I’ve had this thought sitting in my gut for awhile now. I haven’t found the right moment to put it up, because every moment seems like exactly the perfect one and most definitely the wrong one. Just yesterday, though, I read another story about a college-aged boy who was found guilty of sexually assaulting a female peer and given a sentence lighter than many convicted shoplifters and nonviolent drug offenders. It was just one in a long series of these stories that pass through my newsfeed. Every week, I read about girls who have been violated not only by their attackers, but by the judicial system meant to protect them. I almost typed the judicial system made to protect them, but we all know that’s not true.
This post isn’t really about those offensively imbalanced sentences, though, or the fact that the system seems to value items in a store more than the body of a woman. This one isn’t even about the crime—that horrible, tragic, but oh so common crime. This post I’ve got to get out is about how we talk about it afterward, particularly the way many well-meaning men talk about it. Because language matters. And the words we choose are connected to the root of the violence, to its societal persistence, to those careless responses.
When a story like this comes out, there’s a train of men who say, “What if this was your mother, your sister, or your wife? What would you do then?” There are more who say, “Remember she is someone’s daughter, someone’s niece, someone’s girlfriend.” Always in the possessive. Consistently, girls are being told we aren’t valuable until we’re validated by a man. We’re told our significance lies in our relationships to them—that we mean something because we are something to him.
I understand the need to place a stranger inside your own reality in order to pull out that harder-and-harder-to-find empathy. I get the desire to figure out how to relate to a seemingly unrelatable situation and why these words surface each time we face the news of another horrendous assault. It provides an entry point for people who feel like they don’t have an entry point into this conversation. I appreciate that. I appreciate the broadening of this discussion, because the more we talk about it the closer we inch toward justice, equality, and safety. But these feelings shouldn’t be our door to the issue and I’m tired of hearing it over and over again.
We are not someone’s something. Our value isn’t wrapped around the men in our lives. Our value rests in the fact that we are amazing creatures who happened to grow on this strange planet. So the next time you see a kindhearted, misguided man tweet about how we should all remember that the latest newsworthy victim is someone’s girlfriend, please gently correct him. Tell him she means something just because she is. Tell him it’s enough to say, “She is someone.”