Trigger Warning for the many ways we experience violence at the hands of (not all) men, including CSA, SA, rape, VAWG.
I saw a quote a while back that hit home for me. I can’t find it now, but it went something like this:
The issue is not that all men are violent. The issue is that nearly all women have experienced violence at the hands of men.
The sad but true fact is that while not all men are violent, men do commit violence against women and non-binary people (and other men—in fact, according to the FBI, most violent crimes are committed by men).
I have told parts of my story before here and there. And I suspect that I will do so again. In this case, I’m reprising my tale now in order to join others who have shared their litanies of violence as a counter to the superfluous yet oh-so-ubiquitous cries of “not all men.” Because FFS, dudes. Enough already.
“Not all men” is a derailing tactic and serves literally no other purpose than to focus attention away from male violence and center it on the man decrying the unfairness of it all.
When people who are not men say “men do this,” we’re reporting that our experience is that enough men do this that it stands out that men do this. The fact that men do this contributes to an overall feeling of oppression. Men do engage in behaviors that perpetuate patriarchy. Men do engage in behaviors that perpetuate sexism and misogyny. Men do these things without even thinking about them because the men who came before them did it and because too often no one does so much as turn away in disapproval when it happens.
Not all men did these things to me, but these men did.
The man who sucked my tongue, fondled my genitals, and taught me to give him a blow job when I was three.
The man who was my uncle by marriage and came in my mouth when I was six, then spent hours trying to get into my underwear as we camped out in the yard.
The man who fondled my nipples when I was seven or eight during a nighttime hide-and-go-seek game at my cousin’s house.
The man who flexed his exposed erection at me and my friend when we were 9 via the leg of his shorts.
The man—a trusted family friend—who gave me music lessons when I was 9 and performed oral sex on me while my parents weren’t home.
The man who used a finger cot to make his penis small enough to fit inside me when I was 10. Who also gave me a cigar tube to practice with at home.
The man who pulled his truck over as I walked down the street, opened his door, stepped out naked and masturbated while staring at me.
The 14-year-old boy who violently raped me when I was 12 and smoking weed with him in a fort behind my neighbor’s house.
The man who had sex with me in his van knowing that I was a 12-year-old rape victim (but probably not really believing that second part).
The boys and men who repeatedly “pantsed” me over my loud objections and ridiculed me when I was angry.
The two men who took turns raping me while I was passed out drunk at my first kegger when I was 14.
The many, many men—adults—who gave me alcohol and drugs and got their rocks off on me when I was a troubled teen.
The man who exposed his genitals to me in a grocery store parking lot when I was 16.
The man who spent a drunken night trying to coerce me into sleeping with him when I was 16.
The man who raped me when I was 16 because I said no after a night of partying with him and his friend.
The man who attempted to grab me on a dark street as I rode my bike to a friend’s house, 16 and pregnant, and only stopped because I scared him with my primal and guttural GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME.
The man who beat the shit out of me in front of my 2-year-old for leaving a party when I was 18.
The man who decided that the fact that I was unconscious on his sofa meant he could go ahead and rape me.
The man who thought because we were friends and had been sexual in the past, it was ok to straddle my drunken body and ejaculate on my chest after I said no to sex.
The many men who have wished me harm here on my blog and on social media.
How many men is enough? How many men must commit violence upon my person before it’s ok if I just say “men did this”?
Men did these things. Not all men. But enough of them that this list is not even complete. Men did these things. And every time some dude Kool-Aid-Mans into a thread where people who are not men discuss male violence to declare that not all men did these things, the only thing he makes clear is that he is utterly ignorant and unwilling to listen to people who are not just like him.
Not all men. Just dozens of men in my case. Hundreds if you count my circle of friends and relatives. Thousands if you count their friends and the people they love.
And that’s enough.
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Related on MMAS:
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts Version)
- #IStandWithDylan: My Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse
- I Am Jane Doe
- The Time My “Friend” Sexually Assaulted Me
[Trigger Warning for discussion of rape.]
Why didn’t you fight back?
There was a hammer nearby—why didn’t you use it to defend yourself?
Why didn’t you scream? There were houses nearby—someone would have heard you.
You were carrying a knife—why didn’t you stab him?
These are questions people have asked me about my rapes. Regular people asked. Cops and lawyers asked. All of them asked because they were skeptical about what happened to me or it was their job to tear me apart (or to get the answers to all the obvious questions before shelving my rape kit and pretending the whole thing never happened). It’s no secret that many people believe that if you don’t fight back or scream or act in the ways we’ve been taught rape victims act, then it’s not really rape.
I’m here to tell you that there are dozens of reasons a rape victim might be unable or unwilling to fight or scream. And there are some very good reasons why she (or he) might not fit the profile television and movies have created of the perfect victim–one we can get behind because there’s no question in our minds that she is a victim. She fights tooth and nail, screams until her voice fails, and perhaps most importantly, she remains the perfect victim for the proper period of time after the rape. She looks the way you expect her to: pale and stunned. She behaves the way you expect her to: timid and shaken. And there are rules.
I recently rewatched the first season of Game of Thrones. Among other things, I was struck by the scene in which Tyrion, Bron, and Shae are playing drinking games and Tyrion reveals the sad story of his brief marriage to a woman he and his brother rescued from “rapers” who turned out to be a “whore.” Shae tells him he should have known:
“A girl who is almost raped doesn’t invite another man into her bed two hours later.”
Just so no one is confused: this statement is bullshit. It seems to be an assumption on the part of the show’s writers—I don’t believe it’s one that the character, Shae, would ever make (although I allow that she might). Because if you’ve ever been raped (or almost raped) you know that things don’t play out in real life the way they do in our assumptions. Our assumptions are based on the rape victims we see on tv and in movies—those perfect victims I described above. There are no rules about what a woman (or man) who has been raped or “almost raped” will do, how she will behave, or whether she will decide to go ahead and fuck an entire soccer team later that night. There are no rules because none of those things are indicators of whether she was “really” raped and assuming that they are amounts to blaming the victim.
I wouldn’t blame you (much) if right now you’re asking, “But Rosie, why didn’t you scream? Why didn’t you use the hammer or the knife?” The point of this post is to explain those things and hopefully squash some of these assumptions like ticks. So, I’ll tell you why.
The first time I was raped the rapist told me if I made a sound he would take that hammer and bash my brains in. So I didn’t scream, and it never even occurred to me to use the hammer against him.
Because it wasn’t a movie and I wasn’t Buffy. I was a twelve-year-old girl whose mind simply could not conceive of what was happening to her. And I wasn’t the perfect victim, either, because a few days later when a neighborhood boy rushed up to console me I found myself wondering, at first, what he was on about. I had been raped, spent a night in the ER and with the cops, spent a couple of days at home, and now I was back at school and back to running around the neighborhood with my friends. My mind was attempting to let me be a kid again, but don’t think for a second that it helped—it only made people suspicious. “It’s your word against his,” they told me, because like most rape victims, my rapist was someone I—and everyone else in my neighborhood—knew.
The second time I was raped I was in an apartment where children were sleeping in the next room. I didn’t want to wake them to my nightmare. So I didn’t scream. And yes indeed, Officer Helpful, I did have a knife on me. It was a sort of dagger thing and I have no idea where I picked it up, but a friend had made a sheath for it and I loved it. But I had never used a weapon in my life and I don’t even think I thought of my knife as a way to protect myself. It was just a cool thing I had. It honestly never crossed my mind to figure out whether it was even within reach. If it had been, would I have plunged it into the man on top of me? I don’t believe so.
Because it wasn’t a movie and I wasn’t Buffy. I was a sixteen-year-old girl being raped for the second time and all I could think to do was survive it.
Some victims don’t scream or fight back because a type of paralysis sets in and prevents them from doing anything at all. Some don’t react the way they imagined they might because they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that it’s even happening. Some don’t realize that what’s happening to them is rape because they’re making out with their boyfriend and all the sudden he’s inside them and they believe that they somehow “gave the wrong signal” or otherwise brought it on themselves and it can’t be rape if it’s your boyfriend, can it? It can’t be rape if you were making out, can it? What if you’re drunk?
The only question should be “did sexual contact occur without consent?” and if the answer is “yes,” then guess what? It was rape.
The point is, it doesn’t matter what a rape victim did or didn’t do before, during, or after the rape. The only thing that matters is consent. So if you came to this post carrying assumptions about perfect victims who behave like you think they ought to and scream when you think they should and fight like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’m hoping you’ll leave with a better understanding of how those assumptions hinder your ability to empathize with me and other survivors. If you know someone who harbors these assumptions, I’m hoping you’ll share this with them and maybe help them understand that the only rule is there are no rules when it comes to how rape victims behave.
This is not a movie and we are not Buffy. We are individual men and women and there’s no telling how any of us will react in a given situation. And in a situation like the one we’re discussing, all bets are off.
Let’s put our assumptions aside and choose empathy, shall we?
Note: Rape happens to men and women and people all over the gender spectrum. The tropes and assumptions I’m addressing here are mostly about rape victims who are women, so I have often used the female pronoun.
- The Toughest Woman You Know Has Been Raped (snipe.net)
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts Version) (Make Me a Sammich)
- I Am Jane Doe (Make Me a Sammich)
- I Didn’t Know it was Sexual Assault (Make Me a Sammich)
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
Trigger Warning: Violence Against Women
Hi. My name is Rosie. And I’m a persona.
I exist to protect the person who hides behind me. I allow her to say things she has trouble saying with her real mouth, but I am her True Voice. Through me, the person who writes this blog has found a way to talk about her life and what it’s like to be a woman in what is still very much a man’s world in so many ways.
I can be a bit rough around the edges. Ranty, sweary, short-of-temper, unlikely to take crap. She’s like that too, but my knob is tuned way higher than hers. And I think that sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that the fact that she and I have strong opinions about things and fight for what we believe in means we’re super tough and impervious to harm. I think sometimes people have the impression we’re so sure of ourselves—this real-life-person and I, her avatar—so confident and secure, that words, judgment, implications that we are what’s wrong with feminism, that we see problems where none exist, that we’re too angry and intense and that we spend our energies on all the wrong things…that none of this gets through the armor of this persona and reaches the real person.
But she’s in there, and she’s tired and sad and it’s taking everything I’ve got to help her find the words to admit it. She has learned that life is different now and unless she’s willing to give up on the dream of making positive change, she’s going to have to get used to encountering resistance not just from the faceless Internet, but from friends and allies.
She’s sad and tired and sometimes she feels like giving up, but she’s got hope and she clings to it and it’s what gives me whatever power I’ve got to pull out words when all she’s got are tears. Hope that all this will end up being worthwhile (and faith that it must), and that those friends and allies who doubt and resist will let down their guard and trust that when she says “this hurts me” it does. Hope that the fact that she hurts is enough to make a thing—or even a movement—important enough to them that they won’t dismiss it out of hand or imply that she’s not seeing clearly or that she’s “too angry.” Hope that if they disagree, they’ll remember that it’s not philosophy to her—that it’s something she feels deeply.
Hi. I’m Rosie. And I’m here to tell you that activism isn’t fun. It can be very, very rewarding, but when one of us launches a campaign like the one I helped launched yesterday, we’re putting ourselves out there to be criticized by the whole entire Internet, and if you think I haven’t spent the last 24 hours second-guessing myself, alternately shaking with rage and crying tears of frustration, then you think I’m a lot stronger than I really am. I’ve been told I’m part of the problem and that my perceptions are flawed, that I’m wasting my time, and that I’m aggressive. None of these are firsts, but when every ping from your blog and social media elicits a moment of panic, you know you’re stressed. And when some of the doubt comes from within the tent, that’s particularly hard to take—but it happens every single time. And while it’s certainly healthy to entertain differing points of view, by the time I’ve gone all-in on a campaign like this, I’ve gone over and over it and I know how I feel about it, so the second-guessing is just a mind-game I play with myself. I’m in no doubt, for example, of how I feel about that hotel ad.
And that’s what I left out of my post yesterday: Me. Why this campaign is important to me personally.
When I was 20, the man I was with beat the shit out of me and promised me I would not live through the night. He smacked me around first, then gouged my eyes with his fingers (leaving scars I still see when I look at a blank wall), cut my face with a putty knife, then threw me across the room. Somewhere in there he told me he was going to bury me in a field where no one would find me. About half this he did in front of my two-year-old daughter. That’s just one of my stories of violence, but it’s the one that comes up like bile when I see this image.
A reader yesterday said the ad in question looked like slapstick to him. Someone else said she looked like she was just lying there—no violence implied. Me? At a gut level, without any analysis, I see a dead woman lying on concrete (I get “alley” or “parking lot”) at a glance. When I see this image, I see her story. The story this image tells me is of a woman to whom violence has been done (she didn’t throw that suitcase at herself) and who has been left for dead on a stained concrete floor. On closer inspection, she’s sprawled in a decidedly lifeless way (I now have a copy of the magazine and it looks like she’s in a parking garage—there are oil stains), her hand palm-up. She’s certainly not conscious—not struggling to get up under the weight of the heavy suitcase she accidentally dropped on herself. In fact, to me, it doesn’t look like she’s getting up at all.
And when I see that, I think of all the women who—like me—have had violence done to them but who—unlike me—did not survive it. And I feel sick. And I feel like this is a crass fucking way to sell a product. But at the heart of it, this image causes me pain and given the response I’ve received privately, on the post, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the comments section of the petition, I’m not alone.
Hi. My name is Rosie. And I’m not as strong as you may think I am. But I’m not alone. For that, I’m more grateful than I can say.
The Standard Hotels, DuJour Media, and Violence Against Women (makemeasammich.org)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Trigger warning: violence against women.
TL;DR: Sign the petition.
UPDATE 8/29: Refocusing on DuJour
I have rewritten the petition letter to focus on DuJour, but have left The Standard as a recipient for now. This campaign is still getting press, and if the petition takes off, would hate like hell for them to miss out on all the fun.
Please continue to share the petition and contact your media peeps.
Thank you for all your help and support!
UPDATE 8/28: On Fauxpologies and Small Victories
In activism, we have to choose our battles often accept small victories when we’d rather announce that we got everything we wanted the way we’d like to. In the case of The Standard, I’m pretty sure we’ve heard all we’re going to from them unless we step this campaign up in a major way. (DuJour has not responded yet; more on that in a bit.)
In under 24 hours, we got The Standard’s attention and that of several media outlets, including BuzzFeed. (UPDATE: The Daily Mail apparently also picked this up yesterday, and Business Insider and The Daily Beast both covered it today.) This post has had over 2,600 hits, and has been reblogged many times. We got people talking about an image that for many of us produced a visceral reaction and sent a message that dead women make great advertising fodder. And we got an apology from The Standard.
Now let’s talk about that apology, shall we? Because it looks a lot like other apologies we’ve seen from entities in response to criticism of the type we’ve leveled at The Standard. I’ll break it down:
“The Standard advertisement utilized an image series created by the contemporary artist, Erwin Wurm.”
Translation: This is art, dummies. Blame the artist, not us.
This avoids responsibility for the content by branding it “art” and hopes, I think, to make us feel a little silly for making such a big deal out of it. I mean, we didn’t ask who the artist was, and the fact that it’s art is completely irrelevant. You spent exactly four sentences on this apology, The Standard. Did this really need to be one of them?
“We apologize to anyone who views this image as insensitive or promoting violence.”
Translation: We don’t see it that way, but we’re sorry you do, and if you do, it’s not really our fault.
Ok, look, I’m asking a lot here, I know, but couldn’t we get a “We’re sorry we did a bad thing?” “We’re sorry we used this image without thinking of the implications or the impact on survivors of violence?” No, we basically got “we’re sorry you were offended,” and that not only defers responsibility for the perceived “offense” onto us, the “offended,” but it declines to acknowledge that any damage occurred.
“No offense or harm was intended.”
Translation: We didn’t mean to do anything wrong, ergo, we didn’t and/or you should let us off the hook because our intentions were not evil.
Duh. You didn’t set out to cause harm to women or survivors of violence or anyone with this ad. You intended to get people’s attention and you didn’t think about what this image might actually say about your brand–what it might say to over half the population who, presumably, you’d like to attract to your hotel. You didn’t think about the harm it might cause despite your intentions, and now you’re not really admitting to any harm, just assuring us that none was intended.
“The Standard has discontinued usage of this image.”
Translation: We were done with this campaign anyway, so here’s a bone.
Yes, I’m being extremely cynical, because we should really call that line a win, dog-boney as it is. We have (as the amazing Jaclyn Friedman (Women, Action, and the Media) kindly pointed out to me yesterday) created an “opportunity cost.” We have caused this company–and anyone watching, including DuJour–to take a look at the cost vs. benefit of using ads like this in the future. That is a GOOD THING.
So yeah, this was a pretty weak apology–but it’s still a win. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
As for DuJour, they ran the ad apparently thinking it was acceptable, and so far they have not responded in any way to our petition. I would sincerely like to get a response from them saying they get it, but frankly, at the rate we’re gaining signatures on the petition, I’m not sure how long that will take or whether it will happen at all. As Jaclyn pointed out, there are many ads like this out in magazines around the country and the world, and we have to choose where to focus our energies.
Your Input Needed
What do you think, readers? Should we leave the petition up, removing The Standard so DuJour keeps getting emails when someone signs? Is it worth pushing for more signatures, more media coverage? Or is it time to call this a victory and move on to the next thing? If we had 2,000 sigs instead of under 200, this wouldn’t even be a question, but I’ve only got so much energy to spend and I want your input on this. Let me know what you think in the comments section.
UPDATE 8/27: The Standard Responds
Fewer than 24-hours after we launched our petition, The Standard posted the following response to Change.org:
“The Standard advertisement utilized an image series created by the contemporary artist, Erwin Wurm. We apologize to anyone who views this image as insensitive or promoting violence. No offense or harm was intended. The Standard has discontinued usage of this image.”
I’ll have commentary on this soon. Meanwhile, let me know what you think in the comments section below. Are you satisfied with The Standard’s apology? Have they done enough?
The Standard Hotels, DuJour Media, and Violence Against Women
Last week Daisy Eagan sent me the image below. It’s a partial of a full-page ad for The Standard Hotels in DuJour magazine’s summer issue. The ad contains no text—just this image and the hotel’s logo and a bit of fine print at the bottom.
DuJour is a new fashion/lifestyle magazine published nationally with localized issues for major cities. The Standard is a “boutique” hotel chain with locations in New York, Miami, and L.A. The image above looks to be taken from the NYC edition (based on the small print on the facing page). Somewhere in the offices where each of these companies does business, one assumes that entire teams of people looked at this and thought it was ok. At an ad agency hired by The Standard, some bright young creative type came up with this ad* in response to the challenge to market a hotel chain to rich people, a group that must certainly include many, many women. All three of these companies made the decision to use violence against women to market a product. Apparently, this isn’t the first time The Standard has been criticized for their advertising choices. Claire Darrow, creative director for Andre Balazs Properties has said these choices amount to “surrendering our ads to art, so to speak…We want to contribute to the magazines…We don’t just want to advertise.” (Update for clarity: This piece is part of a series by Erwin Wurm called “One Minute Sculptures”)
I know I don’t have to explain to most of you why this particular ad is (no, not “offensive”) damaging, but I really have to spend some time talking about how, like recent pieces by The Onion (more info here and here), this ad trivializes violence against women, once again using victims of said violence as bait, once again for the purpose of profiting from our pain. I need to point out for anyone not clear on the concept that by using violence against women for something as crass as attempting to lure people to your “boutique” hotel chain these companies are helping to perpetuate the cycle of violence. They are normalizing it—treating it as something trivial, not worth taking seriously. Treating it as a joke. That teaches everyone regardless of gender that violence against women is No Big Deal. These messages in our media teach women to expect violence and teach men prone to violence against women that what they do is socially acceptable. And apparently The Standard Hotels, DuJour, and the as-yet unnamed advertising agency behind this ad thought that this was the right message to send to potential customers.
Daisy blogged about this ad last week asking her readers to contact The Standard and DuJour and ask them why they think this is appropriate advertising. She had this to say about it:
Dujour magazine ran an ad in its summer issue for The Standard hotels clearly meant to warn women to steer clear of the hotel or face violence and/or death.
I’ve ordered a copy of the Miami edition which should arrive soon, and since TSH has a location in Miami, I assume the ad will be present. When it comes, I’ll update this post with a full image of the ad (now available here thanks to Daisy) and any other information I can find—hopefully including the name of the agency that designed the ad.
We’ve started a petition to let The Standard Hotels and DuJour Media know what we think of this ad and the message they’re sending about violence against women. Please sign and share so we can get their attention (tweets have so far had no effect) and make sure they understand that ads like this are not acceptable and that they do harm.
You can also write to the parties in question directly. Thanks to Daisy for finding this information. (If you decide to do this, I’d appreciate it if you also signed and shared the petition, which goes directly to their email. Numbers matter. Thanks!)
Andre Balazs Properties
23 E. 4th Street
New York, NY 10003
You can also help by alerting media folks about this campaign (especially local media if you live in NYC, Miami, or L.A.). Bad press is often what penetrates otherwise impermeable entities.
Let’s make some noise.
Hotel Pulls Ad of Crushed Woman (The Daily Beast)
The Standard Discontinues Ad Accused of Promoting Violence Against Women (the fashion spot)
Stop Violence Against…Everyone (Stuphblog)
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
This week, after news broke of yet another sexual harassment incident at a convention, I decided I needed to do something tangible to help solve the sexism, misogyny, and harassment problem in the science fiction and fantasy community.
I’ve been a part of the community since I was 19 and attended Westercon in Portland, Oregon, and I have worked and played in the field ever since (nearly thirty years). It’s home to so many friends and is part of my family life. I have always thought of it as an accepting community, and it is in a lot of ways. There are few places where people can be pretty much whatever or whomever they choose and not feel judged, and SF/F fandom is one of them.
But it was an incident at Norwescon in Seattle a couple of years ago that helped me come to the realization that I had to start talking about feminism. Living it. That I had to stop being a Feminist Butt.
I was on a panel with two men where I was ostensibly the moderator. One of the men very helpfully took over moderation duties, ran the panel, and he and the other guy proceeded to do most of the talking. I gave up trying to do my job or get a word in edgewise at some point about halfway through and just waited (with what I hoped was a patient, not-bitchy look on my face) for it to be over. It wasn’t until I walked out of the room that I allowed myself to get really pissed. Two months later I started this blog.
It wasn’t an isolated incident (and the Internet is currently brimming with women’s stories of sexism, misogyny, harassment, stalking, and assault at SF/F cons), but my decision to come out as a ranty feminist was certainly not a result of my experiences in SF/F alone. And until recently I’ve been pretty focused on the larger culture and the video games community (my other home) where we’ve finally begun talking about these issues in earnest, and haven’t really given a lot of thought to the need for activism within SF/F. Then all hell broke loose, and it broke loose again, and a writer named Kari Sperring coined a hashtag that gave me one of those “Light bulb!” moments:
Okay, men in sff, that’s it. I’m taking away your privileges. #sffragette
— Kari Sperring (@KariSperring) June 28, 2013
The conversation was already hopping on Twitter, so I ran over and created a Facebook page and posted some of the wonderful posts coming across that feed. The idea was to get people all in one place and start talking solutions. And as I thought about solutions, I realized what I wanted to see for starters was a presence at conventions to counter sexual harassment. To that end, I and my ultra-secret partner-in-crime began designing a badge idea to propose to the community as part of a campaign to achieve three goals:
- Provide information on how to report harassers.
- Act as safety liasons (someone you can go to for immediate assistance if security isn’t around).
- Create an awareness among potential harassers that we are watching and reporting harassment.
It soon became apparent that we were going to need a website* and a Twitter account, so that achieved, I’m now engaging members of the community on the design, the slogan, etc. and am really encouraged by the response. I’ve also learned of two groups doing similar work (Nerdiquette 101 and the Backup Ribbon Project) and I’m looking forward to talking with them about what they’ve learned and how we can work together.
All this to say if you’re a reader, writer, or SF/F con-goer and want to help make positive change in that community, join the discussion. Chime in on the blog, Facebook or Twitter, write a blog post telling your story or giving your perspective, and consider participating in the upcoming campaign to be part of the solution at cons you attend. I’d love to have your help making SF/F the accepting, safe community we all want it to be.
*SFFragette.org domain active soon!
- We’re Watching (sffragette.wordpress.com)
- Their Fear is Justified (or Why Speaking Out In Your Community Is Important) (makemeasammich.org)
Guest post by FrabjousLinz (originally appeared at her LiveJournal)
(Trigger warning: this post talks about sexual assault and rape. It isn’t graphic, but be warned if you have triggering around this kind of discussion.)
I’ve been holding off on this post for a few weeks, what with one thing and another. It didn’t seem so extreme, in light of other stories. But I feel like we need to acknowledge that the less extreme offenses are still offenses. Being silent about them adds to rape culture. Shoutout to Rosie, Sid and the gang at makemeasammich.org.
I didn’t realize I was sexually assaulted for a long time. I wouldn’t have called it that. I didn’t call it anything, really, except for wrong and infuriating, until years later. I have been sexually assaulted besides that time; the kind that most people agree is assault – a stranger grabs my body in passing, because I’m a woman and to those people, my having a vagina means I’m available for fondling. No one disputes that as assault, although no one does anything about it, either. But this one I didn’t even recognize.
It was the first few weeks of college. I was, along with all the other freshman kids in my dorm and around the school, trying to figure out how this whole living without parents and with a bunch of strangers thing worked. All of us on our floor kept our room doors open, my roommate and I included, for large swaths of that first week. People wandered by to introduce themselves, hang out maybe. It was awkward and weird for me as a shy introvert desperately trying to be an extrovert and OK and not homesick and overwhelmed. Desperately trying to reinvent myself into someone everyone would think of as wonderful, witty, and fun. I can’t have been the only one who felt lost and weird and alone. I can’t have been the only one who just kept quiet in the face of constant socialization, even when I would rather have just told everyone to go away.
There were several people who made me very uncomfortable from the moment I met them. Most of them turned out to be harmless, if not people I wanted to be friends with. But one guy made me feel stupid and ashamed for everything about myself just as soon as he spoke, every time he spoke. He had a smug, certain look in his eyes that measured and found everything you did as a sexual come-on, and said so. The first time he came into our room, my roommate and I exchanged a lot of looks, but did and said little to discourage him. I remember I was sitting on the floor, eating a banana. He made a lot of comments about that. (He wasn’t the only one to do that, that year. To this day, I eat bananas by tearing off pieces one by one, instead of just biting it. I’ve gotten so I like the ripping noise and feel, but I started doing it because apparently women aren’t allowed to just eat a freaking piece of fruit without being told it’s all about sex.) I remember him touching my legs, which weren’t shaved, but it was still warm out, so I was wearing shorts. I was embarrassed about the stubble. I was irritated and nervous that he was touching me. I don’t remember when I told him enough, but I do remember I let him touch me for longer than I wanted to. Which was at all. I was trying to be a new, adventurous me. I was trying for urbane, sophisticated, raising my eyebrow at him instead of just jerking away and snarling. It didn’t work. I had to eventually tell him to just stop it. I remember he acted amused and sneering, like he was just testing me. His actions sent up many red flags, but I had put up with a lot of generalized sexual harassment in high school that wasn’t so dissimilar, from boys who were friends. I didn’t like that guy, but I didn’t make a fuss.
Sometime during the next few weeks, I was in another dorm room down the hall from mine with five or six other people, my roommate included. It was a girl’s room, but not everyone in there was female. The guy, the predator, burst into the room with us and threw me down onto the closest bed, dry humped me while I struggled. He was laughing, saying “Oh baby, Oh baby, yes, yes!” in a high pitched voice. It happened so fast, I barely registered he was in the room before he threw me. I flew like I’d been thrown from a merry-go-round. Once I was on the bed, he was on top of me so fast, blocking out the light, blocking out everyone else. I yelled. I thrashed. I could not move him: I was completely stuck. I couldn’t breathe because of his weight, because of the way he had me positioned. I couldn’t get any leverage to knee him or move my arms the way he held me down. I could feel his movement, his laughter, his breath. I couldn’t get him off of me, and my yelling “Stop it! Get off! GET OFF!” meant nothing to him. I was suddenly so angry that if I had had a weapon when he let me up, I would have used it. I am not a violent person, usually, but I felt such a wash of violence come over me like prickly heat: all nausea and sweat and fury. I wanted a knife and I wanted to stab him.
When he did let me up, I screamed, I hit him, I shrieked that he was never to touch me again, if he ever touched me again I would string him up by his balls, I would tear out his guts with a boat hook, I would flay him and leave him to be eaten by buzzards. (Yes, I did. I used to work on imaginative curses for my fiction, so I had these in my head already.) I kept hitting him and kicking him and screaming, which he at first took like “Hah, you’re crazy, what? Why are you mad? It was just a joke!” Looking to the room for confirmation of the joke, of my craziness, fending me off. Eventually he backed up, fled the room, calling me names. I followed him out into the hall, shrieking like mad, yelling anything and everything I could think of. His very large, also football player friends came up to me to block me, back me up, ask me “Why are you treating my friend like that?” I told them to tell their friend if he ever came near me again I would kill him, I would feed his eyeballs to snakes, I would remove his testicles with a rusty fork. I was not quiet. I did not stop screaming. I did back up, and retreated back to my room, still yelling.
The other people in the dorm room when this all happened? Stood there. They laughed when he laughed, laughed when he held me down. Laughed when I started hitting him. They then tried to get me to calm down. I ignored them. My roommate reported to me later that everyone thought I had overreacted, that I was crazy. I told her that I didn’t want to ever be near that guy again, and I didn’t care what everyone else thought. I lost some potential friends for that. I can’t regret it. Mostly we were just thrown together due to our being freshman and living in the same dorm, and while I was sad and felt a little isolated for a bit, I made other friends elsewhere later. But some of those people never really spoke to me again.
I learned a couple of things from this. When I get really angry, I am prone to violence. If you push me far enough, I will make a lot of noise. So much noise. I also learned that it doesn’t matter how much noise I make, how upset I am: most people will ignore me or try to shut me up. The important thing to them wasn’t that I was assaulted, and no one there would have called that assault. The important thing was that I was crazy. I was loud. I was untrustworthy in a gathering where someone might want to do something to me that I didn’t like. So I couldn’t be around those people.
Maybe that’s unfair – we were all very young and unsure. And it’s possible the laughter I heard was as unsure as the people – uncomfortable, trying to understand where the line is and failing. But I do think it was a failure that those people didn’t try to stop him, not so I noticed. And that when I quite reasonably lost my temper and my cool, and fought back, they said I was crazy. Overreacting. To being held down and dry humped like a sex doll, as though I weren’t a person at all. I have no doubt that if I had just taken it, laughed it off, most of them would have thought that I was a slut. That I was asking for it. If he had ever raped me later, and I hadn’t fought him then, during that first assault, they’d think, well, she probably liked it. I cannot regret that I am not friends with most of those people.
I hope that my shrieking and hitting shocked him. I’m glad it made him retreat. It may be that he didn’t want to escalate with an audience. It may be that the other football players talked him out of retaliating later. It may be that other issues stopped him from retaliating, which I know nothing about. I don’t remember ever speaking to him again. I must have avoided him from then on, because I don’t remember any further interaction at all. He didn’t live on my floor, although he had friends living next door to me. But dorms are small places, and I heard things. I know for a fact that that guy raped at least two women later that year. I know for a fact that one of those rapes went unreported. I know for a fact that guy was a predator, looking for prey. I refused to be quiet prey.
I don’t know exactly why he didn’t try again, but I’m glad he didn’t. I wonder if it’s because I was loud, and people saw it. I wonder if I just seemed like too much work. I do feel terrible for those other women. I hope they got help. I hope they know it wasn’t their fault. I admit to small, petty feelings of vindication when I heard I was right about him. I’m not particularly proud of that, but there’s a part of me that just wanted to shout “I was right!” to certain people. But those rapes weren’t about me, and I also admit to being so relieved I never saw him anymore. Mostly I felt awful they’d happened, and awful that it would probably happen again. I hoped he’d get caught, and stopped. It didn’t occur to me that I could have reported the assault. I didn’t even know it counted. Frankly, I doubt the police or campus police would have thought so, either. But I wish I’d reported it anyway.
It wasn’t until the last few years that I recognized what happened as assault. Because it’s not like I was injured or truly hurt, so it can’t have really been assault, could it? We are told, as women, that we should just expect that men will treat us as objects, treat us as subhuman, treat us as though we don’t have any agency or will. That a man can touch us, throw us around, and as long as he’s laughing, that it’s just how men are. (It’s also just how men are when they’re not laughing, but if you’re lucky, you might get to call that assault.) Men just dry hump struggling women on beds. Men just touch women who don’t want them to and make sexual comments about them, what they’d like to do with them. About fruit they’re eating. About clothes they’re wearing. Men just do that, so it’s normal. Assault isn’t normal, so what that can’t have been assault, right?
Wrong. That was assault. Do not accept that men do those things, because most men don’t. People should not do those things. Ever. We, meaning society, have to tell people that they don’t get to do those things, and they’ll be stopped if they do. So that when a predator does those things, we all know that person is a predator. So that young people know assault when they see it, when it happens to them. So it doesn’t happen to them.
We need to change this conversation.
Related on MMAS:
- A Brief History (the Bad Parts version)
- 10 Things Rape is Not
- Letter from Another Jane Doe
- Bree’s Story
PSA: Abusive commenters will be deleted and banned, so kindly piss off in advance. (Comment Policy)
The title of this post is the name of a street art project by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh aimed at raising awareness in men that street harassment is not ok, and in women that it’s perfectly acceptable to wish–and even to insist–that men would not demand their attention and energy all day, every day, every time they walk down the street.
If you’re a woman, there’s a good chance you know what I’m talking about–although I’m perfectly aware that not all women are bothered by this. When I first got boobs, I was flattered by the attention. It took years to realize how exhausted I was with parrying advances all day, every day. When I tripped over this project on Facebook, a woman claiming to be a therapist had gone from disagreeing to outright trolling, so intense was her need to convince everyone present that not only was asking women to smile not harassment, but that anyone who thought it was should obviously just sit the fuck down and stop talking. So, male or female, just in case you don’t get what the issue is, here are some hypothetical examples. We’ll start with an easy one:
Imagine you’re at a social event and you’re introduced to a gentleman by the name of Dan Bond. You say the first thing that pops into your head: “Bond. Dan Bond.” Dan gives you a look somewhere between patronizing and withering and says, “Congratulations. You’re the first person who’s ever said that.” If you’re like most people who recognize social signals, you probably feel a bit sheepish. Your aim was to be clever, and you whipped out the one line that was certain to irritate. And if you had any designs on Dan as a friend, business partner, or lover, you’d better hope you’ve got some better lines in your pocket, because at this point he’s is looking for the nearest exit and hoping you don’t follow him.
Now imagine how exhausting it might be for the nth man to say as you walk down the street: “Smile!”
Here’s a better one: Guys, imagine you’re walking down the street and seven out of ten men you see are a foot or more taller than you are and outweigh you by fifty to a hundred pounds. Imagine these guys take steroids, so that weight is all muscle, where yours is not. Now imagine that, as you walk, you’re aware of their eyes on you and the lewd comments they make, the whistles, the remarks about your body, what they’d like to do to you. Or maybe they just insist on your attention. Maybe they just tell you to smile. And another one does. And a third. And sometimes you can get past them without incident, and other times, if you don’t respond the way they hope you will, they shout insults after you.
This is what women deal with all the time, walking from home to the bus stop or from the bus stop to the office. In between the wolf whistles and the stares and the lewd gestures and critiques of our looks, is the constant insistence that we present ourselves at our pretty, perky, man-pleasing best. “Smile!” They cry. “Smile!” They exhort. “Smile!” They command, as though our faces are theirs to mold. As though our faces don’t please them as they are. As though it is our duty to paste fake grins upon them on demand even though all we really want to do is get past this fucking gauntlet and get to work.
Most of us are all for friendly conversation when the conditions are correct. But as social beings, we learn to interpret signals that tell us when the other person is open to conversation. Men do not, as a rule, insist on the attention of other men walking down the street. Men (and women) working construction sites rarely, in my experience, insist that men walking by stop and talk to them, respond to “compliments” on their appearance, or smile. And yet for some reason, some men believe that a woman is obliged to be polite when they do ignore the signals that say “I’m on my way somewhere and I’m not even looking at you so please, let me be” and demand her attention. And that’s what Stop Telling Women to Smile aims to change.
From Tatyana’s website:
The project is saying that street harassment is not okay. That feeling entitled to treat and speak to women any type of way, is not okay. That demanding a woman’s attention is not okay. That intruding on a woman’s space and thoughts is not okay. That women should be able to walk to the train, to the grocery store, to school – without having to cross the street to avoid the men that she sees already eyeing her as she approaches. That making women feel objectified, sexualized simply because they are women, is not okay. That grabbing a woman’s wrist to force her to speak to you is not okay. That requesting for a woman to “smile for you” is not okay – because women are not outside on the street for the purpose of entertaining and pleasing men. That it’s quite possible women are wonderful, happy, intelligent human beings that simply want to move through out the world comfortably and safely while wearing their face however the hell they want to.
Another project I recently learned about is They Know What They Do, by a young woman named Shreya living in Calcutta. Shreya photographs men who harass her (known as “Eve Teasing” in some countries) on her way to and from work.
There are certain structural privileges that work in the favour of the perpetrators of street sexual harassment, whether the non interference of spectators, or active participation of friends, but most of all, the assurance and continual affirmation of their own gender-based privileges by sociocultural norms. With my camera I thought I could strategically intervene within some of these processes that work against me.
I’d like to arm women like Shreya with hidden video cameras so they can film the actual harassment they experience and show it to the world. I’d like to see Stop Telling Women to Smile posters go up in every city in the world where women deal with street harassment. I’d like to see the term “Eve Teasing” (which can include assault) abolished and the crime of street harassment and assault taken seriously worldwide. And I’d love it if you would all work with me to make all this positive change happen.
My Streets, My Body: How street harassment impacts my weightloss, my eating habits, my body
Respectful discussion is welcome and encouraged. When in doubt, see the Comment Policy.
Trigger warning for discussion of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence.
NOTE: This piece goes to some dark places where humor just doesn’t live. I’ll forgive you if you don’t read it, but I think it’s important because it’s about some of the really awful stuff that happens to girls and women in the U.S. and around the world. It’s my personal story of serial abuse and…social conditioning, for lack of a better phrase. This blog is my way of countering misogynistic attitudes and messages, and this story is nearly everything that led me to the place I stand as I begin it.
By the barrage of bullshit coming from every form of media every day. By all the anger and violence toward women. By all the ways the world has told me my entire life that my gender was the lesser of two. Subtle messages, and constant, between the lines, that said I was lucky to be born so late in the century—the 20th century, for heaven’s sake!—that these battles had long ago been fought and soundly won. Suffragettes had suffered, bras had burned by the thousands, armpits and legs had gone unshaven for my freedoms. We are woman, hear us roar.
Subtle messages like some stuff is “for” girls and other stuff is “for” boys. Like boys get into trouble and girls are good and polite. Like girls are supposed bait the proverbial hook to “catch” a boy, and boys are supposed to avoid being “caught.” Like a boy’s job is to “score,” and a girl’s job is to play defense.
And there were less subtle messages, too. These messages, these moments, do not define my life. But they do serve as an outline when I consider what a hostile world this is for girls and women.
- By age 9 I had been molested multiple times by multiple pedophiles. Relatives, family friends, neighbors… It turns out you don’t have to look very far to find a pedophile in this world. I learned too much too soon and I had no idea what to do with the information. I was troubled after the first incident (series of incidents) at age 4, and pretty confused by the second at 5, downright scared by the third at 6. By 9 I wasn’t even surprised anymore, and they somehow knew that I was the perfect victim. A family “friend” was visiting regularly at this point and playing his little games and I hated it but I felt powerless to stop him. I was so terrified of the trouble I’d be in if my mom found out that I worked myself into a state of utter emotional turmoil until one day when she came to yell at me about something completely unrelated I lost it—screamed and shook and sobbed until she finally dragged the truth out of me.
- When I was 10 and on my way to the local shopping center (back in the days when parents let 10-year-olds walk anywhere unattended) on a stretch of empty highway between my housing development and the mall walking against traffic like I’d been taught, an old Ford truck passed me and pulled over a little way up the road. I told myself I was imagining things when I saw the driver watching me in his rearview mirror. And when I came up alongside his truck across the two barren lanes of traffic he opened the truck door. He was completely naked, and flopped one leg lazily out as he masturbated, staring at me. I had been down this road before and I was fucking terrified. I turned and ran as fast as I could past empty houses to my street and stopped at my friend’s house, hysterical. Her mother laughed. I was really starting to get the feeling it was just me.
- As a pre-teen, it wouldn’t be long before the neighborhood boys would introduce me to “pantsing,” or forcible removal of my pants and underwear by multiple boys, each one stronger than me, in front my friends. This is wrong on so many levels, but let’s just cover a few: 1) I knew damned well that I didn’t like it when the boys ganged up and took my pants off. 2) As humiliating as it was, I never cried. I learned very early on that to complain about it was to invite ridicule not just from the boys, but from the girls. There I’d be, the solitary person in the room who thought it was a Big Deal when clearly it wasn’t and what was wrong with me, anyway. 3) As an adult, when I talk to other women about it, we all agree that it was terrifying and humiliating and tantamount to bullying at least and sexual assault at worst, and none of us knows why we didn’t (couldn’t) tell someone and make it stop. (Does this still go on? Google shows me laughing people in their underwear.)
- At 12 I was raped by a 14-year-old neighborhood kid who was known for being a bad boy. I lived in a poor suburb of Sacramento and us kids built forts in our backyards to entertain ourselves in the summertime. Me and two girl friends were in the fort behind my next-door neighbor’s house with the bad boy smoking pot. My girl friends left. I never saw it coming. One moment we were sitting there smoking a joint, the next I was on the ground and he was lying on top of my saying, “Shut up or I’ll hit you in the head with this hammer.” I clenched every muscle in my body until he finished. I don’t think he enjoyed it. He walked with me to my backdoor, and I think it was locked. He said something to me. I don’t remember what. I walked in the front door and through the living room, which was dark. My mom and brothers were watching tv. I put my hand up to my face as I walked through and hoped my mom wouldn’t see me–that I was crying, or had been, or what a mess my makeup was, or something. I don’t remember thinking anything but how can I get through this room. Then she asked if I was ok and just like when I was 9 I lost it and she had to drag the truth out of me one more time. I cringe when I remember the ensuing horror show that was my neighborhood’s reaction, the investigation and lawyer prep, and the trial that I dreaded for months and which ended in a verdict that validated the public defender’s stuttered accusations: “Isn’t it true that you cried rape because you were afraid you were pregnant?”
Even he seemed to understand on some level that the whole thing was a setup. I was only 12 and had never had consensual sex , so they’d have a hard time making me look like a slut, but they could cast doubt on me, question what possible motive I might have to falsely accuse the poor defendant (who admitted to having sex and later served time for statutory rape, meaning his only crime was sex with a minor), the fact that no one heard me scream (because I really wanted that ball-peen hammer to the temple), whether I did or did not seem, to the people they interviewed, to be distraught enough in the days following the incident. What’s amazing to me about writing this is that I don’t remember anyone fighting for me other than my mom and my cousin D who left my house in the dark of that night with a baseball bat as I sat in the kitchen sobbing (he came back frustrated with a clean bat). I know there must have been someone, but I have this sense when I look back that I was the one on trial; that I was the poor sap with the crappy public defender.
- When I was 14 I went to my first kegger. My mom thought I was going to “a little get-together.” I got drunk and passed out. The next day someone told me that two guys had screwed me while I was unconscious. No one thought this was particularly wrong. Everyone was drunk. They were just being guys. I just tried not to think about it. It probably wasn’t the last time. I try not to think about that, either.
- Given all this, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I became a promiscuous teen. You know that girl in high school everyone calls “slut”? That was me. I started out looking for what sex was supposed to be (True Love!), but what it amounted to was giving in to every guy I had a crush on because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. It was what they wanted, so if I did, they’d like me, right? Instead every guy at my school had the idea that I should sleep with him because I’d slept with one or more of his friends.
- By 16 I was “in love” with a guy who barely tolerated me, but now and then he’d be nice to me and I’d fall all over myself to do anything he wanted—including servicing him in front of his friends. I followed him around like a dog, and he treated me like one. Miserable, on the street (a habitual runaway) going from one bad situation to another, one night I sat soaking wet in a convenience store parking lot and a family of Mormons rescued me and took me in for a couple of weeks. It was a bit like hitting a reset button as I saw what life was like in a completely new environment. Soon I was ready to “turn over a new leaf,” as my dad put it when he made arrangements for me to go to Dallas, Texas and live with his stepfather, an elderly judge who had no idea what to do with a teenage girl and whose strategy for dealing with disagreements consisted of sitting there laughing at me as I grew increasingly frustrated with him. Angry and bored out of my mind in the middle of summer I went out looking for interesting people to meet. On one of my first outings, outside a drug store, a man pulled up next to me in his car and stopped, one hand on the wheel and the other massaging his penis. About a week later, when two young black men pulled over and chatted me up, I was flattered, and after a bit of coaxing (with one of them showing me his ID and both promising I’d come to no harm, we were going to have a grand time) I got in their car. And we partied. For a few hours, it was a fascinating experience. They took me home and someone’s sister fawned over me. I met a bunch of little kids. Then we went out to a bar where every single head turned toward me like that scene from Blues Brothers and a man on the way in muttered something about “y’all bringin’ Snow White around here” under his breath as he glanced nervously up and down the road. There was music and alcohol. There were drugs. Then it was back to the apartment where everyone was fast asleep and it was time for me to put up. I begged and pleaded, but I didn’t fight. I cried as quietly as I could (so as not to wake up Sis and the kids) and later when he dropped me off at yet another convenience store, I called home and my drunk uncle was over and answered the phone and called me a fucking cunt. The next thing I remember is several people pulling me off the pay phone as I did my best to beat it to death with the receiver, screaming my rage. And the cops asking me why I didn’t use my knife. Against a man twice my size. Lucky for me, I forgot I even had one. I never got it—or anything—from the cops or the system. Somewhere, probably still in Dallas, a man who once went by the name of Charles Ray “Chuckie Ray” Smith might still be walking around free to rape at will, but is very likely dead and buried at the hands of someone’s loved one avenging something very like the crime he committed against me, for which he never even stood trial.All I can say about this list up to this point is Thank. Fucking. God. AIDS wasn’t a thing yet.
- Soon after that, I got pregnant, and not on accident. My life up to then had been a series of after-school specials from hell, and I wanted a change, but the change the adults in my life were serving up was not working for me. When an acceptable candidate made himself available, I counted the days from my period to maximum fertility and I made damned sure he put a baby in my belly. Then he bought me a ticket home to California and I didn’t see him again until my daughter was 9 (which was ok with me). I moved in with my mom, stepdad, and three younger brothers. One night just after dark I rode my brother’s bike over to my cousin’s house a few blocks away. When I saw a man up ahead that I knew for a FACT I had passed just moments ago, I knew he had come around the block for me. I had almost no time to think about it, and as I neared he reached out for my handlebars. Out of breath and utterly terrified, a sound erupted from my throat that I have never made before or since. The words I tried to say were, “GET AWAY FROM ME!” but I sounded wild, primal, like a crazy person. He jerked his hands back and said, “Okay, gah!” Like he was the victim.
- Life settled down a lot after my daughter was born. I focused on being a mother, and for a little while, that was enough. But I wanted my True Love. And when I was 18, I believed I’d found him. He was amazing. Handsome, successful, smart, funny, and 35 years old. My friends and I saw nothing wrong with that. We all wanted him. But he wanted me. I was the lucky winner. Within a year I’d moved back to Texas with him and was keeping his house and caring for his 12-year-old son along with my daughter, now about 2. I don’t even know anymore how long it took for things to get bad—maybe 6 months—but one night after a party I’d left early because he pissed me off, he came home and started in on me, first with his hands, and then with a paint scraper. All things being relative, he didn’t hurt me badly. Just badly enough that I knew damned well if I could get out of that room I’d never come back. He let me get my daughter from down the hall, and when someone knocked on the front door and he went to answer it, I took her and ran out the back. I ended up in a shelter and within a couple of days I went back to my abuser because I had no local support and no money to go anywhere else, and some well-meaning-but-misguided types advised me that it was his job (my abuser’s) to finance my return home to California. This bought me another month or so before his next blow-up, but this time we escaped without incident and didn’t go back. I showed up in the middle of the night on the front porch of my grandfather’s house in Waco and introduced myself. “Mr. Abney, I’m your granddaughter.” We stayed a few days, and he cashed his Social Security check and put us on a plane. I never saw him again.
- In many ways I feel like I experienced a lot of bad things so my daughter wouldn’t have to. I taught her right away that predators were out there and that she should never hesitate to scream, kick, run, and tell someone if anyone ever did something she didn’t like. And when, inevitably it now seems, she found herself in a situation where someone crossed the line, she knew that the boundary was hers to set and protect and she knew to tell someone.
- Jump ahead to my 30s, when I found myself single after a long period and in a new town. One night out drinking, I overindulged and passed out in someone’s apartment only to wake up with him on top of me doing his thing. All these years later, it was still that easy to wind up with someone’s penis inside me uninvited. Because I got too drunk and passed out. (For those of you still unclear on the concept: No means no. Unconscious and/or unable to form words means no. No matter who you are, you are not entitled to take your sexual pleasure/rage power-trip out on someone else’s body no matter what mistake they make.)
As I write this list—and I have long needed to—more and more incidents occur to me. Some I insert into the timeline. Others I don’t. Some seem trivial, hardly worth mentioning. Some I can’t write about. Some involve people I care about who might be hurt by the content. Even I am amazed seeing all this written down in one place. These events scarred me in a number of ways, I’m sure, and fed into each other, perpetuating a cycle. But they also taught me that my worth was tied up in the fact that I was a sexual object, and that worth wasn’t much. And that the world is a very hostile place, especially for girls and women.
I’m far from alone in these experiences. Get a group of five women together, and if they’re being honest, 3 or 4 of them will tell you they’ve lived through one or more of the above scenarios. Not to mention the one thing nearly every woman has experienced in one way or another (and many encounter all day, every day): unwanted sexual attention. Why do some men think it’s ok to approach women and bother them simply because they find them attractive? What’s with the entitlement? Because make no mistake, women who don’t respond well to this sort of attention often go from “beautiful” or “my future ex-wife” to “bitch” or even “cunt” in about two seconds flat. The fact that men are, by and large, bigger and stronger than women turns this scenario from annoying to terrifying in the same span, which brings me to the third lesson the bullet points above taught me: most men are stronger than I am and if they want something from me, they have the power to take it.
If you’re a woman, chances are you understand on some level what that feels like. If you’re a man, just give it some thought. Imagine that your counterparts on this planet are on average several inches taller and 50-150 pounds heavier than you and comparatively very strong. Now imagine that some of them are predators. And some of them seem harmless enough, but they just won’t leave you alone—and what if they’re not harmless? (I know small guys get bullied by big guys, but this is different. Imagine that fully half the population potentially wants something from you, be it your attention or something more, that they have no right to expect, and yet you’re the asshole if you don’t play along.)
Now. Sometimes I love attention from men. But when it’s respectful and when I clearly indicate that I want it. Guys, here is how you tell if a girl is interested: if she makes direct eye contact with you, smiles, and asks you questions, then she probably wouldn’t mind getting to know you. (If you’re British and you’re in America, you’re pretty much given an automatic green light. This is a half-joke.) If she’s mumbling, looking down, closing off her space to you, and gives short answers, she wants you to leave. She’s just been conditioned to think that she can’t say, “Get the fuck away from me.” There are LOTS OF WOMEN, I KNOW, WHO CAN SAY THAT. And who have every right. But I’m just not one of them. I can’t. I have to to think of myself first. I can’t worry that you, strange man in a bar, is going to flip out when I reject you harshly.
Jokes aside (see, feminists can be funny!), it ought to be a pretty simple concept: No means no.
Anyway, me. Throughout the grim timeline above many other things happened, most of them happier, some even wonderful. I lived my life and raised my daughter into a brilliant young woman and had flawed relationships and finally found my really, really for true love at 41*. But all that time I encountered even more of those subtle messages that seem a lot less subtle when people point them out. Like the very real fact that on average, women in the U.S. still earn a lot less money than men doing the same job; that until recently women in the U.S. paid higher insurance premiums than men; that among many men the word “woman” is an insult, and that boys and girls grow up hearing things like “stop crying like a little girl” so we can keep that cycle chugging along; that men who sleep around brag about it and get high-fives from their friends, but women who do the same are sluts or whores (and women who don’t put out are clearly frigid or just prudish or lesbians, and oh yeah, nothing wrong with a lesbian that a good stiff cock can’t fix); that the same behavior called “assertive” in men is termed “bitchy” in women. I could go on and on. And I will—just you wait.
And in all these years I have never called myself a feminist. Not because I wasn’t in favor of equality, but because I didn’t particularly want to be lumped in with those strident women (often referred to as Angry Feminists) who could never seem to shut up about what was sexist. That’s not to say I didn’t speak out when I saw inequity. I quit one of my first jobs (leaving behind a very angry resignation letter) after watching my manager pass up women who had worked there for years for promotion over and over again in favor of young men hired weeks before. I was outraged, you see. I seriously thought this kind of thing didn’t happen anymore.
Then I watched as the industry I’ve worked in for over two decades spawned a culture of misogyny and abuse that has largely gone unchallenged by the professional community. Online gaming servers are rife with everything from codified rape culture (i.e. game messages that actually say things like “You got raped by BigDog1999” and players being banned from their servers for complaining about it) to sexual harassment of women by male gamers written off by the community as “just the way it is” or “free speech” of all things. Only recently is some of this coming to light, with major influencers like Penny Arcade choosing to take the low road at pretty much every opportunity.
And I watched the Internet birth a subculture of misogynist trolls who seem to feed off a sense that they’re causing their female targets pain, anger, or even fear. Let a woman even announce that she plans, at sometime in the future, to release a video examining the roles of women in video games, and they pour out of the woodwork like cockroaches. Simply having an online presence as a woman can mean enduring a regular routine of insults and threats via Twitter, email, etc. Appear on television like my daughter and her roommates did once a few years ago, and the trolls flock to their keyboards to comment on your weight (fat bitches) your attractiveness (I wouldn’t fuck that with a rented dick) and whatever else their rotted little brains can conceive.
Now, at 47, I’m finally realizing—really realizing—that to be a girl or a woman in this country (and much of the world) is to be a member of a class still fighting for its civil rights, and also to be subject to a lot of really fucking difficult crap that someone who’s not a woman probably can’t understand. And not only do I identify as a feminist, I am becoming an Angry Feminist. I’m completely fed up with the double-standards, the condescension, the dirty politics, the constant barrage of media messages, the way we’ve been taught to be quiet and polite and how that keeps us from speaking up when we have something to say and the way some men take advantage of that fact to bulldoze us. And when we do speak up—when something really matters and we sit in a room full of men to make our cases—heaven forbid we should show any emotion.
Lucky for me, the quiet and polite training didn’t take. I’ve always had a habit of speaking my mind—but that hasn’t stopped some overbearing men from shouting me down (and some of these are men who probably consider themselves progressive if not feminist and certainly not sexist or misogynist). And I’m ready to talk about all this stuff. I don’t intend to take every single person I meet to task for every act or word that might be interpreted as sexist or damaging to girls and women, but if I think it’s important, I’ll write about it. You bet I will.
So, yeah. This is my story, the Bad Parts version, by way of explaining how I got here, to this place, to this website, and also because I think we have to talk about it—the good, the bad, the horrifying—if we want things to change. It took me nearly half a century to wake up, but here I am in my bathrobe, drinking my coffee, working out a plan for the next 50 years. I don’t care what names people call me or what assumptions they make. I don’t hate men. I love men. (Yes, some men have done terrible things to me, but far more have been my friends and family and colleagues and mentors and heroes.) But I have no tolerance for misogynists and misogynistic policies and attitudes which are so commonplace and accepted in these oh-so-superior and socially advanced United States that some men (and women!) engage in them without even realizing it. I want to help change that.
I recently saw a TEDTalk by Courtney Martin of Feministing.com (if you want to see misogyny in action, have a look at the comments) in which she talked about this overwhelm I’m feeling. That sense that there’s just too much wrong for one person to make a difference. Her advice is to “act in the face of overwhelm.” That’s what I’m doing. I will fight this war on as many fronts as I have to so that maybe my granddaughters won’t grow up thinking that the world views them as somehow less. So that media stops treating us as objects and our culture starts treating us like equal members of society. So we can walk down the street without feeling like prey.
NOTE: For those of you tempted to bring up the fact that men have it rough too and there are policies that are unfair to men, rest assured that I am aware. That’s not what this article, this conversation, this blog, is about. There are all kinds of inequities in the world. I know that. But in my country, the United States of America, a lot of rich white men and their corporate sponsors are making decisions about women’s health without involving women in the conversation. Teenage boys think it’s cool to talk about slappin’ bitches and hos. Rape is still a punchline and a sports analogy. That’s the conversation I’m having here, and this is my house. If you want to talk about misandry or the evils of feminism, go start your own blog.
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