S. Elizabeth Randsell

Not all men harass. But most women are preyed upon

Not all men.

Except for the man who cursed affirmative action whenever a woman beat him out for a position. When I was old enough to have children, it occurred to me that my father who, not having a clue what to do with his own daughters, might not have known then what to do with a woman in the workplace who wasn’t his underling.

Not all men.

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Except for the boys in elementary school who forced themselves on the girls. I was small but fast. Still, I carry a scar on my chin from stitches, courtesy of one of the days I wasn’t fast enough. Then there were guys in middle school who would run their hands down our backs checking for a bra strap. If it were there, they would snap it. If not, they would grope us and judge our undeveloped breasts.

In high school, we moved on to the ones who copped a feel in the crowded hall between classes, from the safety of anonymity. Or the guys who assumed that going out on a date with them meant they got play, and “how far” to go was solely up to them. The guys who responded to my “no” by spreading gossip about how easy I was. I, a child abuse survivor who was afraid to kiss a boy and refused to “go steady,” had a reputation I didn’t know about until I graduated.

Not all men.

Except for my middle-aged supervisor who sexually harassed me daily. The flagrant abuse of his position went on for six months. When I took it to our superiors, I was told that they’d pay me a severance to quit instead, because he had more experience. It was then I realized I wasn’t the first and was not likely to be the last. I was 19.

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Not all men.

Except the men nearing their thirties who kept asking me out at the tender age of 17. This included a man who, when he learned my age, didn’t speak to me for months, only to call me on my 18th birthday. Or my bank coworker, who asked me to accompany him to the company Christmas party, then gave me lingerie as a gift just over a week later as an enticement to go out with him again. Or the client who asked me out, and over dinner on our first date, admitted he’d been stalking me for a year. He’d volunteered to bring in his girlfriend’s business deposits just to have me wait on him.

Then later, the funny machinists at a job in another state, who played grab-ass when they got bored, assaulting us with metal rods that left welts on our backs, asses and legs. Or the owner of that company who paid for everyone’s schooling — except me, because he already had put a woman through school to run the office and he didn’t want to pay for a woman to become a machinist, just the guys, every one of which was encouraged to pick up the machining skill of their choice on the company dime.

Not all men.

Except the ones online who send us unsolicited d*ck pics, take any friendliness as consent to demand a more intimate relationship or harass us, even over multiple accounts as they break the Terms of Service and get suspended time and again.

Not all men.

Of course, it’s not all men.

Except when it is.

The greatest issue isn’t that some men harass women. The problem is that harassment of all kinds is so prevalent and pernicious that people refuse to call it predation. It’s “shooting your shot," “miscommunication” or “misreading signals.”

When I posted a thread largely consisting of these anecdotal incidents from my own life, the response was overwhelming and disheartening. It was apparent my experiences weren’t unique.

To be honest, I’ve had less horror in my most traumatic sexual assault than too many others. Women (and men) flooded the thread with their own uncomfortable or painful experiences.

One quote tweet:

“We treat sexual violence like a thing that only happens to women once if they’re really unlucky. But if you ask for a woman’s life history with abuse, it often looks exactly like this.” –Dr. Nicole Bedera

Not all men.

Except those who chose to call me an "outlier,” dismissing me instead of listening. Some suggested that I was “attractive as a victim,” because of my personality. It was argued that I was responsible for what happened to me, because of my choices, not my abusers’.

These arguments ignored that most of my (related) experiences of misogyny were at school and in the workplace. Worse, they neglected that studies, statistics and ethics agree on one thing.

Victims do not cause sexual assault or harassment.

Perpetrators cause assault or harassment.

Most of all, those people ignored the hundreds of women (and men) in the thread sharing their own experiences of the same and the nearly 10,000 who shared it because it spoke to them.

The “not all men” arguments ignore most of all the view that women are considered a commodity. Many men will invalidate some women for being sexually attractive, others for failing to be attractive enough and we all continue to fight for basic bodily autonomy.

But not all men.

I didn’t write the thread to display my trauma. I don’t feel brave for sharing it. What I’m ashamed of, what keeps me up at night, is the percentage of my life spent trying to be what these men said I had to be – to be a good or right or correct or proper iteration of a woman.

I despise myself sometimes for the indignities that I allowed myself to suffer to “get along.” I see some women, even now, who are so desperate to feel equal that they’re willing to step on other people to do so and defend that behavior as normal. We’re capable of more.

We must demand more.

No, not all men.

It doesn’t take “all men” to force women into eternal vigilance.

It must simply be enough to keep us cautious, expending too much energy on safety and survival to have any left to fight for men in power to finally treat women like people.

Not all men.

No selfish choice made by predatory men in this society is about women — unless we’re the victims, at which time the full responsibility and burden become ours to carry.

Not all men.

But damn near all women.

And that should count for something.

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