How do I explain to my daughter how and why perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment are put forward as leaders? How do I explain the continued objectification and abuse of women? I don’t have simple answers. But I can write and reflect. I began this piece over a year ago. Given what’s happening in our country right now, it’s fitting to revisit.
I began writing personal essays while in college. My column, Mujer Hollering, became my way of expressing my views on various issues on campus and in my life through a personal lens. I wrote about issues of gender, ethnicity and culture. I was committed to being a woman with a voice and reflecting on how we are treated and perceived. It was challenging at first. When you are conditioned by family, culture and society to be a woman in a specific way, having a voice of challenge and opposition is controversial and misunderstood. But I didn’t let that stop me.
Last summer, Luvvie Ajayi shared the following story on Facebook. A dancer with a social media presence was approached online by one of her followers. He sent her pictures of himself and asked her about his physical attractiveness. When she didn’t respond because she was traveling, he became angry. He tried to video chat with her multiple times. When she still did not reply, he began to send her messages. Lots of messages. He took back his initial compliments of her beauty. He called her fat, ugly, and boring. He questioned her credibility as a dancer since she allegedly had a “bulging belly.” This was a one-sided conversation; the woman was not on her phone or her computer when this transpired. When the dancer finally saw the exchange, she posted it to social media. The man was horrified. He told her he was humiliated because he was being questioned by family and friends. He claimed strangers were harassing him. He told her he feared the story going viral. As one of the thousands who shared this post, we ensured it did. Like they sang in Chicago, he had it coming. Don’t start none, won’t be none.
I haven’t forgotten this story because the familiar narrative struck a nerve. I could relate to the dancer’s sense of bewilderment when she discovered this garbage on her social media page. This is the sort of nonsense we can be subjected to when we reject unwanted advances. God forbid we’re not compliant in the harassment. Harassment is not romance. There is nothing romantic about being commanded to tell someone how good-looking he is. If a woman is not meek, then she is a b****. I’ve known many women who have been physically threatened or even physically attacked because they said no. Women have the human right to safety, to our own space, and to enjoy ourselves without anyone imposing on us. Let us be! Yet the reaction is often anger. I don’t want my daughter subjected to this rage. I’m going to continue to teach her to be a strong woman who can confront these situations and people. Parents of sons, raise them to honor women.
Mujer Hollering is still here. I’m going to continue to raise my voice for my sisters and for our daughters. So speak out however you can, in intimate social circles, on social media, or at the polls. Women will not be silenced.