An open letter on how to be better
Written by Abigail Jarvis
A note from the editor: this article contains mentions of misogyny, sexual abuse and sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised; but it is also essential to hear and understand the information presented, and destigmatize these types of conversations.
As I am sure you know, the world is a bit of a dumpster fire at the moment. We face divisive politics, an oncoming economic threat, a worker shortage, an onslaught of attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, COVID-19, an increasingly urgent environmental crisis, the war in Ukraine and the overall rise of international tensions between the nations with nuclear weapons. It is a lot. The last thing that women and fem-presenting people need right now is the continuation of a long history of violence and inequality. This letter is here to serve as a beginner’s guide as to what not to do — as well as some practical steps you can take to make the women in your life feel more safe, validated and advocated for.
Stop cheating on your partner. It is emotionally devastating and manipulative.
Jay-Z, Adam Levine, Tiger Woods, Anthony Ramos, Ned Fulmer, Jude Law… need I say more? All of these men are notable celebrities who cheated on their wives or fiances. If your relationship with your partner isn’t working out, communicate with them in a healthy way. From there you can either work through the issues within your relationship or make the valid decision of breaking up. No dishonesty, infidelity or heartbreak required.
Stop the fetishization of young women.
This is seen in the idealization of youth and the young partners of older male celebrities, as well as the violence against little girls. The glamorization of youth by fashion, cosmetics and mass media companies encourages a pressure for women to “stay young” or change their appearance to appear more youthful. Youth and virginity are highly sexualized in our society. This leads to a demand for procedures to appear young, and cosmetic tutorials by the millions to appear “glowy” or “dewy,” a reference to clear and youthful appearing skin. Why is there a sexualized, romantic notion around the appearance of young women? Purity culture, fertility and beauty standards are all associated with youth. A recent study in Finland reported that as women age, their preference for their partner is in a similar range to themselves, but as men grow older, they maintain an interest in younger partners. Regardless of their age, men find young women attractive, furthering the idealization of young women.
The sexualizing of youth and young women is prevalent in celebrity culture and relationships as well. Notoriously, R. Kelly was recently convicted of child pornography and sex abuse charges in Chicago. In recent years, Twitter and Reddit have exploded with the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio has allegedly never had a partner older than 25. These celebrities and their relationship history should not serve as an example to the everyday man — in fact, they are a great guide in what not to do.
The age of consent and asking for consent are vital aspects of a healthy relationship — stop debating or neglecting these conversations. When age is referred to as “just a number,” it proliferates the idea that relationships with underage individuals are normal and acceptable. Acording to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, “Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.” In order to prevent these types of violence, men must work to change beauty standards for women, admire women in a safe and consensual manner, and work to actively protect young women.
Consensual, healthy relationships with an even power dynamic are essential. Furthermore, conceptualizing that love, sexuality and value don't deteriorate with a woman’s age is essential to creating healthy partner-finding habits, and ending the impossible standards in our society.
Stop the rise of sexual assault against women.
One of the most prominent dangers that women face is sexual violence. In 1990, the U.S. Department of Justice released findings that for the first time that over 100,000 rape cases were reported. Since then, a study from 1998 estimated that 17.7 million American women had been victims of attempted or completed rape. Non-profits created for the victims and the prevention of sexual violence, such as the national organization Where is My Line, have reported an increase of sexual assault in recent years. They reported that one in six women have been the victim of rape or an attempted rape in their lifetime. While both women and men are victims of sexual assault, women face this violence at a disproportionately higher rate. Within the U.S., 81% of women have experienced a form of sexual harassment or assault — that is nearly double the percentage of men who have reported being victims of the same form of violence.
While it is important to acknowledge that both men and women experience this type of trauma, it is critical that the disparity of sexual violence is lessened by creating a safer environment that protects all victims — especially women who are attacked at higher rates. One way men can work towards this goal is by holding themselves and the men around them accountable for their actions: taking action against cat-callers, valuing consent, voting for representatives and local judges who take sexual violence court cases seriously, and taking into account the collective fear women have about this topic.
The importance of recognizing the high rates of sexual assault among women, along with creating safe spaces to talk about these issues, cannot be understated. By taking these steps, we can further address the subject of sexual assault.
Stop the ignorance.
Below is a list of starting information, as well as help centers for women. Create safe spaces for the women in your life by being educated, and by having resources to help.
The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center: https://clevelandrapecrisis.org/
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center: https://www.nsvrc.org/
How Men Can Be Better Allies: https://hbr.org/2018/10/how-men-can-become-better-allies-to-women
7 Ways Men Can Support Women: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellevate/2019/11/19/7-ways-men-can-support-women-as-allies/?sh=40f83713981e
Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity (URGE): https://urge.org/