I remember my time like it was yesterday. I was a sophomore in college, attending my school’s all nighter. I was super excited and went to meet my boyfriend for a night of dancing and fun. As I was cuddled up with my boyfriend, during a slow song, someone smacked me on the behind and kept walking. I immediately left my boyfriend’s arms to confront the person who did it, when he stopped walking and met up with his friends, I realized the anger I felt was laughed at by 6 big men, over 6’2, waiting for me “to say something.” I don’t know what would have happened to me if my boyfriend didn’t drag me to the car.
The same feelings of humiliation, anger, and even rage that came over me that night were the same when I heard about Shana Fisher. It was the same rush of emotions when I realized that the world must hate women and the realization that our culture is complicit.
Shana Fisher was one of the 16 year victims in the most recent Sante Fe shooting. Shana’s mother indicated that she publicly rejected killer, Dimitrios Pagourtzis just days before the attack. Shana’s mother said that Pagourtzis had been increasingly aggressive until her daughter stood up to him, “embarrassing” him in class.
"A week later he opens fire on everyone he didn't like," she said.
It’s no surprise that when Shana’s story came out, I received a flood of texts from friends about their own stories and each of those women expressed “that could have been me.” In our texting conversations, we collectively realized that we are Shana. These text conversations revealed our sadness for the life lost, but what came out was our own trauma knowing that it could have been us. I realized that any one of my teen students could’ve been Shana and I was enraged.
How do women all around the world, with different lives and backgrounds, have the same experience if violence against women was not somehow ingrained in our culture? In misogyny?
While we were all reeling from Shana’s story and well as the heartache for all the lives lost to senseless gun violence, we learned about another woman’s death. Last week, Chinyere Ebere, was stabbed by a man when she rejected his advances and again “embarrassed” him. The list of assaults on our humanity goes on and on, and I’m sure we can name a few off the top of our heads. Shana and Chineye’s story was the last straw for me.
I’m tired of nicely rejecting advances;
I’m tired of telling men “I’m married and engaging in a discourse about “having friends”;
I’m tired of the groping at the bars;
I’m tired of the hands on my hips when a man needs to scoot past me in a crowded room;
I’m tired of the elbow grabs for my attention when I’m trying to get to work;
I’m tired of the devaluing stares while walking into work;
I’m tired of purposefully tightening my jaw, as not to appear too “welcoming”;
I’m tired of the hollering from cars in public;
I’m tired of the random “can I get a hug” from strangers in dark parking lots;
and I’m especially tired of “hearing the other sides” on all the reasons why I need to “ease up”.
Instead of an apology, instead of hearing that what you are actually doing is indeed scary to me, I get told, “I was just trying to get your attention. I just wanted to let you know you were beautiful”.
I’m also tired of the violent hurt egos.
A violent hurt ego is what cost Shana her life, and I’ve seen so many comment sections whereby women are told that we could “be nicer” in our rejection techniques or “why couldn’t she just accept that he liked her?”
You don’t get the point.
I’m honestly tired of having to explain.
This is a men’s issue.
Women are not placed in the world to fend off advances, nor do we exist in the world to respond to men’s beck and call when they decide that we’re worthy of their time. I refuse to live in a world where I have to operate based on fear. I refuse to bring daughters into a world where she can’t be safe walking down the street without violent hurt egos all around her, waiting to blame her because she isn’t "nice enough," didn’t have on the "proper" outfit, or a wide enough smile.
So many women in my life have become so accustomed to street harassment and sexual assault in public places that we’ve become quiet. Quiet for our safety and quiet because we’ve run out of options. We also know that we live in a culture where we are hated. We are seen people who lie about or aggrandize our experiences. Where and who do we turn when this is our everyday experience?
It’s not our problem. I am tasking men to take the lead on this issue. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Call each other out. Do you have a friend making inappropriate jokes? Humiliating a woman while walking down the street? Taping/taking pictures of someone without their consent? Repeatedly asking a woman for her number?
Stop standing there. Stop being silent. Say something. Name the behavior, state why it’s not okay, and tell him to stop. Men are clearly not having this conversation enough, so when you do bring it up. Talk about your friend’s actions.
2. Be an active bystander. If you see harassment occurring and you don’t know either party, create a distraction by asking for the time or direction. Check on the person being harassed by asking if they are ok or if they need help.
3. Report it. Groping, indecent exposure, stalking, and assault, are illegal in some states. If it’s happening on public transportation, you can report to a bus driver, police, or employee. The point is to say something.
As a person who can only imagine what it was like for Shana and Chinyere in their last moments, I imagine what could have gone differently in their killer’s lives. What can we do to avoid these deaths? How can we encourage a culture where we stop coddling men’s feelings and men handle their masculinity in a productive manner?
We are asking for accomplices in this work. Hell, we are asking for men to their work. We are asking you to speak up. We cannot do this on our own.