By Nina Clevinger
It’s a feeling unlike any other; one that I wish nobody else ever has to feel. But unfortunately, I know they will. I know millions and millions of people – myself included – already have felt this feeling, and will continue to feel it for the rest of their lives. I know I’m not alone, I know so many others have had to endure this painful experience and the feeling will be with them forever. It’s a feeling unlike any other, helplessness is. Being hopeless, feeling worthless. Empty. Guilty.
Why should I feel guilty, when I was the one who was raped – not the rapist? Why?
When I told my father what happened, the first thing out of his mouth was, “You need to be more careful.” My mother said the same, following it up with “You know better than to be alone at a party, Nina.” They’re both right, I know. I should have been more careful, and I probably shouldn’t have been alone. But how fucked up is that? I live in a world where I can’t be both alone and safe simultaneously. I live in a world where I can’t leave work by myself without a strange man coming up to me and showing me pictures of his penis, when all I wanted to do was get home and go to bed. I live in a world where I can’t do my job as a hostess without men telling me to “Bend it over” or calling me inappropriate names that are absolutely anything but my own. I live in a world where I can’t leave my best friend’s side at a party for five minutes without a man coming up to me and touching me in a non-consented sexual way. I live in a world where I can never be safe, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. Never, under any circumstance, can I completely let my guard down ever again. How fucked up is that?
I wish it could be different, I wish the world wasn’t so plagued with darkness and evil and I wish people cared for things other than themselves. I wish no girl ever had to hate herself, or wonder what she did wrong simply by trying to go out for a night and forget about the stress in her life. I wish no man would ever take away the sense of innocence that every woman has, the sense of self worth and dignity. I wish it could be different, but I’m not naive enough to think it ever will be. Not unless something changes.
I want to be able to walk down the street in heels and a dress and feel like the fabulous woman that I am, not like a disgusting piece of garbage. But how can I feel that way when I’m ogled and catcalled and harassed the minute my legs are showing and I’m wearing lipstick? How can I have the self-confidence I’m supposed to have as an independent woman, when the second I’m actually on my own I am reminded of how little I mean to majority of the people in this world, how little my life matters to so many?
As women, we’re told to be a million different things in one. Be feminine, look pretty and smile a lot, but at the same time, cover up and watch your back, or else you’re just a slut who’s asking for it. Have your own job, bank account and overall financial stability, but do it for less money than men and definitely don’t complain about it – complaining is simply unladylike. Act independently, but never be alone because if you’re alone and something bad happens, it’s always your fault and you’re probably just an airhead who deserves whatever happened anyways.
Being a woman is one of the most terrible things in the world I live in, and I don’t understand why. I want to feel beautiful, I want to feel safe, I want to feel strong and bright and happy and loved and respected. Being a woman should be absolutely incredible and empowering and wonderful, but this world has made it a terrible thing. Why do others have to make it so terrible?
I’ve been told disgusting, demeaning and completely inappropriate things while I’m bundled up in a puffy winter coat with layers of scarves and hats and gloves as often as I’ve been told these things when I’m wearing shorts and a crop top. I’m not asking for it in either situation, quite frankly I’m never asking for it in any situation. I’m a person; a real, live, human being – I know that’s hard to believe, considering I’m a woman and all – but it’s true, I’m a person. I am a person and I matter and I should be able to wear whatever I want and go wherever I want without facing constant harassment.
Something needs to change. I’m only 19-years old. Nineteen. Nineteen, and I’ve been physically and sexually assaulted by men who I do not know on two separate occasions. Not once, but twice. I was still recovering from the first time when the second time happened.
I’m not asking for sympathy, I don’t need sympathy. I’m strong, I’ve listened to Bey’s Lemonade album three thousand times through, and I fucking slay. What I’m asking for is something to change. How can we fix this? How can men and women live in harmony with each other, how can we make this place better for everyone? We all only have one life, one life that we know of and are currently living in and nobody can change our lives except for us. So let’s change something. Let’s not just make women feel safe, let’s give women SAFETY. Not just a false feeling of safety, one that is already so fragile and inauthentic to begin with.
I know that it’s not just women who get harassed, and there are double standards to everything. I know that. But for me, as a woman who has been harassed so many times in my short life – I can say these things and mean them. The world we live in is not safe, it never will be unless we fix it ourselves. Just think about that, but while you’re thinking – do something about it, too. I’m doing something to fix this – I don’t know what yet, or how I’m going to fix it – but I am. I’m going to try with all of my power to make some positive changes in this world. I’m starting here, with this, and all I can do is hope my words leave a big enough impression on someone to the point where they try to change the world too. It can be done, we can fix this and we can make it a safe and happy environment for everyone – men, women, and everything in between – we can fix it. We just have to try.