16 August 2007


Why is it, that when a man's behavior is inappropriate, the woman is the one who feels guilty?

As a feminist, advocate, and activist, I have frequently expressed my outrage at the attacks on women that are blamed on them. It isn't fair. No matter who she is or what she does, no woman deserves to be disrespected, violated, or attacked. Or BLAMED.

I know this, I teach this, I live and breathe this. And yet...

I recently encountered a man who I found to be attractive, attentive, and charming. He was a ready conversationalist and I was happy to talk to someone interesting....

Until he wasn't anymore. And innuendo and filth were pouring out of him. I have never encountered anyone so straight-forwardly sleazy, at least no one that supposedly holds the same values as I do. Once he opened that gate, he didn't hold back at all. I was shocked. But I didn't act shocked, because that's what he wanted. I held my own, let it roll off my back, and extricated myself from the situation as soon as I could. With my pride and my composure intact.

Once I was home, I found myself feeling guilty. Even shameful. Guilty that I may have said or done something to provoke him and cause his behavior.

Why did I automatically put the blame on myself? I didn't do anything wrong. Why should I feel shame?

Because women have been made to feel shame for "tempting" men for eons. Inappropriate behavior from men is nearly always blamed squarely on the woman. And is the blame placed on her intellect? Her accomplishments? Her wit and charm? Her sense of humor? Her remarkable talents? Nope. It is placed on her anatomy. She is usually at fault merely for being female.

I've encountered this numerous times in my life. I was chastised and vilified on my mission when others expressed their feelings for me. I was always blamed. Of course I couldn't have gone there to do the work, I must only be there to catch a husband, since I couldn't get married any other way. This is how I was treated. I fought to hold my own, to earn the respect of those around me and to focus on the task at hand, and yet was considered half as committed while working twice as hard. I usually didn't even know I had "tempted" the individual until I was sat down with an anatomy book and lectured about how men got sick if and when they were repeatedly turned on with no outlet. This was my fault. I was watched. I was threatened with being "sent home." Because I am friendly, beautiful, and female. Apparently I was making young men sick left and right. The only thing I could have changed was the friendly part. I could try and hide the beautiful parts like millions of wounded women who have injured, mutilated, and hidden themselves in an effort at self-protection. Because they, like me, by virtue of being female have been blamed for the actions of someone else. I could have given up on my goals, given up the joy and passion that I experienced as a missionary, but instead I chose to fight. Not in a traditional sense. I did not go head to head with anyone. I merely worked harder, focused more, and proved that I was capable. The accusations still stung, they were still ever-present, but I let them roll off my back.

This is where I answer my own questions:

I blamed myself because I have been blamed by others. It was ingrained. I have been taught how to walk, talk, sit, stand, move, smile, dress, and breathe, so I would not tempt or distract a man. So I would not incite him to do something he shouldn't - by virtue of existing. I have been made to feel ashamed for being a woman. I feel outraged when it happens to others because I know what it feels like. I will call every filthy man out. I will never again allow someone else to make me feel ashamed of my body, my breasts, my smile, my personality, my vagina.

It is always easier to fight for others than it is to fight for ourselves.


mraynes said...

Wonderful post, Leah. I think it is so important to talk about this subject. Our society's inability to confront the double standard we put on women only makes the situation worse. Hopefully if there are people like you confronting the issue we will slowly see the problem go away. Thank you for all you do.

Kimberly said...

Good points! Another person's choices should never be blamed on you. It's like blaming yourself for poor weather, or for being short. Both are completely out of your control. You can only control your response.

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