Sexual Harassment Online

“Your beautiful body hot as fuck Mmmm I need you and them hips an ass in my life I bet you taste real sweet and just delicious.” 

Uncomfortable? So was I when I opened this Instagram direct message. I get at least five of these messages a week, and I only have around 2,190 followers. This is in addition to several weird comments on photos, and less sexual pestering in my DMs (see below). 

In growing my Instagram account, I often follow a number of accounts that I don’t know. I’d estimate that 70% of the random dudes I follow end up sending me a DM trying to start up a conversation. News flash — just because I follow you does not mean that I’m asking for a conversation, and I’m definitely not asking for a comment on how beautiful I am etc. 

You. Have. Just. Been. Unfollowed, sir. 

Virtual Voyeurism

Instagram has popularized voyeurism. In doing so, I don’t think that they thought about the dangers that it posed. Now, I have chosen to open up my life to the public, but that does not mean I’m “asking for it.” In no situation is a woman “asking for it.” 

Instagram has done its fair share to protect people against bullies, and even just made a landmark decision to prohibit anyone under the age of eighteen to see posts advertising diet products. But it hasn’t done much to stop its sexual harassment problem. In the twenty-five paged PDF, “How to Talk With Your Teen About Instagram: A Parent’s Guide,” there is no mention of sexual harassment. 

There are numerous stories of photographers exploiting Instagram models, or companies preying on influencers’ financial insecurity. And while many proclaim that they’re smarter than that, I can say that it’s tempting. I have a miniscule following, but get offers constantly. And, I regularly get solicited by men labeling themselves as “sugar daddies.” 

What’s worse is that as someone who has been harassed, you can actually get in trouble for calling our your harasser by name on Instagram’s platform. Why you ask? Well, because of their Harassment Policy – isn’t that ironic? Further, Instagram’s “Help Center,” makes no mention of sexual harassment or predatory behavior. They just mention ways to report registered sex offenders. A simple search of related terms comes up with nothing. 

There are many accounts that publicize DMs and comments in which women have been harassed. Often, they poke fun at the issue. As women, we know that to deal with this sort of constant stream of harassment. A bit of levity is needed for us to feel both sane and safe. The account @chossyDMs posted such content… And guess what? it was REMOVED by Instagram. No worries though, you can be added to its new private account, @chossydms2.0

The Downside of Dating Apps

This experience isn’t unique to Instagram. I’ve heard of women experiencing harassment through LinkedIn. Boys, “connecting” on LinkedIn means growing your professional network… not connecting emotionally or sexually. Outside of these platforms, there’s also the obvious — dating apps. These apps do more than Instagram does. I know from experience that Bumble has a no tolerance policy for harassment or predatory behavior. I had my rapist removed from the platform. 

As someone who was assaulted by a connection through a dating app, in the short interm after this happened, I tried to use them again. For obvious reasons, I was hesitant about meeting up with anyone too soon, and refused to go to anyone’s home. Especially not after a few minutes of messaging. I can’t tell you how many guys got angry at that – or even how many unmatched me. This was even after I explained that I had been assaulted in the past and would prefer to get a drink first, or just talk a little more. Matches continually took offense to my fear, or were just outright annoyed at me. 

Boys, let me ask you a question. If your sister, or cousin, or mother, or friend was assaulted in the past, and exercised similar caution on these apps… would you be mad at her

After continual disappointment by men on these apps, and even just on Instagram, I decided to ask my followers if they have had similar experiences. The results were staggering.

Survey Results

Can’t Escape Harassment

When asked how the inappropriate DM made them feel, respondents had reactions ranging from feeling taken aback, to feeling disturbed, violated, and objectified. 

When asked how they responded to dick pics, some ignored them, some replied something snarky or angry, but the majority blocked them. Not a single respondent reported the message. One individual said the following about the message she received, “I was fourteen and never had seen an adult penis. It made me feel SO ashamed and disgusted.” 

This is the world that women live in. We are never free from harassment, not even in our own homes because of the digital world we hold in our hands. 50.3% of active Instagram users are female. And while the majority are 18-24, a significant portion fall into the 57 million portion that are ages 13-17. Instagram SHOULD take responsibility for the safety of these users. If they truly want to create a safe and positive environment for its users, it can not ignore this problem. 

Let’s Demand Change

I created a petition on change.org about this issue to demand that Instagram create policies around sexual harassment and predatory behavior, as well as mechanisms to report such incidences. Today I ask you to #bebossy with me and sign this petition. After signing, please share the petition to you social media platforms with the hashtag #EndInstaHarassment. Our voices matter.

This Changes Everything X The Women’s Fund

Did you know that women made up the majority of film directors in the silent movie era? I didn’t until I saw the documentary This Changes Everything at a private screening hosted by The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio. Now, in 2018, over 80% of the top 100 grossing films were made by men. This film shines a critical light on gender parity in Hollywood. Like me, when you read that sentence you probably thought about equal pay and representation – but it is far more than that.

Let’s do an experiment. Think back to your childhood. What movie or TV show that you remember made you feel like you could do or being anything you wanted to be? For me, I can’t think of any. I don’t think I felt that way about any movie until the Tomb Raider and Charlie’s Angels, which didn’t come out until I was over ten years old. But that experience is different for men – and there are numbers to explain why.

Growing up invisible

A large part of This Changes Everything features research conducted by the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media. In talking about why she started the organization, Davis cites the effects media has on young children: ““we are teaching them that girls and women don’t take up half the space in the world.” In one study conducted of children’s media, they found that 72% of all speaking roles were male, and 4/5 narrators of animated characters were male. There were simply a lack of leading female characters. And when they were depicted, female characters are six times more likely than male characters to be shown in sexy, skin-tight attire. What is this telling little girls?

At age five, young boys and girls have the same ideas about what they want to be when they grow up. After that, it drastically changes. The documentary, supported by the research, attributes this to the lack of female stories being told. Former Chair of Dreamworks Animation, Mellody Hobson says, “I’ve been one of those little girls looking for myself. You start to believe that there’s something wrong with you.”

For Men by Men

In 1979 a group of six female directors in the Director’s Guild of America, or the “original six,” found that in the previous three decades only 0.5% of all directing assignments were given to women. And although they sued the studios for discriminatory hiring practices under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), there was no lasting change. In 100 years, only one woman has ever won an Oscar for Best Director. In one of Geena Davis original studies in 2010, she found the following:

Further, a higher percentage of girls/women are shown on screen when one of more femles are involved in directing of writing films. In order to tell more female stories that aren’t stereotypical, inconsequential, or sexist we need more women in production. And the dollars show it. More and more, movies made by women gross more than movies made by men. Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, grossed $821 million. Man of Steel, another DC movie, directed by a man, only grossed $668 million.

What it comes down to can be summarized by a quote from director Maria Giese, “women’s creative input is not making it into our nation’s story-telling – into our narrative.” This is extremely problematic, because worldwide our media makes up 80% of the world’s media consumption.

How To Make Change

This Changes Everything does a great job explaining what needs to be done to create systemic change. Overall, the film was hard-hitting, shocking, and heartbreaking. But what President and CEO of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, Kelley Griesmer said at the beginning of the event, “this is not depressing, this is energizing.” The film made me want to do more. And being surrounded by a theatre of over seventy women (and one man), I could feel how palpable the desire for change was. There were audible gasps, and “wows,” and a few remarks of “really?!”

What hit me the hardest was that throughout the film, they showed young girls watching media, with sound bites from existing films out there. Snippets filled with stereotypic, derogatory, and sexualized comments directed towards female characters. It made me think back to those movies I watched as a young girl. Movies that made me so painfully aware of my body and my looks. One interviewee in the film, who I cannot remember said that the thing she had learned early on as an actor, was that “the way your body is shaped means more to the world that what you’re thinking about.”

my ticket to the film

That sentiment, and watching all the misogynitic movie and television clips made me feel vulnerable and exposed. The film successful created the effect that I believe it wanted to. And the biggest takeaway for me about how I can personally help this issue, is to take my power back as the consumer. More and more we talk about voting with our dollars – not buying from companies that are corrupt, discriminatory, or bad for the environment. The same has to be true for movies. We can make the choice for ourselves and our children, no not see movies that depict women in sexist ways. To instead pay to see films with central, complex female characters and more importantly, films directed and produced by women.

The last thing that struck me was that the documentary was directed by a man. It seemed a little weird when that was the first thing to pop up after a documentary about female representation in the film industry. While the movie discusses the importance of male allies – this still seemed strange to me.

The Women’s Fund

President and CEO of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, Kelley Griesmer address the audience

If you haven’t heard of the Women’s Fund, you’re missing out. Right here in Central Ohio, this organization is focused on igniting social change for gender equality. They host numerous events that spark conversation and raise awareness, and also conduct invaluable research into related topics. What I love about this organization is that it also takes on a very intersectional approach – taking the time to also address the experiences of women of color.

Their work doesn’t only address today’s women, but also today’s girls. Not only are they focused on disrupting social norms, but they work to “empower all women and girls to reach their full potential.” From advocacy to education, they are committed to giving us our voice back. Their decision to screen this film only further proved their fierce dedication to addressing gender equity in all spaces of our culture and society. If you are interested in learning more about the Women’s Fund visit their website, or shoot me a message. We can’t fight this fight on our own. As said in the film, “misogyny is an invisible sport,” and the more of us standing together to shine a light on what’s lurking in the darkness, the greater the impact.

What is consent?

What is consent? By now, I would hope that most of us have come to understand the parameters of this concept — especially given recent media and news coverage, and the ongoing #metoo movement. But unfortunately, I had to learn first hand that that wasn’t the case. 

This isn’t my first #metoo story, or even my second. But this is the most recent, involves online dating apps, and because of how old I am now and aware I am of the world around me, and the situation itself — it is the scariest. The reason that I am sharing this because I want to talk about the nuances of consent, and underscore that as the victim – there is no right response in this sort of situation. I’m not looking for sympathy — but instead hope that my story can bring comfort to someone else.

The first thing I’ve been kicking myself in the butt for is allowing myself to take the dating app seriously, after I had already given up using dating apps. If you follow me on Instagram, you’d know that I still have my accounts, and just entertain myself by identifying creeps that use fake photos and then report them to the app. Just your regular, low-key catfish detective. But I landed on someone that was real, despite their fishy looking photos — and the hopeless romantic, and frankly, the loneliness in me swiped right. 

**Trigger warning: sexual assault

instincts

The details in-between that are inconsequential, but trust was built. And because of that trust, I eventually accepted an invitation to hangout at his apartment. Now, in my own personal interest, I do not wish to go into specifics – what matters is this: I was sexually assaulted by this man and his roommate. 

Out of fear of encountering further physically harm, by two men that could easily overpower me, I let it happen. When it was over, they offered me a glass of wine. I refused, despite their begging. Part of me was scared that there was something in the drink. 

When the opportunity presented itself I quickly dressed, they began to beg me to stay, and it started to come off a bit aggressively. On my feet with my bag in hand, I smiled and insisted I was tired and needed to get home. I didn’t want to appear afraid or upset, so that they would just let me leave peacefully. I let myself out, and then found myself running down the stairs and to my car. 

I drove home. I took a long, hot shower. But I didn’t react. I didn’t reach out to anyone. Instead I was angry at myself. I consider myself an advocate of women’s rights, I’ve written about related topics before, I’ve told myself that I would verbally say ‘no,’ and that I would fight back if I ever found myself here. But I hadn’t done that. It’s really hard for me to take my own advice, or consider what I know to rationally be true – to be applicable to me. So in writing this, I am also writing to myself, to let me know that I did nothing wrong. 

Defining consent

First things, first. Consent. At its simplest, consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. Here are some important tenets of consent: 

  • Giving consent for one activity, does not mean giving consent to another, or to recurring sexual contact
  • You can change your mind at any time if you want to stop
  • Clothing, flirting, or kissing is not an invitation for anything more
  • If you are under the legal age of consent defined by the state, you cannot consent
  • Consent can not be obtained if someone is incapacitated because of drugs or alcohol or if they are passed out
  • Consent after insistent pressuring using fear or intimidation is not consent – this also comes into play when power dynamics are involved
  • Saying yes or giving into something because of any form of fear is not consent
  • Having an existing relationship does not imply consent
  • Silence is not consent

Now this is not exhaustive. But at its core, consent is not implied or assumed, and it can not be obtained through pressure or force. 

I will also say that consent can also apply to simply being touched. I once found myself in a bar, just trying to hang out with my girlfriends – and this man came up to talk to me. I told him I was here to have fun with my friends. At this point, he started touching my arm and the small of my back. I immediately said, “did I say you can touch me?” To which he responded, “you know you like it.” I had to literally get in his face and yell at him to get him to back-off. He then proceeded to tell my friends that I was a bitch. Cream of the crop, huh? 

The fact of the matter is this. This is my body, and no one is entitled to it other than me. No one gets to have power over it except me. 

You did nothing wrong

But I froze this past weekend. I evaluated the situation, and I felt the best thing I could do was just let it happen. And here’s the thing. You get to do whatever you need to do to get out of and survive an assault. You have done nothing wrong. There is no “correct,” or “better” response. This should have never happened to you, and if it does I am sorry. Truly sorry. But I am proud of you. I am proud of you if you survived, and I am proud of you if tragically you did not. And too often, the latter happens. 

I am still processing this. And I am not looking for sympathy. And I will also offer this — there is no correct way to process this either. You may feel angry, or sad, or scared, or just numb. You may be in shock. You may cry, you may not cry. You may get law enforcement involved, you may not. You may tell someone, and you may not. You have every permission to process this how you need to. 

Please, if this does ever  happen, or has happened to you — I encourage you to use some of the resources below, when you are ready. Thanks for listening. 

Resources

Columbus, Ohio Specific resources

My Body isn’t Your News Story

I have a simple request. Can we please stop using women’s bodies as topics of news? My body isn’t your news story.

This past week, I had been traveling in Dubai for work. When I travel, in the mornings while I get ready I like to watch the news. Usually CNN or BBC. To my dismay, those channels were not available. The only channels available in English were National Geographic, Discovery, and E! Network.

As I prepared to hit the pool one early morning, and pulled on my one-piece I suddenly tuned into my chosen background chatter. The subject: Beyoncé’s post-baby diet. When I looked up to the visual, it was an extremely grainy, zoomed in paparazzi shot of Bey’s half-eaten apple. I’m guessing Golden Delicious. 

Yes. What you just heard is correct. A zoomed in shot of the apple carcass left over from the Queen B’s afternoon snack. The anchors proclaimed that Bey had revealed the secret to her weight-loss. Zero carbs, zero sugar, zero red meat, zero, zero, zero. 

INDIO, CA – APRIL 14: Beyonce Knowles performs onstage during 2018 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival Weekend 1 at the Empire Polo Field on April 14, 2018 in Indio, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

I shook my head and proceeded to order waffles to my room. But then I heard one of the hosts question if it was, “too much too fast?” Now, I missed exactly what it was referencing, but whatever it was… it shouldn’t have been something that the public needs to weigh in on. Were they saying she had she returned to work too fast after having her baby? In that case, we should not be promoting mommy guilt, or judging mothers for their choice to or to not go back to work.

If they were talking about her weight-loss… again, this shouldn’t be up for discussion. Nor are these hosts certified medical professionals who get to have an opinion. 

Using Women’s Bodies as News Subjects

This is definitely not the first instance of women’s bodies or appearance being the subject of media coverage and attention. Half of most awards shows are just about how “well-dressed,” actors are, and if they have “pulled off” their look. And let’s not even begin to talk about how female politicians and nobility have their outfits discussed instead of their accolades. Then there’s the history of makeover and weight loss shows that “right wrongs,” or “unhealthy behavior.” And I’ll give a final shout out to shows like America’s Next Top Model. 

Then there’s the countless editorial content in magazines and online news media about the weight-loss or gain of celebrities, the diets that they’ve used, or spreads that pit women against each other to see who “wore it best.” 

I often wonder how those in the media can talk about women’s bodies so much, when I can guess that most would not want to undergo the same scrutiny. Yet, this practice seems to be tireless.  To be perfectly honest, though I don’t often watch E! Network, I had hoped that this is something that they had grown past. E! News, I challenge you to find other things to talk about besides women’s bodies. 

Affects of Observing Anti-Fat Behavior

Recently, a group of psychologists at McGill University found that celebrity fat shaming is associated with an increase in women’s implicit negative weight-related attitudes. UK Magazine, Stylist, says the following, “Implicit attitudes are people’s split-second, instinctive reactions as to whether something – such as fatness or weight gain – is inherently good or bad. Explicit attitudes, in contrast, are those beliefs that people consciously and openly endorse. In other words, we might never say out loud that we think bigger bodies are bad. But thanks in part to celebrity fat-shaming in the media, we may also find it hard to internally shake off negative ideas about weight gain.”

Specifically, researchers found that after witnessing a celebrity fat shaming, women experience a dramatic increase in anti-fat attitudes. Further, the more notorious or critical the fat shaming, the higher the increase. 

I’m going to take you back to some research that I’ve discussed before in my blog. The Girls’ Index, a report from Columbus non-profit Ruling Our Experiences (ROX), found that by ninth grade the percentage of young girls who wish to change their appearance dramatically increases. Simultaneously, the percentage of girls who say they are confident declines sharply. 

Today, women’s bodies are not only criticized and made the topic of conversation by Magazines and TV hosts, but by everyday people through social media. The same anti-fat attitudes are translated through social media as they are through TV and print. ROX found that the more time that young girls spend on social media, they are up to 24% more likelyto want to change their appearance. They don’t think that they’re good enough or beautiful enough. And 27% will delete an Instagram post if they feel like it didn’t get enough likes.

I ask again, why is this still happening today. A common practice in the 40s to the early 60s was listing a women’s weight and physical characteristics in newspapers. This was done even when the information was totally irrelevant to the story. History professor Michelle Moravec says, “The practice of including women’s weight — or any other physical observations — in the news has been a way, consciously or not, of “putting women into their proper place,” by giving more value to their appearances. For men, on the other hand, with the exception of athletes, characteristics like weight or attractiveness weren’t important, “Nobody’s describing like, ‘The male candidate in the gray suit got up to deliver a powerful speech,’” she adds. “That’s how you know it’s a gender dynamic: It sounds absurd when you apply it to men.”

Hell, we learned Condoleezza Rice wore a dress size between a 6 and an 8 before we could actually get into the article that talked about her security expertise in a 2000s New York Times article. What does this teach women about their worth? Why aren’t we applauding Beyoncé for her athletic prowess and commitment to her artistry? Would you want your dress size to be the headline of a story about you and your life’s work? 

I sure don’t, but to get it out of the way. I’m between a size 10 and 12, and if that changes how you feel about anything I just said, thank you for your time but kindly leave my page. 

A Blog About Not Blogging

So I didn’t blog last week. Who noticed? After seven consecutive weeks of sharing my thoughts and opinions, I didn’t post. So today I give you a blog about not blogging.

Starting this project has been a whirlwind for me. And as an over-thinker, I ran myself through the gamut of devil’s advocate questions: why are you doing this? Do you think that you’re this important? Are people going to think you just want attention? Will people talk about what you’re doing behind your back?

I think we often ask ourselves questions like these when faced with pursing something that we are passionate about. There is a fear that our level of excitement and interest might actually become something to be embarrassed about. Truthfully, how many times have we heard people poking fun at someone for being “too into” something? How many times have we done so ourselves?

I didn’t post for a couple of reasons. One was that I couldn’t choose between a number of topics. Another was that I didn’t have any accompanying photos to use. Now both of these were silly reasons because what I was really worried about was what people would be most interested in me posting about, and that I needed some trendy picture that I liked of myself (since I had exhausted all my faux-fur coat pics).

I think in the back of my head I decided that if it wasn’t going to be up to my standards, and to some degree of perfection, it wasn’t worth posting. Reflecting on this I know that I wasn’t thinking rationally.

The Confidence Gap

Several pieces of research have shown that as compared to men, women don’t consider themselves ready for promotions, qualified enough for new jobs, think that they will perform worse on tests, and in general they underestimate their abilities.

This can have very real consequences for women. More and more studies show that confidence correlates to success just as closely as competence. For example, research conducted by Hewlett-Packard showed that women applying for promotions will only do so if they believe that they fit 100% of the job qualifications. Conversely, men feel confident to apply if they fit at least 60% of the qualifications.

As one article states, “Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect. Or practically perfect.”

The confidence gap is formed very early in life. The Girls’ Index, published by Ruling our Experiences, is the largest national study of young girls in the United States. The report found the following:

  • Confidence declines sharply between 5th and 9th grade (over 20% drop in girls who say that they are confident)
  • 46% of high school girls do not believe they are smart enough for their dream career
  • 1 in 2 girls don’t disagree with others nor say what they are thinking because they want to be liked
  • 1 in 3 girls with a GPA above 4.0 do not think they are smart enough for their dream career

No wonder women like myself struggle today with lack of confidence and belief in their abilities. Starting in just 5th grade our confidence declines – and confidence is a huge determinant of success later in life.

Imposter Syndrome

Another concept that comes into play is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is a deep-seated feeling of insecurity or self-doubt that makes one feel like they are a fake, despite there being substantial evidence to the contrary. These feelings are frequently activated after some sort of accomplishment.

Psychologists have shown that those who experience imposter syndrome often convince themselves that they don’t deserve their successes – and that they instead arose from luck or from other’s believing that they are better at something than they really are. This usually manifests through someone not wanting to talk about their successes, or not wanting to claim that they are an “expert.” It makes it hard to own titles like “artist,” “musician,” “scientist,” etc.

For example, I don’t really feel like I can say that I’m a blogger. This is only my eighth post, and I don’t have a substantial following. I could come up with a plethora of reasons to disqualify myself. A lot of times I feel like people probably think I’m trying to be an “influencer,” when in reality I’m just trying to be true to myself and learn something new. And for this I feel like a fraud. What authority to I have to put my ideas and opinions out there in the world?

Questions Answered

So I return to the questions that I posed to myself.

Why are you doing this? I’m doing this for me. For the little girl that made-believe that she was a magazine editor and who wrote chapters of books that she never finished. I’m doing this to learn and to find my voice. And finally, I’m doing this because I have seen time and time again that the things that I do give voice to, resonate with people. For me life is about human connection, and finding ways to relate with others based upon our shared humanity. So if I can connect with someone in even a small way, I feel that both of us see benefit.

Do you think that you’re this important? No, I don’t. Which I need to work on. But I do know that I need to remind myself that I am worthy, and that my voice matters.

Are people going to think you just want attention? Yes and no. I’ve had people who have expressed support, or thanked me for what I am trying to do. But I also do know people, even some that are close to me, that believe that I share too much for no reason. But what those people don’t realize, is that it isn’t about me. It’s about giving a voice to those who may not feel as empowered to speak up.

Will people talk about what you’re doing behind your back? Yes. Ironically, I’ve seen time and time again that as an individual comes into their own, and starts to feel comfortable in their own skin, someone has something to say about it. People will make fun of you because you make them uncomfortable in some way.

I think that’s just another test of faith in yourself. You gotta just keep doing you through the shade, because being true to yourself will always pay off in the long run. And if anything, at least I’m giving people something to talk about, and connect over, instead of staring at their phones.

Should I say “you’re welcome?”

The Geography of Fear

In a previous post, I glossed over the term “geography of fear.” Paradoxically, this isn’t something that is possible to just gloss over for many women, including myself. The geography of fear affects me everyday, and it’s something that is always in the back of my mind.

Woman standing on street alone in the dark.

Before I give you a text book definition. Let me tell you about something that happened to me last week that has been haunting me.

My apartment building is under renovation, which means there are numerous construction men and contractors coming in and out at all hours of the day. Typically, they go about their work without interaction – except the occasional hello. Then I saw a new face. Every time I walked through the hall, or in and out of the building, this man insisted that he either make some sort of comment to me, or try to engage me in conversation.

The first few times was okay, and came off friendly. Then it became more intrusive. Which brings me to last week.

He stopped me to ask me a question, which I entertained. But then he asked me which apartment was mine. I was uncomfortable, and didn’t want to be impolite, so I answered him, and immediately regretted it. Shockingly, I told a man that I did not know, who had been giving me creepy vibes, which apartment was mine.

I began to fear that he would come knocking on my door. Or that he would use the master key to enter my apartment. I was happy that I was housesitting for a few weeks, because the last thing I wanted to do was sleep there.

What is the geography of fear?

The geography of fear is a concept that arose from sociology and criminology studies which demonstrated that women, as a gender, are more fearful of crime – often related to a sense of physical vulnerability to men. We warn women from going certain places alone or at night, simultaneously forcing responsibility for their own fate onto them. We make assumptions about women’s lack of freedom to be in public spaces and at certain times. And that assumption is that we shouldn’t be.

My grandfather told me many times that I should not go anywhere alone. That I shouldn’t travel alone, or drive in certain areas alone. And that I especially shouldn’t do any of that at night.

woman alone in parking garage, clutching purse

I have heard these messages from a very young age, as I’m the case is for other women. I know that I have internalized them. If I see a man that I perceive as threatening, walking towards me, I cross the street. I get my keys out and place them in my fist when I walk to my car at night, then look inside my car before getting in. Sometimes I pretend to be on my phone to give the guise that I would have a witness if anything happened to me. Or I actually call someone while I walk home in the dark because I’m scared.

And I do all of this resentfully. Because I’ve watched my younger brother not have a curfew, or warrant the same concern from my parents when he’s out late. And I wish sometimes that I felt powerful enough to go where I would like to, freely. But my geography of fear might be a little more heightened than the rest.

Violence Against Women

I’ve always wondered where my generalized anxiety came from. And recently in therapy I’ve figured it out (therapy is cool).

When I was in seventh grade, my favorite dance teacher was murdered. I was extremely distraught and confused, but I was also scared. They didn’t know who did it. In fact, they didn’t find her killer for a few years. I had this sense of impending doom that something could happen to me, or someone that I love, at any time.

My teacher also lived alone, with the exception of her dog. She was a woman, alone. An an older woman, a strong woman. Yet there was nothing she could have done to prevent what had happened to her – in her own home. The majority of gun victims and sexual assault victims know the perpetrator. Someone she knew killed her.

Ever since then, my life has been marked by extreme anxiety. But a large part of that relates to the geography of fear. And the fact that even my own home could be a place that I shouldn’t be alone. I’ve struggled with insomnia for years, and the only time I’ve ever be able to sleep through the nights soundly, was when I was in a relationship.

In conjunction with other things that have happened to me in my life, sometimes I sleep with the light on. Sometimes I keep a knife at my bedside. Or occasionally, I check all the locks on my windows and doors, look under my bed, and inside my closet. Finally being diagnosed with PTSD helped me to make a lot of sense of what I was going through – and what I still sometimes fall back into.

Stay sexy, and don’t get murdered.

At the same time of my diagnosis, and my moment of clarity about the start of my anxiety – I started listening to the podcast My Favorite Murder with Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff. It really wasn’t until then that I started to feel more powerful.

Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

A 2010 study found that women are more likely to be fans of true crime than men are. Karen and Georgia attribute this fascination as being related to a women’s desire for self defense. And I concur. By listening and learning to story after story of violent crimes against women, you learn how to (1) deal with the fear and (2) think about how you would act if you found yourself in a similar situation. The same study suggests that it is a way for women to deal with the deeply engrained misogyny in the world.

Karen and Georgia continually assert that women should fuck politeness. That we shouldn’t feel obligated to be accommodating and nice to everyone, especially when we are uncomfortable. Notorious serial killer Ted Bundy lured too many innocent women, usually by faking injury with a cast. As women we feel obligated to be helpful – but if we get a bad vibe, we shouldn’t push through our discomfort. We should say no.

Let me tell you, I wish I would have fucked politeness, and told the construction worker in my building that I didn’t feel comfortable giving him that information, and to let me come and go without interruption. But more often than not, it’s hard to take your own advice.

fists that read "fuck politeness"

Body Talk

Aren’t shoulders just so sexually suggestive? I mean, I love a good shoulder – they really get me going.

When in the history of ever has anyone said the above? The answer is probably once or twice – to each their own. But the pinnacle of sexual appeal is definitely not shoulders.

So, answer me this: Why, in fourth grade, did the principal take me out of class to tell me that my tank top was “inappropriate?” Mind you, I was also wearing a cardigan over said tank top.

My TEN-year-old mind had far too many questions. But mostly, I was ashamed. Being the nerdy, little goody-two-shoes that I was – I had never gotten in trouble. The principal and I were pals. And for that reason, I also did not question her assertion.

I wasn’t sent home, but I could almost argue that for my self-esteem at that age – that was worse. I sat through class the rest of the day paranoid. Tugging at my sweater to make sure I didn’t have a shoulder slip out. Normally the first person to raise my hand, I held back because I didn’t want to risk jostling my clothing out of place. Really, at that point, I wanted to go home.

The media has been chalk full of stories like this in the past couple of years and the cultural consciousness has seemed to progress to understand that such shaming of young girls is wrong. But we haven’t yet evolved past the over-sexualization of women’s bodies in general.

My wonderful personal trainer shared on her social media the other day that members of her family had repeatedly confronted her regarding what she posts on her social platforms. They were concerned that she was showing too much of her body. Initially I was furious. First, she is studying within the realm health and human kinetics, and she works as a personal trainer. Secondly, her athletic prowess and her strength is a testament to that success. She should be afforded the space to be proud of her body.

When I came in for a training appointment, she told me more about it. Now to my surprise, her family was specifically calling out old pictures from parties early in college. She was frustrated at this, saying that she had been a “stupid little sorority girl.” That broke my heart even more. Outside of the slut shaming, the age old double standard surfaced. The shaming by her family is point blank wrong. In fact, they themselves are objectifying and sexualizing her by making such comments.

But, what broke my heart was that she reduced herself to a very harmful stereotype – a “stupid little sorority girl,” to agree that those photos were inappropriate. I hate that that message has been internalized by so many women – including myself at times. But I argue that that is not the case.

Would we make the same judgements about a photo of young men laughing and holding red solo cups? Yes, we might make some. But we wouldn’t (A) sexualize them and (B) demean their intelligence.

Here lies the problem. When we sexualize women, we’ve also as a society connected that to their intelligence. We say things like “they brought this upon themselves,” for any negative attention that they receive, as well as, unfortunately, things like sexual harassment and assault. The problem isn’t what they’re wearing. We make the problem their intelligence. They should know better. They should have gotten the memo that their body is inherently sexually pejorative back in fourth grade when their principal told them so. (Insert eye roll here) Further, and I can admit my own bias here, on social media we assume that those who post often, and mainly of themselves or their bodies, are self-centered and attention-seeking. Things that are also often stereotypically tied to low intelligence.

This is how I feel about slut shaming.

This sort of shaming and policing behavior in society serves to reinforce traditional gender norms. In my senior honor’s thesis in college, I discuss gender performance in women’s Greek-lettered organizations, and how those organizations often also serve to reinforce traditional views of femininity and “correct” gender performance. Sadly, something that I saw play out with a member of my own organization. A woman who was intelligent, comfortable in and proud of her body, who owned her sexuality was rejected as “inappropriate” and “bad for” the organization.  Point blank, she was slut-shamed, and I struggle with the fact that many cannot see that they policed her gender performance. She’s badass, and it’s their loss.

Continually sexualizing women’s bodies is malicious, and only serves to further bolster the geography of fear that many women experience and maintain current power structures we have in place. But, we also cannot shame those women who do embrace their sexuality. There are infinite expressions of womanhood. No one expression is wrong, and no one expression warrants violence or discrimination. But, women should be given the freedom to determine what that expression is.

If you’re interested in reading about the effects of Slut Shaming, click here!

Slut Shaming

Aren’t shoulders just so sexually suggestive? I mean, I love a good shoulder – they really get me going.

When in the history of ever has anyone said the above? The answer is probably once or twice – to each their own. But the pinnacle of sexual appeal is definitely not shoulders.

So, answer me this: Why, in fourth grade, did the principal take me out of class to tell me that my tank top was “inappropriate?” Mind you, I was also wearing a cardigan over said tank top.

My TEN-year-old mind had far too many questions. But mostly, I was ashamed. Being the nerdy, little goody-two-shoes that I was – I had never gotten in trouble. The principal and I were pals. And for that reason, I also did not question her assertion.

I wasn’t sent home, but I could almost argue that for my self-esteem at that age – that was worse. I sat through class the rest of the day paranoid. Tugging at my sweater to make sure I didn’t have a shoulder slip out. Normally the first person to raise my hand, I held back because I didn’t want to risk jostling my clothing out of place. Really, at that point, I wanted to go home.

The media has been chalk full of stories like this in the past couple of years and the cultural consciousness seems to have progressed to understand that this shaming of young girls is wrong. Yet, we haven’t evolved past the over-sexualization of women’s bodies in general.

Shame on You

My wonderful personal trainer shared on her social media the other day that members of her family had repeatedly confronted her regarding what she posts on her social platforms. They were concerned that she was showing too much of her body. Initially I was furious. First, she is studying within the realm health and human kinetics, and she works as a personal trainer. Secondly, her athletic prowess and her strength is a testament to that success. She should be afforded the space to be proud of her body.

When I came in for a training appointment, she told me more about it. Now to my surprise, her family specifically called out old pictures from parties early in college. Frustrated at this, she said that she was just a, “stupid little sorority girl.” That broke my heart even more. Outside of the slut shaming, the age old double standard surfaced. The shaming by her family is point blank wrong. In fact, they themselves are objectifying and sexualizing her by making such comments.

example of slut shaming image of girl lifting skirt. her thigh is marked at different points to connote that her skirt length makes her: flirty, cheeky, provocative, asking for it, slut, whore.

But, what broke my heart was that she reduced herself to a very harmful stereotype – a “stupid little sorority girl,” to agree that those photos were inappropriate. I hate that that message has been internalized by so many women – including myself at times. But I argue that that is not the case.

Would we make the same judgements about a photo of young men laughing and holding red solo cups? Yes, we might make some. But we wouldn’t (A) sexualize them and (B) demean their intelligence.

Why do we do this?

Here lies the problem. As a society, when we sexualize women, we’ve also connected that to their intelligence. We say things like, “they brought this upon themselves,” for any negative attention that a woman receives, as well as, unfortunately, things like sexual harassment and assault. The problem isn’t what they’re wearing. We make the problem their intelligence. They should know better. They should have gotten the memo that their body is inherently sexually pejorative back in fourth grade when their principal told them so. (Insert eye roll here)

Further, and I can admit my own bias here. On social media we assume that those who post often, and mainly of themselves or their bodies, are self-centered and attention-seeking. Things that are also often stereotypically tied to low intelligence. And this is wrong.

Image of Diana Muzina as a kid in a halloween costume giving a condescending look.
This is how I feel about slut shaming.

This sort of shaming and policing behavior in society reinforces traditional gender norms. In my senior honor’s thesis in college, I discuss gender performance in women’s Greek-lettered organizations, and how those organizations often also serve to reinforce traditional views of femininity and “correct” gender performance. Sadly, something that I watched play out with a member of my own organization. A woman who is intelligent, comfortable in and proud of her body, who owned her sexuality was rejected as, “inappropriate” and, “bad for” the organization.  Point blank, she was slut-shamed. I struggle with the fact that many cannot see that they policed her gender performance. She’s badass, and it’s their loss.

Continually sexualizing women’s bodies is malicious, and only serves to further bolster the geography of fear that many women experience. It also maintains current power structures we have in place. But, on a slightly different note, we cannot shame those women who do embrace their sexuality. There are infinite expressions of womanhood. No one expression is wrong, and no one expression warrants violence or discrimination. But, women should be given the freedom to determine what that expression is.

If you’re interested in reading about the effects of Slut Shaming, click here!

The Effects of Slut Shaming

1 – Isolation

Slut shaming has been identified as a “reputational threat,” or social identity threat, meaning that it directly threatens someone’s character and reputation. This is isolating, and often can separate the person being shamed from those around them. This has been hypothesized as one of the largest contributors to the high rates of self-harming behavior observed in those who have experienced being slut shamed. This isolation can also lead to depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. There are way too many reports of young women who took their own lives after being slut-shamed – particularly online.

2 – Increased Cortisol Levels

Studies about shame have shown that experiencing feelings of low social status lowered an individual’s self-worth as well as increased cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Usually after a perceived threat is over, cortisol levels return to normal. But when they don’t, your health can suffer negative consequences, including, but not limited to: depression, anxiety, digestive issues, headaches, sleep disturbances, weight gain, memory impairment, and heart disease.

3 – Sexism & Rape Culture

Slut shaming can be nuanced, and subtle. As one HuffPost article puts it: “slut-shaming can come in the form of telling girls that they have no self respect if they wear short skirts or low shirts. It can be calling a girl attention-seeking or pathetic for having had several boyfriends, or actively seeking one out. It can be calling a girl desperate or overly-aggressive for “making the first move.”

As I talked about in my post, Body Talk, slut shaming is also a double standard. Many behaviors that women are shamed for, are often applauded in men. (Though men can be slut shamed too!) Because of this – there are very real consequences for women. Many of us begin to self-police our behavior and our social media posts because we have increasingly been given the message that certain imagery is considered inappropriate and unprofessional. Therefore the dominant social norms and pervasive sexism could potential lead to a woman being fired, or not hired, for how she presents herself on social media.

The tie to rape culture should be apparent. Rape culture is blaming the victim of a sexual assault for what happened to them, rather than blaming the perpetrator. Often this is framed to say that the victim did something to provoke the attack. I couldn’t put it better than this HuffPost article:

“Rape culture is when the victims are blamed for “asking for it” by wearing the wrong clothes, being out at night, walking alone, being flirtatious or pretty, or any number of other things. Slut-shaming contributes to the idea that girls who are more flirty or provocative deserve less respect than girls who aren’t, and that leads to the idea that something they did lead to them being raped.”

Sabrina Nelson, High School Journalist <—- you go girl

Where do we go from here?

As something that has such real consequences, it amazes me that more is not being done to combat slut shaming. I am conscious every day of what I’m wearing, how I do my makeup, where I am walking (especially at night), where I am driving, and who is looking at me – because I have been trained to be afraid. I experience the geography of fear day-in and day-out, as do many women. I experience anxiety regarding potential professional and personal consequences I could experience based on what I post on social media. I experience shame about having a body, and for embracing my sexuality. And I experience anger than any of this has to happen to anyone.

A study conducted by Ditch The Label found that 52% of misogynistic tweets over a four year period were penned by other women. And more often than not, slut shaming happens between women. Now besides the tremendous amount of change that we need to bring about in teaching young boys about masculinity – I think that we as women have a huge responsibility. The next time you see another woman on social media and start to judge her based on what she posts, stop yourself. Maybe count in a week, or a day, how many times you do that. And maybe instead, throw her a like or a comment. We need to support each other if we are going to combat such toxic, entrenched behavior.

Shame About Having a Body

1. Isolation

Slut shaming has been identified as a “reputational threat,” or social identity threat.  This means that it directly threatens someone’s character and reputation. Extremely isolating, this shame about having a body often separates people from those around them. And isolation is hypothesized as one of the largest contributors to the high rates of self-harming behavior observed in those who have been slut shamed. This can also lead to depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. There are far too many reports of young women who took their own lives after being slut-shamed (particularly online).

2. Increased Cortisol Levels

Studies about shame have shown that experiencing feelings of low social status lowers an individual’s self-worth and increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Usually after a perceived threat is over, cortisol levels return to normal. But when they don’t, your health can suffer negative consequences. This includes, but is not limited to: depression, anxiety, digestive issues, headaches, sleep disturbances, weight gain, memory impairment, and heart disease.

3. Sexism & Rape Culture

Slut shaming can be nuanced, and subtle. As one HuffPost article puts it: “slut-shaming can come in the form of telling girls that they have no self respect if they wear short skirts or low shirts. It can be calling a girl attention-seeking or pathetic for having had several boyfriends, or actively seeking one out. It can be calling a girl desperate or overly-aggressive for “making the first move.”

As I talked about in my post, Slut Shaming, this phenomenon is a double standard. Many behaviors that women are shamed for, warrant applause for men. (Though men can be slut shamed too!) There can be very real consequences for women. Many of us self-police our behavior and our social media posts because we have increasingly received the message that certain imagery is considered inappropriate and unprofessional. Dominant social norms and this pervasive sexism could potentially lead to a woman being fired, or not hired, for how she presents herself on social media.

The tie to rape culture should be apparent. Rape culture is blaming the victim of a sexual assault for what happened to them, rather than blaming the perpetrator. Often this is framed to say that the victim did something to provoke the attack. I couldn’t put it better than this HuffPost article:

“Rape culture is when the victims are blamed for “asking for it” by wearing the wrong clothes, being out at night, walking alone, being flirtatious or pretty, or any number of other things. Slut-shaming contributes to the idea that girls who are more flirty or provocative deserve less respect than girls who aren’t, and that leads to the idea that something they did lead to them being raped.”

Sabrina Nelson, High School Journalist <—- you go girl

So what now?

As something that has such real consequences, it amazes me that more is not being done to combat slut shaming. As a woman, I am conscious every day of what I’m wearing, how I do my makeup, where I am walking (especially at night), where I am driving, and who is looking at me. I have been trained to be afraid.

I experience the geography of fear day-in and day-out, as do many women. And often feel anxiety regarding potential professional and personal consequences I could encounter based on what I post on social media. I struggle with shame about having a body, and for embracing my sexuality. And I experience anger that any of this has to happen to anyone.

A study conducted by Ditch The Label found that 52% of misogynistic tweets over a four year period were penned by other women. And more often than not, slut shaming happens between women. There needs to be a tremendous amount of change in how we teach young boys about masculinity. But, I also think that we as women have a huge responsibility.

The next time you see another woman on social media and start to judge her based on what she posts, stop yourself. Maybe count in a week, or a day, how many times you do that. And maybe instead, throw her a like or a comment. We need to support each other if we are going to combat such toxic, entrenched behavior.