On May 24, 2014 the #YesAllWomen hashtag started trending on Twitter. It went well into the night hours of the 25th, and into the 26th, and on until the person who initiated it began receiving death threats and asked those participating to shut it down. Women from all over shared stories of violence, harassment, sexual assault, and rape. As I read these, I found how damn similar, too damn similar, many women’s stories were to my own. We were united in this evil thing called Rape Culture. It shed light into areas many people don’t want to see. It gave voice to so many women’s every day experiences.
In response, I made this small questionnaire to continue encouraging that light in the darkness. I asked 5-10 women to volunteer their answers. Here are the first three who responded back. We’ll have another post as people continue responding.
Holly, 31 years old, is a health and sexuality educator living in Ohio. She is a cisgender woman, and spends most of her time working for a non-profit doing health education and volunteers for a rape crisis center.
Marlene, 42 years old, lives in Maine with her husband of 24 years. She works in retail, and loves her dog, Patrick.
Rachel, is a 36 year old cis woman based out of Alexandria, Virginia. She is a bookstore owner.
Here are the questions.
1) What times of day do you feel most threatened?
Holly: It’s hard to say what time of day I feel the most threatened – it used to be in the evening, when it was dark. However, I’ve noticed that light isn’t protection. Overall, mostly at night but really anytime.
Rachel: After dark, generally.
2) What is a specific encounter you’ve had that changed the way you approach going out?
Holly: My freshmen year of high school, some friends and I decided to walk down the street to the drug store to pick up some snacks before theater practice. We didn’t change out of our uniforms and I recall a group that walked past us making some obscene comments (I don’t recall what they were in particular). I do recall one of the guys tried to ask one of us out, and I said that i wasn’t interested. His response was that I’d be lucky to hook up with him. While it wasn’t violence, it bothered me and has tuck with me. I’ve also noticed that I don’t get cat called nearly as much when I’m walking down the street with a male (or a few males).
Rachel: When I was about I was about 8 years old, a man tried to abduct me when I was walking home from school. It wasn’t a very well thought out attempt, and I did get away, but I have been more hyper-aware of my surroundings ever since. All the usual precautions (making sure to stay in a crowd, stay in well-lit areas, watch strangers for warning cues, always have an escape route) are layered over that first lesson.
Going out has generally been pretty safe – I always make sure people know where I am, and my friends and family always look out for each other. I have managed to intimidate my way out of most situations (I am usually not seen as a threat because I’m tiny, so I think at least some of that is surprise, and guys who target me expect an easy mark).
3) What is a specific encounter you’ve experienced (firsthand or secondhand) where you’ve (or a friend) have been targeted online?
Holly: I have two encounters that stick out to me. One is Laci Green – she made a video several years back that had a small portion that was offense. She apologized for it, but apparently it wasn’t enough for some people. Rather than just tell her on Twitter or via email that they were offended and why it was wrong (which I fully support anyone doing), people went all out. Lots of offensive and rude comments to her, plus then people started posting her address and phone number. That I can’t support at all. Another friend has a stalker who seems to really go after her on Twitter. He has made multiple accounts (over 20 last i heard) to try to target her. When I first started following her on Twitter, she warned me that the stalker may try to engage me (which he has). I feel so bad that my friend has to be hypervigilant about the stalker (during Twitter chats, I sometimes get messages from her if one of the people involved in the chat is likely to be her stalker). He has much of her personal information, and she has gone to lengths to protect herself (without much help of law enforcement, which is deeply unsettling).
Marlene: My friend has been targeted on her AbortionChat site for sharing her experiences.
Rachel: I have not had too many negative experiences online specifically targeting me. I tend to keep my head down, so any rude or threatening comments are usually one-offs with little follow up. If any of my friends have been targeted online, they have not shared it with me.
4) Do you carry protective means on you? (Protective means=mace, knife, gun, etc) If so, what? How long have you been carrying it?
Holly: I do not carry a gun and very rarely carry a knife. I used to carry pepper spray all the time when I was a bartender (one of the places I worked was not in the best part of town), although I never had to use it. I tend to still carry some form of protection, and hope to never use it. I do dislike feeling like i need to carry something or carry my keys pointing out in my fist.
Marlene: Yes. hand gun 2 years.
Rachel: Occasionally. I used to carry a knife regularly, but I am rarely in places where more than just screaming would be needed in case of threats. If there is a situation where I think there is more of a threat, I will usually just avoid the situation.
I have also taken various martial arts classes, which also helps to feel somewhat safer.
5) Do you receive harassment on a daily basis? If so, can you give an example?
Holly: I wouldn’t say daily but at least a few times a week. At least once a week someone harasses me in person. There’s a lot of sexual comments and often licking of the lips. This past week while pumping gas at the gas station, a man tried to pick me up. He complimented a part of my body, and I thanked him, then he asked if I wanted to go out some time. I said no thank you, and he still persisted. Then I said that I am married, to which he asked if I was sure (I hate that “no” isn’t enough), and I held up my hand with my wedding band. Apparently, that wasn’t enough so he said, “Well, he doesn’t have to know. Does he satisfy you?” I debated just hanging up the pump and leaving without a full tank.
Rachel: Not anymore. This used to be more of a problem. When I was a college student working in Montana, I was harassed often at my job working at the front desk for a hotel (heavy-handed flirting, invitations to come up to rooms, once had a customer grab my hand and kiss it), but I am rarely harassed now.
6) What makes you feel safest?
Holly: Staying at home makes me feel safest, or being in a group.
Marlene: My husband, my dog, and my gun.
Rachel: I feel pretty safe most of the time now, and I attribute it to a variety of factors that play together:
a) I live and work in a city/neighborhood that is adverse to harassment. It is family-oriented, and the tourist trade is not particularly party-like. I travel mostly by car, which cuts down on situations where I would have to deal with harassment.
b) I am white, short, and have a slight frame, with small breasts. It seems to me that I end up less hyper-sexualized, but that may just be my interpretation.
c) I am aggressively friendly and cheerful. I find that being super bubbly cuts down on more personalized harassment (someone asking inappropriate questions, etc). If someone does pursue harassing me, being absolutely nasty is the next defense. Since I am generally in public, there is an audience, so I am in less danger doing this.
7) When are times you feel least safe?
Holly: I feel the least safe when I’m by myself especially if I’m somewhere that I’m not very familiar with the area.
Marlene: When I am home alone at night. But I have my dog and my gun I WILL not be a victim.
Rachel: I do make house visits for book purchasing for work. This is probably when I feel (and am) least safe. I always make sure to let my husband and my store know where I’m going and when, and I follow up with a phone call after each house visit to confirm I am all right.
My husband does travel quite a bit for work, and I do feel less safe with him gone – it always feels safer with another person who can be trusted, I find.
8) Have you ever had to alter your transportation plans due to fear or harassment? What happened?
Holly: Once an ex of mine started following me (his car had some unique damage and a personalized license plate). I didn’t want to go back to where I was living, since I was trying to not let him know where I was living (he had been known to show up at work places). I took a different route and stopped at a friend’s house, and saw him drive past. He knew that friend so I hoped he wouldn’t stop.
Rachel: I can’t remember this ever happening, other than the abduction attempt as a child. We did arrange for me to get rides home for awhile, or walking home with friends or neighbors. Eventually I went back to walking to and from school.
9) How many women do you personally know that have been targeted by either online or in person harassment?
Holly: Too many to count. A lot of my trans* friends have received harassment online recently it seems.
Rachel: All of them? Every single one of my friends growing up had been sexually harassed or abused. I still remember talking to my sister-in-law as an adult, and her saying that no one had ever been sexually inappropriate with her…and then telling me about one of her foster fathers trying to climb into bed with her as a 15-yr-old. She didn’t consider that abuse because she told him to get out and he didn’t rape her. Low bar!
All of my sisters-in-law have told me stories of harassment. Literally every single friend in grade school, junior high, and high school has told me stories. I am just thankful that I deal with so much less of it now as an adult in my 30s.
10) What do you do for self care when you feel threatened, upset, or overwhelmed?
Holly: I need to get better at self care, but I watch a movie that makes me happy (Labyrinth, Heathers, Terminator, etc) and play with my two dogs. If I’m at home, I will sometimes get a bit hyper-vigilant and make sure everything is locked and keep a close eye on the street if my dogs are outside. I also tend to eat comfort food, which is sometimes not the healthiest, although I’ve been trying to keep fruit around. I call up friends and if I’m feeling rather threatened I will take my dogs to one of my best friend’s house and hang out for a bit. I also typically will cry if I’m alone or with my best friend.
Marlene: I have never felt threatened but when I am upset or overwhelmed I have an ice cream, pet my dog, cry, masturbate, play in my garden.
Rachel: Take a bath, read a book, listen to music. Tackle a craft project. Talk with family.