Let’s talk girl code. I’m not talking about the rules which stipulate you can’t date your best friends ex-boyfriend. I’m talking about the myriad of rules women have to follow to navigate a world where sexual violence is omnipresent. The pandemic of sexual harassment is not a matter of political affiliation, race or ZIP code. This is a problem women are susceptible to no matter who or where they are.
According to an ABC News-Washington Post news poll released in October, 54 percent of women experience “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances at some point in their lives.” This phenomenon was finally brought to light at the end of last year with the #MeToo social media campaign, which surfaced after prominent Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexually abusing over 50 women. Women took to Facebook and Twitter to demonstrate solidarity with Weinstein’s victims and to accuse their own abusers.
One thing that #MeToo demonstrated was that it’s not just powerful, famous women who face abuse—women of all walks of life have sustained unwanted sexual advances. Helleitte, a 16-year-old student at Roxbury Prep High School [whose first and last name have been withheld for privacy], has experienced this firsthand. She recalls an incident where she was playing at a park with her friends when two boys kept touching her inappropriately. She told them to stop as it made her uncomfortable. However, the boys persisted, and one boy went as far (as Donald Trump described in the famous Access Hollywood tape) as “grabbing her by the [explicit].”
When incidents like this happen to more than half of all American women, the problem becomes too big to ignore. Women are actively avoiding sexual harassment by changing the way they dress or taking different walking routes to work. It’s their way of doing something about it when no one else will.
“Well, it’s a good weekend to stay inside since it’s 20 degrees out and everyone you’ve ever heard of is a sex monster,” said comedian Colin Jost in an SNL sketch addressing the string of sexual harassment allegations against prominent male celebrities. While the humorous tone makes the pill a little bit easier to swallow, it confirms what women have known all along: men are creeps.
However, those creeps have the ability to determine whether women will keep their jobs or be promoted. The ABC News-Washington Post poll also revealed that of the 54 percent of women who experience unwanted sexual advances, 23 percent suffered sexual harassment at the hands of men who had influence over their work situation.
If we want to mitigate the scope of this problem, we have to stop normalizing sexual assault. According the poll, of those women who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, 95 percent said male harassers usually go unpunished. Just because it happens more often than people would like to talk about, it doesn’t mean we should accept it as a normal.
Today’s society is unequipped to handle accusations of sexual assault because men aren’t going to face consequences from a system that benefits them. If we ever want to solve this problem, we need to hold all men accountable for their actions. We can’t selectively pick and choose which men to punish according to their prominence. There is no in-between when it comes to sexual harassment. The reason why the #MeToo campaign has been powerful isn’t because women are finally telling their stories—it’s because men are finally starting to listen.