Boys will be boys is out, holding men accountable is in

Gillian Reynolds

Art by Julia Frankus

By the time I was 15, I had been harassed more times than I could count on both hands; now, at 17, I’ve completely lost track. The catcalls, body commentary, wandering eyes and inappropriate sexual conversations entered my life at far too young an age and have only worsened. As I have grown older, one thing has become clear: it is rare for me to go out and not be harassed by older men. And I know I’m not alone. Almost every woman I know has experienced the difficulties of being a woman in a world that was created to fit a man, where women are consistently undermined and put at a disadvantage because they aren’t considered as “good” as men. 

Frequently, I’ll tell my friends a “funny” story that happened to me over the weekend. It often takes saying it out loud for me to realize that it wasn’t as funny as I thought. Actually, it wasn’t funny at all; it was harassment. A pang of guilt comes with recognizing harassment, leading women to often stay quiet. The normalization of sexual harassment in our society promotes no enforcement of consequences for men’s actions and leaves women without the proper skills to respond to harassment.

According to Psychology Today, the average age women first experience sexual harassment is 15-years-old. Honestly, it’s no surprise that desensitization to harassment occurs, considering the large percentage of women who are put in fearful and scary situations starting at such a young age.

Experiencing and understanding harassment as a victim is frequently accompanied by grief and guilt. Being violated is a trauma that, just like any other, must be grieved. It’s an experience that is extremely disorienting and makes you ashamed of who you are as a woman, chipping away at the confidence to stand up for yourself. It often takes time to recognize harassment, sometimes days or even months. Many initially think, “Did I do something to provoke this?” Especially for women, who often have a natural instinct of putting others before themselves, thoughts such as, “Did I smile for too long?” “Did my compliment seem flirtatious?” or “Were my clothes suggestive?” are regular responses to sexual harassment. This is a very specific type of guilt — female guilt. 

According to Psychologist and Health Counselor Dr. Kathryn Stamoulis, women feel guiltier than men after being harassed because of pressure to maintain social relationships and status. This is not to say that men don’t think of others, but women have a natural instinct of placing those around them first. 

Because conversations around harassment are considered taboo, the act of reporting harassers proves an extremely difficult task. Fear of getting a peer in trouble, and oftentimes power dynamics, such as being harassed by a boss or teacher, make situations more complex. These worries allow harassment to go unreported, which leads to further desensitization. Thus, the 80 percent of harassment that goes unreported is a whole lot less astonishing when looking at the bigger picture. 

The normalization of harassment is what allows men to hurt women without consequences. These same men who commit atrocities against young women go on to become Chief Executive Officers and successful businessmen while facing zero repercussions for their behavior.

 Don’t believe me? Donald Trump had at least 18 women accuse him of inappropriate sexual behavior such as harassment and assault, and most of the accusers came forward with their accusations prior to his campaign. He then went on to be president, despite his long, well-known history of sexual misconduct. There are no boundaries for men who victimize women, and there is often no punishment despite the massive trauma they leave with their victims. These men become role models for other young men and continue a cycle of undermining allegations while giving women no justice.

Sure, not all men victimize women, and men also experience harassment. However, while it may not be all men, it is the majority of women. Eighty-seven percent of women can relate to an experience of inappropriate sexual behavior, with women receiving 38 percent more harassment than men. However, a large majority of that percentage still doesn’t have access to resources that help them overcome their trauma. 

Sexual harassment is not talked about enough in a way that teaches women how to respond and cope with being victims. There are few accessible resources on how to report sexual harassment and how to live with sexual trauma. More education in schools detailing coping skills for those who have been victimized, as well as curriculum to prevent harassment, should be prioritized. Additionally, there should be lessons for parents regarding how to have uncomfortable conversations with their children about sexual harassment. 

Sometimes, after such an experience, the complete reconstruction of your identity as a female is necessary to recover the strength you once had and to dismantle the shame you feel. Mentally, it’s exhausting to recover from, and young teenage girls deserve to have professionals who can check in with them, help rebuild their confidence and deal with the aftermath of the trauma. Resources for learning about sexual harassment and coping with it are vital to stop this cycle of desensitization and show women how to overcome sexual trauma.