Over the past week or so, I have been following the #yesallwomen debate. For those who might not know, last week a man (who may or may not have had mental problems, but was definitely messed up) went on a killing spree because he hated women, and felt that they owed him sexual favors. When that didn't pan out for him, he "acted out" to put it mildly.
After the occurrence, a lot of women were understandably upset. They made comments about how women are the subject of sexual assault and violence, and no one was paying attention. Then some men got upset, saying that not all men were like that, and used the hashtag #notallmen to indicate that not all men were misogynistic, sexist abusers.
Feeling that the debate was being hijacked by men trying to refocus the debate on themselves and away from the important issue of assault on women, a woman started the #yesallwomen hashtag to start talking about the ways that women are sexually assaulted and abused. Then a Mormon woman started the #yesevenmormonwomen to discuss the ways that Mormon woman have been sexually assaulted and abused.
I have been reading these debates, and thinking about the situation. On the one hand, I wholeheartedly agree that women should not be sexually assaulted, and should not be the subject of abuse. I am a victim of sexual assault, as I think most of the women I know are (I believe the reported numbers do not account for all the women who never report the assault, as they "don't think it is a big deal.")
Of course, this opens the question of "what is sexual assault?" From the comments, it is clear that, as a society, we don't even have a clear indication of what rape is, much less sexual assault. Some people think it is fine for a husband to demand, even force sex. I would like to point out that this is legally rape. But also, rape is one of the hardest crimes to convict.
From the comments I read, there were some things that I don't think count as sexual assault, and it bothers me. For instance, I read a comment where a woman was mad that she had been making out with a man, and then he had propositioned her. She didn't say he forced her, or demanded or coerced. He just asked. She apparently thought this was sexual assault. Or the woman that was upset that men looked at her boobs. Does that count? Yes, it can be annoying, and shows that the man is interested in your body. But, if he isn't touching her, isn't making lewd comments, is doing nothing else besides look, is that sexual assault?
For me, sexual assault is when a man touches a women for sexual pleasure without her permission.
It seems to me, that some women are trying to deny their sexual natures, and the sexual nature of men in general. Their complaints are about men seeking to fulfill those sexual desires at all--not that the men have done anything improper (by improper, I mean contact without consent). In my understanding, sexual assault of women happens, not because women are sexual or men are sexual, but because men don't understand that they need to ask permission before acting on sexual impulses.
As I understand it, we have been trying to solve the problem of rape and sexual assault by teaching women to be chaste. By telling them that men are sexual creatures, and they have to dress modestly to keep themselves safe. I have seen men get very upset by this premise-- men are not animals, and can control themselves. And suggesting otherwise does demean men. But I have never seen anyone clearly elucidate how to solve this problem.
I've been thinking, and this is what I have thought so far. Men act out on sexual impulses, because they don't realize that they need to ask permission before acting sexually with a woman. Why is this? I believe that their are 2 main reasons.
First, I believe that this is because many men grow up believing that they can act however they want. Because when they are little, they are allowed to act on all their impulses. We let our little boys hit and punch and yell and scream. We let them roughhouse, and play in the mud and eat all the cookies. We say, "well, that's the way little boys are." They pull a little girl's hair, and we laugh--because he likes her. But what we are teaching a child when they have no discipline is that they are free to do whatever they want. That they are free to fulfill their every impulse. And when little boys don't learn impulse control, they grown up without the skills or knowledge needed to not sexually harass. Because they haven't been taught that other children's feelings are important. Or that they can't do something just because they want to.
Second, I believe that men grow up to sexually assault women when they are not taught to honor women, and never, ever hurt them. Boys who are taught that women are precious, and to be honored above all else tend to grow up into men who treat the women around them with respect. And respect=not sexually assaulting a woman. I have known men who have taken the feminist movement to mean that they don't have to honor and respect women anymore, because they get to treat women like men. I am always sad when I hear this. Feminism is not asking to be treated like a man. Feminism is asking to allow women to have a say in what happens to women.
There are other reasons that sexual assault happens-- like when sex is stigmatized, and hidden, and boys aren't taught to control themselves, because that would necessitate talking about sex--which isn't talked about. Or men who simply do not care about societies rules that you can't sexually assault. These men try to get away with everything, so this is just one more rule they are breaking. Or when society tells men that what they are doing "isn't a big deal"--that it's not a big deal to grab a woman's butt, or grope her on the subway, or stand so close you can "accidentally" touch her.
Part of the problem, is that as women, we believe that we need to let things go. That we should try to solve problems, not start them. I remember the first time someone told me I should stand up for myself, and not let someone sexually assault me. I was at work, at Joe's Crab Shack. I needed to go into the office, to get my check and tips, and as I was entering, a male co-worker was leaving. He brushed his hands against my chest as he was leaving "on accident". My boss yelled at him. I was like "its ok, its not a problem." And then my boss turned to me, and told me "it is a problem, you shouldn't let men do that. Stand up for yourself."
When we let men get away with a million little sexual assaults, they start to believe that it is ok to get away with the big ones. When we don't stop them grabbing butts, and brushing against girls "accidentally," when we don't tell them to control themselves, or treat women with respect, when they aren't sat down to a frank talk about what they are allowed and are not allowed to do, we teach men that they can act however they want. By not stopping the behavior before a serious sexual assault, like rape, happens, we teach men that what they are doing is ok. And then when they get caught, they make a million excuses, because in their head they did nothing wrong. Because, until the girl demanded that rape kit, they had no idea that what they were doing was wrong. Because no one had taught them otherwise.
To stop sexual assault on women, we need to educate our boys. And we need to teach our girls to stand up for themselves, and tell an adult when they are assaulted. That there is no shame in being sexually assaulted, that all the shame is on the head of the boy. That if they stand up for themselves, they will be protected.