Editor’s Note: Anna Sophia Lotman is a junior at the Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica, California. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
“Is my skirt too short?”
“Is my phone charged?”
“Is there someone to walk with me at night?”
Every day, women around the world cycle through a mental checklist of questions in an attempt to protect themselves from harassment, assault, rape or worse.
Yet, even after the one-year anniversary of the #MeToo movement, it’s worth pausing to reflect on an underappreciated reality: Why should women be the only ones to bear this burden?
In his book “The Gift of Fear,” Gavin de Becker wrote: “Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect, while most women fear rape and death.”
Awkwardness versus assault – now that’s a dreadful disparity.
According to a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, women are right to fear sexual misconduct. About 1 in 3 women will experience some form of sexual violence over the course of their lifetimes. For men, the risk is less than 1 in 6. And to make matters all the more terrifying, the CDC report also states that 26% to 58% of victims will experience their first rape before turning 18.
I have been raised with a “tool kit” on how to survive in this sexually aggressive world. In my middle school, only the girls were required to take self-defense. And my mom made sure my sister and I, as well as some close friends, had pepper spray at the tender age of 12. Her mother had worried that her daughter might be hit by a car; now, she was worried her daughter might be a victim of an unwanted advance.
I suppose the tool kit was a smart investment since I first got catcalled when I was 13. If the acne and awkwardness of middle school wasn’t enough, now I had to add being leered at to my list of things about which to worry. Since then, outfits I couldn’t wait to debut have been hanging all alone in the back of my closet. My brand-new, light pink floral spaghetti-strap summer dress has been orphaned.
But teenagers shouldn’t have to grow up this fast. And we shouldn’t have to make these sacrifices.
Whenever a woman is the victim of sexual violence, the aftermath is far too predictable. Questions from “What was she wearing?” to “Did she lead him on?” often color the conversation – our collective focus falling to what the woman, not the assailant, could have done differently in the situation.
And now the business community has bought into this idea – creating products to arm girls and women better. Two entrepreneurs fundraised to launch a line of “rape proof” underwear, which they marketed as “underwear only you can take off!” Similarly, a handful of students from North Carolina State University have developed a nail polish to detect date rape drugs.
While I can see the values in these products, they fail to address the underlying systemic problem of rape culture – one driven not by the victims, but the men (and sometimes women) who perpetrate these crimes.
Thankfully, this viewpoint is beginning to gain traction. Activists such as Jackson Katz, who recently visited my high school, are advancing the notion that so-called women’s issues are, in fact, men’s issues.
Specifically, Katz advocates what’s called the “bystander approach”: In the face of harassment, men can no longer stand by. Instead, they need to stand up.
Ultimately, our goal should be to end the current female checklist.
Instead, imagine a checklist such as this:
“Go for a jog with both earbuds in.”
“Go to a party without clutching my Diet Coke as a shield.”
“Take my beautiful dress out from its premature retirement.”
To do that requires not just female self-empowerment but also male education. Together, we can end the culture of abuse that’s robbing our teenage girls of their adolescence.