The past week has been tiring.

Watching a woman, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, have to reluctantly come forward to tell her story of sexual violence in a public way has been hard. My first response when I read the headline that the anonymous accuser had come forward was fear.

I immediately knew that this woman would be attacked, and that she would be dismissed, and her claims disregarded as opportunistic or politically motivated.

This cycle is so common in our society that it is all too predictable. It was like a punch in the gut.

I believe Dr. Ford, just as I believe all women who come forward about sexual violence and harassment. Why, you ask? How can I be so sure that they aren’t making it up? Because I have a lifetime of experience with misogyny.

As a girl, I was a late bloomer. I started high school with the body of a prepubescent boy. I was a little on the chubby side, with no hips or breasts. By tenth grade, this was the subject of much ridicule. I was made fun of for being flat-chested.

However, just one year later, everything changed. By the end of eleventh grade, I had developed very large breasts, which soon became the center of a lot of discussions. The rumor was that I must had had a boob job because they seemed to have come out of nowhere. What I never said out loud was that there was no way in hell that I would have sought out my 36DD breasts.

Out of nowhere, it felt as if they had taken over my body. They seemed to be all that other people could notice about me. I would never have asked for that type of attention to my body. Never.

The first time that a boy put his hands on my body without my consent was in high school, after my late blooming body developed. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on my breasts. The moment I finally moved his hand away and told him to stop, he got up and walked away.

Having grown up being taught that I should avoid being raped, I assumed that I had invited this interaction. I must have been flirting with him too much, or I must have somehow suggested to him that I wanted him to be on top of me.

Plus, he was really, really cute. I was supposed to feel lucky that he was interested in me, right? No. He wasn’t interested in me. He was interested in having his hands on my body, which was evidenced by his never speaking to me again afterwards.

When I got to college, I realized that either I would be the one to talk about my boobs and make the jokes or someone else was going to. If not join in with the jokes, what else was I supposed to do? If I made the joke first, at least I could maintain some power in the situation, right?

If I was the one to make the joke, then I didn’t have to wait for one of them to do it–because it was always only a matter of time. I laughed. We all laughed. However, I hated my body more with every joke and every chuckle. I resented how I was so quickly and easily minimized to nothing more than a pair of boobs.

When I was eighteen, I went on a family vacation with my parents and my sister. One day, we were on the beach and the beach club next door announced a wet t-shirt contest with the participants all getting free beer.

My parents actually encouraged me to participate. While I appreciate that my parents weren’t interested in slut shaming– in fac, they always encouraged me to have full ownership of my body– it was still complicated to try and make meaning of their suggestion. Should I be using my body for free drinks? All I wanted to do was rage against a world that could commodify my body so easily.

Ultimately, I made the decision to have a breast reduction when I was twenty-three. There were a ton of reasons why this was something that I physically needed. I suffered from consistent neck, shoulder, and back pain, but what I have never said aloud was that I had just as many reasons as to why I needed the surgery emotionally.

I was so tired of being boiled down to my body parts, tired of strangers looking at my chest instead of my eyes, tired off others assuming that I was ditzy or easy. I was tired of men making the assumption that their eyes and hands had a right to be on or near my body.

I didn’t know how to live in this world, in this body, with these parts, without being in a constant state of shame and rage– so I quite literally cut them off.

Little did I know that all of this wouldn’t go away with the three pounds of breast tissue that they took out of my body.

Just last spring, I was at a professional conference when a man I didn’t know decided it was appropriate to scan his eyes up and down my body and let me know how beautiful he thought that I was. He suggested that because I was “gorgeous,” he might hire me to come to his campus. This man’s job was to oversee sexual assault complaints at a college; it was noted on his name badge.

The worst part wasn’t his actions. It’s that I immediately felt ashamed and small. I had newly started my own business and was practicing pitching my work at a conference for the first time. After this happened, it took me three months to pitch my work to another stranger. Three months. Do you know how much lost income that is?! He walked away and continued on with his business while I, even after all of these years, was made to feel small and ashamedagain.

Even today, when I tell men that I am gay, I am often met with a wry smile. The glimmer in their eyes tell me, that even this is about his pleasure and not my identity.

People who ask the question as to why women don’t speak up are missing the whole point. They are asking about a specific interaction without recognizing an entire system. These are not individual instances of sexual harassment, they are a part of a system that was designed to keep women small and quiet. What do I gain by speaking up? In just a couple of days, Dr. Ford has already received death threats and had to move her family from their home for safety. Tell me. What has she gained? What did Anita Hill gain?

These are my experiences. I am a white, feminine-presenting, cis-gender woman. For women of color, these experiences of sexual harassment are even more pronounced. There is an added layer of racism at play.

Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw is a legal scholar who coined the term “intersectionality.” Her work highlights how Black women uniquely experience discrimination, because both sexism and racism are at play; neither experience can be isolated from the other. Crenshaw’s work extends to all women of color and all those who occupy multiple marginalized identities.

This includes queer women, women with disabilities, and Muslim women, as a few examples. Dr. Crenshaw was a part of Anita Hill’s legal team when she faced horrifying treatment by an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Democrat Joe Biden, when they were nominating Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

Further, trans* women of color face profound violence that is rooted in misogyny, sexism, racism, and homophobia. Violence against trans* women of color is a national crisis, with 2018 set to be the deadliest year on record.

The experiences that I’ve had felt horrible, but they pale in comparison to the experiences of many others. We have to shift from looking at harassment and sexual assault as individual instances of violence in order to recognize the systemic nature of violence against women, trans* and gender non-conforming people.

Women choose to speak out or stay silent; and we get to make that choice. We get to choose whether we report it immediately or, like me, we wait until our rage is overflowing to speak about it for the first time.

Accept responsibility for the things you’ve done. Do the work to undo your internalized sexism and need for dominance. Listen to women.

We come forward in the midst of #metoo conversations, in therapy, or in conversations with our trusted sisters and friends. These decisions are ours alone and they are deeply personal, but, honestly, I think we stay silent because there is no evidence that coming forward will benefit us at all.

Until our society at large is prepared to believe womenand I mean all women: white women, women of color, queer women, gender non-conforming folks, sex workers, immigrant women, and the list goes onwhy would we risk further shame by speaking out?

Men, you can play in instrumental role in all of this. First, you can change your own behaviors. I am willing to guess that many of you can see yourself reflected somewhere in this story. That’s fine, as long as you can admit where you have mistepped and get to work to undo these violent systems of sexism and misogyny.

Accept responsibility for the things you’ve done. Do the work to undo your internalized sexism and need for dominance. Listen to women.

Encourage your friends and the men in your circles to listen to and believe women. And don’t ever stop working to dismantle this system that you are keeping together with your silence. I ask you, sincerely, to please believe me.

Believe all women. Listen to us and our stories and then have the courage to see yourself in them. Only then can you really work to make amends.

In my experience, it is near impossible to be a woman who defines herself in the world. Each time one of us does, let us celebrate our courage audacity to take back our power and tell our stories.

💎💎💎

Dr. Victoria Farris is the founder of Farris Consulting where she serves as a consultant, trainer, speaker, and coach working to support equity and inclusion in higher education. Victoria received her Ed.D. in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned double distinction for her research on the role that White people can play in disrupting systemic racism in higher education. She also holds a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Connecticut, and a Bachelor’s of Arts from Marist College. With over a dozen years of experience supporting students’ learning outside of the classroom, Victoria has served as both an associate dean of students and dean for residence life. Victoria is committed to disrupting systemic racism by supporting higher education institutions, and professionals, in cultivating more inclusive campus environments so that all students, staff, and faculty can thrive. Learn more about Dr. Farris and connect: Twitter + Instagram + Web.

 

Published by Sinclair P Ceasar III

Sinclair Ceasar is a speaker, podcaster, and higher ed professional committed to helping people live a better story, and be more hopeful. He sends weekly inspirational emails to over 1K readers each Monday. Email him at hello@thesapronextdoor.com or connect with him via Twitter @Sinclair_Ceasar

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