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COLUMN: Do not tell me we don’t need feminism

My going away present for college was pepper spray.

My neighbor handed it to me, telling me it sprayed 30 feet and was the same one he gave his daughter when she moved away to college.

It was a stark reminder of why we need need feminism. If that sentence makes you angry or uncomfortable, then good, because I am angry. I am uncomfortable. I am exhausted.

A few days ago, a man stopped me to ask for my phone number. I told him I wasn’t interested, and walked away. The interaction was simple and harmless—  until it wasn’t.

He proceeded to follow me, attempting to convince me to give him my number. I finally informed him I am a lesbian, and that I have a girlfriend. He parked his bike in front of me to ask if I wanted to have a threesome.

This is not the first time a man has followed me to ask for my number or to harass me when I expressed my disinterest. It’s not even the first time being followed this year, nor the first time my disinterest threatened my personal safety.

And now, in the final weeks of the presidential election, we have "serious" Republican nominee admitting to sexual assaulting women and calling it “locker room talk.” It’s not locker room talk. It’s sexual assault — and you cannot make “America safe again” if you’re part of this specific problem.

I once had a man in his 20's grope me in a grocery store. I was 15 years old.

I once had a man catcall at me out of his car window. It was nighttime and I was alone. It didn’t feel as much like a compliment as it was a warning. I ignored him, but then the car slowed. I turned into the nearest store parking lot and called for a friend to pick me up. 

I was 16 years old.

I once told a man I was a lesbian, so he flashed me his penis as a “joke.” He said I was overreacting by becoming upset. That was last summer.

Donald Trump calling sexual harassment and assault “locker room talk” should not be taken lightly. He's defending a culture that normalizes these horrendous crimes. It’s the reason people like Stanford swimmer and convicted rapist Brock Turner serve short sentences for crimes of sexual violence. It's the reason some people still refer to Turner just as a "Stanford swimmer" and not a rapist.

One in five women have been raped in their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 97 percent of rapists receive little to no punishment at all.

Do not tell me we don't need feminism. We cannot excuse sexual harassment and assault as a crude joke. As a survivor and a decent human being, I cannot accept or excuse your "jokes."

Women inherently deserve the right to say "no" to unwanted sexual advances. We deserve the right to speak out in the workplace, in class and in public. We deserve the right to wear what we want and should never have that misconstrued as “asking for it.” 

The only thing we are asking for is safety and equity.

Call me a "Femi-Nazi." I’ve heard it all before from strangers on Facebook to men following me on bikes and in cars. 

To be clear: It may not be all men, but there's enough of them out there for it to be a systemic problem. It allows someone like Trump, a misogynist man who admitted to sexually assaulting women, to be so close to the White House in 2016.

If this column and my feminism makes you angry, then good. It’s supposed to.