No one should feel obligated to make their own pain public just so that others understand its real.
No one should feel obligated to make their own pain public just so that others understand it's real. ircy / Getty

The internet is bad today, because it's publicly acknowledging that sexual assault and harassment are everyday experiences for women/trans/nonbinary people, which apparently is something some people didn't know. If you didn't, welcome to the almost-mundane reality of existing in one of those categories. It's so common and insidious that it feels almost not worth mentioning, but here we are.

Of course you have, too! Of course I have, too. I'm a runner, which means baby's first street harassment happened when I was 16. And I used to live in Paris, international capital of subway leers. Just last week, during a trip to Chicago, a city I love, a friend and I were hissed at (hissed at!) and honked at by strange men while crossing the street, which reminded of the near-constant street harassment I encountered when I was in grad school there. It was enough to make me carry pepper spray on my person for years afterward. I only stopped last year, because I didn't feel like living in a constant state of anxiety anymore.

And those things? Those things are are just, like, the few examples from my 30 years of living in a woman body that I could come up with offhand after getting off a four-hour flight yesterday. Earlier that day, in a coffee shop in Chicago, that same friend and I scrolled #MeToo posts. We guessed out loud that by a certain age, no woman has managed to avoid harassment or assault in some form. We just couldn't imagine it. Between the two of us, we could not come up with a way it would be possible in the world we live in. "Would you just not take public transportation?" I asked. We shared a grim laugh over our coffees. We take public transportation.

Yes, sex crimes are ubiquitous, and yes, this should be common knowledge, and yes, it needs to stop. But as I watched the #MeToo posts roll in, I found myself thinking that no one should feel obligated to make their own pain public just so that others understand it's real and exists on a massive scale. If you posted in response to #MeToo, I support you and I love you and applaud your bravery. If you didn't, I support you and I love you and applaud your bravery.

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But to all the men in my timeline who are surprised and appalled? Please check yourselves. Misogyny runs deep. It exists on a continuum. There's more to it than harassment and assault. So, yes, condemn those things and DO NOT DO THEM. And don't let your friends do them, either. But if you really want things to change, you're going to have to take a look at your other behaviors and consider the more insidious ways you may be victimizing and undermining the women/trans/nonbinary people in your world. Even—especially—if you're sure you're "one of the good ones."

FOR EXAMPLE: Do you feel entitled to women's bodies/time/attention? Do you treat your girlfriend like your mom? Do you take the concerns and ideas of your female employees and coworkers seriously? Do you use the pronouns your acquaintances prefer? Do you perpetuate a boys' club atmosphere wherever you go?
Consent is, to paraphrase Lauryn Hill, just a minimum. Are you honest with your partners? Do you respect their boundaries? If you cross someone's boundaries, do you apologize and try to do better? Do you accept the full humanity of women you aren't actively trying to sleep with? Are you pro-choice? And if you have relationships with people who could get pregnant, do you understand why you need to be? If a woman has a political opinion that differs from yours, do you listen to her? Or do you try to streamroll her until she acquiesces? If you see a woman being accosted in a bar, or being harassed on the street, do you ask her if she's okay?

I know these are hard questions to consider—these are pretty basic, honestly, but behaviors are ingrained, and I get that changing them takes commitment and practice and not everyone wants to do that—but I didn't want to write this post. I'm sick of having this conversation. And you need to consider making those changes if we're going to get past a cultural moment in which women are the ones expected to share deeply personal information just because some folks don't understand our pain is real and everywhere. So ask yourselves these questions. Look at your choices and your behaviors. Really look at them. And do better. It's not our job to educate you. It's yours to listen—and then do the right thing.