Feminism: Why I will not be quiet

“Come stand by me. I don’t normally get to see people this pretty in the morning.”

It was six in the morning and all I wanted was gas, coffee and to hit the road.

Little did I know that the 50-year-old man standing at the counter had something different in mind.

Many thoughts ran through my head:

“Who does this guy think he is?”

“Why is he talking to me?”

“I could be his daughter’s age.”

Rewind.

Before he even said a word to me, I knew the situation was trouble. I walked into the quick stop by myself to four men standing around the counter. It gave me an uneasy feeling. I made my way to the back of the line only to have a 50-year-old man in overalls stare at me for an awkward amount of time. When I made eye contact with him, I gave a smile to keep myself from being uncomfortable. But, even when I looked away, he kept staring.

That’s when he said IT:

“Come stand by me. I don’t normally get to see people this pretty in the morning.”

And I broke down. Not on the outside. But on the inside something caved. I wanted so desperately for the situation, which I knew would happen from the start, to be a dream. I wanted to believe that I was judging the men too harshly that morning when I walked in and thought, “one of them is going to say something inappropriate to me.”

I wanted to be wrong.

But, at that moment, I was too right.

So, inside of me was this battle. What was I supposed to say? What did he want from me? What was I supposed to do? I most certainly wasn’t going to stand by this man I barely knew. Why did he have to put me in this position of having to retort to his unnerving comment (command)?

I tried to come up with something that would get him to question why he felt the urge to talk to me that way. I might have asked him why or told him that I can’t deal with men this early in the morning. I just wanted to say something that would get him to see how sexist he was being and how his comment was unfair for me to endure.

But what, in that moment, came out of my mouth?

“You’re so sweet.”

But see, I’m the type of girl who notices when there are more men in a room than women or when a guy puts his hands on me without asking or when a female backs down from a conversation because the males have taken over.

I notice these things and speak against these things daily.

And yet all I could say was: you’re so sweet.

As soon as I said the words I regretted it. I hadn’t stood up for myself. I didn’t stand up for women everywhere who have to deal with random creepy comments from men every day.

you’re. so. sweet.

I had encouraged him.

He looked at me and smiled, “I just thought that if a beautiful girl like you stood by me, it might make me look a little better.”

I laughed.

It wasn’t funny.

As he turned around and paid for his things at the checkout counter, I couldn’t help but think about how he had ruined my morning. In fact, I began to think about all the times that sexist behavior had really affected me and how I had not fought back:

The one time at IHOP when men chased down my car and opened my door without my permission. That time a little boy ran through the streets groping me and my friends in NYC. That time a boy gave me a massage without asking if it was alright. The time boys made fun of me behind my back because my boobs are too small. And let’s not forget the constant catcalling.

Why? Why that morning did I back down? What made me so fearful to speak up that I gave that man a smile he so desperately wanted?

Because of the times I have spoken up only to receive criticism from the people closest to me, from women who should be on my side.

One time a man groped my butt on Bourbon Street, and, instead of brushing it off, I turned around and told (yelled at) him to keep his hands to himself. My friends told me to “calm down”.

One time a drunk man with his son (who couldn’t be more than ten years old) stopped us on the street to give his son a hug. I originally protested, but none of my other friends did. So we all gave the little boy a hug. Afterward I talked about how hyper-masculinity teaches young boys that it’s okay to touch random girls they barely know. My friends shrugged it off and laughed about how upset I was.

One time a person who shall not be named (he’s married) randomly sexted me (a minor at the time) about the disgusting things he wanted to do to me. I told family. I told friends. I found out that he had done it to other people. I was told that it would cause too much drama if I talked to his wife. So I kept it quiet.

That morning in the convenience store was just one of many and more moments yet to come. And I was a bystander, allowing the man to think it is okay to DEMAND random women stand next to him.

“The bystander effect, or bystander apathy, is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders.”

There are plenty of times I have been a bystander. Sometimes I let someone get away with a sexist joke. Sometimes I don’t say anything to someone who makes a racist comment. And sometimes I am the one who perpetuates the negative behavior.

That morning at the convenience store, I was a bystander. And there will be other times when I choose to keep quiet instead of standing up for what is right.

But the thing about keeping quiet is that every time I stay silent, there is a woman who needs someone to speak up.

One in four college women will be sexually assaulted and one in five women will be raped.

I personally know at least ten women in my life who have been raped and more who have been sexually assaulted. Behind them are women who have almost been. And even larger are the number who experience some kind of verbal assault or sexual misconduct on almost a daily basis.

If I don’t stand up for these women, who will? If I allow men (and women) to think it’s okay to shame women or make unsolicited comments or touch them without permission (god forbid), then I am just as bad as they are.

The point of this story is not to shame those who may not always stand up for what they believe in or to bash on all men. The moral of this story is to encourage those of you like me, who may not always feel supported, to speak up. Don’t sit down and shut up. Stand up for what is right. Continue to give a voice to those people who may not have one. A simple word may make a small change in someone’s behavior.

But small changes can turn into big ones.

 

xo

Ivey