Why The Force Has To Be Female

Why The Force Has To Be Female

He ran into my left shoulder with his right, and with his left hand grabbed me directly between my legs. Not bumped into and accidentally touched me …

BY Samantha Wills, August 16, 2017

This story discusses sexual assault, and breaches of consent in the workplace. If this story has brought anything up and you would like to speak with someone, you can call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

I want, and hope that the ‘Future is Equal,’ but right now I believe that The Force Needs To Be Female.

I have been wanting to write about this for a while. I found reasons not to. Shamefully, one of the strongest reasons was, I thought people would question my reasons to write it now, question why I didn’t handle the situation differently, question why I didn’t say something at the time.

Whilst following the recent Taylor Swift v David Mueller case closely, the comments section on major feeds on Facebook is always a scary place to be, but when I started to see all my fears about typed in the comments sections on posts by major news sites who where covering the case, things like; ‘She’s [Swift] is just doing this for the publicity!’, ‘If it really happened, why didn’t she say anything at the time!’, ‘Why didn’t she just slap his hand away?’…. All examples of victim blaming, which has been happening for decades in our society, that it became normalised. It became normalised until recently, because over the last few years, there has been a shift in people (men and women) speaking up. People taking a stand and saying, ‘hey, this is not ok.’ Rather than sweeping something under the rug, and putting it down to ‘boys will be boys’ behaviour.

A quick recap of where the case is at the time of publishing;

In 2013, Mueller, a then Country Music DJ in Denver, had the opportunity to have a photo with Swift at her pre-show Meet & Greet.

Swift alleges that Mueller put his hand up her skirt and groped her ass.

Swift told her team right after it had happened, and Mueller and his girlfriend were asked to leave the arena.

Swift’s team reported it to Mueller’s workplace the following day, and he was fired 3 days after that.

Mueller said he never touched her ass, and that when the photo was taken, he felt her rib cage. Here is the photo in question.

Two years after that, Mueller sued Swift for $3 million in damages to his reputation and losing his job, and claims that he did not grope her ass.

She counter sued, for $1, and has said several times that she wouldn’t settle with Mueller, or let his claims stand because she wants to be a visible example of strength to other women considering their options after a demoralising sexual violation.

On Tuesday, the trial jury found in favour of Swift, awarding her $1 in damages. (Mueller’s case against the singer’s mother, Andrea Swift, and radio promotions director, Frank Bell, is ongoing.)

Monika Johnson-Hostler, president of National Alliance to End Sexual Violence told CNN, “This is one of those examples where we really could be looking at culture change for young people, if we really talk about the impact of what she’s doing,”

I agree. And it is Swift’s force to take a stand, that inspired me to write this post.

I was on a first date early last year, in the small talk of ‘where did you grow up’ / ‘how long have you been in New York?’ / ‘what do you do’  – I told my date about my Australian-based accessories brand and how I started it, which also lead me to talking about a side project that stemmed from that; The Samantha Wills Foundation; A platform started with the specific purpose of empowering women in business.

He was listening to me speak so intently, I thought he was going to reply with a question possibly about business; What do you enjoy most about having your own business? What has been the biggest struggle? What’s new in the accessories game? Was there a turning point in your career that triggered you to want to launch a platform with the purpose of empowering women in business? Female Entrepreneurs continue to be a talking point in the media, what do you think the turned the spotlight?

Instead, he opens his mouth, and with eyebrows raised he says ‘Are you one of those feminists types, Samantha?’ Like he was asking me if I had a catchable disease.

‘Of course. Aren’t you?’ I replied.

I then went on to ask him what feminism meant to him, in a bid to try to have a conversation that it simply means the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

Needless to say, we are not picking out formal crockery on a gift registry.

On another first date, in Australia, only a few months ago, all was going great. Same small talk, and when I mentioned about the Foundation, and its intended purpose, my date replied ‘But what about men in business?!’

For the record, he said in more of a joking matter than the New York anti-feminist, but it was said, nonetheless.

On not-a-first date, but an at often times, more soul destroying interaction; The Facebook News Feed, a male Facebook friend of mine posted a status update to the tune of; ‘I’ve noticed a lot of women’s only business networking groups. I am posting this for discussion, not to be arrogant, but why is this OK? If there was a men’s only business networking group started, there would be an uproar that it was sexist’.

I wanted reply to him instantly, because the status update annoyed me, even though he was asking it as a conversation starter question, not a statement. I thought of my second first date and his similar question, and I wanted to answer eloquently, so I waited a few days and thought about my answer.

What I ended up doing, was instead of replying on the thread of his posted status update, I tagged him in a video that had been reposted by Business Chicks (Yep, a business network group that was created, as its title suggested, for chicks in business).

The video, created by InspiringTheFurture.Org was shot in a co-ed kindergarten class. The teacher stood at the front of the class, and told her students that ‘this afternoon, we are going to draw people doing different jobs.’ The students went about grabbing their pencils, with their teacher telling them to draw a ‘firefighter’. ‘Have a think in your head, what a fire fighter looks like’ the teacher encouraged them. The students started to draw.

In the clip, some of the children are asked to show their work. ‘Whats your fire fighter called?’ one child is asked. ‘Mines called Fire fighter Gary!’ the little boy replied, proudly holding up his drawing of a fire fighter putting out a bright orange flame.

‘Mine is called Fire fighter Simon!’ Another child says. ‘He’s big and strong!’

A little girl then points to her head and explains her drawing saying ‘He’s got a big helmet on’.

‘Next’, the teacher said, ‘we are going to draw a surgeon.’ The children start to draw again. Sketching away with known details, stethoscopes, and band-aids.

‘Have you thought of a name for your surgeon?’ One of the children is asked. ‘Jim-Bob!’ the child replies.

‘He is a brain surgeon,’ another replies about her own drawing.

‘I think he would wear a stethoscope,’ another little girl says.

‘He gives you medicine.’ Another little girl state factually about her drawing.

‘OK! Next,’ the teacher says again, ‘we are going to draw a fighter pilot!’

‘This is his jet plane,’ a little girl says.

‘He rescues people,’ her male class mate says.

‘He likes to do stunts in the air, and stuff,’ another child says about her drawing.

‘OK. Now who would like to meet these people for real?’ The teacher asks her excited class.

In walks a Surgeon named Tamsin in full scrubs, a Firefighter named Lucy in full uniform, and a Royal Air Force pilot complete with Top Gun style helmet, named Lauren. They are all female.

The children’s mouths visibly fall open.

The screen cuts to text that states ‘Gender Stereotypes are defined between 5 and 7 years of age.’

The women then walk through the group of students asking them if they want to know more about how to perform a surgery / fight a fire / fly a jet.

Then on the screen, the following words are projected. ’61 pictured were drawn as men. 5 were drawn as women’. Followed by the words ‘It’s time to redrawn the balance.’

I tagged my friend in the comments section, and wrote ‘It’s because of this, that we need business groups, dedicated to empowering women in business.’

He responded very graciously, and thanked me for showing him the video.

So between that, and my two first-dates that never eventuated into second ones, I started to try to go back to a time, my childhood, when I first could remember, seeing an example of where there was not equality.

I wanted present-day-me to dig deep into the lingering / engrained default thoughts (e.g. at the start of this post when I listed where my mind went by default to why I was fearful of writing this post), be it gender stereotypes, that as much as present-day-me vocally and truthfully disagreed with, it wasn’t like I always knew it that way. The best way for me to clarify that is, a child born after say, 1997, would not know this world without cell phones, Facebook, internet etc – to them, it has just always there, its just the way the world was.

I was born in 1981, I knew this world without all of those things; I knew it when you could smoke cigarettes in nightclubs; and at that time I never questioned it, because it just ‘was’.

I knew this world when kids in the school yard (childhood-me included) told jokes with racist connotations, because everyone did, and no-one at the time said it was not ok; so it just ‘was’.

I remember attending a wedding when I was 12 years old. It was my 26 year old cousin’s wedding in Newcastle, it was 1994. She looked like a princess, and the priest asked if her groom if ‘he would take my cousin as his legally wedded wife forsaking all others, to have and to hold, til death do you part?’, the groom said ‘I do’. The priest then turned to my cousin (who I idolised) and asked ‘And do you take [Groom] as your legally wedded husband, to have and to hold, forsaking all others, to honour and obey, til death do you part?’

‘I do’ she said.

No one questioned that she had to honour and obey him. Because wedding vows had always been that way. That’s just how it ‘was’.

I remember in the 80’s and 90’s at BBQs, my Dad and his mates would jokingly say things like ‘oh that’s a sheila’s job!’. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, no one did, because, that’s just how people spoke back then.

I remember being 19 or 20 years old, working in a surf retailer, and certain males in more senior positions in the company would be notorious for grouping female staff in the back stock room – so much so, there was a common dialogue between female co-workers, that you would always go to the stock room with another female companion to best avoid being propositioned / groped.

Comments were made by males that were masked as compliments, directed publicly, and privately, at female staff, that would make the hair on the back of your neck stand up – it made you feel so uncomfortable.

I remember talking to a female co-worker one day about it, telling her that we should go to HR about it. She replied that no good could come from reporting it – and at that time (around 2000/2001) she was right. We would either loose our jobs, because the men who were responsibly for the harassment were more senior than us, and more valuable to the company.

We heard that a woman had reported the same thing, by one of the same men to HR, and when questioned, he simply said ‘it was a compliment! Its not my fault she took it the wrong way!’

She resigned a few weeks after.

Another female co-worker reported a similar incident to her (female) manager, who told a friend about it, and than word went around that the young woman who reported it to her manager was trying to ‘cause trouble’, and was exiled as a ‘prude’ for speaking up.

So we all decided to keep our jobs, and keep our mouths shut, and as such implemented the procedure to try in whatever way possible to not be in the back stock room with these men. We accepted that’s just ‘how it was’.

There is a danger in accepting things.

Accepting things, not questioning things, breeds complacency.

And whatever you do repeatedly, whatever you think repeatedly, becomes your normal. And, when things are normalised, they simply become your reality.

And if no one says anything, and no one does anything, if there is not force to change, then change is not made, and the status quo remains.

A few months ago, I was walking up 6th Ave in New York City, on my way to do my daily spin class at Soul Cycle. The island of Manhattan is four miles long and about two miles wide, and has 18 million people on it at any given time, and 6th Ave is the avenue that runs up the centre of the island, separating what is known as West Side of the City, and the East side, so needless to say, 6th Ave is a busy thoroughfare.

I was walking to my 5:30 pm class, and was wearing black high-waisted Lululemon workout tights, and a tank top that I had tied in a knot at the front. It was warm out, so I wasn’t wearing a jacket, and I had my gym bag with my cycling shoes in it over my right shoulder.

I had one of my headphones in, streaming Spotify from my phone, which was in the front pocket of my bag.

The sidewalk was busy, I have been based in NYC for the past 7 years, and as such, you start to lose the concept of what determines personal space, it comes with the territory.

As I walked, Nicki Minaj was rapping in my ear and I looking forward to my upcoming class. I suddenly was jolted to the very real present moment, when I looked up as I could see a man walking diagonal towards me. He was about 3 steps away, and as I glanced up, he was looking me straight in the eyes. He ran into my left shoulder with his right, and with his left hand grabbed me directly between my legs. Not bumped into and accidentally touched me, but purposefully ran into me, and with a cupped hand, and grabbed my crotch. In a mixture of the impact of his should on mine, and the shock of his hand on my vagina, I ran into a persons path of my right side, and as they exasperatedly moved around me, rolling their eyes as if I had done it just not paying attention; I froze. I took a sharp inhale of breath in shock and didn’t breath out. I spun  around and saw the back of the man’s head who had just groped me – he continued on his path, at the same speed he had approached, and without looking so much as looking back, or running away, almost as an insult of total disregard that anything at all had happened.

Everything was just spinning, there were people everywhere. I felt disgusting. I felt violated. I felt dirty. I felt humiliated…. I was embarrassed.

He groped me. And I was the one who felt embarrassed.

It was like the world went super silent, but didn’t stop moving. As with the New York footpath stampede, I turned back to my original direction and was swept along with them.

I turned right when I saw the ‘19th Street’ sign that Soul Cycle is located on, I walked into the reception of the studio, the music was booming, I, on auto pilot signed in for the class, and went straight to bathroom, locked the stall and burst into tears.

I remember setting up my bike, and there are a full wall of mirrors the rider face in the cycling studio. I remember catching glimpses of myself throughout the class, wondering if other riders could see my shame. I felt disgusting.

He had violated me. And I was the one who felt disgusting.

I didn’t mention it to anyone, but it was never far from my mind. A few days later, I was speaking to my business partner on the phone. He said, ‘you sound a little flat, is everything ok?’ I again burst in to tears, and told him what had happened.

‘Did you say anything to him?’ he said, angry at what had happened to me.

‘No,’ I got out, between tears.

‘Why?’ he asked

‘I don’t know,’ I replied.

‘You need to report it to the police,’ he said gently.

‘What are they going to do? It was in a crowd of a heap of people, I have no evidence of it…’ I said trailing off.

‘It doesn’t matter. You have to report it. You have to say something.’ He said with a strength, that I know was masking anger, ‘ they might have CCTV footage of that area, he might be a repeat offender. Even if they cannot pin point him, you will feel better for having spoken up. You have to speak up about this.’

He was right.

So I went to the police station in that area and reported what had happened.

After reporting it, my sadness, then quickly turned to anger.

WHY hadn’t I said something at the time? A question that infuriates me to read, over and over again in the comments section from people saying that Taylor Swift ‘must be making up that he groped her. Why didn’t she say anything to him at the time? Swat his hand away? Tell him to stop. She must be lieing about it.’

I spoke to one of my best girlfriends about it and how I was angry at myself for not saying anything, and I posed the question ‘Why didn’t I say something to him. Yell? Scream? Chase him?’

She replied, ‘I don’t know. Why when we get jeered at on the street, do we put our head down and walk quicker, feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed?’

Was it fear of what people would think? Fear of what the man who groped me/group of male jeerers would do if we confronted them?

Was it this long history of victim blaming we had just subconsciously accepted?

Was my subconscious still locked in the stock room of the surf shop, nervous to speak up for herself?

The more I thought about it. The more mad I became.

About 2 weeks later, I was wearing a similar outfit, walking home from a Soul Cycle class. I was on the corner of 14th and 6th ave. I was waiting for the light to change, and a male voice from behind me, spoke very closely in my ear ‘Damn baby, you better put some clothes on, or you’ve got it comin’ to you’ – it was said in a tone that you would expect from a slimy guy in a nightclub delivering a line he thought was a flirty-compliment-slash-pickup-line. I swung around so quickly to be standing face to face with him, I could feel my fists clench in anger, and out of my mouth, with force, came; ‘What the fuck did you just say to me?’ he retreated a step, putting his hands up in mock surrender, then screwed his face up like I was attacking him out of nowhere, like I was a crazy person on the street, physically reacting to a voice in my head.

I didn’t take my eyes off him. I was glaring at him, I don’t know if it was to let me know I saw him, and I wanted an damn answer to my question, or if it was fear of if I can see his hands, then at they are not on me – maybe it was a bit of both. People standing with us waiting for the light to change were looking between both of us, unaware of what he had just said in my ear.  He shuffled uncomfortably to the side of the group and crossed the road the intersection in a different direction.

I walked home furious, but feeling strong that I had stood up for myself. It was the complete opposite of the violated, dirty, embarrassed humiliation I had felt only a fortnight before. This is not the first time something like this instance (where physical contact has not been made, but words have and they can make you feel just as uncomfortable) has happened.

It has occurred more times then I can count to not only myself, but to my girlfriends also. When it had happened previously, I would put my head down, ignore it, and try to walk a little bit quicker to get away from the situation.

I never challenge it. I didn’t try to change it. And by not doing either of those things, I had chosen to accept it – But not this time.

So I wanted to write this post, on why I think the Force Needs To Be Female.

The force has to be female, because we have work to do to change things that have just been accepted as being OK.

The force needs to be female, so that questions like ‘You aren’t one of those feminists types, are you?’ become embarrassing to ask.

The force needs to be female, so that little kids don’t just assume that a Firefighter, a surgeon, or a jetpilot are careers for only one gender.

The force needs to be female, so that victim blaming is not a default fear for women speaking up about sexual assault.

Let me also clarify, that ‘force’ is going to be different to everyone.

My ‘force’ on my NYC-first-date, was to attempt to have an educated discussion on the difference of opinion of what the word feminism meant.

My ‘force’ to my Facebook friend was sharing an example on why I thought that we needed business groups and foundations dedicated to empowering women in business.

My ‘force’ was less calm to old mate, on the corner of 14th and 6th who approached me from behind and not only made me uncomfortable by getting in my space, tried shaming me for what I was wearing by saying that I ‘had it coming’, and by doing so, threatened me. It was a ‘force’ of confrontation, with physical stance, and verbal projection.

By publishing this article, I hope it may provoke some points for topics of conversations.

I hope it encourages you to question things, to not just accept something, just because it’s the way its always been.

I hope it empowers you, that if you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable.to show your own force, without fear of what people will think of you.

I stand with, and wholeheartedly commend all the women who are speaking up, and standing strong (and the men who are encouraging and supporting them in doing so).

It is because of your bravery, your force, that change will come about, and the there will no longer be a default to accepting something ‘just because that’s the way its always been.’

Thank you, Taylor for using your public profile to make a stand for what is right, and taking a stand on an issue that has all too often been swept under the rug. Your stance on this has, and will continue to empower millions of women everywhere, including me. – SWx

This story discusses sexual assault, and breaches of consent in the workplace. If this story has brought anything up and you would like to speak with someone, you can call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

This was first published on the Samantha Wills Foundation website.


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