Since the release of the infamous “cat calling” video by the group Hollaback last year, there has been a national conversation around street harassment– or as some men like to describe it – an "innocent" human interaction. Unfortunately this conversation has once again placed some men and women on opposite sides of an issue that should have us all standing together in solidarity. (Editor's note: the organization released a much better video this month.)
As I read more about the issue one thing is very clear — sexism is an insidious disease that none of us are immune to. It's a poison that we all are forced to drink and most of us never feel its’ affects. We just remain captivated by its' ability to shape shift and attach itself to everything and give and take away ideas of power and self-esteem.
Sexism changes men’s sense of reality and imagined power. Also sexism affects the ways that women experience reality and navigate the world. For men, these imagined realities only exist within our insecurities and because we (all of us) are certain about very few things in life, many of us are holding onto this jaded reality for dear life. The male false sense of reality is one that makes men believe that “cat-calling” or offering up an innocent "hello" or "God bless" or telling a woman to "smile" seems like nothing more than an innocent interaction. Now if we lived in world where women weren't under constant physical, verbal, emotional, and mental assault from the time they are 5, 6 or 7 years of age, then maybe women would be more receptive to "innocent" trivialities. But we live in a male-dominated world – a world where men very rarely offer up innocent pleasantries without an expectation of something. And it's that expectation, that is, at the very least centered around my definition of what a "cat-call" really is.
A cat-call is a product of the learned belief that men deserve the right to have access to anyone, especially women, at all times without regard for anyone's feeling except their own. This belief, which also includes the expectation that our maleness or more accurately "manhood" be recognized and validated, impacts our behaviors. Most men don’t walk around saying hello to complete strangers unless they look a certain way including the existence of a man’s interior monologue that desires more than just an exchange of banalities.
Now let’s discuss the powerful, unforgiving, unrelenting and sometimes unbearable role that sexism plays in the lives of all women. Sexism puts women under constant stress and forces them to be tirelessly hyper vigilant about everything and everyone. Women have few moments to rest because they have learned that sexism is seductive therefore they must quickly learn who they can & can't trust. Women learn to assess their environments, and the men (both stranger and intimate) who occupy the spaces they move through. Also the insidious nature of sexism means that women have to regularly make sure they are unlearning everything that sexism has taught them about themselves. The mis-education of gender and human relations that sexism teaches of us all means that both sexes are continuously under assault. Sexism causes men to believe that manhood is only defined through visible relationships with women, where a man must show dominance. Or sexism causes men to vigorously race to the top of a tough guy masculinity hierarchy that doesn’t even exist and without an end in sight.
Women watch sexism attempt to dismantle all of their accomplishments and attach ideas of negativity to nearly every female success. If a woman is a great athlete – she's a “dyke” or lesbian (which is unfortunately still thought of as a negative). If a woman has a job and is put in a position of power – she's a “bitch” or too ambitious. If a woman exercises agency and takes control of her own body and sexual freedom – she's a “slut” and unworthy of a man choosing her.
I could go on and on but the thought of it exhausts me and that's another hidden force of sexism and why men must be on the front lines to unlearn and dismantle sexism along side of women. Sexism fatigues us all even though it only benefits some—men. Neither women nor men are allowed to ever show up as our true authentic selves because we believe we will not be accepted and loved. For men and women not to fully embrace and love each other reveals that within us all something atrocious has happen. And that atrocity is sexism. Sexism happened and it splintered everything and everyone and until we dismantle it – no one can be made whole.
Wade A. Davis II is a former NFL-player and Executive Director of the You Can Play Project. Follow him on Twitter: @wade_davis28