Good afternoon, dear readers. Allow me to forewarn you; this post is not going to be lighthearted. My usual snark and cynicism will have decreased substantially, because for International Women’s Day, I’ve decided to discuss my experiences with being a woman. If you’re not wanting to hear about that kind of thing, this post may not be for you.
Yesterday, I went on a run outside. Which is rare for me, mostly because I dislike running, but also because it’s easier to simply stay inside and run on a machine. But the weather was beautiful, and I felt like I needed some time outside. Everything was going well. I’d passed a few blocks and was beginning to feel the good-old-excruciating pain that comes with running.
But then, I stopped.
I quickly scanned my surroundings, removed my ponytail, and felt for my phone in my pocket. For the remainder of my run, I held my water bottle tightly, kept my hand on my phone, and jogged with my hair down. I couldn’t stop thinking, “What if I find myself in danger? What if I have to call the police? What if my water bottle is all I have to defend myself?”
I probably sound paranoid, I know. Surely in this day and age, in my own neighborhood, with the nationwide crackdown on sexual violence, I’m not at risk for any serious occurrence. Right?
According to the NSVRC, 1 in 3 women will experience a form of sexual violence in their lifetime. These statistics are current, with females ages 16-19 at nearly 4 times the risk. I can attest to the accuracy. I see it every day.
I see it in the girls at my school, on the news, on social media, the list goes on. Though sexual violence itself has decreased over the last few decades, it remains prevalent in everyday life. In the middle-aged man that wouldn’t stop staring at my chest at the gym. In the boy that asked me for nudes and then blocked me when I said no. In the man on the news who thought it was okay to spank a reporter on live TV. It’s not always the actions themselves; it’s the mindset of the perpetrators that allows this kind of thing to continue.
There have been numerous occasions in my sixteen years of life where I’ve been harassed, both physically and verbally. Mostly by males, occasionally by females. And it’s interceded every area of my world. I don’t walk outside alone anymore. I wear baggy sweatshirts to school every day to keep my body invisible. I wield my water bottle like it’s a weapon, because someday, it may need to be one. I’m not just paranoid. I see what happens constantly.
The issue goes beyond women, of course. 1 in 6 men will experience a form of sexual violence in their lifetime. This epidemic does not discriminate. I speak strictly from my own experiences as a sixteen-year-old girl. And I know that, as a teenage girl, I would probably not be able to overpower the average middle-aged man. Or even many women. On a daily basis, I’m forced to acknowledge the shortcomings of my physical capabilities compared to others. I can lift and train as much as humanly possible, but it wouldn’t do me much good if faced with a person 6 inches taller and 100 pounds heavier. I know that. And it terrifies me.
This is part of being a woman. Not the only part, certainly. But the part that causes me to feel unsafe in what are supposed to be safe environments. The part that clings to my sisters in public so I can protect them from forces beyond me. The part that checks the statistics frequently so I can know how to lower the risks. This is something so many people face, it sickens me. And the worst part is knowing I can’t stop it. I can’t fix it. I can only hold tightly to my loved ones and trust in my faith.
So for those of you who hear the phrase “International Women’s Day” and think we’re already where we need to be as a society, think again. Or at least reconsider. Because this world isn’t all dark and hopeless. For every case of fear and pain I’ve seen, there are thousands more of human kindness and joy. Work to be one of those cases. Seek to help those who’ve gone through such instances, and try to instill respect in the younger generation. We can certainly make further efforts as a society to make the world a better place for everyone.
And we can only do it together.
Your fellow crusader.
All statistics have come from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, at https://www.nsvrc.org. They provide valuable resources for survivors of sexual violence. You can visit their website to seek out help if necessary.