By Rebecca Coleman
Feminists are angry. Feminists hate men. Feminists are ugly. Sound familiar? Of course it does. Here’s the thing: I’m not ugly, and I don’t hate men. I respect myself—a distinction lost on many of feminism’s critics. Am I angry? Perhaps. I’ll tell you why. As far back as I can remember men have been putting their hands on me. When I was in first grade, I was nearly kidnapped by a man in a green truck. That run for my life is still among my most vivid childhood memories. Less sinister, but still serious, are the countless times I’ve felt uncomfortable with the way men in my life have touched me. Teachers, neighbors, older brother’s friends, friend’s older brothers, peers at school, men at church, men at work, and even male relatives. I’ve been groped and grabbed in public, followed, harassed, or intimidated too many times to count. Let me give you a few examples. In ninth grade one of my teachers took me out into the hallway. We were alone. He put his arm around me and started rubbing my shoulders and back. He told me I was pretty. He told me I was smart. I wriggled away—and never told my parents, or any other adult. By that time, I had been conditioned to expect this out of life. I’d been “tickled” and “teased” by so many men that I actually believed this was normal—but I never liked it. This might sound like I’m complaining about being attractive. Let me tell you another story. A few years ago, I spent an afternoon with a girlfriend in New York. We went to a trendy restaurant with a notoriously long wait. I looked great. I was wearing a skirt that was very flattering—not immodest—but very flattering. The current wait was an hour and a half. The host motioned for us to be discreet and seated us right away. It felt great. Within twenty minutes of leaving the restaurant, while walking in a crowd, I felt a large hand slide around the front of my hip and between my legs. That did not feel great. It felt gross. If I could choose the trade-off, I would gladly still be standing in line with other tourists to get a table, rather than being assaulted on the street. Not even close. New York—what a city. A man followed me one night on the subway all the way out to Queens. He kept insisting he was going to “help” me. I told him I didn’t need his help. He stood over me anyway with angry, rape-y eyes, as if I were his property. So I called my male cousin. I told him a man was following me and asked him to meet me at the station. The man got off at the next stop. I took a train another night from Baltimore to DC. Noticing I was alone—I’d already told him I wasn’t interested—a man took every train and metro I did until I reached my neighborhood in Pentagon City, then followed me off the train—the same angry, rape-y eyes. I ran up the escalator and jumped in a taxi. My house was a five-minute walk. Those were just strangers. A guy I’d been hanging out with picked me up from my apartment one night. His friend and my friend were there too. When we got to his house, they started making out. He wanted to hook up too, but I wasn’t interested. After trying to manhandle me a few times, he threatened me. If I didn’t hook up with him, I would have to walk home. It was after midnight, the middle of winter, I didn’t even have a coat—and he wasn’t kidding. I walked home that night. Another date groped me over and over while I resisted, explicitly described a pornographic scene he’d seen in a movie once as an explanation of who I “reminded” him of, and pounced on me after pulling up to my house. I pushed him off, jumped out of the car, and hurried to the door. He chased me to the door, grabbed me again, and tried to force his way in—and actually called me the next day. Honestly, I consider myself lucky. I’ve never been raped. I’ve had many friends who haven’t been so lucky. You’ve heard the statistic that only one in four rapes are reported. Through the years, friends—women I’ve grown close with—have confided in me about being raped, more than four, more than eight. Not one of those stories ended in a police report. This small sample of personal stories can’t even compare to some of the things women I know have endured. I used to work as a massage therapist. Men would pick up on me every day. One told me his wife was out of town that weekend, he told me he was rich, he invited me over. Another grabbed me and kissed my neck on his way out. Others tried to touch me during the massage. Their temple garments were on the bench near by. One evening a man came in—my last appointment of the night—and begged me to let him remove his drape. I told him he was welcome to go to another therapist. He told me he would only come to me. His last words, “I’ll get you,” rang in my head for weeks. I never found what he meant because I quit the next day. When I told my (former) employer everything that had happened—why I was quitting, his parting words were, “Don’t judge us.” No apology, no concern. Here’s the point. Fresh out of Young Women’s, I was told by a bishop to be more soft-spoken. He said it was what the Lord wanted. I believed him. This is not an isolated teaching.
“Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.” ~ Margaret D. Naudald
I hate this quote, particularly the first half. I understand her intention is good, I really do. But I also honestly believe that absorbing the Mormon emphasis on women being submissive and soft-spoken escalated some of these events further than necessary. I tried to be nice. I giggled when I should have screamed. But at some point, I learned to be tough, not tender. And not surprisingly, I’ve been harassed with far less frequency. Mormon women live in the world—the real world. They’re not safe, even from Mormon men. They need to be taught to speak up, speak out, and be as tough as a situation requires. I enjoy being nice. I enjoy being pretty. I understand that men want sex. I want sex. Everyone wants sex. There is nothing wrong with that. But it is wrong not to teach our daughter’s the importance of consent—for any type of touch. It’s wrong to teach them to trust their male leaders implicitly. They will not always help us. Sometimes they will hurt us. Being nice is never more important than being safe.