#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.

The Issue of Compromise

The issue of compromise is an interesting one when it comes to women and relationships.

When I was twelve years old, one of my good (male) friends asked me out. I told him I’d get back to him with my answer, because I felt like this was one of those things that I should discuss with my girl friends first, and they all vehemently told me that I should accept. I told them that I wasn’t interested in him like that, that he was just a friend to me, and they told me that that didn’t matter. He was a boy, and he liked me, and that was all that mattered. When I stood up for myself and said that I was going to say no, they told me I was making a mistake and that I would regret this.

Something similar happened to me later on, when I was sixteen years old, and a boy in my class decided to pursue me. Despite my constant dismissal of his advances, my friends would ramble on over how sad he was, how much I should give him a chance because he was such a nice guy. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t interested.

When I was nineteen years old, a friend broke down all pretence and told me that it didn’t matter if I was attracted to the person I was dated; I just shouldn’t be alone.

But let’s backtrack a little bit more; let’s go to a conversation that I had with a (female) friend when I was seventeen. She was telling me all about a date she had recently been on, and about how he had bought her dinner. “And, you know,” she said, “after they pay for you, you have to give them something in return.” I was horrified to hear this; “even if you aren’t ready for that?” I asked, and she said, “well, yeah. If they pay for you, then they expect it.”

Growing up, I was told, in multiple ways, that women always needed to compromise for a man. Women needed to compromise their comfort so that they could have a man, or refrain from making him angry. Women needed to compromise their careers so that their man could pursue his career. If the man was unhappy with the relationship, then it was the woman who needed to change; she was the nag, the bitch, the ball-buster, the crazy ex, the prude, the slut. If the relationship ended, then it was the woman’s fault, because she didn’t compromise enough.

A woman’s education is rarely seen as more important than her marital status. A woman’s ability to excel at her job is undermined by her ability to bare and raise children. A woman’s intelligence is not valued nearly as high as her ability to attract a man.

This idea of unceasing compromise created in me a great fear of commitment. I didn’t want to give up everything – my happiness, my ambitions, my comfort – all so that I could keep a relationship going. The way I saw it, there was no way that I could have both. People simply expected too much from women. And, quite simply, the idea of having a man, any man, did not matter to me more than I did.

Some might even say, I’m a rigid, non-compromising, prudish bitch. I’m not ashamed of that; I’ll own that title if you want to give it to me.

Because compromise is important, isn’t it? Relationships are built off of compromise; you can’t stay together if you won’t compromise. Right? And I’d fully agree with this if the compromise that I saw was evenly distributed.

But I recently watched an interview with the great Eartha Kitt, where she is asked if she would be willing to compromise if a man were to come into her life. “A man comes into my life and you have to compromise, for what? A relationship is a relationship that has to be earned. Not to compromise for,” she says. When pressed about whether or not she even wants a relationship, or if she is simply in love with herself, Kitt continues on to say, “I fall in love with myself, and I want someone to share it with me. I want someone to share me with me.”

When I first saw this interview, I watched it three or four times, over and over. I thought it was incredible, hearing this perspective, because it was so different from what I had heard about relationships in the past. This was not “accept the first man who will take you and hold onto him for dear life, because you need him”. This was not “sacrifice everything – your comfort, your dreams, everything, because it will make him happy”. This was, “love yourself first and foremost, and accept no less than what makes you happy. Because when you do that, you will fully, truly fall in love – and that is a wonderful thing”.

This is what a relationship should be.

We should not strive to create a relationship for the sake of creating a relationship. We should not have to give up everything to uphold a relationship that no longer makes us happy, just because that’s what we are expected to do. The purpose of a relationship should be to make us happy. To form a connection with someone who makes us better, who supports us.

Relationships should build us up; not hold us down. And the latter is what I have too often seen, especially for the women. The wives. The mothers who must sacrifice a career they wanted, an education they worked hard for, because their male counterparts were not expected to compromise as much as they were.

I love myself too much to give up my life and happiness for all that.

So I beg this of you now; love yourself, and do not settle for what doesn’t fulfill you. Do not do something for a loved one that you are not ready for. Do not lie to yourself, or force something, just because you feel pressured to do it. Because, end of day, if someone truly loves you, then what matters to you will matter to them. They will find a way to support you, to make your life better. They will find a way to compromise for you.

Here’s to Strong Women

When I was thirteen years old, I started to get into comic books. At the time, I was particularly partial to superhero comics. And as a young girl, I heard all the jokes about how, of course I was so absorbed in a genre that followed traditionally handsome, muscular men dressed in skin-tight clothing. It didn’t seem to matter much if I said that that wasn’t what drew me to the genre; everyone was simply convinced that that must be what it was.

I had a hard time convincing people that, when I opened a Batman comic, I didn’t do it for the sad, rich boy with abs; I was there for the tragic cat burglar who wanted love, but never at the expense of her freedom or independence. I wanted to read about the clown girl who fell head-over-heels for the wrong man, and then learned to recognize the abuse, and, with the help of her best friend (another woman who had faced mistreatment from an entitled and careless man) she got herself out of that situation.

I am, of course, talking about Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy, respectively. Three fictional characters who are not only strong, capable, and fiercely independent – they are, quite simply, unapologetically female.

When I was thirteen years old, these were the sorts of fictional characters that I was attracted to, in all forms of media: power fantasies. More specifically, feminine power fantasies. I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because she was allowed to (un-ironically) love shopping and make-up and gossiping, while still being able to kick some demon ass and stand up for herself. I loved Wonder Woman, because she was fierce and strong, but nurturing and loving all at once. I loved Xena, because she could be both warrior and princess without question.

When I was sixteen years old, my attention began to turn a little bit more toward celebrities, because I suppose that’s what you do when you’re a teenager (or, it was what me and my friends did, at least). The celebrities that I sought out were much the same.

I loved rocker chicks, like P!nk and Joan Jett, women who weren’t afraid to challenge what was expected of women. I loved celebrities like Lady Gaga, who insisted on expressing themselves in the way that they saw fit. I loved Emma Watson, and any woman who was willing to brand themselves a feminist or stand up for women’s issues.

I loved female celebrities who will go unnamed here, simply because there is not time and space to mention all of them.

When I was eighteen years old, I became more aware of the women in my own life, in my family (as you tend to do when you’re facing the possibility of moving out and moving on).

I heard stories about my maternal grandmother, and how much of a firecracker she had always been. I heard about this five-foot-tall woman, growing up with nothing to call her own and having to build her own life from scratch. I heard about the time that her own brother made fun of her until she could stand it no longer, and she stabbed him in the hand with a fork.

I remembered growing up with my mother, who was covered almost head-to-toe in tattoos and dyed her hair a new colour every week. I remember her pictures being published in tattoo magazines, her name being made as a small-time tattoo model, even when she had two fully grown daughters. I remember her telling me that the people who thought she shouldn’t be who she was at her age didn’t matter. I remember her telling me how important it was to be true to yourself, and to be proud of who you are, no matter what that means.

I remember growing up with my sister, who has never once considered not speaking her mind. No matter what, even if what she says is considered rude or incorrect, she will say it. If others tell her that she should be humble, then she will climb to the highest rooftop just to scream out how much of a gift she is to the world. If someone tries to hurt or slight her, then she will do precisely what she needs to do to protect herself, because that is precisely the sort of strong, independent woman she is.

Now, I am twenty-two years old, and I am more aware now than ever that strong women are a gift upon this world.

As women, we are too often told to be something very particular; we are told to be soft, humble, passive, sweet, whatever – my point is, whenever a woman does not subscribe to this limited definition of what a woman can be, the effect can be truly inspiring.

Because the fact of the matter is, women don’t have to be one thing. Women shouldn’t be one thing; there are millions and millions of us, and we are all different. We all look different, act different, think different, love different, and we should reflect all that in how we live our lives.

A woman who does not perfectly reflect society’s definition of beauty, and yet still loves herself and owns what she has, is a rare and beautiful thing – specifically because society tells women that they shouldn’t do that.

A woman who unapologetically owns her quote-unquote ‘unfeminine’ traits, like ambition or assertiveness, is, again, a rare and beautiful thing.

A woman who is, quite simply, herself, regardless of what that might mean, is a rare and beautiful thing.

And the reason why am I writing this, more important than simply reminding the world that strong women are a gift, is because we need to remind the strong women in our lives that they are strong, that they are amazing, that they inspire us. We need to support our fellow women, to encourage them to continue being themselves. Because we exist in a society that sometimes seems intent on tearing them down, but if we can remind them that what they do is important, then maybe they can find the strength to continue.

As women, we need to build one another up. We need to be there for one another, to make one another better, instead of constantly trying to prove that we are better than them. On top of telling women what they should be, society has also tried to trap us in a constant cycle of competition with one another: we must be the pretty-est, the most loved, the best mother, but the truth is, we don’t need any to accept any of this. We have the option of supporting our fellow women, of helping them to become stronger. Because we all deserve to be and feel strong.

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.

The Status of ‘Woman’

Sometimes I wish that I could escape the status of ‘woman’.

I don’t necessarily wish that I could be a man, or any other gender. That isn’t what I’m trying to say. I’m satisfied with the gender that I was born into it, at least enough that I have no problem being referred to by it.

What I mean is, I wish that I could do something publicly, pretty much anything, without having multiple men try and hit on me, or reduce me to my physical appearance. I wish that, every once in a while, I could just be intelligent, rather than ‘hot’ or ‘ugly’.

I wish that, when these men hit on me, they would take me seriously when I say “no”.

I wish that I could make a statement about something without being told that I was a bitch or deserving of some sort of violence. I wish that I could believe in my own rights without being accused of hating men.

I wish that, when I explained things that I’ve studied and researched, people would just take it for granted that I was right. I wish that, when I explained things, men wouldn’t explain them back to me as though I didn’t know what I was talking about.

I wish that I was the one with a ‘bright future’ ahead of me, rather than Brock Turner. Instead, when people look into my future, all they seem to see is babies. They tell men that they have a glorious career ahead of them, and they tell me that I’ll someday have to put aside my passions in order to raise a family that I’ve said, time and time again, I don’t want.

I wish that, if I were raped by a man, they would listen to my voice, rather than take his side without question. I wish that they wouldn’t automatically assume the worst of me, and the best of him.

I wish that I always had the final say in what happened to my body, even if I was pregnant. Even if I decided that I never wanted to get pregnant.

I wish that I took myself seriously. I wish that I could say things with confidence, with the knowledge that I was allowed to have an opinion, and that there were, in fact, many things that I knew how to do better than the average person. I wish that I knew how to express the entitlement that I’ve seen in many heterosexual, cis-gendered men. I wish that society hadn’t beaten that out of me.

I wish that there weren’t people out there who would reduce me to my genitals, or my body.

These are the things that simply make being a woman exhausting.

I am a woman. And I think I speak for all women when I say that that should not diminish who we are. Being women that should not mean that we are taken any less seriously, or that our future is paved in stone by the biological urges we are expected to have.

Because, before we are women, we are people. We are as diverse as any group – intelligent and ignorant and courageous and cowardly and emotional and stoic and nurturing when we need or when we want to be. Our gender does not dictate who we are as people. Just as a man’s gender does not dictate who he is as a person.

And we as a society need to stop seeing gender, first and foremost, when we interact with others. There are too many other things that we can be.