The discussion about the mistreatment of women particularly the misogyny and harassment that we face has been going on since the beginning of time. Over this past year (and previous years), the discussion has become more intense. From the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, Elliot Rodger’s killing spree and the #YesAllWomen Twitter tag which came after, the NFL’s handling of Ray Rice’s domestic violence incident and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith’s response to it, the #YouOkSis Twitter tag created by Feminista Jones, to the SDCC cosplay sexual assault news, there are a lot of things to talk to about.
The harassment of women occurs in all levels of society. From the privacy of your home, to the office cubes in the workforce. From just walking on the street to being a part of the geek community. It’s everywhere and has seeped into all aspects of society.
I am a 32 year-old Afro-Caribbean Native American Jewish woman and in my life I haven’t experienced a lot of the misogyny and harassment other women have gone through. I think that’s in a large part due to my mom who went through a lot of things growing up. She wanted to protect my sister and I from all of those horrible things, and for the most part she was able to. I am thankful for that but at the same time, I feel as if I can’t speak out about the abuse that a lot of women experience. Yes, I retweet and reblog others who talk in depth and at length about the topic, but I often feel I don’t have the experience to write about it.
Not any longer.
No matter how small or inexperienced I may be, my voice is one among the many that need to heard. I am a woman, a black woman and while these things have not affected me as much as they have other women, it is important to speak out. I have two personal experiences I will share.
#1. In 2011, I attended MegaCon in Orlando, Fl. It was the first time I went to the convention. I was dress cosplaying (is that the right term?) as Wonder Woman. My outfit wasn’t revealing in fact this is what I wore:
Now before I go on, I’m going to state that women CAN be and HAVE been and ARE being harassed regardless of what they wear. Clothing is not the issue, the harassers are. Let’s just get that part out of the way.
My mother had dropped me off to the con on Saturday and I was making my way through the convention by myself. While in the big vendor area, a guy stopped me to ask if he could take my picture. He’s a young white dude with a limp. I said yes and he takes the picture. As I began to move on, he began to move on with me and talked me the whole way. I talked back trying to be nice and hoping he would leave but I couldn’t shake him. He was creepy and I didn’t feel comfortable being around him. A few minutes later, I thought I had lost him. I was wrong. I looked around for any sign and he touched me and said, “I’m right here sweetie.” Not too long after that I was able to lose him and I didn’t see him for the rest of the weekend.
#2. A few months ago in October, I had stopped at my local Big Lots to buy headphones. I wore slightly baggy jeans and a non-tight comic book t-shirt. I had entered the store and stopped to take a look at the store’s tablet selection. As I was purusing the tablets I didn’t noticed that a man had approached me. He was an older black man, probably in his 40’s and he’s had a receding hairline. He begins to tell me how he didn’t understand what ‘those things are’ and what they do.
I gave a polite smile and headed towards the headphones. He stops me. “Excuse me can I tell you something? You’re very attractive.” He said. I laughed nervously. And then he begins to question me. “How old are you?” “What’s your name?” I didn’t want to give him my name but when he coped an attitude and said, “You don’t want to give me your name?” I gave it to him. I didn’t know what would happen if I didn’t. He starts talking to me about how ‘God puts people in our path.’ And then tells me that he’s from a good family and that he can tell that I’m from a good family.
There are other people in the store but they’re not in or around the headphones area. It’s just me and the creepy guy. Looking back I should have been more assertive and tried to end the conversation earlier but I couldn’t. I was trying to be nice (sometimes I think I’m too nice). He then asked me where I work I told him (I know I shouldn’t (I did give him the wrong location but still) have but I was hoping to end the conversation). He then tells me he’s out of work and that he’s trying to go back to school and take classes to improve (I work at a college).
My phone rings. Hoping it’s the break I need I answered it and moved away, but the guy remained right where he was. I stay on the phone for about five minutes and he still was standing there. I didn’t move farther away because I was worried he would follow me. Thinking about it now I believe that he saw me outside as I was making my way to into the store and he followed me inside.
He asked me if I could get him information about the classes he wanted to take. I told him to go online or in person to admissions because that’s not my department nor my area of expertise. He kept persisting that I could do it since I work in the library. I kept explaining that it’s not my expertise but he kept on insisting. Wanting to end the conversation, I say sure. He asks me for my number I refused to give it to him. He then asks if he can give me his I said sure hoping that would be the last of it. Thankfully it was. Before he left however, he told me that he wasn’t trying to hit on me…when he’s gone, I deleted his number.
Now everytime I go to Big Lots I worry that he’ll be there. Thankfully he hasn’t shown up at my job. Honestly I felt trapped. If I walked away I believe he would have followed me, that’s why I stayed where I was. Throughout that whole conversation no one was around us and if someone had come, I honestly don’t know if they would or could have helped. It was a scary and uncomfortable situation.
These two experiences are just two of the many which women deal with. Whether it’s just walking down the street and being verbally abused by men and called a “Bitch” when you ignore their comments, or being groped at a convention whether you’re cosplaying or not (we say “Cosplay does not equal consent,” but neither does regular attire), receiving rape threats and having your bank account hacked for critiquing a comic book cover, or just riding the bus, train, and some guy comes and sits next to you and begins to mastrabate, women deal with a lot of shit.
Especially black women. We get it from black men who seem to believe that we have a hatred for them. Or that it’s racist to call them out when they’re harassing us. Feminista Jones and others have been and are being stalked online by men who have this disturbing viewpoint. It really sickens me when I hear these guys say that black men are the only ones dealing with racism. Guess they forgot about Renisha McBride or Marissa Alexander. I guess they forgot about the new military hair standards for black women or how we are discriminated against at every stage of the recruitment process in the workforce. I could go on and on.
So what can be done? If we see a woman being harassed, asking the simple question “Are you okay?” or telling the harasser to “Leave her alone!” can make a huge difference. It’s important for all of us-women and men-to intervene. Sometimes intervening can seem intimidating and you might end up also being harassed. However, if you feel safe, do get directly involved. It’s important to speak up.
I have another experience I wanted to share. This time it wasn’t me who was being harassed. Instead I was a witness to the harassment.
#4. In December I attended Holiday Matsuri in Orlando and I was in the vendors room walking around, checking out the variety of products. There was another attendee who was in cosplay and I noticed that she was walking fast. I then saw that another attendee a young man was following her. He was talking to her and it was very apparent that she didn’t want to talk to him and was trying to get away, but the guy kept up with her pace no matter what she did. She would stop mid-walk and turn around to go away and he was right alongside of her. She couldn’t get rid of him.
I saw the whole thing and recognized what was going on. She was being harassed. You know what I did? I hesitated. I didn’t know how to approach the situation. I wanted to help but I didn’t do anything. By the time I made up my mind to act, it was too late. The girl and her harasser where out of sight. I truly hoped that someone else was able to intervene…I regretted not taking action that day and have decided to do so in the future.
For those of you who say “Not all men” or “Not all white people,” or “Why don’t you report it to the police” etc., here’s what I have to say to you: SHUT THE FUCK UP. When you say these statements you are dismissing women and POC’s experiences. You are saying basically that we’re not human beings and that you don’t care. Guess what? Just because you don’t see or have not gone through another person’s experience, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, that it didn’t happen. If another person’s experiences are different from yours, they are still IMPORTANT. Our stories and experiences DO matter, and we’re not going to stop talking about them.
And men who don’t see harrassment, I ask you to take a closer look at your surroundings. Call out those amongst you who are engaging in this vile behavior. While society continues to teach women to take into account how they dress so they won’t get rape, men ought to be teaching each other not to rape. I’m tired of the blame the victim game. It’s time to hold the abusers and harassers accountable for their actions and not give them a slap on the wrist.
Ultimately if we do nothing, then we’re adding to the problem. We must take action.
Previously published on La Virino Kiu Skribas