It rang out like a battle cry, crisp and clear as the autumn air. People rose up from the ground with scraped knees and trembling voices, undefeated and wildly courageous. Those who did not wish to share their stories stood in deafening solidarity and the world heard them loud and clear:
Sexual assault and harassment is a widespread epidemic, festering in our churches, our workplaces, our classrooms, our homes, and clinging to the patriarchal idea that only certain people are worthy of respect.
I shared one of my stories of sexual harassment on Instagram. I was both encouraged by the love from the people around me and saddened by the silence of others; people who have said to me, "feminism is irrelevant, there is no issue with equality anymore. You have no proof." Here was their proof, ripping through social media with heartbreaking ferocity, and they turned a blind eye.
We have a major problem where we have told people "if you don't want to get assaulted, don't do this, wear this, say this, be this, etc." instead of telling people, "do not assault people." When I was 11 my parents made me watch a documentary on serial rapist and murderer Ted Bundy to help teach me how to protect myself against potential predators. They did this because they couldn't be sure that everyone I encountered would know that assault is always, always wrong.
"But Ali," you protest, "there are laws against sexual assault and harassment. People know not to assault others, so if you got assaulted the person must have been mentally unstable or you must have done something." This is simply untrue. Do you want to know why people continue to assault others? Because the world has taught them that they can get away with it.
Don't believe me? Let me remind you of the story of rapist Brock Turner. Brock Turner brutally raped a woman and only stopped when he got caught by two bikers. Headlines read, "Promising Athlete Assaults Woman" instead of "Piece of Human Garbage Brock Turner Savagely Rapes Woman." He should have been sentenced to six years, but instead was only sentenced to six months, and was recently released after just three of those months served.
Three months served for sexual assault is nothing, and it is bullshit.
And so a nasty pattern emerges: with essentially no risk of being charged at all or being charged severely, assaulters continue to assault. And when victims know that their assaulters likely won't face any charge, they are less likely to report the incident. Why sit in a courtroom with someone who tried to take your everything, just watch them walk away as if nothing happened?
The #METOO movement is powerful because it is shedding light on how so many people, men and women, have been sexually assaulted and harassed. It is a collection of voices, of stories, that are saying, "this happened to me, and it was wrong, and I will not tolerate it being allowed to continue to happen."
When I was sexually harassed, I didn't tell anyone. I felt like somehow it must have been my fault. Like somehow I had led him on. Like this was just a thing that happens. I don't want my future children to think that sexual assault and harassment are just things that happen. What kind of world do we live in if being violated and disrespected is something that is just part of the human experience?
We have to start believing that the people around us are our equals. We have to stop believing the lie that our gender, sexual orientation, skin color, wealth, education, job, or anything else makes us better than the people around us, because we can be different and still be equal.
So lets say this blog changes the world; lets say that every single person embraces the true, beautiful heart of feminism. It would mean that everyone would be given the same opportunities, rights and freedoms. It would mean that everyone would be held responsible for treating others with the respect they inherently deserve.
It would mean that sexual assault and harassment would be virtually eradicated, because you do not assault someone who you respect as your equal.
So don't tell me that there is no issue with equality. Don't tell me that feminism is irrelevant, because sexual assault and harassment is heartbreakingly widespread and it is a direct result of patriarchy. It happens to women and men, and it happened to me, too.