I was going to write about something else this week; something more lighthearted than lewd remarks made by a person running for office.
But I feel the need to go on record: crude, demeaning, objectifying language about women is not “locker room banter” or some benign indication that “boys will be boys”. And no half-assed apology after the fact dilutes the message.
Remember that old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me”? Not true. Words have power. And allowing language that insults women to go unchallenged encourages a culture which is one small step away from a date rape, abusive marriage, serial cheating, or any situation in which a woman is viewed as “less than”.
In my twenties, when I was a junior copywriter, I had a supervisor who was very tall, very large and very intimidating. I knew he had a bit of a crush on me so I kept our conversations brief and professional. One day, he came into my office, closed the door, and pushed me up against the wall as he attempted to kiss me.
Another time, a different man – married, and also my boss – slipped me the address of a friend’s apartment, saying he had been asked to “apartment sit” and hoped I would meet him there to “relax” outside of the office.
These weren’t the only incidents.
In those days, women joked off advances to save face for the men and to hang onto their jobs while maintaining a decent working relationship. There was no term such as “sexual harassment” and if you’d gone to HR you would have been told, “They didn’t mean any harm; just laugh it off”.
I’ve read that many of today’s young women reject the term feminist, thinking it equates to “man hater” or means they are unfeminine. That’s because they haven’t had to fight overt sex discrimination at every step of their careers. They take equality for granted, even though women are still paid less than men.
But here’s the thing. When a man talks about a woman in terms of her body parts, or comes on to someone who isn’t interested, it isn’t flattering – it’s offensive. Just as saying, “I love women” is patronizing and reductive.
It’s not a compliment when someone grabs your ass, tells a buddy about your great rack, or jokes that you are “hard to get”. Whether he’s 17 or 70.
I’ve been lucky. I’ve never been raped, and I’ve never had to make the agonizing decision whether or not to have an abortion. I don’t know what I would have done. But I know this: my body is nobody else’s business – to flatter, insult, violate, or make decisions for.
In the immortal words of the great Aretha Franklin, “All I’m asking for is a little respect”!
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