Trigger warning: violence against women, assault, stalking, rape, abuse, mention of the recent massacre in Georgia
This article is divided into five parts: On Violence, On You, On Educating Yourself, Personal Insights, & Where to Start
Women have always been gracious enough to point out that there is a dagger within them, that they are being followed home, that within their homes they are in danger, that they fear leaving their homes without pepper spray, that they expect creeps anytime they’re in public, that the most mundane of acts can incite sexual violence, that the most sexual of acts can incite sexual violence.
These points are persistently made manifest, as is what happened in Atlanta, Georgia recently, with the brutal killing of six Asian women employed at a series of spas and massage parlors. The 21-year-old murderer’s motive has been brushed off (think about that: brushed off*) as a sex addiction (Chen, NBC news). Reader: tell me why we all assumed these women were sex workers. And tell me why a disgusting number of men have accepted that they, in some way, asked for it, because of their presumed role as sex workers. What is “women’s empowerment” when it is conditioned by a woman’s perceived sexuality, even explicit sexuality, and when the subject of empowerment is conditional at all? Let me tell you that this sorry excuse of a belief is an extension of the same misogyny and violence against women and minoritized groups that is the root of danger and harm. This same belief plants itself as a seed in the minds of millions and goes unquestioned.** What goes unquestioned, grows. What grows, persists.
The act of women’s empowerment (self-empowerment or the empowerment of the women around you) is, at its core, a wasted effort until and unless you can sit with the fact that you have been wrong. The big advice? Learn to sit with your discomfort. Reflect on it, analyze it, constantly and consistently. Train and discipline yourself to stand on your feet, and not cower, when someone tells you or has even indicated to you (in whatever form they feel or they can best) that you have done something wrong. This holds true as well for when you yourself feel that you have done something wrong, even if no one has indicated it to you themselves. Your response, and every subsequent action after, is the true apology and evidence of your having learned and grown.
Regardless, whether someone has indicated it to you or not, whether your own conscience has started ringing the alarm bells or not, any personal acts of misogyny and sexism, as well as any acts that ignore or excuse it in others, are wrong. Point blank. These acts must be actively addressed and ameliorated.
On Educating Yourself
The act of ‘educating yourself’ and ‘working on yourself’ becomes null when you solely rely on the good luck of coming across a woman who is already doing the work and won’t mind doing it for you too*** (outside of the context of professional help/therapy). It also becomes null when you have any un-criticized and persisting impression within you that empowerment comes from attending once in a blue moon lectures hosted by women who are gracious enough to speak up where so many, particularly guys and men, choose to be silent, curtail these conversations, or ignore.
*** Here, please analyze the following. Why do women not mind doing the work for you? Think about this. Is it an act of survival? A recognition that if they won’t do it, if they don’t bring it up, if they don’t write on it, speak on it, elaborate on it, make it incredibly clear, etc. that you won’t? That you will in fact, even continue to defend the ‘guys,’ ‘friends,’ ‘dudes,’ etc. who make women uncomfortable? Who women have already spoken up about? You tell me (read “me” as: a therapist or another professional with whom you can unpack this).
Many men do not understand fully the implications of empowering women. Because: they would rather NOT lose their friends and comforts and privileges, they would rather NOT be uncomfortable and called out, they would rather NOT platform women who speak up against gender-based discrimination and violence that may potentially point the fingers back towards themselves. I want to note here that gender-based violence and discrimination is driven by a misogyny and patriarchal norm of life that also implicates men in violence against other boys and men – this is an extended topic that requires its own post to properly explore the complex ways in which misogyny and patriarchy exists and persists in this world.
When many men read the words “women’s empowerment,” they think of the act like an honor, that they are in some sense heroes fighting against a patriarchal world right behind the women who are taking all the hits at the front lines. No. When we say “women’s empowerment,” or “feminism” or “equality” or “women’s rights” or whatever words or terms you want to attach to it, we mean: stop stalking us, stop raping us, stop oggling at us, stop harassing us, stop excusing your abuse towards us, stop excusing your friends. You are not a hero for “empowering” women. You are doing the bare minimum.
And until you have really started the process of sitting with your discomfort, as I hope I have made it incredibly clear before, you are permitting violence that has persisted for millenia. Does this make you feel helpless? There is no time for that. Remember: there are no “take 2’s” in life. There is no second shot, directors cut. You must identify where you have messed up, and you must persist in working towards correcting your behavior.
To every single one of the readers who is with me today: few things in life are both urgent and extremely significant. This, “Women’s Empowerment” or “feminism” or “equality” or whatever you want to call it, is one of those things. Make it an urgent and important priority for yourself. Start today and don’t stop.
For more reference as to where I’m getting all this information from: my friends have been raped, assaulted, and stalked (it sounds almost like an exaggeration when I type it out; let me be clear – if I must – that this is not an exaggeration). Their assaulters have all gotten away with it and their perpetrators largely excused by their friends – they continue to live life as if they did nothing wrong. I have been stalked myself in my freshman year of college (in the dorms, where: I had no way of escaping it, and bringing it up to an RA left me with an already acted upon and useless option to “tell him to stop”). It is embarrassing the extent to which these heinous acts are normal. This small paragraph description also does not encapsulate the catcalling, belittling, and other “milder” forms of subjugation that women and girls stand witness to on a daily and chronic basis.
Every time I see things like what happened in Georgia, what David Dobrik and his friends and Andrew Cuomo have more recently been exposed for, it is like a fresh wound cut and reopened again. The anger and pain has never subsisted; instead, they grow with each of these revelations. It feels almost impossible to take all of this in and not share it, and not recommit myself once again to do the work that is required of me to be a basic and decent human being. I hope every person reading this will commit and recommit themselves with me.
Where to Start
I wanted to share suggestions with you of places to start. Please understand that this advice is not just for a particular group or gender of people. It is for all of us:
- Commit to meeting with a professional. Therapists are trained to help you unpack long standing internalized narratives, as well as difficult emotions and experiences. They provide a safe and non-judgmental space for you to begin and continue to do the internal work you need to do.
- Seek the support of friends. Friends may provide another safe space to work through how you feel. Here, be cognizant of not shifting and unloading your personal responsibility to grow onto them.
- Reflect on these questions with non-judgment towards yourself, as a means of getting a better sense of where you may stand, and what work lies ahead for you. It would be absolutely golden to work through these with a therapist as well:
- What is a time when I didn’t take someone’s concerns, discomforts, or negative experiences seriously?
- In what ways do I overlook unequal gender-based responsibilities within my family or friend groups?
- In what ways have I caused damage or harm to someone?
- In what ways have I made someone feel unsafe?
- *In what ways have I dismissed/brushed off (see note from above related to the Georgia shootings) the acts of a friend of mine when others have spoken up about uncomfortable, wrong, sexist, racist, misogynistic, etc. things they have said or done? In what ways have I dismissed/brushed off the feelings, stories, and experiences of the friends who brought it up?
- **What misogynistic and patriarchal beliefs, norms, and ways of life have I let persist and go unquestioned within myself?
Finally, please understand and internalize in full that addressing these issues is not SIMPLE. It is incredibly COMPLEX. There are many moving parts, every single one of which are inaccessible, unfortunately, to the person who does not commit themselves to opening themselves up to the ugliest parts of their own being. And you must be willing to do this. It is not an option. It is simply your responsibility to do what you can to make sure you are not a threat to others, and that you protect others from threat too.
A friend of mine once suggested it is safer to assume that every person, every man and boy, is a misogynist, until they have begun unraveling it from within themselves. This is because we have all been, and continue to be, indoctrinated with systems of oppression that have been normalized since our birth.
If I may leave you with one encouraging note, it is this: none of what I mentioned above is a reason to be ashamed, to think: “there is something wrong with me.” The guilt any of this may have conjured up, I hope I can remind you, is actually a powerful fuel, a magnificent opportunity, ready for you, at your disposal. I encourage and urge you to get started. Do not despair. Use your fuel for the benefit of those around you, and ultimately for your own benefit too.
this post is in honor of the eight individuals shot, seven of who passed, in the shooting in Atlanta, Georgia.
this post is in part inspired by Meryum Siddiqi who is leading a conversation today on “Empowering the Voice of Women” with the UKY Muslim Student Association. Those who speak up and hold us to account are doing the most important work of all.