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April 15, 2016

Tags: Stopping gender violence

Recently, I spoke at Washington College on behalf of RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) for an event entitled "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes," where guys put on badly fitting high heels and walk (actually a half mile) to promote awareness of sexual assault on women.

They put up a brave front, all these college boys in ball caps and plaid shirts over their black and red "Walk a Mile" t-shirts with the Washington College Goose mascot on the back. When we got to the park where the event was held, the pizza boxes were opened and I was asked to speak.

Try talking about sexual assault to a bunch of young guys when their pizza is getting cold. I did. The boys respectfully stood and listened, or at least pretended to. Most did not make eye contact or looked away in the distance while I proceeded to interject what was, I'm sure, a downer to their fun time walking in heels. But it had to said. And said to them as well as the girls that hosted the event.
So here it is. My speech to boys in heels. God Bless 'Em.

You all know the saying, "You can't really understand another person's experience until you've walked a mile in their shoes. True empathy demands action as well as emotion. I applaud all of you who have stepped up and shown up and have shown your support FOR women and against sexual violence.
This has been fun- and funny. But, really, you all know why you’re here. Walking in high heels suck-- but in reality just walking, anywhere in anything, can be uncomfortable and dangerous for women.
And talk about some disturbing things that happen – and happen all the time.

Imagine walking down a street and passing some guys sitting on a car watching you. You can feel them watching you before you even pass them. They start making comments about you as you get closer, one of them says:
“Come over here, come on, baby. I just want to talk to you.” But you do not want to talk to them or have anything to do with them. You just want to get to the 7-11 on the corner and buy a bottle of water and maybe some barbecue chips. You ignore them. They keep on:
Another one chimes in: “What’s the matter, don’t you like me?
You keep ignoring them. “I like you. You gotta nice ass.”
Your want to tell them to fuck off, but that’s too dangerous. You keep on ignoring them. “Hey bitch, what the matter? I’m talking to you?
You’re almost in front of them.
“You think you’re too good for us? “ They stand up as you pass, start to move toward you. They’re getting too close. You’re scared but you don’t want to show it. You walk faster. And then two people walk out a store right there and the guys back off.
As you get past them, you hear: “You’re a fat bitch, anyway. Ugly___ fill in the blank.”

Or maybe it goes like this:
You’re walking down a street. Up ahead, some guys are sitting on a car watching you. You can feel them watching you before you even pass them. They begin making comments about you as you get closer, one of them says “Come over here, come on, baby. I just want to talk to you.” You try to ignore them, but they keep on.
Another one chimes in: “What’s the matter, don’t you like me?
You’ve been trying to ignore them, but you’re closer now and you know what might happen if you just try to pretend they’re not there. So you force a smile on your face.
“You look pretty when you smile,” the guy says. “Just come over here we want to talk to you.”
You shake your head, “No time”, you say, smiling even more now as if this is fun and you’d love to talk to them, but … you know….
You pass. They’re behind you now. “You don’t know what you’re missing,” you hear. The one guy says something in a low voice to the others. They’re all laughing now. But you’re safe. You defused the situation. You smiled.
And you’re shaking, partly from fear and partly because you wish you could tell those assholes what you think of them. But you can’t. Because it’s dangerous to say what you think.
Men are afraid of rejection. And women are afraid of violence. And women know that rejection can often lead to violence.
So sometimes we’re nice when we don’t want to be because that’s how we’ve been taught to be. And that can lead to confusion. And sometimes guys are angry when they’re really hurt. But neither should be the case. False duality. Women not all emotion, men are not unfeeling and forceful. We all a bit of both. But both of us, men and women end up playing roles that not healthy. In fact these roles cripple and restrict us from being fully human.
Go back to high heels, because are a great metaphor for how women are crippled in our society. We all buy into this- men and women alike. No one forces you to wear heels, but as women, we do it (I used to----haven’t worn them in years). You know why?
Because it us more desirable. Heels shove your butt into the air and makes it more prominent in your profile. And anyone’s legs look better in heels. Even guys.
But heels slow you down and make it harder to walk. And slowing down women so they can’t get very far has been around a long time. As recently as last century in China, the feet of young girls were bound and wrapped so they could not grow. They became small and deformed and EVEN infected - and impossible to walk in.
Why would anyone allow this to happen? Well, for women in ancient China, mothers helped with the foot binding because that’s how they were raised and they wanted make sure their girl would have a chance at a good marriage. All of us do and wear and say certain things to be cool, to be accepted and more attractive to opposite sex.
In some ways, high heels are a modern version of foot binding. We’re the only mammals on the planet that think slowing down one half of our tribe is a good idea. In animal kingdom, if you’re slow, you’re taken down by predators. And women are taken down by predators in our society. And they don’t even have to be wearing high heels.
When I was 19, I was walking to a friend’s house at night, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt and sneakers, when I was attacked and dragged off the streets and raped and assaulted.
For 30 years, I couldn’t walk alone at night or in any isolated area without a friend or a man or a big dog by my side. If I did, if I was walking to my car in an empty parking lot my hands literally shook so hard I could barely get the keys in the lock. (Thank God we have remote key locks nowadays. It’s a convenience for many, but for women, can be a life saver.) The thing is, I suffered from PTSD for decades that went untreated because when I was raped, only Vets had PTSD.
And I rarely told anyone about it.
I was able to heal 30 years later, when I walked my big dog into a park and walked out of PTSD. And then I wrote a book about it- Short Leash: A Memoir of Dog Walking and Deliverance. While I wrote about it, I kept wondering who are the others--- the one out 5 women who are raped, because those are the statistics.
After book came out, I found out who those one of 5 women were. I started hearing from other women – some of whom I had known for a long time, but never felt safe talking about being raped.
Raped by guys they knew. Or barely knew. Or by their friend’s fathers. Or their fathers. Or a man who climbed into their window or busted their door down. Or a man who just saw them on the street, like the man who raped me. Or they woke up after drinking at a frat party in a strange bed with no clothes on and a sticky feeling between her legs and a sick feeling in their stomach.
It happens. It happens more than we want to believe because often, people who are sexually assaulted are ashamed or in shock or know they won’t be believe. And while we’re here for women today, it also happens to guys. More than we want to believe.
Crimes of sexual assault last a lifetime because it’s an assault on not just a person’s sexuality but their emotions, their ability to feel in control of their life, their worth as a person.
It’s NOT a cut that heals and is easily forgotten. And it really has to stop.
And you guys have taken a first step not just by walking in heels, but by acknowledging that this goes on and it’s not right, no matter who does it to who.
Next steps? For a guy, it can be as small an action as saying, “Not cool, dude,” when someone you’re with makes hostile comments about a woman or gay person or whoever is being harassed or put down with sexually explicit language.
If you’re a woman, take self-defense courses. Really. Because if 1 out o 5 women are attacked, those odds are too high not to know how to protect yourself.
I replay my attack over and over and after taking a self-defense course- years later – wonder if it would have been different if I knew how to fight back. I do know there have been other weird occasions- like when I was walking to the rest room at a concert and a guy grabbed and started dragging me toward the door. “You’re my woman” he said. I screamed “I didn’t know him.” I do believe what I learned in self defense would have helped me then, but even though it was fifteen years after the rape, I still hadn’t goen to a class. Fortunately, some guy heard me and confronted him.
So remember, what we do can make a difference. We don’t have to stand by and watch this happen.
If you’re a guy or a girl, and you’re at a party where some girl is out of it and drunk, watch what’s going on. If you think something bad is going to happen, take action—try and get her out of there – or if that’s not safe for you, call someone.
Your friend. Her friend. Your parents. Campus security. The police.
We’re all in this together. The real next step is to not let predators get away with abuse. Predators are a small percentage of the population—certainly on a campus – but they commit the majority of the crimes. So if you see something, say something. And if someone says something, be willing to listen.
Take the steps you can to prevent sexual assault. Because what you do- or don’t do -- matters.