On What it Means to be a Woman in this Culture

by | May 20, 2012
filed under Feminism, Pop Culture

Woman Restroom symbolby Josey Ross

In my teenage years it was a common bonding experience to get together with girlfriends to compare the ways we had been harassed and even assaulted by strange men. We would laugh at tales of men twice our age following us on multiple trains in a foreign country, of men grabbing our vulvas in clubs, of male “friends” “jokingly” grabbing our tits*.

And I remember saying, time and again, “well, that’s just part of being female in this culture.” Not with anger, not with sadness, not even with resignation. Simply a statement of fact. The sky is blue. To be woman is to be routinely harassed and assaulted.

Told, as a teenager, the statistic that one in three women experience sexualized violence I scoffed: “Well, sure. I mean, if you’re going to count being groped or harassed, then yeah. But come on!” I, future anti-violence worker, champion of consent, dismissed the statistic because it was so normalized to me that the reality of being woman involves being groped and harassed. This violence was so routine it simply didn’t register on the scale for me.

And now, when I have these conversations with others, when I present the statistic that one in three women experience sexualized violence I hear, “Well, sure, but it depends how you’re counting it. I mean, if you count groping and harassment…”

Think about how tragic that statement is. We have agreed culturally that women must bear a certain amount of harassment and assault before it’s actually counted as violence. And the casual, daily violence we women face on the streets, in the clubs, on the bus, that is not part of that 1 in 3 statistic.

But my feeling is that if we were to truly count harassment and groping as sexualized violence we would find 99.95% of women have experienced sexualized violence.

*A small survey of experiences I had had by the time I turned 18.

(photo in public domain via Wikipedia Project)

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  • Excellent post. Only by questioning the status quo can we initiate change.

  • imogen

    what? this has never happened to me…you need to go to respectable places and make new male friends. This is disgusting.

  • Josey Ross


    I appreciate the victim-blaming there. Thank you.

    So you’re saying I should have avoided taking the Tube in London so as to not be followed by a man twice my age? I shouldn’t have taken the bus because I’m just asking for some creepy guy to invade my space? I don’t have a right to go out dancing with the expectation that I will escape unmolested?

    I agree that it’s disgusting. I don’t agree that the onus was on me to prevent it from happening.

  • jarrahpenguin

    @Imogen You are extraordinary lucky that this has never happened to you. I appreciate and share Josey’s experience and none of my close women friends have escaped similar encounters. I would encourage you to ask your friends whether they managed to make it through high school without having someone call them a “whore” or “slut” or other sexual names, and without being groped or followed by men.

    I was harassed using sexual comments by boys in my classes in junior high. When I complained to a teacher I was told I just had to wait for the guy to grow up. This wasn’t me being in an “unrespectable place”.

    When I was a candidate in the provincial election I had a much older male candidate hug me and grab my ass and whisper in my ear that I was “jail bait” (I was 19). This would not have been avoided by me making “new male friends”.

    And even if it would’ve – why should the onus be on the women to change their lives to avoid harassment? Doesn’t that sort of argue that harassment and assault is inevitable? Why aren’t we telling people that it’s never okay to grope or sexually harass someone instead of telling girls they should expect to encounter it unless they regulate their lives to the nth degree?

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  • Me

    So the groping was normal to you, no big deal, and now you want to try to make it seem like something horrible? Why is it better to feel bad about something than not be bothered by it? You accepted it as normal – now you’re trying to convince yourself it’s not normal – why? Just accept that being groped is part of being a woman, and encourage other women and girls to feel the same so they won’t be worried about it

  • Josey Ross

    First, let me be clear, normal does not connote acceptable. Normal means it was exceedingly common. It was exceedingly common for my boundaries to be crossed by strange (and not-so-strange) men who decided their momentary pleasure overrode my safety. It was exceedingly common for me to feel unsafe in public places. It was exceedingly common to be told, in a variety of ways, that I am not safe and do not fully belong in public.

    Second, I am not trying to convince myself that it is not normal. It is still an exceedingly common practice that women face every day. What I am doing is saying it’s not okay. And I will no longer accept it as just part of being a woman.

    Third, and I may be out of line here, but I feel pretty confident in guessing that you are a man, based on several clues. Which means you don’t live with the reality that one in three of your gender will experience sexualized violence. Which means you have probably not been sexually harassed, groped, or assaulted. For your sake, I certainly hope you haven’t. So I get that it is outside your field of experience. What I cannot possibly understand is that you are advocating for women to shut up and accept the violence they experience.

    I will not accept that being groped is part of a woman and I am disgusted, incredulous, and frankly suspicious of anyone who tells me to.

  • Elizabeth

    I am an American. Born and raised in America. In my experience, men are dangerous and women that date these men protect them with manipulation and lies. In my life I have been kidnapped, taken to another city and sexual abused by my mothers boyfriend at 11 years old. All sexual assaulted as well by her best friend. Than forced to live with her boyfriend for the next 11 years where I was forced to believe that this is normal and that I should forgive him because that’s what Jesus would do. This does not include the men on streets, school, clubs, work and anywhere else that have disrespected me. Let me go on to say this, the only reason why I don’t live with my family anymore is because my mother died from internal bleeding and her boyfriend went back to Texas. It took her death for me to regain control of my life. Men can be evil, women can be evil and they can both destroy your life. Let me further say this, I am not a victim. I am a strong confident, self respecting woman in a beautiful relationship with a good amazing man of three years. We need to understand that as women, life is unfair, cruel, and it will break you if you don’t fight back. Lets not be naive and assume because your in a good family, or neighborhood women don’t get rapped. It’s happening, your just not hearing about it. Exercise vigilance, look strange men in their faces when walking. Don’t go out to clubs alone or without men or women to protect you. We are under the leadership of a progressive president. Things will change if we fight it. Start fighting.