She’s walking on fire….

(Trigger warning for discussion of abuse/rape culture)

I’ve been neglecting writing essays and posts for awhile now, partly due to being busy, and partly because writing isn’t coming easy right now, and I let the non-urgent things slide. But there’s a lot being flung around at the moment about consent and lack thereof, and I find I have something I need to express.

Not that I’ve been silent about the current GOP nominee for president in other social media spaces – DT’s racism, anti-Semitism, ableism, misogyny, etc have not been lost on me, and I’ve been speaking up where and when I’m able. Mostly to pass on the thoughts and essays of other people – elevate and amplify where you can, right? But I don’t think anyone who knows me is unaware of my opinions. He is a garbage person, a white nationalist, and a sociopathic liar.

Since more and more information is coming to us about his harassment and sexual assault of women throughout his life, there has been a larger outcry. I know there are specific reasons behind why now the outcry, and not all of his earlier offences – which have to do with racism and other bigotry, and the fact that a specific subset of religious people think he has now attacked women who belong to them. Which is another problem. But with all of the women and various genderfluid people speaking about assault and consent and their experiences, there appears (again) to be a common thread. It’s that we as a larger society teach men, especially white men, that they get to touch whomever they want, whenever they want. And women are always fair game.

It’s becoming more visible in the past few days, now that DT has said “it’s just talk,”, even though it isn’t just talk. Obviously it’s not – there are reports of teenage boys harassing girls in school with his words, women grabbed by their genitals as they stand on public transportation, the grabber saying “Trump 2016!” and laughing about it, saying “when Trump wins we’re going to force you to….” These types of acts are not new, but the glee in a presidential candidate who embodies this kind of abuse is. This is the kind of abuse that his supporters have been heaping on immigrants, anyone who isn’t white, and/or who isn’t Christian, etc, all along.

We have a large subset of people who think they own everyone else. They think they get to touch people without asking for consent. They believe consent is implied by our leaving the house. Consent is implied by being in public. Consent is implied by existence. These abusers think they have the right to your body. They think they have the right to any body, specifically women’s bodies. They escalate, get angry if they are ignored, or confronted, or rejected, or anything. It doesn’t matter how they are reacted to. They are already angry. They want to dominate someone, and they think women are theirs for dominating. You never know which one will be that man. Every unknown man – and even some known – is always Schrödinger’s abuser: if you engage in any fashion, there’s a high chance he could attack in some way.

I’ve been grabbed, mauled, patted, pinched, groped, poked, smacked, goosed; in public, at parties, on the street, by strangers and acquaintances and friends. I’ve had gay men tell me it’s OK they slapped my ass because they’re gay, so it doesn’t matter. I’ve had friends laugh when I was outraged at being grabbed and goosed. I’ve had men who touched me inappropriately apologize to my boyfriend, but not me, as though being in a relationship implies that I am owned by a man, and I didn’t get any say either way. I’ve been assaulted in front of people I thought were friends, or at least friendly, and they all just laughed while I screamed and tried to get away. Like it was a joke. Like watching someone throw a woman down and hump her against her will is hilarious. I’ve had complete strangers grab my breast as I was walking down the street. I’ve had a constant flow of verbal street harassment follow me as I walk to and from work, or lunch, or the movies, or anywhere.

I’m a woman; I exist here and now. Of course these things have happened to me. We expect, we allow, we pretty much guarantee these things will happen to a woman in this society. And we look the other way. We shrug. “Whaddaya gonna do? Can’t change men – men are just like that.” How insulting to men. Why are men just like that? Because our culture teaches them they’re supposed to be. We teach them it’s OK, it’s how they’re supposed to act, no one will really stop them or retaliate.

Am I outraged that DT boasted about sexually assaulting women?

Of course I am. Am I surprised?

No. No I am not. He has shown us who he is over and over – a predator, an abuser, a sociopath, someone who doesn’t care for anyone but himself.

There are those who will react to this kind of post with “Not all men!” But is that true? We’re told “not all men,” and then with this recent revelation the words change to “all men say those things!” You can’t have it both ways, my friends. I believe that it is not all men. But it is too many men, and it is all women that it happens to, and it is all of us allowing it.

Our culture sets up situations for predators to flourish, and throws out useless excuses for that allowance. We pretend it’s not that bad, that it only happens in specific situations. We’re not complicit; we didn’t know they meant it. It’s just words, and words, as we all know, have no meaning.

And actions have even less meaning than that, am I right? Boys will be predators, and girls just have to be victims, and everyone not identifying directly as either might as well not exist, or exist only as further victims. Despite constant overwhelming evidence that our society’s expectations of masculinity and femininity are toxic and harmful, despite evidence that terrible things happen when we don’t teach what consent is or means, our country, our world, likes to blame the end state, the person harmed, instead of fixing anything before that.

Even worse, we’re not believed. We don’t believe others. To even begin to be believed, we have to crack open our lives and insides like eggs and stir the damaged and bruised yolk out for everyone to pick over – here is where I was hurt, here is where I asked for help and didn’t get it, here is where no one believed me. And media, our friends, our families want to just wipe up the mess and pretend it wasn’t that bad, that we had it coming somehow, if only we had done something different. But there is nothing else we could have done; we didn’t have it coming. No one has it coming. And it is that bad. It is always that bad. For all of us, over and over. So many people, so much pain, so much trauma, and yet our collective first instinct is to blame the person hurt, and not the person doing the hurting.

And it’s so much worse for people who aren’t white, who aren’t straight, who aren’t able-bodied, who aren’t cis-gendered, who don’t fit into our narrow precepts of who is “normal.” We blame them so much more, and we let specifically white men off the hook so much more quickly. There are many varied reasons why, but the biggest reason is white nationalism, and patriarchy. (I won’t go into evangelicalism and what that means in conjunction with white nationalism and patriarchy, but you can read Julie McGalliard’s words about that here. She is smart, and has personal experience, and you should read it.) We have a broken system in so many ways, and they all feed into one another: the racism and the sexism and the homophobia and all of the bigotries. We’ve broken it further by pretending those things aren’t there and that they don’t interact. And we let the broken bits cut into everyone and tell them it’s their fault.

So – let’s start fixing it. Don’t touch people without their consent, as a basic beginning. Don’t let other people get away with touching people without their consent. If you know someone is handsy, step up and say something to them – don’t let your problematic friends off the hook. Don’t harass people, and don’t let others harass people either. Help out people who are being targeted.

I don’t care if you’re a gay man; you don’t get to touch my butt. I don’t care if you just wanted to grab onto someone, I am not someone you get to grab. If I don’t like hugs, don’t hug me. If I do like hugs, and you do too, and we both want to hug one another, great! But my hugging one person is not blanket consent to be hugged by anyone else.

My reading racy romance novels is not blanket consent to have my personal space violated or to be touched whenever by anyone at all. My consent is not blanket at any time, and neither is yours. Nor is anyone’s.

Never assume consent: always ask.

Intoxication does not indicate consent – in fact, intoxication generally means consent isn’t possible. My clothes, no matter what they are, do not constitute consent, my leaving my house does not constitute consent, my existing on this planet does not constitute consent.

Neither does yours. No one gets to touch you without your say so. No one gets to abuse you, no one gets to hurt you. And we should all step up and make sure that is a lesson that we all teach, and that we all learn. Teach your sons not to touch without asking for, and receiving consent. Teach your daughters that it’s OK to have boundaries – you can say yes, or you can say no, but no one gets to bypass anyone’s choice. Teach everyone to recognize and enforce boundaries.

Because if we don’t, if we just let all of this continue, rape culture flourishes, and predators will continue to get away with whatever they want, with little to no consequence.

Just like they do right now. And that is intolerable.

Title is from Alicia Keys “Girl on Fire.”

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