I was dancing with my girlfriends at a party last weekend when I felt a hand quickly slither up my thighs and grab my vagina. I turned around and violently attacked the stranger who assumed that he was privileged to my body. When mutual friends convinced me to calm down and speak to him, I was accused of “trippin” because he never thought that I would be upset.
As a woman living in an inner city, I have been conditioned to accept the fact that when I walk outside, some random man will probably think he is endowed with the privilege to yell “Ay shawty come here” to me from across the street and call me something obscene like a “low-frontin hoe” after I ignore him.
These two situations highlight what I like to call the lose-lose of sexual harassment. If a woman does not react after being violated, she sends the message that she is okay with what just happened, she enjoys it and, perhaps, is inviting it. On the other hand, if she does react, she is often accused of over-reacting. How dare she be upset with the man who just invited himself to her body without her permission? This highlights two major concerns: 1. The false sense of entitlement that many men feel towards women in public spaces. Men should not feel entitled to receive a response when they disrespectfully approach a woman and they should not expect a woman to docilely accept or even enjoy an uninvited touch from a man. The second major concern is 2. a tendency to blame the victim by qualifying her reaction as extreme. The idea that a woman is being dramatic or overreacting to being harassed shifts the blame from the harasser to the harassed and fails to assign responsibility to the party that is guilty of violating boundaries.
Yet, some might argue that women are, in fact, inviting this type of behavior. When I first walked into that same party, I saw the all-too-familiar scene involving a girl on the floor. She laid on her back with his head in between her legs until he moved on top of her and began humping her. Her facial expression straddled between shocked gasps that said “Oh my God! I can’t believe he’s doing this!” and euphoric attention-loving smiles that screamed “This is great!” For a second, I thought I was at the filming of a porno or maybe at the local strip club’s “College Tuition Tuesdays.” Then reality hit me- I was at a college party.
The question: Are black women asking for it? After watching every episode that Law and Order: SVU has ever produced, I would like to think that the sexual harassment I’ve experienced is not my fault. It’s none of our faults, right? After all, that’s what Olivia Benson would tell me. But the same questions keep running through my head: Was I asking to be sexually harassed? Was I asking for a stranger to put his hands between my legs? Was my outfit too revealing and my dance moves too provocative? Was it my fault for standing next to other women whose morals were looser than a pair of 90’s jeans? Was it my responsibility to distinguish myself as a woman who would not tolerate being touched inappropriately among women who crave it?
The answer: No. Despite the strength of the over-sexualized images of black women in the media, we have the right to dress and dance in whatever way we please without being subject to the unwanted touches or words of our male counterparts. Saying a woman is asking for sexual harassment is as irresponsible as saying Trayvon Martin was asking to be shot when he wore a hoodie. It is the responsibility of men to exhibit self-control, respect for self, and respect for women. We can argue that black men will not respect black women until we respect ourselves, but that is just a clichéd excuse that men have used to justify their failure to respect physical and social boundaries. It is men’s responsibility to ensure that their actions do not perpetuate the objectification of black women.
The goal: Self-expression without self-consciousness. Women should be able to do, dress, and dance however they want without being afraid that their appearance or actions might be inviting sexual harassment. Women should not have to wonder, “Am I asking for it?” every time they leave their houses.
The bottom line: If I am twerking to “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” I am not asking for it. If my skirt is shorter than Joe Jackson’s temper, I am not asking for it. Unless I ask for it, I am not asking for it.
MissEducation has also written The Soft Bigotry of Charter Schools: How low expectations for leadership at charter schools limit students.
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A Message From WFTF: http://wp.me/p2vzdP-rj
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A Speech on Jordan Davis and Emmett Till: http://wp.me/p2vzdP-j5