How many times have we either had or overheard this conversation: “So, he asked you to have sex and you said no, and you still had sex anyway?” “Yeah … he kept asking so I just gave in and did it … It’s fine, he’s still a good guy and I guess I wanted to?” Do you see a problem with this conversation? What about being regularly told to change your clothes by a parent, to be kept safe when alone? Do you see the problem there? What about when walking down the street, knowing that you are prey being watched every step you take, preparing yourself for the whistles and hollers that will follow. Do you finally get the problem?
We have normalized violence against women — whether it’s sexual harassment or assault — and it’s not okay.
These types of conversations that we have with our friends, families and even ourselves — where we ignore, excuse or accept the actions and words of men, has led to the normalization of rape culture and it needs to stop. It should not be normal to excuse someone when they pressure you into sex. It should not be normal to have to mentally prepare yourself everyday for catcalls or harassment, especially if you wear a skirt or dress. You should be able to wear whatever you want to wear without thinking twice. There are countless more examples that women experience daily, to the point where it’s just become part of our normal life routine. That is the biggest problem.
Recently, an Instagram profile called @shareyourstorybing has come out with a plethora of anonymous stories of sexual violence against Binghamton University students — both men and women, but especially against women. Reading these stories is sickening and heartbreaking in seeing how common it is, and it even made me reflect on my past experiences. Luckily, I haven’t been subjected to extreme sexual assault, but I have experienced sexual harassment and disrespect from men, even my male friends, that I have just excused, normalized and sometimes didn’t even realize was a form of sexual harassment. That is something truly terrifying.
It’s terrifying just how normalized sexual harassment is because it creates this idea that it is okay and that it can just continue. In the journal article written by Heather Hlavka, “Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harrassment and Abuse”, she points out the normalization of sexual harassment against women in a study, “Coming up against the ‘wall of patriarchy,’ early adolescence is a defining period for young women. Many regard harassment and violence to be a normal part of everyday life in middle and high schools.” As young girls, we are often already victims, exposed to comments about our bodies or experiencing unwanted gazes and touching. It’s experienced in school, workplaces and even in public places like transportation. Everywhere women go, we are greeted with the stares, the remarks, the locker room talk and the touches. And we have been taught and learned to ignore and not respond to it — whether it’s because if we engage we’re putting ourselves in danger or because “boys will be boys,” this complicity of normalizing the smaller things continues the harmful cycle because it excuses, normalizes and increases the violence against us.
As we grow older some of us become survivors to sexual violence, and if it does not happen to us, we know and have witnessed it toward others. A statistic from nonprofit Stop Street Harassment states, “81 percent of women and 43 percent of men had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime … and 77 percent of women had experienced verbal sexual harassment, and 51 percent had been sexually touched without their permission. About 41 percent said they had been sexually harassed online, and 27 percent said they had survived sexual assault.” In colleges, a 2019 Association of American Universities survey on sexual assault and misconduct polled over 180,000 students at 33 colleges and universities. Data revealed a 13 percent nonconsensual sexual conduct rate. Statistics provided by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network also indicate that female college students between 18 and 24 years old are three times more likely to experience sexual violence. Sexual assault happens more than people are aware of and it’s even more prevalent in college, hence, the several hundred stories on @shareyourstorybing that are there to bring relief, awareness and reflection to the students of BU. The numerous stories on this account reflect how common and normalized these incidents are, and how our culture has normalized every aspect of this issue clouded by toxic masculinity, social norms and lack of awareness. Because it is so common, women have become conditioned to adapt to these forms of harm, accepting these numerous occurrences which further deepens the normalization of sexual harassment and assault in society.
I know that most girls, if not all, have experienced sexual harassment or assault at some point in their life and it took reading other people’s stories for me to finally realize that I, too, have normalized it and it’s not okay. Normalizing this culture does a disservice in every aspect, and doesn’t help anyone. It normalizes not asking for consent, it normalizes our responses or tries to dictate what is the “right” response when there really isn’t a perfect response, it normalizes sexual assault perpetrators not facing justice. It normalizes the stereotypical role of perpetrator and victim (men over women) when it realistically happens to everyone, it normalizes men who are assaulted and told they “should’ve liked it” and it normalizes the feeling of being uncomfortable. No one should be subjected to this violence. Coming forth with these stories is incredibly hard and takes a lot of courage and bravery, but doing has helped break this perpetuating cycle and has the potential to help encourage others, whether it’s sharing their story or reflecting and doing better. There is no one set solution to tackle this problem, but the step is to reflect and realize that we need to stop normalizing this form of oppression.
Willa Scolari is a junior majoring in psychology.