By Laura Johnston
Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland
I’ve never been sexually assaulted, thank God. I’ve never been seriously sexually harassed.
But I remember wearing long sleeves, jeans and running shoes during a summer internship, to try to keep a creepy editor from leering.
I remember a co-worker pressing the tip of a ballpoint pen into my bare back, just above the V of my dress, for no reason. I remember the boob jokes and innuendo from a few boys on the high school swim team.
Those experiences bothered me. But they were normal, just part of the world you have to put up with as a woman.
Every woman has these stories.
That’s why the anti-sexual harassment movement is called #MeToo.
One out of six women will be sexually assaulted. The rest of us share these smaller stories, of being ogled, belittled, discriminated against, because of our gender.
Some of us may chalk some of it up to “boys will be boys” and brush it off, like a catcall on the sidewalk. Me, I constructed a forcefield my best friend called my “F-you vibe.”
I became a reporter. I developed a thick skin covering Cuyahoga County government, corruption and reform. I learned to take angry voice mails as a point of pride. I became a parenting columnist, writing about the foibles of raising kids. I learned to ignore personal attacks in the comments section of cleveland.com.
Which has taught me well for writing about women’s issues on cleveland.com’s Shatter page, which launched with reporter Mary Kilpatrick in May.
My most recent post, about the feelings of Case Western Reserve University women’s history students after Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearings, garnered nearly 400 comments, mostly bashing women.
Here’s one: “oh, you third and fourth wave feminists…….. such victims, so misunderstood….. hey you should leave your safe spaces and go and pack some sand instead of whining and moaning.”
Or this one: “I can’t recall ever meeting a modern feminist who wasn’t angry. That seems to be their defining trait. Feminism certainly doesn’t make them happier. In fact, I would say that the only people hurt by modern feminism more than men are the women it claims to serve.”
A few thoughts:
1. I’m not sure people understand the meaning of feminism. Feminism means advocating for women’s rights and the equality of the sexes. What exactly is so distasteful about equality?
2. I’m sure you’ve heard this before. But if you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.
3. Why exactly is feminism hurting men? Do you really feel that threatened by a desire to treat all human beings respectfully and fairly?
A reader emailed me Wednesday, after noticing that many of our Shatter stories receive similar comments.
“It is the stories about women, written by women, that receive the most hate,” she wrote. “Comments are a prime example of what it’s like being a woman in our current societal climate. It’s not easy! You can’t even do your job without being talked down to by anonymous men on the internet.”
The thing is, though, anonymous comments, or even personalized attacks, aren’t going to keep Mary or me from writing about Kavanaugh, #MeToo and other women’s issues. Just like they won’t stop women from wearing pink hats, marching on Washington or encouraging more women to run for office.
Every woman deserves to be treated with respect, to speak honestly without fear of retribution and to share their stories. I hope we can agree on that.
For more coverage of women’s issues, like Shatter on Facebook.