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by Bonnie Joy Sludikoff 3 months ago in Short Story

The next generation of girls won't even remember not feeling free.

There were angry cries of cancel culture at first, but when the amendments were made to the law, it was like we woke up all at once. When people stopped blaming women and started accepting sexual violence as a crime instead of a scandal, it finally stopped happening. For once, we were all on the same page.

It sounds ridiculous, I know, because you don’t remember what it was like before.

How was sexual violence controversial? This is the question all young people always ask. That’s why we will always tell this story.

Just a few decades ago, sexual violence ran rampant. The numbers were insane; it was egregiously underreported, and yet, speaking out about this crime was a huge, problematic event.

I don’t know, are you sure this happened? What about the punishment this man will face if he’s convicted? Even if he’s guilty, is it fair to ruin his life?

It was embarrassing.

And then they took female victims into a room and did something called a Rape Kit; An invasive process designed to gather evidence; Evidence that often sat in a warehouse for years or conveniently disappeared as soon as it was needed.

If you wonder why your parents don’t talk much about those days, just trust they have their reasons. We are all so much better off now. Yes, even the men.

But a change as big as The Shift, as we came to call it, doesn’t take place without consequences. Especially during the adjustment period. For a long time after The Shift, men were... afraid. Little boys were fervently warned by their mothers of how to behave. They were taught manners and gentleness and shielded from participating in rough activities the same way little girls always had been.

See, with The Shift, there was no more pepper spray for a man who crossed the line; There was 5-10 years in prison and a permanent blacklist. The list got long fast, and you didn’t date men from the blacklist. You didn’t hire men from the blacklist. You didn’t do anything with the men from the blacklist. They also lost all social media privileges and the right to go online without a chaperone.

I don’t like to talk about the details of how bad things got to make this extreme repositioning necessary… It’s painful to remember the constant fear we had, as women, of things that are so basic now. Going out after dark, walking to your car alone.

At worst, the statistics for sexual violence told us 1 in 3 women were victimized; but keep in mind, it was severely underreported.

It’s true, the system we developed to get rid of this unsightly and humiliating blemish on society was extreme, to a degree, but what we have now in return keeps me from ever questioning if it was worth it.

After all, there were no broken eggs- only those that had already gone bad. We were all so tired of making breakfast with eggs that had gone bad.

Now, our next generation of young women are growing up free. They won’t have memories of unsuccessfully trying to teach basic consent to grown men. They won’t look back and be disgusted about being forced to hug uncles who are grooming them to be victims. They won’t have their skirts measured for the sole purpose of not accidentally exciting boys who we never prioritized educating on basic human decency.

There was no big spike in the percentage of lesbians, as they told us there would be. The number of bisexual women actually dipped substantially, as all danger of violence associated with a viable male match had been eliminated. Same amount of gay men as well. Of course male on male sexual violence is (and was always) illegal and is prosecuted properly now, but that had never been a commonplace issue.

This system has had some adjustments over time, but it has largely stayed the same for the last 15 years. This year is my daughter’s prom. Yes, we still have them. Old habits die hard, I guess. Barely anyone goes- dating is not forbidden, but the system is clunky. Prom is no longer a place to lose one’s virginity- it’s more of a female-dominated party. Sheena invited her gay best friend, Charles. I told her she didn’t have a curfew and she was so excited. She and some of her girlfriends wanted to go to the beach in their prom dresses to take photos and watch the sunrise. Can you imagine? For me, it’s still hard to.

Sheena was only two when the changes were made, so she doesn’t know anything different than this life. She hasn’t grown up being assigned labels like sassy or brazen. She’s a strong leader. She won’t be called domineering when she pursues a career in politics or opens her own restaurant; she hasn’t made a decision between the two potential plans.

All of the work I’ve done with The Committee is for her to feel safe and to thrive in any plan she makes for her future.

I’ve started removing certain clips from the archives of our WHY collection. We started making it six months before The Shift. The footage feels more triggering as time goes on. I think that means this is all working. At first, we barely raised an eyebrow at most of the clips we were able to find. We were so used to the constant micro-aggressions. Little girls being kissed on the mouth by talk show hosts. Do you have a boyfriend, they asked. Women in superhero movie interviews being asked about their diet regimes while male co-stars were asked about their stunts. That was the light material.

Then there was the Brock Turner case where a college student was caught raping a classmate and given a meager 6-month sentence- someone called it a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3-10 years after 29 women came forward after having been drugged and raped by the once-admired TV dad. Woody Allen was still making movies in 2021 after it was proven that he had spent decades suspiciously shifting evidence to try to discredit his daughter who’d accused him of molesting her. In 2021, in spite of the major damage caused by Keith Raniere’s cult, NXIVM, many onlookers still claimed that what he did was not abuse, including keeping a woman in captivity for two years.

The blunt change in statistics gives me pride, but the change in the attitudes is what gives me peace. That had been the real cancer we had to cut out. Once the shame was removed, we could see clearly.

Our lives are different now.

Male tv hosts no longer kiss little girls or ask them uncomfortable questions. Men don’t host shows anymore at all. It’s not disallowed, but male hosts have consistently tested poorly with audiences. We still use men for television, but most of the straight roles are taken by gay actors. Straight male actors exist, but they have to work hard to prove themselves.

All men do. And more than anything else, in dating.

No laws have been changes in terms of relationships or marriage, but it’s…frowned upon.

That’s the part we haven’t figured out. We don’t know how to have our cake and eat it, too. And for those who remember… we know we can’t go back.

We’re scared. How could we not be; for those of us in our 30s and beyond, the men in our dating pool were not raised in the environment boys have had for the last 15 years. They still feel entitled. More careful, but entitled. It’s hard to break entitlement.

But for now, our system is working.

The agreement is, as long as we never hit yellow alert status, no permanent medical actions will be taken on men who stay off the blacklist.

We started at blue and usually veer toward blue/green a few times a year. Purple is ideal, but after all, we are still human. “Boys will be boys,” as the very old adage once told us, constantly.

The men’s commission meets weekly at city hall- it’s still their lawful right. With the government being exclusively run by women now, we felt it best to keep them believing some things were their idea. This has largely been disappointing.

What did they do first? They fought to keep porn from being eradicated. Can you believe that? That’s when a woman was asked to sit in on each meeting to take down the minutes and avoid a complete rebellion.

Then they wanted those dolls; the lifelike ones with detailed silicon private parts. They said it was for companionship and not sex, but either way it was such a slap in the face.

Desiring a relationship that is anything less than 100 percent consensual, is a problem. Granted, a lifelike silicon doll is not going to be mentally scarred by being felt up against her will, but it leads men down the wrong thought and action process.

We reached full green around that time. It was like men forgot about the blacklist- rapes committed by strangers and child abuse from relatives in numbers we hadn’t seen in years. It was a harsh reminder of why things must remain this way.

The men who remember the past will always be a challenge. I would empathize more, but they all voted to make those sex-dolls legal. Every last one of them. Or petitioned, I should say. We don’t allow for them to vote anymore.

When my daughter, Sheena, came out as gay last year, I could not have been more relieved. It meant she had a solid chance at love. We have tried so hard to teach men, and while our system keeps them in check, I am disappointed at our obvious lack of understanding. I wish it was understanding that kept our streets safe, but when I look at the data, I see that it’s simply a system of not wanting to be punished.

I miss David, even though I shouldn’t.

He was blacklisted in those first days. Not from a level 1 offense, but the same sort of behavior 80 percent of men partook in and refused to take responsibility for. I wish I could say I had been surprised. I wish I could say every moment between us was consensual, but all I knew in those days were somewhat blurred lines of communication.

I took the options that I felt were available to me.

Now I create options for others.

I will tell Sheena good things about her father someday. I have a photo of the three of us, looking happy. She’s dressed in a onesie that says, “daddy’s girl.” I’m wearing the gold, heart-shaped locket he gave me back in high school. I had never taken it off until the blacklist. Now it sits in the shoebox under the bed with all of the letters he sends from prison. They’re addressed to Sheena and I don’t open them.

He's never sent me a letter. I suppose there’s nothing either of us can say to one another.

So I say nothing, just like I did so many times that men caused me pain.

But actions speak louder than words.

Short Story

Bonnie Joy Sludikoff

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