“Asking for it” and other conundrums … hmmm
I may be a little late to the party … but the issues surrounding how we think about women as objects versus as living, breathing persons that are more than sexualized gender constructions is not something that just flares up with a headline. Nor should we consider a young woman attending college an object of derision because she doesn’t cotton to waking up after a party in her sorority having been date-raped by her chem lab partner. Oh- but that would belie that swinging “co-ed” meme that still seems to underlie our dismissal of college women whose plaintive pleas for action are met with a wink and the consternation of college administrators who might actually have to take some responsibility for the conduct of students on campus.
The horror show that was the “Santa Barbara” mass murder outrage a couple of months ago, in that instance, the targeting of women and a few men who happened to be in the way, renewed all sorts of conversations in the popular media and elsewhere about a wide range of topics spanning from gun control to treatment of the mentally ill to the divide between men and women.
And yep, in the mind of our shooter, his lack of attractiveness to women was not *his* fault, but theirs, thus in his twisted mindset, it became a killing offense. If the headlines published in the NY Daily News were to be believed, it all stemmed from the perception of a snarky comment from a friend stated off handedly at the age of ten — and that young woman has been in fear for her life ever since.
What is going on here?
As a mother of a fourteen-year-old, I’ve gotten to know the bit about “slut-shaming” and other lovelies inflicted on tweens and teens by boys *and* girls for offenses as deeply embarrassing as a perceived inopportune smile, but shooting???
Oh and the sexualization of tween and teen girls is another lovely that parents and their kids contend with daily as in the, “But Mom, those are the only shorts they sell,” argument. You know the ones– they’re basically nothing more than butt flashing snippets of “distressed” denim material, and the prideful “good” Moms and Dads (myself among them), create havoc in our homes peeling our daughters out of their shorts and back into “appropriate” clothing.
Still … what is that all about. It’s okay to wear short-shorts for running (same style for men and women), but not for walking? Why not wear short-shorts on a ridiculously hot day without the expectation of some idiot somewhere saying something so wildly offensive and disgusting that one’s own mind needs an ablative scraping just to remove the memory it.
Scratch the surface, however, and that clothing argument gets to the heart of that old canard … “she is just asking for it.”
A million years ago in 1970, I used to walk home from Julia Richmond High School on East 68th Street, through Manhattan’s famed Central Park to our apartment on the Upper West Side. My favorite route was up the East Side park drive, then around the running track at the Reservoir until I reached the West Side before the last part of my trek home.
On a lovely Spring afternoon somewhere along the northern edge of the Reservoir, a man grabbed me from behind by placing me in a choke hold that lifted me off the ground. He proceeded to wheel me around and carry me several yards, my body still suspended in the air as I struggled to breathe. He then threw me into the underbrush off the main path. After sexually assaulting me, he ran away and I somehow made it out of the park, disheveled and emotionally shattered, into my mother’s arms.
While I’m not here to “testify” per se, the interesting part was me shaking my head and saying over and over through convulsions of tears, “but Mom, I’m wearing a lumber shirt over loose wide-leg jeans…” a nod to my hippy-girl style complete with long, long hair.
And there we were … my mother and I in this moment, sharing my insistence that I wasn’t “asking for it.” Or, was just being alone with my thoughts enjoying a lovely day the “signal” — much as our young “Santa Barbara Killer” figured he was right to murder women because they were at fault for not liking him.
What I find astounding is the meme of “asking for it” is as current today as it was 44 years ago. And then as now we are still buying it hook, line and sinker.
It is also incredulous to me that people actually believe a woman walking home from school, the movies, work, the grocery store, a night out with friends or the myriad of other places that mark her point of departure … is actually asking for it.
I mean, let’s get real, assault against women whether sexual or otherwise, continues on and on as a 24/7 activity in every corner of the world — including our much vaulted enlightened society. Are we really saying all these women are asking for it too?
And with the exception of a few folks (men and women alike) who explore sexual pain and suffering, trust me, women aren’t waking up and saying, “Gee, I’m going for a walk in the park, come rape me,” or “I’m going to make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, kill me if it isn’t al dente.”
I mean, pahleeze, women are continuously on the receiving end of hits, punches, slaps, broken bones, acid thrown in their faces, being set on fire, infanticide, kidnapping, sexual assault, rape and murder precisely because they are women — and if not in real life than as a daily diet of our popular culture.
Something truly has to give.
From the personal side, it is truly alarming to realize that yet another generation of young women in America does not feel safe at home, driving to work, at school, at work or just going for a stroll — not to mention women in uniform who live in fear not from the “enemy,” but from their fellow soldiers, sailors, and officers. (Yes, tell me please how a woman in uniform is “asking for it.”)
I could go on for a while, and wish I had a solution, other than to say, we all, men and women alike, have to shout-out enough and be done with it.
Suffice it to say, my biggest fear remains walking down the street after dark with a group of young men 14 – 23 moving towards me.