On Sunday, the hashtag YesAllWomen exploded on Twitter. Women began sharing ways that they have been harmed, threatened, harassed, belittled by men. The point (which was missed by a lot of folks) is that not all men are leering jerks or abusive monsters, but that all women have had bad, often scary - too often violent - experiences. Story after story spilled out. I lost track of the number of Twitter friends who posted that they'd been groped, molested, assaulted, raped. I recalled a close friend in college who was roofied and raped and felt she had no recourse to report it because she couldn't remember anything for certain. Another friend who was physically cornered in a van on a school-sanctioned trip and aggressively propositioned by a popular professor. Afterward, my friend was brave enough to report the incident to the English department, only to have the whole thing excused and dismissed because he was drunk, he was harmless, everyone knew he was "just like that" and "didn't mean anything by it." I have always felt "lucky" that I've made it this far without any seriously awful stories to tell, and also nervous to even admit it out loud lest I somehow invite misfortune. Yes, men have flirted in gross and / or inappropriate ways. Yes, I have had a guy stand literally six inches behind me while I used an ATM in an enclosed bank lobby at night. Yes, I feel a tiny spike of nervousness when I pass a man in a parking lot at night by myself or let a guy into the house for a repair while home alone with my kids.
And one night while MB and I were walking a few blocks from a gas station back to our hotel in Ohio, a carload of guys in an SUV made a U-turn and followed us. I should've been safe - I was with my husband on a well-lit road in a small upper-class suburb. There were at least three of them. They didn't say anything to us, but the threat was clear and very intentional. They didn't take off until they watched us go back into the hotel. And no, I don't think they were psychopathic killers. I think it was worse. I think they were three more or less ordinary guys who decided that they were entitled to something. At best, they felt it was within their rights to menace people they didn't even know, which is pretty bad. Years later, I don't want to even consider what the worst could've been. I still get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about what might've happened if our hotel had been a little farther away, if they'd been a little bit more aggressive, if we had been more aggressive or called them on their crap, if I'd gone alone. Plus, it's really fucked up to feel like I'm lucky because I was only almost in grave danger.
Now I have little boys. These wonderful, sweet, loving little boys. And it scares the shit out of me that no matter how hard their father and I try to teach them that all people are deserving of respect, that it's more important to be good than to be popular, that standing up for someone in trouble is the right thing to do, they will be bombarded with messages telling them they can take, they can use, they can make someone else's child feel like she doesn't matter. I don't pray often, but I do sometimes offer up a plea that first, no one ever abuses or harms them and second, that they never abuse or harm someone else. Not all men do, I know this. Not all men. But yes, all women have experienced some level of degradation or mistreatment. It's terrifying, it's frustrating, and it's honestly infuriating. I have no wise answers or pat, neat wrap-up here. I just hope, I pray, that the world my boys and all their friends - boys and girls - grow up into is better than the one we've got now. For the sake of all women, all of them.