Imagine using your phone camera to check to make sure you’re not being followed. Imagine hiding your key between your knuckles so you have a weapon ready in case someone attacks you. Imagine taking your first self defense class when you were just 11 years old, because even in a neighborhood as safe as LaGrange, walking home as a young girl is dangerous.
The sad truth is, about 50% of my readers don’t have to imagine that, because they’ve lived it. From a young age, girls are told to stay alert and be cautious of everything, because being a girl puts them in a dangerous situation. Self defense classes, pepper spray: common techniques that girls as young as 12 have to use to stay safe.
In fifth grade, my mom set up a self defense class for my Girl Scout troop. We learned to scream, we learned to run, and we learned how to defend ourselves against grown men. I never asked why I had to do the class; constant vigilance was just my normal. I grew up paralyzed by the fear that one day I would get attacked by a man.
A parody music video from SNL titled “Welcome to Hell” sums up the realities of being a woman perfectly. Saoirse Ronan and the women of SNL sing about the things that were ruined for them because of their gender: parking, walking, Uber, ponytails, bathrobes, nighttime, drinking, hotels and vans. While the song was designed as a comedy piece, the underlying message was serious: harassment and assault have always been a problem for women, and they’re the ones who have to make changes to keep themselves safe.
The burden is always placed on the women to keep themselves safe, but it shouldn’t be. We don’t tell men to keep their hands to themselves. We tell women to watch their drinks so they won’t be spiked. We don’t teach men to respect women and understand that not all women are attracted to them. We teach women that they need to travel in groups and lock their doors right away. No man is ever told that he shouldn’t look at a woman’s body, but women are constantly told what to wear so they don’t “give off the wrong impression”.
As disturbing as this problem is, I can’t offer a solution. I can’t lay out a 10-step plan that will solve street harassment. I can’t deliver a rousing speech that will make it safe for women to walk at night. I can’t snap my fingers and magically make rapists and attackers get just sentences.
There is nothing that a single person can do to fix the way women are treated, and it sucks. But that doesn’t mean that we can ignore it and move on. We need to teach young boys that no means no and it’s not okay to stare at girls if it makes them uncomfortable. No more saying boys will be boys, no more letting them off the hook because they’re young. This problem isn’t just on women, it’s on all of us.