This is how a lifetime of potentially dangerous situations affects every woman.

Whenever I speak about or write about women’s issues — dress codes, rape culture, and sexism — there’s this thing that happens. People ask: Are things really that bad?

Photo by Transformer18/Flickr


Aren’t you being overly sensitive?

Every. Single. Time.

And every single time, I get frustrated. Why don’t they get it?

I think I’ve figured out why.

Some of them don’t know. They don’t know about de-escalation. Minimizing. Quietly acquiescing.

Hell, even though women live it, we aren’t always aware of it. But we’ve all done it.

We’ve all learned — by instinct or trial and error — how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable.

To avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all ignored offensive comments or laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to.

It doesn’t feel good. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired. It’s not something we talk about every day.

We don’t tell our partners or friends every time it happens.

Photo via iStock

It’s so frequent, so pervasive, that it has become something we just deal with.

So maybe they don’t know.

That at the tender age of 13, we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts.

That the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down.

That our old supervisor used to regularly pat us on the ass.

And they surely don’t know that most of the time we smile with gritted teeth. That we look away or pretend not to notice. They likely have no idea how routine these things are, so that we go through the motions of ignoring it and minimizing, both internally and externally. We minimize it because we have to. To not shrug it off would put us in confrontation mode more often than most of us feel like dealing with.

We learn at a young age how to do this. We probably didn’t put a name or label to it, or even consider that other girls were doing the same thing.

But all the while, we were mastering the art of de-escalation.

We go through a quick mental checklist so that we can make a quick risk assessment. Does he seem volatile, angry? Are there other people around? Is he just trying to be funny, albeit clueless? Will saying something affect my school/job/reputation?

In just seconds we need to be able to determine whether we will say something or let it slide. Whether we’ll call him out or turn the other way, smile politely or pretend that we didn’t hear or feel it.

It happens all the time. And it’s not always clear if the situation is dangerous or benign.

Photo by Thomas Hawk/Flickr.

It’s the boss who says or does something inappropriate. It’s the male friend who has had too much to drink and tries to corner us for a "friends with benefits” moment, even though we’ve made it clear we’re not interested. It’s the guy who gets angry if we turn him down for a date. Or a dance. Or a drink.

We really don’t think anything of it. Until we hear that the "friend” who cornered us was later accused of rape. Until our boss makes good on his promise to kiss us on New Year’s Eve when he catches us alone in the kitchen. Those are the times we may tell our friends or partners about.

But all the other times we felt uneasy or nervous but nothing more happened? Those times, we just go about our business.

It’s the reality of being a woman in our world:

It’s laughing off sexism because we felt we had no other option.

It’s feeling sick to our stomachs that we had to "play along” to get along.

It's feeling shame and regret the we didn’t call that guy out, the one who seemed intimidating but in hindsight was probably harmless. Probably.

It’s having our fingers poised over the "call” buttons of our phones when we’re walking alone at night.

It’s positioning our keys between our fingers in case we need a weapon.

It’s lying and saying we have a boyfriend when a guy doesn't want to take "no” for an answer.

It’s being at a crowded concert and having to turn around to look for the jerk who just grabbed our ass. It’s knowing that, even if we spot him, we might not say anything.

It’s walking through the parking lot of a Home Depot and politely saying Hello when a guy passing us says Hi. It’s pretending not to hear him berate us for not stopping to talk further. What? You too good to talk to me? Bitch.

It’s the memory that haunts us of that time we were abused, assaulted, or raped.

Photo via iStock.

It’s the stories our friends tell us through heartbreaking tears of that time they were abused, assaulted, or raped.

It’s realizing that we know too many women who have been abused, assaulted, or raped.

It occurred to me recently that a lot of guys may be unaware of this.

They have heard of things that happened. They’ve probably, at times, seen it and stepped in to stop it. But they likely have no idea how often it happens. That it colors so much of what we say or do.

Maybe we need to explain it better. Maybe we need to stop minimizing it in our own minds.

The guys that shrug off or tune out when a woman talks about sexism in our culture? Maybe it’s because they just haven’t lived our reality. Maybe the good men in our lives have no idea that we deal with this stuff on a regular basis. And it doesn’t occur to us to talk about the everyday stuff that we witness and experience.

When I get fired up about a comment someone makes about a girl’s tight dress, they don’t always get it. When I get worked up over the everyday sexism I’m seeing and witnessing and watching, when I’m hearing of the things my daughter and her friends are experiencing, they don’t realize it’s the tiny tip of a much bigger iceberg.

Maybe men won’t understand how pervasive everyday sexism is unless we start telling them and pointing to it when it happens.

Maybe I'm starting to realize that just shrugging it off and not making a big deal about it is not going to help anyone.

Photo via iStock.

We de-escalate. We are acutely aware of our vulnerability — that if he wanted to, that guy in the Home Depot parking lot could overpower us and do whatever he wants.

Guys, this is what it means to be a woman.

We are sexualized before we even understand what that means. We get stares and comments from adult men before we can process what they mean. We learn at an early age that to confront these situations could put us in danger. So we minimize and we de-escalate.

The next time a woman talks about being catcalled and how it makes her uncomfortable, don’t just nod. Really listen.

The next time your wife complains about being called "sweetheart" at work. The next time you read about or hear a woman call out sexist language. The next time your girlfriend tells you that the way a guy talked to her made her feel uncomfortable. Listen.

Listen because your reality isn’t the same as hers. Listen because it’s very likely that what you’re hearing about is probably only the tip of the iceberg.

Listen because the reality is that she or someone she knows was abused, assaulted, or raped.

Listen because she may be trying to make sure what she lived through isn’t something her daughter will have to live through. Listen because nothing bad can ever come from listening.

Just. Listen.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 12.02.19


Just imagine being an 11-year-old boy who's been shuffled through the foster care system. No forever home. No forever family. No idea where you'll be living or who will take care of you in the near future.

Then, a loving couple takes you under their care and chooses to love you forever.

What could one be more thankful for?

That's why when a fifth grader at Deerfield Elementary School in Cedar Hills, Utah was asked by his substitute teacher what he's thankful for this Thanksgiving, he said finally being adopted by his two dads.

via OD Action / Twitter

To the child's shock, the teacher replied, "that's nothing to be thankful for," and then went on a rant in front of 30 students saying that "two men living together is a sin" and "homosexuality is wrong."

While the boy sat there embarrassed, three girls in the class stood up for him by walking out of the room to tell the principal. Shortly after, the substitute was then escorted out of the building.

While on her way out she scolded the boy, saying it was his fault she was removed.

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One of the boy's parents-to-be is Louis van Amstel, is a former dancer on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars." "It's absolutely ridiculous and horrible what she did," he told The Salt Lake Tribune. "We were livid. It's 2019 and this is a public school."

The boy told his parents-to-be he didn't speak up in the classroom because their final adoption hearing is December 19 and he didn't want to do anything that would interfere.

He had already been through two failed adoptions and didn't want it to happen again.

via Loren Javier / Flickr

A spokesperson for the Alpine School District didn't go into detail about the situation but praised the students who spoke out.

"Fellow students saw a need, and they were able to offer support," David Stephenson said. "It's awesome what happened as far as those girls coming forward."

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He also said that "appropriate action has been taken" with the substitute teacher.

"We are concerned about any reports of inappropriate behavior and take these matters very seriously," Kelly Services, the school the contracts out substitute teachers for the district, said in a statement. "We conduct business based on the highest standards of integrity, quality, and professional excellence. We're looking into this situation."

After the incident made the news, the soon-to-be adoptive parents' home was covered in paper hearts that said, "We love you" and "We support you."

Religion is supposed to make us better people.

But what have here is clearly a situation where a woman's judgement about what is good and right was clouded by bigoted dogma. She was more bothered by the idea of two men loving each other than the act of pure love they committed when choosing to adopt a child.