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How To Avoid Creepers In The Gym

24 Oct

As a fitness instructor, nothing infuriates me more than hearing stories of women getting creeped on in the gym.

NOT OKAY. And you don’t have to take it. This is not a fact of life. This is harassment.

The gym is a place where you should feel safe, supported and empowered. If that’s not how you feel at your gym, it may be time to shop around.

Please consider the following:

1) There is absolutely never an excuse for you to tolerate harassment when you are PAYING for services. In a gym setting, it is the management’s JOB to keep you safe and make you feel welcome.

2) If it feels creepy, it is creepy. Don’t waste your time and energy playing the, “Is it in my head? Maybe he’s trying to be nice…” game. Life is short. You are busy. You know a creeper when you see one and it’s not your mission in life to take care of their feelings.

3) Businesses should have sexual harassment policies in place to protect both their employees and their customers. At my , our instructors watch to make sure that students treat one another with respect. When students approach any of us with concerns about classmates’ behavior, we take immediate action to deal with the situation in a way that makes the person who has been harassed the most comfortable. Usually this has involved having a conversation with the person whose behavior is inappropriate.

Once, a young man tried to bond with one of our male kickboxing instructors by saying, “I’m only here to pick up girls. I tried it before with yoga but that didn’t work out so I thought I’d give this a try.” The instructor firmly stated that the women at our studio were here to work out and that they were not interested in that kind of attention. He explained that “pick up” behavior is distracting, uncomfortable and inappropriate in this setting. The young man stopped attending classes shortly after that, and we were 100% satisfied with the outcome. We would rather lose one customer than have several people feeling uncomfortable.

Steps to take if you experience creeping or other harassment at your gym or class:

1) Report the incident to the instructor/manager. Ask if they have a harassment policy. If not, be clear about what you would like to see happen from this action. “Will someone from the gym please talk to this person and ask him not to stare at other members? Please let me know when that conversation has happened.”

If the behavior continues…

2) Try again. “You know, on (date of last complaint) someone told me they would address this situation. Did that happen? I’m still experiencing harassment and that’s not something I should have to deal with as a paying customer.”

If the behavior continues…

3) Last chance. “I’ve now complained twice about this issue and it has not been resolved. If this is not addressed I will be leaving this gym (and telling everyone I know exactly why I left).”

OR you could take the shortcut and deal directly with the creeper.

“Hey! Stop staring at me.”

 

 

 

Sexual Harassment By Customers: What to Say

26 Sep

I read through the search terms that bring readers to my site, and the majority of searches on harassment had to do with situations where the customer or guest at work is the harasser, especially when that person is drunk.

I addressed the legal aspects of dealing with workplace harassment (including the employer’s responsibilities) in an earlier post, but I want to give some specific ideas about what you can say and do in the moment if a customer is harassing you at work.

Clearly state that the behavior is unwelcome and inappropriate.

This can be as simple as, “That was really disrespectful and/or inappropriate. Please don’t do/say that again.” Or just, “It’s not ok for you to do/say that to me.”

You can also state that enduring harassment is not part of your job description:

“My job is to serve drinks, not to let you slap me on the ass.”

Stand by what you have said in an assertive (not aggressive) way.

What most women fear is the response they will get from a harasser once they have taken a stance. The key is to stick to a professional tone and keep your emotions on the back burner if possible. Stand tall, make full (even if it makes you feel very uncomfortable), and speak in a clear, calm voice. It’s natural to feel emotional and stressed in a situation like this, but you want to fake composure until the encounter is over. Remember to take full, even breaths. That slows the stress response.

Potential responses and how to deal with them:

1)      They are embarrassed and they apologize. In this case, I think it is nice to reward their good behavior with a smile and friendly attitude or a “thank you” for the apology.

2)      They are embarrassed and resent you for making them feel uncomfortable so they retaliate with a condescending but “humorous” attitude. Ex: “Oh, she’s feisty. Hey everyone (they often try to draw attention of supporters to feel like big men again), look at this chick. She’s serious. She can’t take a compliment.” In this case I would stand very firm and repeat the initial position, adding a potential consequence. “It’s not a compliment and it’s not funny. I’m sorry you feel embarrassed, but that still does not mean you can treat me with disrespect. I’ve been perfectly professional with you. Do I need to have a male coworker/manager take care of you today? I’ll go arrange that.”

3)      They turn mean and nasty. This is a scary one, but remember that you are relatively safe in a public place. Remember if they hurl slurs like “slut”, “bitch” or “dyke”—it’s not about you. If they use a threatening tone or especially threatening words like, “You think this is bad?” or “Maybe you need to learn how to (fill in the blank that means ‘be submissive to men’),” then you should leave as soon as possible. I would say, “Now you are taking a threatening tone. I’m going to get my manager.” If you feel you are in danger, I would ask the supervisor to call the police.

If they are drunk, the same protocol applies. The important thing to remember with a drunk creeper is that they no longer register subtle hints. You need to be extra clear, sometimes using a very firm voice and often repeating yourself. Drunk people can be dangerous, so keep them just outside of grabbing distance.

Other posts you might find useful: How to Be Polite Without Inviting Unwanted Attention

Does anyone have any tips or tricks they’ve used to deal with this situation? I’d love to hear your comments!

Men Who Want To Protect Women

15 Jun

Most fathers, brothers, boyfriends and more are good men who respect and care about the women and girls in their lives. Many of these men feel protective of these women and girls, and I can understand why. The world is not a very good place for women in a lot of ways. 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.

I’m concerned, however, that some men may have some poorly informed ideas about how to best support the safety, comfort and happiness of the women and girls they love.

Threatening, intimidating or fighting bad people doesn’t help women.

Often it’s just a joke, but sometimes it’s more serious. The sentiment of “If anyone messes with you I’ll mess him up!” is not only misguided, but could cause more harm than good.

1) Telling a woman that she essentially needs a bodyguard sends her the message that she is a victim who can’t take care of herself and is deeply disempowering, not to mention insulting.

2) Violence and posturing are the problems here, not the solutions.

3) Often the best way to stand up for someone is to help them stand up for themselves. My mother recently moved to Texas and several women there told her, “Oh I don’t need to learn self defense– my husband has a gun!” Her response: “Where is your husband right now?”

Instead of saying, “I’ll protect you,” try things like, “I”ll stand by you if you need to tell that guy off” and “No, you’re not overreacting. He has no right to treat you like that.”

Warning women or girls to distrust men or to live in fear detracts from their quality of life.

Women don’t need to change how we dress or where we go in order to protect ourselves. Over 90% of violent crime is committed by men. Those men are the ones who need to change their behavior.

Rather than warning women or girls “what guys are like” or “how some guys think”, men who care about women should spend that time and effort talking to other men about how to respect women and how not to commit sexual violence.

Women: Expecting the men in your life to protect you is dangerous for everyone involved.

While women and children are most often the victims of sexual assault, men are much more often victims of violence in general. Women are taught to avoid conflict in our society, while men are taught that “a real man doesn’t back down from a fight.” That’s how a lot of men get hurt.

I would not want or expect any man in my life to take a punch for me, any more than I would want to take a punch myself. I write mainly about keeping women safe, but honestly one of the biggest social lessons a man can learn to keep himself safe is to avoid conflict. Repeat after me: “Hey man, I don’t want to fight.”

Tips for everyone to protect your loved ones:

-Don’t laugh at sexist, hateful or. If you can, confront the joker about why it’s not funny.

-If someone you know feels unsafe, don’t brush off their feelings. Encourage them to get out of that situation in their own way.

-Understand the warning signs of and .

-Recognize that nobody “asks for it” when they are raped or sexually assaulted. , including children.

-Empower your loved ones. Don’t let them underestimate themselves or put themselves down. Build their confidence by believing in them even when they don’t believe in themselves.

SlutWalk Chicago Highlights

7 Jun

The Women’s Movement is BACK, baby! What an exciting day.

For those of you who have not yet heard about SlutWalk events popping up all over the world, these are marches protesting sexual violence and particularly the use of slut-shaming and victim blaming to justify sexual violence, rather than holding perpetrators accountable. Yes, there has been some controversy. See my previous post or Jessica Valenti’s wonderful Washington Post for more information on the debate around SlutWalk. See this for more on the ideology behind the Chicago event.

Ok, so while the weather reports warned of thunderstorms, thousands of protesters of all ages, races, body-types, backgrounds and genders gathered in Thompson Plaza in Chicago on Saturday, June 4 to march against sexual violence, against victim blaming, against slut-shaming and FOR women’s rights. The weather stayed sunny– and HOT– and it made me wish I was as scantily clad as some of the other activists around me. Yes, some were in lingerie, bikinis, and short skirts– people were dressed in all different ways, including at least one woman who marched in a hijab. I wore jeans (a very sweaty mistake) and a t-shirt reading “ASKING is the first thing I do with my mouth”. Others used bare skin as their message board to the world, writing things like, “This is not an invitation to rape me” or, more simply:

This woman was very nice. We chatted about sunscreen after the march.

Here are some things that I found really exciting about SlutWalk Chicago:

1) Holy MEN, Batman! There were tons of them, and they led cheers in booming voices that went a little something like this: “Gay, Straight, Black, White! All unite for women’s rights!” Heart-warming.

2) We ran into the Avon Walk For The Cure and sisterly love abounded!

We loved each other! Sisterhood!!

3) There were kids at the march.

Her sister's sign read, "I DARE U TO CALL ME ONE."

4) I wish I had caught this on video: A bus driver saw us, read our signs, beeped a funky rhythm and fist-pump danced at us until her light turned green. We fist-pumped right  back. It was awesome.

5) Most polite protestors ever. Sample conversations:

“Oh, excuse me! I didn’t mean to invade your space!” “You’re fine!” *warm smiles*

“May I take your photo? I love your signs!” “Sure!” “Thank you!” “You’re welcome!”

Speaking of signs, there were some great ones! I give you the beautiful, strong messengers of SlutWalk:

Blurry but I love it: "Just because I have BIG TITS doesn't mean I want to FUCK YOU!" Say it, sister!

Chanting: "Hey hey! Ho ho! Sexual violence has got to go!"

Powerful. "Nobody asked me what my rapist wore." This sign struck me the most deeply.

Haha I LOVE this one! Summing up the sex-positive messaging in SlutWalk.

Yeah, we've had ENOUGH!

No more victim blaming!

After the march we heard speakers, slam poets, and even a (hilarious) ! (My frequent readers know how I love female comedians…)

Other highlights of the speeches, for me, were from the Chicago Metro YWCA with her “chat-sy about consent” which we could start practicing now “or, you know, forevs” as well as an organizer (whose name I didn’t catch- did you? Let me know!) from the . Emily’s talk was empowering, silly and sexy as she discussed my favorite topic: consent! From SWOP, I learned a lot about how sex workers face additional challenges from law enforcement in reporting rape, and also that many cities have or are considering creating laws that would allow law enforcement to assume a person was soliciting based solely on what she is wearing and where she is standing. Alarming!

I was too tired to attend the after party and after-after-party, so I got a Slurpie (7-11s everywhere in Chicago!) and took a nap. It was a sexy fun day, and I ran into some organizers planning to bring SlutWalk to my hometown of Madison! Stay tuned for more info on that as it becomes available.

I’d love to hear your comments/questions! And remember:

“Women’s rights under attack? What do we do?

STAND UP! FIGHT BACK!”

On SlutWalks And Sisterhood

13 May

Slutwalks, Sisterhood and Safety: Divided We Fall

I am relatively new to Twitter, and my head is SPINNING following the discussion around #slutwalks.

The Background: What is a SlutWalk?

In January 2011, a Toronto police officer addressed law students at a safety presentation saying “You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here. I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Although he after a massive public outcry, his comments are part of a larger problem—1) That people mistakenly believe that rape has anything to do with what the victim is wearing, 2) That victims are routinely blamed for crimes committed against them while perpetrators are routinely defended and 3) That we as a society have consistently used words like ‘slut’ to shame women and attempt to control female sexuality to ever-changing standards of what is seen by whoever speaks loudest as ‘normal’ and ‘appropriate’.

In response to these issues, activists   on April 3, 2011 in the first SlutWalk, an international movement. Many activists have identified SlutWalk as an updated version of (TBTN) rallies.

TBTN marches (since the first in Philadelphia in 1975) demand an end to rape, so that the streets and the night will be safe for all. Many in the sexual assault prevention field have criticized TBTN as out of date because we now know that the VAST majority (75-85%) of sexual assault is perpetrated by someone the victim knows, often in a home and often involving alcohol use on the part of the perpetrator and/or the victim. The scenario rarely involves a strange attacker jumping out of the shadows.

SlutWalks, in contrast, aim to communicate that rape is part of a rape culture– and that culture needs to change. More specifically, a culture that says that women who dress “a certain way” are “asking for it”. A culture in which the media reports on what an 11-year-old girl was wearing at the time of her gang rape, and adds how difficult the aftermath was for the perpetrators and their families.  A culture that perpetuates the idea that men are animals with no self control who can’t and won’t hear the word no if a woman is ‘dressed like a slut’ because she is too attractive or, more accurately, because she is not worthy of respect.

Since the recent , in which Jaclyn Friedman gave a truly poetic and inspiring which is quickly becoming a part of the history of this movement, there has been a backlash against SlutWalks as a form of activism, including from some feminists.

The Controversy: Why SlutWalks make many people uncomfortable

1)      Some people think SlutWalks are meant to encourage ‘sluttiness’

First of all, that is not the point of SlutWalks. The point, as one protester’s sign put it so well, is that “Sluts don’t cause rape. Rapists do.” The point is, when women get dressed to go for a date or to go have fun with their friends, they shouldn’t have to think to themselves, “Hmm, if I wear this, will people disrespect, harass and assault me?” Rather, they should think, “What do I feel good wearing?” regardless of whether or not their particular brand of personal expression is seen as acceptable by others.

Secondly, this plays into what activists refer to as ‘slut-shaming’, which Jaclyn Friedman denounces so beautifully. “Because the secret truth nobody wants you to know is that, using nearly any definition, there’s nothing wrong with being a slut. Not a thing. It’s OK to like sex … And as long as you’re ensuring your partner’s enthusiastic consent, and acting on your own sexual desires, not just acting out what you think someone else expects of you? There’s not a damn thing wrong with it.”

2)      Some feminists take issue with the word ‘slut’

I don’t think everyone involved in SlutWalks agrees on this point, but some have stated they want to reclaim or take back the word ‘slut’. Many feminists, myself included, do not believe that it is possible to reclaim words in this way, because you can’t reclaim what was never yours to begin with. Slut is a derogatory word with no male equivalent that has been systematically used to justify violence of all kinds. On the other hand, it is a word that gets people all riled up—and hey, there’s no such thing as bad press! Many activists argue that using such an incendiary word brings energy to the movement, and on this point I believe they are correct. How else did the fire spread so quickly? There are SlutWalks being organized all over the world right now. It’s been less than 2 months since the first event was organized and young activists can’t get enough. Some people may be upset, but the point is to raise awareness of the issue and boy, has it got people talking!

3)      Some people think that women only ‘dress like sluts’ because they think that is the only way to get attention and love, because they have poor self esteem, because they have been brainwashed by the media, etc.

This is not about why women dress the way they do. It’s about women’s right to dress however they wish without fearing harassment and violence. Also, I think it would be an incredibly arrogant for anyone to make the assumption that they know about a person’s inner desires based on how they dress.

4)      Some people are offended when women are not appropriately ashamed of their bodies and sexuality.

I don’t know what to say to these people other than, “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

SO. This is the Twitter storm I have been following for the past week, and I’m getting so dizzy, I feel a little sick. Here’s why.

As well-known young feminist and writer Jessica Valenti asked during the : “Why don’t you spend more time attacking rape culture instead of young feminist activism?”

Indeed, anti-SlutWalk feminists and do seem to be quick to come down on the free expression of other women on this one… While I may agree that Wente and Dines may be missing the point from up there on their high horses—can’t we just agree to disagree?

I understand why activists are bristling at seeing their movement twisted in the media by those who would probably be better off doing some supportive shrugging and saying, “Hey, it’s not my thing and I don’t quite agree with the messaging, but good for them for getting young people engaged in raising awareness of sexual assault and double standards!” What I don’t understand is why the response to opposing viewpoints has often been catty and downright mean.

I’m reading posts and tweets that criticize others for making assumptions in one breath, and go on to make assumptions about that person in the next. I’d like to see some more sisterhood at play here. I’d like to see young activists reaching out to SlutWalk-opposed feminists and say, “Hey, I’m sorry you disagree with our activist expression, but I respect you for working to support women in your own way. It’s a free country and women have been silenced enough without us trying to silence you for disagreeing. Thanks for stirring up debate and upping our press coverage. Peace, sister!”

Because ever since the inception of the women’s movement, women have struggled to stand united. We’ve got more differences that we do similarities, as a group. The women’s movement struggled to include lesbians and women of color and working class women. Now it struggles to include both women who think women can dress however they want and use whatever words they want, and women who think there should be boundaries in how we dress and speak. All these women agree on equality and a woman’s right to live free from violence.

United we stand, divided we fall. Let’s get it together, sisters.

And for those of you in my neck of the woods, join me at on June 4! Stay tuned for photos and more from the event.

How To Be Polite Without Inviting Unwanted Attention

2 May

You know the scenario well. You are going about your business– maybe waiting at a bus stop, maybe working out at the gym, maybe buying a drink at a bar—and you see (or feel) him coming a mile away: the creeper. Maybe this is a random creeper. Maybe this is a creeper you deal with regularly. The point is, you have no desire to enter into conversation with this person but he is not reading the signs you are sending. The situation is uncomfortable and embarrassing at a minimum, intimidating and worrisome at worst. What do you do? You don’t want to be rude, so maybe you try to let him down gently. When that doesn’t work, maybe you make an excuse to leave, or say as little as possible and avoid eye contact hoping he’ll take the hint and just go away.

This is one of the most commonly raised issues in my women’s self defense classes. We as women have largely been raised to be polite, to put the needs of others before our own, and to avoid confrontation (or else be condemned forever to wear the scarlet B!). My mother (Mary Murphy Edwards: 7th degree black belt/co-founder of SAFE Class/totally wise and powerful woman!) always used to say about politeness:

“If you are a kind, polite person—that is a strength! You are a good person for being considerate of others. Because you are a good person, you deserve to feel safe and comfortable!”

Creepers recognize your body language. Listen to your gut: If it feels creepy, it IS creepy! Creeping is an aggressive act. This person is entering your physical and social space uninvited and ignoring your signs that they are not welcome.

The answer is shockingly simple: Ask for what you want! You can do it as politely as you please. “Excuse me, I came here to work out so, unless you have a specific question about the gym facilities, I’d thank you to let me get back to it.” Or… “Wow, as you can see, I’m with my child right now and I teach him/her not to talk to strangers. I’m sure you can understand why I need to set the example right now. Have a nice day!” Or… “Oh, gee, that was a pretty good line! Unfortunately I’m not at all interested in talking to you right now, so in the interest of saving us both some time and awkwardness, I’m going to smile and walk away. Oh, and please don’t follow me. Thanks!”

Ok I’m getting a little silly here, but seriously– if you can’t leave or don’t want to leave, you need to ask the creeper to leave you alone.  Here are some specific strategies:

1)      I think ___, I feel ___, I want ___.

Ex: “ I think you are standing way too close to me. I feel uncomfortable and I want you to leave me alone now.”

2)      Name the behavior.

Ex: “I see that you are trying to come on to me, but I’m not interested. Bye!”

3)      “No” as a complete sentence.

Ex: “No.” (If they persist: “I said no and my answer is not going to change, no matter what you say, so please leave me alone now.”)

Workplace Harassment: Not Our Job to Tolerate It

6 Mar

Workplace harassment can be arguably one of the trickiest situations for women to deal with. It may be hard to recognize, and women often perceive negative consequences for taking action against it. Worse, many women come to feel that harassment is a normal part of the working experience– something we all have to get used to or put up with. Just part of the job.

Women should not be expected to endure sexual harassment from their employers, coworkers or customers in order to be successful in the working world. It is wrong, and yes– it is illegal.

The website has some great information about sexual harassment at work.

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.The legal definition of sexual harassment is “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is severe or pervasive and affects working conditions or creates a hostile work environment.”

Unfortunately, this definition does not include one-time instances unless they are “severe” (ex: rape). It does, however, include harassment that may not be “sexual” per se but rather gender based discrimination. This could include sabotaging the work of female employees in a male-dominated work setting, for example.

The federal law against sexual harassment in the workplace is . State laws vary. Legally, not only are employers required to protect employees from sexual harassment, but they are prohibited from retaliation should an employee make a complaint. That means if your employer attempts to fire or otherwise punish you for speaking out about your experience of workplace sexual harassment, they are punishable by law.

A great way to protect yourself is to inquire about your employer’s sexual harassment policies immediately upon applying for or accepting a new job. Employers should have written policies that dictate how they will respond to incidents of harassment. If they do not, you could suggest that they write them or offer to help get that project started. Be sure to note policies regarding sexual harassment by customers, which employers are also required to protect against by law. As an employer, I can speak to the fact that the happiness and safety of employees is central to the success of a business. I would rather lose one customer than have that person creating problems for employees or other customers.

What to do if you experience sexual harassment in your workplace:

1. Clearly state that the behavior is unwelcome, unwanted and inappropriate.

2. Document the incident in writing in as much detail as possible (including witnesses and, if possible, their accounts of what happened).

3. Report the incident to your superior in writing to create a paper trail, and follow the policies set forth by your employer for dealing with incidents of sexual harassment.

4. If these steps do not remedy the situation, it may be time to take legal action.

I think it is also important to address the social nature of the workplace. I have had many women express to me in self defense classes that they feel uncomfortable confronting employers or coworkers about harassment because it could create an awkward social situation. This is what I have to say to that: If someone is harassing you at work, they have created an awkward situation! If they feel embarrassed when you confront them– good! They should feel embarrassed and ashamed! Why would you worry about making someone feel uncomfortable when that person has already made you feel not only uncomfortable, but potentially unsafe? Exactly. The harassment is the problem. Confronting the harasser is the solution.

Finally, many women have a problematic habit of doubting themselves when other people disrespect them. I hear a lot of “Well, maybe he’s just trying to be nice,” or “I could just be overreacting.” Just because sexual harassment and gender discrimination is such a common experience that many of us have gotten used to it does not make it any less serious of a problem. Let me put it this way– as a general rule, if someone is bothering you enough that you are having a conversation with yourself in your head in which you need to justify their behavior, their behavior was probably inappropriate.

Do they know that they behaved inappropriately? Maybe, maybe not. Should it be your job to inform them of what constitutes appropriate behavior? No, it really shouldn’t. Should you have that talk with them anyway? Yeah, I’d recommend it. Even if this person rejects what you have to say, you still take back your power in the act of saying it.

Anyone have stories of standing up to harassment? I’d love to hear your comments!

Sisterhood– There’s Safety in Numbers

21 Feb

I wanted to write about sisterhood, because it is very important to me. When I teach women’s self defense, this subject always comes up. Some of the most dangerous situations for women– emotionally and physically– are social situations. Parties, bars/clubs, work. These are the places where women face harassment and intimidation on a regular basis. In a world where women are bombarded with attacks of many kinds (disrespect, invasion of personal space, objectification, unrealistic body ideals, etc.), sisterhood is one of the most dependable defenses we have.

When I was in college, I was standing outside a party once with some of my girlfriends. We were chatting and sort of dancing to the music we could still hear coming from inside the house. Out of nowhere, this giant drunk creeper stumbled towards me with a creepy look and a “Heeeey…” I was not interested in talking to him and I know how that song and dance goes so I calmly replied, “You know, I’m talking with my girlfriends right now. I’m not interested.” He stepped closer and slurred, “But you were moving your hips…” I put my hand up and stepped back saying, “Yes, I was, and that was not an invitation of any kind.” He looked confused for a moment, then when he realized what had just happened he said, “BITCH,” and turned to walk away. Before I had time to process what he had said, one of my most petite friends busted out of our group to confront him. She tilted her face all the way up to look at him (he was literally 3 times her size) and she full out screamed in his face, “How DARE you speak to her like that?! She was PERFECTLY POLITE to you! You should be ASHAMED of yourself!! GET OUT OF HERE!!!” His eyes just about bugged out of his head and he looked at all of us looking at him and then he took her advice and got out of there. I may have had my physical safety under control, but my sister took care of me emotionally in that moment.

Another wonderful friend of mine moved to New York to teach, and she told me that one of the things she missed most about home were her girlfriends. One night she was out with some of her female coworkers at a bar and she had to brush off a creeper who, on top of the usual creepy stuff, said something really racist to her. Not only did the other women fail to stand up for her, but one of them started flirting with the creeper saying things like, “I don’t know what her problem is.”

What a difference. If my friend had said to me, “Wow, you were kind of bitchy to him,” instead of telling him off, how would I have felt? Unfortunately women still do this to each other. What is stopping us from forming sisterhood?

As I got thinking (and talking with some of my sisters) I realized it can be difficult to put your finger on exactly what sisterhood means. I Googled it, and most of the results had to do with or . These books (later movies) as well as the HBO series do seem to capture that intangible spirit of sisterhood. But that form of supportive female friendship is what one of my friends called sisterhood “with a little ‘s’.” Sisterhood with a big “S” has to do with Sexism with a big “S”. This has to do with systemic structures of inequality, not individual interactions.

Me with some of my fab soul sisters

So what does Sisterhood mean?

I’ve learned a lot about sisterhood from girlfriends like the ones in the stories above. I turned to some of my oldest friends for advice as I was drafting this post, and as usual they had some brilliant things to say. In particular, my dear who taught me not to use the B word questioned making a distinction between the big “S” and little “s”:

To me, they’re absolutely intertwined – the impulse to be kind to a friend or go out to lunch with a group of women IS about solidarity and it does fly in the face of sexist societal structures that tell us we can’t/shouldn’t trust each other, that other women are bitchy and we should turn to our boyfriends for truly fulfilling companionship. I mean, the personal is political, right?

The kind of female friendship represented by Sex and the City or any of those other cultural examples has deep roots in history, and when women carve out a safe physical and emotional sphere together, it leads to systemic change. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were best friends; they spent hours writing letters and discussing strategy while Susan changed Elizabeth’s babies. The consciousness raising circles of the second wave womens’ movement started as bridge clubs and book groups. I talked to a group of 80 year old women from the Dane County League of Women Voters who told me they originally joined the movement because it gave them a chance to talk to adults, to other women, during the day while they stayed home with their kids. So for my money, kinship among women is revolutionary on a systemic level, even more so today when we’re inundated with reality TV depicting “catfighting” and stories of women trying to tear each other down.

The that best describes what I’m after here is:

The solidarity of women based on shared conditions, experiences or concerns.

Now that is interesting. Solidarity. I happen to be located in Madison, WI and working 5 blocks down from the capitol in the middle of probably the largest and most historic we’ve seen here since the .

50,000 people protested outside the capitol

It has brought tens of thousands of people to the capitol day and night for the past eight days (today is day nine). My younger sister, actually, has slept in the capitol every night since this thing started. She’s an organizer. Anyway, people are calling this an “ideological war” or a “war on working families.” It is pretty bad out there. Understandably, people are upset, so they have banded together in solidarity to do something about it. I’ve been to the capitol for the protests, and it is truly amazing to see the sheer numbers.

Protestors at the Wisconsin capitol

Meanwhile, many journalists and bloggers are commenting on a that is happening at the same time. Even worker’s rights in Wisconsin has been called a In other news, the House of Representatives just voted to cut funding for , which, in addition to family planning services, offers preventative health care to millions of women who would otherwise be unable to afford it. (No federal funding goes towards abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or immediate danger to the mother.) It is in the hands of the Senate now.

Let me just be clear, before continuing, that I am not trying to make any sort of political statement about abortion. Planned Parenthood is an organization that focuses primarily on providing information and resources that prevent unwanted pregnancy. No unwanted pregnancy, no abortion. Yes, some clinics do provide abortion services but that is a very small part of what they do as an organization. They educate people to make informed decisions about their bodies, they provide access to contraception, and they provide check ups and preventative health care like STI and cancer screenings. I don’t think I’m being overly political when I say that Planned Parenthood is an organization that has devoted 90 years to protecting women’s health and safety and, as a woman, I like to know they are here for us.

Are women hitting the streets? Are we even our US senators? Do we recognize that even if we don’t use Planned Parenthood’s services, that we have “shared experiences, conditions or concerns” with women who do, just by the nature of being women? Flying in the face of this kind of Sisterhood, I know of at least who is working to tear Planned Parenthood down. Lila Rose is a 22-year-old anti-abortion activist who has led a smear campaign against the organization. I understand being opposed to abortion. I don’t understand throwing millions of women under the bus to further your own ideology. Especially from another woman.

When I was younger I would have hated that woman. Honestly, I have to fight the instinct now. One thing I have learned about Sisterhood is that part of it means not turning against other women, even when they do things you really don’t agree with or understand. That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree or fight for what you believe in. It just means that it’s important to have compassion for other women, no matter how different they may seem, because at the end of the day you and she face a lot of the exact same experiences. I try to have compassion for women with whom I disagree, like Lila Rose. I only wish she would have more compassion for the women and families who will be left with no back up plan if Planned Parenthood is destroyed.

I guess I have to end this the way I started it– with questions. What would the women who fought for our rights throughout history think of us today? Women came together over one issue after another to fight for the common good. When I look at the shockingly high rates of sexual assault against women in this country, I know the fight is not over. But where is the Sisterhood? Why is “feminism” a dirty word? Why do women disbelieve other women who report rape? Why do women call other women words that are designed to keep women down? I’d like to see women come together again around issues that affect us all. Poverty, racism, homophobia, domestic violence, etc.– If it affects some women, it affects all women. Why? Because we are sisters. So let’s act like it.

Self Defense and “The B Word”

10 Feb

So much of self defense involves standing up for ourselves in social situations when that creeper won’t leave us alone. Can you guess the reasons why women often don’t?

  • “I don’t want to be mean.” (You’re not being mean, he is.)
  • “I don’t want to be rude.” (You’re not being rude, he is.)
  • “I don’t want to create an awkward situation.” (…You see where I”m going with this.)

All these answers and more boil down to a deeper issue that most women don’t want to say out loud:

“I don’t want to be a bitch.”

Now, why would a woman fear being a bitch when she could in the same moment fear being disrespected, intimidated and having her space invaded? I’ll tell you exactly why. Because when you draw a firm boundary with a creeper that says, “No, you are not welcome in my space,” he will either leave with his tail between his legs OR your worst fears will be confirmed. His charm will evaporate, his face will contort, he will look at you like you are a cockroach and he will spit, “BITCH!” right in your face. Even worse, he may start announcing this to anyone who will listen. “Look at that bitch over there…”

When this happens, if you are not prepared for it, you will feel your heart drop into your stomach. Your skin will crawl and you will want to disappear. It is a horrible feeling, which is why most women will do anything to avoid it.

Do not despair! You can defend yourself from the B word, and, in case this wasn’t made clear: You are NOT a bitch.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” She was a smart lady. She’s pretty much beat me to my whole point in one powerful thought… but since you asked– I’ll elaborate.

“Bitch” in a self defense context is code for: “You won, and being beat by a girl is bad for my macho reputation.”

Keeping this in mind, consider the following.

3 Reasons You Should Not Feel Bad That Creeper Called You a Bitch:

  1. This word has nothing to do with you. It’s about him. He’s embarrassed and he’s lashing out.  You could be the sweetest, nicest person in the universe and this jerk would say the same thing.
  2. By flatly refusing to internalize his attempt to put you down, you win FOREVER. That was the best shot he had at making you feel bad, and if that didn’t work, he’s got nothin’. Plus, you know already that he feels bad if he’s resorting to the B word, so win-win for you!
  3. You ditched the creeper– sweet! The main point is, this guy was creeping you out. Now he’s peaced out with no harm done to you, so long as you remember Eleanor’s advice.  All things considered, that was pretty easy.

Now that you’ve thought about how damaging this word can be to women even to the point of keeping them in physical danger, I hope you will consider one more step in taking this power out of oppressive hands. Please consider dropping the B word from your vocabulary when it comes to other women. Sisterhood is still powerful. Why would we use the oppressor’s tools against our sisters? He’s doing a fine job keeping us down without our help.

If you are a woman and you go out dancing, you will likely feel the need to watch your back– literally.

The scene: You are dancing at a bar or club with your friends, having a great time, when all of a sudden you feel someone has creeped up behind you. A man is “grinding” his, ahem, pelvis, into your, ahem, rear end. Sound awkward? Alarming? Disgusting? That’s because it is!! And this happens more than you might think.

Just yesterday I overheard a conversation between two young women describing exactly this.

“…Yeah, we were having so much fun dancing! But then this creepy 40 year old man came up behind me and started grinding on me– well, actually I didn’t see him because I wasn’t gonna turn around and be like, ’Hello!?’, but then my friends pulled me away so it was ok…”

Two main points stand out to me about this.

First, I’ll address the men (and some lesbians, you know who you are):

It is NOT OKAY to touch someone without their consent. It is NOT SEXY to have a stranger “grind” on you without your consent. Finally, GRINDING IS NOT DANCING, and although it can be fun, you should probably get to know someone before you grind your junk on them. Call me crazy.

If you want to impress/charm/romance a woman, or even if you just want to get a woman to notice you, the above strategy is not the way to go. You need to learn how to do 2 things: 1) Dance and 2) ASK someone to dance. Just as I was getting worked up this dancing issue, I was fortunate enough to chat with one of my best friends who had a refreshingly different experience. This young man who she has been flirting with was at a show with her, and he walked up to her and he said, “Do you want to dance?” What a man. He won BIG points for that one. And then, if this wasn’t clear, they danced. They did not “grind”. Don’t know how to dance? Take a class or learn from a friend you trust. It’s a natural form of human expression, and anyone can do it.

Now for the women:

It’s not your fault that men are doing this these days, and we shouldn’t have to constantly be on guard, but if this happens to you (and it can happen to anyone, it has happened to me many times), you have the tools to address the situation.

Remember the woman I overheard? “…well, actually because I wasn’t gonna turn around and be like, ’Hello!?’…”

My question to her– why not? What’s the worst that could happen if you turn around and say, “Hello!?”

This shouldn’t be our responsibility, and I wish things were different, but as it is– if you do nothing when a man does this to you, he learns the lesson that it is okay for him to do this to women because there are no consequences of any kind and his little friend gets some over the pants action out of the deal. Now he will go on to do this to other women, because it worked out pretty well for him the first time.

More importantly, how does it feel to stand there and let this happen? My guess is it leaves a lot of women feeling helpless, embarrassed, disgusted, and more. Can you imagine a different reality? What if it looked a little more like this?

Man creeps up behind for an anonymous grind.

Woman: (turns and makes eye contact) “Excuse me?! Do I know you? Don’t you know it is extremely rude to touch someone without asking?!” (walk away)

Personally, I just give ‘em a sharp elbow/eye contact/”Back OFF, buddy!”. Every person is different. To each her own. So think about what seems most natural to you, and if it seems scary to try in real life, practice it in your head or even out loud until you feel confident about what you would say in this situation.

Remember, if someone touches you without your consent and makes you feel creeped out, that is a RED FLAG, even if the person seems attractive in other ways. You can do better. Hold out for the one who asks you to dance.


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