The facts are these:
Every woman I’ve ever met and probably every woman you’ve ever met has been harassed or at least feared harassment on a regular basis. We all learn pretty quickly to carry pepper spray, to splay our keys out between our knuckles while we walk through parking lots, to download panic button apps, to think of several options for escape if in an elevator with a man alone, to check stairwells, to never, ever, ever go outside alone at night, etc. Men, interestingly enough, are not taught these things no matter how many of them are harassed because, while the physical intimidation and harassment of men is seen as an unfortunate anomaly, it is accepted as something every woman must prepare for. It is, in fact, normal, and something we more often than not simply resign ourselves to putting up with.
And put up with it we do. We don’t yell at the guys who whistle on the street or make lewd comments at the gas pump. We often don’t report inappropriate behavior at work for fear of retaliation. We avoid direct conflict with overly aggressive coworkers and customers by wearing fake engagement/wedding rings. And, for those who don’t understand how often this type of stuff happens, let me be clear: this happens a lot – sometimes daily – to women who leave the safe confines of their homes.
We are treated – not by all men, but by some – as objects . Not people with thoughts and opinions and value. Objects. We’re told to smile on command even at times that seem illogical (Who smiles at their computer monitor while working on spreadsheets at work? Who walks around the grocery store just grinning up a storm at random strangers? Wouldn’t it be weird if we naturally did this?), we’re verbally told that any attention from men no matter how unwanted is flattering, and we’re told by the actions of those around us that the word “No” doesn’t mean a thing to some people.
And, I don’t even mean “no” in the context of sex. I mean, “Stop touching my arm. Stop. Stop.” I mean, “No, I’m not interested in a date. No. No. Still no.” I mean, “There was no reason to put your hand on my waist. No, really, there was no reason for you to do that; why are you arguing with me?” To those who see us as objects, our words don’t actually have value because we simply exist to be manipulated at will, to give that guy an ego boost, to affirm his manhood or ability to flirt or some other thing that apparently needs validating.
It’s wrong and it’s dangerous and, though I know that it will never stop completely given the fallen and sinful state of our world, I do think that it’s an important conversation to have. So, here we go.
Women are not prizes awarded to the nicest guys. Women are not opinionless automatons who lack any preferences beyond wanting a Nice Guy. We do not owe anyone affection. Even as a Christian, while I am expected to love my brothers and sisters in Christ and the world at large, I am not required to show romantic affection to anyone. It doesn’t matter how nice you are, how much you bend over backward for someone, how much you sacrifice for her: she doesn’t owe you anything, and denying you romantic interest does not inherently make her shallow or unfair or anything other than a woman with preferences.
The reason this is important in light of the Elliot Rodger case is because Elliot saw women as objects. Granted, the boy had many other issues. However, the reasons he gave for attacking and killing 6 people were eerily familiar; familiar because many, many women have heard self-proported “nice guys” whinge about being “Friendzoned” by women who have “terrible” boyfriends (who the women in question seem to be perfectly fine with most of the time, interestingly enough) while they remain the superior choice. These women have, in the minds of those crying “Friendzone”, been reduced to objects: medals to be pinned on the chests of the Nicest Guys. This is dangerous dehumanization, and I’m personally glad to see the discussions that are occurring around the subjects of the objectification and safety of women.
I know quite a few men (particularly those identifying as Men’s Rights Activists or MRAs) and some women as well appear to be offended that people are using this instance to springboard conversations about objectifying women in general. They are claiming that those involved in the #YesAllWomen discussion view all men as rapists or threats or women objectifiers.
For those, I’d like to explain something. Heck, I’ll explain it to you in zombies:
Imagine with me for a moment that you are in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. You’re doing pretty well, hanging out with your friends in the bunker of your choosing, making do. Late one night you wake up briefly and see a zombie bite someone’s leg. You can’t see whose leg it is and shortly thereafter, you’re knocked unconscious so you aren’t able to see who was bitten. The next day, everyone is accounted for and seems okay. Everyone is wearing long pants, though, so you can’t see the zombie bite, and asking people if they were slowly being turned into an undead being seems rude, so you decide to wait and see who turns.
Obviously you’re cautious around everyone in your group now as you aren’t sure who might be dangerous and who might be safe. You live every day in fear that you will be attacked, but you aren’t sure who to expect the attack from. You keep a cautious eye on everyone when you go to the bathroom, to get a snack, to take a walk. You have a hard time sleeping at night knowing that it might not be safe. You constantly plan escape routes to use in case your friend-turned-walker corners you.
Now imagine the same scenario, except there is an unknown number of zombies in the world and they all look like people you trust. That is essentially what it is to be a Careful and Responsible Woman. We don’t see every man as a threat, as a rapist, as a predator; but every unknown (and sometimes known) man has the potential to be a threat. They, unfortunately, are not clearly marked for us, so we have to be careful. Every. Single. Day.
We are all objectified by men. Not all men do this. But, #YesAllWomen most certainly do experience the effects of objectification on a regular basis. And it’s something that we need to be willing to discuss.