Things feel a little unstable lately. The progress women have made in the last few centuries has been great, but our place in society still feels a little unsure. On paper, a woman could be president. But in reality, in this swirling muck of attitudes and politics? I’m not so sure. The things Hillary did to get her where she is today, those things kept her from office. What I want to know, is could she have made it to the nomination without doing all those things? I don’t know what it takes to be a woman in politics but I’m sure it’s no cakewalk.
Now I’m worried about tomorrow. About next week. About what will happen in the coming months and years. So when my mom asked me if I wanted to go to the Women’s March in Washington with her, I said Hell Yes, capital H and Y. So we fly to capitol D. C. this weekend. Saturday, we march. Not just for women, but for anyone whose voice is not heard. Anyone who has been the object of hate or fear. We go with anyone willing to stand with us. Together.
When I signed up for the march, I knew I wanted to write something about it, but I have a difficult time writing about gender. I remember, back in my college days, there was always competition between my college and a rival school. Through all the trash talk that floated around on social media, a particular bit of it stands out in my memory. It was an image being posted and shared and reposted by people I knew at the rival school. The image was split in two with a girl supposedly from each school. The one from my school was bookish, with glasses, and not attractively dressed. A t-shirt, maybe, and no make-up. Then the girl from the rival school, all exposed curves and glowing, fake-tanned skin. That was what they were proud of, that their school had ‘hotter girls.’
I’m not in college anymore. I’d like to think I live in a different world these days. Still, I can’t help noticing all the little moments where women are portrayed as objects instead of individuals. The messages that a woman’s value is based on her attractiveness. The unspoken, perhaps unconscious, belief that men are entitled to women, to sex, maybe even to ownership of their woman. I’m lucky. I haven’t personally experienced violence in this vein, or even any particularly serious form of misogyny. For me, it’s always been little things. But the little things give a glimpse of the attitudes underneath.
I remember walking one night to meet my partner for a beer. I was alone on the street, but it was a nice neighborhood so I wasn’t worried. I used to live a few blocks away and I’d been walking to this bar for years. It was always one of my favorites. The owners were both kickass ladies who decided they wanted to open a laid-back neighborhood bar together. In the past, I’ve always had a great experience there, although I was usually just stopping by for a pint on my way home after work. I hadn’t been there on the weekends much. I was almost there when I saw a man on the street walking towards me, sort of dancing and swaying. He looked drunk, but it was Halloween weekend so it wasn’t exactly surprising. I stepped to the side to go around him. He stepped into my path, still swaying.
“Don’t touch me.” It came out of my mouth a warning. He took another step toward me and put his hand on my back, swaying, trying to dance with me, pressing his body against mine. I turned on him with a rage that I didn’t know was in me. “Don’t fucking touch me.” There were years of anger in those words. He was so surprised he almost fell over, perhaps unprepared for my vitriol. He hurried away so quickly I almost started laughing. I don’t think I’m that scary. I walked to the bar, trying to shake off the swirl of feelings it set off, not sure if I was angry or amused.
When I got there none of the owners were working and I ordered from a guy I didn’t know. I don’t know why, but I told the him about it, when he asked me how my night was going. He told me to tell him if I had any trouble with anyone else. He would ‘take care of it.’
He didn’t get it. His response was, to me, just a different side of the same bullshit coin. I don’t want to be touched by random men. I don’t want to be protected by random men. I want to be treated with respect. But I can’t be mad at him for wanting to help even if it was misguided. It’s not his fault that this happened. I just don’t like the idea that I need to be protected. I want to be able to protect myself. The point, which I think his response misses, is that this shouldn’t happen. I didn’t say anything more though, and I took my beer and sat down with my partner to try and relax and have a good time. Then I started listening to the music they were playing. It was that very particular kind of hip hop, and the words… bitch, hoe, pussy, they kept grabbing my attention. I became more and more upset, sitting there listening to music that treats women as if their sole purpose is to be sexually objectified.
So I went back to that bartender, the one who knew I was having a rough night, and I asked him if they had any control over the music. This guy who had been jumping to my defense ten minutes before looked at me like I was the biggest pain in his ass. “Well we play hip hop, that’s really just the character of the bar.” I didn’t know that the character of the bar was to participate in a culture that encourages people to treat women like objects. The culture that makes a man think he can just grab a woman on the street and touch her right after she says “don’t touch me.” I don’t know how I could be any more clear. Don’t. Touch. Me.
It was worse than what actually happened, hearing that music. Being brushed off when I voiced a problem with it. This music promoted the same way of thinking that had led someone to completely disrespect what I wanted. He was just having a good time. He never thought about what I wanted or didn’t want. That’s the attitude I believe we need to find, hidden in our subconscious, and try to change. The attitude that women are things to be taken. That it’s okay to touch someone sexually without regard for what she wants. Having these two things happen in sequence like this, it just made it so clear to me that they are related. Do I even need to mention that the number one played song today on Spotify in the U.S. contains the lyrics Yeah, hey, huh, switchin’ my hoes like my flows and Introduce me your bitch ass wifey and we know she sluttin? I don’t think that misogynistic lyrics are causing all sexism. I don’t think that not playing hip hop in a bar is going to solve the problem. I just believe that they are part of the same fabric and we can’t dismiss the fact that the music we choose contributes to our culture. We can’t just ignore it and say it’s not a big deal. It matters.
And what also matters, is how we talk about women. Especially how people in positions of influence like, oh let’s say, the president, talk about women. As it stands, more than a few concerning things have been said about women recently. In fact, the things that have been said about Hillary Clinton, and all the shit that Trump has said about women in general, are not just concerning. They’re fucked up. Something needs to be said. So here I am, yelling at the top of my proverbial lungs. Don’t fucking touch me. Don’t touch my rights. Don’t deny me any of the basic dignities that should be granted to every person, regardless of the boxes they might happen to check on the census. I can only hope that if we make enough noise on Saturday, this message might be heard. We may not be able to drown out the sexist bullshit floating around out there but we can do our part to counteract it. I’m here, ready to do everything I can to keep us moving in the right direction. Sometimes that’s all we can do.