Let me paint a picture many of us are familiar with, one that is usually in cartoon form. In this picture, a caveman is carrying a club in one hand while his other hand is clasped around the hair of the cavewoman he is dragging on the ground behind him. The implication is that the man has knocked out the woman, whom he will presumably take back to his cave and mate with.
The message is clear: Men have a right to women, and women are meant to submit to them. Whether or not this is an accurate portrayal of cave person life (it’s not, by the way) is irrelevant. This representation, although rare in today’s society, still permeates in the minds of many across our nation.
Regardless of how you feel about the recent allegations that have played out in the news and in our political theater, the fact remains that many men, even those who purport to care about women’s rights, are guilty of subjugating women.
From birth, we condition women in our society to fear. They fear going out on a walk alone. Many of them feel they must clutch their keys in such a way that they will be able to fend off an attacker as they walk to their cars late at night. Some of my students carry mace, and one showed me her taser. Unfortunately, this is the reality they have to deal with on a daily basis. Constant fear in what some call a “rape culture.” Whether or not you want to accept that terminology is up to you, but we are certainly all victims of a male-dominated society.
Most women are not weak and do not need to be protected, but society and their own families continue to tell them they need to be scared because “bad men” will take advantage of them, hurt them or kill them. I’m sure the industries that seek to hand self-defense tools to women are garnering a healthy profit.
The propensity of people in our society who would dismiss the way that some men treat and talk about women as “locker room talk” or “just boys being boys” is, frankly, sickening. We can argue about how our culture contributes to this subjugation of women from the moment they are born, but that is only part of the issue, and a paradigm shift may take generations.
Right now, whether you realize it or not, we all know a woman who has been the victim of sexual assault. Some of us may have perpetrated these assaults. Sometimes it means ignoring a woman’s first “no” because she’s just being “coy,” and other times it means not paying attention to her discomfort when she is afraid to speak up. Certainly, we shouldn’t categorize the actions of most men as rape, but there are scores of men who are guilty of taking advantage of women in less violent ways.
I am a man who was once a teenage boy and later a “frat guy,” but I don’t think I ever went too far. I also don’t believe I’m the exception. I cannot, however, say with certainty that I have never made a woman feel uncomfortable; in fact, I am sure I have. In my college years, I know I drunkenly kissed at least one woman without asking. An unwanted, drunken kiss can be more than a simple offense to the woman on the receiving end, and a respectful apology is a start.
Women should be revered; what they go through just to produce a life is more struggle than most men will ever endure. Show your appreciation by being understanding, loving and respectful. Women don’t need to be put on a pedestal, displayed and protected under safety glass. They need us to treat them as we would like to be treated.
And the next time you want to dismiss something as “locker room talk” or “just boys being boys,” imagine the accuser in question is your sister, your mother, your wife or your daughter. Chances are they are already victims, and your dismissal only reinforces a culture that will allow her to be victimized again and again.
Justin H. Bell is an adjunct professor of English at Bakersfield College, a husband, father and feminist.