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We need to do better at making society safer for women

After the heinous murder of Sarah Everard in early March, social media exploded with countless women sharing their own stories of sexual harassment and assault, bringing to light the alarming frequency of these experiences.  – Photo by Unsplash.com

Content warning: This article contains mentions of or references to sexism, sexual assault, sexual harassment and racism.

I think I speak for many women when I say, “I’m exhausted.” 

I’m sad, angry, annoyed and determined to talk about why I feel this way. I don't think I’ll be able to find the perfect words to contribute to this larger dialogue, but this is my attempt.

Most women are acutely aware of existing and feeling unsafe in our own bodies in a way that men just aren’t. I recently watched a video titled “i hate men.” by one of my favorite YouTubers, Nicole Rafiee, and felt appropriately enraged and spiraling as I thought about a tough subject that I take personally.

There's paranoia and discomfort invading many aspects of women’s everyday lives and relationships, as well as the global news cycle reflects this.

In early March, the murder of Sarah Everard in London by a Metropolitan Police officer sparked a louder worldwide conversation on the daily dread women feel when partaking in activities that are supposed to be as simple and mindless as walking down the street. A recent poll taken in the U.K. showed that 97 percent of women aged 18 to 24 have been sexually harassed and 80 percent have faced this harassment in public.

In response to the discussion of Everard’s death, #NotAllMen was trending on social media and has a similar ring of idiocy and ignorance to #AllLivesMatter. Such a hashtag takes attention away from the real issues at hand and helps with virtually nothing but soothing male ego and undermining the concept of accountability.

Earlier this year, in my home country of India, a distressing ruling in the Bombay High Court by a female judge acquitted a man of charges of groping a 12-year-old girl and essentially ruled that groping could only be constituted as sexual assault if there was no "skin-to-skin" contact. This order was later reaffirmed by the Indian Supreme Court, thereby invalidating the experiences of many women who are victims of sexual assault and harassment.

In the U.S., the transgender and gender non-conforming communities have consistently been victims of fatal violence. Anti-transgender hate crimes rose by 20 percent between 2018 and 2019. Transgender women of color, particularly from the Black and Latinx communities, are actively discriminated against and not seen, heard or made to feel safe in many spheres of public life.

Six of the eight victims in last week’s shootings in Atlanta were women of Asian descent, targeted in an evil hate crime driven by racism and misogyny. Since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic began in March 2020, attacks against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAIP) community have skyrocketed as a vile, racist rhetoric used by bigoted Right-wing politicians became more salient in the media.

The AAPI community is hurting. The elderly are particularly vulnerable and AAPI families across America are processing their collective anxiety and fear for the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of their loved ones.

A report by Stop AAPI Hate indicated that out of the approximately 3,800 hate incidents committed against the AAPI community reported in the last year, women have reported 68 percent of the incidents, while men reported 29 percent.

This disparity likely stems from the stereotypes assigned to AAPI women and their hyper-sexualization and fetishization in media and society, according to Nancy Wang Yuen, a sociology professor at Biola University. A video by Korean-American YouTuber Ashley Alexander is insightful in understanding the day-to-day problems of where racism and sexism intersect for AAPI women.

The above vignettes highlighting the struggles of women across race, ethnicity and class do not even scratch the surface. The universality of what women all over the world are feeling currently is palpable and it's important that we address these emotions and experiences with empathy and an intersectional approach to our feminism.

Facts and statistics and anecdotes and accounts of women’s issues have made the world more aware of them. This increased awareness should be channeled into meaningful activism and allyship.

When discussing the news cycle around women’s issues with a friend, I recalled the first time I had been catcalled, when I was in middle school, and began my telling by describing what I was wearing.

In trying to justify why I shouldn’t have been catcalled by citing the length of my skirt and sleeves, my internalized misogyny dawned on me. As someone who has been the tallest girl in class since kindergarten, I also didn't wear a pair of shorts for probably eight years before I felt a small pang of liberation to do so in college, to prevent getting the unwanted looks from strange men’s eyes searing on to my legs as a kid.

Women shouldn't have to make excuses or apologize for their clothing or shame themselves and others for dressing in a way that makes them happy. Nor should women have to deliberate and police other mundane decisions, like how they speak or respond to men, or what times of day they should be out of their houses. Maybe I shouldn’t have to send my friends a “Text me when you get home!” message every time we part ways, but it's imperative that I do so anyway.

I recently finished reading Chanel Miller’s "Know My Name: A Memoir." While her account of her time as Emily Doe in the 2015 Stanford University rape case was at times very difficult to read, every word was imbued with agency and power. Women like Miller, who advocate for themselves in spite of the patriarchal systems designed to oppress them, give me hope and inspire strength.

At Rutgers, I have seen small reminders that women are not in alone in what they feel, such as the Clothesline Project installation on Voorhees Mall honoring people’s experiences with interpersonal violence, or the comforting purple cookies and cupcakes available across Rutgers Dining Halls come October, when the Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) turns the campus purple for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. 

Using our common humanity, I hope that we can take the negativity weighing on our minds and hearts and work towards a safer future for women, characterized by respect, trust, active learning and open conversation. In light of the unease of what we read in the news daily, it's essential to not feel defeated or disheartened by headlines and instead let them drive you to push for positive change.

If you would like to empower and be a better ally to your AAPI peers, you can explore online resources under #StopAsianHate, support your local AAPI-run small businesses and learn more about organizations that support the community here. Resources specifically addressing the needs of the transgender community can be found here. Campus resources for Rutgers AAPI students can be found on the Asian American Cultural Center website.

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