A Colleague, Not A Conquest

I was asked to write a blog post about the sexism and harassment I’ve experienced at UMass Dartmouth. I’ve been unable to figure out what to write, because how am I supposed to summarize it? How do I talk about something I hate, but have come to expect? The problem isn’t people respectfully asking me out or paying me compliments; I can appreciate the bravery that takes. The problem is despite being at the top of my major and going out of my way to be professional and taken seriously, more often than not I’m made to feel like a conquest and not a colleague. Over time, I’ve learned to keep myself more distant, give emails and not phone numbers, keep topics strictly to class. And yet it continues. It’s exhausting and it’s distracting. So instead of writing about how it’s demeaning, how it happens to almost all women I know, or how unfair it is that my male counterparts can focus on their education without these distractions, I’m just going to list a few of my actual experiences

  1. I’m 18. I’m new to a major, so someone who’s more familiar with it is trying to show me the ropes. We get along well, talking about a shared interest in our major. I express no interest beyond being friends, I tell him I have a boyfriend. A few weeks later, I’m at an event sponsored by our program with another guy friend from class. After that event, someone tells me the first guy is yelling and throwing things outside because the person I was with was “taking his girl!” He “claimed me.” I confront him, explain that he doesn’t own me, and dread my classes with him.
  2. I’m 19. I’m walking to the Dells with some friends to go to another friend’s party. Boys up ahead of me are calling women sluts. I confront them and call them pigs. They direct all their attention on me, calling me a slut, a cunt, yelling and getting in my face. I’m not afraid, I’m pissed off. After, my then-boyfriend tells me I should have stayed out of it and I really embarrassed him.
  3. I’m 20. I’m still healing from a sexual assault six months prior. I hear through the grapevine that I should really read my ex’s paper for a creative writing class. It’s about a woman getting sexually assaulted and how the protagonist watches, enjoys it, and is glad it happened because she rejected him. The details are vividly written and eerily familiar. He passes the class. I laugh at how his writing didn’t get the grade, my lived experience did. I wonder why his professor doesn’t follow up with his disturbing essay.
  4. I’m 20. I organize a protest on campus. People disagree with me. I try to discuss with people what it is I’m protesting. Instead, I am threatened with death and rape, I am yelled at on campus, I have things thrown at me. A radio station asks to interview me. They ask me about whether I think I’ll still be “popular with boys” after this. I tell them I don’t care. They misquote and misrepresent me.
  5. I’m 21. I work and go to class from 9am to 9pm every day. In between two of my classes, I have the only ten minutes to myself that I’ll get all day. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for a month, the same man comes and tries to hit on me. I tell him I’m disinterested. I ignore him. I find a new place to sit. He persists. I accept that I don’t get to have 10 minutes to myself anymore and start heading straight to class.
  6. I’m 21. All I want to do is finish this project with my class partner. All he wants to do is ask about my boyfriend and say how he’s better than him. I suggest ideas, he tells the professor they’re his. He tells me his kinks. I want to vomit. I’m grateful when the semester is over.
  7. I’m 22. A boy asks me questions about my major. I answer. He then mansplains to me, which is –condescends to me and corrects me, with wrong information. He knows all this because he took a 100-level course two years ago. I laugh it off because this happens so often, it’s hilarious now.
  8.  I’m 22. A friend from class occasionally texts me to ask about assignments or readings. He asks about my boyfriend and I have a bad feeling. Within a month, he’s snapchatting me saying he’s horny. I leave him on read. He scowls at me the next class. I can’t have an interaction with a male classmate where they don’t end up trying to sleep with me. I can’t talk about how frustrating that is without being considered conceited. I can’t reject them without being called a bitch. So, I wear the title bitch.

I could bring up a million other examples of sexism and harassment that I’ve experienced, both on and off campus. But so could every woman; they’re not uncommon or specific to me. My girlfriends and I have practically made it a pastime to laugh about the stupid sexism we encounter on a daily basis. Not because it’s particularly funny, but because we have to- we’d go insane if we didn’t.

We didn’t come to UMass in hopes of being hit on, we came for ourselves and ourselves alone. We are intelligent, hard-working, ambitious. We work ourselves ragged with running student orgs, receiving high marks, volunteering, working multiple jobs, building resumes that we can be proud of. But our classmates, our coworkers, our bosses, sometimes even our professors, friends, and partners, don’t give us that respect. I’m tired of all the ways, small and large, we need to rearrange our days to navigate a sexist climate. We have worked too long for too hard. Don’t hit on me, don’t condescend to me, don’t insult me. Stop expecting me to cater to your ego, to pretend to be interested, or to giggle at your advances.

I am your equal. Treat me like it.