At this point, we know that sexual assault can occur, well, anywhere. There are the faraway cases, such as the highly publicized gang rape on a New Delhi bus. There are cases that happen at "venerable" institutions such as West Point. There are so many others occur each day without ever reaching the light of a newsroom, in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and hometowns.

This sort of behavior often starts small—maybe with a look, a remark, a social media reply, or the ever-dreaded shout from a stranger on the street. As women, we are programmed to respond to these advances either with silence or fear, or some combination of both. Basically, we can either walk away quietly or we can run away.

Particularly in instances where our immediate safety isn't jeopardized, we may not want to bow down so nicely. Our instincts tell us to snap back at sexual comments or degrading language. It seems wrong to control this anger, to command kindness in the face of sexualization, oppression, or degradation.

It can be so frustratingly difficult, this sometimes overwhelming task of being nice. Sure, all of us—men and women—face certain social expectations, but it's the "fairer sex" that seems to deal with a double burden. We're meant to be kind though we bear more harassment, more unwanted advances, and more situations that make it far more difficult to stay sweet and polite.

As women, we must walk the line between being nice and being bold, that line between biting your tongue and being taken advantage of, the line between being submissive and being wholly passive.

Our culture would have us think womanhood is a giant paradox, held at constant tension. We're supposed to be beautiful ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Posted: