Columns, Opinions

Okin ’19: The little things

By
Staff Columnist
Sunday, November 5, 2017

It was the perfect day for a run last semester, when I found myself lost on a route to Blackstone Boulevard, one I’ve taken so many times. What a wonderful opportunity to turn off my mind and let Katy Perry in my earphones guide me through unexplored Providence streets! Oh, how getting lost is such a glorious chance to find yourself!

Wait. I’m a woman. This means that when I realize I’m at the entrance of a woody area rather than the familiar jogging path, I do not smile to myself, stopping to breathe the air and inspect the spring flowers. I do not consider laying on the earth’s soft floor, letting the moment of spring and sunshine and youth enclose me in warm thoughts. I do not dare to close my eyes, even for a second, to let the scent of the dirt saturate my skin — of course I do not. While male friends might enjoy the moment of peaceful refuge — the adventurous ones even seeking to explore further into the woods — the thought of doing anything of the sort is absurd to me. Instead, my heart pounds loudly. I turn my music off, try to calmly figure out the correct route without cell service. There’s a figure in the distance with a dog, standing in the woods. I sprint away.

A never-ending stream of Facebook posts, with the content warning “Sexual Harassment.” A Sunday morning conversation in the Ratty about a Saturday night, featuring the typical “very creepy guy” at a party and taking an Uber five blocks at 2 a.m. to avoid the dark streets. I’m not painting a picture you haven’t heard before. In fact, I’m sure many are secretly tired of hearing about the saga of being a woman in our current world. Or perhaps you don’t mind hearing our chronicles — or maybe you even genuinely care. I don’t know. But whatever the case may be, we will never successfully combat this culture until we begin to recognize the seemingly mundane behaviors that perpetuate it.

Women live a life of different norms. And to use the word “norms” is the greatest tragedy of all — a true testament to how numbed we are to our training: the way we hold our keys walking in the dark (between the knuckle, pointing toward potential harm), the way we focus our vision when we jog (straight ahead, not wandering your eyes at the risk of making any contact), the way we can never, ever be inattentive to our surroundings (you know what happened to her, don’t you?). Activities I watch my male peers do that I wish I could: taking the subway at 1 a.m. alone, trying a new path home at night without hesitation, getting dressed up for a party without thinking that “too tight” or “too short” means “too bad!”

It’s the little things, the things women have learned to do to protect themselves, these things that actually aren’t little at all, that define being a woman today. Furthermore, it’s the paradox of working my butt off at Brown only to look forward to the sexual harassment that plagues every potential field I work toward entering, near and far. These truths are inextricable from our identities, as they have become a learned part of how we conduct our lives. They will follow us as long as the man on the corner calling us “baby” does.

The unspeakable things will not stop — the chilling news stories that feature a picture of a girl that reminds you of a friend — if we continue to allow the seemingly smaller things to go uncontested. These ostensibly lesser occurrences perpetuate a culture of greater horrors.  To my male peers: Share some of our burden of constant attentiveness and intervene. What we “let slide” generates the norms that make the modern-day Daisy Buchanan cry when she learns she will introduce a daughter to the world. It’s the jokes in the privacy of a fraternity about rape that you don’t shut down that make the guy to your left think assault is not so serious. It’s quietly listening to someone lament over how a victim ruined an athletic career. It’s making light of consent.

We students are the future leaders of the business, governmental and nonprofit world. We will shape the country — indeed, we are already shaping the country. To my male peers: With as much zeal as you have when you pursue your own professional goals, pledge to never tolerate sexual harassment in your workplace. Teach your son that there are no funny jokes about assault. It is not enough to simply believe that the paranoia women carry around is disheartening; our values are found in our goals more than our thoughts. Make it a goal, an ambition as true as any one you hold close to your heart, to lead your family and your business and your country with this explicit message in mind.

I wish I could get lost on a run, but that would simply be irresponsible. I can be as smart and passionate and ambitious as I want. I can argue in class and write opinions columns. But you should know: Every ounce of this confidence crumbles in the face of a man following me home after leaving the library. And if you think this is sad, consider this issue personally urgent. If not, our daughters will continue to endure very separate norms than our sons.

Rebecca Okin ’19 can be reached at rebecca_okin@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.