I couldn’t watch Michelle Obama’s speech. You know, the one that’s all over Facebook and in the news. The one she gave in New Hampshire last week, in which she talked about Trump’s horrible comments about how he relates to women. In which she talks about what it’s like being female in our culture.
You see, I started to watch the video with my husband, but I asked him to stop it. After a few minutes, it struck a nerve. It brought up too many memories of similar circumstances in my own life, of being female and being objectified. It was, honestly, too painful for me to finish watching.
When I was 13, a stranger, a man at least 10 years older than me, led me into a secluded part of a park and forced himself on me. I ran away before anything truly terrible happened, but I was scared and ashamed as if somehow I was responsible for his actions. That was the first time, but sadly not the last time, that a man made unwanted advances at me or that I felt ashamed of what had happened to me.
As an adult, I have been the object of crass comments and lewd stares. Once, while I was running on a Saturday morning, dressed in tights and a t-shirt, a stranger yelled, “Work that pussy!” as I ran by him. Another time, I was called to HR to discuss my job, and the employee questioning me stared at my chest for most of the time I was in his office.
I’m not alone in experiencing this behavior. Every woman, every single woman I’ve spoken to, has a similar story. Or she has many stories. It’s commonplace enough to make you think it’s part of the collective female narrative. This is what to expect if you are a girl or woman. This is a rite of passage for being female. A man is going to try to kiss you or touch you when you haven’t consented to it. A man is going to say something to you that relegates you to body parts for his enjoyment. You will feel shame for being female.
After the uproar over Trump’s horrible words, many said, “Let’s get back to the real issues.” Well, I call bullshit on that.
Treating women like objects that can be manhandled and dominated, acting as if women are only breasts and vaginas that exist for a man’s pleasure, these are real issues. This behavior and thinking affects girls and women in the educational system. It affects women in the workforce. It affects women in domestic relationships. It affects our laws and institutional practices. So, I cannot imagine an issue more important or real.
This kind of behavior and thinking is insidious. It whispers under its breath that, “Girls, you aren’t equal, and you don’t control your own bodies.”
When females are devalued by words and actions, it impacts all of us – men, women – and our society. It doesn’t just influence how men view women. It influences how women view themselves.
So let’s not brush over what Trump said. He spoke his truth. And, unfortunately, that truth is shared by many others. Those in political power. Those working at our offices. Those praying at our churches. Those strangers you run into on the street.
Well, this is my truth. I am not a pussy. I am not tits. I am not your plaything or your property. I am scientist and an educator and a runner and a writer and a parent and a spouse. I work. I raise kids. I volunteer at the school library. I pay taxes. I vote. This is being female. This is who I am.