March was women’s history month. The several events I was involved in throughout the month highlighted the history of women’s accomplishments. A century ago this August, women won the right to vote. In 1970, a U.S. Court of Appeals gave women the right to be compensated the same as men for jobs that were “substantially equal” if not identical. This ruling prevented employers from giving women different titles than men in order to pay them less. Yes, employers actually did this 50 years ago.
In 1973, Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, giving women control of their own bodies. In 1974, a woman could finally get a credit card in her own name. Before that, you had to be married and have your husband sign for you. If you were single, you were out of luck. In 1986 came legislation prohibiting discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex. In 2013, women could fight alongside men in combat. Those are just some of the strides women have made in the last 100 years.
But rolling into April reminds us that no matter how much ground we have gained over the last century, we still have a long way to go. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It is about awareness and prevention of sexual assault. The awareness part, for women, is redundant.
Too many of us learn what sexual assault is way too early in life. As for the prevention part, we all know about how you have to position your car keys in between your fingers if you are walking alone to your parked car at night so that if a guy tries to grab you, you can at least try to stab him with a sharp-keyed fist.
About how never to take a sip of a drink that has been out of your sight because the guy could’ve slipped a mickey into it, rendering you paralyzed later so he can rape you without a struggle. About how to ask a bartender for an “Angel Shot” to let him or her know you need help getting away from a guy who is too aggressive. We teach each other those and other little tips in order to protect ourselves. We are already aware. We know how to prevent. Yet the rates of sexual assault, on Guam and elsewhere, are still climbing.
So this April, let’s try another way. Let’s put the awareness and prevention of sexual assault where it belongs: on the males. Let’s make guys aware that they never have to be taught to position keys in between their fingers when walking to their cars. That they don’t need a drink name that is actually a code for help in a social setting. That these things are necessary because too many of our gender have been assaulted by too many of their gender. That sex is not something you are entitled to because “I bought her drinks.” Or dinner. Or anything else.
Let’s tell guys to be aware of how they talk about women. When my youngest was in high school, a fellow volleyball parent (a father) told me of walking into a store behind two men, one of whom nudged the other and said, “How’d you like to tap that?”
He noticed they were referring to a young woman walking into the store ahead of them. He shook his head, disgusted, but wasn’t going to say anything. Then, horrified, he realized that the young woman was my daughter. He immediately stopped the guys and lit into them about how inappropriate that comment was, that she was someone’s daughter, and did either of them have a daughter or a sister or a niece and how would they like it if some jerk said that about one of them? I thanked him profusely for standing up for her and calling out those buffoons, even though she knew nothing of what had transpired.
So guys, be aware of this: How are you talking about women to your friends, your coworkers, and more importantly, your sons, your nephews, and other males who may look up to you? Because they are watching and listening. Are your comments respectful? Do you treat the women in your life with consideration? Your wife or girlfriend, your daughter, your nieces, daughters of friends, coworkers, etc.? Because lack of respect for women is where the crime of sexual assault germinates.
Many of you subliminally plant the seed in young male minds that women are objects to be ogled over and talked about in crude terms. More than a few of those seeds, as we have seen by the numbers, grow into men thinking they can take women whenever the mood hits them, no matter if the female does not want to oblige.
So guys, this April and every other month, day, minute, and second from now on, awareness and prevention of sexual assault are on you. Be part of the solution to stop sexual assault. Watch how you talk about, and to, the females in your life. Be aware of how you treat them.
Because if you are not a part of the solution, as the saying goes, you are part of the problem.
Jayne Flores is the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a long-time journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.