I didn’t want to write this post. I have been putting off writing this post for the better part of a year now. But it’s something that I need to address–not just for myself personally, but for people in general.
As a culture, for some reason we seem to have come to the conclusion that it is okay to make sexual comments about people we don’t know, simply because it’s the internet and they cannot see us. And because of this we either seem to think that they also cannot hear us, or that if they can hear us they obviously must feel the same.
I am here, today, to tell you that the people to whom you’re speaking do not feel the same. Ever. And we can hear you.
I’ll admit, I have made comments online about finding celebrities attractive before. I’m not completely innocent in this. But never is it in such a way that it implies I’d like to partake in certain activities with them. It is simply a statement that I have eyes and therefore, yes, I can see that Random Celebrity Dude happens to have nice hair or whatever. It’s a compliment like you’d give a friend. Nothing more.
The moment you move past this type of comment to one that does imply you’d like to partake in certain activities (or even outright states this intent), your comment stops being a friendly compliment and becomes something else entirely: harassment.
As a Google search reveals:
noun: sexual harassment
- harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.
Harassment is strangely commonplace in our society. I know very few people–women or men–who have never been harassed in one way or another. Which is weird, because I’d like to believe that the majority of us are decent enough human beings not to harass other human beings. Which means that it’s a minority of the population making things suck for the rest of us.
I didn’t even realize I was a victim until recently, because things of the magnitude of what have happened online thankfully have yet to happen to me in person and I don’t directly think about them often. But the other day I was debating between wearing a skirt or pair of jeans to class, and I chose the jeans because they felt safer, just in case. And it occurred to me that I didn’t make decisions that way this time last year. Which means that, even if I don’t directly linger on the things men have said to me in comments I’ve deleted on my blog, Facebook page, Youtube channels, etc.–that does not change the fact that their actions have negatively impacted my own, leaving me insecure and nervous and scared.
I live in a first world country in the twenty first century. I should not have to choose what I wear out of fear that the comments men make about my body online will spread into more than comments, in real life, as well.
And yes, you can argue that harassment is not nearly as bad a problem as assault or abuse are, and from many standpoints, that’s true. I don’t want to even imagine the sorts of things those victims go through. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that harassment also leaves its own carnage behind, and a lot of the time harassment is actually just the beginning–it, itself, leads to assault and abuse.
They’re ultimately three parts of the same problem. And no matter what you tell yourself–no matter how much I’d like to believe ignoring it will make it go away–it is a problem. And it’s not going away.
Harassers make you feel helpless. Like no matter what you say or do, it is beyond your power to make them stop. They make you feel like they have a greater right to treat you like an object created for their own personal amusement than you do, yourself, to your privacy and dignity. They make you feel less than human.
If posting pictures of myself online means I’m “asking for it” (which, by the way, is victim blaming and also wrong), then honestly–I’ll stop, because although it sucks, I’d rather be safe. But it’s not like I go around handing out photos of myself in a bikini. I am always fully-clothed. I have discussed, on multiple occasions, the fact that I live with very firm moral standards that include waiting until marriage. I’ve previously turned down acting opportunities because they were out of my comfort zone, when by society’s standards they weren’t even “that bad,” and I do not go to frat parties, or clubbing, or anything else of the sort–because although those activities are perfectly fine if you want to participate in them, they aren’t me.
And the people who do partake in those activities do not deserve harassment anymore than anyone else does. Which is to say that they don’t deserve harassment at all. Because no one does.
Probably the saddest thing in all of this is that part of the reason I have been putting off writing this post for so long is because I didn’t want it to reflect poorly on me. I didn’t want possible future employers to look me up online and find some “complain-y” blog post about sexual harassment, and I didn’t want to make people who somehow get off on harassing to look at this as the perfect excuse to go after me, and I didn’t want this to come to define me any more than it already, on an intimate level, does. Because it’s a bad thing that’s out of my control. And I want my feelings of self and self-worth to be defined by good things that I’ve done for myself, like doing well in school and having fun with my friends and writing stories that I can be proud of.
But I shouldn’t have to worry about those things that held me back from writing this post for so long. The fact that I had to worry about those things is part of the problem.
When it all comes down to it, this is what you need to remember: I might not be a minor anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still a kid. And even if I wasn’t, that does not give you the right to come on to someone who has given you no reason to believe she’d want you to.
I’m not some distant celebrity who will never have to see your comments. Not that you should make sexual comments about those people either, but I’m just an aspiring author who has public social media accounts because when you’re in this industry, that’s what you need in order to give yourself the opportunity for success. Which means that I maintain all these accounts personally.
I am the one who reads your comments: Me. A human being.
And yes. I enjoy blogging and sharing pictures and updating everyone on my thoughts and life. But when I get comments about how I should take my clothes off, they don’t make me want to follow through with those requests. They make me want to snuggle up with my mom and never go outside or on the internet ever, ever again. And they make me scared to continue creating content, because the creation of content also leads to the secondhand creation of random people feeling like it is their right to say disgusting things. Which isn’t fair, because this is my job.
In any social exchange, two people are involved: you and the person to whom you’re speaking. And if you’re a middle-aged man telling a nineteen year old girl that she’s sexy, you aren’t just saying something about the girl, but yourself too. Having respect for other people is important, but it’s also important to have respect for yourself. Don’t be that person.
If you want to say I look pretty or something, simply as a compliment between friends (because I really do think of my readers as friends), that’s fine. I’m obviously not going to complain about people not thinking I’m ugly. But it’s a fine line between that and going too far. The highest compliment you can give another human being is respect.
Educate yourself. Respect yourself. And respect others.
We’re all in this thing together. Let’s make it good, okay?