman, including myself, have been harassed at one point in her life. Harassed at the office by a colleague or boss, cat called by men on the streets, groped on buses or has endured objectified comments from friends.
As a young girl, I always believe that my premature curves were to blame for unsolicited attention from grown men, men old enough to be my father. The stares, the disgusting comments, left me feeling dirty and I resorted to always wearing baggy clothes. My view of being attractive changed. I didn’t think I was beautiful enough to be desired as a companion and I cursed my body for only attracting perverts.
When a woman complains about being harassed, she is sometimes called ‘over sensitive’, her story is scrutinized under the umbrella of ‘maybe she is exaggerating and it did not happen quite the way she is explaining it’, or worse she is shamed and questioned to see if there is something she may have done to warrant the assault.
The media objectification of women has left young and old men feeling as if it is acceptable to treat women a certain way and has influenced the way girls and women react towards, and even tolerate, sexual misconduct towards them and others.
The hashtag ‘MenAreTrash’ went viral earlier this year after Karabo Mokoena was found dead, murdered at the hands of her boyfriend. Although the hashtag started in South Africa, to shed light on the abuse and femicide, it quickly picked up steam and started trending all over the world.
#MenAreTrash is used to call out all these injustices, that have somehow become the norm, done to women by men. #MenAreTrash is used to call out misogynists and their fathers. And this month it was widely used on Twitter after the Weinstein case.
After reading all these stories, it is hard as a human not to get angry. It is hard to accept that most women were abused by the very men who were supposed to protect them: fathers, uncles, step fathers, brothers, cousins, friends etc.
Some men were empathetic and expressed their outrage at the men who abused these women; some validated these women for being brave enough to speak out; some vowed to always stand by women and denounce these rapists; others went as far as calling themselves trash.
I didn’t know how much I had lost trust in men, until I felt touched by their kind words and sympathy. And then my mistrust rose again when some men tried defending themselves by saying:: not all men are trash, even dared to say that some of these women were lying and looking for their 15 minutes of fame, questioning why they didn’t come forward earlier.
Sometimes we fail to realize the courage it takes to come out and share something as heavy as being sexually abused. Victims will tell you that the first thing they feel after being abused is shame and guilt. Shame of being so weak and not fighting hard enough, guilt for finding themselves at that place where the abuse happened. Until these victims heal, shame and guilt is their constant companion.
I was angry that some men were choosing the shame the victims instead of showing empathy. As women, we still have to fight for our voices to be heard, for our rights to be considered, for our stories to be told because we are living in a patriarchal system. A system that does not have the best interest of women at heart.
Only a patriarchal system would allow women to be shared among the family, whether she consents or not. Only a patriarchal system would introduce and support women circumcision (FGM), taking away a woman’s ability to experience sexual pleasure, as this may incite her to cheat on her husband. Only in a man’s world, would a girl get drowned because she got pregnant out of wedlock while her partner lives on. Only in a man’s world, would a girl get married and if she is widowed earlier, her brother in law takes over, never mind if she wants him or not. Only in a man’s world, would a woman be blamed for being raped because of how she was dressed.
For rape to be denounced and seen for the crime that it is, we need to fight tooth and nail so that our daughters never have to be silenced out of fear. We need to teach them that worth is their birthright and that there much more value to them than their bodies. We need to teach them that they have a voice and that it is wrong for men to touch or look at them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. We need to teach our boys that a woman is not an object created for their pleasure, that she is an honorable human just like him and not defined by her clothes or looks. We need our daughters to enjoy their freedom and not be afraid for their bodies, the same way we are enjoying the education and other freedoms today that our mothers fought so hard for.
May our daughters never have to fight this battle and may they have this truth engraved on their hearts:
“sex takes the consent of two
if one person is lying there not doing anything
cause they are not ready
or not in the mood
or simply don’t want to
yet the other is having sex
with their body it’s not love
it is rape”