September 15th, 2006
Casting Off My Sweatshirt
I believe that each and every woman is entitled to the freedom to live in safety and comfort. Throughout life, people have cautioned me, a maturing young female, as to the dangers of society, particularly those facing women. I cannot count how many times I have heard the phrases “You can’t go out dressed like that!” Or “Make sure you don’t go alone!” Or simply, “Be careful!” And then I wondered: Did activists for the rights of women march, protest, and die so that the female members of society would remain unable to express themselves and enjoy the freedom to security? For a woman to be forced to wear a sweatshirt or jacket in the intense heat only to escape the inappropriate sexual advances of men? I’ve heard the argument that these precautions are only for my safety, but still, I wonder why such measures are, in modern society, deemed necessary.
And then another part of me speaks up and says “They are necessary!” as memories of catcalls, lifted eyebrows, and obscene gestures swirl into my consciousness. Just the other day, as I was walking down the sidewalk back to my dorm, a man approached from the opposite direction, openly oggled me and made clucking noises with his tongue. I crossed my arms over my chest and found myself wishing for the protection of my sweatshirt. This occurrence, aside from rendering me feeling incredibly violated and angry, also made me sad. Sad for the man, that he thought this was an acceptable way to behave, and sad that it is so difficult for myself and other females to simply walk down a street without encountering harassment. One day, I want to be able to walk down the street, thinking of my ambitions, my plans, and my own unique feelings, without having someone treat me as though I am an object, a toy, a portion of humanity lacking in value.
I pity men, in a way, because there are so many messages in society pressuring them to act in this manner, teaching them that sexual harassment is masculine, or to be respected. If I could say one thing to all the men who have oggled me, touched me inappropriately, spoken to me in an inappropriate way, or made me feel violated, it would be this: “STOP! Please, for your sake and for mine. How would you feel if someone did this to you? Do you know that I see you as a monster, an offender, a threat to my well-being? Is that who you want to be? Is that how you want to be seen? I don’t want to see you that way. I want to believe that we can co-exist in harmony, maybe even be friends. Please? I know most of you aren’t really like this. Show the world who you really are. Trust me, they won’t laugh, but they will be happy. Happy that they know the real you, and that you can be yourself.”
It has been said that people fear what they do not understand. I believe that as males and females become more open to understanding individuals of another gender, the fear, apprehension, and even hostility between men and women will cease to exist. So, today, I take off my baggy sweatshirt, not only in deference to the heat simmering outside, but to signify a truce in the battle of the sexes. In this, I believe.
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