Rita Sayegh/MiC.

Author’s Note: I would like to clarify my terminology out of respect for the gender non-conforming community. When I say “men” I am specifically referring to cisgender men. When I say “women” — I am referring to cisgender women, the only identity I can meaningfully speak on. I think it’s important to make these distinctions because gender identity is incredibly fluid and we do not live in a binary world. We cannot keep enforcing such barriers in the language we use, which is why it is necessary to clarify what one means when they speak so generally. It is oppressive by nature to not acknowledge the existence of identities that do not fit into the conventional binary. 

My first sexual revelation as a woman happened during my sophomore year of high school when I stopped wearing bras. It was terrifying. I was a flat-chested “skinny” girl with chicken legs and everyone around me growing up always made sure I knew that. I was bullied in middle school for my body being under the standard “healthy” weight and the last thing I wanted was for my unflattering legacy to continue into high school. To wear the bra or to not wear the bra: it was a decision that I went back and forth on at least 1,000 times and eventually culminated in a split-second action before I left for school that morning. 

When I finally arrived, I took all my layers off from being in the harsh Chicago winter months. I was just a young girl with a black and white cubic patterned dress. Exposed for the world to see. Except I didn’t want to be seen. I was afraid people would notice that my chest looked a bit flatter than normal. I went about my day going to first period, then to second and so on. No one said a word. It felt good. Maybe it wasn’t as noticeable as I had thought. Maybe I had nothing to be ashamed of. I had quickly evolved from being afraid to let my natural shape show to making a point for it to.

Only one week after I stopped wearing bras, I was already so much more confident in my body — in myself. I started wearing shirts where it was more clear that I wasn’t wearing a bra — nothing too crazy — just a fitted blouse of sorts. One day while I was in the cafeteria with my friends, a guidance counselor approached me and said, “Your nipples are protruding.” I did not have the slightest clue about what her comment meant, but I assumed it was a positive comment so I said plainly, “Thank you.” She responded, “No, that means they are projecting out,” to which I, once again, said, “Thank you.” 

I truly was not trying to be funny — I genuinely took that as a compliment because I was in a period of my life where I was trying to embrace my natural form and I assumed that a woman in a higher position would support that. I was sorely mistaken. She told me to put on a jacket or I would be removed from the premises. So I grabbed my jacket, stood up and walked myself out. The counselor followed and I was met with three security guards and my principal — who was a woman. She explained to me that their policy was meant to protect me from predatory men. I explained that it isn’t my job to conform to safeguard myself. She said — and I remember this quite explicitly — “If you were to go in front of a judge for being raped, you would be held at fault because you enticed them.”

I cannot make this up. I wish I was. An administrator working in an institution dedicated to learning told me this. I couldn’t believe it. It was humiliating. This was the first time I had been criminalized for my body by an authoritative figure. It would not be the last. This was the beginning of a tumultuous road ahead where I would have to fight for the right to autonomy over myself.

The fact that a fellow woman, one whom I was supposed to look up to, said such vile things to me demonstrates how deeply rooted the patriarchy is in all of us — men and women alike. The patriarchy can be defined as a society in which “men hold the positions of power and have more privilege: head of the family unit, leaders of social groups, boss in the workplace, and heads of government. In patriarchy, there is also a hierarchy among the men.” To be clear, the patriarchy is harmful to men and interrupts their growth as human beings as well. Make no mistake, I am not saying women are at fault for the suffering we experience. But I am saying that all of us reinforce the patriarchal pressures in our lives without even realizing it. 

The patriarchy shows its face everywhere you go. It’s just a matter of recognizing it. See, that’s the thing about men — when you call them a misogynist, they immediately get defensive because they think you’re accusing them of some kind of hate crime. Sometimes this is true, but it doesn’t take the most extreme level of hatred toward women for men to have misogynistic tendencies. 

Furthermore, if you are a man, you are upholding the patriarchy simply by existing. The privilege you hold as a man does not go away just because you acknowledge the strife of women. You still hold the obligation to always be cognizant of how the space you take up impacts the women around you. There is nothing you can do to rid yourself of your male privilege, but rather, you can use it to uplift the women around you. Even if you think you are a particularly progressive man, remembering to check your privilege is of the utmost importance. 

To the men reading this: You hold power over women in the job market and take away opportunities from them. You are more likely to be heard in group conversations and suppress the voices of women. You are more likely to be taken seriously at the doctor’s office and therefore have, on average, gotten more efficient and effective medical treatment. Most importantly: your willingness to believe this phenomenon does not change the fact that you experience it. The reality of the situation is that you inadvertently benefit from the suppressive injustice that women endure. 

There is virtually nothing you can do to escape that. Does that mean there is nothing you should do to be a decent human being to the women in your life? Absolutely not. You should always be striving for an awareness of the privilege you hold. We are constantly living in fear of being victimized — the least you could do is walk through the world with an acknowledgment of that. 

If you are now thinking to yourself that women are strong, independent beings who can conquer anything — you’re not wrong, but you’re missing the point. That type of circular reasoning places the responsibility on the woman to halt her oppression while ignoring the fact that much of her torment is out of her control. I cannot begin to explain how little grasp we have over the patriarchal forces in our lives and how absolutely soul-crushing it is to know that my existence will always be defined by a man. No matter how radical I try to be, no matter how many “social rules” I break, I will always be subject to the patriarchy.  

We live in a man’s world. We have generationally formed a society where men are at the forefront and women are in the background. Can you blame me for feeling so powerless? 

At the end of the day, women are in this fight alone. I do not care how progressive a man you consider yourself — you are still a misogynist or have misogynistic tendencies. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at a common misconception of the dating scene: the friend zone. If you declare you’re in “the friend zone” with a woman whom you just met — that’s misogynistic. You are categorizing your relationship with a woman on whether or not you are successful in your pursuit to seduce her. This deduction misplaces the blame onto women for exercising their right to say no. It devalues a woman’s feelings in a relationship because it implies that a woman owes that man something in return for his supposed kindness. It is an explanation used by insecure men to project the responsibility onto women when they are rejected. It reinforces the objectification of women when you assume that being kind to a woman you are interested in should be met with the reciprocation of those feelings. More generally, if you use language such as “girly” to describe gender neutral objects or activities — that’s misogynistic. If you don’t make eye contact with women when having big group discussions — that’s misogynistic. If you refer to a person in a position of power and use he/him pronouns — that’s misogynistic, and so on. 

It is woven into the fabric of your very existence. None of us can escape it — not even me. I have internalized misogyny that I don’t even have the mental bandwidth to comprehend, let alone free myself of. 

So frequently, still, do I catch myself questioning whether or not my clothes are too revealing. Whether or not I should shave my armpits before I go out. Whether or not I look “feminine enough.” Whether or not I am “one of the boys.” Whether or not I should say sorry without doing anything to warrant an apology. Whether or not I should feel bad for having a positive sex life. Whether or not I should hold men to a higher standard in the bedroom. 

It has taken me the entirety of my life to combat the patriarchal forces in my life that prevent me from fully embracing my body and my spirit. How could you possibly, as a man, rid yourself of this simple truth? 

I will say I do admire men who make an active effort to check their male privilege. However, sometimes men mistake their intentions to protect us from this sick world with allyship when they may just be mansplaining our own experiences to us. My favorite thing is when a man tries to tell me how terrible other men are. Then they start recommending different weapons to carry on you at all times for the next time. Next time? Yes, next time. They assume there will be a next time and they are reasonably not wrong for that. But it isn’t your job to prepare me for my next predator. It is your job, as a man, to teach the men around you how to respect women, how to not be predators. The next time your guy friend leaves a party, make sure you tell him not to rape someone on the way out the same way you’d tell your friend who is a woman to stay alert on her walk home. People don’t have to use explicitly charged language to convey the message. Microaggressions against women occur so frequently that we assume them to be normal. 

To exist as a woman is to not feel safe walking alone at night. To exist as a woman is to be told your body is a hindrance to the academic success of a man. To exist as a woman is to yearn for intimacy, but be shamed for embracing it. To exist as a woman is to be seen as an object — one that can be used over and over again without proper care and replaced with ease. To exist as a woman is to be told you can’t wear that because he is going to be at dinner. To exist as a woman is to want to be desired by men, but afraid to let them in because so often do they disappoint. To exist as a woman is to question your worth if you are not satisfying to the male gaze, as if that is even possible. 

If you are a woman, have you ever not gone out because your legs weren’t shaved? Patriarchy. Have you ever been afraid of being desired by men? Patriarchy. Ever felt like it was gross to talk about your period in public? Patriarchy. Have you ever not worn something to a certain event because it was “too much”? Patriarchy. Have you ever lowered your voice in a room full of men even when you really wanted to say something? Patriarchy. Have you ever felt like it was your fault when a man came onto you unwarrantedly? You guessed it… patriarchy!!! 

I am sick and tired of being told “this is just the world we live in” or “you have to be realistic” every time I choose to put on a g-string and continue to complain about how much objectification we experience. It isn’t our fault we’re so sexy. Nor is it my responsibility to censor my physical expression assuming that I might be assaulted. The patriarchy takes away my power in enough ways already. I get to keep this.      

I suppose part of the point of me saying this is to make this clear to all men reading: know your place. Stop assuming that you are a champion of women simply because you support women’s rights. I do not care about your opinion. You have no say. Not here. 

Oh, yes! How does it feel to have your power stripped of you? How does it feel for your existence to be boiled down to your sex and used against you?  

Don’t tell me about it. This world has taught me to be ashamed of myself. I am tired of being told I’m too loud. I am tired of being told I am sexually deviant. I’m tired of being afraid when I wear clothes that make me feel good. I am tired of my worth being predetermined. I am tired of being perceived as a slut. At least by a man’s terms, which I understand to be: a woman who “degrades” herself by engaging with and enjoying her sexuality. If that is the case, I love being a slut. There is nothing more empowering to me than embracing my sexual desires and expressing them publicly — even when I am only met with objection from my peers. I relish in knowing that people disapprove of my lifestyle. If being a proper young woman means denying my humanity, then I would rather be a distasteful whore. 

MiC Columnist Kailana Dejoie can be reached at kdejoie@umich.edu.