#YesAllWomen: What can men do?

Last night, as I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noticed this post from a friend, paraphrased below:

“In the spirit of #YesAllWomen, here’s a list of things I have been advised to do to avoid being raped.”

She listed a dozen items that most young women will recognize, like “Never put your drink down at a party.” At the end, she invited readers to share their own lists of anti-rape advice they’d been giving.

Rape has been on my radar since age 10, when there was a big community meeting about preventing it. It was a rainy Saturday night in November, and all the moms in my church went, leaving the kids and husbands to construct gingerbread houses together. Naturally, we younger kids wanted to know where our moms were, so our dads and older siblings explained it carefully. It was shocking to learn about a whole new type of crime. Theft I knew about, from a few small occurrences at school. Murder and kidnapping I knew about, from the episodes of Inspector Morse my parents sometimes let me watch. Rape was something new — something that, for the first time, I had to keep in mind specifically because I was a girl.

From that point forward, I was slowly given a whole body of anti-rape and anti-harassment advice. Men, as you look over the advice below, I’d like to challenge you to try something: Go for one week with these rules guiding your life.

  • Don’t go running alone.
  • Don’t wear loose clothing that’s easy to grab or cut off …
  • … but don’t wear tight clothing that might invite attention.
  • Also, don’t wear shirts with logos across the front. Those might attract attention to your chest.
  • Always wear shoes you can run in.
  • Always park under a street light or close to the store.
  • Always approach your car with caution. Check in the back seat, and underneath your car and the car next to your driver’s side.
  • If there’s a van parked next to your driver’s side, go back to the store or party and request an escort back to your car.
  • Don’t linger in a parked car.
  • When you leave your car, travel light, keep your hands free, and move fast.
  • Try not to travel at night, especially by foot.
  • If you see a group of people of the opposite sex loitering on the sidewalk ahead, cross the street.
  • When riding public transportation at night, always sit up front where the driver can see you. Don’t wear headphones — stay alert. Stay engrossed in a book or your phone to discourage attention (though this has failed horribly on occasion).
  • If you go hiking or camping, take at least one member of the opposite sex with you.
  • If a stranger asks for your name, lie.
  • If a stranger approaches you belligerently, pretend you don’t speak English.
  • Wear your hair up or cut it short to keep people from grabbing it.
  • In elevators, stay close to the control panel.
  • If a policeman tries to pull you over at night, put on your hazard lights and don’t pull over until you’re in a well-populated area. There’s also a number you can call to verify whether it’s a real policeman, though that won’t always ensure your safety.
  • Keep a dog with you while gardening alone.
  • If you have to visit a doctor, cleric, professor, or other professional of the opposite gender, take a friend with you.
  • When you’re walking alone, put your keys between your fingers for a weapon.
  • If you work in a public space, wear a wedding ring.
  • If you get a flat tire on the road, tell anyone who stops to help that you’ll be OK — your significant other is due any minute. Say this even if your significant other is halfway across the world or nonexistent, and Triple-A is forty-five minutes away.
"No, no, my boyfriend's bring extra wheels --- two in each fist. And I left the trunk open for aesthetic purposes."

“No, no, my bodybuilder boyfriend is bring extra tires — two in each fist, actually. And I left the trunk open for aesthetic purposes.”

Did you stop reading before the end? I wouldn’t blame you if you did. Those are just the rules I’ve been given — I’m sure there are plenty more I’ve never heard. As I thought over them last night, I suddenly felt so frustrated. I had always accepted this kind of advice without a whimper, judging automatically that these were smart things to do in a cruel world. The world can be very cruel, it’s true, and much of this advice is sound. But why has women’s safety become a deep, dark maze in which they can make all the “right” turns and still get lost? Why aren’t we working harder to cut away the maze and establish a solid ground where everyone can feel respected and safe? What can men, as the largest demographic responsible for violence against women, do to help demolish this culture of fear?

I am so glad you asked.

Why has women’s safety become a deep, dark maze in which they can make all the “right” turns and still get lost?

To begin with, let’s address the #NotAllMen movement. Yes, I know that very few men are rapists and killers. Yes, I know that many men love the women in their lives deeply. But the point of #YesAllWomen is not to demonize men or dismiss the good they’ve done in the world. The point is to show how deeply fear and frustration are engrained in many women’s lives. It’s about women who are tired of carrying their keys between their fingers on the street, who want to go to the beach in a cute swimsuit and not get catcalled, who want to walk outside alone and look at the stars.

We love you men, we really do. Our wonderful fathers, grandfathers, brothers, boyfriends, husbands, cousins, sons, and friends are among you. But we have seen and read about and experienced too much violence from a handful of men to trust you all at first sight. In the words of the brilliant Twitter user jennonthego, “Imagine a bowl of M&Ms. 10% of them are poisoned. Go ahead. Eat a handful.”

As I wrote my reply to my friend’s Facebook post, I thought about what my #YesAllWomen post would be if I had Twitter.

“#YesAllWomen because I thought clothes caused harassment until the day I was catcalled while wearing a long full skirt and a bulky sweater.”

“#YesAllWomen because when I’m waiting for the bus at night, I have two choices: stand under a streetlight where anyone can see me, or hide in the shadows and hope nobody sees me.”

“#YesAllWomen because my middle-school PE teacher wouldn’t changing our daily running route even after multiple girls reported being harassed by the guys at the skate park we ran by.”

"He's just being friendly. It's a compliment."

“He’s just being friendly. It’s a compliment.”

So what can men do?

They can listen. One of the upsides of the #YesAllWomen movement has been the beautiful responses from so many men who “get it” now. Neil Gaiman’s tweet, for example, nearly made me cry:

“The #yesallwomen hashtag is filled with so many hard, true, sad and angry things. I can empathise & try to understand & know I never entirely will.”

Patton Oswalt’s contribution:

“To the guys angry at #YesAllWomen: good. You’re angry cuz you’re getting shaken up. I’m shaken up. It leads to understanding.”

Secondly, men can ask questions. Shortly after I posted my list of anti-rape advice on my friend’s thread, another friend messaged me asking for clarification. What was the impact of staying close to the elevator control panel, he wanted to know? I told him it was to maintain greater control over the open/close door function, and to exit early if necessary. “Oh,” he replied. “I’d never really thought about that before.”

They can encourage their sons and friends to treat women more respectfully. This encouragement can reside in the tiniest actions — not laughing at misogynistic jokes, questioning why a friend catcalled a women — but as Mother Teresa said, those small deeds’ echoes can be truly endless.

Finally, they can interact with women more mindfully, especially in risky situations like at night and in enclosed spaces. I have a friend who is 6’4″ and has three sisters. He grew up being very aware of his height and learning to control his movements more purposely to avoid seeming threatening. This doesn’t make him a wimp. It makes him considerate. I’ve heard from other men who used to feel a little hurt when they saw solo women eyeing them suspiciously or crossing the street to avoid them. Now that they’ve caught a glimpse the degree of caution we’ve been raised to cultivate, they’re more understanding of these actions.

Men, again, we love you. We’re not asking you to wear only pastels, or walk around with your hands up, or get a women’s studies degree. We just want you understand that even though women’s rights have come a long way just in 50 years, we still don’t have the same freedom from fear that you have. We want that freedom. We want it desperately. But it will be a whole lot easier to attain if we have your help.

Last night, I hit “enter” on my Facebook reply, read a few of the newest responses, returned to my scrolling … and immediately saw this post from a friend:

“Had to cut my run short today because of a creeper. Time to find a new route.”

#YesAllWomen. Because women are human beings.

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What are your #YesAllWomen messages? What questions and concerns do you have about the movement? Comments are welcome, but be aware that I will replace unnecessarily harsh or off-topic comments with the text, “I can’t wait for the new season of Sherlock.”

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Photo credit: Car and dog from Pixabay.

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