Editor's Note: This story includes mention of sexual violence.
Having identified as a woman my entire life, I’ve learned a few things: don’t talk with your mouth full, don’t spit, put your napkin in your lap and always be gracious, among countless other niceties.
Though the necessity of these behaviors is subjective and heavily influenced by my Southern upbringing, the almost exclusive expectation for women to exemplify them has always struck me as unfair and misogynistic. The societal standards for being polite as a man are so unbelievably low that one merely opening the door to precede my entrance leaves me with butterflies and heart palpitations.
The bar is basically on the floor.
And so when it comes to more heinous offenses disproportionately committed by men, namely sexual violence, it’s exhausting for women to try to navigate unsafe spaces and modify our behaviors to avoid them.
When I was a high school intern, one of my superiors, a man in his 40s, was fired, in part because he was flirting and showing interest in me, a behavior only spotted by our sainted female secretary. Another time, I was walking through downtown Fort Worth and got catcalled by another man likely in his thirties. I was wearing a full suit, only further justifying that no matter what women wear, we have the propensity to be reduced to sexual objects.
In both instances, I was barely 17. I was uncomfortable, and perhaps a little shaken, but never surprised. In retrospect, I was lucky my discomfort stopped there. Neither situation turned dangerous.
Many women aren’t so fortunate.
So instead of addressing the root cause of a culture inherently entrenched in toxic masculinity, where perpetrators minimize and enact revenge upon women by committing acts of sexual violence, women are told to move in groups. We’re told to never walk alone at night. We’re told to carry protective materials and even invest in mechanisms to ensure we don’t get roofied at clubs.
These “protective measures” are promoted in tandem with, or often instead of, advocating for mutual understanding and respect for women
What’s most interesting to me is the illusory divide between perceived faults of the perpetrator and the prevention measures society employs. Most definitions and resources for victims of sexual violence will tell readers first that what happened to them is not their fault — including IU — and they would be correct. So why, then, are women forced to act as if sexual violence is an ever-present threat lurking around the corner and requiring defensive strategies to prevent it from happening? Why aren’t men employing such tactics?
The bottom line is, men are told they shouldn’t commit acts of sexual violence but at a much lower decibel than women are told to protect themselves from predatory men. We’re given a blanket set of rules and regulations and are advised to be wary of threats that look scary and overt but even more so of those that look friendly and familiar.
I’m so tired of having to be on high alert around inebriated men in public. I’m tired of not being able to walk home alone after a long night of studying. I’m especially tired of men telling other men to avoid committing acts of sexual violence not because it’s immoral but because their organization or affiliation might be punished because of them.
As a woman, I want freedom from this anxiety. I don’t think it’s a radical idea to resent feeling afraid of enjoying the same things men take for granted. I want to move away from telling women not to experience violence.
You wouldn’t tell a homeowner not to get burglarized.
You would reprimand the burglar.
Natalie Gabor (she/her) is a senior studying journalism with minors in business marketing and philosophy. She hopes to one day find a career that tops her brief stint as a Vans employee.