I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a woman right now, in a time when our president has been accused of sexual assault and women’s health is a hot topic in legislation. I’m living in a time where women have come together, not just because they want to, but because they have to.
Women have a secret language. They write it in tally marks after every drink at a bar. They write it when they hold hands on busy streets or when they go to the bathroom in pairs. We have to speak to each other without words, love each other without names.
A woman will be going home from work late at night on the bus and a strange man will ask her things she doesn’t know how to answer, say words she doesn’t want to hear. He won’t speak her language, but an older woman in a worn Gap sweatshirt does.
“There you are, sweetie,” she wedges herself into the seat beside her. “How was your day?”
A woman leaves a party and three other women follow her. “Hey. We didn’t want you to walk home alone,” they say. They’ve never met each other, but they link arms on the way home and keep each other safe. They text each other when they get home.
These actions are all a result of rape culture, and the reaction to it has become second nature to most women, who have learned to do things that they shouldn’t have to. At this point, we don’t think about these actions or the culture behind why we do them. Looking out for other women has become second nature.
However, conversations behind this aspect of our culture have started to rise since eighty-two women have come forward with accusations against Harvey Weinstein, powerful Hollywood producer. They have sparked a movement and a hashtag – #MeToo. #MeToo prompts people to share their stories surrounding sexual assault and rape culture, encouraging them to bring to light that our nation has a problem. This movement has caused many others in Hollywood to come forward with charges against celebrities like Louis CK, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, and Sylvester Stallone. The list goes on.
It’s so much more than “boys will be boys” and we need to stop brushing it off that way. The #MeToo hashtag has been used at least 825,000 times according to the Associated Press and Twitter. People are using this hashtag to speak to one another about their experiences and band together to ask for reform.
Haley Clemens, a comic artist on Instagram (@haleyrobinart) and writer/illustrator for Chivomengro, is one of those who has used the hashtag to share her story. She saw a comic that mocked survivors of sexual assault and she drew her own in response, compiling moments of her life where she was harassed and felt unsafe.
“My platform to speak about these things is small,” Clemens writes, “but I believe in the power of artistic voice and in the power of people sharing their stories.”
Haley’s comic compiles moments that seem small and she recalls being nervous to post it, as if her experiences weren’t “significant enough” to join the hashtag. However, she had a realization that was the point — everyone’s stories are significant, regardless of the size. All of these cases of harassment are seemingly insignificant but contribute largely to rape culture and build upon each other. As I read through Haley’s comic, I realized that I shared many of these same experiences like catcalling, comments from classmates, crude comments about my sexuality and clothing, and brushed them off because that was “normal” and “how boys are”. We need to stop looking at cases of harassment this way and realize their impact on culture as a whole.
I worked with Lizzi White, a fourth year Communications major at Champlain College, to interview Haley about her comic, her experience, and what she thinks it means to be a woman right now in this video.