Illustration by Genevieve Humphreys
Too often, the argument that someone is a sister, mother, girlfriend or daughter, is used in order to combat sexual assault and harassment. While I understand where this argument is coming from, it is most definitely not the way to go about defending women.
First and foremost, women are human beings before they are somebody’s anything, and therefore should be treated as such. We are just as deserving of respect as everyone else, regardless of our relationships to anyone. Women are certainly much more than their relationship to a man. So why is it that we must be somebody’s girlfriend or mother in order to be considered a person?
If a woman is harassed, assaulted or disrespected in any way, why must we be asked to imagine if that was our own mother in order to feel something for her? Can we not put ourselves in a her shoes regardless of how we’d feel if that was our own mom or not?
While I support any kind of advocacy for survivors, and women in general, I think this argument sometimes hurts more than it helps, and essentially puts bandaids on bullet wounds. It calls for treating (some) women with respect, but for all the wrong reasons. It’s a temporary fix to a problem much more deeply ingrained in our society and in the language we use in our daily lives than we seem to admit.
In order to change the language with which we seemingly defend women, we must first change the language we use to talk about them. “Locker room talk” is a rampant issue on and off campus. Just to ask yourself what if someone talked about your mother that way is not necessarily an adequate solution.
Yes, you could laugh along with your friends for calling women names and then get all introspective and defensive when someone asks what if it was your sister. Or, better yet, you could abstain from calling them names in the first place, and even — get this — call out those who do. Like I said, the former is merely a temporary fix.
In some ways I do believe that this argument isn’t necessarily ill-intentioned. However, the fact that it’s in many cases the only way to get the point across that women should be treated with respect is a problem in and of itself.
To ask someone what if she was your girlfriend/sister/mom, whether it be the only thing that “works” or “gets through” to them or not, is to perpetuate the idea that women are nothing more than property and essentially don’t matter outside of their relationships to men.
I acknowledge that I fail to address the ways in which these issues impact non-binary people. This isn’t to ignore the spectrum of identities that this argument may affect, but rather not to speak for or to misrepresent people whose experiences I don’t share.
Based on some of the rhetoric I’ve heard on this campus alone, I’m sure this argument would be quite successful in making many men think twice the next time they want to call someone a slut, or touch someone without their consent. We must look at the root of the problem, however, and ask ourselves why it is that we feel the need to use this argument in the first place, let alone why it’s deemed so effective.