Like many women who have been groped, Taylor Swift has been advised to let it go. Move on. Shake it off, as her number-one single proclaims. It was just a quick butt-grab, right?
Considering over 87 percent of American women have experienced street harassment (ranging from catcalls to being grabbed, groped or followed), it’s clear that our culture is one that quietly permits male sexual aggression.
As a sex therapist, I have experienced firsthand how many women have been victims of sexual violence, and how many of them have been further victimized by a culture that tells them to suck it up, take it as a compliment and move on. Hey, you must look hot if they are honking at you! Guy follows you to your car asking for your number, over and over? Hey, mama, it’s just because you’re so fine.
Sigh. Except ask any woman who has endured that type of treatment and you soon learn that women don’t feel flattered. They don’t feel complimented. What do they feel?
They feel scared. (What’s going to happen next? Is he going to grab me?) They feel less than human. (He’s looking at me like I’m a piece of meat.) They feel ashamed. (Why did I wear a skirt today?) They feel guilty. (Why did I walk down this street?) They feel embarrassed. (Everyone is looking at me, this is awful!)
And, then, they feel weak. They feel remorseful. (I should have said something. Why didn’t I speak up? I wish I would have told him off. That’s what a really tough woman would have done.)
And, here’s the last emotion, perhaps the worst of them all. They tell a friend or a family or coworker about the incident. And, more likely than that not, that person says “It’s no big deal,” or “Hey, at least you still got it!” or “I would love if a woman followed me on the street and complimented my ass!”
So, now on top of it all, the woman feels foolish. Petty. Silly. Over-dramatic.
Yes, for the ‘crime’ of being in a public as a woman, we get to feel scared, devalued, guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, weak, remorseful and hysterical.
As for the man who groped Taylor Swift, he is in the same cadre of predators who rape, assault and abuse women. Imagine the gall it takes to grab a woman’s butt who has world-class security officers there to protect her. Even then he felt bold enough and deserving enough to grab her intimate body part. He knew she wouldn’t be able to cause a scene. He knew she would have to stand there and take it. And that was part of the thrill. That he had all the control and she had none. It must have made him feel like a big man, cutting down one of the nation’s most powerful stars, a way of symbolizing, “You may be Taylor Swift, but I’M the man here, and to me, you’re just a piece of a**.”
As is so often the case, sexual violence always comes down to power. The power that rapists have over their victims, but also the power of rape culture. The culture that silences and shames victims while uplifting predators…the very power that lets men grab women and catcall women without fear of reprise. They know no one is going to stop them. They know people will turn a blind eye, that they will get a ‘boys will be boys’ defense. Don’t believe me? Well, how many of you tuned into watch the Mayweather fight last weekend? This man has a disturbing trend of violence against women, not to mention he has posted things to his social media such as, “If a female shows half of her body, she’s asking to be disrespected” and “Dress how you want to be addressed.”
Wow. Yet this man is a champion in our country, both inside and outside the ring.
As Americans, we’re aghast at places where it’s illegal for women to drive, yet we think nothing of telling girls and women to make sure they don’t walk alone at night, to make sure their skirts aren’t too short, their drinks aren’t too strong, and their behavior isn’t too flirty. Don’t ask for it, we warn women, the intimation being: Men can’t be expected to keep their hands to themselves. She’s ‘asking to be disrespected.’
There aren’t enough words in the universe for me to explain what’s wrong with this line of thinking. Yes, of course, women should exercise caution when in public because we live in a world where many people view us as prey. But instead of urging women to cover up, it’s time to start urging men to start shutting up. Yes, I said it. Stop catcalling us. Stop honking your horn. Stop whistling. Stop shouting out the window. Stop touching women before you have consent.
And, this is the important part: Start calling out other men when you see this behavior. While I was so proud of Taylor Swift for going after her predator and taking him down in an epic manner, the reality is that most women don’t have the money, time, or expert advisers to help guide them through a trial. So, the only way we can change this behavior on a national scale is by working together. By refusing to accept this behavior from men. By teaching our boys that this is not the way to approach women. By empowering women to realize that the only person in the situation who should feel ashamed is the predators themselves.
I know we can do it. I know we can. I have seen the powerful, inspiring action that takes place when our country comes together. I have seen it in Houston since Tropical Storm Harvey hit, and since then, that energy has ripped in incredible ways across the USA and beyond. When Americans make up our minds to right a wrong, we do it in a grand and lasting way.
So let’s have this be the legacy we hand down to our kids. A culture that doesn’t turn a blind eye to these ‘harmless’ incidents of sexual violence. A culture that requires men to engage with women respectfully, whether they are Taylor Swift or the girl-next-door.