Collyn A. Peddie, Partner of the Center
I am a bad feminist. I confess it openly. Although I have worked hard throughout my life to advance women’s equality and dignity, I’ve not lived up to my boastful feminism. I am a fraud.
I think I have always have known in my heart that women in America are not entirely free. We are not free to wander or drive in a national park or secluded forest alone. We are not free to park where we want, book a hotel room too far from the elevator, or stay out too late. In the workplace and in schools and universities, we are not free to wear even some quite reasonable clothing lest it be too distracting or too alluring to a boy or colleague. We are not free to talk too loud, laugh too raucously, say, drink, or swear too much, or even interrupt lest we be thought unfeminine. We know that a violation of any of these restrictions is punishable by sexual assault, harassment, or humiliation—or the threat of all three at the hands of a self-appointed judge.
We don’t say much about this loss of freedom because we think, among all women in the world, we enjoy more freedom. We feel lucky to have what we have and fear its loss. So we keep quiet.
And we are quiet even when we have violated no unspoken norm but someone grabs and tries to kiss or touch us, or worse, or when someone makes an improper and aggressive sexual comment to or about us. It is usually a powerful and entitled man. We run away, humiliated, wondering what we did wrong. Or we sit, dumbfounded, wondering how or whether to respond. We may tell our friends but, hey, it is over quickly and the man is powerful. No one will believe us, or, even if they do, his standing, his job, his future is too important to suffer a blemish because of us. We are lucky to have a job and cannot risk losing it. We cannot risk making a powerful enemy or being tagged as one of “those” women. We move on but we never forget the assault. Whether it fits the legal definition, whether it results in bodily injury that is always how it feels: a vicious assault on our bodies, minds, autonomy, and dignity—a bruise on our very souls.
When Michelle Obama finally said “enough is enough,” it became clear to me that I had been dishonest with myself and with all the women I had mentored and talked to about feminism. The few times I was harassed and grabbed came back to me in crystalline memory. I have not forgotten the details or the feeling. And it made me angry all over again: at the jerks who presumed to touch me and at myself for not exposing them.
We cannot be good feminists yet put up with this. Enough is enough.