“Why Didn’t She Just Say No?”

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

I’ve heard this question come up, again and again, especially in the wake of the #metoo movement.

I’ve heard this question come up in response to the allegations against Aziz Ansari. A woman going by the name of Grace explained going on a date and engaging in a sexual encounter with him, which left her feeling ignored and violated. This story was quickly picked up by the #metoo movement as an example of rape culture, and has since faced plenty of criticism by people who think that this story devalues the #metoo movement.

After all, why didn’t she just say no?

And when this question is asked, I find myself going back to all those stories that I’ve heard about the women who did say no.

I think of Raelynn Vincent, who did not respond to a man when he began catcalling her. At this point, the man got out of his car and punched her in the face, breaking her jaw and her teeth.

I think of Lisa and Anna Trubnikova, who were both shot by Adrian Loya, Lisa’s coworker who became obsessed with her and began pursuing her romantically. When Lisa showed no interest in him, he murdered her and seriously wounded her wife, Anna.

I think of Mary Spears, who was shot and killed when she refused to give a man her phone number.

And, yes, I know that not all men will respond with violence to the word “no”, but that doesn’t erase the fact that we have all heard these stories. That doesn’t erase the fact that women are socialized to not say no to men, especially if they don’t know him all that well. Because it is an all-too common narrative for men to respond with violence, and no woman wants to be the one who says “no” to the wrong man.

But maybe that’s sexist of me, right? I mean, not all men beat women, and some would argue that it’s misandry for me to assume that he might. “Stop assuming that every man is a rapist,” they say, in the same breath that they blame my sisters for being raped because they should have taken precautions against it.

So let’s forget the threat of violence for a second. Let’s talk about the role of women.

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

Could she? Is that allowed? I honestly don’t know anymore.

Because if she says no, then she’s a friend-zoning bitch, isn’t she? She’s a tease who led him on. And, I mean, come on, he’s such a nice guy. But I guess women don’t like nice guys. They like bad boys, the ones who treat them poorly, the ones who ignore them when they say “no”, the ones who put them in their place. Those are the guys that really get the ladies, aren’t they? Or, at least, that’s what I hear.

When I was in elementary school, girls would be scolded by the teachers if she let the boys touch her, because what sort of message was she sending to him? Obviously, she wanted to be treated badly. But if she didn’t let the boys touch her, then, come on, it’s just a joke, don’t be so stuck-up, you need to relax a little bit!

When I was in high school, a girl friend of mine told me that if a boy spent any money on me while we were on a date, then I was obligated to sleep with him, whether I wanted it or not, because he expected it.

I guess what he expects is more important than what I want. I guess sex really isn’t about me at all, is it?

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

She couldn’t. Society has taken that word away from her. Society has made ‘no’ a dirty word, so we’ve invented other ways of saying it. Instead, we say, “I have a boyfriend”, because a man will respect another man before he’ll respect our freedom of choice. Instead, we say, “I have a headache,” because physical illness is the only appropriate reason to not want sex right now. Instead, we give out fake phone numbers and fake smiles and fake interest until we’re far enough away to be safe. Safe from violence. Safe from judgement. Safe from expectation.

“Why didn’t she just say no?”

Well, the thing is, she did. She said no with her body language, with her subtle little hints. She said no in all the ways that society has allowed her to say no – she said, “next time.” She said, “I don’t want to feel forced because then I’ll hate you, and I’d rather not hate you.” She tried to physically remove herself from the room, and she stopped moving when he touched her. But apparently, one would need to be a mind reader to notice all of that.

“Why didn’t she say no?”

But that isn’t quite the right question, is it? Instead of blaming her for not saying the word “no” precisely, we should ask why she didn’t feel comfortable saying no. We should ask how we can change our society so that women can say no directly, so that they don’t have to dance around the subject.

And we begin by listening for the word “no”, presented in all the forms that it comes. Because the absence of a direct “no” does not mean “yes”.

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#MeToo, now #TimesUp

In 2017, we saw the #metoo movement.

I think that we are all aware of it, in one way or another. Maybe you participated, by writing your own story of sexual assault or harassment. Maybe you didn’t feel safe or comfortable enough to publish your story, but you read through them and related, adding to the issue in your own way. And maybe you couldn’t relate personally, but you scrolled through your social media pages and felt that punch to the gut that we all felt when we realized just how prevalent sexual assault or harassment really is. That it is something that affects our friends, our family, and our loved ones – not just faceless strangers on the internet or television.

Now, I have to admit, when the #metoo movement first began, I was both optimistic and concerned. Optimistic because, well… good. Sexual assault and harassment are issues that we need to talk about. They are important, and historically speaking, we haven’t talked enough about it. We haven’t talked enough about the fact that 1 in 3 women aged 18 to 34 report being sexually harassed while at work – and 71 percent of these women admit that they did not report it. We haven’t talked enough about the fact that 1 in 3 Canadian women will experience sexual assault in their adult life – and this statistic changes depending on such factors as sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ability, age, and so much more. We haven’t talked enough about the fact that only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison.

So, yeah, I could bore you with statistics until the cows come home, and then I can bore the cows, but I think I’ve made my point here: this is an issue that we need to talk about.

But, that being said, when the #metoo movement first began, I was a little bit concerned, just because this wasn’t something that I wanted to be trending on Twitter for a couple of weeks, and then it vanishes into obscurity like we never said anything. This is an important issue; we need to keep talking about it.

But, much to my delight and surprise, the #metoo movement didn’t quite fall into obscurity. Instead, it took on a sort of life – over and over, we started to recognize the faces of sexual assault and harassment. Not only did multiple celebrity victims begin to stand up and explain their experiences – like Rose McGowan, Salma Hayek, and Anthony Rapp – but multiple celebrities found themselves accused of widespread sexual assault and harassment as well – such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K. Now, we were not only talking about these issues – we had faces to put to these issues.

And, again, I was both encouraged and pessimistic. I mean, yay, not only are we talking about this now; we’re naming names. We’re calling the perpetrators out and holding them accountable for their actions. But my problem was, we’re only calling some of the perpetrators out.

Sexual assault and harassment are widespread issues. Issues that don’t happen exclusively or even primarily to powerful women in the public eye. In fact, while sexual harassment is pervasive amongst all industries, it is especially common in low-wage service jobs. There is also plenty of research that suggests that women who work in male-dominated fields experience harassment more frequently than women who work in balanced or female-dominated fields. And this is just in the workplace; this doesn’t even cover sexual assault in the home (roughly 25% of rapes are committed by a romantic partner), at school, at social gatherings, or on the street.

Sexual assault and harassment are not Hollywood issues. They are global issues. They affects all of us, and we all need to be talking about it. So as much as I’m glad to see abusive men who are addicted to power, like Weinstein and Spacey, get punished for their crimes, we cannot stop at them. We can’t get so caught up in what’s happening in Hollywood that we forget that it’s happening here to.

And then 2018 came. And with 2018, we got something new: #timesup.

You can visit the movement’s website here, and read more about what it stands for. And, yes, it is a movement that has been promoted and headed by celebrity women, but the intention is not only to spread awareness about sexual assault and harassment in the entertainment industry, but in all industries.

The purpose of the #timesup movement is to say, definitively, that time is up. As the website states, “The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.”

No more watching a strange man groping a women on the bus and pretending you didn’t see it.

No more shrugging catcalling off as a ‘compliment’.

No more doubting victims when they come forward, and saying that they “just want attention”.

No more giving rapists lighter sentences, just because it might have a “severe impact” on the disgusting criminal’s life.

We are done with this. We are demanding change. Time is up, and I am now convinced; we will no longer be silent on these important issues.

And to those who reacted against the #metoo movement, calling it a ‘witch hunt’ and complaining that they can’t even hug women anymore, I have only this to say: this is not a witch hunt. This is not randomly accusing innocent people (it is estimated that only 2 to 6 percent of sexual assault accusations are ever false). This is starting a discussion that we should have had centuries ago. Because my whole life, rape culture has just been accepted and tolerated. My whole life, I have seen girls blamed for the invasive actions of their male peers, whether it be a little girl scolded by their teacher because a little boy wouldn’t stop tickling her (“what sort of message do you think that sends to him?”), or grown women being asked why they didn’t just dress or behave differently to avoid being raped. We need to talk about this. We need to think about this. And if someone asks us not to hug them because it makes them feel uncomfortable, or if someone tells us that something we said offends them in this time of change, then we should take a moment before that knee-jerk defensiveness kicks in to ask ourselves why they feel this way. They might have a valid and important reason that deserves to be considered.

This is not a witch hunt. This is not unfair. If someone has never sexually assaulted or harassed anyone, then they will not be accused. If they have sexually assaulted or harassed someone, then they deserve to be accused and held accountable for their actions. That’s the way this should work, and the way that it hasn’t worked for too long. But the world is changing now. Society is so accustomed to letting these perpetrators get away with their crimes, but they won’t any longer.

Now, time is up.

To The Men Wondering “What Can I Do?” #MeToo

Let’s create a scenario here: you’ve been hanging out with friends. It’s about two in the morning, and it’s time for you to go home. You didn’t plan on driving home, and there’s a short walk between the place that you’ve been staying and the bus stop. It’s late, dark, and none of your friends are planning on accompanying you to the bus stop because it’s only about five minutes away and no one else is heading in that direction.

So, you head out. As you’re walking, you become aware of how empty the streets are, so late at night. At some point, however, you become aware of movement behind you. You look behind, and there’s a man following you. No, not following you; walking behind you. He’s just another human being, on his way home like you are. You continue walking, but the knowledge of that figure behind you has not left the back of your mind.

You turn a corner, and just out of curiosity, you glance over your shoulder. The man turns the same corner, still walking behind you.

Your mind flees off to the stories you have heard before, of the girl who got off of work late at night, pulled into an alleyway and beaten. Of the man who was stabbed on his way home from the bar, and had to drag himself, bloodied and weak, to get help.

You become aware again of the fact that, if this man were to do something to you, help would be a long way away right now.

But, of course, something like that won’t happen to you. He’s just walking behind you. There’s no proof that he wants to hurt you.

Still, just to be safe, you reach into your jacket pocket and slip your house key between your middle and pointer finger. Just to be safe.

The man is getting closer. Your chest tightens. But nothing is going to happen. You’re going to be fine.

He’s getting closer.

He’s beside you now. Your breath catches, but he keeps on walking, going on with his business. You release your breath and, in your pocket, your house key.

Now, this man could be literally anybody. Maybe he was just walking home. Maybe he has a wife, a daughter, an elderly parent who he’s caring for. He could be a student, an off-duty cop, an activist who campaigns for the rights of the homeless. So, if that’s the case, were you wrong to be afraid of him in this scenario? Were you judgemental? Cruel? Should you have acted differently?

This is a question that I’ve seen asked from time to time, particularly in discussions around street harassment and feminism. I mean, I didn’t give a gender to the ‘you’ in the scenario, but many women, in the wake of the recent “Me Too” campaign, have come forward admitting that they do not feel safe in the streets. Heck, the scenario that I have just described has happened to me on multiple occasions, partly because of stories that I have heard, regarding horrors that have have happened to other women, and partly because I have had men yell at me in the streets, harass me, or make unwelcome comments, and the possibility that all it takes is one man to take it too far remains at the back of my mind every time I walk alone at night.

But in response to these women coming forward, there have been some men (or, at least, I’ve mostly heard men making these comments), who ask, “well, what are we supposed to do about it? Can’t you understand how bad it makes me feel, to see women afraid of me when I’m not going to hurt them?”

Every time I have heard these comments made, the intention behind them seems to be less, “what can we do to make you women feel safer in the streets?” and more, “don’t you realize that not all men attack women? You shouldn’t be so afraid of us; we’re not all going to attack you”. And, on the one hand, yes, not all men attack women in the streets. That is a fact. No one is saying otherwise. There are men who are genuinely good men, who actually do wish that women could feel safe in their presence and on the streets.

But there are also men who do attack and harass women in the streets.

According to a survey from 2014, 65 percent of women in the United States report being harassed in the street. Twenty-three percent report being sexually touched, twenty percent report being followed and nine percent report being forced to do something sexual. This is compared to twenty-five percent of men who report being harassed in the street, the majority of which are LGBT men facing homophobic or transphobic slurs. The organization that conducted this survey, however – known as Stop Street Harassment – admits that street harassment is an under-researched topic, so exact statistics are difficult to discern for certain.

And all that I know from my own empirical evidence is that I have been cat-called, insulted, followed, and screamed at by multiple men, simply because I happened to be in public at the same time as they were.

But then, this poses another question: although the majority of women are harassed in the street, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the majority of men are harassing. I mean, we don’t even know the statistics of how many men engage in this behaviour, and who would admit to it for the purpose of a survey anyway? Perhaps the majority of men in the street are perfectly innocent, and if that’s the case, is it fair to punish the innocent because we’re so afraid of the guilty?

Well, in my personal opinion, in this scenario, we have to think about what, exactly, is meant by ‘punish’. How are the innocent punished by women who fear being harassed? In the majority of cases, they are punished by women refusing to speak to them, looking away, reacting rather generally with fear.

And why do women react this way? Because, when you’re on the street and interacting with strangers, it’s difficult to tell for sure who is going to harass you and who isn’t. Maybe the man walking behind you is perfectly innocent. Maybe he isn’t. End of day, you don’t want to take the risk, because if you do engage with him, then you run the risk of him thinking that you’re ‘inviting’ his inappropriate behaviour, or fixating on you more than he might have otherwise.

And, I mean, yes, it is a shame that women cannot be open and friendly with every single man on the street, but statistics and empirical evidence give a very convincing reason for why we shouldn’t. And men should not be angry at women for reacting this way; they should be angry at the society that forces them to react.

So let’s go back to the original question: “well, what are we supposed to do about it?”

If we want women to feel safer in the streets, then there are actually things that we can do, believe it or not.

We can not react with anger or offence when a woman does something to protect herself, even if she is doing it completely without immediate reason.

We can respect boundaries, not touch people who have not given us reason or invitation to touch them, and treat them like our equals.

And if we are already doing all of this, then we can keep an eye out for the people who aren’t. When our friends decide to make loud and unwelcome comments about a woman’s body, we can tell them to stop. When we see a man groping a girl in the subway (and she isn’t making any indication that she knows the guy, or she obviously isn’t into it), we can ask her if she needs help. We can walk with women who look like they are being followed, we can offer ourselves as company to make them feel just a little bit safer. The majority of the time, women who are feeling vulnerable and threatened will be grateful for your help. Even something as seemingly insignificant as watching out for a girl who is being yelled at, or walking up to her and striking up small talk can make a world of difference.

The problem is not women’s reactions to harassment. The problem is the harassment itself, and in an ideal world, when women stop having reason to be afraid on the street, they will stop being afraid. So this is what we need to focus on.

We Need to Talk About Catcalling

Earlier today, I was walking home from the movies with my mother. We were talking about the movie, having fun, not thinking about much at all, when a man across the street from us began yelling. I wasn’t paying much attention to him because he was across the street and I really didn’t care, but I could tell that he was yelling at us.

I ignored him. I continued on my way, talking about the movie with my mother.

And then the man crossed the street and approached my mother and I. He made a couple of uninvited comments on our appearances and we ignored him, just started walking faster. It didn’t take us long to pass him by, but he continued yelling at us, making comments about tattoos (which both my mother and I have).

At that point, we stopped ignoring him. We turned into a more residential area, one that would have been a little easier to find help if we suddenly needed it, but that was a bit out of our way, and we continued walking quickly. I kept looking back over my shoulder, because at that point, I didn’t care about being subtle. If he figured out that he made us uncomfortable, then good! He should know! But I wanted to make sure that he didn’t continue following us, and he did make the same first turn as we did, but upon us making the second turn onto another residential road, he left our field of vision and stayed there.

My mother and I continued walking through the residential area for a little while, and then once we felt a bit more comfortable, we returned to the side of the road, because that was the quickest and easiest way for us to get home. A moment later, a truck drove past us, and a man leaned his head out of the window and screamed at us: “Fuck you!”

The two events in succession made me a little bit angry, making me think about the way that women are treated in public spaces.

Keep in mind, there was absolutely no way that anyone could possibly depict any of this as being our fault. We were leaving the movie theatre in the middle of the afternoon. We were not drunk, we were wearing our everyday yoga clothes. The only possible “crime” that we could have been committing at the time was being two women who were occupying a public space.

And this is not the first time that things like this have happened to either me or my mom. The two of us go for walks frequently, and this has resulted in the two of us racking up quite an impressive amount of stories about men who have uninvitedly made comments about us in public, stories that range from being approached by a man in the rain, who then proceeds to make very sexual comments about my mother’s body, to a man making actual cat noises at us while we walked.

And don’t get me wrong: I am fully aware that not every man harasses women on the street (and that’s exactly what this is: harassment. It is harassment when a man verbally insults you and/or makes unwanted advances toward you), the fact that it is not every man does not at all improve the fact that it is every woman. This has happened to me frequently in my life, and it has happened to every woman that I have spoken to. In fact, it’s so common that I’ve even heard some women joke about it, regarding it as something that is simply to be expected.

But why is it so common? Why does every woman become subject to being commented on and yelled at in the street? Well, for this I propose two reasons:

  1. The reason why men do it: because they can. Because it makes them look aggressive, heterosexual, and masculine in front of all other men. It has nothing to do with the woman at all. If it did, they would get out of the car, stop yelling, be respectful, and have an actual conversation with her like an actual human being, but they don’t care about her or what she thinks about them. They just want to look tough to those around them, and they aren’t thinking about the potential costs that it would have on the woman, including but not limited to: feeling uncomfortable, feeling unsafe, feeling objectified and dehumanized, feeling as though this is somehow your own fault and that you did something to invite this. But none of that matters, right? So long as everyone knows that you’re a big man on these streets.
  2. The reason why it’s perpetuated: because no one stops them. In some cases, it’s difficult for women to respond to these men because they just leave so fast, whether they be in a car or simply passing by – like the man who yelled “fuck you” at me and my mother. But there are other cases, like the man who followed my mother and I on the street, where they give you every opportunity to respond, but frequently, women just… don’t. We have been socialized to just keep walking, just ignore them. They’re just being dumb guys, and boys will be boys, so why get mad at them? Or, in other cases, women don’t want to respond, because if you make them angry, that might escalate the situation and they might try to hurt you. Which only further proves my point that this scenario goes much further than a simple ego boost for the man: it is based in fear for the woman. In this scenario, the man in question is proving his masculinity by causing a woman fear. And that, to me, is not masculinity.

Catcalling is an issue that people have been talking about more and more frequently lately, but as the fact that it happened to me and my mother twice today proves, we need to talk about it more. We need to make people aware of the way that it affects women, because I don’t think that a whole lot of people are aware. I think that the majority of men who do catcall do it without even thinking about how it affects the other party. But it most certainly does affect the other party, and we need to stop ignoring that.

And as much as I previously pointed out that, at the time, my mother and I were doing nothing that might make someone perceive that we “deserved” to be followed by some creep who kept yelling at us, and then yelled at by another man, I still don’t care if we did “deserve” it. Even if it was me and a friend walking to a bar, completely drunk and practically naked, we still do not deserve to feel unsafe in a public space. We should be allowed to walk from point A to point B without being harassed or dehumanized. In my opinion, that should simply be a basic human right.