Awesome Tresna’s Burning Question: “What the hell is it with everyone trying to scare people with vaginas out of going places alone?? I don’t even like to tell anyone where I’m going or what I’m doing any more because I know I’m going to be subjected to this onslaught of negativity about all the dangers that are lurking out in the world just waiting for me to wander by. How come people with penises don’t get reminded about all the dangers that are lurking in the bushes waiting for them?? Most importantly, why does it feel so fucking awful when these people try to warn me about all these dangers that I’m going to be in if I go do what I want? Also, why isn’t my spell-check recognizing the word “vaginas?” You got a problem with the plural form of vagina, spell-check??”
Thank you for your awesome question. It’s a big one. And extra points for making it entertaining (take note all you question askers! This is how it’s done, ha, ha. But no pressure…).
I read an article the other day about a transgendered woman who caused a major upset (ok, she offended one woman who happened to make a lot of noise about it) by using the women’s locker room at her gym. This sparked a discussion about whether or not transgendered people should use the restrooms and other facilities that correlate to their birth gender or could be free to choose. Many women, who were not coming from a place of hatred or prejudice (they were not attacking anyone, just stating how they felt), admitted that they would not feel safe being in the restroom (not the stall, just the room) with what they considered to be a “man”. Putting the issue of gender identity aside (that’s a whole different post), I found it interesting that the idea of sharing space with any person with a penis brought up so much fear and insecurity. Why, after all the strides we made with feminism, equality, and yes, gender identity, is this still even a thing? Why are we so threatened by the proverbial schlong and/or whom it’s attached to?
Another article I read told the story of someone (not the store) who had posted a sign on a shop’s restroom wall that any boy older than 6 must use the men’s facilities. This, understandably, sparked outrage by parents who didn’t feel safe letting their six year old go into the restroom alone. Again, this was interesting to me, because it wasn’t just the idea that this child might get scared or end up wreaking havoc with toilet paper and liquid soap. The fear that came up was that a man, some horrible dangerous pedophilic man, could harm their little boy. Because, obviously, predators are everywhere.
Women feel unsafe walking down the street, being in enclosed spaces with men they don’t know, letting their children play in the vicinity of men, leaving their children alone with men, being in the room with a male doctor without anyone else present, even sitting in a boardroom with men. And while I want to make it very, very clear that I in no way blame the victims, ever, I do think it’s time we get down to the root cause of our fear, take responsibility for our energy, and begin to manifest a different experience. It’s time to stop being so goddamned afraid.
What are we really afraid of?
When I ask that question of women, the first answer that generally comes is “I’m afraid of physical harm”. We are scared that men will beat us up or rape us. And while rape culture is definitely a thing, I don’t see it as the cause of our problems, but rather as a reflection of them. Men are bigger and stronger than we are. They can physically overpower us. When a man becomes aggressive and begins to scream, it’s scarier to us than when a woman reacts in the same way. The threat of physical danger is ever present. And, of course, the more we focus on it, the more present it becomes. The “evidence” that our fears are warranted are everywhere. Movies, TV shows and the media consistently remind us of just how vulnerable we are. What’s worse, they also tend to underscore the idea that this danger is simply a given, that we’re completely powerless to change it, and that the best we can do is to avoid it by dressing conservatively, never going anywhere alone, not going out at night, and essentially never trusting any man, ever. If a woman breaks these rules and dares to live her life the way she wants to and ends up being assaulted, it’s obviously, at least to some degree, her own fault. She should’ve known better. She shouldn’t have gotten drunk. She shouldn’t have been wearing a short dress. She shouldn’t have been out alone. She shouldn’t have trusted her friend of two years not to rape her. Even women who consider themselves feminists will often harbor this judgment to some degree.
Sure, they say, we shouldn’t have to be afraid, but the “truth” is that predators are everywhere and since we “know” this, we can’t be stupid about it. We have to be “realistic” (yes, I’m aware I’m using a lot of quotes. Deal with it.) Otherwise, we’re just asking for it. And this reality, this assumption of ever present danger, this idea that we are constantly surrounded by predators and that all men are potentially feral animals just waiting to go for our jugular, is what I take issue with.
Men are not predators
Men don’t do themselves any favors in this arena, either. Whenever a man makes a comment about a woman wearing a slutty outfit, or that she should be careful, or that what she was wearing or doing had any impact on her getting assaulted, he’s doing a HUGE disservice to his entire gender. Think about it: do we really want to perpetuate the idea that men are simple-minded creatures who are unable to control their urges and impulses? That they are always just a bloody steak, mini-skirt or chest pounding challenge away from being violent lunatics? And that the only way to mitigate the danger is for everyone to tip toe around them, doing their best not to provoke the always present beast within? And if this really is how we see men, then how the fuck do we allow them to be in charge of anything? Shouldn’t we be locking them all away somewhere on an island, where they can beat and assault and destroy each other, leaving us the hell alone? Why are these blood-thirsty creatures even allowed to roam free?
Our view of men in this society has become very, very dim. The more we excuse men for violent behavior, the more we make it about them being men, rather than simply about the individual, the more we dig into this fear inducing paradigm. We simply cannot accept the idea that men are dangerous as a given. It’s disrespectful to men and it harms women.
Men are not inherently predatory – not any more than women are, anyway. They are subject to their belief systems, just as women are, just as we all are. The men of the world who don’t harm women are not constantly suppressing the urge to lash out. They are not just barely controlling their violent tendencies. They are not just a breath away from beating someone to a pulp. The grand majority of men and women would never hurt a fly and never do. If our society was inherently violent, there would be a lot more of it than we currently experience.
Does gender actually have anything to do with it?
But don’t men and women have different belief systems in our culture? And doesn’t that shape our gender identities and reactions? Yes, and yes. Men, in general, have not been taught to feel as physically unsafe as women do. They do, however, feel more emotionally unsafe and this is what actually causes a lot of the lashing out. Whenever you suppress emotions, and the men in our culture have certainly been taught to do so, you’re going to have some kind of explosion, eventually. This is not a gender based issue, it’s an energy based one. Because men (again, in general), feel safer expressing themselves physically, and feel more secure in that form of expression, their blow ups will often come out as violence. Take any woman who feels safer expressing herself physically and she’ll release her pent up emotions the same way.
Violence and aggression are not inherent male traits. They are symptoms of an underlying belief system, a set of definitions and behavior rules that govern what it means to be a man or a woman (and that we have to be either one or the other). Of course, homosexuality, tansgenderism and androgyny are all challenging those definitions and forcing us to revisit what being a man, woman or other really means to us. They are giving us the opportunity to connect with people, not on the basis of their gender, but on an individual basis. The fact that you are a man or a woman or whatever, means nothing. Show me who you are, let me hear your words, let me view your actions, let me get to know YOU. We cannot know anything about someone based on their gender, culture or religion. And while the culture, race and gender we were born into certainly shaped our experience – they gave us a belief system to start off with, they in no way lock us into any kind of journey. We always have free will to be who we really are. In other words, if someone is being an asshole, it’s not because they’re black or white, or gay or straight, or male or female, or Christian or Muslim. It’s because they’re being triggered by something in their reality and they’ve been taught that aggression or bullying is the only way to keep themselves safe.
Making sweeping statements about “all men”, or “all women”, or “all anything”, just doesn’t fly anymore. We don’t all have the same energy; we’re each unique and must approach each other that way if we ever want to truly connect.
What are you attracting?
So, let’s not blame the men, and certainly not ALL men for our fear. Let’s not look at isolated incidents (no matter how many of them there are) and use them to make sweeping judgements about an entire gender (or religion or race or whatever). And, most importantly, let’s not forget that everything always, ALWAYS comes down to our vibration. We are in a holographic reality and our manifestations are simply mirrors to our energy. That includes the good, the bad and the ugly.
When we see men as inherently dangerous, when we see anything as inherently dangerous, we are giving away all of our power. We are saying “bad stuff happens and there’s nothing I can do about it.” We are disregarding the control over our reality that we actually have. Do violent people exist? Yes. Are there men out there who will rape and murder? Yes. Of course, there are women who will do that, too. But, the fact remains that those people cannot come into your reality unless they are a match to you. This can be very hard to hear for people, especially if they have been assaulted. It can sound like victim blaming, which couldn’t be further from what I’m saying. And no, I’m not coming at this from a theoretical point of view.
I’ve experienced violence at the hands of men, both physical and emotional. I’ve been sexually assaulted. I used to feel terrified walking down the street at night. I’ve experienced sexism and prejudice. I’ve hit the glass ceiling, hard, several times. And what’s more, I know gobs of women who have had the same types of experiences. So, I know exactly what it feels like to be utterly powerless. I know exactly what it looks like when you manifest piles and piles of evidence to support that powerlessness. I used to be a freaking master at it.
And yet, I can tell you that in hindsight, it’s incredibly clear to me that all those ugly experiences were mirrors of my fearful, powerless vibration. I did not feel safe and therefore I wasn’t. It wasn’t the other way around. How do I know? Well, as soon as I began to shift my vibration, the “danger” went away. I didn’t learn martial arts; I didn’t start travelling with a body guard; I didn’t get a gun. I didn’t put the emphasis on protecting myself from the danger that was “obviously” there. I began to focus on how safe the world is, on safe I was. I began to look at people, particularly men, differently. I connected with the best part of people, instead of the worst part. And my reality changed.
Men respected me, were kind to me, supported me and stood up for me (when I no longer needed them to). They showed me their warm and gooshy center, the part of themselves that they often protect at all costs. I realized that they are just as afraid of us as we are of them, just for different reasons. I saw how disconnected we all are, and yet how desperately we want that to change. I flowed love and compassion towards them, seeing how this horrific, animalistic view of the “dangerous man” was harming them even more than it was us. I saw how this view kept them emotionally isolated, how it demeaned them (and women, as well), and the powerlessness that this was reflecting back to them. I saw how we were using this shield, this definition of what it is to be a man, to keep us from truly seeing who they were on an individual basis. And I saw their yearning, their desire to be seen, to connect, to be given permission to relax and just be themselves. Very few men in our society feel that freedom. They are just as much in prison as we women are.
Don’t buy into other people’s fears
As you change your view of men, yourself and the world in general, you’re going to go through a time of instability. You’ll be moving out of one belief system to another, and any fears you still have will manifest, often in the form of other people warning you of the dangers they still assume are just a given. They’ll bring you stories and examples of how hostile the world is, and will, in an attempt to keep you safe and make themselves feel better, advise you to protect yourself at all costs. Even if it means not doing something you really want to do. It’s better to be safe than happy. And this belief system makes sense, if you buy into the idea that random, negative manifestations can and simply will happen, with no correlation to anything you can control.
If, however, you want to take the more empowered view that your reality is a holographic mirror of your own vibration, then this idea of safety over happiness no longer holds water. If the danger is not simply a given, and isn’t random, if it must be invited in in some way, then you begin to shift the belief systems (that you were not previously aware of) which invite it in, and begin to attract awesomeness instead.
So, when your family and friends begin to bombard you with stories of danger and protection, you’re simply manifesting an opportunity to choose love over fear. You can buy into these stories, or you can decide to shift your perspective and sit with it until it feels comfortable (you have to actually feel it. Simply chanting – “I’m safe, I’m safe, I’m safe” when you don’t feel safe won’t work.
A few words about catcalling
There’s been a lot of attention in the media lately on women being catcalled on the street. Most, if not all, of this attention has been focused on the idea that we have to teach men not to do that, often from a “men are so disgusting, and we have to teach them to control themselves” point of view. This very much buys into the damaging paradigm of men being raving animals which I described earlier. Of course it’s valuable to dissect why men are behaving this way, what is making them lash out at women they don’t even know on the street, but from the women’s point of view, the experience they are having, the way it feels to them, is their manifestation. The catcalling men are simply serving as a mirror.
Why do men catcall? This behavior can have several different causes. In general, it’s because they don’t feel emotionally safe. It’s because they feel powerless in some way, and this display of chest pounding and intimidation is a way for them to get their power back. Remember, men are just as afraid of women as women are of men, just in different ways. Men want to be accepted by women, want to be validated by them, want to feel that they are valuable, too, and deeply and often desperately want to connect. And when they can’t, for whatever reason (limiting beliefs), they often blame women (just as we blame men).
When I first moved to San Francisco at 19 years old, I had a lot of experiences with being catcalled. If I walked by a construction site, I got to listen to wolf whistles and all kinds of statements about what various men would like to do to me. Men on the street would yell out random crap. And it used to scare the bejeezus out of me. I’d put my head down, shove my hands in my pockets, and would walk faster attempting to escape the torture. I’d often end up shaking and terrified that one of them would come after me. And then, one day, something amazing happened. I was walking with a friend (who happened to look like a model), and we passed a construction site. The suggestions and “compliments” came quick and fast and LOUD. But instead of running away, my friend stopped. I was horrified, but stopped with her. I was physically afraid, and if there hadn’t been a fence between us and them, I would’ve never been able to tolerate sticking around. My friend began to ask the men (admittedly, in a confrontational manner) if they spoke to their mothers, sisters and girlfriends that way. How would they feel if someone did? And that’s when I saw something that I had never expected to see: these men were afraid.
Where I had expected there to be aggression, hatred and power-mongering, I saw little, damaged boys, doing their best to seem strong. I saw shame and guilt and insecurity. And fear. Loads of fear. It stunned me. These big, strong men who had seemed so threatening, were actually just as scared of me as I was of them. They mitigated that fear by catcalling, a form of “You don’t threaten me!!”, shouted from a safe distance. That incident changed everything. I began the journey of looking at men differently, of shifting my perspective, and started giving them the benefit of the doubt. It had never even occurred to me before that day that men had these emotions, too. I hadn’t been looking at them as human or equals, really. And of course, my manifestations had to mirror that view back to me. As soon as I began to change my energy, I began to attract a very different kind of man.
Mind you, this took a while (I did not know then what I know now). There were still plenty of assholes in my reality for several more years to come, but the physical threat went away, for the most part. Once I learned how to set boundaries successfully, it went away completely. For example, when I first moved to Barcelona, I had two incidents where men followed me on the street at night. The first time it happened, I panicked and ducked into a bar. It took me half an hour to stop shaking. There had been three men and they were making threatening noises, clearly enjoying the fact that they scared me. The second time it happened, I was coming from a party in the middle of the night and was walking towards a taxi stand. A man began to follow me making “Psssst! Pssst!” noises behind me. I finally got mad, turned around and yelled “I can hear you, I’m just ignoring you!” And wouldn’t you know it, he mumbled “I know…”, and slinked away. I had taken back my power, unwilling to run from my fear. I’d stood up for myself. That was the last time I ever felt threatened in that way. I hadn’t beaten him up, I hadn’t even cursed him out. I simply said the equivalent of “I see you. I’m aware of you. And I’m not afraid of you.” This acknowledgement was enough to brake though his false bravado.
So, what should women do?
There’s no one technique that will solve this issue for all women (or men), since everyone is an individual. But in general, we can all make a start by refusing to continue to see men as raving animals who have no responsibility for their actions or reactions. We can honor them as individuals, most of whom are a lot more benevolent than we’ve given them credit for. We can focus on their kindness, compassion, love, desire to connect, and vulnerability. We can embody that same kindness and compassion when it comes to how we interact with others.
We can also remind ourselves regularly that our reality is a mirror of our vibration. This means that you have to pay attention to how you feel. If you feel apprehensive about going into that dark alley alone, don’t. It doesn’t matter if your apprehension is a sign of danger (as a warning), or if it’s fear (which will then manifest, too). Don’t do something that you already feel badly about. I used to have someone walk me to a cab when I was out at night. I recognized that I didn’t feel safe and this was how I mitigated it. It’s not wrong to take such action, but understand that you’re taking it in order to feel better, not to protect yourself from the sure to be there danger.
If locking your doors and windows at night makes you feel better, do so. If parking in a well-lit garage rather than an alley makes you feel safer, great. If taking a Krav Maga class gives you a feeling of comfort, yay. None of these actions are “wrong” or “bad”, as long as you approach them from the perspective that their sole purpose is to help you feel safer, NOT to protect you. Your focus must be on feeling safer, not on the danger you’re trying to get away from.
This is also how you gauge whether or not a situation calls for you to stand up for yourself. Does the idea of it terrify you (for example, I was far too scared to stand up to the three men who followed me), or does it scare you a little but also make you feel exhilarated and empowered? Are you acting from a place of anger (which is empowering) or fear? Are you aware of your emotions and reacting deliberately? Are you truly setting a boundary or just trying to control the other person? Is whatever you’re doing actually making you feel better?
The world is not a hostile place. The world is a fearful place and that fear will manifest as hostility. The dynamic that’s currently coming to light more than ever before, the idea that men are a danger to women and women are somehow inherently more unsafe than men is based on a false belief system; one that needs to die already. We can take our power back. The men never took it. We gave it to them and we’re continuously giving it to them, while simultaneously harboring the belief that they aren’t worthy of it. Let’s stop looking at men as feral animals who can’t help themselves but do damage, and begin to connect with each other individually and authentically. Let’s acknowledge that we’re all afraid, and soothe that fear for everyone, starting with ourselves. Let’s also stand up for ourselves, not in an attempt to control anyone else, but just to give voice to how we feel. Let’s give men permission to do the same. Let’s stop defining ourselves so rigidly by what it means to be a man or a woman, and instead ask ourselves, “what does it mean to be human?” and “what kind of human do I want to be?”
It’s time to let go of the fear. It’s time to let go of the anger and rage and resentment. It’s time to uncross our arms, take down the barricades, and stride into the future arm in arm, not as adversaries, and not as homogenous globs of agreement, but as individuals coming together to connect in authentic ways. It’s time to accept each other and look at each other not through the eyes of fear, but through the eyes of love. It’s time. Are you up for it?