Ashley Zhang: The realities of womanhood

Thursday, October 20, 2016 - 6:44pm

Sometimes, I think that when I become a mother, I don’t want to have a girl.

You see, my own mother is a worrier. For as long as I can remember, she sheltered my sister and me from the world, warning us of potential dangers that lurked in the least expected places. I was taught to never open the front door unless I was absolutely certain who was standing on the other side. The darkness held an indeterminable number of dangers, no safe place for a young girl. Sleepovers at my friends’ houses were iffy if they had brothers or fathers. In her eyes, anyone could be a “bad guy,” and I learned to approach the world with wariness.

My friends would laugh at this seemingly unnecessary caution — and sometimes I would, too. As 17 years passed by without much incidence, I attributed my mom’s seemingly endless worries to mere paranoia. It wasn’t until I came to Ann Arbor that I realized that my mother’s concerns were not, in fact, baseless. Rather, my friends and I were just privileged enough to consider them so.

Ann Arbor is far from being considered a “dangerous” city, but compared to my hometown of Troy, Mich., it might as well be. Troy’s claim to fame is being the safest city in Michigan and one of the safest cities in the country. We grew up in the lap of privilege, but perhaps it disadvantaged us in a way as well, for our upbringing blinded us to the fact that most of the rest of the world is not so kind — especially for us girls.

Coming to a politically charged campus unafraid to have open conversations about subjects that could be considered taboo, I realized how naive I’d been to think that the world would protect me. Because as long as celebrities like Donald Trump excuse sexual assault as “locker-room talk” and songs insinuating rape like “Blurred Lines” skyrocket to popularity, rape culture grows and women are not safe.

It terrifies me, as a woman, that a man who speaks so callously of attempted rape is a legitimate candidate for president. We already live in a world where known rapists walk free after serving a mere three months of a six-month sentence. Will we have any justice at all if a man accused multiple times of sexual assault assumes the highest office in the nation? Will we ever be safe?

Trump seems to believe that equating his boastings of his unwanted advances on women to “locker-room banter” makes it acceptable — a loosely disguised version of “boys will be boys” — but that only further perpetuates rape culture, letting boys believe it’s OK to objectify and degrade women in the safety of the men’s locker room. It’s ignorant to think that what’s said in the locker room stays there — and when it leaves, that’s when it becomes dangerous.

One late bus ride, I was witness to some “harmless locker-room talk,” and it made my skin crawl. As a raucous group of boys stumbled onto the bus behind me, their chatter melted into the background until one voice cut through the rest: “Dude, I’ve got to fuck Abby. She is beyond hot.” Their conversation quickly changed topic, but that comment lingered with me, leaving me sick to the stomach. Sure, it was just “locker-room banter,” but it had darker insinuations: that a woman is only good for her looks and sex, that sex is for a man’s taking. The fact that this conversation is commonplace is very telling of a culture slowly becoming desensitized to subtle misogyny.

As much as I’d love to take a scenic stroll through the Arb, the recent DPSS crime alert about a sexual assault in the Arb chills me. My mother frantically called me when she heard of the assault, and I knew then why she’d trained my sister and me to be always cautious, never too trusting. “What the heck? Who does that? Who just punches a random girl in the face?” I asked my friend, horrified that it’d happened so close to home, horrified that my mother’s fears were not unfounded. Troy may have shielded me from “the real world,” but this incident opened my eyes to the very real dangers around me — the most prevalent of all being the normalization of sexual violence. Who just punches a random girl in the face? Well, in this day and age, it could be anyone: a boy on the bus, a star collegiate swimmer, the potential future president of the United States.

These days, I try not to roll my eyes when my mom calls me nightly, panicking whenever I reveal I’m still in the library past dark. She doesn’t rest until she knows I’m safe in my dorm. I assure her that I’m fine, that I have a male friend to walk back with — and when I do, I think about his mother: how lucky she is that she has two boys.

Ashley Zhang can be reached at ashleyzh@umich.edu.