“Being born a woman is my awful tragedy. From the moment I was conceived I was doomed to sprout breasts and ovaries rather than penis and scrotum; to have my whole circle of action, thought and feeling rigidly circumscribed by my inescapable feminity. Yes, my consuming desire to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, bar room regulars–to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording–all is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yet, God, I want to talk to everybody I can as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night…” – Sylvia Plath
As girls, we’re told that we need to be careful.
As girls, we’re told that we need to cover up. We need to wear shirts that cover our breasts, our shoulders, our bra straps. We need to wear pants or skirts that don’t show too much of our legs. Because if a man should see us in public dressed like that, should he realize that we are concealing actual human forms beneath layers of cloth and should he decide to do something that harms us, then that is our fault because we provoked him. We showed too much of ourselves, we dangled a juicy steak in front of a hungry, brainless, stupid dog. What did we expect would happen?
As girls, we’re told to watch our drinks, to mind ourselves carefully when we go out. Don’t drink too much, the way that men do. Know exactly how much alcohol you can handle at all times, even if you’ve never drank before, or you don’t do it very often. Don’t get sloppy, don’t pass out, don’t let a man slip something into your drink, because if you do, and if you get hurt, then that is our fault. We invited it. Don’t you know that girls aren’t supposed to drink? We may live in a society that glorifies alcohol as the primary way to have fun, a society that states that you are a boring prude if you don’t drink, but it doesn’t matter. As a girl, you should know better than that.
As girls, we’re told to protect ourselves at all times. Don’t go out at night unless you absolutely have to, and if you absolutely have to, there’s no question about it, then at least don’t go alone. Take someone with you, preferably a big, strong, masculine man to protect you, you weak, frail-bodied victim, you. And if you do have to go out and you can’t find anyone to go with you, not even another girl, then at least prepare to be attacked. Carry your keys between your fingers, so that when he comes up behind you, you can spin quick and catch him in the eye, and maybe that’ll give you a head start. Maybe you can escape him then.
As girls, we’re told that the world is a dangerous place, and we cannot go it alone. There are certain spaces where we are not welcome, where simply being a woman in that space can get you raped or beaten or killed. As girls, we’re told that we are Little Red Riding Hood, and we need to be on constant lookout for the Big Bad Wolf, because if he gobbles us up, then it isn’t because he’s a Wolf – of course he’s a Wolf, that’s his nature. No, it’s just because we weren’t looking for him hard enough.
As a woman, I don’t want to live my life with my body constantly on my mind. I don’t want to have to worry if what I’m doing will get me raped or killed or beaten or kidnapped. As a woman, I want to see every last corner of this earth, whether I’m welcome there or not, and I want to be able to go there without having to remember that I am a woman, and that that puts me at risk. I don’t want to not be a woman, but I want to be seen as a person first. I want my life to matter more than my breasts, my right to my own body to be more important than what I was wearing. If I’m brutally raped or murdered, then I want that to be a tragedy and not a question of whether or not I deserved it. I want to be seen as a victim only after something happens to me, not before.
And I may not see any of this in my lifetime – I may never be able to walk into a seedy bar and order a drink without worrying about someone slipping something into it, or about drinking too much and being taken advantage of. But the way that this starts to change, the way that we can make things better, is not by telling our daughters don’t be victims, but by telling our sons don’t hurt women.