With all the recent take-downs of powerful men due to sexual harassment accusations, it made me wonder — why have I found it entirely commonplace to go through my purse on any given day and find the following: pepper spray (in an attractive metallic pink tube), a whistle and, sometimes, even a mini-stun gun (with its own, attractively-styled purple case).
Why, I further ask myself, has it felt totally natural to carry these items with me since I was in my late teens? Simple. As any woman knows, the incidence of such assaults (and by this I mean physically threatening assaults) happen on a frequent basis and in a multitude of settings, not just at drunken frat parties. They can happen in offices of powerful people, on the street, and in one’s own home with people we know.
I once took a women’s self-defense class (which I recommend to every teen girl or woman). The ages ranged from 20 to 50-plus. During the first class, the male instructor asked: Who here has been the victim of an assault? Every single participant raised her hand. The answers ranged from attempted kidnapping on a city street in broad daylight, to being raped while vacationing on a tropical beach.
I saw a cartoon once alternating between drawings of a young woman preparing for a first date, and a young man doing the same. He puts a condom in his wallet, she puts mace in her purse. He combs his hair and tucks his comb in his back pocket, she makes a plan to text her roommate by 10 p.m. to make sure she’s safe and practices carrying her keys between her fingers. The message: the young man is preparing for a fun evening where he might get “lucky.” The young woman is doing the same, but she is also aware of the possibility she could be sexually assaulted.
What is equally disturbing to me, whether in the workplace or in social situations, is that such intimidation and assault toward women has become so normalized and a part of our culture. Our American society is a violent one, and that extends toward treatment of women. Women have been denied equal access to positions of power — much less equal pay for equal work — and let’s remember that women only got the vote on Aug. 18, 1920, with the 19th Amendment.
We need more women at the board table and in government as policy makers. We also need to change the notion that problems are best solved with force or violence or a gun. The amount of violence pervading our entertainment, often intertwined with sexually provocative situations or women as victims, is over the top. Statistics may vary, but the numbers are staggering: According to Huffington Post, 1 in 6 American women have survived an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes and I am sure that we all know someone who has been the victim of such an attack. Ninety percent of all rape victims are women; 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual assault will walk free. Is it any wonder the majority of victims of harassment and assault do not come forward?
We can use this moment in our history to take a good look at what our norms and values as a society have become. Our boys and young men need to learn how to behave with girls and women from parents who see both sexes as equals, and who treat each other with respect and dignity. Boys, from a young age, must be taught that “no” does not mean “maybe,” and that even when sitting behind a large desk, there are lines that must not be crossed in a civilized society.
One out of six women — many believe the actual number is higher — is an appalling statistic. It takes tremendous courage to come forward and hold powerful people, and their enablers, accountable.
It is high time.
— Award-winning author, TV presenter and world traveler Susanne Severeid is an Ashland resident who enjoys making time for the important things in life — including mocha. Read more of her columns at bit.ly/adtssmm. For more, go to www.susannesevereid.com. Email her at email@example.com.