It seems a week doesn't go by without some story disturbing story surfacing about senseless violence or harassment of women. Like the mass shooting in Santa Barbara shocked the nation. We wateched, collectively horrified by yet another mass killing spree.
National debate ensued on the familiar topics of gun control and mental health. While access to guns and mental health issues are common themes in the wake of such tragic events, this incident had a different twist. The misogynistic videos and 137-page manifesto left behind by Elliot Rodger prompted a Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen. Rodger had a deep-seated hatred of women, and blamed his rage on women not wanting to date him, women not wanting to have sex with him, and their misguided interest in men other than him. To him, women were objects to be conquered and acquired, and when unsuccessful he justified murdering them because women were too stupid or shallow to know better. As outlandish as these demented fantasies sound, the #YesAllWomen hastag went viral with over a million tweets in just a few days. Women from around the globe were sharing personal stories of fear, and belittling (often violent) treatment at the hands of men.
Undoubtedly, these murders are relatively rare. Unfortunately, the #YesAllWomen campaign highlighted that misogynistic attitudes are not. From the rape culture in India to the honor killings in parts of the Middle East to the streets of Isla Vista, the subjugation and hatred of women cannot be ignored. In light of that fact, girls and women need to understand how to identify and deal with these attitudes.
The #YesAllWomen tweets were disturbing, painful, eye-opening and informative. A very small sampling include:
- #YesAllWomen because it shouldn't be the norm for young girls to grow up worrying about being groped on busy public transport.
- Not ALL men harass women. But ALL women have, at some point, been harassed by men. Food for thought. #YesAllWomen
- #YesAllWomen because all girls should feel safe to crowd surf freely.
- "Reading #YesAllWomen last week broke my heart. I realized many ways in which I was part of the problem." Same here.
- #yesallwomen because someone drugged me. I threw up, passed out, and to this day don't know what he did to me. #eacheverywoman
The #YesAllWomen campaign gives voice to how many women experience men's unwanted advances, demeaning messages (conscious or not), and violence. All stemming from disrespect for women. Misogynistic attitudes disregard women, and can sometimes be tough to spot quickly. To the misogynist, women are not whole, soul-centered, individuals, they are instead objectified as flesh with curves, sexual objects to be used, and all too often by force.
Not all men are misogynists. Most honor women and treat them with respect. However, there will always be men who harbor ill motives, and identifying them effectively is critical in dating. More to the point, we need to be cognizant of the fact that we can only change ourselves, not others. Given this reality, here are some tips women can use to take control of their own lives, reducing their fears about men, and prioritizing safety in dating.
- Only spend time with men who view you as a whole person. This applies to in person interactions as well as social media. Why go to a "meat market" party or a bar to meet someone, where you have to live up to a certain persona? Instead, attend events based on an interest and/or among trusted friends, where the focus isn't only on hooking up. To be sure, there are men who fake interest in an event just to meet women, but you'll be much more able to weed out the imposters at a focused event rather than a party-for-party's sake environment.
- Beware of men who comment on others’ looks. Open comments about girls’ and women's looks, shapes, sex appeal can be indicators of misogynistic views. Obviously this is easy to spot when comments are framed in the negative, but more insidious are comments framed in the positive. Complements are judgments too, and such behavior is a signal of somebody who is likely judgmental. Likewise, commentary about other people is a signal that a person feels free to judge others and may harbor other less savory judgments.
- Limit asking male opinions of your physical looks, and only solicit from those who value you. What girl hasn’t asked a male friend what he thinks of her looks? "Does this make me look fat," is a cliché. For adolescents and young adults especially, peer opinions define internal identities, making young women more vulnerable to misogyny as they naturally want to be seen as beautiful and desirable. Indeed girls often look to their male peers to define their beauty and may even seek out opinions from their more vocal and judgmental male peers, to get an "honest" opinion. This, of course, further emboldens guys to judge and articulate girls' physical attributes, reinforcing the dangerous value that a girls' worth is defined by her physical features. Seek to hear complements that are well-rounded, rather than delineations of attractive body parts. Girls want to feel beautiful, not objectified.
- Be cautious of men using alcohol or drugs. Early meetings in a relationship should be kept to sober encounters to reduce the chances of a bad encounter. Alcohol and drugs impair inhibitions and allow more impulsivity. If you are around alcohol and drugs, make sure it is with people you know well, and value you as a whole person.
- Speak up and out. Command respect by respecting yourself. Speak your mind, take a stand against misogyny, and be ready to stand down anyone who would objectify you. Don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable with people you cannot trust.
- Stay attuned to your feelings and honor anxiety. Honor your anxiety if you start to feel uncomfortable at any point in a date, and use this energy to fuel a safe exit. Ending a date early is always better than wishing you had.
- Train yourself in confidence and assertiveness so you can rely on it if needed. Research shows that people who are alert to their surroundings (i.e., not listening to music, talking on the phone, texting) and walk with an upright confident gait are less likely to be victimized. Effective ways to feel more confident are to take self-defense classes, carry mace, and overall "act as if". It's perfectly normal and acceptable to feel afraid, but showing it might make you more vulnerable to a perpetrator’s advance. Remember, perpetrators are fundamentally cowards and are looking for an easy target. They do not want a fight, they want submission and to instill fear. They will not generally pick on people they perceive as strong.
Thankfully, most men are good-hearted and respectful. That said, we must be smart about spotting and dealing with misogyny when it surfaces, espcially in dating. By being strong in ourselves, commanding respect from others, and surrounding ourselves with trustworthy people, we can generally avoid misogyny and its manifestations. Ultimately, as we speak out against this abhorrent behavior, we build a collective intolerance for attitudes of hatred and subjugation, and chip away at our passive acceptance that allows the cancer of misogyny to persist.
To learn more about Dr. Clark, and the work that she does, please visit www.AliciaClarkPsyD.com, follow her on Twitter @DrAliciaClark, or like her on Facebook at AliciaHClarkPsyD.