YesAllWomen is a hashtag that’s been trending on twitter ever since the mass shooting last week around the University of California, Santa Barbara, in response to the shooter’s rants against women. Women have been telling their stories of fear and intimidation, stories of violence, stories of discrimination. The hashtag is not meant to imply that ALL men are sexist or abusive – what it does proclaim is that ALL women, yes, ALL women have stories to tell of feeling afraid, having to take extra precautions because of their gender, or feeling the burden of their gender. If you’re a woman thinking, “not me,” or a man thinking, “that can’t be true,” just reflect for a moment.
Have you ever taken precautions not to walk home alone at night on your college campus? Has a boss ever called you “sweetie” or “honey” with no equivalent term for male employees? Have you ever had to have a talk with your son about not even drinking water at a party due to fear of date rape drugs? Have you ever worried about your son being raped? Have you had problems finding shorts long enough to meet your son’s school dress code? Have you ever had to use the line, “I have a boyfriend,” to make a guy stay away from you, because you’re word of “I’m not interested,” wasn’t good enough? Have you ever worried about your reputation, or the reputation of your daughter, when men and boys have little worry about such things? Have you ever thought about what it means when a man gives an engagement ring, but generally receives no ring? Or what it means that many times today, the father still “gives away” a daughter in marriage. Or what it means that in some circles a couple is still proclaimed “man and wife?” How would it sound for the officiant to proclaim a couple “husband and woman” or “woman and husband?” Weird? Then you’re YesAllWomen.
I myself have many many YesAllWomen stories to tell, some subtle, some scary. Perhaps to drive home the point I’ll tell one of the scary ones.
When I was a 28 year old senior in seminary, a 22 year old first year student was struggling mightily with Greek and I agreed to help him out. Our seminary was small and all of the students got to know “of” each other even if we didn’t know each other well, and everyone took pity on the poor first year students suffering through Greek – a hell of an introduction to theological studies. I helped him over a tough patch with Greek and then went on about my business, except he didn’t want to leave it at that.
He would want to sit at my table at meals. It didn’t seem like he had many friends, so I didn’t mind. Maybe he could find some friends among my friends. Then he started showing up at my dorm room wanting to “hang out” or “do homework” together. This is when I realized he wanted to be more than friends. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but needed to set him straight that I didn’t feel the same way. I sat him down and put it quite plainly. Except he wasn’t content with that. He continued to knock on my dorm door to “spend time with me” and catch up to me when I was going to class to “walk with me.” I was starting to feel smothered and a little freaked out.
I told him again that I wasn’t interested in a relationship and needed him to give me space. He said ok, but that was just lip service. His behavior was actually getting worse. He continued to show up at my dorm room to “hang out with” me. It got so bad that I developed a secret knock for my friends, so I would know if it was one of them and answer. If it wasn’t the special knock I wouldn’t answer. Many times it wasn’t. Sometimes he would knock and I would stand on my side of the door and listen and I could hear him breathing in the hallway, lingering, sometimes for minutes before walking away. I found out from passers by that he would sit outside my door. I started keeping my television volume very low and would wear my headphones for music so no noise would come from my room to clue him that I was there. I started having friends walk me to class and the cafeteria so I wouldn’t ever be alone with him. I was becoming a prisoner.
When we came back to school after Christmas I started dating the man who would become my husband, known here on my blog as “C.” When we acknowledged our attraction to each other he asked me if I was involved with this other person since he seemed to be “around” all the time, so I had to fill “C” in on the creepy details. “C” and I took things slowly, as was my wish since I really hadn’t been looking for a relationship, but soon my unwanted admirer got wind of “us” and then things got worse.
I started finding roses at my door when I would return from a class (NOT left there by “C”). The knocks and sitting outside my door became more frequent, “C” being in my room with me for a few of these instances. Thankfully he and my friends encouraged me as I finally went to the dean about the situation. The dean was supportive. He explained there was nothing he could really DO because nothing illegal had been done, but he told me he would call the student into his office for a “talk.” When the dean sat the student down, he admitted to the dean it was indeed him knocking and leaving roses, and that he would stop – except he didn’t. Well, maybe for a week or two, but then it started again.
Not only did it start again, it got frightening. It boiled over when he made a threat towards “C” and left an extremely creepy, slightly threatening “poem” and rose for me on the windshield of my car. That left me shaking and in tears, and I went straight to the dean and handed him both items and told him about the threat to “C.” The dean called the student in again, and laid down the law that I had helped to formulate: he was to stay completely away from me – if he saw me coming he would have to go out of his way to avoid me – no more knocking on my door, no flowers, no poems, no contact whatsoever – AND no contact with “C” – AND his candidacy committee would be told of the situation. If he violated any of these rules, we would call the police. He finally backed off. By my graduation it was over. I left campus and so did he. I found out afterwards that his candidacy committee did NOT endorse him continuing his studies. His seminary days were done. (One reason I’m very grateful for my denomination’s oversight of those preparing for ordained ministry!)
He never contacted me after I graduated from seminary and he was kicked out. I don’t know whatever happened to him. But I will never forget.