Dana Pierangeli: To the boys who tell us they live in fear
It’s the worst when it’s our friends. Because we couldn’t possibly have seen it coming, otherwise he wouldn’t be a friend. But then he tells us that the #MeToo movement is a witch hunt. He tells us that women have too much power. He tells us that he lives in fear.
So to those boys who think they have the right to tell us that they live in fear of being accused and having their lives ruined, you are wrong. You don’t even know what fear is.
Do you know why you’re afraid? Because this is the first time anyone has told you your actions are wrong. You have just seen all these mighty men, many of whom you probably looked up to, fall to their knees. And you recognize some of your behaviors in those men, behaviors that have never been fully recognized as harmful, at least not by men, and by extension, general society. And instead of thinking, “I never realized this before, but maybe my actions are harmful. I should change that,” you wonder, “Am I next?” And then you lash out. You bury these insecurities and blame it on the system, relying on a society that has put you on a pedestal since the beginning of time to back you up. You do not feel fear, you feel guilt. You just don’t realize it.
So to dissuade this buried guilt, you change the topic. “It’s just an issue of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and cold hard evidence, gender has nothing to do with it!” You think that by framing this argument in terms of the justice system you can get away with saying sexist things because they don’t sound sexist. You cover up your sexism with claims of justice — justice for the man wrongfully accused, but not for the women who have been silenced. You give yourself the privilege of taking gender out of the equation, a privilege that only you are granted. But sexism is a constant companion of rape cases. You cannot separate the two, and trying to ignore this inherent truth is, in itself, sexist.
When that doesn’t work, you play the victim card, though you lack the deck from which it came. You cry that men are the real victims; that their lives can be ruined by these women; that any man can be wrongfully accused; that the #MeToo movement is a witch hunt. You equate a stained reputation, one that often doesn’t even get them barred from a job (take the Supreme Court for example), to lives being ruined. You think some of the sensational media stories applies to every man who has been accused in this #MeToo era being crucified and sent to rot in jail. And you conveniently forget how much sexual assault ruins the woman’s life. Not only is she assaulted, but when she has the courage to come forward, she is tormented, ridiculed and threatened. By people like you. You are so self-important that you, for some reason, think that women will drag themselves down just to take you with them. Ask yourself why someone would do that. And don’t tell us that it’s because there are bad people in the world. We already know that. They walk behind us at night, they come up to us in clubs, they sit at our breakfast tables. We look them in the eyes every day.
What you could do instead is understand that you will never understand. You will never understand what it is like to be a woman and to constantly live in fear. You were not taught to fear from the moment you were old enough to walk. You will never understand the courage it takes to stand up for yourself when you have been hurt, even when everyone around you is telling you to stop and calling you a liar. But that’s OK. We don’t expect you to understand. We just expect you to support those who do. You have seen this massive shift in a society that has previously protected you from consequences, and that change, like any other, is scary. We are, as a country, in a period of growth and change. And that change comes with doubt. But there are other ways to handle this change. Instead of telling us they live in fear, some boys tell us that now are more careful about what they do. They tell us they try to lend their support to women and put them in the spotlight where they can finally be heard. But others equate this sudden realization that their actions have consequences to living in fear, which is outright disrespectful. You cannot equate your fear of being accused to the fear of being raped. Because at the end of the day, you can change your actions to be less harmful and less likely to draw retribution. We cannot change our gender.
I live in fear of walking at night. I walked home from a club meeting that got out across town at 12:30 a.m., and I was terrified. I saw a group of men outside a store and I immediately crossed the street, my heart pounding, my palms sweating. My parents found out, and both of them yelled at me. And you told me that I can prevent walking home alone. Like it’s my fault and my job to change my behaviors. We must assume the worst could happen and fix ourselves, rather than the problem itself. You tell us we must assume the worst, but also criticize me for doing the same in a trial setting. You tell us to assume the worst of women, but give men the benefit of the doubt.
I live in fear of being alone with a boy. Even boys that I am friends with. Because I was taught that I could not trust any boys with myself. And you tried to invalidate my fear by telling me that you, too, live in fear of being alone with a girl, because she could accuse you of rape when you’ve done nothing wrong. Like that’s just as bad and just as common as being raped.
I live in fear, and I have never been harmed. I don’t even know what it’s like to actually go through this. But I have heard enough stories; I have talked to enough friends; I have been told enough times that I know the fear.
I live in fear that I will write this article again. I’ve written it before. My fingers are tired of typing. My head is tired of pounding. My heart is tired of aching. I am tired of living in fear.
You live in fear? You don’t even know what fear is.
Dana Pierangeli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.