American women continue to gain ground. We represent the nation from positions of power and fight our way into professions once considered "'masculine' provinces." More women than men currently receive higher educational degrees. The influence of women also pervades American art, culture, business, and politics.
Yet, despite our achievements, American women continue to suffer. We are raped, beaten, violated, and abused. We endure cat-calls on our way to-and-from working the "double-shift." Women shoulder the blame for mistakes attributable to both genders. America even disregards our right to protection from domestic violence and attempts to invade the privacy of women's bodies.
American society's attitude towards women thus communicates a series of conflicting messages. We encourage women to break boundaries, work hard, and aim for the highest position in the firm. But we continue to strip women of their rights and dignity. Where's the respect?
It appears that much of this unhealthy, contradictory dynamic plays out under the veil of the public-private divide. Powerful, educated women populate our office buildings. Yet, once they cross the threshold from the outside world into their homes, the clock winds back and the forces of patriarchy reign. Women suffer behind the closed doors of "home sweet home." Inequalities abound as women continue to perform the greater share of household chores and use up more "flex time" than men for child rearing. Violence persists as women face beatings, rape, and mental and verbal abuse. When women try to escape their abusers, their predators break down doors and track them down.
Something must change, and it should start with respect.
We must respect ourselves.
It is imperative for women to love their bodies and embrace their emotions. We must trade in our unhealthy fad diets and uncomfortable fashions. Instead, we should nourish our minds and bodies with healthy habits, lifestyles, and expressions.
We must also teach each other the true meaning of self-respect. This means learning to say “no” when someone tries to violate our bodies or deprive us of liberty. It also involves rejecting the object of our affection when he makes his love contingent on sexual gratification.
We must require the respect of our partners and friends.
Not all men violate women. Sometimes, women violate each other. Many men and women serve as loving supporters of their female friends and partners. Unfortunately, though, that support is often insufficient.
Respecting women means really listening to women. It means understanding that one in six women is a sexual assault victim, and that a healthy relationship might require a discussion about something you “really don’t want to know about.” By the same token, it might require you to prove that you are tough enough, trustworthy enough, and empathetic enough to hear what she’s afraid to tell you.
Respect also means understanding that sometimes we do not want our partners—or even our friends—to touch us. When we explain that it is not your fault, please do not blame yourself or question our attraction to you. Instead, remember all the abuses women endure; remember that our bodies are commonly treated as public commodities.
Additionally, respect means engaging in the fight to end sexual assault. As Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation highlights, men experience sexual assault in staggering numbers as well. It is time to work together.
We must demand the respect of both law and society.
Consider the case of a typical sexual assault victim. If she is brave enough to report her attack, and strong enough to endure the multiple-hour forensic medical exam, she could wait months or years for the state to process her rape kit. In the event that her kit does not produce any viable DNA evidence, the District Attorney is unlikely to prosecute her case. Oftentimes, it does not matter that several other pieces of evidence strongly support criminal charges against her abuser.
Precisely for this reason, many victims of sexual assault and rape choose to pursue civil tort cases in addition to criminal cases. These victims no longer trust the community to aid them in their quest for justice. Instead, the victims take it upon themselves…so long as the statute of limitation has yet to pass.
By failing to adequately challenge issues plaguing women, society perpetuates the status quo. For every judge who does not understand domestic violence and for every sexual assault case denied by the District Attorney, all women lose. Each favorable decision or settlement in a civil case protects a single woman in need of justice. What about the rest of us? The men who get away with rape are very likely to rape again. In fact, most undetected rapists average about six victims each.
"Sexual sovereignty--every student is entitled to their own. Respect it," urged Diane Rosenfeld of Harvard Law School at the First National Summit on Campus Safety for College and University Presidents. Rosenfeld is correct, but her statement could rightfully extend to more than just college students. Every person--and especially every woman--is entitled to sexual sovereignty. Women deserve respect in both their public and private lives. Even a little respect can go a long way…