“Don’t get offended.”
“People are so easily offended.”
“It’s the ‘in thing’ to be offended by something.”
It isn’t about offense. It’s about acknowledgement, disappointment, and standing up for change. Every time you say some version of “don’t get offended,” what you’re really doing is trying to control the conversation. By painting my words with the “offended” brush, you strip them of their worth and value, and often create a straw effigy that looks and speaks like me, but sounds like a whiny child.
I’m onto your game. You cannot control this conversation anymore.
What you so abrasively call offense is often first the acknowledgement of a social issue that needs change. Let’s take a recent example I posted to Twitter.
Posted to forum: “Do you plan to add any non-white characters?” Answer: “No need for it.” Hilarious.
— Sid (@SeeSidWrite) April 22, 2013
This was for a game that I enjoy quite a bit. You have a handful of playable characters, and you can switch them up pretty often, because you usually die a lot. It’s part of the charm of the game. All the playable characters are white. I posted on the forum, not because I hoped to get an insightful answer from the playerbase, but because I like to go on the assumption that things like that aren’t intentional—that they’re oversights.
Now, once I saw a couple of replies to that forum post, I didn’t go back to it, because I know what will be there—scathing remarks about offense, political correctness, and so on. But all I did was acknowledge that the game world does not reflect the real world.
I acknowledged it, I was disappointed, and I stood up for change.
Now, one forum post isn’t a movement, but standing up for change doesn’t have to be a huge gesture. In fact, most of the time, it can’t be. Big gestures (marches, protests, and the like) get a lot of attention and can definitely raise awareness, but without the small gestures—the day-to-day standing up that we can each individually do—the larger ones are meaningless. Change can be inspired on a large scale, but must be implemented piecemeal, bit by bit, as we slowly seed it into the culture around us.
You keep telling me not to get offended, but I’m not. We hear or say “offense” and we think of pearl-clutching and people who say, “Oh, my stars!” and people who can’t hear the word “fuck” without casting a disapproving look. None of those are me. I’m not “taking things too seriously” when I politely wonder why a movie fails the Bechdel test. Rather, I’m acknowledging that a film could not have two named female characters talk to each other about something other than a man, I am disappointed in that, and I am standing up for change.
You can’t strip my words of value just because you would rather I stay quiet. I know how to counter you now. You can keep telling me I’m offended, but you’ll keep being wrong. And if your goal is to make me stop talking, you will fail.
I’m not “one of those people who has to bring race and gender into everything.” I’m one of those people who acknowledges there is a problem, and I’m not ashamed of that. I’m one of those people who is disappointed there still is problem, and I’m not ashamed of that.
I’m one of those people who stands up for change in the small ways that I know how. I will never be ashamed of that.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
[Trigger warning for discussion of rape.]
This article contains spoilers.
Dishonored is a game about choices and the effects of those choices. It’s also a game that had a lot of really visceral horror, which I noticed within the first several minutes as I watched rats murder and completely devour two guards. Holy shit. At first I thought I wasn’t going to like it for that (on a personal level, not a larger level), but I came to really enjoy what it brings to the table on the whole. There were two things about the game that really stood out about my playthrough, though—the castration torture we never actually mention and the rape boat.
The former is something that’s super easy to miss. You find someone on your side, Overseer Martin, chained up in the middle of a courtyard. He has clearly been imprisoned for a while, and is guarded by a single smack-talking dude when you find him (why every single guard is male is a discussion for another day). Once you dispense of the watchdog (I believe I set him on fire in one of my playthroughs), you let your target out. As soon as he stands up, you can see that his crotch is bloody. He babbles some quasi-cheerful (for a guy in his position) lines to you, then heads off to your base to meet up with the people who sent you while you go on ahead to incapacitate the high overseer. You can talk to Overseer Martin later, you can talk to other people who know him, you can even aim your creepy magic “I’ll-tell-you-everyone’s-secrets” heart at him, but no one ever talks about it. He just walks around with this bloody crotch, almost casually unaware of it himself. I’ve tried to see it as a trick of the light, as maybe something else—as anything, really—but every time I look at it, I see the same thing. Blood. It’s blood. Whoever imprisoned him castrated him as a form of torture, and the only way to even pull that out of the story is to look. I think that’s great storytelling, but overall, that’s some terrifying visceral shit.
Which leads me to the rape boat.
Or, hey, maybe it’s not really a rape boat. Maybe I just handed an unconscious woman over to a man who tells me that she’ll learn to love him—“after all, she’ll have her whole life”—because he really wants to have totally consensual sex with her. Or maybe he really just wants to get her out of harm’s way and then set her free into the wild. Like a mongoose. As one does. And hey—as my roommate pointed out—maybe she’ll escape!
Let’s set this up. For this mission, you’re to go to a party and dispose of the hostess. (There are three, actually, and you have to figure out which is your target. Also, cool fact: your target changes on multiple playthroughs.) Your assignment here is just to incapacitate her. Nothing fancy. Same with every other target, really. Each target also has two methods of disposal—outright homicide or various no-kill options. The game also has a no-kill achievement, so if you’re after that, you need to figure out how to get her out of this crowded house with no one seeing you.
Luckily, as you talk to party guests, you find a man who would like to help. He knows you’ve been sent to kill her, you see, and he explains his undying love for her. It’s important to him that she live. If you could just bring her unconscious body down to the cellar, he promises that “you will never hear of her again.”
“I won’t harm her, I swear. I’m a man of means. Just bring her to the cellar and I will keep her safe with me. Forever.”
“WHOA”,” was my initial reaction. “That sounds…but you can’t really be asking me to…no way, obviously I misunderstood. This is her boyfriend. He just plans to take her somewhere safe, and is going about it in a fucked-up way.”
Hanging on to this thought is the only thing that makes me feel like I can actually complete this mission. So I do. I deliver her to the basement where he places her in his boat and delivers the line that I’d been dreading. “Don’t worry. She’ll learn to love me. After all, she’ll have her whole life.”
WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK. So I have not only just assisted in a kidnapping, I have sent a woman off to…what? He’s obviously planning to keep her full-on against her will. He doesn’t see her as a person so much as a trophy, because you want consent from fully autonomous people. Will she be tied up? Chained up? Merely locked in? Or maybe—and possibly even worse?—he really does want sex to be consensual, so he plans to mentally and emotionally abuse her until she begs for his comfort. I don’t know, but to me, every option sounds like hell.
Now, let’s be clear: torture is featured heavily in the game. I have zero issues with that because it highlights how terrible the world is, and you don’t actually see most of it. You see the effects, and come to realize that this is a horrible, horrible place.
There were so many angles Dishonored could have gone with their (only) female target that include torture, and I wouldn’t be annoyed because torture in general fits the world. But instead, we went with sexual torture—the clichéd and “acceptable” punishment for women who step out of line.
On top of all that? It is just damn lazy writing.
“Wait, Sid, so you’re saying castration is totally cool? Why do you hate men?”
Nooooo…I brought it up because it was one of the two truly horrifying things that really stood out for me. Also, it’s super interesting to me that no one in game ever talks about it. But I didn’t expound on it in this particular article because, while unquestionably horrible, it isn’t a cliché. It isn’t an “accepted” way to handle an out-of-line man in our society. It doesn’t exacerbate an existing viewpoint.
The thing that gets me is this: I’ll bet if you asked the designers why they didn’t subject Lady Boyle to any other kind of torture, they would tell you that made them uncomfortable. The idea of allowing someone to hit or torture a woman in a video game would be in bad taste, but allowing her stalker to rape her (“No, just force her into an unwanted intimate situation!” To-may-to, to-mah-to.) for the rest of her life is totally fine.
Something is deeply wrong with that line of logic.
As soon as the two of them floated away, I reloaded the game and immediately played through this mission again specifically to avoid sending her off in the rape boat.
“Trust me,” I said, killing her in front of hundreds of partygoers. “You’re better off.”
[Trigger Warning for Rape and Rape Threats]
To Whom it May Concern:
“You’re too ugly to be raped. I want to rape you just to shut you up.”
Look at what you just did.
Seriously. Stop, right now, and reread that.
You started by pretending that you believe rape is about sex and desire. That rape is something you do when you can’t control your hormones any longer and must bed someone immediately, with or without their consent. You want to continue to push the idea that rape is about sex and desire because it helps you keep control, and it helps you silence those who speak out.
But you immediately betrayed yourself.
Immediately, you demonstrated that you actually know that rape is about violence, that it’s about control, that it’s about power. You know it isn’t about sex or desire. You push that it’s about sex because that helps you continue to use it as a control mechanism. If I convince you that my machine gun is really just a fluffy bunny, you’ll stop trying to take it away from me, and I can continue to use it against you.
You aren’t stupid. Rather, you feign stupidity in the hopes that your opponents will believe you or finally shut up and submit to you. It won’t work, though. You’ve shown your hand. You’ve shown that you do understand rape, and you do know exactly what you’re doing.
You can’t hide behind your lies anymore.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
I don’t like being touched. It’s a thing. That whole “three feet of personal space”? Me all over. Get too close and you may notice me inching away (if you pick up on social cues, that is). Unilaterally decide that you need to initiate physical contact, and you may notice my entire body tensing up. Seriously, just don’t do it.
This is not to say I don’t touch anyone ever. My best friend comes up and throws her arms around me at work, and this is welcome. She and I have built up that relationship, though. We didn’t behave that way when we first met. Physical contact is a form of intimacy, and I’m very protective of intimate interactions relating to my person. You don’t get to unilaterally decide we should share an intimate moment any more than I should unilaterally decide that. This is something we come to together, over time.
Some people don’t get that, though. Or they feel like they’re close enough friends with me that they should be able to touch me whenever they choose. They don’t get that even with my closest friends, I sometimes really need that three feet. I mean, really. I can get some really bad reactions, though. And honestly? Those bad reactions make me really uncomfortable.
The more you complain about not being able to touch me, the less I want you to touch me.
Super simple inverse relationship.
Anyway, I wanted to lay down some rules. You may have seen the image I made for Rosie on this topic. Most of those were best as short and snarky, though—when I got down to writing it all out, it turned out I really only had three rules
1. Don’t touch me.
Boom. Simple. No twists, no turns, just…don’t do it. This is especially perplexing with two groups: strangers and coworkers. I don’t understand how anyone thinks it’s okay to touch a person they do not know. I can’t even wrap my head around the thought process there.
Likewise, I don’t understand why you would ever think it was okay to walk up and touch your coworker. Two days in a row at work, I had two separate men come up and touch me—one rubbed my back and one reached around me as I sat at my desk to touch both my arms. Just…why? Why would you do that? (The former, I may as well note, was after no fewer than three years of conversations where I’ve explained to him that I don’t like to be touched. So, yanno…that’s festive.)
2. If I tell you not to touch me, don’t pout.
I had a coworker once who, when he got really close to explain something and I asked him to back up, would make these little irritated noises and say, “Okay…” in that “Whatever, Crazypants” voice. I don’t know what that even is except an attempt to tell me I was not allowed to have personal space and I was wrong for requesting it.
I am allowed personal space, by the way, and I’m not ever wrong for requesting it.
Not only is this juvenile, it’s attempted manipulation. Part of it, I think, is a defense mechanism—but it’s the kind of defense mechanism that places fault on the person exercising their boundaries. It’s an attempt to show them that they are wrong and should come around to the boundary-breaker’s point off view.
3. Don’t complain about not being able to touch me. Ever.
This is possibly the creepiest thing in the ENTIRE. WORLD. I walked in on such a conversation at work once. At work. I was coming back from I’m not sure where, and two (count them, two) of my coworkers were talking to my best friend, complaining about how they couldn’t touch me the way she could. Upon my arrival, they didn’t even try to deny the conversation—in fact, they turned their complaints directly to me. “Yeah,” one said, “I tried to hug you once and you almost jumped over the cubicle wall.”
“Well then don’t do that.”
It seemed like an obvious answer to me.
And yet they continued. On an on until I finally said, “Okay…I don’t feel like should have to apologize for where my boundaries are.” Because that was obviously what they wanted—for me to say, “Oh, I’m so sorry! No, please—come on, group hug! I didn’t mean it!” But no…I did mean it, I’ve always meant it, I still mean it.
This is the creepiest conversation I have ever walked in on, and I cannot begin to express how angry I was. I tried to tell my boss about it, but I was still so shaken, I don’t think it came across that I was trying to lodge a real complaint. I think it just sounded like I was relaying this funny thing that happened—but I sure as shit wasn’t laughing.
I’m writing this right now, and I’m getting angry all over again. You do not guilt other human beings into going beyond their comfort zones just because their comfort zones hurt your feelings. You are a grown-up. Fucking act like it.
I don’t mean to keep harping on rape culture, but honestly, this is part of it. This sense that just because Person A feels a certain way about Person B, then Person B must feel the same sort of intimacy toward Person A. That sort of thought process is what leads to the attitude of “Jane wouldn’t say no” and the assumption of rights to her body.
So there you go. Those are my rules. They may not apply to you, but they may apply to people in your life. Don’t just assume you have the right to touch anyone else, and if you must, watch for signals that your touch may not be welcome.
And seriously? Your feelings don’t trump anyone else’s comfort zone. Ever. Period.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
[TRIGGER WARNING: rape, sexual assault]
When I was 22 years old, I went to a party at a coworker’s house. Between the alcohol and the intervening years, the night is mostly a blur of photos I saw the next day, but a few parts of the evening remain clear to me—particularly toward the end.
It was a party of the “we’re young enough to still be super excited about legally buying booze” variety, and I’m not even sure exactly who was there anymore. Toward the end of the night, though, I found myself in the garage with a few people—it was set up like an extra living room, with a rug, a lamp, and a couple couches. People slowly filtered out until it was me and two guys.
I’m sure they were both perfectly fine looking (I don’t remember), but I was particularly attracted to one of them. No idea what his name was or how old he was now—I knew him for maybe an hour out of my entire life—but I remember that I really wanted to make out with him. Not have sex with him. Just make out with him.
So three of us are in the garage. I forget the specifics of the conversation that led to this, but we were joking around and Other Guy asks some question like, “Why are you in still in the garage?” I said, “I’m waiting for you to leave.” It sounds mean, but I remember it not feeling mean in context, and we all laughed. I just don’t remember the context.
They exchanged a knowing look and Other Guy left. I got off my couch and went to sit at the edge of the couch where the guy I fancied was lying down. We started making out. Yay me, right? Then suddenly, I remembered—my obligation.
I’ve never had sex, see. To this day. I have reasons, but they’re irrelevant to this conversation. The point is that I knew I wasn’t “allowed” to kiss someone for too long without telling him we weren’t going to have sex, because otherwise he would get super pissed off (whoever he was). I prided myself on not being naïve, see. I prided myself on “not being stupid enough” to expect someone to respect my not wanting to have sex right that moment.
Let’s rephrase for just a second: I had already accepted that my role as “sexual partner of any kind” universally meant that I was expected to do whatever my “partner” wanted. I understood that I was a minority and a freak, so I felt it was my obligation to get it out of the way early.
I need to put this as plainly as possible: I was wrong on every count.
I sat up quickly and spat out, “We’re not going to have sex.”
The words hung in the air for a second, and he looked at me as though I’d said, “I like pie!”—not upset, not pleased, just…thrown. “Okay,” he said and, satisfied, we went back to making out.
Under a minute later, he was unbuttoning my pants.
I sat up again and pushed his hands away—we struggled gently for control of the button, and finally I refastened it and covered it with my hands. I looked up, and he was irritated.
“Just because we’re not having sex means you can’t take your pants off?”
My brain said, “Well…yeah,” but my mouth only stuttered. I finally managed to get out something like, “I don’t want to,” and he didn’t force it as such, but he was pissy as hell. And I believed that I deserved it, because I was the freak. I was the outlier. I remembered the look he and Other Guy had exchanged. They had both thought he’d be out in the garage getting laid. I had made them both believe that, and I had implied sex by wanting to be alone with a boy I thought was cute.
In case you’re just tuning in, let me be clear: I was wrong on every count.
But because he was now pissy as hell, I felt like I had to make it up to him. So I tried to make him not angry with me by going further than I actually felt comfortable—not very far, but definitely further than I’d wanted. And I felt ashamed.
I was ashamed that it made me uncomfortable.
Not that I was doing something that made me uncomfortable. The actual feeling of being uncomfortable shamed me.
I froze. The combination of discomfort and shame and the shame of being ashamed all spiraled together until I melted down and had a panic attack right there in the garage. I cried and apologized ten or twenty times before I ran out. He made no effort to pretend like he gave a shit about anything except the fact that I was no longer touching his body. I locked myself in the bathroom to collect myself—the house was dark with people sleeping on the floor scattered across two rooms. When the guy finally came out of the garage, Other Guy made a rude comment about how long I’d been in the bathroom (har har, asshole) and I just felt even more humiliated. I finally went to lie down on the floor in the other room. I wanted nothing more than to go home, but I was in no shape to drive.
After lying there for at least an hour, though, I knew I wouldn’t fall asleep. I didn’t want to see him in the morning, and what if he came over to me during the night?
I say night, but it was 4 a.m. when I finally walked out the door and crawled into my Jeep. I should not have been on the road. My last drink had been hours ago and I lived nearby, but neither of those are the point. I was too drunk to drive.
But that’s the choice. Stay in a house where I was deeply uncomfortable on a number of levels (some part of me was aware how aggressive he’d been, but I was too busy blaming myself to properly acknowledge it), or don’t stay in the house and risk driving home. (And yes, now I understand the concept of getting a cab, but I was 22 and lived in Southern California—hell, what’s a cab?)
I wonder sometimes—if I’d been more sexually active at 22, would things have turned out differently? To be clear, I am in no way making comment on anyone else’s life choices—those are your own, just as mine are my own. But for me, personally, I wonder if he would have pushed harder if I hadn’t blurted out that sex wasn’t an option. I wonder if I would have been too afraid to stop him from unbuttoning my pants. If I had already had sex, I think I was just insecure enough that I would have wanted him to think I was cool…by not protesting.
This knowledge scares me. Because I shouldn’t have had to stop someone from trying to remove my clothing. Forcefully stop, actually. I should never have had to answer a question like, “Just because we aren’t having sex means you can’t take your pants off?” Because honestly, what the fuck kind of question is that? If that’s not blatant manipulation, then I need to re-up my Merriam-Webster subscription.
The night I didn’t get raped came down to luck. It was nothing I did or didn’t do—I was so insecure at 22, I barely did what I did. It shouldn’t have had to come down to luck. I shouldn’t have had to push someone’s hands away from my pants once, let alone multiple times. I shouldn’t have had to struggle for control of my clothing.
I was lucky. So many women are not. And this, folks? This is rape culture.
This is our culture.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
I work for a game company. Of late, I’ve taken issue with some of the content we’re receiving, and I’ve been everything but quiet about it. I’ve written letters to management and blatantly refused to work on it. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably heard me talk about it.
I was actually the second person on our team of three to get up in arms about it. The first was my boss (we’ll call him Joe for ease of storytelling)—the only male on our team. Joe was far and away the angriest person in the building about it—up until the day he quit over it. Before he quit, though, Joe made plenty of noise about it himself. We were deep into this discussion before we realized the higher-ups thought he’d been raising such a fuss on behalf of his team, comprising two females.
I spoke to HR about the content a few days later, and many aspects of my most recent letter came up. As we spoke, however, I discovered that everyone assumed my female coworker and I were the truly upset folks—despite the fact that Joe never implied a single thing to that end. When I corrected HR, she was shocked. “Joe??”
She said he needed to tell the company how he felt about this content. As a man.
Yes, he was my boss, and had she said “as a manager,” that’d be a whole different story. But those weren’t the words, and that wasn’t the intent. He had written numerous emails, attended a number of meetings, and made his feelings very plainly known, but the whole time, management assumed he was batting for us—myself and my female coworker. His words would have inherently carried more weight if he had made it clear that he had been speaking for himself as a man rather than speaking for two women.
So here’s what I can discern from this:
- The automatic assumption is that a man simply wouldn’t disagree with this content; therefore, he must be speaking for a woman.
- When the assumption was that he spoke on behalf on two women, his words carried almost no weight.
- Were he to speak explicitly for himself as a man, the words would carry significantly more weight than when he was thought to be speaking for two women.
At the end of the day, when his resignation letter made it clear exactly who he was speaking for, the content still went through. Even so, that doesn’t negate everything that came before it. It doesn’t take this bad taste out of my mouth.
How many women equal one man? Obviously more than two, but how many? Three? Five? How many female voices carry the same weight as one male voice?
How many of me do I need to be taken seriously?
Guest post by Sid
Ok folks, here’s the thing:
Someone is wrong on the internet.
Lots, really. Several, if we get right down to it, but I’m a busy gal and I’ve only got so much time. As such, let’s zero in on a Facebook conversation I watched go down just the other day. A friend of mine posted about CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville verdict, which I won’t recount here because if you don’t know it by now, you probably don’t own a computer. This was her take:
When my friend expressed hope he was kidding, he clarified:
And finally, when called out on perpetuating rape culture, he had this charming tidbit to add:
Mmmmmmk Sweetiekins…since you seem to be so very lost, allow me to break this down for you one asinine comment at a time.
1. “If laws are in place to protect the people, then people who are injured as a result of their breaking the law don’t get the same sympathy.”
A girl went to a party and got drunk. Tell me who she injured. Do not say the reputations of these boys. I want you to tell me EXACTLY WHO this girl PHYSICALLY INJURED as a result of her intoxication. Tell me.
Did she beat someone up? Did she hit people with sticks? SHE WAS UNCONSCIOUS. Was she drinking underage? Yes. Yes, she was. She got drunk and she passed out. And that should be the end of this story.
2. “When a drunk driver hits a telephone pole, does anyone sympathize with him?”
Okay, I want to make sure the sentiment of my next statement is very, very clear.
WHAT THE HOLY SHITTING FUCK DID YOU JUST SAY?
Reasons we get pissed off when drunk drivers hit telephone poles:
This person drank to excess and then got behind the wheel of a vehicle.
This person drank to excess and then put the lives of EVERYONE on the road in danger.
This person drank to excess and then possibly cut my phone service.
This person drank to excess and then made DECISIONS which affected his evening.
The drunk driver who hit a pole did not just drink to excess. That is not the end of the sentence. Were that the end of the sentence, he wouldn’t have hit the telephone pole. He would have woken up the next day, possibly with a permanent-marker penis on his face. Jane Doe drank to excess…and that’s the end of her sentence. She passed out. This story should have ended with a permanent-marker penis, at the very worst.
3. “…but she consensually broke the law to place herself in a situation she knew was risky.”
Do you think going to a party is risky, Sweetiekins? When you personally get ready for a party, do you think to yourself, “Oh no, I’m heading to the danger zone!”? Do you personally find drinking at a party to be a risky thing for you—specifically you, Sweetiekins—to do? No? So you don’t view a party as a place where you should constantly have to look over your shoulder and see who’s trying to attack you?
THEN WHY THE FUCK DO YOU EXPECT HER TO?
4. “At least suspend her from school to send the message that underage drinking is illegal for a reason.”
“We’re proud of you for pressing charges against your rapists. There was almost certainly a lot of social and peer pressure not to press charges, but we think you make the right decision. We know the media has been tearing you apart and you must feel like three shades of crap right now, but about that minor drinking violation…”
Folks, this is how we make people afraid to come forward with rape charges. I’m not saying you should be able to get away with whatever you want because of it, but for crying out loud, underage drinking is a victimless crime. Literally the only reason anyone wants her to get hit with a punishment for it is because they want to find a way to make this her fault, too. And it’s just not.
5. “I don’t know if a ‘rape culture’ exists, but more problematic than that is this culture of ‘not taking responsibility for one’s actions.”
First let’s touch on this culture of “not taking responsibility for one’s actions.” I think your next line really brings your feelings on this into focus, so let’s look at it:
Rape victim: “I didn’t do anything wrong, the problem is the rape culture.”
Rapist: “I didn’t do anything wrong, the problem is the rape culture.”
Mmk, this tells me that you have no idea what rape culture is. Like, at all. No sarcasm. So let’s touch on it.
Rape culture is this, the world we live in, where all the questions focus on what the victim did to deserve her rape. It’s the culture where people are honestly responding to this trial with, “Those poor boys’ lives are ruined,” when the reason their lives are ruined is because they chose to commit rape.
Rape culture is the culture where most women who are raped don’t report it, specifically because they already know they abuse they’ll get. They know that it is them, the victims (and not the rapists), who will be torn apart and made to believe that whatever they did, be it have the gall to go out for a drink in the evening or the audacity to wear a skirt in public, is the reason that they deserved their rape.
And it’s just not ever true. It isn’t ever.
6. “Rapist: You did do something wrong and need to be punished.”
Hey! Yes! You got one right!
7. “Rape victim: You didn’t do anything wrong, but don’t blame a ‘rape culture’ for your stupidity and lack of foresight.”
Aaaaaand my sympathy for you is gone again. You had it for like, an eighth of a second there.
So really, explain this to me, Sweetiekins. Is this the “women should expect to be raped at all times” song? Cuz I gotta tell ya, I’ve heard it, and I really prefer Mumford & Sons. It just makes more sense to me.
Why should I spend every moment of my life expecting to be raped? Do you have any idea how exhausting that is? I mean, do you? It takes a lot of mental energy to spend all day thinking up exit strategies or figuring out how fast you can punch the guy on the bus next to you if he puts his hand on your leg. Know how I know? Cuz I do it every fucking day.
Seriously, do this for me: spend one day—just one day—keeping yourself ready for rape at all times. When you walk out the door, look around for strangers. If you see someone who looks iffy, cross the street, even if it takes longer. Keep your keys pressed through your fingers if you walk alone at night. Look all around you every few seconds. You passed some guy walking down the street? Turn around to make sure he’s not running up to attack you but look fucking nonchalant about it you don’t want to cause a scene. Wait, is he following you?? Speed up! Quick, you don’t want him to find out where you wor—oh, he turned the corner. Nevermind.
Talk to me again about foresight, Sweetiekins.
8. “Following your logic, when my $1000 bike was stolen over Spring Break when I had it locked in the racks instead of taking it inside, I did nothing to ask for it. I did ask for it.”
I. Can’t. Even.
You locked up your bike…your bike was stolen…and it was your fault because you didn’t lock it up more?
I just…I don’t even know what to do with that.
9. “Yes, there is a bike thief out there, but I am not going to detract from my ownership of the problem by saying, ‘Oh, the problem is a Bike-Stealing Culture.’”
I’m going to set aside the sociological points of actual crime culture here, because I feel that it gets away from the primary point I wish to make. You ready for this? Cuz I’m about to blow your mind.
The invasion of a woman’s body without her consent is not nor should it ever be compared to PETTY OR GRAND THEFT.
Did I really just have to write that sentence?
What, so I have be careful for having the nerve to walk about in public in blatant possession of a vagina? What am I supposed to do, Sweetiekins? Leave it at home? Lock it up? Leave your dick at home once in a while. It’s totally possible. There’s a song about it and everything, so it must be true.
Wake. Up. Rape isn’t theft. Sticking any of your appendages into any orifice of an unconscious person is not the same thing as lifting that same unconscious person’s wallet. If you don’t go to a party expecting to get raped, why the hell should I have to? If you don’t abstain from going out for a drink, why the hell should I have to? If you don’t arrange an escort to walk home in the dark after work, why the hell should I have to?
But if you won’t help break the cycle of rape culture, I guess that means that I have to.
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Guest post by Sid
Three of those relationships were abusive.
Guy one (G1) was fine in this regard, as was guy five (G5). They each had their own issues, of course, but they weren’t abusive.
Guy number two (G2) choked me one day. We had been together for well over a year, closing in on a year and a half. Some months later, he dragged me with his car for about twenty feet. Any time I tried to break up with him, he sobbed and sobbed, berating himself until I recanted. He yelled at me if I disagreed with him, prayed before a meal, or called him out on one of dozens of pathological lies.
Guy number three (G3) also choked me, but it was much softer. It was as though he didn’t intend to actually hurt me, but wanted to remind me what being choked was like (because of course he knew G2 had done it) and wanted to show me he could do it just as easily. To my mind, this is just as bad. It was more threat than act, but it amounted to the same. Some months later, he was holding my hand while angry and crushed it. It hurt for several days.
Guy number four (G4), though…he’s the tricky one. He didn’t choke me. He didn’t drag me with a car or crush my hand. His thing was all about how much I wasn’t listening to him. He was also quite tall, so when he felt I wasn’t listening to him, he would bring himself up to his full height and grab me by the arms—tightly, so that I couldn’t get away. He would then push his face into mine so that my head went back, and he would scream at me.
I struggled away whenever I could, but often I was backed up against a wall or into a corner and had nowhere to go.
I would scream back, of course, because I felt trapped and threatened, and I was trying to understand what was happening. Any time we had an argument, if I tried to step away from it to calm down and sort my thoughts, he would follow me after just a few minutes. In one of our homes, as soon as I closed the bedroom door behind me, I would sneak out the sliding glass door and walk down the street so I could get some peace. It wasn’t long before he figured that out, though, and ran down the street after me. A couple times, when I’d gotten far enough that he couldn’t see me, he came after me in his car, window rolled down and sobbing for me to get in.
Honestly, I just wanted thirty minutes to be alone. I couldn’t get five.
When we moved, my office didn’t have a sliding glass door (or a window on the first floor), but that’s still where I went when I wanted space. When he still wouldn’t respect my request to be alone, I started sitting in front of the door. It didn’t have a lock.
This worked for about ten minutes, at which point he panicked and forced himself into the room. This happened so many times, I couldn’t even tell you how many. I often ended up hurt because the door would throw me into the wall or would hit me, or he would step on me on accident because I was right there on the floor. Once he was in the room, he would start calm, but would eventually escalate, sobbing about how we had to work this out right now and no I couldn’t take any time to work through the problem on my own. Often, it would take us back to him grabbing me by the arms and pushing his face into mine, and screaming.
Like I said, my office didn’t have a lock. But the bathroom did. Once I locked myself in there with my back against the door. He used a credit card and forced his way in. I got hurt this time because I was leveraging myself against the door by pushing against the toilet with my feet, and eventually my knees gave out.
I started leaving the apartment when we argued. But I would literally need to run, because he would be after me in about two minutes. It was kind of amazing, actually. The first time I went to leave, he looked at me and said, “Really? You really think you have to leave the apartment?” He was aghast at my lack of trust—after all, he’d agreed to give me time to think in my office. Again. Two minutes later, he was behind me on the street, begging me to come back with him.
Finally, I started heading for the stairs instead of the elevator—but I went upstairs instead of down. That was the one thing he never figured out. I finally had some time and space to think—about being a grown woman who was hiding on the floor above her own just to escape her boyfriend who literally made a habit of chasing her.
This relationship did not last.
Now, was I an angel in this relationship? Good God, no. I mean, I tried. The good times were so good that we were engaged, and we both thought our relationship was fine. (I didn’t notice the pattern, see. Not at first. Not for a long time.) At the end of the day, though, I was not my best in this relationship, as much as I wanted to be. As much as I tried to be. But that doesn’t mean—and will never mean—that I deserved what I got.
What makes him tricky, though, isn’t that he never choked me or took a direct swing. What makes him tricky is how entwined he was with so many of my other friends. They had become our friends, and it didn’t seem right to air all our dirty laundry to them. I told two of my very closest friends, though, which was difficult because they were also very close to him. And then one of my friends said something I didn’t expect.
“Well, you know, I think a lot of it came down to you two just not being right for each other. I mean, I don’t think that’s his real personality.”
I could have the very specifics of the words wrong—it was a few years ago now—but the sentiment is dead-on. And I was confused. I had been trying to attach the word “abusive” to this relationship as I sorted through the wreckage (I say “trying” because, as with many things, it is difficult for a victim to call out what is true), and this reaction made me feel all the more like I shouldn’t attach that word. It made me feel even more strongly that the problem wasn’t him—the problem was that I evoked the reaction.
I fought with myself for a long time on this one, and honestly I don’t know when in the last three years I settled on the word “abusive,” but I know it was more recent than not. Maybe it was when I heard this same friend say that she couldn’t imagine what goes through people’s heads when they defend a friend of theirs who was called out for assaulting another friend. “How can you look someone in the face and say that he wouldn’t do that? That it was just a misunderstanding?”
I don’t know. How can you?
Or maybe it was just this last week when I stood two feet away as she hugged Rosie and said, “I unfriended that guy because I couldn’t stand to hear him say on Facebook how he was…” something. I didn’t hear the end of the sentence. I was too far inside my own head trying to figure out how it was that B was so despicable she couldn’t stand to be friends with him on Facebook, yet she had managed to remain very close friends with my abuser since I left him.
Abuser. That’s such a strong word. I look at it even now and think, “Come on now, Sid. Surely that’s not the right word. He didn’t even hit you.” Honestly. That’s the thought: “He didn’t even hit you.” I know better than that, and still.
The thing with a lot of victim blaming, I think, is that it comes from a place not of malice but of pleading. When you say, “You must have misinterpreted the situation,” you’re not really saying, “You’re a liar and I don’t believe you.” At least not most of the time. Sure, there are people who outright say that, but I think even they are really saying, “Don’t let this be true. Please, just leave me any margin for error so I can continue to hang out with my friend who has never shown this horrible side to me.”
It works like this, I think:
- You acknowledge the accusation is horrible.
- If the accusation is true, then you feel you can no longer be friends with the accused.
- You have never seen the accused display any behavior like this; in fact, you would declare the accused to be one of the nicest fellows you know.
- As a result of (3), you choose to believe that it couldn’t have been as bad as it sounds. Your natural inclination is to assume there was a misunderstanding.
- You report this to the accusing party.
You aren’t trying to disregard your friend’s feelings—in truth, you’re just trying to protect your own—but what you’ve done here is opened the door for second-guessing. Second-guessing something that was probably hard to talk about in the first place. Without even intending to, you have silenced her.
Victim blaming isn’t something any friend sets out to do. (Anyone who does so openly and candidly is honestly not a friend—I have stories about that, too.) Victim blaming is something so subtle it can slip by us without so much as a glance.
After my first two abusive relationships (G2 and G3), I was re-applying for a job as a dispatcher. During one of the interviews, the abuse came up in conversation. My interviewers informed me that these relationships proved I had poor decision-making skills and denied me the job. (Before you jump into legality, I can’t prove that was the reason. It was, though.)
It took me several years to get over the shame and the self-blame of those first two, but now I won’t apologize when I tell you that I have been abused. I won’t shrink away and say, “I…I know I should have gotten out sooner, but…” I notice the signs now, and I avoid them. In the case of G4, it took a while to notice the pattern, but when I did—and I realized it was slowly getting worse and worse—I got out, six months before the wedding.
Getting out isn’t as easy as it sounds, and I won’t look down on anyone going through a similar experience. Women in these situations need help and encouragement—not shame, not blame, not doubt. Strength.
My roommate once asked me what my biggest regret was, and I said I didn’t have any. “None at all?” “Nope. Because it’s all important. Our pasts make up who we are, and I like who I am. I wouldn’t be who I am without everything that’s brought me to this point. It’s all important.”
It’s a part of my history. I can’t change it, and honestly, I don’t know that I would given the chance. Not changing your past doesn’t mean you have to relive it, after all. I love and appreciate every lesson I’ve learned, however hard it was.
I don’t make billboards about my abusive relationships, but I don’t make any effort to hide them. And sometimes people still try to shame me—whether it’s with words, body language, or a sudden, superior attitude. It doesn’t work, though. Here’s a quick tip: you can’t shame me about my life, my choices, my hobbies, my aspirations, my friends, or my past. It’s pointless trying.
You can’t shame me because I am not ashamed.
Guest post by Sid
Before I start, I want you to pretend with me for a minute. Pretend that you haven’t had a wave of shitty words thrown over you in the last 24 hours, even after you took down your defense. Pretend that you didn’t have to turn off the computer just to get a few hours of peace—so you didn’t have to keep looking at words like “asshole,” “misogynist,” or “sack of shit.” Pretend for just a minute that that never happened and that the internet consists of only you and me.
Now that we’re alone, let’s talk.
I do not want to call you names or imply that you meant to hurt anyone. I won’t do that because I know that wasn’t your intention. I’m not angry with you, because I understand that you honestly might not have a handle on what all the fuss was about—and not in a “willful ignorance” kind of way. In a “no, seriously, I can’t make this make sense” kind of way.
I want to sit with you, calmly and respectfully, and try to unpack what all this backlash is really about.
Wait, wait, wait…don’t close the window yet. I know—you’ve been hearing it in 140-character chunks all day long. People have said it to you over and over again. But the thing is, most of those responses were angry and hurt, and many used hateful words. No one listens once hateful words are leveled at them. That’s just science. So here, in our little pretend world where none of those words were said and you and I are alone, I’m hoping you’ll give me a chance to explain what the problem really is.
Lots of inappropriate things are funny, including many of the things you listed. So why isn’t rape funny? Or rather—since you never claimed that rape was funny and I don’t want to put words in your mouth—why isn’t it funny to compare activities that aren’t rape to rape?
The word rape brings with it a lot of imagery. It is the forceful and unwanted invasion of a person’s body. Every day more and more people experience it. You can say the word—you can—but by using it to describe an everyday task, like refreshing a web page, it takes some of the meaning away from the word. It gives the word a little less potency, which makes it easier for friends, employers, and juries to write it off as “not a big deal.” (This gradual impotence of meaning is what people are referring to when they say “rape culture,” because it leads slowly to acceptance of rape as “norm.”)
So why is it okay to joke about other offensive things?
Because being offended is different from being hurt. If you want to fight the “people get offended too easily” fight, I will walk beside you and fly the flag, but this is something different. A lot of people—women in particular—are actually hurt when they see the hell that they experienced made into something small. They relive the experience of having their bodies invaded.
Let’s, for just a moment, liken it to the n-word. I imagine this is a word I would never see in your comic, because this word hurts people. It directly targets one specific group of people and tells them they are less. I completely understand that this was not ever your intention, but when you joke about rape, you tell survivors that it’s no big deal, that we can joke about it. It targets them as a group and tells them that they are less because they weren’t even worth thinking about.
As I mentioned, I know you’ve taken down even the defense of the joke, but I suspect you may have done that because you were tired of the hateful words (which would be totally fair). Please note that I am not saying your apology was insincere. I believe that you really meant the apology. My honest goal here is to try to help you understand—not to condescend to you and not to treat you like some kind of monster, but to come to you with a sincere explanation of a sincere issue. I hope I’ve done that.
If you would like to respond to any of my points, have questions about any of my examples, or would otherwise like to continue in respectful discourse, my Twitter is @SeeSidWrite—just DM me with your interest (and whether you prefer Matt or Matthew) and I will DM you back with my personal email address. I would be more than happy to continue this conversation.
All the best,
Why do we do this? Why do we write about our experiences and talk about misogyny and women in today’s society and put all this out into the world?
I used to wonder that. Why bother? The only people reading are a) people who already agree with you or b) people who honest to God just want to fight with you.
The people who should be paying attention usually aren’t, and if they are, it’s only to argue. Most misogynists don’t even realize you’re talking to them, because no one self-identifies as a misogynist. Even the most ardent among them love women, you see. They have mothers and sisters and everything. Some of their best friends are women. You can’t change the mind of someone who can’t hear you, so these are obviously—as much as we might wish otherwise—not the people we’re talking to.
So who does that leave us with? Are we honestly just left sitting around in a big internet circle talking to ourselves?
I used to think so. I believed that everyone who talked about feminism and the way women are treated in media or in life just wrote blog posts so they could all sit around and agree with each other. Because who else was reading that sort of thing? Just a quick glance at the comments showed people either vehemently agreeing or trolololing. No one else was commenting, so obviously no one else was reading.
Except…I was. Not consistently or anything, because I’m not a big blog reader in general, but I’d get the link in an IM or on Facebook and I’d read it. And the weird thing for me is that I walk away from most articles or blogs neither agreeing nor disagreeing. I would walk away feeling that I had just read something interesting, but I develop opinions very slowly. I would read it, think about it, and then mentally file it away before going back to whatever I was doing.
This annoys some people, I think, who send me links and expect me to immediately jump in with strong reactions, but that’s just not the way I process information, and it never has been. I file it away, and I add to that file as I absorb more and more information on any given topic. Over time, the information all combines in my head when I’m not paying attention, and then poof! like a puff of smoke days or even weeks later, I suddenly have thoughts and opinions on things. But at that stage, I still don’t always feel like I can express my thoughts. When I try, the first time someone counters me, I stumble around my words. “I, uh…well, I mean there was this article I read…it was a few weeks ago…I can’t really remember, but I thought it said…I mean…”
I’m not the world’s best speaker. I can do it if I try super hard, but then add in trying to defend a topic—even one I know quite a bit about!—and I feel so put-on-the-spot that I can’t actually retrieve any of my information. I believe I’m a good writer (it’s my day job, after all), but my first drafts are always just gibberish ideas of what I think I want to say, be it fiction or non. When I write, I can literally look at my ideas, judge which ones have weight, which ones are well worded, which ones I need to rephrase. I can set them aside for days at a time, letting them sink into the page and into my head, then I can easily move them around when I come back to the draft and see if I still think all the things I thought I thought. I see if it still all makes sense, and if it all holds together.
I don’t have the luxury of doing that in any spoken conversation. I thrive in the ability to make my points slowly, not to awkwardly roll them out of my mouth in some collection of words that almost resembles the thing I kind of wanted to say as someone stands ready to shoot them down the second I get them out. As such, I usually avoid discussions on topics I haven’t thought about extensively—and even some I have. If a debatable topic comes up, I usually just shut up, and it’s not that I don’t have opinions or that I’m not smart enough to understand what’s going on. It’s that I’m taking in what everyone else is saying. I’m listening and adding all the information in the room to that part of my brain that collects blog posts and this side’s point and the other side’s point and eventually smashes them together into a big fusion of What I Think—but that process takes a while.
So I don’t comment on blogs. Almost ever. But I’m still listening.
So are a lot of other people. More people read an article or blog than comment on it—that’s just basic math right there—so while comments may look like any given blog post exists solely for the rah rah in the comments, really the people we’re talking to and trying to reach are the ones who don’t leave comments. We’re talking to the girl who gets called a lesbian because she doesn’t want to wear skirts, but is confused about what is inherently bad about lesbians or good about skirts. We’re talking to the preteen or teenage boy who feels uneasy when his friends make rape jokes, but he hasn’t yet pinned down exactly why. We’re talking to our husbands and coworkers and male friends who aren’t dismissive, but find our experiences so alien to their own that they’re unsure how to even participate in the conversation. We’re explaining what it feels like and what it looks like and what it sounds like when we are harassed or put down or dismissed on no basis other than gender.
And we’re talking to women who have never had this experience. That used to be me, too. It was easy to dismiss that “crazy feminism thing” because, well, I had never experienced it, so obviously the people who talked about it were just getting all uppity about every little thing they could latch on to. (Later I would realize that all the times I’d tried to make myself stand out as the Girl Who Could Carry Stuff, the Girl Who Could Work While Her Boyfriend Stayed Home and Cleaned, or the Girl Who Didn’t Wear Dresses were actually a direct result of people telling me what I couldn’t, wasn’t allowed to, or had to do based on my gender.) We’re talking to these women even though they’re only half paying attention. Some people get really mad about that, the half paying attention thing, but you know what? I think that’s fine. If every one of them gets to breathe their last breath having been treated completely fairly in every facet of their lives, then that’s honestly fantastic.
But that is super unlikely. And when they face that inequality—when they actually see it up close after never having had to face it before, what will they do? They may ignore that part of them that says something about the situation doesn’t sit right—and, probably, that’s exactly what they’ll do for a while, because it’s hard to just wake up on Tuesday and decide to believe in the boogey man when you’ve spent your whole life denying that he’s real.
Eventually, if she’s lucky, each of these women will notice that she can’t quite let it go. She’ll try to work out why this situation feels wrong. If there’s nothing there to pull from, then it’s too easy for her to dismiss the feeling as nothing. If she’s even half read a few articles or blogs that cover what gender judging feels like, though, then her brain can recall that, and bit by bit, she can start to feel more confident in calling what is happening to her “discrimination.”
Any time you write a blog or an article that focuses on what could potentially be a narrow target audience, it can feel like you’re just talking to yourself, or to the people who either agree with you or can’t hear you. Remember, though, the silent majority who don’t speak because they feel they have no voice, who don’t speak because they feel they lack anything to contribute, who don’t speak because they don’t understand or even have their own opinions yet. Don’t give up on getting your message across just because you don’t think it’s going anywhere new. We are making a difference, even if we can’t see it yet—or hear it.
Guest post by Sid
I watched a fair amount of TV growing up—much more than I do even now (I also played outside more than I do now and read more than I do now, so I assume there were simply more hours in the day back then). When I was old enough to stay home alone—during the summer in particular—I would watch whatever I could find on TV while I baked or ate lunch or figured out which book I would read that afternoon. It was at this time that I discovered the channels with stand-up comedians on the air, back-to-back, all day long. And I watched them. I watched them all. Well-known or not, dozens of them came across the screen, often in sets of three on something like Premium Blend.
Often, the shows would repeat, so I’d see them a couple times, and over time I came to notice that several of the male comedians had a common theme—they complained about women. A lot. Women did this, and women did that, and doncha hate it when a woman does this? “Oh,” I thought to myself at the time. “This is like…a guide. This is stuff I shouldn’t do.” And that was the first time—but not the last—that I would think to myself, “Well, I don’t want to be one of those girls.”
One of those girls. At—charitably—twelve, I didn’t want to be like the loser wimpy girls who love shoes and shopping and pink and ribbons…because those girls were annoying. Those girls were troublesome. To men. They were annoying to men. And at twelve, I didn’t really have the capacity to understand that these people on stage were not representatives for all men everywhere. My house consisted of my mom, my dad, and me—I didn’t have brothers and I didn’t have a reliable way to gauge what these comedians were saying against the real world, so as far as I knew, these were important tips that I needed to remember for when I was old enough for them to matter.
I ended up internalizing a lot of it, and at this point I don’t like shopping because…I really don’t like shopping. I can’t stand the crowds, trying a bunch of stuff on is exhausting…plenty of reasons that have nothing to do with some random jackass comedian I saw when I was twelve. But that’s still where a lot of it started. Once I started dating, I had this list of things in my mind that I couldn’t be or shouldn’t be. And like I said, now I simply am who I am, all preconceptions be damned, but I still think it’s interesting to examine how I got here. I didn’t want to be one of those girls. (To be completely honest, I still hate pink, but for no really identifiable reason. This one might be a remnant from the time I’m talking about because nothing about the color is inherently offensive to me, but my avoidance of it borders on compulsion.)
I have a friend who is vehemently against people who say they aren’t one of those feminists. Pushing yourself away from the word and the cause behind it, she posits, only serves to weaken the base of feminism and what it represents rather than strengthen that base. I think she has a very good point, but I have been guilty on more than one occasion of hesitating to use the word “feminist” to describe myself. The word holds such a stigma—and while I agree that “fuck stigma, feminism is not a bad word,” I know that more than once I’ve tried to set up a barrier between myself and the word “feminism” specifically because I wanted my audience to take my point at face value, not filter it through an “oh, she’s just talking about girl stuff” lens.
Is that wrong? Or is it just tactical? I’m honestly not sure, and if it leaves me open to criticism then I’ll take it. Either way, though, the fact that I feel like I have to frame my words for anyone to hear them is part of the problem—if not the crux.
My roommate has a theory that the problem with the words “feminist” and “feminism” are the “–ist” and “–ism” suffixes. In our vernacular, he suggests, that suffix is almost exclusively associated with negative things or forms of supremacy. “Racist” and “supremacist,” specifically. In this way, the word itself is actually damaging to the cause, because the word itself provokes defensiveness. This is a fascinating approach, and while I don’t exactly agree with it (especially after a quick Google search that immediately disproves the “most –ist words are negative” part of the theory), at the very least, it’s an interesting thought experiment—would we have a better reaction if we called feminism something else? Would it be easier to talk with people and explain simple ideas? Would we be less likely to have our points dismissed as “girl stuff” or “angry stuff”?
One way or another, though, separating ourselves from other women for the sake of looking better to men only hurts us. It shows the kind of men who would try to bully us out of our autonomy and into fantasy roles that this is an excellent plan. That if they continue, they will get the results they are after, because look, this girl totally agrees with us.
When I was in my early twenties back in my hometown, I was talking with a high school friend of mine. He was getting into venture capital and telling me, along with two other guys, that their firm had one really hard and fast rule—they would not deal with female business owners. “Women are crazy,” he explained in the same tone of voice you might use to explain that grass is green and fire is hot. Naturally, I had an immediate and loud reaction to this.
“Yeah, they are! I know exactly what you mean.”
Because I wasn’t one of those girls, remember? I was cooler than that. I got him because I was awesome. Or because my self-esteem was in a shape at the time that I couldn’t really argue, because then I wouldn’t be as cool (and he might think I was one of those girls after all).
This conversation stands out in my mind not even because it was the first time I’d said something like this, but because I remember feeling a strong, “Are you serious?” reaction underneath my verbal reaction, and that was new. Even while I was agreeing with him, I was suddenly very certain that I did not want to be around him. This may have been the last time I saw him.
I don’t think my high school friend was trying to bully me or anyone out of autonomy—truth be told, I’d bet a small fortune that he was only parroting what someone at his job had espoused—but he was, intentionally or not, supporting the kind of attitude that breeds this bully behavior by placing the central tenet on a pedestal: women are less. From there, it’s a simple jump to assuming they should behave as you wish. Because they are less than you.
By separating yourself (as not one of those girls), what you’re really saying is, “But I’m not less,” when what you perhaps ought to be saying is that none of us are less.
One of those girls, one of those feminists, one of those anything—no one identifies themselves that way. So whoever you are and whatever you represent, remember that separating yourself from a group may be a quick method of self-defense, but focusing on the group as a whole—and pointing out that no one is less—is the only way to make any lasting progress.
This is from my friend Sid, who has experienced a lot of street harassment in the years I’ve known her. The most recent incident was different, and Sid asked me to let her tell you about it.
I’ve been working on different versions of this same blog post for maybe a month. Part of it is that I’ve never felt that I blog particularly well—I start them, I stop them, I never know what to do with them. Most of it, however, is that this blog stemmed from wanting to express an experience I had and to express how such a simple thing could terrify me so deeply—but when I started actually writing the post, I found that just bringing the experience back into my reality long enough to write about it was nearly impossible.
The event I’m referencing was my most intimate experience with harassment. Now, harassment can take all kinds of forms. It can be as simple as someone excessively staring at you or as complex as someone coordinating their actions around yours (this gets the extra label, “stalking”). For someone on the receiving end, the line between what is and isn’t harassment can feel fuzzier than it is, specifically because we’re trained to be tolerant and polite—particularly women—to a startlingly detrimental degree.
My experience was just a couple of weeks ago. I tried several times to write the story down, but was startled by the degree to which I found it difficult. I could start, but before I got very far, this wave of despair would wash over me and I would be unable to finish. Finally, I got the bare bones of the story down, which is below for context.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that I’m presently recovering from a significant injury which has left me more physically vulnerable than I’ve ever been. As someone who is fairly strong and also trained in martial arts, this feeling of physical inferiority is still new to me, and part of what made the experience below so terrifying.
This event started as many of my less upsetting stories do—at the bus stop. Our antagonist was an older man who was the kind of drunk you just can’t achieve in a single afternoon. He asked if I was a “working girl” on a street notorious for prostitution, then apologized for being “so bold” while going on to explain how women just excite men, and so on.
From there, he cycled between trying to save me from a life I don’t lead and getting angry that I wouldn’t offer something I don’t sell. Once we got on the bus, I made every effort to be as far from him as possible, but once the bus started moving, he came and found me.
He continued the cycle for some time as I stared at my phone, his voice escalating until he was yelling at me on this crowded bus. I wondered if the folks around us thought we were together. I sat as far into my seat as my body would physically go while he was halfway out of his, knees almost constantly touching mine. At one point, I said in a clear, firm voice that I wanted him to stop touching me, and he yelled something else in Drunk. Eventually I noticed out of the corner of my eye (the only time I’d looked at him was to tell him to stop) that he was very slowly punching at the air about five inches from my face. When the doors next opened, I got off the bus and walked all the way home.
I’ve told the story several times in person, and when I do, I can make light of it. “He says this through a thirty-year drunk,” I usually explain, as I describe the slur that comes from not a lot of drinking, but from a long time of drinking, and my audience laughs and I laugh and we all laugh because it’s in the past and oh ho ho, what a funny tale it is. It sure is good fun to talk about the crazy shit that happens on the bus, lawl.
But it wasn’t funny. It was some scary shit. I wouldn’t call it the most terrifying thing that’s ever happened to me, but it was a new kind of terror. It was a much more intimate kind of terror. Invasive. And maybe most importantly—intimidating. Whether or not he was aware that he was trying to intimidate me (or aware of the date or where he was), he absolutely was. Yelling at someone in public is a form of intimidation—it hopes to quiet the other person into submission and agreement. Miming that you are punching a complete stranger is a threat, plain and simple, which is another form of intimidation. He wanted me to talk to him—and perhaps quite a bit more—and he was doing everything he could to manipulate the situation toward that outcome.
In my case, I didn’t take advantage of any of the ways I could have reported this man. I was too concerned with getting to a safe place for it to have even crossed my mind. Too often, though, even when harassment is reported, nothing—or not enough—is done about it. The recent events at Readercon are a great example of this.
If you’re not familiar with the Readercon debacle, this page makes it easy to follow. The very first post, by Genevieve Valentine, sums up her experience at the science fiction convention a few weeks ago, where another attendee harassed her, later hugged her from behind without invitation, and finally, supposedly seeing the error of his ways, followed her around the rest of the con so that he could apologize to her. She wanted him to go away. He refused to go away until she would hear his apology, thus nullifying the apology he insisted was so sincere.
According to Readercon’s own policy, they have zero tolerance for harassment of any kind, and harassers will simply be banned from the convention. Forever. In the case of Ms. Valentine’s harasser, however, the ban was a bit shorter than forever—rather, it was for two years. The board of directors stated that this leniency had been afforded because he was so sorry. (“You may not have been willing to hear his apology,” I imagine them saying, “but we’re so much more reasonable.”)
Before continuing, it is absolutely worth noting that Readercon has since come out with a full apology and has banned the gentleman in question for life, as per their original policy. (It’s quite a good apology, in my book.)
One of the biggest problems with the original verdict (and there are many) is that this tells harassers, “It’s okay to keep doing whatever you want, whenever you want because all you have to do at the end of the day is act really apologetic (you needn’t even genuinely feel it, but make us believe it), and you’ll be off the hook.” The even bigger problem? This gives them even more of a reason to turn an apology into harassment. It makes harassers feel even more justified in cornering you away from people long enough to make you understand how sorry they are.
The most important part of Ms. Valentine’s post might be that harassers lose the right to choose how they apologize. “You have forfeited the right,” she points out, “to unburden yourself by apologizing to [a woman] until she forgives you, assuring her that you have learned things until she praises you.” With my experience above, I definitely got the sense that the drunk man was offended when I chose not to acknowledge his slurred apology for being “so bold” as to ask if my body was for sale—and further when I chose not to acknowledge anything else he tried to say to me. He started yelling as a method of getting me to acknowledge him.
I had a boyfriend who would use this same tactic. I would need space from an argument, so I would walk away, but he would need to fix things in that moment and why wasn’t I listening to him? He would grab me and hold me still, pressing his face against mine in an attempt to get me to hear him. He would chase me down the street—literally—yelling and crying the whole time. Because he was going to apologize to me whether or not I felt threatened by his method of apology. (I hope I needn’t mention that the relationship didn’t last.)
Too often, we’re made to feel unreasonable if we won’t listen to drunken, crying, or insistent apologies—many delivered in the same manner as the behavior they are supposedly decrying! “If you won’t listen to my apology,” we’re told, “then you’re just a bitch. You don’t even deserve my apology.” No. What we deserve is to be left alone if that’s what we’ve asked for. What we deserve is to be treated as full human beings and not tools you use to feel better about yourself. To quote Ms. Valentine: “If a woman has indicated you are unwelcome […] your apology is YOU, VANISHING.”
But the accusations make us second-guess ourselves—and they’re supposed to. The whole point of the outbursts and the cries of bitch and the exasperated fine! is to make us feel as though we’ve made the wrong choice. You can call it manipulation or social engineering or whatever you want, but it amounts to the same thing. The harasser begins to lose control of the situation and so takes to base tactics we all learned on the playground. (“If you don’t agree with me, then you’re a doody-head!” or “The louder I get, the righter I am!”) The truth is, of course, that it’s the harassers, not the harassees, who should be second-guessing—or more likely, reevaluating—their actions.
One of the best lines that has come out of the Readercon fiasco and the flurry of posts that followed is from science fiction author Ann Leckie:
If you really think anti-harassment rules bar flirting, you’ve got an idea of what constitutes flirting that really needs some re-evaluation. I mean, if someone said, “Hey, we should outlaw rape,” and the guy standing next to you said, “But that’s the same thing as saying people can’t have sex!” you wouldn’t say, “Wow, good point!”
In this post, Ann makes several points about how, even after everyone makes sure the harassee didn’t “send the wrong signals” (which in itself is condescending and demeaning), the attitude is still very poor poor harasser. “Did you have to be so mean?” That’s the question I always expect whenever I tell this kind of story, and the question too many women do get when they tell a story in which they stood up for themselves.
I even feel it myself. One late night, as I was waiting for the bus by my old apartment, a gentleman walked up to me (and when I say “walked up,” I mean the dude got really close, and I really don’t like people that close—especially strangers, especially late at night) and he said, “Do you think if a man does not desire a woman, that makes him gay?” Fairly certain he wasn’t actually looking for intellectual discourse, I said I didn’t know and took several steps away from him. He took this to mean that I wanted to continue our conversation over here, and followed. He started saying something else—I don’t know what it was because I honestly wasn’t listening, but he sure wasn’t asking for directions. I said, very loudly and clearly, “I need you to stop talking to me right now.”
He wandered off—which I had hoped, but not expected, he would do—and the first thought through my brain was, “Man, that was so rude of me.” Not: Why are you approaching women in the dark talking about desire? Not: Good job, Sid! Congrats! But: Oh no, I might have hurt the poor feelings of a man who was aggressively hitting on me late at night. Why is that my first reaction? Why do I expect people to tell me I’m ridiculous for being upset over some drunk guy yelling at me on the bus?
It’s a trap, this cycle of second-guessing—of either assuming or being led to assume that our reaction is somehow unreasonable or unjustified—and that’s what harassers depend on. That you’ll accept their apologies and then feel guilty for having any thoughts on the issue that don’t coincide with their own. Even well-meaning people can perpetuate the cycle of doubt and leave you unsure of what to do. I’m extremely fortunate that everyone in my social circle to whom I’ve ever told a harassment story has encouraged me to report it when applicable—or at least helped me see that I was, in fact, being reasonable.
I know that I need to hear this from time to time, so I’ll say it here: No matter your experience, harassment is harassment—whether someone’s stalking you around a convention or pretending to punch you on a bus. If you feel threatened, it’s harassment. If you’ve asked someone to stop a behavior directed at you and it continues, it’s harassment. If anyone at any time is trying control any aspect of your person or personhood, it’s harassment.
I can’t cover the full spectrum of what constitutes harassment in a single blog post, but you can feel it in your gut, and it’s so important to not ignore that. When I read or hear about other people’s experiences with harassment, it reminds me that mine weren’t imaginary—that what I perceived to be harassment really was. Even if you misjudge a situation, following your instinct will keep you safe. Your safety is not worth a wary courtesy—and the only people who would appreciate sacrificing your safety for a courtesy are the same people who would leap to take advantage of that.
The more we can each become confident in our own evaluation of a situation, the more we can collectively send out the message that harassment is not okay, and not something a woman—or anyone—should just get over or resign herself to expect.