Feminism, Other Stuff We Read, Sweet Machine

“She didn’t fight back because you told her not to”

Trigger warning: this post and the comment thread discuss rape and violence against women.

We’ve gotten a lot of traffic from Kate’s classic post about online sexual harassment; its directive to male readers to stop treating misogynistic behavior by other men as normal seems to really hit home for a lot of people. If you haven’t read it, for god’s sake, get to! And if you have, check out this amazing post by Harriet Jacobs at Fugitivus (a blog I only stumbled across recently) about a similar phenomenon: the way “resisting” rape is not normalized behavior for women.

People wonder why women don’t “fight back,” but they don’t wonder about it when women back down in arguments, are interrupted, purposefully lower and modulate their voices to express less emotion, make obvious signals that they are uninterested in conversation or being in closer physical proximity and are ignored. They don’t wonder about all those daily social interactions in which women are quieter, ignored, or invisible, because those social interactions seem normal. They seem normal to women, and they seem normal to men, because we were all raised in the same cultural pond, drinking the same Kool-Aid.

And then, all of a sudden, when women are raped, all these natural and invisible social interactions become evidence that the woman wasn’t truly raped. Because she didn’t fight back, or yell loudly, or run, or kick, or punch. She let him into her room when it was obvious what he wanted. She flirted with him, she kissed him. She stopped saying no, after a while.

These rules for social interactions that women are taught to obey are more than grease for the patriarchy wheel. Women are taught both that these rules will protect them, and that disobeying these rules results in punishment.


It’s a rude fucking awakening when a woman gets raped, and follows the rules she has been taught her whole life — doesn’t refuse to talk, doesn’t refuse to flirt, doesn’t walk away ignoring him, doesn’t hit, doesn’t scream, doesn’t fight, doesn’t raise her voice, doesn’t deny she liked kissing — and finds out after that she is now to blame for the rape. She followed the rules. The rules that were supposed to keep the rape from happening. The rules that would keep her from being fair game for verbal and physical abuse. Breaking the rules is supposed to result in punishment, not following them. For every time she lowered her voice, let go of a boundary, didn’t move away, let her needs be conveniently misinterpreted, and was given positive reinforcement and a place in society, she is now being told that all that was wrong, this one time, and she should have known that, duh.

For anybody who has ever watched the gendered social interactions of women — watched a woman get browbeaten into accepting attention she doesn’t want, watched a woman get interrupted while speaking, watched a woman deny she is upset at being insulted in public, watched a woman get grabbed because of what she was wearing, watched a woman stop arguing — and said and done nothing, you never have the right to ever ask, “Why didn’t she fight back?”

She didn’t fight back because you told her not to. Ever. Ever. You told her that was okay, and necessary, and right.

Read the whole thing, because it’s a powerhouse of a post. You will want to bookmark it and reread it and pass it along. I see it as a spot-on elaboration of one of the key points from Kate’s post mentioned above: the “little things” that some people dismiss as “unimportant” sexist behaviors are the same things that normalize sexual harassment and assault. Here’s Kate again:

And because the really bad guys don’t pop out of thin air as fully formed misogynists. They need encouragement and reinforcement in order to completely miss the fact that there’s something deeply fucking wrong with them. Subtle sexism gives them that. Keeping your mouth shut about overt sexism gives them that. Not really listening to the women you love, let alone women you don’t even know–thereby being one more guy sending a message to women that we’re only worth listening to on men’s terms–gives them that. Telling yourself and anyone who will listen that that’s just the way it is, and people need to quit whining gives them that. How can they clue into the fact that there’s something deeply fucking wrong with them when so many guys are acting just like they do in public, or at least never calling them out?

The Fugitivus post also has a great discussion of when calling someone out is worth the risk — definitely also worth following.

299 thoughts on ““She didn’t fight back because you told her not to””

  1. Thank you for this post. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this in other places around here, but I’m currently dealing with being stalked, harassed, and libeled online – all because I dared to express the opinion that women have the right to control our own sexuality without being demonized or judged.

    I never posted under my real name, and I’m still not entirely sure how this particular troll figured out who I am, but it’s been a year, and I can still do a google search on myself and find posts calling me fat, ugly, obese, a slut, skank, and ho, braindead and stupid, telling me to shut my mouth and open my legs, speculating about what kind of demeaning sex acts I enjoy, and stating that I have an STD.

    Lemme tell you – it sucks. It made me scared to date. It made me doubt every ounce of self assurance I have. It put me in therapy.

    All women – people – deserve to be able to live our lives without fear of being ridiculed, harassed, or attacked for what we believe or who we are. I have, thank God, never been raped, and I would never compare that physical violation to what I’ve gone through, but the invasion into my personal life is one of the most violating things I’ve ever experienced, despite the fact that I’ve done nothing I should be ashamed of.

  2. From the Fugitivus post: “Women who are taught that their needs and desires are not to be trusted, are fickle and wrong and are not to be interpreted by the woman herself, are not going to know how to argue with ‘but you liked kissing, I just thought…'”

    This, I think, is one of the insidious evils of diet culture. When girls and women have been taught not only to not trust their need for food, for sustinance, but to actively resist it, refuse to admit that it exists, because satisfaction will lead to fat, and social rejection, then is it any wonder that we come to distrust our needs in other contexts?

  3. This speaks to me because of a situation on the bus this morning where a man under the influence was alternately discussing loudly how many female partners he’s had and hitting on the females on the bus, not taking no for an answer.

    I reacted by turning up my iPod and ignoring him. Because I knew if I confronted him, it would get verbally violent and potentially physically violent. I would be liable because I ‘started it’ by acting against the societal norms that demand I sit down, shut up, and take the harrassment. Depending on the security officer who responded, I could be banned from the transit system for creating a disturbance.

    I have to ride the bus every day to get to work.

  4. Yes. This. This is extremely important. I won’t get too into it because I haven’t the time or energy, but this basically explains my story. For a couple of months I dated a guy who was abusive and manipulative. He was obsessed with dominating me in every facet. There were certain things I refused to do in bed–have penetrative sex with him, for instance–but he found ways to do them anyway, against my will. I said “no”, but after various attempts at getting him to stop, I would just kind of… give up.

    Soon, I found it in me to end it. But not soon enough. In the following years, I was confused. Why did I stay, even for two months? And I refused to see it as abuse, because after all, I had not fought back ENOUGH. Then why did it feel like I HAD been abused? It took therapy for me to get my answer. My therapist told me that many women, while being sexually abused, will simply shut down. In short, when I was being abused, I tried to survive it by playing dead.

    God help this man if I ever see him again. Now, I’ve learned to bite back.

  5. Wow, thanks for this. I was one of those girls who didn’t fight back. I didn’t know I didn’t know how until I was there. The act itself was inconsequential in comparison to how it destroyed my ability to feel empowered and safe.

    I’m sorry to hear about your situation Meems. That’s awful. Trolls are not harmless, and women get the brunt of their rage. I can barely think of comments where men’s looks and character are attacked in the ways I see mine and other opinionated women dumped on every day.

    I’ve been told I need a dick in my mouth to shut me up. I’ve been told I need a good ass raping. I’ve been called both a whore and someone too repulsive to fuck. I’ve been called cunt, fatty, slut, cow, pig, whore, bitch and the list goes on.

    Kudos to Kate and those like her who use their real names and are the kind of uppity women who won’t shut up. You help me be stronger.

  6. I am starting to hate my communte because at least three times now some guy in a car has pulled up to me on my 1 block walk from the bus station and stopped to talk to harass me. More than just harass me these guys have FOLLOWED ME TO MY HOME, one guy actually CIRCLED THE BLOCK to find me again. And when I tell them that I have a boyfriend and am not interested they deflect. Because I’m so sure they saw me walking along and thought “Hey I bet that chick has a great personality.”

    I have tried to explain to my boyfriend how this is more threatening than flattering. He seems to understand in that I have told him this is threatening, and that it bothers me. But it REALLY bothers me, the fact that I can’t walk a block from the train with out getting harassed makes me really not want to walk my dog, especially after dark.

    But I’m just supposed to put up with it until I get attacked right? Right.

  7. Thanks SM

    @Suzanne, harassers, abusers, trolls, etc. are all very good at making us think that the abuse is our fault, too. They’re people who are not only hateful and misogynistic, but also very aware of the emotional reactions their words and actions elicit. I’m so sorry for what you’ve been thorough – and so glad to hear that you 1. got out, and 2. got into therapy.

    I’m finally getting a lawyer (after a fucking year of this shit) and it took me so long mostly because I wasn’t sure I could get someone to agree that the harassment and libel wasn’t my fault for having the “audacity” to express a specific belief about women and sex.

  8. And thank you Sticky. I’ve noticed that there are also men on this site expressing the same opinions that I’ve expressed, and none of them have been harassed.

    I’ve also gotten the “she needs a dick in her mouth to shut her up” comment, and my full name was additionally posted on a thread a while back entitled “every woman deserves to be raped at least once.”

    I’ve started having violent fantasies about revenge on this (nameless, faceless) person. Maybe those will eventually fade, but I want him to be punished for what he’s doing to me and to two other young women (I’m a few years older, so I also have a weird sisterly protective feeling about both of them).

  9. @ Meems – OMG! What a horrible situation to have to deal with. I’m so glad you have a lawyer and that you find this douchebag and TAKE HIM DOWN.

    On a related note – shouldn’t that kind of harassment be considered a hate crime and prosecuted as such? Or is it, depending on the jurisdiction?

  10. ((Meems)) That is terrible. I’m so sorry. I hope your lawyer takes that person to the CLEANERS.

  11. Thanks, Bald Soprano – how did I miss this on Shakesville? I swear I was just there :)

    I followed the link to Cohen’s article and now must put my head in my toilet and vomit.

  12. Unfortunately, the Bald Soprano is correct. Harassment, threats of violence, and rape are not usually considered hate speech/crimes unless the target is a member of a specific social group whose membership in that group might be considered being a liability. Now, I think it could be argued that being female in our society is a liability, but that’s not the point.

    There are individual state statutes on criminal harassment, cyberstalking, defamation (false statements which cause monetary – job – loss) and defamation per se (false statements about socially unacceptable diseases), and false light (false statements intended to cause emotional damage). Unfortunately, I happen to live in a state that no longer recognizes defamation per se or false light, so I’m not sure where that leaves me.

    There is also the federal Violence Against Women, which I don’t love, but may be applicable.

  13. This thread needs a trigger warning, I’m sorry. Especially the comments. I’m shaky here.

    Sweet Machine, you are absolutely right-effing-on.

  14. @celeloriel and everyone else – Thank you again. I hope I didn’t inadvertently hijack the thread; this is a topic that is extremely personal for me, and, while I’m past the curled up in bed in a fetal position phase (during which several of my close friends got middle of the night hysterical phone calls), I think I’m still in a place where I need other people to know.

    @auntiehallie – I hadn’t thought about that until you commented. I hope you’re all right! :/

  15. God, Meems, I’m sorry to hear that the fucking bullies are out for you. I hope you & the lawyer are able to shut that shit down.

    Amazing post.

  16. Just . . .wow.

    My thoughts are too jumbled right now, but this is such powerful stuff . . .

    And now I’m so frightened for my daughters . . . what am I teaching them?

  17. @Meems: I’m glad you’ve got a lawyer now. What’s happening to you is terrible.

    I… wow. Every time I think I’m past the point where I can be triggered (my mental voice goes, it’s been eight years since I got away from him, after all) I find out I’m wrong.

    I needed this, though. This post and Suzanne’s comment put into words what I still hadn’t been able to, quite. The insistance and putdowns and coercion into sex felt like rape, but I haven’t felt like I could call it more than abuse because I didn’t fight back.

    But it was. It really was. My abuser took the fragile, terribly depressed girl that I was and ground her as far down as he could. I started out without the strength to fight back in the first place, and I shut down even more because of him, hoping that if I just got that being-a-real-girl thing right, he’d be kinder to me.

    *Deep breaths* I’ll be okay. It hurts, but I needed this. I’ll just have to wait to read the links until tomorrow, when it’s daylight and I’m rested. I can see already they’ll going to give me more words I need to keep up the good fight.

  18. I just posted in my own lj about this – and about what I think when I’m out with my daughters, who could be used to make me not fight very easily. I am terribly afraid I’m teaching my five-year-old not to express her boundaries. So far I’ve taught them enough to avoid the benign friendly type of sexual abuse, the game style, but I have no idea how to protect them from attack, even verbal attack.

    Maybe I can always go everywhere with them until they’re old enough to look after themselves. Like, about 90. *fear*

  19. Ailbhe, I hear you about your daughters — it’s tricky to negotiate what’s protective and what’s perpetuating rape culture. My mother instilled such a fear in me of walking after dark that when I went off to (women’s) college, I found it very difficult even to walk to my dorm from down the block by myself at night. She didn’t mean to instill that fear so deep, but her overprotectiveness actually acted as another way that I was taught that I was, well, rapeable. For years I was really angry about this; now I have more compassion, but it was a hard thing for me to figure out.

  20. “I have tried to explain to my boyfriend how this is more threatening than flattering.”

    Shinobi it sounds like your boyfriend is a stand up guy. In general, guys have no clue about this because they do not experience being vulnerable in public. I had an incident in college where a guy blocked my car door at a gas station and sexually propositioned me. I distinctly remember making myself smaller so that I could squeeze my way out of the car without bothering this fucker but still get away from him. Then I remember thinking ‘well I was sitting in a very unladylike way…maybe I asked for it’. When I told my close guys friends later, they actually laughed at me and asked what the big deal was because ‘he didn’t actually do anything to you…’

    Meems I really feel for you. So I just want you to know that I support you and your efforts to reclaim your sense of safety and dignity.

  21. Sweet Machine: it’s interesting to see your comment to Meems, which is phrased in a very passive manner. I’ve never noticed until recently but a lot of us seem to tend to default to using that sort of sentence when talking about mistreatment. Expressing sympathy with someone for being in a horrible situation. Someone else recently pointed it out though, and suggested that instead we should be saying “I’m so sorry he (or they) are treating you like that”. Acknowledging that actually someone out there is behaving like a dick, or worse, rather than brushing that aspect under the carpet. It kinda stuck with me, and I hope you don’t mind me mentioning it here. I guess it’s yet another example of not wanting to tread on toes or upset people or all those other things we’re constantly trained not to do.

    Meems: I’m sorry, this troll is unforgivable, and you shouldn’t have to put up with being treated like that. I really hope the lawyers help you stop them!

  22. fatsmartchick,
    He is, he just doesn’t get it, but he is willing to listen and that’s what is important to me. (I mean, how is he supposed to have any idea what it is to be a girl.

    It’s funny that you mention your mom teaching you not to walk after dark because my parents, and the parents of my friends did the exact opposite of that to me. My friends were pretty much allowed to go anywhere they wanted with me, no matter how dangerous because I am so big and scary. (Which I read for most of my life is “I am to unattractive to be worth raping.” which… is just so beyond fucked up that I have decided not to unpack it.)

    But I realize now that because of this I have definitely taken a lot of risks and gone a lot of places as a girl by myself that I probably wouldn’t have, and possibly shouldn’t have had I been treated differently. And I realize now that though I am a big girl, I know nothing about self defense besides how to use a gun which is of limited usefulness.

  23. I hope I can raise my son to realize that NO means NO, maybe means no until its’ followed up by an enthusiastic yes, ‘not now’ means no, etc etc etc. Respect has got to become the cornerstone of all our human interactions or we’re doomed.

    ((for all who want need them)) Douchebag trolls need to have their interwebz taken away until they learn how not to be douchehounds.

  24. Eleanor Blair, that’s a fair point about my use of the passive voice. I was trying to phrase my statement in a way that acknowledged the ongoing nature of it (hence “is happening”) and at the time I also didn’t know if it was one person or multiple, but I didn’t realize that in phrasing for those reasons, I was disappearing the troglodyte(s) making it happen in the first place. Thanks for the comment. And Meems: I’m sorry this asshole is harassing you.

  25. I just read that article and it blew me away. I’m thinking the men in my life should read it, especially the ones in law enforcement.

    Thank you so much for posting this.

  26. (Which I read for most of my life is “I am to unattractive to be worth raping.” which… is just so beyond fucked up that I have decided not to unpack it.)

    God, it’s all so revolting when we lay it out in the open, isn’t it? All these ways we’ve been trained to diminish ourselves — and all these ways we’ve been taught to view rape as anything (a compliment, sex, “gray rape,” etc) but an attack.

  27. This is probably going to be an especially triggering comment, but I’m not sure how to say what I want to say without the description.

    My college orientation included a series of skits called “Sex Signals” that included, among other things, a scene of date rape. It involved a situation where the man was pushing the woman beyond her comfort level, and she would ask him to stop, and he would, but then a little later she felt more comfortable and would resume messing around with him, and every time she asked him to stop he would, until it came to the actual sex, when she asked him to stop and he didn’t. She asked a few more times, he still didn’t stop, and then she stopped asking, or responding.

    And in the discussion afterwards, there were more than a few people who initially didn’t believe that the scene was depicting rape, and several members of the audience were quite vocal the entire time in their belief that because the woman did not actively, physically resist, or cry out, that because she just said “no, please stop” quietly, it couldn’t have been that bad for her and it just wasn’t rape. Because if she’d really been upset, she would have been crying and screaming and struggling.

    And I found it both terrifying and infuriating. Because I am that passive person. I don’t like confrontation. When I’m in a situation I don’t understand, that really confuses or scares me, I can’t think straight and I can’t act quickly or decisively. My instinct when I’m hurt or afraid is to hide, to keep quiet and pretend I can be invisible, not try cry out or fight. I’ve known this about myself for a long time, and I know how to clearly communicate my boundaries and be firm about them as a preventative measure so that I don’t end up in situations like the skit, but still, that could have been me. if I hadn’t had such comprehensive sex education, including discussions of individual sexuality and healthy sexual relationships, if I didn’t routinely avoid basically anyone who showed sexual interest in me, if I’d ever once in my life gone on a date with someone I didn’t know well but felt attracted to in ways I didn’t fully understand or were a little afraid of, that could so easily have been me. And yes, I would have been terrified, and I would have been deeply hurt, and I wouldn’t have cried out, and I wouldn’t have fought, because I don’t know how.

    And it was horrifying to me that people didn’t get that my pain counted. I was upset about it for days. It still scares the shit out of me, because that’s still me. Sure, if someone leapt out of the bushes at me and grabbed me I think I could probably turn the pepper spray on them and kick a few times, but that’s like the “stranger danger” crap for children, it’s not what I really need to be afraid of. How do I fight someone I know? Someone I’ve been talking to all night, who seemed nice enough? Those are exactly the sort of people I am least likely to try and confront. My only defense is that I don’t follow those first rules, the ones where you’re not supposed to ignore a man or walk away. I’m real good at walking away from unwelcome advances and reacting to flirting in awkward, unflirty ways. I don’t know what I would did if I weren’t.

  28. Thank you for this post, SweetMachine. It is really helping me process through some sexual harassment I experienced from a fellow grad student over the last two years, and when I reported it I was blamed for not “clearly” communicating to him that I wasn’t okay with his behavior that “wasn’t really THAT bad” (unwanted winking, touching, being too close to me, making sexual jokes). I was told that some men needed women to be clear with them about the boundaries–how else could they learn what was appropriate? I didn’t understand why I, a 25 year old when it started, was responsible to competely un-learn my own social conditioning to teach him, a man in his 50’s, that HIS social conditioning was a problem >:-(

    Nothing was ever done when I made the report, and I had to continue to be in an 8-person class with him for three full quarters after the report was made. I had so many anxiety attacks over going to class that their best option? To let me leave the class and do an independent study for the last quarter.

    I hate that this kind of thing happens to so many of us, and even moreso, I hate knowing that there truly ARE situations that are much more frightening that women are put through… and it’s hard to imagine, given how disempowering, devastating, and depressing this situation was for me.

  29. ((Meems)) Fucking hell. I hope your lawyer goes to town on this fuckwit. Good for you for hiring someone. You should not have to be dealing with this shit.

    Shinobi – Have you spoken to the police? I can understand not wanting to take it that far especially since we’ve all heard stories about police officers making things worse, but if these guys are in a car, you could provide a made, model and license plate to the police. If you have a cell phone, maybe program the police precinct number and have it ready, so if these guys try again you can report it? I know calling 911 for something like this may feel weird, but calling the local station directly or the dispatch officer would maybe be effective as well. But following you home is taking “ordinary” street harassment to another level and if these assholes are doing this to you, they’re probably doing it to others. An entry in a dispatchers log would start a paper trail. (And I in NO WAY mean this as a “why aren’t you doing something” accusation. I’m one of those people who tends to offer some sort of specific advice when there’s a problem, so this is mostly me wanting to do something and not a reflection on you or how you’re handling the situation.)


  30. *******************trigger warning *****************
    I read Kathleen Parker, a conservative columnist, regularly. She’s unpredictable, and is generally a really thoughtful writer.

    Do you guys remember years ago, when the NYC Puerto Rican Pride Day parade and festival morphed into a shameful mass sexual assault against multiple women in Central Park?

    Kathleen Parker wrote a column condemning pundits and activists who said the event was an extention of the daily sexual harrassment aimed at American women. Her view? The incident was an example of what happens when men drink too much alcohol.

    I couldn’t believe it. Kathleen Parker is no idiot (even if I don’t agree with her most of the time). If that horrible event, which was caught on countless cameras, was really just about boys and beers, then the guys would have vandalized the park or picked fights with each other. They didn’t do that. They mobbed women, stripped them naked, groped them and filmed them screaming things like “Take her down!” “Where’s the money shot!?”

    That was about power, and dominating women. One Frenchman was caught on film trying in vain to save his companion from the mob, which stripped her naked and threw water and drinks all over her.

    I remember thinking that if Kathleen Parker didn’t, or wouldn’t, see that this was indeed a manifestation of mob hysteria and sexual harrassment and assault, we’re not going to make much progress in getting men to be accountable for their behavior.

    And on really bad days? I find myself wishing that i could act however I want and let someone else take the blame.

  31. Sweet Machine: The times I’ve been attacked I am certain it was because I was signalling VICTIM loud and clear. I don’t want to pass that on to my daughters, and yet… how can they stay safe if they are not afraid?

    I want self-defense lessons for preschoolers.

  32. @interfacings, people are often disturbingly ignorant when it comes to what constitutes rape. I was one of those “peer mentors” in college who had to stage those skits about rape, drinking, STDs, etc. Luckily, I went to a women’s college, so we didn’t get as many objections, but even women can think other women were “asking for it.” It’s horrifying.

    While I would never wish my experience on anyone, I think it’s made me stronger in some ways. I’m thicker skinned than I used to me and less dependent on outside confirmation of my self worth. Plus, it led me here. Of course, that won’t stop me from doing everything I can to nail this guy (and yes, I’m pretty sure it’s only one person).

  33. Sweet Machine: The times I’ve been attacked I am certain it was because I was signalling VICTIM loud and clear.

    Well, I’m pretty sure that it was because there were men who decided to attack you. Please don’t blame yourself.

    I should note that when I got angry about being trained to be afraid, it was also around the time I was learning that most rape is acquaintance rape, and that the thing I had been so conditioned to watch for — the stranger lurking in the bushes — was actually not what posed the greatest danger to me.

  34. Sweet Machine: The times I’ve been attacked I am certain it was because I was signalling VICTIM loud and clear. I don’t want to pass that on to my daughters, and yet… how can they stay safe if they are not afraid?

    I want self-defense lessons for preschoolers.

    I am not in any saying that isn’t your experience, Ailbhe, but this kind of thing happens to women who are NOT signaling “victim” in any way, and to people who have taken dozens of self-defense classes. It happens to those people all the time, too. I want anti-assault classes for preschoolers, myself!

  35. I’m generally pretty lucky, in that I have immersed myself in an unusually feminist atmosphere. Which was why when I went to the beach and the bars with a friend, I felt such incredible culture shock. I definitely felt like a shrew because I refused to shake hands with this one guy, or because I tried to elbow this other guy in the the stomach. But the first guy came up to me and simply held out his hand and looked expectant (no hello, I’ve never met him before), and I have a real problem with my first interaction with a strange man basically having the undertone of “Why aren’t you touching me?”. And the second guy was drunk and basically grabbed me in a huge bear hug and yelled in my ear over the band “Where have you been?” — I’ve never seen him before, either, and his friends pulled him off me, and my friends pulled me away from him before I could get in a good elbow.

    These are really, really minor incidents in comparison to things like rape and stalking and harassment. But I think that’s kind of the problem — we’re taught to brush off these minor incidents as just weird things some guys do at a bar. Y’know, they’re not. Strangers do not get to touch me just for the asking, and I shouldn’t feel defensive about saying so.

  36. Wow, I’ve never made the connection between the way society tells women to act and what we are told to do when it comes to being harassed/attacked/raped. I seriously felt my brain get bigger from all the knowledge and information I just read. Thank you for this new perspective.

    When I was a freshman in college, I was hit on by a scary drunk guy. He didn’t touch me, but the whole experience left me feeling very shaken up. I told one of my guy friends, but he just brushed it off. The next day, I told one of my female friends, and she said I was asking for it because I was wearing a low cut top. I started to feel even worse about the incident, because the reason I was wearing the low cut top was so I could impress a guy I was interested in (I know better now). I was so confused; on one hand, society tells women to dress or look a certain way to get a man’s attention, but if that look gets us attacked/harassed, it’s our fault because we chose to dress in a certain way.

    I wish this blog was around when I was 17/18/19. It would’ve answered so many questions and cleared up some misconceptions.

  37. Karen, volcanista can attest to a time I went apeshit on some dude in a bar because he asked her if he could sit on the arm of her chair (it was a big armchair) and she said no and he did it anyway. I was drunk at the time so everyone else seemed to think I was crazy (especially the guy), but it just made me less afraid to call him on invading her space. Those minor incidents can also be good practice, in a way, to start unlearning some of this shit.

  38. I guess what I mean is that the reason I was chosen over the other people present was that I was more victimlike. I don’t believe there was a “no-one gets raped” option available, no.

    I think what I mean by self-defense is “terror antifreeze,” so that if they need to, they can run. I’m not sure how to impart that; I didn’t get it until I was over 30.

  39. “when I reported it I was blamed for not “clearly” communicating to him that I wasn’t okay with his behavior that “wasn’t really THAT bad” (unwanted winking, touching, being too close to me, making sexual jokes).”

    Do not believe that things would have gone differently once you reported it, had you behaved differently.
    You will be beaten up by the establishment even if you do make it very very clear.
    Sometimes especially if you do, because then you are attempting to take a bigger bite of justice than the DLB the establishment is willing to grant you.
    Even if the incident is all on video.

    We are women in this society.
    We will be punished if we do not fight back.
    We will be punished if we do.

    Trying to positively participate in conversation, y’all, but triggery post is triggery. I think I’ll go try to get some more insulty trolls banned on WATRD. Much more productive.

    *runs away*

  40. I should’ve said “If we get attackyed/ harassed, it’s our fault because we chose to dress in a certain way.” I don’t want to imply that dressing a certain way automatically gets us attacked.

  41. You know, if you take this “she was asking for it by wearing [something provocative]” to the extreme, you end up in the societies in which women are required to cover every inch of their bodies, because we might accidentally arouse men (oops!). And then they’ll rape us.

    Ok, that’s an oversimplification, but it’s still the line of thinking that restricts women’s freedoms and agency. It’s always bothered me that I’m supposed to be responsible for men’s apparently inability to control their response to the fact that I have breasts.

  42. Ailbhe, I deleted it because you asked right after posting. In general, I don’t like deleting comments (because usually the people who want us to do that want it because they showed their asses), but from regulars on triggery topics, it’s a different thing.

  43. DRST,
    I thought about it, but I don’t think these guys were actually following me home more than they were just following me to attempt to continue to engage in “conversation” if that’s what we’re going to call it. THey just saw me walking down the street and turned their cars to follow me, which is creepy, but, y’know, not stalking? I don’t know.

    There is also a big racial component to it too. My neighborhood is mostly black and I am white. (Our neighbor’s kids call us “the white people” which amuses us to no end.) And I have noticed that the whole, yelling from cars and or the top floor window of your house at some chick on the street thing seems more common in this neighborhood. And am obviously not in any way qualified to analyze that.

    But if it keeps happening, i might start driving to the train station and taking my dog to another neighborhood to walk him.

  44. Meems, I totally get what you’re saying, but I want to preemptively dictate that Meems’ comment is *not* an invitation to reenact the Great Feminist Burqa Debates here. That would be threadjacking, and I will have to put on my Bitchy Hat.

  45. Thanks for deleting it – what I want to say *really* is that the reason I signalled VICTIM louder than anyone else around to be a victim was that I had a long and serious history of BEING a victim, in myriad ways which did NOT involve strangers… but did involve me and my presentation of myself to the world.

    What I learned about how to behave among people I was supposed to trust set me up beautifully for victimisation by a stranger, because my “be a victim” training was more intense.

    My not signalling VICTIM might have moved the attack on to the next most vulnerable woman along. I think that’s the most I could have hoped for.

    Rather than “Oh, no, not again.” Which is one thing I may say if I’m ever attacked again. I have a half-hearted hope that it would be startling enough to give me time to fight. Time to run.

  46. SM – Absolutely. And that’s why I purposely didn’t refer to any specific religion/society/country. Every woman has the right to dress how she wishes to, regardless of how much or little of her body that clothing covers.

  47. Reading this I think of another post (I’m not sure if it was one of Kate’s or if it was linked from another blog) about how well-meaning but clueless men will say, “REALLY?! Does that REALLY happen to women?” when women talk about being catcalled and harassed and actually assaulted. Women do it to other women too, by the by- and I think that this post is strongly connected to that, and why people are so confused when women don’t fight back.

    I cannot even count the number of times I’ve told people who really care about me and whose judgment I really respect about being catcalled and stared down literally every single day and how horrendously uncomfortable it makes me, and how many of them have said, “Well, you’re beautiful/well, look how you’re dressed/well, you have blond hair/red hair/big tits/nice legs- of course that’s going to happen to you.” I feel like that’s almost dismissing my feelings, like instead of feeling threatened that some man is rubbing up against me on the train or following me down the street muttering what he’s going to do to me, I should be self-conscious that I brought it on myself by not going outside looking like a wolverine’s afterbirth. Then that makes me think if I were actually ugly or didn’t care about my appearance, I’d have a whole other load of guilt thrown on me. (And it probably wouldn’t stop the catcalling.)

    I swear, if I ever have daughters, I am never going to use their looks against them to invalidate something that’s happened to them. And if I ever see anyone eyeing up or harassing them or me while I’m with them, I’m going to set an example of standing up for yourself, instead of doing what my mom did and just saying, “Well, you’re beautiful. Ignore it” like it’s actually some kind of badge of honor.

  48. Lucy: Any suggestions for how to handle these things welcome. The lines I want to walk between are around here… (a) Child is indeed beautiful (b) Creep is indeed out of order for staring or attempting to start an intimidating interaction and (c) Be not afraid or ashamed, because your beauty does not cause assholery, shitheads cause assholery. Perhaps something suitable for a five-year-old’s ears? Because that’s where we’re at, here…

  49. I’ve tried explaining to my boyfriend why it makes me feel so uncomfortable to be whistled and stared at. He tries to understand, but his initial reaction was why don’t you take it as a compliment?

    I get scared sometimes when I’m out walking/running. I like to go out jogging on nice days and I usually prefer to wear tight yoga tops and shorts because for me it is the most comfortable to exercise in. I don’t like the feeling of loose clothes hanging on me, soaking up my sweat. But, I hate that men seem to think that my choice of clothing is an open invitation to whistle and stare and ogle me. I feel scared because I’m no match for a lot of those guys, I feel powerless. Also, I hate feeling like my body is nothing more than an object for them to judge.

    I want to be able to wear what I want and jog where I want at whatever time of day I feel like jogging. But, I’m afraid to – I’m afraid that if something did happen, everyone would blame me and say I was stupid and reckless. But it makes me angry that I feel like I can’t go out and do what I want to do.

    I also hate that when I’m out jogging and smile or say hi to people along the way, because I’m just trying to be friendly, some guys seem to take that as an invitation to hit on me. I don’t want to be rude and ignore people, but at the same time, I don’t want to be pursued.

    There was a man – who was probably around my father’s age – I’m a 19 year old college student btw, who would always sit outside his apartment as I walked home from class. I always smiled and said hi as I walked by because I wanted to be friendly to my neighbors. But then I started noticing that he was out there more and more, like he knew my schedule – and one day, he motioned to me to come over. So I did. And then he asked me out. I told him I had a boyfriend. I was really disturbed and scared, because when he hit on me, he was really drunk and I wasn’t sure what he would do when I said no. It ended up okay, I went back to my apartment and started avoiding him from then on. But when I told my dad about the incident, because I was frightened and disturbed to be asked out like that by a much older man, my dad said “why did you go over to talk to him?” That made me so mad, because he said it in a way that sounded like he was blaming me, saying I was stupid for going over there. But when you’ve been raised to do what older people say and in a culture that makes it seem like men are the ones who get to do all the ordering around, is it really that surprising that I just dutifully walked over to talk to him. And why do I have to be suspicious all the time? Why is all the burden on me?

    I feel like this all sounds petty compared to what some of you have been through. I’m sorry to hear about some of your experiences – it makes me mad that men could do and say things like that. And it makes me want to fight even harder against sexism.

  50. Meems,

    Good for you in getting a lawyer. I would also suggest you read The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker, or at least the section on stalkers. As one article on stalking put it:

    De Becker writes that women are socialized to be friendly at all times, even when it places their personal safety at risk. It’s a mistake I made many times with Dan. I didn’t want to seem rude. Instead of saying “no, I am not interested in going on another date with you,” I made excuses that gave him hope for a continued relationship.

    Even when he started to scare me, I kept answering the phone and talking to him on the street. De Becker advises women who are being stalked to keep a record of phone calls or e-mails but not to answer them. If you ignore 20 calls but answer the next, it teaches your stalker he has to make 21 calls to get your attention. And for many of these people, negative attention is just as good as real affection.

    http://www.haltabuse.org/ may also be helpful.


  51. I’ve tried explaining to my boyfriend why it makes me feel so uncomfortable to be whistled and stared at. He tries to understand, but his initial reaction was why don’t you take it as a compliment?

    The simple reply to this is, “Because they don’t mean it as a compliment.” Whether or not he’ll believe that, I dunno.

    But it’s true — it’s not a compliment. It’s to remind you that you are public property, to put you in your place, and to let you know that if he wished to do more than whistle, he thinks he could.

  52. Madeline: Your Dad thinks that if a man his age wants to speak to a woman your age, she should assume he’s a creep and a potential rapist? I think he hasn’t thought that one through.

    I’m sorry the drunk creep was creepy, and I’m sorry your family was… anti-supportive. That sucks.

  53. Madeline: Oh, and it’s not petty. Being socialised into behaving politely around unwelcome attention and then being blamed for things which are not your fault so that men don’t have to be blamed for anything – those are where it starts. Your experience, in that story, is part of the whole package we’re all talking about. Really, not petty.

  54. One other thing I was thinking about:

    A lot of times when I’m out jogging, I’m sort of in my own little world. I mean, I’m aware of the traffic around me, but I’m easily startled by loud noises. So, when guys make catcalls or honk their horns or shout, it makes me jump. And then sometimes I see the guys laughing. Which makes me really angry: why would you think it was funny to scare someone?

  55. Alibhe- I would hope she’s not actually having to deal with anything like this while she’s 5! I think the best way to go about it is to definitely encourage her to speak up any time she feels like someone is acting unfairly or threatening her- even if that person is an adult. And as she gets a little older, you can keep driving the point home that NO ONE ever has the right to make her uncomfortable, that if she wants to look beautiful she has no obligation to do it for anyone except herself.

    Also, depending on how she matures, she might be getting unwanted attention sooner, but again- doesn’t make it all right just because she looks 16 when she’s 12. I was actually able to stop a really bad situation where a man was surreptitiously touching me on a crowded train by yelling I’M FIFTEEN YEARS OLD. Granted, I was actually 23 when I did that, but boy, I wish I’d thought to do it when I WAS 15. That was the only time anyone has ever helped me when I’ve been publicly harassed.

    Basically, I think telling a little girl to “ignore” anything is generally bad advice. Sometimes, after a while, this shit can’t really be ignored, you know?

  56. I feel like this all sounds petty compared to what some of you have been through. I’m sorry to hear about some of your experiences – it makes me mad that men could do and say things like that. And it makes me want to fight even harder against sexism.

    My experiences are totally petty compared to what some dickheads have done to other women who’ve posted in this thread, but that doesn’t make them less important to me, or less a result of patriarchal BS. In my opinion no woman should ever have to feel harassed and poerless.

    Perhaps more importantly a woman should never be made to feel like it is her fault that some fuckhead is harassing her.

  57. My mother instilled such a fear in me of walking after dark that when I went off to (women’s) college, I found it very difficult even to walk to my dorm from down the block by myself at night.

    Yeah, this was my experience, too. In my case, it was also a specific fear of urban environments. (I grew up in the suburbs, so I never really had to walk after dark, b/c we never walked ANYWHERE.) When I first moved to Toronto, I was scared shitless walking around after dark, even at like 7 p.m. in well-lit, safe areas. And that’s another thing Gavin DeBecker talks about — in fact, it’s the reason for the title. Women are socialized to believe that if we aren’t hypervigilant at all times, we’ll be attacked, and that actually lessens our ability to perceive our minds’/bodies’ real warning signals — i.e., the gift of fear — when something’s actually off. (As in, if you’re walking along calmly and suddenly feel inexplicably panicky [without any history of an anxiety disorder], something probably IS wrong. But if you’re already walking around anxious and primed for the worst to happen, the difference between that state and genuine, get-me-out-of-here-now fear might not register as clearly, which affects your reaction time.)

    Cindy, I’m not surprised to hear that about Kathleen Parker. Yes, she’s smart, but she’s also a frequent sexism apologist. I assume the people who pay her to write think that’s part of her charm.

  58. Sweet Machine,

    Thank you for this post. I think many who get raped internalize their behavior at the time — I know that I did (and still do), probably because I was raped by three different men, spanning 15 – 23 years old (all date/friend rapes). While I know now that it *was* rape and that I wasn’t to blame, I still internalize how I was “set up” to be victimized. Daddy issues, low self-esteem, inexperience, etc.

    However, your post opened my eyes to how, for example, Daddy issues are in fact socialized — aren’t us girls taught that Dad is ultra-important, the first male gaze we must satisfy? And our low self-esteem — I think your post illustrated very well how female second-class status is socialized. As for inexperience — aren’t we taught that we must toe the virgin princess/queen slut line so that we at the very least at all times *appear* as chaste (and hence, as inexperienced) as possible?

    I don’t know if I will ever feel like I won’t be further stigmatized by my status as a woman who has been raped and otherwise violated. I know that the graduate program I was in stigmatized me when I was forced to “come out” that I had been raped by a fellow graduate student. I know that my ex-boyfriend stigmatized me for being raped by a “friend.” I know that my friends ignored me and pretended I was fine when I was twice violated by a member of our group, once *in front of them*, for f*ck’s sake.

    My family knows about the rapes. They were shocked when they learned, then they promptly ignored it, pretended they’d never heard (with the exception of my mother). My stepmother, I’m sure, blames me for what happened. I don’t know many sympathetic people in my life, and it makes me extremely anxious and generally depressed.

    Once you’re raped, it never stops, you know. It’s always there, hovering like a nasty horsefly, waiting to bite you when you drop your guard. And sometimes your rapist never goes away — the threat he made, the threat to find you one day and kill you, makes you feel like no matter how far away he is technically, he’s only one crazy, drunken flight from murdering you.

    How much of that is socialized — a good deal, I should think. I’m not supposed to let the violence in my past effect my future, you see — I’m supposed to “man up” to the level of the rest of my happy-go-lucky male colleagues and not let that feminine shit bug me, right? Like how when I’m in screaming pain and deep exhaustion from bad cramps I’ve got to “man up” and still out-perform the ole boys, right? Just to remain on equal footing or keep my slightly lower salary, right? Gah.

  59. @Aihble and anyone else with children,

    I strongly recommend Gavin deBecker’s Protecting the Gift. If anyone is familiar with The Gift of Fear, this is in the same vein, only aimed at protecting children and teaching them to honor their intuition. Both books are must-reads, even though there’s some overlap.

    I have boys. I re-read it about once a year. I’m glad I don’t have girls to worry about (yeah, I said it, and I know that’s sad), but I take very seriously the onus to make sure they grow up respecting women and boundaries.

  60. “…they don’t wonder about it when women back down in arguments, are interrupted, purposefully lower and modulate their voices to express less emotion, make obvious signals that they are uninterested in conversation or being in closer physical proximity and are ignored. They don’t wonder about all those daily social interactions in which women are quieter, ignored, or invisible, because those social interactions seem normal.”

    This. THIS. When I was very young, I learned that hurting someone else was the worst thing I could EVER do. That means verbally and emotionally as well as physically, right? Right. So I let two so-called friends walk all over me and eventually join the rest of the kids in taunting me when I was in grade school. I didn’t call them out or fight back, because that would hurt them and Hurting People Was Bad. I didn’t say anything when I was paired with a skeevy boy during the dance unit in middle school P.E., because he wasn’t really doing anything against school rules, so obviously it was my fault that he gave me nasty vibes. I never did anything to the two godawful bullies who made my life a living hell, because I knew if I fought back I would be the one punished. I rarely disagreed with anyone, even my family, except by keeping silent. I did my best to be quiet, pleasant, and invisible; to mitigate my tall, fat physical presence.

    Eventually I started having seizures. I got psychotherapy as well as drug therapy because my life had just been tossed into the washer on spin cycle. My therapist told me that it wasn’t healthy to keep all my anger, sadness, fear, passion inside. I always had seizures when I got angry, depressed, afraid, etc. Even with her encouragement and guidance, it took me years to yell at someone. Dr. J. actually celebrated the first time I mouthed off at my parents and congratulated me for hitting that milestone. I was a teenager and I had never mouthed off at my parents before.

    I always told myself that I wouldn’t be one of those women who would submit quietly to a rapist, I would scream and fight back. But now… now I wonder if I really would. I wonder if I would even be able to tell, if I would just let my date have his way because he’ll get angry if I say no, I’ll hurt his feelings, it won’t be that long and I shouldn’t have kissed him anyway so now he’s expecting sex and it’s ALL MY FAULT.

    I’m scared.

  61. @Madeline I’ve had that happen, too! I could never figure out if it was because I was fat, or because I was a woman, but I used to get catcalled riding my bike, and it would startle me, and then I’d fall off or nearly fall off, and they’d laught.

    Wait. Rethinking as I type. I wasn’t fat then, I just thought I was. And I wasn’t a woman, I was a girl. I was 14 at the most. Wow, that’s gross.

    And, yeah, people think I’m crazy when I mention that I get bothered in public for being female or for being fat (I notice getting bothered for being fat much more, but I suspect I get bothered for being female more). Like, do people *really* walk up to me and tell me to go to Weight Watchers or the gym? Why yes, yes they do. Do I *really* get hit on by men my father’s age? Yes. Actually, almost exclusively. Who would make this shit up?

  62. Lucy: No, she’s five, so *I* have to respond when men say inappropriate things to her in the street. She looks about 7 or 8 sometimes (but never acts it! she’s five really). That’s one of the things which could make it “her fault.” The pressure to have her be quieter and calmer and take second place started before she could *walk*.

    Madeline: Men scaring people with their vehicles: When my sister and I were aged about 10 and 13, we were crossing a 4-lane road with my tiny white-haired mother and all our stuff in rucksacks and suitcases, on our way to the bus station to temporarily move house. There were two trucks/lorries/great big high-up things with tyres the size of children waiting at the lights. One revved when we were all immediately in front of it. When we got to the other side, the driver was laughing – and so was the driver of the adjacent truck.

  63. Age 15:
    My breast is groped in a marketplace in Berlin. Comment: “that’s what happens when you wear such a tight shirt”

    I’m going out to a comedy show wearing a long skirt, tank top and baggy fishnet sweater. Comment:”you can’t go out with your bra straps showing like that, some man will rape you”

    Age 16: date rape. Coersion, whatever.

    Age 16-21: Silence. Continued dormattiness, and a progression of truly disasterous friendships with abusive, toxic people, ending with an emotionally abusive fiancee who I fortunately had the initiative to get away from when he lied to me about money and started pinching me “playfully”.

    I was bullied a fair bit in elementary school, my parents vehemently taught me “don’t fight back” “don’t respond – they’ll get bored and give up”…which works ok for namecalling actually, but not when some kid is trying to push you off your bike in front of cars, an dnot when someone hits you. Also “don’t react” is a complete FAIL when someone is unacceptably cruel, a friend hurts your feelings, or someone you don’t want to have sex with is trying to have sex with you.

    For anyone wondering about educating their kids, I have read many good reviews of “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin DeBecker. I haven’t read it, but I’ve read articles by him, they can be hard to read but are VERY GOOD.

    Ugh. Great post, important topic, but so hard to process. I think I might print this out and show it to my husband, it pretty much sums up the major themes of my emotional baggage.

  64. Alibhe- I would hope she’s not actually having to deal with anything like this while she’s 5!

    But you know, on some level, she probably is. We had a big discussion on the BlogHer panel about the way strangers comment on how pretty little girls are all the time. 99 out of 100 are probably completely well-meaning, but even that can cause damage.

    For one thing, a lot of women spoke about how they felt hearing that a lot was directly related to growing up feeling like their beauty was the only thing society would value them for. But even more insidiously, it teaches little girls that when a stranger comes up and tells you you’re beautiful out of nowhere, you’re supposed to appreciate the compliment and say thank you. Period. That might be the mannerly response for a 5-year-old, but what happens when she’s 12, 15, 20, 30, and strangers who say, “You’re beautiful” out of nowhere are really saying, “I want to fuck you”? Saying “thank you” implies that you DO appreciate it and sucks you into a conversation you don’t want to have. But shutting it down feels even more uncomfortable, because you’ve been so thoroughly socialized to believe you should never be “rude” to someone paying you a compliment.

    Pretty much every fucking woman knows what it’s like to get a “compliment” that somehow makes you feel dirty, but because we’re taught from day one that people who say positive things about our appearance are doing something kind — practically doing us a favor, taking time out of their busy schedules to remark on our beauty and all — we second-guess the “dirty” feeling and tell ourselves that rejecting the so-called compliment would be irrationally bitchy. Even though, as someone said either upthread or at Fugitivus (or both), most of us over the age of 20 also have considerable experience with guys immediately turning on us when we don’t respond as hoped. (“Hey, beautiful!” “Not interested.” “Fuck you, you ugly, stuck-up cunt, I wouldn’t touch you anyway!”) If you recognize the approach for what it is — a power play — and respond accordingly, you’re “blowing it all out of proportion.” But if you treat it as a simple compliment and respond politely, it just fucking escalates until you shut it down in no uncertain terms, at which point you’re STILL a bitch who can’t take a compliment anyway. Women are simply not allowed to reject any transgression of our boundaries without being punished for it. If we had true freedom to accept or reject advances without negative consequences either way, well, that would be WAY too much like having power.


  65. People. I just had two guys ring my doorbell, and ask to see my house (we’re moving out, the owner is, of course, trying to rent it to new tenants). Not with an agent, though one of them said he was an agent in two nearby states. Just two guys. I’m home alone. And even though we’re having this conversation here, I LET THEM IN. Why? Why?

    Of course, they were just a couple of guys looking to rent, and looked at the rooms, and left. But I have got to learn to say “No.” I was just so surprised. I shouldn’t have answered the door at all — I wasn’t expecting anyone. Damn it.

    But this is the kind of thing we’re talking about, too. Like, I can’t let two normal guys into my place to take a quick look around? If I do it, and got raped, I’d be thought a moron for letting strangers into my home. If I don’t do it, I’m a cold, crazy bitch — they’re just guys who are looking to rent a house.

    Look, I’m an object lesson! *headdesk*

  66. Karen, last time Mr Machine and I moved apartments, the only time I could schedule the movers for was a day he couldn’t get off work. I asked a male friend of mine to come over to a) help me with wrangling the cats, and b) make it so I wasn’t alone with four strong men who had everything I owned. Luckily, he’s enough of a feminist that he wasn’t put off by that request, and also didn’t see it as a sign of me being weak. I hate to feel suspicious about people who are doing their jobs — like movers, or rental agents — but, as Harriet Jacobs writes in the linked post, we women are somehow supposed to magically intuit that this time was different, this time was the bad guys, even when the bad guys act exactly like the good guys until the moment things go wrong.

  67. I think it’s important to note, too, that women who don’t “follow the rules” for various reasons–particularly women with autism, women in various types of mental illness, and women with intellectual disabilities–are even more likely to be assaulted then other women. While acting according to the cultural script we’re given certainly puts women into vulnerable positions, so do many ways of acting outside of that script, or being unaware there is a script.

  68. @living400lbs – Thank you. I’m familiar with the Halt Abuse website, but haven’t read anything by DeBecker.

    Hopefully I’ll find a lawyer soon. I’ve gotten two referrals from the Bar Association in my state. The first never called me back and I only left a message for the second this morning. If neither of these works out, I’ll try the city bar and maybe ask friends for a referral. It’s surprising how few lawyers do harassment/stalking/libel outside the workplace environment.

    @Madeline – You did not do anything to bring on or deserve harassment from your father’s friend. In fact, it seems perfectly natural to me to say hello to a friend of either parent. I’m so sorry your dad responded so unfairly.

    @Alibhe & Lucy – I was one of those kids who looked old. I was already past a C cup by the time I entered middle school. It wasn’t fun. I remember walking by myself to a doctor’s appointment when I was around 12 and a truck full of men drove by, yelling “love your tits” out the window as they passed. All I remember is a surge of adrenaline and feeling like i wanted to vomit. Sadly, I got used to it. Now, I usually ignore it or give the men a disgusted look.

    @BigLiberty – I’m so sorry. I hope you’ve found people in your life who love and support you.

    I’ve also noticed men in the gym staring at my chest. As a member of the rack-o-doom club, it’s pretty difficult for me to wear gym clothes that don’t show a little cleavage. That doesn’t give men permission to stare at me (oh so sneackily in the mirror) as I’m doing my cardio.

  69. “For one thing, a lot of women spoke about how they felt hearing that a lot was directly related to growing up feeling like their beauty was the only thing society would value them for. But even more insidiously, it teaches little girls that when a stranger comes up and tells you you’re beautiful out of nowhere, you’re supposed to appreciate the compliment and say thank you. Period.”

    Yes, Kate, that’s absolutely true. It’s funny, because my mother is a prime proponent of “Just ignore it, that’s what happens when you’re so beautiful,” but when I was really little, she and my dad were vehement about my space as far as strangers went. I had really long blond hair and old people used to like to come up and pet it, and I’d get vociferously angry about it. When the old people would look to my parents to start admonishing me, my mother or my dad would say, “What? She doesn’t know you. Don’t touch her.” Of course, then I had to, you know, become an adult and grow big tits and somewhat care about my appearance, so anything that happened to me after age twelve or so was ignorable.

    I guess what’s really unfortunate is that for the most part, girls have to be taught conflicting things from day one about how to modify their behavior, while men and boys aren’t taught, “Hey, you don’t just talk to women you don’t know, even if you’re trying to be nice.” I know that I personally would NEVER just go up to a strange man I found attractive and tell him so. Partially because I’m shy about that, but also because I’ve been socialized that I don’t do that because a) I’m a woman and b) he could actually be Patrick Bateman, and then once I’d been raped and killed I would be at fault for approaching him.

  70. SM this has been an extremely eye-opening post. I’ve never been physically assaulted and I feel extremely lucky to be able to say that, but I have had an experience recently that was somewhat terrifying though I tried to laugh it off later.

    I spent the month of June in Ireland and some girls in my study abroad program and I were on a tour that stopped in Galway for a night. We were at a bar listening to music, having some beers, and just having a good time when, later as things began to wrap up, a man came up to me and started putting on “the moves.” Generally, I am uncomfortable getting hit on because it doesn’t happen often so I tend to freeze like a deer in headlights. This guy entered my personal space and I didn’t have language, verbal or physical, to get him to back the hell up. I froze because it was all I could think to do. The girls I was with didn’t know me very well and couldn’t read my signals until finally I mouthed “HELP ME” to one of them and she came to my aid. It was still tough to shake the guy off afterwards, but eventually we moved on and he was gone.

    My point is, I was taught to feel grateful when a guy deigns to hit on me. I was taught to be nice to people. I wasn’t taught what to do in a situation that I found extremely uncomfortable and needed to extract myself from.

    It was a benign situation for which I am grateful, but it was terrifying at the time. Afterwards, when I told the story, I laughed and laughed and tried to forget how much I hated it. If I could laugh than it wasn’t scary, right? The worst part is I let that guy ruin a perfectly good night. All because I didn’t know how to fight.

  71. Karen – oh fuck, I’ve been in that exact same position. I stood at the open front door with the cordless phone in my hand the whole time. I acted like I was just staying out of the way but I kept thinking of someone going “Why did she let them in? Why didn’t she call the property manager’s office?” etc. I was tense the whole night after they left (the two guys were perfectly polite about it).

    I know someone linked to my friend cereta’s post about the responsibility men have for stopping rape recently. She wrote a post a while back Most men, I believe, really don’t get, either intellectually or viscerally, the degree to which the awareness of sexual assault permeates women’s lives. A number of comments here remind me of that post and the discussions in the comments there and elsewhere. Just for further reading.


  72. I’m a very straightforward person, and maybe come off as a bitch sometimes (I’m a New Englander by birth and at heart – we’re not bad people, but maybe not as overtly friendly as people are in other parts of the United States :) ). When men hit on me directly in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable, I’ve taken to saying flat out “You need to stop talking to me. Now.”

    None of us deserves to be made to feel uncomfortable or violated because some guy has a hard on.

  73. “Why don’t you take it as a compliment?” Arghhhhh!!! I am familiar with this one, and boy howdy does it piss me off. I was finally able to get through to a male friend of mine when I got angry enough to say, “I don’t take it as a compliment because I don’t have the fucking LUXURY of doing so!” Which stopped him in his tracks and made him have to ask what I meant by “luxury,” and led to a further discussion of male privilege. He did finally start to get a clue, and I was willing to go into Feminism 101 with him because he was listening and taking it in, but honestly, that’s the kind of conversation that many of us women could spend our entire lives having with all the various dudez in our lives, because so many of them just don’t get it. So frustrating.

  74. This is a great post with thoughtful comments. I am raising two daughters and I am afraid for them every day because we do live in such a sexualized and anti-woman world. It wasn’t until we had our first daughter did my husband finally realize how hostile the world is towards women. The way we are openly dehumanized and reduced to just our body parts. Changing our daughter’s diaper forced him to see a vagina (literally!) that needed protection.

    In high school was been aggressively pursued by a boy I could not stand, I asked a counselor for help on how to shake him. Her advice was for me to date him, because eventually he would get bored and move on. Stupid me, I took that advice. We broke up a couple of months later because I realized he was cheating on me. In retrospect, I don’t know why I cared so much because I loathed him. I spent the remainder of my high school life being verbally abused by him. He was so disliked that I had the strength not to be affected by it, because I knew he was just a loathsome person not worth my energy.

    In college, I was walking down the street wearing a form fitting outfit. A man came up to me and said he liked my tits. Instead of feeling angry, I felt ashamed for having such large tits. I remember telling my boyfriend about the situation, and he wasn’t upset. He agreed that I did have nice tits.

    Now, I work among teen boys and girls. I am often butting in to “rescue” girls. I am disgusted that these girls think it is okay for these boys to grab on them, call them out their name, and use lewd language because “hey, we’re just playing.” I remember one time recently, this boy kept grabbing this girl by the wrist so she couldn’t move. She had told him to let go, but he wouldn’t because he wanted to keep playing this little game. I went up to him and said as calmly as I could “let her the fuck go. If you grab her again and don’t release when she says stop, I’m going to throw you out of this building.” When he tried to get confrontational with me after he realized that this middle-aged woman had the audacity to correct him, I told him to “sit down and shut up while he was still ahead.”

    I was scared inside because he could have punched me in the face or shot me, but I didn’t want to see him bother that girl anymore. Like I said earlier, I have two little girls and I would want to someone to step in and protect them if need be. I’m sick of women being seen as communal property.

  75. Every woman, despite her looks, experiences some sort of sexual harassment at some point. If she’s hot, some men will say she had it coming, if she’s ugly, they will say she should be grateful and who the fuck would want to harass her anyway? I, luckily, have dated men who understand of how awful it is, at least to the extent men can truly understand, but harassment is never a compliment. NEVER. Once, one very hot day of summer, I made the mistake of going out in the middle of the day wearing a slightly tight pair of jeans and a tank top. I had to take the bus and then walk four or five blocks, and felt completely violated by the time I got to my destination. Not only was I stared at by the men in the bus, and had rude comments said to me during those five blocks (that would have been a good day), but when I got out of the bus, the bus driver followed me (in the bus!) slowly down the street yelling horrible things until finally I had to make a turn and lost him. Sure, it sounds like a funny anecdote now, but it’s fucking scary if you think about it. This man, blatantly harassing and mildly stalking me in public, was not some random dude, he had been in charge of my safety until seconds ago. What if I had taken that bus at night? What if the bus had been empty? He probably wouldn’t have done anything, but how can you be sure? Am I supposed to trust him? Thank god it was 3 in the afternoon, because if anything had happened to me, it would have been my fault, you know, for going out alone wearing tight jeans and a tank top.

  76. I wanted to toss around the idea of ‘being a victim’ or ‘acting the victim’ that a poster above brought up.

    You can take precautions to avoid dangerous scenarios but in general those precautions are ones that nobody would expect men to follow. The truth of the matter is that rape, cat calls, groping, harassment, stalking- they’re all meant to challenge your right to be outside of your home and in public. It’s not about what you wore, what you did, or where you were- its really about the fact you’re not at home darning socks for a man. If you’re a woman in a public space that means you’re public property.

    Everytime a well-meaning person tells a woman ‘you shouldn’t be out after dark’ or ‘you should wear that’ or ‘don’t be a victim…take self-defense classes’ or ‘don’t flirt’- we’re supporting a rape culture because the onus of the blame is on the behavior of the woman rather than the predator.

    Hell, we had two female pharmD students drown one night at 2am during a flood because a cab driver refused to drive to their door. Now, the real problems were a) the cab driver b) storm drains that are large enough for a grown ass adult to be washed into. I shit you not, the week after their deaths people were asking ‘well what were two young ‘girls’ doing out that late drinking anyway?’ .

    One of my biggest pet peeves in my research is how women in male dominated workplaces are basically told how to avoid getting themselves ‘into trouble.’ Invariably the solutions revolve around limiting a woman’s mobility and limiting their socializing with men. The onus for preventing rape and harassment is on the women rather than saying ‘this shit isn’t going to be tolerated.’

    And for those of you who are in academia and facing harassment, please say something to somebody. It is damned hard to fire anybody in the university setting so generations of students may find themselves in the same scenario as you because nobody said anything. I won’t even recount my own examples of this but I do have two words for you- Harold Bloom. The fucker is still at Yale and people are still licking his ball sack even though one of our most celebrated third wave feminists have said categorically ‘he sexually harassed me and he’s continued to harass other during his tenure at this university’. Even if you put an anonymous package in a supervisors mailbox with various examples of good sexual harassment policies you would be putting a bee in their bonnet.

    The one thing that I truly appreciated about working for giant white collar, multi-national corporations was that sexual harassment policies were very clear. So when old school white men complain about not knowing how to act around female coworkers and whether or not to compliment them on their dress- you’d better believe that means something is is going right with the sexual harassment policies. Maybe its not going to actually change attitudes but it at least gives the message that you’re going to lose your job if you make people feel uncomfortable.

  77. I appreciate hearing about “Protecting the Gift.” I was looking it up, and went next to “Beauty Bites Beast,” which also looks like a great book.

  78. The real pisser is trying to figure out what level of no will get someone to stop, and what level of no will cause someone to beat the crap out of me. Behind the cultural pressure to “be nice” is the threat “or else”.

    If you speak up too loudly, you’re a bitch, or you’re over reacting, or you’re “making a big deal out of nothing”, or you’re just looking for attention.

    The next bit is triggering and full of potty words.

    I got raped by a guy I knew. I’d blown him, and I probably would have boinked him before that if we’d gotten together when I wasn’t on the rag. Pardon the coarseness, but I don’t want people to think I had any emotions for the guy, he was an acquaintance with benefits. I wouldn’t say I trusted him, I knew him, we’d had fun before, whatever. So we bump into each other on the public bus and he grabs ahold of my bag and won’t let go. I told him to let go, but I was trying not to “make a scene”, not only because I was behaving like I’d been socialized to, but he was a compactly muscled em-effer and could have hit me pretty hard before someone intervened. He used my social conditioning and our physical disparity to lure me off of that bus and take me to his house (a block up) while still holding my bag. Once there he physically overpowered me and raped me.

    Pretty much from that day on I’ve been at a default 5 on the rage-o-meter. I’m pissed off at everyone who ever told me to lower my voice or to be nicer. I’m still pissed off at myself for not risking a public beat down. After reading The Gift of Fear I’m pissed off that the book wasn’t around when I was young and impressionable. Now in hindsight I can see where he used the toolkit of a predator to socially engineer me right where he wanted. I see the warning signs, I know what to look for. It shouldn’t have been up to me to “say it clearer”, it should have been up to him to not over-ride my no. For that matter, it shouldn’t have been up to me not to have casual sex, if casual sex was something that pissed him off he could have kept his pants on. All the other fuck buddies I’d had before him seemed to be able to handle basic human interaction without resorting to rape.

    All those people who think rape is somehow gray, what the hell is wrong with them? If a woman isn’t saying yes, enthusiastically, to whatever you want to do, that’s a pretty clear signal ur doing it rong!

  79. The truth of the matter is that rape, cat calls, groping, harassment, stalking- they’re all meant to challenge your right to be outside of your home and in public.

    @Fatsmartchick, I understand what you’re trying to say, but women are raped in their own homes. By family members, by acquaintences, by their family’s acquaintences.

    Women are not raped because they dare to go outside. Women are raped because a rapist decided to rape them.

  80. Maybe I’m lucky – or naive – but despite knowing the statistics on rape, I’m still taken aback at the number of women posting here who have been raped. I came very close once, on St. Patrick’s day several years ago. Luckily, he was even drunker than I was and passed out before anything could happen. I got the hell out of there.

    Regardless of where it happens, my belief is that catcalling, harassment, groping, and rape are about domination. They’re about putting us “in our place” and making us feel as though men control us.

  81. @meems: “You need to stop talking to me. Now.”

    Yes. I have started to do just this. I was being followed on a pedestrian bridge from a rail station to a fairly deserted bit of industrial wasteland and across to a busy road. Some guy was giving me a whole lot of dreck. He could walk a lot faster than I could, so I stopped. I looked him in the face. And said “You are not saying another word to me. I am going to stand here and watch you walk off this bridge and across the street. Then I am going to leave, and I am going to have my cell phone in hand the whole time. Now go away.”

    So he went.

    And while I was fully prepared to drop the heavy bag I was carrying and lose the long wool coat I had on, all the more easily to take off running if he kept talking, I am so, so glad he did what I said.

    It was the second time I’d been harassed in this way in the city where I was living. When I told some friends what had happened (again), they all look mildly bemused (again), and commented nothing like that had happened to *them* before (as if somehow that meant it hadn’t happened to me???).

    This post, Kate’s post, and Fugitivus’ post should be required reading.

  82. Thank you so much for this eye-opening post. I mean, my life experiences have dictated how much our society really hates women in spite of how “far” we’ve come. I feel awful for all the people here who posted about their horrible experiences…I’ve been harassed COUNTLESS times on the streets and subways, at work, going out, you name it. I’ve had lewd comments about my body yelled at me whether I’m in a business suit, a going-out oufit, or a fucking baggy t-shirt and sweatpants. And we’re just conditioned to fucking accept it as “normal” and we’re being “uppity” and “overly PC” by speaking out against it. It’s demeaning and dehumanizing and it doesn’t take a Nobel prize winner to figure it out. Hardly any of my male friends seem to understand this either. If I mention some of the disgusting things said to me they get like “Oh I never heard of anything like that happening”. And if I ask them that if they’d accept these things happening to their wives, girlfriends, daughters, mothers, and well…female friends like myself…they just say I’m seeing and hearing things that aren’t there. And it’s dismissed as “angry riot grrrl bullshit”. And I SO hear some of you on the “take it as a compliment” BS. Arrgh! It’s NOT a fucking compliment. These hateful sexists need to mind their fucking business. And I KNOW it’s there. I’ve fucking lived it, and I’m clearly not the only one…and judging from these other posts, this problem isn’t restricted to urban areas.Living in fear is the reaction they want…a reaction I refuse to give.

  83. I read this post today at work, and immediately thought of my 4 year old daughter, who is small and, like her dad, slender and muscular. She can be a total pain in the butt, and shouts loudly “no” when there’s something she doesn’t want to do. Sometimes she sulks when she doesn’t get her way, but she doesn’t take any shit when someone tries to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do. I feel pressured to make her more polite, and to “respect authority,” but she doesn’t get into trouble at preschool/daycare and generally plays well with others, boys and girls, and she’s not afraid of playing with the rougher boys, she just keeps her distance if things get rougher than she likes. I call her SuperheroPrincess — and she loves princess things (and I feel queasy when she plays Sleeping Beauty — oy) but she’s definitely got some superhero in her, too.
    The next time she is being tough and strong and defiant with me, I’m going to try to remember that I want to preserve that in her, that it’s far better than the alternative, especially since she’s probably going to be smaller than most of the other kids her age for the rest of her life. Yes, it is a pain in the ass, but I want her to practice standing up for herself, and it doesn’t mean she always gets what she wants, but that she’s allowed to fight.

  84. This post and the comments were somewhat triggering for me, so I decided to de-lurk to talk about it. About eleven years ago, I was in an abusive relationship. I still blame myself for everything. For not knowing what was going on, for not fighting back, for putting up with it when he stood there laughing while I sat in the corner crying, for not saying no more loudly or something like that. I can hear the voices of all the people I told about what happened who said, oh that’s not that bad. And I have never been able to forgive myself for being so upset about it, for letting it affect me so much.

    And, in the last eleven years, I’ve never been able to trust a man enough to have an actual relationship. Never got close.

    And the other odd or incredible thing is that, ever since this experience 11 years ago, I don’t seem to experience the kind of harassment that every other woman seems to experience. (Or maybe I’m so turned off to men that I don’t notice it.) And, incredibly perversely, I see this as some kind of failing of mine, that I’m not enough of a woman to be treated like a woman by the world. Even when being treated like a woman in this context would mean being degraded and treated badly.

    Which I realize has gone off topic. But what do you do? How do you be a woman in this society when behaving as women are socialized to do can lead to such horrible consequences? How do you be a woman in this society when womanhood is defined by ill-treatment by others?

  85. I feel like a weirdo now for doing this, but when I feel threatened by somebody, particularly if it’s a matter of feeling like I’m being followed on the street or in a store, or if I’m in a waiting room and some guy is leering at me, I respond by being friendly. Not at all in a flirty way, but in what I hope is a “Let’s deal with each other as two human beings” way. I’ll just ask, in as straightforward and friendly a way as I can, if they need help finding something, or if they are looking for a particular street, or just how their day is going. And, at least for me, I’ve found this usually works, both to dispel my fear and to get the other person to start dealing with me as a person. I do think it sometimes disarms a person who is trying to elicit a response that’s either sexual or fearful from you if you just refuse to do either and respond in a way that they aren’t prepared for. Certainly being curt (the “you need to stop talking to me” thing) would work, too, but I’m not a curt person, with anybody. I’m a friendly person, even with strangers, and I guess I just figure that I’ll try, if possible, to set the tone for how the person will interact with me. It usually seems to work out very well.

    I guess I’m just always interested in how to diffuse tense or even potentially dangerous situations in ways that are not going to involve or escalate violence. (I’m certainly not saying that there isn’t a time for forcefully resisting another person, at all, just that for me personally it would be preferable to diffuse the situation before it got to that point, if possible.) And, while I’m sure this is because I’m mainly an idealistic pacifist, I do think that responding to a person who is dehumanizing you in a way that shows them that you are seeing them as a person can be one way to potentially disarm somebody. Obviously I’m talking about situations where somebody is talking to you or looking at you in inappropriate ways, not attacking you physically, but in those less dangerous situations, I do think it’s one potentially useful way to handle it. I guess I’m just both not willing to write anybody off, no matter how awful they might be, and I’m also not happy letting an interaction with somebody else remain one that’s tense and demeaning if I can potentially do something to change it..

  86. meems – US rate is 1 out of 6 women. Globally it’s estimated at 1 out of 4. *vomits more*

    cereta’s post about men and rape has gotten over 4,000 responses and a good portion are women who were moved to tell the story of the guy who wasn’t That Guy, along with the stories of the That Guys who did step up when it was needed. The comments on that post were among the most awe-inspiring and humbling things I’ve ever read on the internet.

    I forgot to say earlier, I’ve absolutely had those moments where I think “thank God I’m fat so I’m safe. No rapist would target someone as ugly as me.” There are no words for how fucked up that reasoning is, not to mention that the premise is untrue since women are not raped only according to how sexy they are but because they are women and a man decided to rape them, but that kind of fucked up logic just defies description really.


  87. @DRST – Horrifyingly, I actually thought it was higher – maybe it varies by age group or I confused it with rates for any unwanted sexual advances.

    And I read cereta’s post.

    It takes a lot of me to find something triggering, but that brought back some memories I’ve really been avoiding of the last guy I dated for any period of time. I didn’t specifically invite him back to my apartment, but it had been a good date, and we were talking, so I let him walk me home. And then didn’t know how not to invite him up.

    I made it very clear that I was not having sex with him and despite that he kept trying. Finally, we both fell asleep. When he tried again the next morning, I just didn’t feel like dealing with it, so I let him, even though I didn’t want to.

    And, you know, I still don’t think he’s a bad person. Clueless, yes. But I really don’t think his intent was even to overpower me. I think he just didn’t get it.

  88. I just don’t know what to say. This post…and the ensuing comments….just….well….trigger doesn’t even begin to define it for me. At the age of 43, I can reference probably thousands of events I have been personally involved in, have witnessed others involved in, and worse yet, seen or heard happen to my daughters/nieces/sisters/aunts/cousins. I am certain I am not alone, nor am I finished being a witness.

    There are tears of loss and grief in my eyes now that flow from a pain I almost cannot bear. Recent pains, and ancient ones. It seems endless. Seeing this fuckery being passed on to the next generation lashes at the wounds with such force that I feel like I’m drowning.

    The most recent incident I have witnessed involved my 23 year old daughter and a god damn fucking homeless man. My 23 year old daughter, who just finished nursing school and is working as a scrub nurse in the biggest state run hospital in the state……caring for those who have little to no insurance. My daughter, who happens to have large breasts, leaving the hospital to catch the bus home to her loving husband. My daughter and a fucking homeless drunk, who staggers out of an alley smelling of booze and his own piss at the precise time my daughter exits the hospital where she helped perform the amputation of another homeless man’s foot…..scrubbed his leg to ready him for surgery, carried his severed foot from the operating table, irrigated his wounds and handed the surgeon his instruments. My daughter gets asked by the staggering, drunken homeless man…..if he can suck her titties. A MOTHER FUCKING HOMELESS MAN thinks he has the RIGHT…the FUCKING PRIVILEGE to suckle at her breast BECAUSE HE’S A MAN WHO WANTS IT. And THEN SNEERS at her when she tells him to GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM HER.

    It’s all just……so…..I don’t even know how to express it.
    I just want to make it better for everyone, including myself. But the task seems so big…almost insurmountable. I’m trying to see change….to keep the hope alive that change is coming. I inform, educate, point out, speak up, confront, argue, opinionate, express, compare, call out, send up mother fucking flares to the men that matter in my life (and even those who don’t) whenever I see misogynistic behaviors coming from them or others. I don’t know what else to do except cling to the hope that change is just around the corner…coming down the pike….eyes will be opened.

    I have to.

    Love and healing to you all.

  89. Wow. Usually I consider myself lucky to have escaped the kind of sexual assault that so many of my friends have survived, but reading that post gave me a vivid flashback to the relationship I had when I was fifteen. I remember at one point we were in bed together, but I wasn’t participating at all; he just humped me until he came. I felt really uncomfortable about it, but I didn’t tell him so. Even he said he felt like he was using me, but I told him repeatedly that it was fine and I liked it, despite secretly agreeing. Even when specifically asked, I couldn’t tell him that I didn’t want it.

    Thank you for this post.

  90. Wow is all I have to say. I will be thinking about this post for years probably.

    This post really makes everything that I’ve been dealing with in regards to not trusting men make complete sense in a way that nothing else has.

    Trigger Warning!!!

    I remember my very first week of college, I went to a dance and had loads of fun. The next day, a good looking at the school approached me, said that he had noticed me at the dance and would I like to go out with him some time? I was beyond flattered. Now I know better, because I spent the date we went on dreaming up every possible way to not be raped and yet still be nice. Thank God he let me out of his car, because I would not stop saying that I did not want to go to his room. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I went to his room that I would be raped from the way he had been behaving all evening. That was my introduction to college life. When I told one of my male “friends” about what happened, especially during the ride home, when he started tickling me, which caused me to fall down (I am uber ticklish!), when he “accidentally” fell on top of me and for a few terrifying seconds I thought he wasn’t going to get off, even though I was telling him to…my male friend simply asked me why I hadn’t slapped the guy. Because despite everything that the guy did, it was still all my fault for being violent enough, when being “nice” is what I’ve been conditioned all my life to be. Besides that, I was scared-I was afraid if I did speak out more violently, then he would punish me much more violently too. My friend just had/has no clue what he was asking me to do.
    Now what I really hate is how I get harassed by my customers. I’ve worked many jobs in retail and while I’m much better at saying no to men in general, how does one push away unwanted attention -as extreme as the guy who spread his legs and asked me to “sit in his lap” at the store, because he knew he could do it when the shoe dept. was at the back of the store with only one worker. Guidelines are very clear when it comes to office harassment at retail, I’ve found, but not when it comes to the customers, which is why I’m quitting my job.

  91. I don’t have time to read the comments before work, but I feel like I have to say that this sort of scared me in how deeply it resonated…with respect to how I feel at *work*. I (and other women) feel like my boss treats men and women in different ways, many subtle but some not very subtle. I have been told by more than one person that *even if it’s true* that I “shouldn’t make [my current situation] about sexism” and just finish my job so I can be done and move on to my new job, in a new place with a new boss. I think I know now why I felt so weird saying that I wasn’t making a big deal out of it, I’m just doing my job and not trying to create trouble, I promise. I’m not prepared at the moment to think about how this may reach into other areas of my life.

    So – thanks for posting this, SM!

  92. thank you so much for this post, SM, and the conversation, all (I’m about halfway through reading the comments). I love this forum…. every time I come here I feel like I’m stepping into such a lovely, supportive group of people :)

    This reminds me of an incident that happened a few days ago. I was coming back to work from my lunch break, and it started raining…not just raining but the sky opened up and I was completely drenched after walking a half a block. I decided to hide out under the nearest alcove I could, the only dry place on the entire street. Some guy came and was standing there with me. It wasn’t long before he started to talk to me and the conversation started innocently enough. I didn’t want to seem “mean” or “classist” or “racist” so I talked to him even though he was giving off a big time creeper vibe… well it wasn’t long before he asked for my number and I explained that I have a boyfriend so I couldn’t give it… and then he started asking me the most vulgar and lewd personal questions about the sex acts I do with my boyfriend, commenting on my body shape (which was on display, as you remember, because of my wet clothing), etc etc etc. And I had to decide whether to stay there in the only dry place on the street, listening to it and trying to tell him the questions made me uncomfortable, or to escape. I finally took off into the rain.

    For me, what is scariest is passing by a group of men and there is a definite racial component to that. From white men I expect insults on how I look, which is something that has happened many times in my life. one time when I was about 13 my mom was bringing me home from a doctor’s appt and we pulled up next to a bus of highschool boys. They were all looking at me through the window so I looked up coquettishly. then they opened the bus window and informed me that I “look like a man.” I have also had white men yell at me from passing cars that I am ugly. When I pass a group of black or hispanic men I immediately brace myself for being catcalled – and I recognize that this is a gross and horrible stereotype, and it’s something I am working on, and I know consciously that it’s not true… but breaking down the defenses I’ve instinctively put in place, since I was a preadolescent, is really hard. its all f’d up. So that’s my story.

  93. Oh, God, I am sorry, all of you, that have been attacked by men. That have had men attack you. There is nothing – NOTHING – that you did, said, or thought that made you deserving of that. Men rape because we live in a society that does not want to deal with the fact that men rape.

    I see it happen too much, I’ve experienced it, and I wrote in my journal today that I’m done. I no longer care what strangers think of me, I’m done putting up with patriarchal bullshit that says I have to put up with random guys who think they have a right to me just because they want me. This includes that creepy “I was just giving you a compliment” level of demanding my attention –

    Because it’s not about paying a compliment, I’ve gotten those before and know the difference. The “compliment” is a demand that I pay attention to them and keep paying attention to them, and they can stuff it. I’m done. *rage*

  94. Meems – oh crap, I’m sorry. I didn’t think to put a trigger warning on that link. I guess I was thinking pretty much the entire thread falls under the one in the post. :(


  95. I haven’t been able to put any of my feelings about this into words so I’ve been sitting on them. The thought that keeps coming back to me, and I don’t want it to, is that I’m so relieved I’m raising sons, not daughters. Which is a horrible and myopic and NIMBYist thing to think. But that’s what I keep thinking. Because I don’t trust that I’d be able to help daughters navigate this shit and come out alive and unharmed.

    Regina T, I’m… worried I’m about to screw this up. So I’ve just said I don’t have daughters, which means my ability really to empathize with your situation is so limited. That said… if I had a daughter and someone said that to her, my first impulse would be to want to rip his entrails out and stuff them up his nostrils, then hire a comet to crash directly onto him, and then come and dance and pee on the ashes. (I’m not saying that’s GOOD, I’m saying that’s what I’d think first. Maybe some day it won’t be, or maybe it will, but feelings are feelings so there they are.)

    Here’s the part where I fear I’m risking upbraiding you just for being uncensored in a vulnerable moment, but I also don’t want to shirk moderating duties. When I read what you wrote, it read to me like you were ridiculing and shaming this man for being homeless, on top of being a leering sexually-harassing fuckwad.

    If nobody else read it that way, and if you didn’t mean it that way, I’m open to hearing I was wrong. In any case, I do understand that our moments of rage aren’t exactly screened… and certainly when my emotions are running high what comes out of my mouth doesn’t always make me proud or represent the best of my progress in checking my privilege and being anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-classist, anti-ableist, and anti-heterosexist.

    But I also wince at the suggestion that, while no men are supposed to sexually harass women; men who are drunk and smelly and don’t have nice clothes and possibly don’t have homes are EXTRA forbidden from being harassers. Because I expect what we all want to say is, first, that men shouldn’t sexually harass women because it’s WRONG, because women in fact don’t exist solely for the possession and exploitation of men… But, second, that it’s not wrong to be poor or homeless. Right?

    And now I’m going to hit “submit comment” and find that someone else has said this better than I, during the twenty minutes I’ve been composing this. :) Happens every time.

  96. Wonderful timing, as a friend and I were just having THIS VERY CONVERSATION, and of course I had forgotten about Kate’s post.

  97. @DRST – I hope I didn’t make you feel bad! I would have read it even if there had been a trigger warning. According to my therapist, while I might use them more than I should have to, I have really good coping skills :)

  98. I was drunk at the time so everyone else seemed to think I was crazy (especially the guy), but it just made me less afraid to call him on invading her space.

    SM, I did not think you were crazy. I think most of us were impressed that you had the nerve to say something! I thought it was awesome. And then Lucinda gave him the 2EAT number.

    It was a benign situation for which I am grateful, but it was terrifying at the time. Afterwards, when I told the story, I laughed and laughed and tried to forget how much I hated it. If I could laugh than it wasn’t scary, right? The worst part is I let that guy ruin a perfectly good night. All because I didn’t know how to fight.

    Sarah B, that isn’t a benign situation, and while not knowing how to speak up is paralyzing and that’s horrible, and that makes it feel like you could have avoided the situation, you probably couldn’t have. If you had fought him off, you very likely would have been punished in a different way. Also: your story reminds me of why all girls should be taught the Loser Dance.

    Changing our daughter’s diaper forced him to see a vagina (literally!) that needed protection.

    This… makes me really uncomfortable. Vaginas don’t need protection. People do.

    Lori, that might be a useful approach, sure. But the point is that you should never have to disarm anyone, so it’s not like telling someone who is threatening or harrassing you to “fuck off” is inappropriate.

    Meems, the rate of sexual assault varies a lot with race in the U.S. And no, that guy was not a good person. It’s more than “clueless” to repeatedly ignore clear refusals and keep trying. That’s not treating you like a human being.

  99. A Sarah, I agree. A man who would do that is a horrible person, period. It’s irrelevant that he’s homeless, and even more irrelevant that the woman was helping other homeless people as though they are a single community or body that can be grouped together. And the tone… well, Regina, it kind of sounded like you were saying it takes extra nerve to sexually harrass a woman who is so far above you in class status. But really it just takes a marginal amount of nerve for any man to harrass any woman in a society that reinforces and rewards that behavior, you know?

  100. Reading this post and comments has been so cathartic, you wouldn’t believe. This thing that happened to me is so small that I even hesitate to tell it, but at the time I had such a bad feeling about the guy that I get shaky remembering it even now.

    About three months ago I was on a day cruise with my mom. On the way back, we were sitting at a table with an extra chair, and while I was napping, a guy joined us, against my mom’s protests. At first he was reasonably friendly if annoying, but the more he drank the cheep beer he had brought from the cruise’s destination, the louder he became. At one point, he shouted my mom down because her point in the discussion was “stupid”.

    Mom wanted him to leave as much as I did, but indicated it TO HIM only in the friendliest tones, even half joking, and of course he wouldn’t budge. Finally, when she was on the deck for a smoke I suddenly had enough and pitched a fit. He wouldn’t leave until I had yelled at him, made everyone around take notice and threatened to call the security – and I don’t know if he still would’ve left if the two bodybuilder-types in the next table hadn’t started to take keen interest in the happenings.

    He went only as far as the next table, where he complained loudly what a crazy bitch I was and that the scene had come from nowhere after we had had such a nice time. He seemed to have no recollection of the about dozen times he’d been asked to leave. The woman at the table gave the evil eye to us the rest of the trip – I don’t know it was because of my bad behaviour or because she felt I had inflicted the moocher on them.

    In the terminal back home mom heard a couple of women talking. The guy travels on the same ship every day, making trouble with women travelling without men. The company has had many complaints about him, but do nothing.

    And yet, all this time, I’ve felt a stab of guilt every time I remember the scene I caused. I’ve been blaming myself for not removing the chair when we chose the table. I’ve been blaming mom because she wasn’t more assertive with him from the beginning. I’ve come up with a million things I could’ve done differently.

    No more. I had every right to stand for myself and mine, and I will not be ashamed of it. I’m going to tell it to mom today, and say I’m sorry for blaming her for behaving like she’s been taught to behave for fifty years.

    I don’t know how to thank you people, posters and commenters alike, for this community that has helped me so much in so many ways, even if I’m usually just a lurker.

  101. Thanks, A Sarah. Just to add to that, the rate of serious mental illness among the homeless is extraordinarily high. So when a homeless person makes a lewd, inappropriate comment (which absolutely does happen), I tend to assume it’s not because they think they have a right to, but because they are mentally ill. The same thing happens quite often with older men who have dementia. It’s not uncommon for them to become sexually aggressive in really disturbing ways. But it’s not that they think it’s right or that they have a right, but that they really don’t have control over what they are saying or doing.

    Of course, the reason severely mentally ill men or elderly men with dementia act out in those ways is partly related to our culture. I would tend to assume that, if we lived in a culture where men were conditioned to always treat women respectfully and not view them primarily as sex objects, then when something happened to cause a man to lose the ability to consciously regulate his behavior, he wouldn’t end up harassing and groping women. But, even though I think the culture is partly to blame for that kind of behavior, I still don’t think in those cases the individual man should be vilified, because they really don’t have the ability, at that point in their lives, to make better choices.

    Just to add, this is ENTIRELY different from excusing somebody because they are drunk. The lack of control over one’s behavior that comes with severe mental illness or dementia is really different from that which comes with getting drunk. I’m just talking about the latter cases, where a person is suffering from a brain disorder that makes regulating their behavior extremely difficult or impossible. Having watched one of my grandfathers act out in all sorts of inappropriate ways when he was in the mid stages of Alzheimer’s, I would be hesitant to paint all lewd behavior with the same brush. I do think it can all be a symptom of the same problem–a society in which men are conditioned from a very young age to disrespect women–but there’s a huge difference in the level of responsibility a man catcalling a woman as he drives to work and a dementia patient groping a female volunteer (or a mentally ill homeless person yelling lewd comments to passerbys) have.

  102. A Sarah, you’re not the only one who was bothered by the apparent homeless-hating in Regina T’s comment. I was struggling with how to express it, too. I certainly understand the rage, but the extra emphasis on the fact that the man was homeless did bother me.

  103. I just want to clarify again that I’m NOT excusing lewd and abusive behavior in the vast majority of cases. And, I’m not even sure I’m “excusing” it in the case of severe mental illness and dementia. I’m just coming from the place of having seen my mother and her sister absolutely devastated watching their father, who had never been anything but respectful to them and to women their whole lives, go through a period of a few months where he was making sexually inappropriate comments to everybody, including them. Of everything that happened while he was dying of Alzheimer’s, I think that was probably the most difficult for his kids. And while I do think it spoke to how men are socialized and how problematic that is, I just can’t see it as an indictment of my grandfather as a human being.

  104. I thought I knew what rape was until I read some of these posts. As I sit here, I realize that I was raped. Not violently, or with great force, but I said no and the sex happened anyway. It’s hard to even type those words.
    I met someone online and then met in person. We flirted and made out.. I said no when it progressed, but he didn’t listen. When it happened I didn’t think it was his fault. I went there, and met him , so it was my fault, right? After reading about the passive acceptance that we’ve been taught (consciously or otherwise) a cold chill came over me and I was right back in that place.
    It’s been over 2 years, but every time an image came to my mind about that night, I felt ashamed and responsible for what happened. If I hadn’t gone there, hadn’t kissed him, etc. it wouldn’t have happened. I would have never told anyone what happened because I accepted the blame in my own mind and sealed it off. I put myself in that situation, so it has to be my fault. wow..

    When you’re taught that anything bad that happens to you is your fault, it’s pretty hard to think otherwise.

  105. A Sarah, I also agree. Volcanista’s comment was exactly how I felt when I read it.

    My general comment on this thread:

    Reading things like this…they both help and make me never want to leave the house. I’ve been cat-called and all that jazz. I had a coworker once who liked to hug me or corner me. I once had a kid on a bicycle ride slightly ahead of me on the street telling me I was pretty and asking me to go out with him. Once on vacation these guys slipped their business card under the door of the room my friend and I were sharing; we heard them waiting in the hall to see if we would open it. I was even groped by a guy at a show once while my (at the time) best friend encouraged him and than called me hysterical for feeling violated.

    But knowing there is much more, and much worse, that could happen…it chills me. Last night, I went searching to see if the college where I will be starting grad school in a month has a campus security escort service (it does), because though I will most likely be traveling with a friend, we will be leaving late sometimes and it is a longish walk to the train and we couldn’t protect each other much. I start thinking about carrying pepper spray with me, wondering if I could use it, wondering what would happen if someone got it away from me. And then I start wondering if maybe I should just finally give up altogether on the idea of dating, as that is where I would most likely be attacked anyway.

    Obviously there has to be a balance, life v. fear, but when you hear these stories, I wonder if it might be worth it to let fear win a little.

  106. Re: “I’m glad I don’t have daughters because I don’t know how to protect them”: I’m not a parent, so I know I can’t fully understand how scary it can be. But, I have to admit I also get uncomfortable when I hear this. Yes, as women we’re vulnerable to lots of shit, physical and mental, that men aren’t. But men are more likely to *become* violent, to be mugged or murdered. This isn’t “what about the men” – it’s just to point out that parents know about these threats to their sons but don’t translate it into the all-pervasive fear we do with daughters. Again, this is not to fault ANYONE who feels this, just a bigger phenomenon that’s worth thinking about, I think.

    As SM said upthread, it’s hard to know how to balance the very real fear and not teaching daughters to be fearful every moment – which, as was also pointed upthread, can actually getting the way of helping us stay safe.

  107. @Rowdygirl, that was not your fault. If it’s still effecting you, I’m a big proponent of therapy.

    @Volcanista, you know, you’re probably right. The earlier (St. Patrick’s day) day situation was more clear cut, but with this, it was early in the morning and I just didn’t have the wherewithal to keep saying “no.” I remember feeling really dirty after, but he probably thought I’d given consent.

    And there are a fair number of homeless people living near where I live (as well as a shelter – plenty of my friends work there, actually), and every nasty, disgusting comment I’ve gotten has come from other sources. Mostly men in cars. The homeless guys around here might call me “beautiful” as though it were my name sometimes, but they’re not leering or crude – and they really don’t know my name. Actually, they’re all pretty respectful.

  108. I completely understand people’s discomfort with Regina’s post. However, I got something else out of her emphasis on the social position of her daughter’s harasser. If Regina had been talking about her son, not her daughter, the harasser’s actions would have been a violation of norms about social class. However, some men believe that their maleness alone entitles them to make demands of any and all women. The odds are pretty good that no matter how much you achieve or how good a person you are, you are never going to be able to expect the level of deference men experience as a birthright.

  109. Lori, that might be a useful approach, sure. But the point is that you should never have to disarm anyone, so it’s not like telling someone who is threatening or harrassing you to “fuck off” is inappropriate.

    I totally agree. But, unfortunately, we are often put in situations where somebody is acting in inappropriate ways. For me, when men are being lewd and harassing to women, the root of that is dehumanization. And, I do think that the most effective way to challenge dehumanization–assuming that you are not in physical danger–is to recognize and respond to the humanity of the person dehumanizing you. It’s really hard, I think, to keep on dehumanizing a person who is relating to you as a human being, although that could just be me being overly idealistic about the effectiveness of non-violent resistance strategies.

    So I do agree that “Fuck off” is a useful way to end the interaction, and if you are feeling in danger, a good wayt o get out of the situation. But I also think it leaves the other person thinking, “Sex object rejected me.” I’m not sure anything has happened in the interaction to change the idea that the woman is nothing more than a potential sexual conquest. And, while the onus should NOT in a fair world be on women to be the ones to change the interaction, unfortunately I think in reality that’s how it often will be, as is usually the case with the oppressed party in a situation.

    But, again, this is coming from somebody who has read too much Gandhi and MLK really believes that it is possible, through how you respond, to eventually change the heart and mind of a person who is treating you in humiliating and dehumanizing ways.

  110. Ha, and of course lt commented while I was writing.

    I hadn’t thought closely about how it might feel to have a daughter and be protective of her in the world at large, but I know my dad is really struggling with all the shit being thrown at me online these days (described upthread for anyone who just joined the convo). He’s an extremely laid back person, while I’m intense. I’ve always given the impression that I can take care of things myself, and generally I prefer to do so. I’ve only seen my father angry once in my life before now, but his protective side is in full force. I don’t see my parents as often as I might like, but my mom says she’s never seen him this angry – my calm, pacifist father actually wants to physically injure whoever is writing about me.

    But he can’t do anything.

    I’m not a parent, but I think that what you can do is give your daughter the tools she needs to take care of herself, protect herself, and know when to ask for help. I’m extremely lucky that everyone in my life takes violence (physical or verbal) abuse against women very seriously, but there should always be at least one person who believes you and understands what’s going on.

  111. This speaks to me because of a situation on the bus this morning where a man under the influence was alternately discussing loudly how many female partners he’s had and hitting on the females on the bus, not taking no for an answer.

    Yuck. It makes me sad and sorry to hear you had to deal with that kind of deeply dysfunctional crap. When I read Fugitivus’s post, one of the major things that occured to me (aside from the fact that our casually misogynistic culture is a big stinking truckload of sick and wrong) is what a nightmare busses and bus-stops must be for women.

    Anyone male or female who subjected a young man to that kind of demented, aggressive behavior would quickly become the target for social opprobrium and ostracism. That the same consideration by society isn’t extended to women makes me long for a society in which The Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) is taught to children with the strong social expectation that it be observed.

    It isn’t a “liberal” or “conservative” thing, it isn’t a “religious” or “atheist” thing, or any of that label-y stuff. It’s just basic human decency. Why is basic human decency so unreasonable to expect?

  112. I read something on some stupid website in the comments, where they were discussing rape. Someone said to another person’s account of date rape “you weren’t raped if you didn’t fight back”.

    I didn’t fight back. But I have in fact fought with myself for years over whether I was raped. I knew I was, but I wouldn’t ever admit it publicly. This is my first time putting my name to my admission. My power was taken away, and the only thing I could think of was to stay still, to even let myself be “caressed”, until it was over. This post has helped me understand maybe a little bit more about myself, and my conditioning, as a woman who was in a horrible situation. Thank you… for posting this, for helping me.

  113. Why is basic human decency so unreasonable to expect?
    Some animals are more equal than others.

  114. But Peepers, classism between men is wrong, too, even if it’s more expected.

    It’s really hard, I think, to keep on dehumanizing a person who is relating to you as a human being, although that could just be me being overly idealistic about the effectiveness of non-violent resistance strategies.

    I think it is, a little, yeah. And while you say that you don’t want to put the onus of diffusing the situation on the potential victim, you kind of are doing that. The idea that we need to placate people who are threatening us is a huge part of the problem, as illustrated in a lot of the examples upthread.

    And also, Lori, while I feel a lot of compassion for your description of your grandfather… he was wrong. That he was not in his right mind doesn’t make him right, and doesn’t make it acceptable to suggest that the onus (again) is on the VICTIM to be compassionate and understanding about the person who is not treating them with respect. Even if the homeless man Regina was talking about was extremely mentally ill, so you can argue that his intent might have been more innocent, frankly, intent doesn’t matter. He still harrassed a woman, and it’s still completely unacceptable. The attacker should NOT BE PROTECTED.

  115. Re: “I’m glad I don’t have daughters because I don’t know how to protect them”: I’m not a parent, so I know I can’t fully understand how scary it can be. But, I have to admit I also get uncomfortable when I hear this.

    Oh, and to be sure, I think that it’s a regrettable thing for me to think and your being uncomfortable is a darn appropriate eaction! I’m very uncomfortable thinking “Thank God I don’t have daughters,” but it’s the feeling that keeps being there when I take stock of my feelings about this. Which is instructive for me, and worth probing further. What makes me most uncomfortable is the hint of, “Thank heaven my male children have that protective privilege. Now, if I successfully teach them to be anti-sexist, they probably won’t seriously suffer for it.”

    (Which isn’t even necessarily TRUE, because if they lived their lives in a way that truly threatened male heterosexual domination — whether by challenging heteronormativity, or challenging the gender binary, or both, or some combination thereof — then they might be *shudder* hurt or killed for it. And, what, it only matters if it’s MY kids being hurt? No no no no no. And yet, there the feelings are.)

    Anyway, it’s not comfortable for me to realize I think that, for all the reasons you mentioned plus these ones, above.

  116. As I said, the onus shouldn’t be on the victim, but we live in a world where often they are the only ones who want change. I think we’d be in an even worse place today, in regard to race relations, if some black activists weren’t willing to take the first step in changing how black-white interactions went.

    But, I’m not sure I agree that somebody’s intent or mental state doesn’t matter. That’s why we have categories in the law like “Not guilty by reason of insanity.” That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be consequences–like committing somebody to a mental hospital–for behavior that harms others, but intent does matter, and I absolutely think it should. The woman who drowns her three children because she is suffering from a delusion is different from a woman who drowns her three children because she’s tired of taking care of them, and a man who is harassing women because he is mentally ill is different from a man who is harassing women because he gets a thrill from doing it. But, then, I do feel it’s my job to be compassionate towards a homeless person who is clearly mentally ill who shouts harassment at me. That doesn’t mean I don’t also think it would be perfectly acceptable–and also better for the person–for them to be committed for inpatient treatment, but my response is going to be very different from my response to some guy who is staring at my breasts on the bus. I was pretty horrified and scared, when I first moved to Detroit, by the many homeless people here who say and do things that are inappropriate and unacceptable, but at this point it’s very difficult for me not to see them as being more of a victim than I am when they might harass me. That doesn’t mean the harassment itself is okay, and it would be wonderful if we lived in a society where people’s unregulated response to women wasn’t harassing, but it’s very hard for me not to think that the clearly ill person who doesn’t have a place to live who says something to me as I’m walking to work isn’t more of a victim of the incredibly damaging social hierarchy we live in than I am.

  117. I wish I knew what to say to everyone here who has survived rape, other than if anyone ever tells me they were raped or abused, my first impulse is to say, it wasn’t your fault.

    I’m glad I have a daughter, I would be glad to have a son, too. Different challenges. I’m fighting against my own socilizing tendencies every day with her.
    When I realized she was most likely going to grow up to be very conventionally pretty (which I wasn’t), I joked that I wanted her to be one of those girls who was friendly to other girls but bitchy and standoffish to the boys (no matter what gender she wants to partner with). I know this won’t protect her from the randomness of abuses from either gender, but I want her to react strongly and safely in the moment to whatever abuse is coming her way. I want her to utilize her senses and intelligence to respond to feelings of threat or fear, which is why I don’t minimize her fears now, but try to empower her to face them, with my support. I don’t want her to fear all men, but to know that if she feels threatened by anyone, she has a right to act in her own best defense, whether that means asking others for help, or confronting the person, if it’s safe enough to do so. She already has a pretty strong sense of what’s not safe, but at this age, she’s not always right (she wanted to float down a river with no life vest with her best friend, a boy her age. It’s my job to tell her no, and when she stomps around because she’s mad she can’t, just let her get over it.)
    On the Backyardigans, there’s an episode where the two female characters and one of the male characters are a small biker gang, and they are “rough, and tough, and good.” I remind my girl of that — you can be rough, and tough, and good.

  118. Gavin deBecker’s books are fantastic and well worth reading. My IMPACT class did me a world of good as well in my recovering from a long, emotionally abusive relationship where, yes, I learned to just lay back and take it rather than put up with whining and tantrums from the dude.

    Learning how to fight back physically was interesting, but all the practice on verbal self-defense was even better. I didn’t realize how much I had internalized the whole “don’t be threatening” female indoctrination until I had to practice behaving as if, ya know, I had a right to exist. (I am physically very unintimidating, but being good in school got me called out as “scary” many times.) Now asserting myself verbally is second nature, and I feel a lot better in general because it feels horrible to slink around as if I need permission to exist, and to take any crap a guy feels like handing out.

  119. I don’t have time to read through all the comments right now, but I want to say a whopping YES! THIS! to the entire article.

    About ten years ago, a male friend asked me in genuine confusion how a man can date rape a woman, and why so many women don’t fight back. I didn’t just knee him in the balls because a) he was actually trying to learn something about the social dynamics and b) I knew pretty well he would never hurt a fly…and not just in an ‘oh, I know this guy so he won’t hurt me’ way. He’s actually a fairly passive person himself.

    What got me was that I found myself unable to come up with an answer for the longest time. I mumbled something about surprise and feelings of betrayal. I felt a desperate need to get away from the conversation. And then it hit me. I had my answer.

    Going back through the mists of time, back when I was in seventh grade in the mid seventies, my girls’ gym class got a full HALF of ONE CLASS PERIOD discussing rape. Not health class where there were also boys who could be taught that this is wrong or what they can do to prevent the women they know and care about (or even random strangers) from being attacked, but girls’ gym. Not even a full class period, but half of one. We sat in a circle on the floor of the gym. There was no effort at teaching us self-defense moves. There was no effort to teach us how to turn the tables on an attacker. There was nothing about how to break a hold or how to find help or what thing to shout that might stop an attacker in his tracks or bring aid.

    No, thirty girls sat on the floor of the gym and were told that if a man ever attacked us, we were not to struggle, not to fight, not to say no. Why? Because then the asshole RAPING us might get angry and hurt us.

    And then we went back to playing badminton.

    It’s been more than thirty years, but I still seethe with fury when I think of that class. And guess what? Most of the women in that class went on to have children, whom they are raising…and I’m betting way too many of them never got a better lesson in how to stand up for themselves or how to value their own personhood. And I’m betting the boys never once had to hear the term ‘rape’ in a single class.

    My friend did wind up walking away from that conversation with a lot to think about, though.

  120. Reading these comments has helped me decide what to do about a problem that I wasn’t even really concious of. A guy I’d known about fifteen years ago, and who I’ve been in sporadic contact with, wrote a few days ago about wanting to visit me next week. This isn’t a bad guy, but he’s the kind of guy who “really likes hugs”. The kind of guy who has more than hinted that he’d like to date me. The kind of guy who held back on comments like that for a little while after I told him that I felt like he was pressuring me, but who still lets that intent creep into conversation every now and then. Usually with more slightly-creepy references to hugs.

    He’s fine as a long-distance friend, but I don’t want more from him, and I don’t want him to visit. But I hadn’t responded to his message one way or another because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

    Screw that. I don’t want him to visit. I’m not going to let him visit.

    Honestly, I will probably chicken out and not be as direct in communicating that to him as I’m being here, now. But I’m also going to cut myself some slack for not being Perfect in my response to him. I just don’t want him staying in my house.

    Thank you, all, for letting me see this problem as a very low-level version of what is being discussed here — the need to define and maintain our own boundaries.

  121. For the record, while I understand why it’s a relief for the parents who are spared the inherent fear and struggle to teach their daughters how to navigate this world, I hope all of you who are raising sons are raising them not just to not be sexist but that they’ll understand from an early age what it is like to be a woman in this culture. Rape culture isn’t going to go away because women hate it. It won’t stop until a generation of men comes along that feels as strongly that this is wrong. And that starts with raising sons who not only wouldn’t rape a woman but who will tell other men not to, who will act rather than look away when they see this happening, and generally be That Guy.

    Lori – I’m really uncomfortable with a lot of what you’re saying. I know your intention is positive, but I have a big problem with telling women that they need to be more understanding and compassionate. I don’t. I do not need to stop and wonder if the homeless guy screaming sexual epithets at me is mentally ill. I need him to shut up. More importantly, I need all the other men and women around me to recognize the wrongness of the situation.

    Every time someone argues that harassment is situational rather than systemic or offers these kinds of caveats that there are exceptions, it weakens and derails the discussion about how endemic this is. There are no exceptions where this is okay. The intention of the person doing the harassing is irrelevant, it’s still not okay. Yes, the legal system allows for insanity, but we’re not talking about courtrooms, we’re talking about streets and homes where harassment of women isn’t considered unusual or wrong, where assaults (physical and verbal) proceed because people turn away or don’t speak up even though they know it’s wrong. I don’t care what issues are at work – it needs to be stopped and objected to every single time.

    The last thing a woman being harassed on a street needs to hear is someone coming up to her and telling her “Why don’t you have more compassion for that poor man? Can’t you see he’s sick?”

    Not to mention, how can you tell? Not every homeless man is ill. Where’s the line? Is a compassionate response required when you think a guy harassing you might be ill? What if he’s just drunk? What if he’s just an asshole?

    Also I’m not appreciating you equating a mentally ill woman drowning her own kids, which is enormously rare, to women being sexual harassed by men, which is so common almost everyone has gone through it. One of these things is a rare act that is one of the ultimate taboos of our culture, the other is “just the way the world is” and coming up with exceptions and excuses not to draw a hard line seems to be to be counterproductive.


  122. @Lori: I am glad your approach of recontextualizing an interaction has worked.

    Incidentally, idealism and mainly pacifism are in my MO (not not being curt). But I want to make a case for the route meems and I go.

    I taught in a corrections facility for men for a year and learned many valuable lessons there (from dealing with some COs as much as with some inmates, to be truthful and Foucault-ian about it).

    One is: Men who interact inappropriately with women- through context, history, socialization as well as through whatever personal baggage they have- often do not understand boundaries. And often, very often, no-mixed-messages, blunter than blunt communication is a relief for those of them who are consciously working on their issues.

    They know they are being taught to see what they cannot intuit. The link over at fugitivus and Kate’s first post point out we are socialized to accept behavior. Re-learning can and needs to happen in many ways. Blunt is one way, and it’s an effective “everybody can win in the right circumstances” way.

    There are men who learn that respect is attained through not backing down, through being assertive. They believe self-respect is expressed in those terms.

    So: “You need to leave me alone,” to them (and frankly, to me too!), is humanizing. “You need to back off because I will not talk to you” is “let’s deal like two equals.” Demonstrating I am capable of acting appropriately according to his world-view when I want my boundaries respected makes me feel empowered. I can (and do) defuse and recontextualize when I feel good about it. But sometimes the safe (er) option is option two.

    And really, removed from situations where one person is threatening another or taking advantage of them, asserting your preferences is no bad thing. It’s a good thing. It’s a thing on which strong relationships can be built.

  123. Rape culture isn’t going to go away because women hate it. It won’t stop until a generation of men comes along that feels as strongly that this is wrong. And that starts with raising sons who not only wouldn’t rape a woman but who will tell other men not to, who will act rather than look away when they see this happening, and generally be That Guy.

    This, this, a thousand times THIS.

    Many years ago, I was interviewed on GMA as a “typical rape survivor” — some study had come out demonstrating that freshman year of college was some sort of “danger zone” for date and acquaintance rape to occur, so my having been raped 1st-semester freshman year was kind of the perfect example for them.

    The story had this whole “sending your daughters off to college” spin on it, and I still viscerally remember the wave of indignation and disbelief I felt when the (famous, though I’ll be nice and not name names) reporter asked me “What should fathers be telling their daughters before they start college to help prevent this?”

    I said something in reply about how it’s not really a question of what we’re teaching our daughters to avoid rape, it’s what we need to teach our sons to prevent it.* Of course, that radical notion hit the cutting room floor and never saw the light of day.

    * Yes, an overly simplistic statement, but I was REALLY trying to be succinct enough to make the editing cut. To no avail. Grrr.

  124. DSRT, thank you for that comment . You articulate very well the discomfort I have with Lori’s approach, too, particularly this: Every time someone argues that harassment is situational rather than systemic or offers these kinds of caveats that there are exceptions, it weakens and derails the discussion about how endemic this is.

  125. @Meems, thank you. And I wanted to say that I hope very much you crush that jerk back into the dirt from whence he rose.

    @Twistie: “No, thirty girls sat on the floor of the gym and were told that if a man ever attacked us, we were not to struggle, not to fight, not to say no. Why? Because then the asshole RAPING us might get angry and hurt us.”

    Crap, you jogged my memory with this comment…I realized I was told exactly the same thing. And from multiple sources, at the very least — I remember having this kind of discussion at a camp I went to, and also in an all-girl’s health class. I came away with the impression that to fight back was “asking for” even more horrendous treatment.

    Never once was I taught how to fight back, or even that when you’re a certain age you should probably carry mace/pepper spray. It’s really ridiculous — especially considering that I was physically bigger (taller) than each of my three attackers, and could very probably have tossed them out a window if I wanted to. But no….like you, I was literally told not to fight back.

    When my little sisters get old enough, we’re going to have a talk…my parents won’t do it, but I sure as hell will. I don’t care what my parents will think of it. I’m going to pass on the lessons I learned the hard way.

  126. @AnthroK8, I also want to mention that telling someone that he needs to stop talking to me is not necessarily curt to the point of being rude. It’s simply direct, and can be done while still appearing polite.

  127. Rowdy girl- not your fault! Not your fault, not your fault, not your fault!

    NOT YOUR FAULT!!!!!!!!!!!

    He raped you. You said no, and he raped you. I’m SO sorry you have been blaming yourself for this. It is NOT YOUR FAULT!!!!

  128. Thanks, DSRT and SM. It is possible to both feel compassion for all other human beings, and to protect myself in no uncertain terms. Being firm and unswerving and assertive with other people is part of that. And when someone is punching me in the face, I could not care less if the reason is that they are mentally ill, drunk (which is, you know, temporarily mentally impaired — why is one more worthy of compassion than the other, anyway?), or so mean that they have no concept of other people’s suffering (which some would consider, uh, mentally ill). I don’t care if motive is part of how we dole out punishment in a court of law, because on a social level I can still mistrust and want to stay away from people who I find threatening, no matter what the reason. It amounts to apologism.

  129. Meems, right! And when a woman is calmly assertive, that’s often categorized as rude, because we’re supposed to be meek and smile and show, well, compassion for everyone, with no regard for our own well-being. So I challenge very strongly the idea that telling someone to leave me alone, firmly and without raising my voice, is necessarily curt or rude.

  130. Two things about Lori’s comment on dementia.

    1: Women with dementia are also inappropriate. My mother used swear words I didn’t know she knew, she speculated about the size of stranger’s genitalia, she said violently racist things.

    2: Persons with dementia are not necessarily harmless. If anything, their confusion and lack of understanding can make them more dangerous.

    3: If a random person on the street says something inappropriate or acts like a predator, what you need to do is take care of yourself. You’re not that person’s caregiver. Yelling at him to stay away? Good. Yelling that you’re underage? Good, if you can get away with it. Grabbing a rock to hit him with? Good. Getting to your car or a few blocks away? Good.

    Yes, that homeless person may not have been in his right mind. Doesn’t mean he wasn’t a threat.

  131. I don’t care if motive is part of how we dole out punishment in a court of law, because on a social level I can still mistrust and want to stay away from people who I find threatening, no matter what the reason. It amounts to apologism.

    Right. This is a wholly different scenario, but I think relevant to this point: my brother M, who lives in a group home, once had a roommate who made aggressive repetitive, quasi-involuntary movements. This young man had a host of physical and mental disabilities, but not a violent personality. One day, though, M got knocked down and injured by one of his roommate’s motions. In no way was this an intentional fight or anything malicious on the part of the roommate — but M got transferred to a new (single) room right away because his safety was at risk. Even if it wasn’t intentional. Even if it was a one-time fluke. Everyone, including M, had great compassion for the roommate, but that didn’t mean that M should be forced to risk physical harm. Even in a living situation in which many of his physical needs are managed by trained staff, M was still considered dignified and autonomous enough that he should not have to put up with that shit, even though it was nobody’s fault.

    Women are asked constantly, every day, to put up with that shit and we all pretend it’s nobody’s fault. That’s why, Lori, your comments about having compassion and not placing blame are rubbing me the wrong way. You’re asking us to do what we have already been doing all along, which is to risk our own bodily and psychological integrity in order to be nicer to violent men.

  132. I just wanted to say that I’m really finding it helpful to read lines that have worked for people. Frankly I can’t yet imagine myself saying “You need to leave me alone now,” in a calm voice without getting shaky and losing my nerve. But I can imagine others saying it, and I can imagine it working, and I can practice it… which means that I might be

    One thing that I have done before is the questioning thing: “Why are you talking to me?” “Why are you shouting out of your car window at me?” “Why are you telling me this?” That’s as assertive as I’ve gotten. I like it because it’s something I’m able to do now, at my current level of assertiveness, and it puts the encroacher on the hot seat… which sometimes makes it no longer worth their trouble. But I aspire to being able to state, simply and directly, what I’m willing to put up with and not put up with.

  133. Um, weird. That should read: “which means that I might begin to imagine saying it, even if I haven’t yet.”

  134. @A Sarah, I love the idea of questioning men on why they’re addressing us as sex objects – or at the very least, from the perspective of their own desire, with no consideration for how we might experience their words or actions. There are men out there that will just laugh and continue on, but there are others who might stop and think.

  135. @Meems, there’s an old Dykes To Watch Out For where Mo and Lois walk out of Thelma & Louise and walk past a guy who makes kissing noises at them. They ask him why he made the noise, and he’s like, “huh”? Lois asks, “No, really, I’m curious. Do you want to have sex with us? What?” And he mumbles something about not meaning anything, and Mo says, “If you don’t mean anything, maybe you shouldn’t say anything. It’s confusing.”

    It’s a pity the behavior isn’t as dated as the movie.

  136. One thing I’ve learned from a friend currently going through treatment is that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) isn’t just for combat veterans. It’s very common for victims of rape, abuse or other traumatic situations to have PTSD. Those with ongoing abuse may have Complex PTSD, which often manifests as depression, bi-polar, addiction, or other mental illnesses. Just an FYI for those in or want to seek treatment; in case it’s something you haven’t considered as an avenue for recovery.

  137. Also, as I read all the comments about how to raise daughters to not be victims and sons to not be victimizers, I’ve got that nagging little “but what about the (insert privileged class here)”? protest in the back of my head. I’m sure someone will tell me if it’s valid, or just ignorant :-)

    I don’t have numbers off hand, but men are also victims of sexual abuse and assault, both by men and women. Women are also abused and/or assaulted by other women. Abuse victims of both genders have to fight to not pass that behaviour on by abusing others when they become adults. Having said that, I completely understand that the vast majority of sexual assaults and harassments are by men against women. On the other hand, I’m sure I’m not the only one bothered by the fact that our culture still considers prison rape funny.

  138. “I’m sure I’m not the only one bothered by the fact that our culture still considers prison rape funny.”

    Exactly why it’s shocking that men will be totally cavalier about rape jokes and say, “It’s funny to us because it doesn’t affect us.” WRONG. It most certainly does affect men as victims too. Which is why it’s all the more confusing for male rape victims to deal with their trauma, because they’ve been socially conditioned to think that rape only affects women, or only happens in prison movies and it’s funny. I guess part of teaching a boy how not to become a victimizer is to make it clear that at any time he could become a victim too- so really, he actually doesn’t have “the right.” Neither does anyone else.

  139. Exactly why it’s shocking that men will be totally cavalier about rape jokes and say, “It’s funny to us because it doesn’t affect us.”

    One of the best things about getting older is that I can DO the face-of-stone, “You are beneath contempt” cold stare that freezes frat boys in the tracks. Which is good, because the only other response I’m capable of giving to such “jokes” would get me arrested for assault.

  140. Of course men can be rape victims, and women can be rapists. But this post is about the patriarchal cultural narrative, and how women are socialized to be passive when facing sexual harrassment and assault, so yes, I think it’s off-topic and WATM to get into it here.

  141. It’s really hard, I think, to keep on dehumanizing a person who is relating to you as a human being, although that could just be me being overly idealistic about the effectiveness of non-violent resistance strategies.

    Those strategies are worth a try, but they don’t always work. Non-violent resistance strategies have to be undertaken with the understanding that they may well be met with violent responses. For many people, they are the right thing to do nonetheless, but they do not magically defuse all violence.

  142. I should say “those strategies are worth a try for those who have commitments to non-violence.”

    Not everyone has commitments to non-violence, including me.

  143. I completely understand that the vast majority of sexual assaults and harassments are by men against women

    And the second-largest assaulter/victim or harasser/victim pairing is man-on-man.

    Followed by woman-on-man, followed by woman-on-woman.

    Men are more likely to be targets of sexual harassment and assault from other men than from women, which makes the “oh hurr hurr I wish some chick would rape me!” nonsense illogical as well as hateful.

  144. @Volcanista:

    I agree that the original post is about patriarchal culture, but I mentioned it because so many comments were going off the subject of the patriarchal culture and onto something like, “what needs to be done with/to the men to keep them all from becoming rapist macho asshats.” It’s a much different discussion :-)

  145. @JupiterPluvius: I generally consider myself a pacifist, but if someone threatens me physically, I will protect myself and make sure he cannot get up and follow me when I run (and call the police). I trained in martial arts (with a male teacher who focused on self defense) when i was in high school and will use that training to protect myself if necessary. That, however, is not a first step. I don’t think it’s just “worth a try” to tell someone to stop verbally harassing me; I think it’s necessary, both legally and ethically, to first attempt to diffuse verbal harassment with a verbal rebuttal. A physical attack is totally different, though.

  146. Going back solidly on-topic (and I might expand this idea in a seperate post). I’ve had the experience of being a tall, muscular fat woman all my life. While I understand on an intellectual level that this by no means offers me protection from violence and harassment, I’m also pretty sure that I’ve been trained by my experiences into a certain lack of fear. A typical instance was when I went somewhere out of state with a large group of friends. One of my male friends asked his girlfriend to not go off to the bathrooms by herself, but to take “one of the guys, or Jo” (meaning me). It was assumed that, being built the way I was that I was not a “good target” for assault. I’m sure he meant it as a compliment of sorts, but it bothered me on levels I didn’t understand until I became a little more self-aware.

    First of all, only the women were advised to not walk by themselves; the men felt no such fear. Even then I knew enough to give them crap on that score.

    Secondly, while I’d like to think that the “not a good target” comment was because he thought I was big and strong and that somehow it would deter an attacker (because being big and strong does you a helluva lot of good against a gun, right?) I have to wonder if there wasn’t an element of, “You’re not pretty enough to tempt a rapist”.

    Which is a fucked up way of thinking. But seriously, has anyone else had the experience where you thought you didn’t have to worry about being raped (or worse, that no one would believe you if you were) simply because you were considered unattractive? A woman in a creative writing course I took did a short story about an older “barfly” who actually fantasized about being raped in order to feel attractive. I also knew at least one woman who was accused of making up a rape to “get attention”, because “who would want to rape her?”.

    What that says to me is that we, as women, are under so much pressure to be attractive that we are expected to accept sexual attention from ANY MAN as some sort of reward for playing the game right. Even if we weren’t playing the fucking game and have no interest in their idea of a reward.

    That is definitely reinforced from childhood, where being “pretty” or “handsome” was the name of the game. Think about it…when you can’t communicate well enough to keep up with the grownups in conversation, and aren’t allowed to “help” with the breakable dishes, and are discouraged from any play that involves noise; you’re reduced to being decorative in order to participate at all in the gathering. And you’re rewarded by the same attention that you’re supposed to be offended by after puberty. But is telling a child they’re decorative really that much different from shouting “nice ass” at a passer-by? Well sure. But both objectify.

  147. When men hit on me directly in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable, I’ve taken to saying flat out “You need to stop talking to me. Now.”

    I mentioned over on the linked post that I will be the person who tells a “perfectly nice guy” who’s harrassing me (usually on a night out) to fuck off, even though he, his friends and often my “friends” act like I’m a nutjob. But I usually need to be pushed to a certain threshold to react like that, either by continued harrassment or by something that shortcircuits the brainwashing (which, as someone on the other blog pointed out, is what it is) like TOUCHING me.

    But my point is, I cannot. imagine. saying that to a guy without “enough” provocation beforehand. I can’t imagine saying that to someone just because I don’t feel like talking to him. I actually have a physical reaction when I think about that, because it makes me so uncomfortable. There is still a part of my brain saying “That would be a crazy reaction.” What, to tell someone to stop talking to me because I don’t want them to? What the HELL?

  148. Also, I love (though that seems like the wrong word. am ridiculously grateful for?) this whole post, the linked post, and cetera’s post over on lj. I didn’t actually know I was allowed to be angry until I found SP. I feel like every day I learn a little more about the society we have to live in, what it does to us, and that we absolutely have the right to tell it all to fuck off without ever having to explain ourselves to anyone. Thank you.

  149. @Meems RE: “@AnthroK8, I also want to mention that telling someone that he needs to stop talking to me is not necessarily curt to the point of being rude. It’s simply direct, and can be done while still appearing polite.”

    YES! YES! YES! I would also like to forward that when it moves into the realm of protecting your own self in an unpredictable environment, it’s not about nice/polite v. not nice/curt any more. It’s about “getting the hell out of there safely.”

    @A Sarah: Practicing helps me a lot, I have to say.

    A friend of mine called me up to run over what to say in a note she was going to send a guy on Facebook. *After she defriended him and then ignored him* sent a hurt note saying “but I thought we were friends.” (He appears to be a Nice Guy TM.)

    She decided to write him back because of fugitivus’s point that we are socialized to not assert ourselves. Sending a note that said “I defriended you because This, This, and This thing all made me very uncomfortable, and you didn’t stop when I asked you to. That attention was threatening and I wanted it to end” could be seen as unnecessarily engaging a creep. Or, it could be good practice for a time when she might want to say those things out loud.

    I have decided that,taking the opportunity to run scenarios, even if it’s in writing, just in case for the future is a good plan for me.

    And, I like the questions!

  150. I don’t think it’s just “worth a try” to tell someone to stop verbally harassing me; I think it’s necessary, both legally and ethically, to first attempt to diffuse verbal harassment with a verbal rebuttal

    Agreed, Meems.

    I thought Lori was advocating non-violent resistance in the face of physical violence, not just responding to verbal abuse or harassment with words. I may have misparsed her comments.

  151. @ A Sarah and others (sorry for not listing everyone)

    I was concerned that my use of the word “homeless” in my comments would sound uber privileged or classist, but felt it was the most succinct word to describe the situation and persons involved given the context of the thread. It wasn’t intended to reflect a “better than THAT person” mindset….and I probably should have been more choosy of my descriptors. The word was merely to describe the vast difference between the life my daughter lives, and this mans’. Their human-ness was the only thing they had in common. What it all boiled down to, to me, was that the fact that this man possessed a penis, without regard to his class status, or even a passing “Hi there”, this man felt it was perfectly acceptable/expected/reasonable to request a sexual encounter with my daughter. I suppose I could have just said a man asked if he could suckle at my daughter’s breast…without any details….and it would have been just a fucked up because what the hell gives anyone the right to expect that is acceptable behavior? I was just drawing a picture. If he had been dressed in a 3 piece suit and smelling of Old Spice it would have been met with the same repugnance. My original post emphasized “Because he’s a man who wants it”.

    As Peepers stated…..”However, some men believe that their maleness alone entitles them to make demands of any and all women. The odds are pretty good that no matter how much you achieve or how good a person you are, you are never going to be able to expect the level of deference men experience as a birthright.” This. Was. What. I. Was. TRYING. To. Say. Big fail on my part…obvs.

    Is it possible that I harbor classist idealisms? Of course it is. But I have fought long and hard all of my adult life teaching myself and others to “look beyond the obvious” when relating to people. As a social worker, and just a plain, old mom, I have worked in homeless shelters and centers and food banks, and make donations EVERY SINGLE TIME I encounter a homeless person asking for money (I did this just yesterday while in downtown Seattle with visiting family). It doesn’t matter to me what they do with the money I give them…I don’t have the right or the desire to dictate their spending, lest I want the same done to me. I do it because they are human beings..and give them full eye contact and a smile. When others cluck their tongues at me and tell me I’m a sucker….I tell them that person could be me…or them.

    So, could I have used a less classist word? Yes. Do I have all my shit together in a perfect and completely self actualized way that never offends or portrays me in a negative light. Hell no. And I probably won’t ever achieve that….but I will always try.

  152. Re: the issue of why women might not fight back while being raped, I seem to remember being told, not just not to fight back, but that if I do fight back, I’m at much higher risk of physical injury or even death at the hands of my rapist. That women who are passive during a rape are more likely to survive, and women who fight are more likely to end up dead. Are these imaginary statistics? Did whoever told me this make it up, or hear it from someone else who made it up? Who knows? Or, for all I know, it’s true. The point is, I have specifically been told not to fight back, not just because it’s not lady-like or nice, but out of self-projection. What kind of warped system is that, where we advocate letting oneself be harmed in the interest of self-protection?

  153. @Karen:

    I remember hearing that somewhere also. I thought it made sense, in a way, but it’s pretty fucked up too. I would guess this mainly applies when there’s a weapon involved, like a knife or a gun. Like it decreases your chances of getting stabbed to death or pistol-whipped or shot or something.

  154. Karen & SarahB – At church I remember youth leaders who implied it’s better to fight back because it’s better to be dead than having had your “purity” violated, and besides if you don’t fight back no one will believe you didn’t consent. So *that’s* a great viewpoint to have grown up being fed…

    Yeah so I spent like two hours reading the comments on that Shakesville post… holy shit. I have so much in my brain to say now I don’t know where to start.

  155. I was definitely told in a self-defense class that fighting back could be more dangerous than just lying there and taking it. Although when I was experiencing my rape, I did try to get out of the situation, out of sheer panic. Until the rapist got really close to my face and whispered, “Stop fighting me,” at which point I became very, very still.

    What does any of that mean? Was the self-defense instructor right? Would I have suffered fewer bruises if I’d lain still from the beginning when I was assaulted? I had no ability to rationally recall information from a class I’d taken more than a year prior when I was actually in the moment and experiencing an assault. The idea that we’re supposed to calmly assess the risks and make the safer choice *while we’re being attacked* is just part and parcel of the whole fucked-up morass. It’s always our fault, somehow. Thanks, patriarchy.

  156. I’ve had the experience of being a tall, muscular fat woman all my life. While I understand on an intellectual level that this by no means offers me protection from violence and harassment, I’m also pretty sure that I’ve been trained by my experiences into a certain lack of fear.

    @JoGeek – One experience that made a lasting impression on me was playing soccer in gym class in high school. One of the guys who played varsity football had the ball and was running to the goal with the ball; I, on the defending side, deliberately got between him and the ball. He assumed I would step aside; I assumed I’d be kicking the ball when he got closer. He slammed into me and fell on the ground. I kicked the ball about 40 yards as the instructor blew the whistle to stop the game.

    (The instructor asked us both if we were okay, then let us resume play.)

    My classmate, BTW, was completely freaked that he’d run into a girl. I felt it was just like when I’d played youth soccer a few years prior, only now I was taller and heavier – 5’8″ and ~240lbs.

    The main thing I took away from that was that I make one hell of an immobile object when I want to. The guy who ran into me was taller and probably more muscular, but it didn’t matter. I stayed standing.

  157. Thanks to everyone for sharing, and for the original post. I’m also really amazed by the thoughtful comments and moderating. Yay for SP!!

    I’m super triggered right now. I read through this and then shut my browser. I’ve been crying for the last ten minutes. I hate having to be small. I hate having to apologize for taking up space. I hate having to be thankful and polite when men touch me or comment on my experiance. I hate it that I have to lie and say I have a boyfriend because saying I’m a lesbian will get me even more shit. I hate the mother – f#$king patriarchy.

  158. @Melangell — I am so sorry that you’re feeling this pain. I don’t know the details of your experience (and I’m trying prying to get them), but it sounds really clear that there are people who hurt you in the past, and I am sorry that those individuals treated you so poorly.

    I hope you’ll grow to feel more sure that you do not have to be small, you do not have to take anyone’s shit, and you DO have every right to be as bold and authentic and take up as much space as you want to!!

    If you’re okay with the thought of some internet hugs, I’m offering ’em. And if that’s too triggery for you, that’s totally okay. I’m rooting for you either way.

  159. @Karen & Sarah B, I remember being told not to fight back when I was younger. In college, we were offered self defense classes. The point was always to make sure he’d go down and stay down – you don’t want someone able to run after you. But there’s really only so much you can do when there’s a gun in you face. My mom is already a survivor of gun violence; I don’t think I could make my parents go through that again.

    I’m a little heavier than average, but certainly not taller or especially bigger, and I still take risks that maybe I shouldn’t. I walk around alone at night pretty regularly – though I live in a fairly safe area, there was a sexual assault in an underpass I use regularly during the school year. It’s not about thinking I’m too unattractive to be raped, but rather about my assumptions about how well I can take care of myself. And honestly, I just don’t know what would happen.

  160. This reminds me of something that happened a couple years ago, not to do with harassment or assault, but with the power of social conditioning. I was walking along talking with a male friend of mine, and (I don’t remember what made this come up) he said, “I’m tired of dating girls who are damaged goods.”

    And I lost it. Totally, completely, was not in control of anything that came out my mouth, lost it. And what did I say, when I completely lost it, when intelligent response had completely flown out the window? Fuck you? Go to hell? Nope. What I said was, Excuse me?

    Excuse me. Now, granted, my tone was probably blistering – I don’t really remember because I was too enraged – but still, WTF?! That’s how deep down social conditioning goes. That’s…frightening. And horrifying. Because if it’s that bad, how do I get away from this?

    I spent weeks being angry over that, weeks with my gut churning every time I thought about that conversation, weeks coming up with all the things I should have said. “Half the girls you know are probably ‘damaged goods.’ You might think about that before you say something like that.” Or, “I am not goods. I may be damaged, but I am not goods. You don’t get to look at me like I’m something in a store to be purchased which, on closer inspection, you’re not going to buy because some part got snapped off and had to be stuck back on with duct tape. My value doesn’t come from what you think of me.” And I could have said those things. I rehearsed them enough in my head, I knew the words by heart. But I never did. And part of that was because I didn’t want to bring up my “damages” with someone who displayed that kind of ignorance – but part of it was also probably social conditioning to get along, play nice. There are other, nastier examples of times when I was actually harassed or what have you and just couldn’t make myself start yelling, even when I knew I should. However, I find that one interesting because even when I had, however briefly, lost conscious control of my actions, social conditioning to be polite still held.

    (Also, I don’t mean to say by any of this that being polite is a bad reaction in response to generally well-meaning but privilege-blinded or thoughtless people, which category this particular friend fell into. It was just that well-reasoned discourse escaped me at the time.)

    *returns to lurking*

  161. @at living 400lbs

    “I understand what you’re trying to say, but women are raped in their own homes. By family members, by acquaintences, by their family’s acquaintences.”

    This is a really important point and one that I forgot to add back in before I hit submit. Thanks! Women are more likely to be attacked in their own homes by people they know. However, the way in which rape is discussed and the ways it is often normalized is through questioning why that woman was in the ‘wrong place’ at the ‘wrong time’. In 9 times out of 10 strategies for avoiding attacks are based on limiting women’s mobility and spatial autonomy. Not only is this obviously sexist but it ignores the risks a woman can face in her own home.

    Women are not raped because they dare to go outside. Women are raped because a rapist decided to rape them.”

    I didn’t say women were raped because they go outside. I said that women’s presence in public is challenged through a number of ways be it cat calling, harassment, groping or rape etc. But, perhaps more importantly, the FEAR of rape is used by women and people concerned for women to limit their mobility.

    Women are raped because rapists a) want to b) know they can most likely get by with it because c) they are given various signals and tools with which they can avoid responsibility. When it comes right down to it, I am a violent person. My first response anytime I’m angry is to hit something. In fact, I know it would make me feel pretty good for a minute. But I don’t act on it because I’ll go to jail and its socially unacceptable. Nobody is going to say to my victim, “Well you shouldn’t have been standing in front of her fist.”

  162. If you ignore 20 calls but answer the next, it teaches your stalker he has to make 21 calls to get your attention.

    And the stalker might make all 21 of those calls on the very same day, maybe within the very same hour. Stalkers are teh creepee.

    I get scared sometimes when I’m out walking/running.

    This comment did make me think about the fact that I like to look at attractive young men who are out for their daily run. I pretty scrupulously follow the “Look but don’t leer” rule. One thing that’s probably different in that kind of situation, though, is that these young men have the socialization and the physical strength to deal with another man who is being highly inappropriate (which I would seriously never want to be). That a “back-off” glare or some well-chosen harsh words would effectively end such a situation (with a man harassing another man) with the instigator looking very foolish, says a lot about how the outcome of such situations is determined by socialization.

  163. @ Rosemary Riveter: When I read “I was bullied a fair bit in elementary school, my parents vehemently taught me “don’t fight back” “don’t respond – they’ll get bored and give up””, I knew that I could have written it. When you’re bullied, you hear a lot of things from the adults in your life like “all kids tease* – just don’t be so thin-skinned about it”, and “they just want to get a reaction out of you”. Things like that teach the victims of bullying to stop protesting or otherwise sticking up for themselves — to bottle up anger, frustration and sadness, because expressing it gives the bullies a reaction and is a mark of being “thin-skinned” — and you think, at first, that maybe the adults are right (because hey, they’re adults, right?).

    Then, even when you realize that the adults are wrong, you keep doing it because you don’t want to lose the approval and validation of the adults in your life. You have already lost part or all of your peers’ approval. Without the adults, you won’t have anyone left. And then you’d really be alone in the world.

    And after a while, bottling up those emotions becomes ingrained in you. It is just how you interact with the world. And maybe you’ve even become a bit numb. After all, it is easier to keep from expressing your feelings if you don’t have any feelings. And even if you can’t stifle all of your feelings, you can still stifle a good many of them.

    But no matter what kind of quiet hell you’ve put yourself through, it hasn’t made the bullying stop. So unless there has been some kind of intervening circumstance (e.g., moving to a different town), the bullying may still be going on. That’s the truly insidious part. The initial hurt continues, and the (often well-meaning) advice has simply encouraged you to hurt yourself, too.

    It is really interesting — and terrifying — how similar being a woman and being bullied are.

    *Teasing is different than bullying. All kids call names or pull pranks occasionally — just like all kids are called names and have pranks pulled on them from time to time. That is teasing, and it a part of the rough-and-tumble of growing up. Bullying is a long-term campaign of pain and intimidation (sometimes resulting in PTSD or other anxiety disorders) that often involves a number of perpetrators and can go on for years.

  164. “At church I remember youth leaders who implied it’s better to fight back because it’s better to be dead than having had your “purity” violated, and besides if you don’t fight back no one will believe you didn’t consent” end quote

    And exactly what a girl in Texas was told by her parents just recently after she was gang raped. While the media wants to write it off as a ‘cultural clash’ with Liberian immigrants, the idea that rape spoils a woman’s ‘purity’ and damages “family honor” is no stranger to American culture.

    I tried to find the post, but for the woman who doesn’t want her long distance friend to come, why not just lie? You don’t even have to say no or get confrontational. Why not say ‘I’m going to be out of town” or “I’m sick”? I have absolutely no problem lying my ass off if it means protecting myself from potential harm.
    Same with the question of letting strange men in the house. Doorbell rings, I don’t know the person, I don’t answer the door. Plus, most guys that I know would be smart enough to know why a woman wouldn’t want a strange man in their home and would oblige a woman saying ‘no I’m not comfortable’ or ‘this isn’t a good time for you to be here’. In fact, I would go so far as to say a man who would argue with you has nefarious intentions and you should call the police immediately.

  165. JoGeek: what needs to be done with/to the men to keep them all from becoming rapist macho asshats.” It’s a much different discussion :-)

    All due respect but no, it’s not a different discussion. How to fix the patriarchal culture that hurts men by teaching them this is normal and acceptable *IS* the topic of this thread, because it’s the flip side of the coin that tells women to shut up and be quiet or else. It’s all part and parcel of the same thing – how patriarchy defines how we interact and all the ways in which it is wrong and contributes to the rape culture.

    Yes there are men who are raped and women who are raped by other women. But the numbers are nowhere near comparable. The vast, vast majority of rapes are men raping women, just as the vast majority of harassment and assault is done by men. While it may be worth acknowledging that there are other scenarios and men can be victims as well, I don’t see it as a function of privilege to keep the focus on women being raped by men. I see that as dealing with the reality in front of us.

    And once again, talking about this issue and attempting to say “but men get raped too!” is a derailing tactic that pulls the focus off the reality of who does the raping and who it happens to the most.

    Lucy “I guess part of teaching a boy how not to become a victimizer is to make it clear that at any time he could become a victim too- so really, he actually doesn’t have “the right.”

    I don’t agree with this. You don’t end rape by scaring boys about the possibility of being raped by other men. For one thing, that’s a frequently played card of homophobes and ties into a lot of bad stereotypes. For another, it just produces even more people who are paralyzed by fear of others. Spreading the victim blaming mentality to men is not going to help.

    I agree that it is absolutely flat out not true that the rape culture doesn’t hurt men, but not because they usually aren’t victims of rape (though I do agree that that mentality makes dealing with a sexual assault problematic for men who experience such a thing and are left without any idea how to handle it).

    It hurts them because of what it teaches them to do and expect, how it socializes them act, and lastly because most men have women in their lives they care about, be they partners, parents, children or friends and family. Every man who cares about women is being hurt by this because it hurts all of us, whether we’ve been raped ourselves or not, due to the climate it forces us to live in. That right there is how you explain to any man who claims rape isn’t his problem that it is, and if he’s not part of the solution on this one, he’s part of the problem.


  166. I wish my father in law were still alive because whatever he did to raise his 3 boys he did right and I would love to have him give me tips.

  167. Nobody is going to say to my victim, “Well you shouldn’t have been standing in front of her fist.”


    Bullying is a long-term campaign of pain and intimidation (sometimes resulting in PTSD or other anxiety disorders) that often involves a number of perpetrators and can go on for years.

    One of my girlfriends was bullied so hard for so long at school that she’s only now (7+ years later) even starting to come out of her shell. She is an amazing, wonderful person and we cannot convince her she is anything other than ugly and worthless. When I think about how people could do that to ANOTHER PERSON, and for years, and without ANYONE EVER stopping them…well, it makes me feel blind rage and utter sadness. And then it makes me feel even more firm in my commitment to never, ever by a bystander again (because I think almost everyone has been, sometime, with the unspoken threat that if you speak up you’re next. I am so done with that.)

  168. When you’re bullied, you hear a lot of things from the adults in your life like “all kids tease* – just don’t be so thin-skinned about it”, and “they just want to get a reaction out of you”. Things like that teach the victims of bullying to stop protesting or otherwise sticking up for themselves — to bottle up anger, frustration and sadness, because expressing it gives the bullies a reaction and is a mark of being “thin-skinned” — and you think, at first, that maybe the adults are right (because hey, they’re adults, right?).

    GOD YES THIS. To your entire comment.

    I was bullied every day for the first half of seventh grade, and intermittently beyond that. Every single adult I told said, “Ignore them. If they can’t get a rise out of you, they’ll stop. The more you show them it hurts you, the worse it will be.” And so I continued to be bullied every fucking day, while never saying a word to my tormentors, for fear of making it worse.

    The other thing I heard constantly was, “They’re more insecure than you are.” No, really, they weren’t. There was no such thing as more insecure than I was, for starters, and furthermore, that’s been shown to be bullshit.

    Honestly, I’m still angry about it. Not that I think my parents didn’t care and weren’t hurt by the thought of me being hurt, but just… where the fuck do these myths come from? All of the stuff we feed kids about bullying is pretty much the opposite of true. The only positive outcome is that the adults get to tell themselves it’s just normal kid behavior they don’t really have to worry about, instead of lying awake at night trying to figure out how to stop a kid from being fucking tortured.

    And btw, the same goes for trolls. If you want to know where the SP comments policy really comes from, it starts with me in 7th grade. The whole time I’ve been engaged with the blogosphere, I’ve seen people make the same stupid arguments about trolls over and over. “Just don’t respond.” “They’ll get bored and stop if you ignore them.” “They’re only doing it to get a rise out of you.” The last one may be true — just beside the point — but the first two are utter bullshit. You don’t respond, and they just keep going until they own the whole thread.

    Besides which, the real point is, saying, “Fuck you, asshole, nobody gets to talk to me that way,” is a perfectly appropriate and reasonable response to troll behavior. (And a whole hell of a lot easier to say and enforce online than in person.) Yet people want to have endless fucking discussions about how standing up for yourself might lead to accidentally quashing legitimate debate, or whether telling an asshole to fuck off is censorship, or how can you be sure it’s a troll and not someone who’s just misguided and might be willing to learn if you were nice to hir?? Which is exactly why I’ve stated explicitly that I don’t care if I accidentally ban a decent person every now and again, because worrying about that would be a distraction from the much more important issue of my right to set and enforce my own goddamned boundaries.


  169. I’ve been thinking about this post and the following comments for nearly 24 hours. I was thinking about all of the times that I’ve been sexually harrassed, and once by someone I thought “wasn’t that guy.”

    I was 19 years old and riding the train late at night, around 11 p.m. The train was crowded. The platform was crowded. I felt safe. A man on the platform asked me a question, he was drunk as shit, but it was a harmless question. When I get on the train, I stand against the door. Suddenly he is in my space, trying to grab at me. He’s slender but with the weight & strength of a drunk. I’m holding him off as best as I can but he has two arms. I’m thinking if I hit him or kick him, he’s going to beat the shit out of me. Then I’m thinking, certainly with all these men on the train somebody will come to my rescue.

    This is going for a few stops. I’m yelling for him to get off of me and push him off, but to no avail. Finally, I make eye contact with a man sitting across from us. In my biggest voice “I shout I NEED HELP! Can’t you see I need help?” Someone in the crowd asks “don’t you know him?” By now I’m nearly crying, “No, please help me.” They pull him off of me and someone pulls me down into a seat next them. The men become suddenly protective of me, and shove the man off the train. But I’m not at all grateful. I’m so angry at their inaction that I don’t offer gratitude.

    About two years later, I’m standing outside of my apartment building which happens to be in front of a bus stop. An old man comes up to me to ask me for directions, and I think him harmless. Then he starts to tell me about how he likes to play the horses, etc. I don’t mind the harmless conversation because I’m trying to calm down from a fight I just had with my boyfriend. When the bus pulls up, I wave goodbye and he reaches out with both hands and squeezes my breasts just before jumping on the bus.

    I remember being 9 or 10 years old and being vaguely aware that as a girl I was not safe. I used to run around the playground being very rough and tumble. I would think to myself: anybody who would see me playing like this would know that I am tough and won’t take me.

  170. Kate, yes, to your entire last paragraph. I feel like I never really got the whole concept of having the right to set boundaries and enforce them before — like I never really got feminism before I came here — and it’s settling in just now and could be one of those really, truly life-changing things.

    And indeed — if it means occasionally being “rude” or “mean” to a well-intentioned person who doesn’t deserve it…well, you know, fuck it, because the few minutes of confusion or mild upset they’re going to have about it are nothing, NOTHING compared to the pain and crazy-making and violation of a lifetime of letting your boundaries be optional. (As I’ve discovered so far.)

    Having a very very hard time putting that into practice so far, though. Damn the brainwashing.

    The whole time I’ve been engaged with the blogosphere, I’ve seen people make the same stupid arguments about trolls over and over. “Just don’t respond.” “They’ll get bored and stop if you ignore them.”

    I remember seeing this argument on the first net community I was ever involved in (back in 2000. LO THE DAWN OF TIME) where a poster named Antipodean made the excellent point that the whole point of the internet is that it’s not face-to-face. If I’m ignoring a troll they don’t know whether I’m doing it because I disagree with them, because I don’t think they’re worth acknowledging, because I didn’t see their post, or because I just spilled a kettle of boiling water on my foot and I’m going to be fooline for a while. So it’s of limited use as a tool for controlling them. Banning is 3000000 times better, and entirely justified. (Though ripping the piss out of them is fun some days too.)

    The only positive outcome is that the adults get to tell themselves it’s just normal kid behavior they don’t really have to worry about, instead of lying awake at night trying to figure out how to stop a kid from being fucking tortured.

    Yeah. Unfortunately, that.

  171. @ Kate & Caitlin: Thank you for your comments (and the comments policy, Kate — I’m a big admirer of the kind of bright-line rules and certain consequences you employ)

    I was bullied — badly (as in requiring multiple trips to the ER over the years) while I was in elementary and middle school. And that feeling of “what are they going to do to me now” — it never goes away. If I have misplaced something (even something dumb and routine like my keys), my immediate thought is that someone has stolen them. Of course, my logical brain knows better, but the fact that my logical brain has to “talk down” my emotional brain several times a day on a good day for stupid, piddly things (e.g., “No, that guy at the coffeeshop wasn’t standing that way to be an asshole and block me from using the creamer, he was probably just oblivious.”).

    But as a queer person and a woman, I have noticed that that same kind of feeling attaches to having been victimized by misogyny and homophobia. Sure, it manifests in different ways (I don’t freak out about homophobes hiding my car keys from me), but that sense of needing to change my life in order to minimize the pain that others would cause me — to be constantly vigilant for the next thing to happen (because there is always a next thing), feeling that the world is an unfriendly place because a comparatively few assholes have made the risk of potential danger so high that I dare not cross the boundaries they have put on my life by wearing my favorite tee shirt/kissing my sweetie in public/walking alone after dark — its all the same family of fear, and it tangles together into such an unholy knot that I frequently don’t know which pieces are what.

  172. The whole time I’ve been engaged with the blogosphere, I’ve seen people make the same stupid arguments about trolls over and over. “Just don’t respond.” “They’ll get bored and stop if you ignore them.”

    Returning briefly to the current harassment. After the initial disagreement that seems to have triggered this person to harass me, I have never responded. I have refused to engage with this person directly, despite the fact that I am fully convinced that I’m in the right. And you know why? I’m scared shitless that he’s going to write more, that it’s going to get worse, that he’ll find another way to try to tear me down. I’m even a little scared he’ll try to contact me offline.

    Why the hell do I feel as though I’m walking on eggshells, compromising the integrity of how I express my beliefs, because of this asshole? I’m scared. Period.

  173. Oh, and additionally: he’s continued the harassment despite my lack of response. It doesn’t matter if I engage with him at all. He just wants me to feel as though I have no voice – as though I can’t comment on the blog of a girl whose writing I enjoy and (sometimes) admire because she writes about usually taboo topics.

  174. This hits home for me too.

    In 2004 I lived in Boston and had a home invasion while I was downstairs in my bedroom.
    This is during a time when there was a rapist on the loose in the area.
    A big, strong looking man crept in (we had really loud metal stairs and i didn’t hear a THING) while I was home alone, and THANK GOD I reacted by throwing things at him, and picking up a bottle of wine, yelling at the top of my lungs, and chasing him far away from me.
    This didn’t actually traumatize me that much because I too was a little surprised that I reacted that strongly. I’m pretty tiny and quiet.

    What freaked me out was the reactions I got later.

    My roommates came home soon and were really supportive. So were my friends and most people I told.

    We called the cops, who showed up a full 2.5 hours later! (The red sox were playing in the world series was their honest-to-god excuse). They refused to do anything because they said that I had assaulted HIM, and since there was no proof that he had done anything, it wouldn’t be considered self defense.

    What really made me sad was not being called crazy, etc, which happened quite a bit, but the way other girls and women kept telling me “god, I could never do that” “i would just freeze”

    and this post basically articulated why that upsets me so much. Strong, smart, capable women just knew they would not defend themselves.

    god this makes me sick.
    like, you’re a crazy bitch if you fight back, and you’re a stupid bitch who’s “asking for it” if you don’t.

  175. I just wanted to say (1) this is an amazing post/thread, and (2) to especially thank Lori for her comments, as we seem to share a common philosophy/approach to these situations.
    Perhaps I’ve just been fortunate, but I’ve never had a verbal harassment situation escalate after engaging the harasser in return on the level of a human being. Also, I’m now able to look back on these incidents as moments in which I can be proud of my own behaviour (the only person whose behaviour I am ethically responsible for, after all), that I stuck to my values and added a small drop of compassion to the world, at least. (I have been teased afterwards by friends for having addressed a harassing person as ‘Sir’, but, hey, it worked and I’ll do it again — it seems to consistently throw them off-guard and makes it clear that I have no intention of responding to them on a sexual level.)

  176. DRST- I certainly understand why you take issue with what I said, but I absolutely didn’t mean it the way you interpreted it. Boys shouldn’t be scared into believing they’ll be raped, by anyone (I didn’t specify whether by a man or a woman)- no more than girls should. But the thing is, so many boys are just not spoken to about rape at all, to the point that they really believe it doesn’t affect them. Of course it affects them when their female friends and family members and girlfriends are raped, but it’s still something that they’re largely trained to think is very separate from them. Then if God forbid they are actually sexually traumatized somehow, if they even bother to tell anyone, there’s all this additional muck they have to plow through of “But I’m so confused, I thought only WOMEN get raped, what does this say about me?”

    That’s all I meant- figuring out a way to make boys and young men aware of their privilege, but also of their vulnerability, of which most of them are taught to believe they have none.

  177. Ugh. I have been blessed with a naturally bitchy/misanthropic personality, and tend to not get bothered in the US. I get the “oh, you look nice today ma’am” comments, the ones that make you feel good, not icky. God knows why. Anyway, I never saw what the “big deal” was about when friends complained.

    And then I lived in the Middle East for a year (yes, I said it. Deal.) By the end of 12 months, I rarely left the house. The strength it takes to deal with that level of verbal and physical harassment day after day is just…unimaginable. It feels like someone has literally dropped a hundred pound weight on your chest. And it doesn’t matter how old you are, how pretty or ugly you are, or how you react–it doesn’t stop, and you can’t win. *shudder*

    I am still very much working with expanding my concept of rape. On the one hand, I don’t see what’s wrong with saying “I was pressured into sex I didn’t want” when the situation is fuzzier/I didn’t say “no” explicitly. On the other hand, men need to learn to check their privilege and triple check that the “yes” is a “yes.”

  178. I think we may need a thread just for Former Victims of Bullying. I’m sure there’s a connection since fat kids have been essentially wearing targets on their backs for decades, long before the “obesity epidemic oh noes” shit started. I wonder how many of us there are here, though. Girls who were picked off as easy targets in school growing up to be self-hating fatties as adults who then, as several of us have mentioned, feel safer because we’re too fat to get raped.

    Jesus Christ in a sidecar.

    You know the word tharn from Watership Down and The Stand? I learned that behavior from bullying. Be rigid, keep your face impassive, keep your head down, don’t respond at all and they will go away, lose interest and leave me alone. Kate, you’re totally right. That’s bullshit.

    It’s basically the freeze response which was discussed in cereta’s post where animals that are endangered freeze rather than fight back. Which may very well include a lot of women, who have faced bullying as kids and harassment as adults. Freeze, go tharn, don’t react and it’ll maybe go away. A behavior that isn’t recognized by the aggressor as rejection, though, so it continues.

    Being all stiff upper lippy and not reacting sure as shit didn’t help me in high school or middle school, but turning around and trying to claw out the eyes of the fucker who’d been bullying me for a whole year did.

    My SIL (who I generally dislike) got a call from her third son’s principle saying the kid had gotten into a fight at school. Turned out he was being bullied for weeks and finally snapped, hauled off and punched the little bastard. The principle told my SIL off the record “We’re really glad your kid stood up to him because we knew it was going on but he was deliberately acting only when the teachers couldn’t catch him.” SIL, in a rare moment of cool, told my nephew he did the right thing.

    Caitlin – this may make no sense, but were you a Bronzer?


  179. On the one hand, I don’t see what’s wrong with saying “I was pressured into sex I didn’t want” when the situation is fuzzier/I didn’t say “no” explicitly

    I’m a little confused by this. When you don’t want sex and you have it anyway, that’s rape. I’m not sure what you mean by “I don’t see what’s wrong with” this.


  180. DRST, I mean that I’m not comfortable with “when you don’t want sex and you have it anyway” always being called “rape”, rather than “being pressured into sex.” Both are bad, obviously.

    If rape culture conditions you into saying “yes, I want to” to your boyfriend/husband/whomever, when in fact you are not in the mood/don’t want sex–that isn’t rape, in my book. It’s a product of rape *culture*, but it isn’t rape. I’ve had this happen with my husband (rarely), who is about the furthest thing from a rapist you can imagine.

  181. Yes, Vidya, you’ve been fortunate. I use this approach sometimes. It depends on what mood I’m in. I have been met with hostility and verbal abuse (thankfully, nothing physical yet) in response to very polite, gentle verbal responses to harassment.

    It’s a valid approach. I just don’t think any of us should feel we should respond in a compassionate way to harassment or assault just because we are otherwise peaceful people. It’s part of self-defense for me – I am not someone who ever wants to hurt a person, but when they are hurting me, or someone else, mostly I don’t want to make it easy. Sometimes I get angry, and I want to fight back actively, and I don’t give a shit that someone might get angry back, and that they might have a knife or want to attack me physically. I am not any less proud of an aggressive response to harassment than I am of a peaceful one.. that’s just me.. I would say in general I am a polite person, and a compassionate one who wants to give people the benefit of the doubt. But I have had ENOUGH of keeping quiet when I or someone else (almost invariably a woman) experiences abuse, harassment, inappropriate social behavior. I think silence, or even gentleness in the face of violence and aggression, isn’t helping the greater situation.

  182. My ex and I were both bullied as children (my ex snored from a deviated septum that came from getting his nose broken by bullies in second grade) and one thing we taught our daughter was “never START a physical fight, but if the other guy starts it, give it everything you’ve got. The only way they’ll ever leave you alone is if they know you’re willing to damage them.” And we told her that even if it got her in trouble with school authorities, she wasn’t in trouble with US, and we’d defend her.

    Of course the schools were still pushing the “just ignore it” and their alleged “zero tolerance” policies on bullying REALLY meant that they’d punish a victim for fighting back just as much or more than they’d punish a perpetrator, but at least she got “fight back” from ONE source in her life.

    We signed her up for tae kwon do classes when she was ten. Another boy in the class, about eight or nine years old, groped her just-developing breasts. Yes, he came in for more punishment than someone in our generation would have, but it didn’t stop it from happening.

    Me? I just muddle through. Sometimes I do the nonviolent social engagement in an attempt to defuse (I’ve had some memorably weird conversations that way). Sometimes I try humor (dude in car: “Hey, baby, want a ride?” me: “Not from a Yankees fan!” dude laughs and drives off, I breathe a sigh of relief). Sometimes I get stiff and defensive and curt (“hey, I was just trying to be nice!”) and refuse to apologize for not being “nice.” A few times I’ve put up with physical contact I didn’t want, briefly, and then done the fade-into-the-crowd, or excuse-myself-for-the-bathroom-and-don’t-come-back, or stay-glued-to-some-other-person-the-rest-of-the-night.

    And it really kind of sucks that I can think of so many different instances that I can list off how MANY different strategies I’ve tried to maintain my safety.

  183. Be rigid, keep your face impassive, keep your head down, don’t respond at all and they will go away, lose interest and leave me alone.

    For whatever reason, i was spared bullying/teasing/harassment growing up. I’m not sure why, since I was a bit chubby by middle school and developed really early, so the fact that I had breasts by age 10 could easily have made me a target for boys. But it never happened, and I realized a few years later how lucky I was; the moment my sweet, sensitive little brother started 6th grade, he started getting picked on. I have horrible memories of him coming home from school crying. He did what he was “supposed” to do and talked to his school councilor, our parents, the principal – nothing helped.

    Eventually, he just stopped showing any emotion. He’s still a great guy – his girlfriend is a lucky young woman – but I can’t remember the last time I saw him show any strong emotion.

  184. RE: the “tharn” idea–

    I may be alone in this, but I HAVE had more luck with the “ignore them and walk away” routine. When I try the turn around and yell option, they laugh and escalate, or go ballistic and follow me around screaming.

  185. DRST, I mean that I’m not comfortable with “when you don’t want sex and you have it anyway” always being called “rape”, rather than “being pressured into sex.” Both are bad, obviously.

    I can definitely see this. I’ve had sex that I definitely did not want to have with someone who would be so horrified to learn that that was the case. If I’d said no, he would have stopped, absolutely. But I didn’t feel I had the right to say no, and I felt emotionally manipulated in other ways, and while I knew I did not want to have sex, there was no way for him to have known this wasn’t like any of our other (happily consensual) sexual encounters that happened during our (year-long) relationship. In fact, I think I was overly-enthusiastic, because I wanted it over with, quickly. That doesn’t make me raped, and it definitely doesn’t make him a rapist. But the whole situation is a result of rape culture in which I felt like I owed him something. It was wrong, it was awful, it makes me cringe just thinking about it long enough to write this comment. But I don’t think that makes it rape.

  186. The other best excuse given by adults regarding teasing and why you shouldn’t fight back? “They’re jealous of you.” YEAH OKAY, ADULTS. I TRUST YOU WITH MY SAFETY.

  187. Be rigid, keep your face impassive, keep your head down, don’t respond at all and they will go away, lose interest and leave me alone.

    Although not always. I have a coworker with autism and one thing she is very passionate about is the increased incidence of violence against people, particularly women, with autism, often because they respond in this very well. I had been totally unaware of crime statistics regarding autistic adults, but I was just horrified when she told me. In some circumstances refusing to make eye contact or seeming unaware of your surroundings by keeping your head down can do more to mark you as a victim and increase the risk of violent assault.

  188. To clarify: I’ve only had luck with the “ignore it” approach with street sexual harassment.

    For bullying where you see the person every day, well–the few times it has happened to me I did find that confronting (and if possible, physically kicking the crap out of) said bully was more helpful.

    A year ago I had a Spanish prof. who sexually harassed his female students. He largely left me alone (I was older than the others), but when I tried to report him all I got was “Well, just flirt with him and he’ll be nicer to you. He’s not from the US, you have to make allowances.”

    This man’s students admitted to me that they were embarrassed/ashamed to wear their normal clothes to class because he commented on them/talked about sex in front of us–and yet they did NOT see it as harasssment. I tried getting them to report him with me, to no avail–they didn’t want to “be mean” or “get someone in trouble.”

    Bastard is lucky I didn’t file a formal sexual harassment claim with the Dean…ugh. I’m still a little upset I didn’t.

  189. @chava & karen – I don’t define anything that’s happened to me as rape. I’ve maybe come close, but I do believe there’s a gray area between actually saying “no” and and the man continuing despite your protests and being unsure, but essentially consenting because saying no is too difficult. I think the latter is a product of a misogynistic culture in which men feel entitled to sex. It’s a violation, but many men don’t even realize how pressured women feel to have sex.

  190. And then I lived in the Middle East for a year (yes, I said it. Deal.)

    You know, I wouldn’t have picked up any hint of racism in that statement if you hadn’t added the snotty parenthetical remark there. “I lived an even more notoriously patriarchal culture than this one” wouldn’t make me bat an eye, but “Ooh, I’m being un-PC! Deal with it!” sure does.

    Meems, in your case, I think not responding probably is the right course of action — because you’re dealing with a stalking situation. That goes back to the DeBecker stuff (and may have been said already, even by you, but this thread is long and I’m not sure I’ve seen everything). It still might take forever for them to give up and go away, and in the meantime, it’s horrid, but ultimately, ignoring them will reduce the amount of time you’re stuck with this person in your life. (It’s the 21 phone call thing mentioned above.)

    I think that’s different from garden variety school bullying or trolling that’s restricted to a comments section on a blog. Bullies and trolls, to my mind, are generally opportunistic — they’ll pull their shit on anyone they can find who doesn’t fight back. Stalkers, on the other hand, get obsessed with one person in particular — and in that case, refusing to engage them at all is the best strategy, because any contact at all can fuel their delusion that the relationship (positive or negative) is a two-way street.

  191. Kate-

    Yanno, I’ve gotten enough flak for trying to talk about it/deal with it since, when it really doesn’t have to do with racism or who is “more patriarchal.” The particular culture of the country I was in, for various reasons, has horrible street harassment. It’s better for women than the US in some ways and worse in others. But as a foreigner, I mainly experienced the street harassment.

    So, yes, “deal.” I’m a tad defensive, ok? You want to hear it as “snotty,” go right ahead.

  192. Oh, and while I’m pointing out problems, Regina T, I’m still not sure if you get what people were objecting to. (Including me, though my internet connection kept dropping this morning, so my comment didn’t publish.) It wasn’t classist language but what we perceived as a classist attitude — i.e., that because he was homeless and your daughter’s at least middle class, it’s somehow shocking that he didn’t know his place or something..

    Please note that people telling you that what you said sounded classist is not the same as anyone saying, “Ew, Regina T IS classist.” We’re not judging your character. We don’t really know your character (though I do know you’ve commented frequently and thoughtfully here).

    And you know, the question of whether male entitlement is such a powerful force it can even override class-based shame IS interesting — but it’s only interesting to me in a context where everyone agrees that both overblown male entitlement and class-based shame are things we don’t want to encourage.

    It wasn’t the word “homeless” that set people off, it was the emphasis on this man’s homelessness as one more reason why he should have been ashamed of himself. When really, being a misogynistic shit ought to be plenty of reason for him to be ashamed.

  193. Damn. Damn, damn, damn.

    (** trigger warnings***)

    Thank you for that article.

    My whole teen years are coming back to me.

    Sixth grade, my mom’s endless lectures on “good girls don’t fight” implanted firmly in my mental tapes, trying to block the feet of my “friend” with my hands as he was kicking me in the legs over and over, all in “fun.” (Many years later, my mom apoligized for those lectures. She’d been as brainwashed as I, in her time.)

    My last two years of high school, a brand new school where I knew no one and no one knew me. I was fat, but nowhere ~near~ as fat as I’d been told I was, or that I thought I was. (That came later, in college.) I played the sousaphone in band, and I was ~good~. But the 1st Chair Sousaphone player was A Jock, one of the Popular Kids, and I had the temerity, the sheer ~nerve~, to beat him in initial seat challenges and take 1st chair. (From then on we were in a state of constant challenge, every two weeks, which was the soonest allowed. He’d win sometimes, but I won more. And I never lost by more than half a point, and he usually lost by at least a point and a half.) Also from then on, for the next two years, I was constantly harrassed by his hangers-on. I was constantly called names, and threatened. I had rocks thrown at me as we were heading back into the school from field marching practice. My band locker was broken into, my music folder glued together, and my mouthpiece glued to the bottom of the locker. I rarely officially complained, because I was afraid to; I’d been conditioned to Ignore Bullying, And They Will Eventually Lose Interest. Fight Back, And You Make Yourself A Target. Besides, the one time I hesitantly went to the band director, his response was that it was harmless pranking, with a definite undercurrent of “you must have invited it by being stuck up, anyway.” I moved my band materials to one of the least wanted, most hidden, way-in-the-back-and-on-the-bottom lockers, and bought my own lock instead of using the issued one (whose combinations were kept in the band director’s desk).

    College, Freshman year, first quarter. I arrive early to art class, because I have some free time and I want to read my book. A Libyan grad student is in there, working on a sculpture. I just want to be left alone, but I respond to his chatting anyway because I don’t want to be rude. He invites me for coffee “across the street,” and I think he means the little diner at the corner. Instead, we go to his apartment, which is ~next~ to the little diner. Even though I don’t want to go, I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t realize he meant his apartment, and I don’t want to be rude to him. Coffee suddenly turns into extremely heavy groping and attempts to French kiss me. I literally don’t know what to do, how to react, so I just go “tharn” (ever read Watership Down? “Tharn” is that state of complete shocked, paralyzed motionlessness in the face of danger — the “deer in the headlights” syndrome.) He keeps it up, and I just SIT there. Paralyzed. Fortunately, he finally stops, he doesn’t escalate to rape.

    It wasn’t until years later that I truly realized how close I’d come to being raped. I mean, we were on the sofa, and his bed was just two feet away! (It was a studio apt.) And I could never even admit how much this event scarred me, because I ~went~ with him, what did I expect? And “it’s not like he actually DID anything to you, what are you complaining about?” But I never forgot how I felt there, completely and totally ~helpless~ to react, just SITTING there with his hands all over my breasts and his mouth all over my face.

    I felt that I’d deserved it.

    Now, I can finally explain it.

  194. You want to hear it as “snotty,” go right ahead.

    OK, I will.

    That was exactly my point, chava. No one here is disputing that street harassment can be much more prevalent in other countries. No one would have assumed there was racism in your pointing that out vis a vis your own experience. But when you feel the need to preemptively say, “Screw you if you think I’m being racist,” that’s when people start to wonder.

    And telling me twice to just “deal” if I take issue with what you’re saying is a really good way to get banned.

  195. Sigh.

    Since I clearly have not done a good job of explaining this, let me give it another stab:

    I have had people jump down my throat before, multiple times, for saying just that (“street harassment can be much more prevalent in other countries). This probably has to do with where I work and the field I work in (Middle Eastern Studies).

    So, when I made that first comment, I added the “deal with it” because I felt defensive/didn’t want to have to, yet again, engage in carefully explaining WHY it was ok for me to feel violated and angry, which has often ended with me just backing off from the discussion alltogether (with colleagues, professors, etc.)

    However, given my experiences in the feminist blogosphere, I should have remembered that the opposite is generally the case–I run into way more Islamophobia than the other way around. In any case, I didn’t. Please note that I am not calling Shapely Prose Islamophobic here, this is more in reference to some comment threads at Feministe.

    And Kate, I’m not sure why Regina T. gets a “I’m not saying you are a classist, but your comment sounded that way,” wheras I get a “I’ll call you snotty if I want to do so, and if you tell me to deal with it again, I’ll ban you.”

    In any case, I can see how my original “deal with it” rubbed you the wrong way. Hopefully the above explanation illuminates it a bit.

  196. It does illuminate it a bit, thank you.

    Regina T. wasn’t snotty. It was a completely different issue. You were snotty in both your first comment and your follow up. (I mean, seriously, you want to argue that “You want to hear it as ‘snotty,’ go right ahead” is not, in itself, snotty??)

    I can understand your frustration and defensiveness, given the context you provided. But I didn’t have that context before. All I had were the words “I lived in the Middle East for a year (yes, I said it. Deal.)”

  197. Hah, actually, yes–

    I want to argue that it was “angry,” or “pissed,” if you will.

    “Snotty” to me implies acting childish without a reason to be upset– something I think we all know gets tossed at women in regards to their experience vis a vis sexual harassment or rape, i.e., “Why are you being so stuck up/snotty about it, it was just a nothing thing/compliment/etc”

    In all seriousness, if you’d said “that was unnecessarily angry,” or “pissed,” I wouldn’t have reacted in that way.

    Now, I get that I was inappropriately angry/reacting pre-emptively to a community that would not have argued with me in the first place. But “snotty” seemed unnecessarily condescending/triggering given the subject matter.

  198. Vidya: “Perhaps I’ve just been fortunate, but I’ve never had a verbal harassment situation escalate after engaging the harasser in return on the level of a human being.”

    Yes, you have.

    And as meems said, being curt is not impolite. I’ll go further and say telling someone in no uncertain terms to cut. it. out. /is/ humane. It /is/ respectful. And it /is/ dealing mano y womano with the person who initiated threatening behavior. Every person should to have the understanding of the consequences of their actions made available to them.

    It’s a falsehood to deny that inappropriate behavior makes women upset, nervous, and angry. And honesty is something that is an important piece of the response to misogyny.

    And also, when you’re threatened, you don’t /owe/ the threatener a damn thing. But lucky, lucky them, when a woman is pro-active in her response, she’s doing them a huge, big, fucking favor by making them look outside their own needs and desires and HEAR WHAT WE ARE SAYING. Instead of demonstrating compassion, you are inviting them to experience empathy.

    Not, as i say, they deserve it. But there you go.

    Also: Reading all these comments, about how we react and what comes of that reaction when faced with inappropriate interactions with men has been… oh god… just queasy-making.

    Because /this/ works for someone and /that didn’t/ for someone else. Those of us for whom it hasn’t been “that bad” are “fortunate.” When it works out that we walk away safely, we’re “lucky.”

    NONE of us can safely predict every situation every time. The intersection of who we are, what our experiences have been, what kind of reaction makes us comfortable has to come up against who /they/ are, what kind of power /they/ feel and what /they choose to do in response to our reactions./

    They are threatening, and they have the advantage of it. And we have to do a complicated calculus of risk management, knowing it might not work out “lucky” this time.

    That. Sucks.

  199. Maybe I should say, we don’t owe them what they deserve. That’s what happens when you’re abusing your membership in the human family.

    Paradoxes. They define the human condition.

  200. “I’m now able to look back on these incidents as moments in which I can be proud of my own behaviour (the only person whose behaviour I am ethically responsible for, after all), that I stuck to my values and added a small drop of compassion to the world, at least. (I have been teased afterwards by friends for having addressed a harassing person as ‘Sir’, but, hey, it worked and I’ll do it again — it seems to consistently throw them off-guard and makes it clear that I have no intention of responding to them on a sexual level.)”

    Vidya – These statements are horribly offensive to me, because it seems to imply that your way is more ethical. I don’t think it is. If it works for you, that’s wonderful. I mean that. But I am sticking to my values and I believe that I am adding compassion to the world when I demand that others treat me with the respect I deserve. I am worthy, and so many want to take my worth and my sacred value away from me and my worth is precious and I WILL NOT LET THAT HAPPEN.

  201. I mean that I’m not comfortable with “when you don’t want sex and you have it anyway” always being called “rape”, rather than “being pressured into sex.” Both are bad, obviously

    I can understand that, but from my perspective of trying to raise awareness to stop this from happening, it needs to be called rape when it’s “pressured into sex” because it’s happening without full & enthusiastic consent. When women don’t want to have that label attached to them or their partner, it becomes something “not rape” but just unpleasant. That way it didn’t happen to them. This is a protective mechanism and it can be important and helpful for the woman in getting through the experience, but it also on another level rationalizes the way our culture operates and allows it to continue. I firmly believe that any time we let something that was rape be called something else, we do every woman who’s experienced that violation and is living with the aftermath a disservice, undermining her ability to name what happened to her and feel she has a right to be angry/hurt/upset/traumatized, etc.

    This goes to what meems said, essentially consenting because saying no is too difficult. I think the latter is a product of a misogynistic culture in which men feel entitled to sex. What needs to change is men believing not only that they are entitled to sex with any woman they want, but treating any dating or close contact encounter with women as a challenge to “get as far as I can before she says no.” If men approached dating not as a race but something else, where consent isn’t an obstacle but seek out, a lot of the dynamics would change for the better.

    Meems – that’s awful. I found myself going into tharn mode a few weeks back when some guy was calling my name (shouting very loudly down two blocks) while I was walking to the post office. It was an automatic reaction. I’m still kicking myself for not marching over to him and telling him off. The effects of that kind of treatment can really mess you up for good.

    Lori – yikes, I hadn’t even thought of that, but you’re right. Not that I really think that defensive mechanism works a lot of the time anyway, though it’s how I usually respond to verbal abuse in public myself.

    Lucy – I didn’t think you were advocating that as a complete policy, for the record. And you are right that the results of our current cultural attitudes about rape and men leave men who are abused or assaulted completely adrift is the antithesis of helpful. In terms of stopping male-on-female rape, though, I wanted to point out that there are other approaches that need to be taken with men to get them on board with that aspect of it.

    And I’ll shut up now because it’s late and I fear I may offend someone with badly chosen words.


  202. Vidya–

    The one time I have ever had a truly scary, dangerous situation occur?

    Oh yeah, the one time I ignored my “fuck off” instincts. The one time I thought “Well, OK, I’ll stop being such a suspicious bitch,” I ended up shoved into and locked in the backseat of a car.

    When I picked up the baseball bat this guy had lying in the backseat, he said “Do you think you could defend yourself with that?”


    I don’t give the benefit of the doubt anymore when that little voice in the back of my head is screaming “Run you fuckwit!” I just run.

  203. I also want to add that I have been mentally hospitalized many times and been to many treatment centers and I know first-hand that mental illness is sometimes a factor in the harassment, but this is all the more reason to enforce appropriate boundaries. At all the centers I’ve been at if someone’s safety was violated, whether intentional or not, it didn’t matter-depending on the situation the person had to be firmly told that what they were doing was wrong either verbally or by removing them from the facility, room, situation, whatever. One does not learn appropriate boundaries by never being shown what they are. And I sincerely wish that I did not have lived so many of these type scenarios to back this up. I wouldn’t wish learning in this way on anyone.

  204. DRST–

    I do see where you are coming from, and there’s not denying we need a radical consciousness raising, and using the word “rape” in all instances where there is not “full and enthusiastic consent” (not just yes, but hells yeah!) might be one of the few effective ways to effect change.

  205. What I’m trying to say is that if a man makes me feel uncomfortable or worse, I don’t give him a free pass or extra consideration just because he might have a mental illness. I have a mental illness and I don’t get a free pass. The best thing I can do for myself is take care of myself and learning how to say no is doing just that.

  206. Ah. I see I’m not the only one to use the word “tharn”… I just didn’t realize it had been picked up into (semi)common slang usage.

    But in Watership Down, it is much more than just a “hold still, don’t make eye contact” thing… it is very definitely a response of helpless prey to much larger, much more dangerous predator. Very high on the fear/paralysis quotient.

  207. KC Jones says: “But I am sticking to my values and I believe that I am adding compassion to the world when I demand that others treat me with the respect I deserve. I am worthy, and so many want to take my worth and my sacred value away from me and my worth is precious and I WILL NOT LET THAT HAPPEN.”

    I was going to get all lengthy, but I’ll just say AMEN.

  208. @Kate (Harding), yeah, I think you’re right in my situation. What’s frustrating is that he’ll stop – it’s been for as long as 6 months – and then find something I write to be “objectionable” again and start all over. And by that time I’ve let my guard down a little bit because he’s stopped for so long.

    Re: Tharn
    I’d never heard this term before. Very interesting. I’m not sure I’d say I’ve every really been paralyzed with fear (as opposed to being mentally exhausted from saying “no” repeatedly), but I definitely see how it can happen.

  209. One of the scariest things I learned was about bystander apathy (look up Kitty Genovesee (sp?) if you’re interested in a particular case). I now am terrified to be in a situation where I’d have to rely on others helping me. I don’t know if it works but when I was little, I did karate and was trained to yell “help, fire, stranger” because “stranger” isn’t sufficient for people to be interested or pay attention. But I think the stranger part is important. People often don’t intervene when they think that two people know each other (I’ve been guilty of this too).

    About bullying, I was horribly bullied when I was little. My parents made a huge stink about it and I was the second person in my grade to switch out of the school due to bullying. It had a huge effect on me though. I was actually talking to my mom this summer about it and saying that I finally am feeling like I’ve found that girl that I was pre-bullying (mostly due to the FA and feminist blogs that I’ve been devouring) and I’m terrified that if I hadn’t come across these blogs, I never would have found that person again. (If you can’t tell, I like pre-bullying me more than post-bullying me)

  210. Conditioning;

    I am perhaps sixteen and sunburnt. My stepfather tells me tomato is good for sunburn and proceeds to rub a cut tomato all over me, and then to try and rub it between my legs. Me, wriggling uncomfortably away, ” I’m not sunburned down there.” Try to laugh as if it is a joke and escape as fast as possible. Don’t bother trying to tell my mum.

    Not surprising that I spent the next nearly twenty years u

  211. Conditioning;

    I am perhaps sixteen and sunburnt. My stepfather tells me tomato is good for sunburn and proceeds to rub a cut tomato all over me, and then to rub it between my legs. Me, wriggling uncomfortably away, ” I’m not sunburned down there.” Try to laugh as if it is a joke and escape as fast as possible. Don’t bother trying to tell my mum as she is too busy dealing with his crap to notice her daughter’s difficulties.

    Even years later when she was considering divorcing him and we finally told her about events like this, she never said a word, and took him back for one more try because she was scared not to. Scared of what he would do to us all. When she finally got rid of him, she would tremble at the very thought of even seeing him, but it took her twenty years to actually get past her denial and get the courage to arse him. My poor sweet mum. Her upbringing had not prepared HER for dealing with men like him either.

    Generation after generation, we are trained to silence and to acceptance.

  212. Re: @ BrooklynShoeBabe and @Heather#2

    I think this

    I’m yelling for him to get off of me and push him off, but to no avail. Finally, I make eye contact with a man sitting across from us. In my biggest voice “I shout I NEED HELP! Can’t you see I need help?” Someone in the crowd asks “don’t you know him?”

    is one of the most telling posts in this very informative thread. Because why on earth would it be okay for him to treat you like that even if you DID know him?

  213. I think this

    I’m yelling for him to get off of me and push him off, but to no avail. Finally, I make eye contact with a man sitting across from us. In my biggest voice “I shout I NEED HELP! Can’t you see I need help?” Someone in the crowd asks “don’t you know him?”

    is one of the most telling posts in this very informative thread. Because why on earth would it be okay for him to treat you like that even if you DID know him?

    I actually went to sleep thinking this last night, because it suddenly hit me how utterly fucked up it was after I’d switched off the computer. “Don’t you know him?” = “Oh, you aren’t his property? Maybe that changes things a bit.” That is so wrong I can’t even.

    Caitlin – this may make no sense, but were you a Bronzer?

    YES! :D I could never figure out whether you knew that you know me. I posted there under my RL name, which is why I’m trying not to give it away here (mmm slight anonymity), but I was 14 when I joined (2000) and posted a lot with/to (Princess) Antipodean and was a UKer and had an inordinate fondness for Faith? And you’re on my lj flist. Heh.

  214. Thank you for this article and all the comments.

    It’s interesting to hear everyone’s experiences; since my rape I’ve become very aware that I’m not going to be quiet anymore just for the sake of some kind of twisted social propriety. Whether than means saying what I think, calling out sexist bullshit when I see it, or whacking some guy hard.

    I remember an incident in a pub; I was having a quiet drink with my sister and this guy, apparently a regular, came up to me and put his arm round me and said: “I fucking love your tits.”
    I looked at him and said, “Get your hand off me right now or you will regret it.”
    He continued to cuddle me. “Oh, don’t be like that sweetheart.”
    I’m getting pissed off now and so I shove him away and say, “Get away from me.”
    He lurches towards me with the obvious intent of grabbing me again, so I put up my hands ready to fight and say, “Get out of this place now or I will punch you.”
    Next thing I know, my sister has grabbed the guy and is leading him away with the words, “She really will punch you, you know, so you had better leave.”
    Then I realized the whole place was staring at me. I know I’m not the one who should have felt humiliated, but… the social conditioning runs deeper than you realize.

  215. @DRST: I understand that we disagree on this, but I do think “how can we change the rape culture” is a different conversation from the “Men are exclusively to blame for the rape culture”. The latter is a conversation about effect, not cause.

    We are not seperate from our culture; even our rape culture. Like most institutionalized problems, it is self-perpetuating by both sexes. Women reinforce the rape culture every time they blame or disbelieve a rape victim, or counsel a friend to pretend it didn’t happen, or pass on unconcious rape-culture messages to their children. They have internalized it.

    While men are raised with a culturally-reinforced assumption of sexual privilege and encouraged to violence, it takes all genders in a society to instill this message. Realistically, any positive steps towards changing this has to include strong and frequent messages of respect, non-submission, and boundaries for all children regardless of gender. Including girls in the message of respect and boundaries reinforces the idea that they have the right to expect these things from anyone they encounter, whether it be bullies or dates or strangers.

  216. I want to say this is a “wonderful” thread, but the word feels wrong. It’s one of those moments when you feel so grateful to be part of such a wise, caring community as SP.

    Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear has been mentioned several times upthread. It’s really brilliant and worth reading. One thing that has always stuck with me is when he says “At heart, men are afraid that women will laugh at them. At heart, women are afraid that men will kill them.”

    de Becker says that there is no right answer on whether or not to fight back, but that we need to listen to our intuition based on the specific situation. If your intuition is telling you you will be hurt if you fight back, there’s almost certainly a good reason for this.

    Way, way upthread we were talking about how women are socialised into being polite. I recently read a fantastic book by Deborah Cameron, The Myth of Mars and Venus. Extracts were serialised in The Guardian, and I immediately thought of her excellent explanation of how even when we’re being polite, people can nearly always tell when other people are refusing. She goes on to say that men who say they were “confused” or it “wasn’t clear” that a woman was refusing sex are choosing to ignore refusals that they are able to understand in non-sexual situations, because they don’t want to hear a refusal.

    Here’s a lengthy quotation from one of the extracts (you can find the full thing here:

    The strategies the women actually reported using [to say no to sex] were designed to “soften the blow”, as one put it, in various ways. One popular tactic was to provide a reason for refusing which made reference to a woman’s inability, as opposed to her unwillingness, to have sex. Examples included the time-honoured “I’ve got a headache”, “I’m really tired” and “I’ve got my period”. As one woman explained, such excuses would prevent the man from “getting really upset” or “blaming you”. Another softening tactic was to preface the refusal with something like “I’m incredibly flattered, but . . .” Women also reported telling men that they were not yet ready for sex, when they knew in reality that they would never be interested.

    All this might seem like depressing evidence that psychologists are right about women lacking assertiveness, confidence, or self-esteem – except for one crucial fact. All the strategies the women reported using in this situation are also used, by both sexes, in every other situation where it is necessary to verbalise a refusal. Research on conversational patterns shows that in everyday contexts, refusing is never done by “just saying no”. Most refusals do not even contain the word “No”. Yet, in non-sexual situations, no one seems to have trouble understanding them.

    If this sounds counter-intuitive, let us consider a concrete example. Suppose a colleague says to me casually as I pass her in the corridor: “A few of us are going to the pub after work, do you want to come?” This is an invitation, which calls for me to respond with either an acceptance or a refusal. If I am going to accept, I can simply say “Yes, I’d love to” or “Sure, see you there.” If I am going to refuse, by contrast, I am unlikely to communicate that by just saying “No, I can’t” (let alone “No, I don’t want to”).

    Why the difference? Because refusing an invitation – even one that is much less sensitive than a sexual proposal – is a more delicate matter than accepting one. The act of inviting someone implies that you hope they will say yes: if they say no, there is a risk that you will be offended, upset, or just disappointed. To show that they are aware of this, and do not want you to feel bad, people generally design refusals to convey reluctance and regret.

    Because this pattern is so consistent, and because it contrasts with the pattern for the alternative response, acceptance, refusals are immediately recognisable as such. In fact, the evidence suggests that people can tell a refusal is coming as soon as they register the initial hesitation. And when I say “people”, I mean people of both sexes. No one has found any difference between men’s and women’s use of the system I have just described.

    This raises doubts about the wisdom of expert advice on rape prevention, which tells women to do the opposite of “softening the blow”: in essence, it tells them to aggravate the offence of rejecting a man’s advances by verbalising their refusals in a highly confrontational way. This advice presupposes that men who persist in making unwanted sexual advances are genuinely confused, and will be happy to have their confusion dispelled by a simple, firm “No”. It does not allow for the possibility that men who behave in this way are not so much confused about women’s wishes as indifferent to them. Confronting a violent and determined aggressor is not necessarily the safest option and, to a woman who is terrified, it may well seem like the most dangerous, putting her at risk of being beaten as well as raped.

    Women are not wrong to fear the consequences of following advice to “just say no”. But thanks to the myth of Mars and Venus, they are not only receiving bad advice on how to prevent rape, they are also being held responsible for preventing it and blamed if they do not succeed.

    [My emphases throughout.]

  217. OMG I read this a few days ago when it was posted, went and read the original post as well…but only just now did I realize how this happened to me.

    I wasn’t raped but my personal space was definitely invaded…and I did nothing for fear of coming across “wrong”.

    I worked in an historic home years and years ago (we are talking mid to late 90s). I was the person that waited inside the door to take tickets into the Visitor’s Center. I also answered questions and directed people to where they wanted to go. I LOVED my job and wish I could get one just like it where I live now. There was a little storage type room right inside the door where we put the ticket stubs and our purses/jackets, etc. It was a big enough room that Security had actually put a little office in the back with cubical walls set up. It is where they typed up their reports.

    One day a man came up to me to ask questions. I answered them politely but the more I did the more questions he asked…the more he asked the closer he got to me, I kept backing up to get my space and finally decided to just answer his questions curtly to give him the hint that I had to do my job. He would wait until other guests had passed by, asked their questions and left and start in again.

    He eventually had me backed into our little room….he was blocking the doorway so I couldn’t get out. I remember feeling a little panicky because he was blocking my way and wondering what the hell I should do since I “couldn’t” be rude to him and ask him to move so I could do my job. I can’t remember what exactly happened after that…I am not sure if he got bored and moved on or what and it didn’t take longer than about 15 minutes maybe…but that experience really REALLY rattled me to where here I am, almost 10 years later, I remember it vividly.

    Of course I had those thoughts…I couldn’t be assertive because I would be labeled any number of things not to mention possible put my job in jeopardy if he decided to complain. While I don’t think I would have gotten fired…my job was wonderful and I worked with a lot of women who would probably been on my side…he still could have complained and made a big stink about it.

    It wasn’t until just a few minutes ago that I realized I was reacting in the way that was described in the posts…I guess it goes to show that we are trained to be this way and not even realize it.

  218. Between the murders in Pittsburgh and these threads and other recent high-profile incidents of women being treated as (and conditioned to be complicit with that treatment) an underclass, I blogged on this just last night. Of course I could have saved myself the trouble and just come to this comment thread where all of you have said all I wanted to say and more, and mostly better.

    I’d actually think 1 in 4 is a little low, if we’re talking implicit versus explicit threat of further harm.

    The whole thing makes me glad I’m old enough to be out of consideration as property, and also very glad my mother taught me not to be passive as well as she knew how. I tried to pass that on to my daughters.as well as I knew how. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a big, tough hard-ass, at least outwardly. And I’ve had bad things happen in spite of it, or because of it, or when the mask comes off.

    There is no way to protect yourself from it. The only way is to change the culture that allows women to be things and not people.

  219. @DRST: I understand that we disagree on this, but I do think “how can we change the rape culture” is a different conversation from the “Men are exclusively to blame for the rape culture”. The latter is a conversation about effect, not cause.

    Um, fuck that. Point me to the part of my comments where I said, “Men are entirely to blame for rape culture.” I’ve never said that.

    Second, even if I had said something that asinine, saying only men are to blame for the rape culture is still talking about cause, not effect. Saying men are also hurt by rape culture is talking about effect.

    Third, your focus only on women and what women can do to change the culture is limited and not helpful. Women have been talking about this issue for decades. We’ve been talking about how to teach ourselves and our daughters what to do, we’ve been the ones who go through classes (sometimes) about how to defend ourselves and how to follow the rules, as the original post says, and then still get raped anyway.

    Women are by and large not the ones doing the raping and constantly harping on what women can/should/must do to change it is victim blaming. Women can’t stop talking and working to stop this, no, but it’s not solely our responsibility.

    Women can’t change our entire culture alone. We need to do everything we can, yes, but without men recognizing the wrongness of this in a much deeper way than they currently do it’s not going to change. You can teach little girls that they should have their boundaries respected all you want. Without teaching little boys they are required to respect the boundaries of others, it won’t do much good.

    This: We are not seperate from our culture; even our rape culture. Like most institutionalized problems, it is self-perpetuating by both sexes. Women reinforce the rape culture every time they blame or disbelieve a rape victim, or counsel a friend to pretend it didn’t happen, or pass on unconcious rape-culture messages to their children.

    Also moves into victim blaming territory for me. Women also reinforce rape culture by talking only about what women can do to stop it, instead of recognizing that both men and women need to work together to change this. Treating rape like it’s a women’s problem rather than our whole society’s problem doesn’t help. As I’ve said multiple times now, women aren’t the ones doing the raping, men are. Trying to spread the blame to everyone is a nice way of diluting that fact and maybe you need to believe that women have more control over this problem than we do, but you’re not helping anyone by going down that road.

    While men are raised with a culturally-reinforced assumption of sexual privilege and encouraged to violence, it takes all genders in a society to instill this message

    Maybe so, but do you think anything will change until that first clause in your sentence changes? You can harangue women to stop participating in the rape culture and never doubt another woman’s story and support their friends when they say they were raped, etc., but that’s a tiny fraction of the problem. Until we go to the root of the problem, which is how the patriarchal rape culture socializes men into believing they have an inherent right to women’s bodies, there won’t be any significant change. And that’s going to take not just raising children to be respectful, not just women being active on this front, but men too, because men listen to other men in ways they will never listen to women.


  220. Threadjack warning:

    Anyone want to come over to my blog and help me with some male blindness to privilege? I posted a rant last night about the Pittsburgh shootings and how I see it stemming out of the cultural miasma of misogyny, the rape culture, etc.

    Someone commented that this isn’t about misogyny, it’s about “LONELINESS,” and posits that Sodini’s actions were him “giving back all the rage he’d received.” (Received from whom I can’t quite parse, but I think it’s maybe-supposedly the feminists’ fault?)

    For the longer term, this has me thinking I’d better make myself a comments policy. For the shorter term, there’s a wicked part of me that’s really eager to see what some of the terrific and brilliant Shapelings could do to dismantle his comment. (And perhaps, my post as well— I’ve already had to go back and clarify my language once today!)

  221. Part of the rape culture, I think, is the assignment of responsibility for sexual mores/propriety to women only. In the sex education that I received, there was a lot of emphasis on teaching girls to say no as a way to prevent irresponsible teen sex and unwanted pregnancy. And this same attitude pervades culture in other ways. The whole “what was she wearing/doing/etc” response to sexual assault is part of that. There’s this underlying assumption that if something sexually bad happened, it is because the woman wasn’t doing her job as gatekeeper and boundary-setter. What is never addressed, especially not in my sex ed classes, was the issue of men not taking that no for an answer, or the concept that men should respect whatever boundaries a woman sets, and certainly not that a man should observe boundaries regardless of whether they are explicitly set by the woman.

    Our patriarchal culture has built an insidious loophole wherein women are held responsible for establishing good sexual behavior, without being given the tools for enforcing it.

  222. @MezzoSherri – Done (awaiting moderation). I hope my comment at least approaches the kind of response you’d hoped for.

    I also have so many new books to buy now…

    On a more positive note, the lawyer just called me back. He’s not sure he’ll be able to take me on as a client, but at least I’ve spoken to him. If this doesn’t work, my parents are asking their lawyer (who helped them after my mom’s shooting and has known us all for almost 30 years) for a referral.

  223. @ Meems — You rock! I approved the comment and am just really grateful to be able to know that when I have more time to respond thoughtfully to Mr. Commenter, I’m not alone. And you’re so right about the huge new book list from here. The “Save for later” queue in my Kindle is growing by leaps and bounds….

  224. I haven’t gotten a chance to read all the comments yet, but the other day at work something occurred to me that shocked me. I work for a woman tutoring and playing with her 3 year old son. Sometimes when he gets quiet, I’ll tickle him to get his attention. One day he was annoyed by that and told me to stop, so I did. The way he said it was so self-assured that I was positive when he asked the adults around him to stop tickling him, they simply did as he asked.

    That made me think of how when I was little and my uncles would tickle me, if I asked them to stop, they still continued to tickle me. They didn’t do that to my male cousins, but they did do it to me, my sister and my female cousins. Basically I was raised to believe that it was normal that my cries for something to stop would be ignored.

    However, the boy I work with was raised that his would always be listened to. I think this kind of social conditioning is what makes it so hard for men to understand it when a woman gets raped? “Why didn’t she just say no? They would have stopped.”

  225. @ kikilaru and Caitlin,

    I think it has to do with the (cuturally inherited) thought that there is a separation between the public and private spheres and this separation means even if a man is doing something to a woman that he knows in public, it still counts as private (and hence, shouldn’t be interferred with). People don’t want to interfere with others’ “business”. I agree that it’s totally fucked up and the kind of thinking which has historically made it harder for women to get others to take what happens to them seriously

  226. Wow, while going back and reading through all these great amazing comments, I remembered something else. When I was starting high school my Grandpa (who I love dearly, but still this advice is crap) told me to never be mean to boys, because boys talk to each other and if the others boys find out you’re mean, they won’t want to date you.

    Luckily, I’ve never been a meek girl in situations where I felt threatened, but if I had, and if I had been a girl desperate for mens’ approval, this seems like How to Get Raped 101 to me.

    I’m going to have to make sure he doesn’t give this advice to my young female cousins.

  227. The Bad News:
    This is reminding me of some times in my life when I was younger and I “gave in” and did sexual things that I didn’t want to do. I did those things to stop the pressure, to maintain the relationship, or to keep something worse from happening. I blamed myself for this totally for a long time. I Should Have Known Better.
    The Good News:
    I am SO DONE with all that. FUCK THAT NOISE. While my parents did a good job of raising me to question authority and fight for myself, I was still brought up in this culture, and is taking me a while to get over it totally. This, today, is helping.
    As a bonus, I once got to confront one of the boys who coerced me and tell him to quit yapping about his “conquest” to everyone, and I felt so much better! I am also lucky to have some really great men in my life, to counteract the negative: my beloved boyfriend and another good male friend, who both “get it” and understood about what happened to me immediately when I told them. And my brother, who once protected a girl who was passed out drunk at a party when another guy was going to try to rape her. My mama raised us right. :)

  228. @ DRST:

    “Point me to the part of my comments where I said, “Men are entirely to blame for rape culture.” I’ve never said that.”

    I didn’t say you had. I was clarifying my point from an earlier post. as for the rest, if you read my comment, you’ll see that I’m absolutely NOT blaming women or putting the entire responsibility for the rape culture on women. I said specifically (and several times) that both genders had some un-learning and re-messaging to do in order for the problem to be fixed. Including women and men BOTH in the process is the only way its going to be done. I understand that this is a hot-button topic, but how about some civility?

  229. thegirlfrommarz,

    (Quoting Deborah Cameron:) Suppose a colleague says to me casually as I pass her in the corridor: “A few of us are going to the pub after work, do you want to come?” This is an invitation, which calls for me to respond with either an acceptance or a refusal. If I am going to accept, I can simply say “Yes, I’d love to” or “Sure, see you there.” If I am going to refuse, by contrast, I am unlikely to communicate that by just saying “No, I can’t” (let alone “No, I don’t want to”).

    Interesting. My usual response to that IS “No thanks,” and it’s rare for that to be challenged.

  230. Delurking … let’s see how this goes.

    Reading through various commenters’ strategies has made me think about how these interactions – between harasser and harassee – are mitigated through racial, class, and abled identities and presentations.

    *trigger warning for description of abuse*

    As a young girl, I was molested by a muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuch older man who happened to be African American. I never told anyone about the incident or the ensuing harassment when I ended things, because I thought no one would believe me, and I very consciously thought I would get in trouble. (Not because of the race element, but because of the usual woman-hating crap that I had internalized at the age of FOURTEEN.) As an older woman now, I realize that I likely would very much have been believed and *he* (not I) very much would have been punished, not because I had inherent worth as a person, but because I had social worth as a white person, and he didn’t. How horribly horribly fucked up.

    Fast forward a few years, I was at a private grad school in which I never felt comfortable (grew up poor and will always think of myself that way). My personality and sense of safety would change dramatically between school and my hometown. I suddenly became incapable of standing up to asshole dudebros at school when I would see them pull their shit on other women. I was intimidated by their social status, didn’t feel that they’d give five shits about me when I was very clearly below them (evidenced both by clothes and accent, even if they were too fucking unaware to notice it, I felt so self-conscious about it), whereas dealing with assholes on my same economic level in my hometown didn’t phase me. Tellin’ some dude to fuck off, coming up with colorful expletives? In my hometown, that’s what I was *known* for!

    And the wealthy, popular guy that raped me a couple years back? Nope, didn’t confess that one, either, ’til now.

    So in certain situations, with certain harassers/attackers, I have a body that is worth defending (meaning, I could possibly expect a little bit of support from bystanders, friends, police, etc.). In other situations, I don’t. And none of it has to do with my own worth as, you know, a human. It has to do with my *comparative* worth. It has to do with racism and classism. Both other peoples’ and my own.

    Again: how horribly horribly fucked up.

    I guess the point of my delurking was to ramble incoherently a bit about what is a problem for me in trusting my “instincts” and, in the moment, doing the complicated arithmetic of how, in this particular situation with this particular person in this particular neighborhood, given that I am this, this, and this, I should respond for (1) maximum personal safety while (2) not letting my privilege, if in that situation there is some, completely overwhelm my senses.

  231. I understand that this is a hot-button topic, but how about some civility?

    Man, it’s almost like this is a post about how women have been socialized to think that expressing any dissent or firm points of view is rude, or something. And about how that’s deeply dangerous and fucked up. (For serious, are you complaining that she swore? She said, “fuck that,” not “fuck you.” Or is it that she carefully and thoughtfully laid out why she disagreed with you?)

    I said specifically (and several times) that both genders had some un-learning and re-messaging to do in order for the problem to be fixed. Including women and men BOTH in the process is the only way its going to be done.

    As for the rest of this, the problem here, I think, is that your phrasing repeatedly suggests that the responsibility is 50/50 because, I don’t know, the population is 50/50 or something. But the power distribution is not 50/50, and neither is the perpetration of the crimes in question. It IS placing responsibility on victims to say that the disproportionately powerless and targeted group is equally responsible for fixing things. Not to mention that the majority of people who speak out about this and try to change things are already women.

  232. Thanks, volcanista.

    JoGeek – I expressed myself strongly because I felt you were putting words in my mouth. Regardless of whether you intended it or not, your comment to me made it look like I had said something that I not only didn’t say, but that was deeply offensive. I will not sit still for that.

    As for the actual topic, volcanista summed up my continued objection to your characterization of this problem.


  233. Gah! I hope this request won’t seem like thread hijacking, but I was wondering if anyone has any advice/ideas on what to do if a customer is the one doing the harassment. I know a lot of womyn struggle with this. I usually am pretty vocal about my boundaries by now, but damn it’s hard when I’m on commission and trying to make a sale, because if I lose a customer because I did what’s right for my mental state than I won’t be doing what’s right for my financial state. Ultimately, I believe that my own health comes first, but it’s hard to remember that when I feel like I’m harassed at work when I don’t make enough sales… And I still haven’t quit my job, which infuriates me, because the only reason I haven’t is because I know that I’m a valuable asset to the company and I don’t want to make the management unhappy. Ugh! I wish that we were taught to value ourselves from the beginning instead of the dollar (and men, of course.)

  234. And I second the WORD, volcanista-writing my last comment made me realize just how much I do (and I know so many other womyn) to prevent rape and harassment both to me and my friends, but also as a mindset that’s present in our society. I feel that womyn already do so much of the taking of responsibility that any talk of us needing to do more, makes me feel too overwhelmed for words. How can I do more? I can’t! So I don’t want to hear it! It’s time for the men to step it up about a hundred notches or more.

  235. DRST said – “Lori – I’m really uncomfortable with a lot of what you’re saying. I know your intention is positive, but I have a big problem with telling women that they need to be more understanding and compassionate. I don’t. I do not need to stop and wonder if the homeless guy screaming sexual epithets at me is mentally ill. I need him to shut up. More importantly, I need all the other men and women around me to recognize the wrongness of the situation. ”

    Seconded. Actually I really have problems with this too in that, why exactly is it women’s job to be understanding? Isn’t that just another version of the same thinking that the post is all about?

    This may not be what was meant, but what’s coming across is a suggestion that the onus is once again on women to deal with a situation where men are acting in a way that hurts them without making the men uncomfortable. Nope, sorry, that’s not our job, and I really think we need to draw clear lines around things like this. If homeless men are harrassing women because they’re mentally ill (and I agree that many of them are), then the solution is not for women to be more understanding about the harrassment, it’s for the local authorities to get those men treatment. In fact, if more women complained maybe that would put more pressure on the authorities to get those men treatment. (Being optomistic there, I know) Suggesting that women be more understanding of men who’re harrassing them is NEVER an acceptable argument, imo.

    Also seconding Anthrok8’s point – in my experience with men who are very pushy and aggressive being conciliatory often just encourages them, because they percieve it as a sign of weakness. Making direct eye contact, glaring, and demanding that the man in question back off has always worked better for me. This may also be a personality issue though – I’m a naturally assertive person, and was a jock as a kid, so being confrontational comes naturally to me. For a woman with a less assertive personality Lori’s suggestion about defusing situations may work better, but again I’d worry that in the case of truly aggressive men that might backfire and just increase the harrassment.

  236. For what it’s worth, my experience of living in the Middle East for two years was fine. In many respects I felt safer there than in many places in the west. I didn’t experience harrassment or disrespect at all. And no, I didn’t wear a burqa, abaya, etc. Most of the time I wore loose Indian-style clothes (salwar kameez) because it was soooo comfortable, and too freakin’ hot to wear western clothes.

    India, on the other hand… well, that’s different.

    I’m sad your experience was horrible, chava.

  237. On the issue of whether being passive during rape lessens the chance of being seriously injured or killed…you know, maybe that’s a result of the assumption that rape = violent rape by a stranger? What I’m wondering is, maybe because so many people still don’t quite understand or accept that rape by an acquaintance IS RAPE, and that it’s far more common than stranger rape, people are basing their advice soley on the stranger pulling woman into the bushes with a knife scenario? Because I see no logical reason why anyone would assume that struggling during date rape would result in women ending up dead.

  238. living400lbs – I find that if I have the guts just to say “No, thanks”, people tend to be a bit taken aback (I am British, middle class and female, after all – excessive overpoliteness is pretty much culturally mandated, and it’s what they expect from me) but accept it. However, it’s quite hard to do that, particularly if you are saying no to someone who’s a friend. So I often find myself in the worst-of-both-worlds situation, where I’ve been clearly and visibly reluctant to come along to something, but ended up going anyway. So now the person who invited me knows I didn’t really want to come; I don’t want to be there but have to go anyway, and am feeling guilty that my friend knows I didn’t want to come and worried that s/he is probably pissed off with me… (actually, that kind of proves Cameron’s point about how we know when someone is refusing even if they don’t verbalise the “no” – even though I’ve actually said yes, I *know* my friend was easily able to interpret my hesitation as reluctance and wanting to say no, which is why I feel so guilty).

    Man, I am so just saying “No, thanks” straight off the bat next time, even if it feels rude.

  239. I am loving volcanista, DRST and CassandraSays’s words on this.

    Also, DRST, I replied to you upthread but I quoted without your name so you might have missed it scrolling.

    And I still haven’t quit my job, which infuriates me, because the only reason I haven’t is because I know that I’m a valuable asset to the company and I don’t want to make the management unhappy.

    KC Jones, I know “the only reason” is never the only reason, but this is a little bit what this post is about too. If your job is making you unhappy and forcing you to compromise your values and sense of self, why do you owe it to anyone else to keep doing it? Your value and sense of self are IMPORTANT, and they are reason enough to quit on their own. If management are unhappy, well, isn’t your job making you unhappy now? Why do their feelings matter more?

    (I know in a recession jobs are scare and it’s never that simple, just thought it might be worth pointing out that this is another time the brainwashing’s coming into play against you.)

  240. Why do their feelings matter more?

    And that’s it, there, in a nutshell.

    Yup. I will owe a debt all my life to the woman (I can’t remember when or where) who said during a discussion I was reading, “Too bad if they’re upset. I’m pissed off too, and why are their feelings more important?” I had it as my msn name for a long time so I could just stare at it and try to work that point of view into my brain. I didn’t manage it then, but the last few days on SP (and elsewhere) have taken me the closest to it I’ve ever been.

  241. But you know, on some level, she probably is. We had a big discussion on the BlogHer panel about the way strangers comment on how pretty little girls are all the time. 99 out of 100 are probably completely well-meaning, but even that can cause damage.

    Kate, this is something I deal with almost every day. I have two daughjters, an eight year old and a three year old. The eight year old is truly stunning, and it’s not just that I’m her mother. EVERYWHERE we go, from the time she was an infant, someone tells me or her how beautiful she is. I talk to her about how it makes her feel, and she hates it. I tell her that people think they’re giving her a compliment, but if it makes her feel icky, she is more than within her rights to tell them that. I’ve given her things to say, such as “I’m also intelligent and my looks are not the only thing about me.” I’ve seen her get more and more shy as she grows and I think some of it is because of all this attention paid to her physical appearance. She’s still very much a little girl, but I am seriously afraid of what will happen when she starts to develop, and she’s 12 years old and men start hitting on her. My husband and I do not make a big deal out of her appearance, and try to build her up internally, telling her it’s okay to talk back to adults, it’s okay to say no to adults, it’s okay to fight adults, to tell us if anyone makes her feel icky or says or does anything to her that she doesn’t think is okay. I’ve tried to show her that I WILL stop it, if it happens. I have stood up for her since she was an infant and a toddler, to people thinking they know her body better than she does. “That child needs a sweater” or “Finish the food on your plate” gets shut down by me within her earshot with “Her body will tell her if she’s cold” and “If she’s not hungry, she doesn’t have to eat.”

    But I still feel like I need to do more. And her little sister, who is not as stunning as big sister, but is damn cute, is getting a lot of that wherever we go now too, and I’m starting the whole process over again. I just hope it’s enough! Please let it be enough!

  242. pyewacketsid, if you’re not proud of your schadenfreude, then I think I must be drowning in shame for the unmitigated glee I’m experiencing. I LOLed, and I never do that.

  243. Ugh. This whole discussion slots quite neatly into the rant that has been playing in my head all day. I just got back from a week-long very large camping event; the group I camp with are the GLBT&c folk, and a bunch of us were sitting around a picnic table when someone started telling rape jokes, stuff like the idiot Viking-dude who messed it up for everyone else by not getting the order of rape-first-THEN-kill-them correctly. And because one of them was the (rare in our encampment) het guy I actually had a crush on (even rarer), and even though I have become angrier and angrier due to my exposure to radical feminism and more and more likely to object I didn’t know what to say. I finally said something rather weak (to my mind) like, oh I don’t even remember, something like “Can we *not* tell rape jokes please?”

    To which one of the gay men replied, “Oh, we weren’t talking about *women.*” I.e., we’re gay, we’re talking about men, so it doesn’t affect *you.* Which doesn’t address the fact that the cute het boy was participating, now does it?

    I’ve known these people for years. True, I only see them once a year, as the event is far away, but I consider them friends. It is just so fucking scary, and so really really awful to get that whiplash kind of feeling like the rug’s been pulled out from under you in a space you thought was safe.

    So all day long today it’s gone round and round in my head what I *should* have said. Responses like, “Do you WANT me to go all radfem on your asses? Cause I WILL.”

    Or, “Gee, did you know one in four women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime? Let’s see, there’s me, Mary, Heather, and oh yes, Bridget [who is 12 years old]. Which one do you think it will be? Or, and this is not outside the realm of possibility, not at all, which one of us do you think it might ALREADY be?”

    Or, even, “Would you like me to tell you a story? About how in 1975, when I was six years old, my mother was coming back from a craft show when her car broke down? And a nice young man stopped to give her a ride?

    “Only he wasn’t a nice young man, now was he? And he drove off to the woods and raped her, and he had a knife. She escaped after breaking a bottle over his head. You know, just like in the movies.

    “She put the bastard away for 10 years. In 1975. Quite a testament to my mother, don’t you think? Of course after he got out he promptly raped and murdered someone else. Not able to be rehabilitated, you know.

    “So, explain to me, if you please, why rape jokes are funny?”

    Oh God. I am SO tired.

  244. sleepless–

    Yeah, I’ve heard that about India. It sounds quite a bit like where I was, actually (urban Morocco and Algeria).

    What got me was the limits on my mobility. It felt as if the men on the street were very much “claiming” public space and I was a poorly tolerated guest. Couldn’t exercise outside, couldn’t wear “immodest” clothes, etc. There weren’t *laws* against it, but it was enforced on a societal level by the harassment (does that make sense?).

    Anyway, I’m not exactly sure what it is that creates an oppressive level of street harassment, and what is dished out seems to vary quite a lot from person to person (I apparently got a mild dose compared to some other women I knew).

    I have noticed that there seems to be a connection with high levels of young, unemployed men. They basically have nothing else to do all day–their families aren’t so poor that the young men are begging or desperate–they’re just…bored. Apparently harassing women is the thing to do when you’re bored.

    There’s a mild connection to Islamic culture in it, but not really–the only connection you could really make is the public/private issue, and that’s prevalent in most culture (private space: women vs public:men). You do see religious influence if you’re talking about women’s rights and law–but I was never affected by that directly.

  245. I respect & don’t want to diminish the grave things people have written about here; but I had to come back to tell my happy little story of the day.

    Riding the bus to the airport, I was reading these comments. Got to the airport, and in the security screening, the friendly TSA worker asks for my license. He starts joking about how they check ID for people who look 25 — faux-flirting compliment, since I’m 37 — and that if my boyfriend or husband isn’t jealous, we could swap phone numbers, and remember, Boston is like Vegas: what happens here, stays here. I just laughed it off, with an eyeroll.

    As I put my shoes back on I thought about this post & comments. I went to the TSA supervisor’s desk, and said, “do you have a minute for some feedback?” In a friendly way I related the above, and said that I appreciated that he was just trying to lighten the mood, but that it might not be appreciated by women who had been harassed, or women who aren’t heterosexual. (Hey it’s Boston, seemed safe.) The supervisor, also friendly, said she’d speak to the guy.

    As I walked away I felt like a hero, silly as it sounds. I consider myself a pretty well Ascended Feminist, but this SP thread did me more good just now than anything in grad school ever did. Thanks everyone.

  246. Thalia – I think you already did the right thing by speaking up against telling rape jokes. I’m sure some of them will have at least been feeling uncomfortable and hopefully they will turn it over in their heads and think, “Hey, Thalia’s right – that’s not funny.” I struggle with with feminist responses to situations like this on a daily basis, and sometimes a little is all I can manage. But I think it does get through, little by little, and a little is better than nothing – next time, one of them might choose to tell a different joke, remembering what you said. Teaspoons, you know?

    I’m so sorry to hear about your mother’s experience. But to do all that, break a bottle over his head and take him to court and get him put away, in 1975? She is clearly amazing.

  247. chava —

    Ah, Morocco — your experience makes sense now. I’ve never been there, but have heard from others (including men) that it can be particularly horrible there, especially places like Fes.

    By the way, I’d call them North African Arabic countries and not the middle east, but that’s not so important :-) .

    I was in Oman, which is totally, totally different. It has a certain amount of the cultural space separation thing going on, with women definitely expected to mostly be at home raising kids, and most women’s socialising going on in the home, but at the same time women are very mobile, prominent in work situations, they picnic and meet outside as well, etc (weather-permitting). Most university students are women. So it’s an interesting mix. It is not a particularly wealthy country, and seems very traditional, yet it’s forward-looking as well – a very odd and delicate mix. Overall it’s a place that has apparently always had very much a “live and let live” outlook. They seemed a little aloof, if you could call it that, even towards other Arabs. They might think that you’re weird or uncouth or immoral, but would never say or convey it in any way or anything, especially to a stranger or guest. That would be too undignified!

    Any icky-vibe was ALWAYS from foreign workers who tended to congregate at the end of the work day in the public spaces. They had not lost any of their staring ability in the move across the Arabian sea :-\ but it was never worse than that. The local shabab (male youfff) were loud and tended to dominate the coffee shops, but weren’t threatening or harrassing at all.

    Of course things will change, and probably have as time goes on, but that’s what it was like when I was there a couple of years ago.

    And yes, what you said does make sense; in the end it’s the same effect as if it was actually written. You said Anyway, I’m not exactly sure what it is that creates an oppressive level of street harassment, and what is dished out seems to vary quite a lot from person to person (I apparently got a mild dose compared to some other women I knew).” I don’t know either. It seems to be a total lack of respect. I suspect it has nothing to do with the person and everything to do with the abuser.

    I really don’t think it’s related to islamic culture per se (see my experiences in India, where it is mostly Hindu, and Oman, where it didn’t happen!). I also think you’ve identified a very important factor there – lots of young men, usually with sufficient affluence (but not necessarily), but no responsibilities and nothing much to do. Recent urbanisation doesn’t help either. Moving from the village, away from the checks and balances and the need to work in the family enterprise … NOTHING excuses it, nothing, but it’s not as if it happens in a vacuum either.

  248. whoops, that was long. Sorry!

    And there should have been some sort of quotes or separation in the second-last paragraph around “Anyway, I’m not… …other women I knew).”

    durned lack of preview.

  249. My experience living in Egypt was, I think, similar to yours, Sleepless. Things were worse for many women in many ways than for much of the U.S., I think, but I did feel safer on the streets. There was plenty of sexual harassment, but mostly it lacked that malicious edge I usually pick up in the U.S. I say this not because of anything you say, Chava, but just because I get a lot of people’s knee jerk reactions that Muslim countries are Unsafe For Women (particularly white women), so like to bring up the shades of gray when I can.

  250. “I just hope it’s enough! Please let it be enough!”

    God, I hope so to. (((Erin)))

    You sound like a SUPERHERO of a mom for your girls. So many girls get the exact opposite growing up..

  251. sleepless and Lilah:
    This is so interesting, because here’s what I didn’t mention in my comment:

    I felt safer.

    I know, weird, isn’t it? I didn’t want to leave the house because I felt suffocated by the harassment, but I didn’t feel physically in danger in the same way I feel after dark *on any city street in the US.* Some strange dude in NYC sits too close to me on the subway? I’m imagining death and dismemberment. Same thing in Fes? I’m ashamed and annoyed, but not afraid for my life. (ok, there’s no subway there, but you get the point)

    I think the utter lack of guns was part of it, but also simply that stranger violence against women was not as big part of the urban environment as it is here. Again, no idea why. Morocco (in Casa) is the ONLY place I’ve ever let my guard down long enough for something truly scary to happen to me. I mean, I know that’s kind of a backhanded compliment, but it’s true nonetheless.

    (@ sleepless: I was living in Fes most of the year, and I’ve been there off and on for months at a time the past few years. I don’t like the term “North African Arabic countries” because many/most Moroccans don’t speak Arabic per se, and it alienates the Tamazighii population. but you’re right, it isn’t quite part of the classic Middle East–which is funny considering Egypt is also in N. Africa and it most certainly is)

  252. Quick edit:

    Things happen to women when they DO “have their guard up” all the time–it just so happens that the time I was attacked was the one time I wasn’t being a suspicious maniac, and if I had been I could have prevented it. Just goes for me, not other women.

  253. The guns issue is interesting; Egypt had men with guns on every street corner, but they weren’t wielded in a particularly threatening way like in other places I’ve been. (I braced myself to expect catcalls every time I walked past anyone in uniform, but nothing worse). However, the one place in the Middle East where something truly scary happened to me was in Beirut, which both had much more “serious” looking soldiers but which also had a generally more “western” feeling.

  254. (Oh, and I should say that when I say “non-threatening,” I definitely mean to me, as a white foreigner. My experience was, I’m sure, in no way comparable to how others, particularly Egyptian citizens, experience it and I in no way want to purport to speak to that.)

  255. On the issue of women being harrassed in the Middle East…yeah, it’s sort of complicated. I lived there for 12 years (Libya and Saudi Arabia), and honestly felt safer than I ever have anywhere else (even places like Singapore that are widely regarded as a lot safer than, say, most given American cities). Is there constant, annoying harrassment of women? Yep. Does it usually carry the undertone that it might excalate to violence at any moment that such harrassment often carries in the US or Europe? Nope.

    Possibly illustrative example – when I was about 14 I was wandering round a souk in Saudi, shopping (my parents were in another stall looking at home decorating stuff and I was bored). A man in maybe his early twenties started following me around, staring and generally radiating creepy. After a while I realised that he was touching himself through his robes and made a wtf are you doing? face. An old man running the stall I was in at the time saw my face, looked up, and also noticed creepy guy…and started yelling at him. And then chased him off with a broom, hitting him over the head with it. And then came over to me looking concerned and asked me if I was OK, where my parents were, if I needed him to send someone to find them for me, etc. Now sure, there was an undertone of “what are you doing walking around by yourself?”, but he was genuinely concerned, and he acted to help me as soon as he realised what was happening, and blamed the creepy guy, not me.

    In Saudi I used to leave my house and walk around my myself in the middle of the night, go to the playground and swing on the swings, etc (yay insomnia) from the ages of about 10 to 15, alone. I don’t think I would have felt safe enough to do that, wander around alone in the middle of the night for hours, in any Western country at that age. So yeah, as much harrassment as there is, paradoxically I felt a lot safer there.

    I actually got into an argument about this on Salon with some woman who was insisting that random white women were being kidnapped from cafes in Saudi and then raped and tortured by the police. That IMO is pure racism, because I lived there for 6 years, and I honestly can’t think of any place in the world that that’s less likely to happen.

    (Like Lilah I will point out that the experience of foreigners in the Middle East is quite different in a lot of ways to the experience of local women)

  256. Yeah…the women who actually live where I was a brief guest, as it were, told me similar tales of being harassed on the street–but they had to deal with the legal system as well, which is where the real difficulties for them lay. Things like inheritance law, intermarriage laws, divorce law, etc.

    Interestingly, most of them seemed to have the same fear of being alone after dark in “their” city (Fes) that I have in “my” city (NYC). So maybe it’s a lack of situational awareness on my part, or maybe we’re all so socialized into fear that we can’t see straight.

  257. Chava – in some places I think it is lack of situational awareness, but others not so much. In the Saudi example, there’s just a really low level of street crime compared to the US (I wouldn’t have done the same thing in Beirut, or Cairo, example).

    That was actually the most annoying thing about the woman on Salon, that she was insisting that the women most in danger in the Middle East are foreigners, and just…no. White privilege protects to a significant extent.

  258. the times I’ve been attacked I am certain it was because I was signalling VICTIM loud and clear.

    While I don’t want to question anyone’s personal experience, and I do believe that abusers are bullies and try to find targets weaker than they are, I want to also point out that there’s pretty clear evidence that guys target women who appear STRONG, or who otherwise do not conform to what that particular guy considers “proper behavior for a woman.”

    I thought I had the link and I’m too lazy to go looking for it now, however this news article summarizes what the study I’m remembering showed – that sexual harrassment, like rape, is generally more about “putting the woman in her place” than anything else. And it’s women who are strong, outspoken, or look confident that a lot of these guys target.

    Which is not to say that anyone should hesitate to teach their daughter to stand up for herself and be strong! Just that the reason a woman is targeted by a sexual abuser of ANY kind is much more about what’s going on in HIS head than in hers. People are not abused because they “look like a victim” or “got above their place” – people are abused because an abuser decided to abuse them.

    Looking strong, confident, and able to take care of yourself is not going to protect you if you run across the kind of abuser who targets that kind of person. So please don’t blame yourself for looking weak, or for refusing to conform, or for whatever other thing you think might “explain” the abuse. What explains the abuse is that the abuser chose to abuse, not anything you did.

    Scary thought, I know. But so long as our culture continues to pin the blame on the victim, more abusers are going to feel free to abuse.


  259. Whoops, I meant to say, “Guys ALSO target women who’re strong”… my point was not that women who look strong are more likely to be targeted than women who look vulnerable, but that “They wouldn’t have hurt me if I had been different” is not necessarily true. A woman can find techniques that convince one kind of abuser to avoid her, but those same techniques may attract a completely different kind of abuser.

    Abuse will stop when abusers choose not to abuse, not when potential victims all figure out the “code” to keep abusers at bay. There is no code, because there is more than one kind of abuser.

  260. I’ve been sexually harassed off and on since middle school, starting in 6th grade. The summer before 5th grade I grew ginormous breasts (my opinion back then) because I went from flat to B by the time school started in the summer. I was the grand old age of 12. By 7th grade, I had almost internalized the leers and suggestive looks because my boobs had to lay on some of the tabletops (science lab type). But the worst happened when a football player made extremely uncouth comments about me, like I wanted to have sex with him because I happened to be staring at him. In reality, I was probably thinking of something and I tend to just kind of unfocus my line sight for that. And he kept making comments. My teacher heard him once and said I should tell the administrator. (I should mention the admin had known my dad from the year before, from an incident where a classmate made fun of me because I was heavy and other things like not getting to school on time.)

    So I broke out my Lion King header from KidPix (geez, I’m dating myself here) and wrote it out. I made sure it would jump out and be known. My teacher and the admin were beyond awesome. They took care of me and reprimanded the boy. I don’t know how, but he never bothered me again. Also, the complaint went in his permanent file. He talked to me a couple years later in high school, or tried, and I shut him down clearly. The thing is…during that incident, I learned I had a voice. I could be and would be heard if something truly bothered me. And his actions, his comments made me see red. It wasn’t necessary and at 7th grade, I was more concerned with passing on to 8th since I was on the verge due to a bad home situation. I didn’t want to think of sex and frankly it grossed me out back then. Of course, I know it’s not about sex now. It’s about power and subservience. Problem is that I rarely give up power and I’ll be darned if some twit will get it from me. It makes dating interesting now because I still have that strong voice. I say what I want to say and when I do. I don’t hide things.

    Then in 10th grade, I was in one of my extra classes (exploratory type) and this popular senior asked if I was masturbating to the topic he was having with friends. The truth was, I was cold and put my hands in between my thighs to warm them up. The AC was on way too high and I was freezing. The topic they had been discussing (a couple of guys and like two girls) was the fact one of the girls had burnt her nether regions while suntanning for spring break (or as he pute, “You burnt your beaver.”) Yeah. Exactly. I wasn’t even really listening. I only remember it because his comment brought the subject back to the forefront. My teacher heard it and begged me to tell on him. I said no, I’d handle it my way. So I waited. And waited until he was about to graduate (near the end of the semester). Then he made some comment on the topic again, and according to the male reactions in the room, they were glad I didn’t have a knife while cutting the look. One of the guys said they couldn’t see my eyes anymore. Just my lashes, which is a big deal since I have big light blue eyes. They always stand out against my brunette hair and light skin.

    He never said a word to me again and no one else did either. In fact, the one that noted my eyes disappearing said hello the next year and was rather polite. I didn’t shoot him down simply because he learned his lesson. That I wasn’t an object and I’d be darned if someone would treat me as such.

    I still have a lot of conditioning to get out of me, of this society and its so-called rules, but the one lesson I’ve learned since is that politeness is a necessary thing in every day life…but not at the expense of yourself. And I refused to be any sort of victim again if I could help it. Sometimes I can’t or won’t be able to as I’m only in control of my reactions. But I can be smart enough to not take crap. To not let someone beat me down because they feel like the right is theirs for simply having a different set of plumbing.

    I was harassed on a comics board by a man that was my father’s age (well, close enough at 53) and he kept saying inappropriate things (really, really inappropriate things including when I married him I’d have to take care of him). Perhaps I should have turned him in but the PMs were deleted after so long. As it stands, a lot of the women are on the look out with his creepiness. We try and protect each other – though I’ve since stopped going but other friends I made on the board make me aware. In fact, he used his niece as an excuse to talk to me…through another person emailing me. I had spoken to his niece before and I actually liked her but I said no contact and I meant it. To the person who he used, I told him what had happened and the used actually sounded appalled. Promising to never be a middle man again and that it wouldn’t come up. I changed how I could receive PMs and emails notifications, I dropped the areas I met him from the minute I managed to make my feelings known. For about a month or two, he made little comments that I saw from other people’s quotes (I had him on ignore) and the comments about his passive-aggressive avatars. I fled.

    And I feel guilty. Not for how he treated me. Never that because I didn’t do anything wrong but be polite and friendly like I am to everyone. I was raised to be open by example. But in the fact I didn’t turn him in. And I learned he had done this before to another women. He told me personally. I knew the warning bells were clanging but I was trying to be polite and disengage in that way. Now that I know he’s loony tunes, I don’t know if my voice will matter because it’s a very friends-of-mods-are-safe atmosphere. And I don’t know if he’s friends with any mods. But I’m thinking of going back and being quite clear that I have had at least two other women tell me the same type of feelings are becoming clear among many of the women (a minority population). He’s using it as a dating service, and it’s not meant to be.

    I won’t get into my grandfather’s evil ways but needless to say my mom had a child by him. That should clear up any questions on what he did. And possibly to me but I have no memories and I really don’t want them. I don’t want to remember them. But it definitely had an affect on me and my mom. Not to mention his other daughter and granddaughters. I’ve never actually cheered anyone else’s death, but the destruction he caused didn’t leave me any sympathy for his predatory ways. I was grateful that he couldn’t hurt anyone else.

    So I need to stop trying to be…perfectly nice. I need to remember the power I have. Not just as a woman. But as a person. My opinions matter and no one has the right to take that away from me. No one. Not even me.

  261. I request a thread about bullying! Especially how it feeds into body image and bodily autonomy issues. I’m trying to formulate a coherent post, on the subject, but there’s SO MUCH tied up to my experience from primary school. This whole thread has been bringing up a lot I’d forgotten, it’s been kind of a hard week, but I feel like it’s good work to be doing. I must say I’m really glad I’m scheduled to start seeing a counselor again in a couple of weeks, I’ve got a nice stack of things to talk about already building up!

    Here’s a gem I just recalled. In p6 or p7 (5th or 6th grade I think), I had been bullied and an outsider for the whole of primary school, culminating in a day when I tried to run out of school and just go home, rather than put up with this crap any longer. My (female) teacher grabbed me in a ear-hug to prevent me from running out. I was in big trouble. Part of the talking to I got was when this teacher, a woman I really respected, very seriously (brow furrowed in concern and all) suggested that: 1 – I probably felt so emotional because I was approaching puberty (I was 10), and 2 – wouldn’t I feel better about myself if I lost weight?

    Gods, it’s so fucked up isn’t it? Here’s this smart, awkward girl who’s clearly miserable and having a hard time and you tell her IT’S YER HORMONES YOU FAT COW – LOOSE SOME WEIGHT AND PEOPLE WILL LIKE YOU.

    So I went on my first official diet at age 10, we had a pact, Mrs B, my mother, and I, to all lose weight. Clearly, the response to being unhappy is to attempt to control your body right? I’m so very sad that my Mum went along with this, she was a good advocate with regards to the nonexistent bullying policies in this school, but she also felt bad about her weight, and probably felt guilty for me being chubby.

  262. Oh Rosemary, that is so sad! I had a lot of unfortunate bullying experiences as a kid as well. Worst one I can remember is when a boy in my class (who had teased me constantly for nearly 7 years already) finally crossed the line (I can’t even remember what he did, probably pulled my hair and called me an especially nasty name). I slapped him. I was suspended for a week under the school’s “no tolerance” bullying policy. “That was very mean of you Annie. There’s nothing he could have done to you to deserve that. Look, the poor boy’s cheek is all red. You keep your hands to yourself from now on missy, or there’ll be worse consequences next time.” That’s what my grade 6 teacher said to me directly after the incident.

    And then, whoa, big surprise, I stopped fighting back. I stopped talking back. I tried to use the “proper channels” to deal with bullies (telling on them) only to learn that I should just “grow up” and “deal with it [myself].” And then I grew up into yet another insecure, terrified teenage girl who didn’t fight back when she was raped by her abusive boyfriend. And you know what? That shithead of a grade 6 teacher’s words were going through my head the entire time. Every time I tried to work up the nerve to hit him or push him away, I remembered: “there’s nothing he could have done to you to deserve [a slap].” So I didn’t. And I never went through the “proper channels” because I knew that I would be told that I was overreacting or that I should deal with it myself. And I never told anyone all that until now.

    God, being female is depressing sometimes.

  263. The problem is that authority supports the troll male pov. About a decade ago I got into a flamewar in Usenet. (Yes, I know, what are the chances. :D ) The male involved, who was a douche of immense proportions, finally sent me an email threatening to kidnap my daughter and make her hate me. (It arrived on the birthday of the younger daughter who WAS kidnapped 18 years ago and it pushed all my buttons)

    My very first action was to try to make a report to the FBI, since the guy lived in another state. It took them three days to get back to me. I won’t recount the entire idiotic conversation that started with him saying, “I just talked to someone at AOL . . ” and my saying, “I don’t have AOL, I provide web hosting and design and have my own servers.” It was unpleasant. It ended with him getting belligerent and telling me I deserved to be threatened, I had no business arguing with men on the Internet.

  264. @Gwenny, just wow. That’s utterly ridiculous – and scary! I’m thinking I may contact the state police about my situation (described upthread), and really hope that I either manage to talk to a woman or that men have become more enlightened in the past decade.

  265. I think men are more enlightened, but if you have the option of dealing with a woman, I would go for it.

  266. Annie, that sounds like my school, the anti-bullying policy was actually “Don’t hit back”. Seriously, not “Don’t initiate”, or “zero tolerance for violence”. Just some cack handed attempt to feel they’re encouraging a turn-the-other-cheek vibe.

    Kids acting in self defense against the big bully types actually got in more trouble than the bullies.

  267. That is quite true. There was a boy bullying one of my daughters day after day after day. We tried the non-aggressive way to get him to stop, tried getting the teachers to stop him. None of that worked. I told her to kick him in the nuts. She did. We got called in to the office. But the bullying stopped. That was about 16 years ago. These days we would get sued or thrown in jail for that.

  268. Thanks for making me feel even better about choosing to home school my children through high school.

  269. Totally, Rosemary. I think the official policy was “don’t hit anyone ever, no matter what” but I can’t remember a bully actually getting punished, just the bullied kids who fought back. And incidentally, the only person at my elementary school who was at least slightly on my side, the principal, just came in to my work today for her retirement party. It was awesome to see her again, but whoa, bad memories associated with her.

    Oh and Gwenny, good for you homeschooling your kids! I’m definitely going to homeschool mine once I have them. I just don’t like the way mainstream schools operate, and I’ll probably never be able to afford a great private school.

  270. Damn you! Damn you all!

    I’ve just read the entire comments, and all the points I wanted to make have already been made.

    Thanks, thegirlfrommarz, for that quote from The Myth of Mars and Venus, a seriously good book. You know how sometimes you wander into a bookshop just to browse, and chance across something you’d never heard of before but just know you have to buy? That was one of them. (Another was Graham Farmelo’s It Must Be Beautiful: Great equations of modern science, which says something about how much of a geek I am.) I love the way she lays into John Gray’s Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus stuff, which is so often repeated mindlessly. And she does it with linguistic science! Yay!

    Thanks also to A Sarah for saying something about homelessness. It wasn’t said for quite a few posts after Regina T’s post, and I was getting worried that I’d have to say it. The phrase god damn fucking homeless man is absolutely disgusting.

    Thalia’s post about the rape jokes is … interesting. And slightly disturbing. I’m a semi-out gay guy, but have few gay friends. I’ve never been in that situation, and I’m not at all sure how I’d react. I know I wouldn’t join in, but would I object? Probably not. I’m too passive. (I do strongly believe that absolutely nothing is beyond humour, but …. I’m not sure how to finish that sentence.)

    The relationship between feminism and LGBT issues is interesting. On a recent walking tour of the history of gay Dublin, Senator David Norris remarked that women’s groups have been a big help to the cause of gay equality here in Ireland. Other feminist groups have tried to downplay the role of their lesbian members, for understandable reasons.

    Getting back to the subject of rape, I’ve thought of something that actually hasn’t been much discussed: rape fantasies. They crop up sometimes in erotic fiction (often without warning, which is nasty: if you’re going to indulge weird fetishes in erotic fiction, warn your readers at the top, please). How prevelent are they in real life? And how do they relate to actual rape? How does someone who has previously enjoyed rape fantasies react to actually being raped? Do I even want to think about this?


    Have a look at this: http://digg.com/comedy/Girls_Rape_A_Guy_On_A_Bike Have a look at the URL. It’s filed under comedy. Hmm.

    Read this article from The Register. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/07/16/devil_girls/ Then read the comments. Particularly, read Steve Roper’s comment.


  271. Way, way, way late to the discussion here, if anyone gets this far …

    Just a comment about vidya’s initial statement, upthread:

    Perhaps I’ve just been fortunate, but I’ve never had a verbal harassment situation escalate after engaging the harasser in return on the level of a human being. Also, I’m now able to look back on these incidents as moments in which I can be proud of my own behaviour (the only person whose behaviour I am ethically responsible for, after all), that I stuck to my values and added a small drop of compassion to the world, at least. (I have been teased afterwards by friends for having addressed a harassing person as ‘Sir’, but, hey, it worked and I’ll do it again — it seems to consistently throw them off-guard and makes it clear that I have no intention of responding to them on a sexual level.)

    Most of the street harassment I’ve experienced has taken place when the guy(s) involved were in vehicles and I was walking. (My shift at work ends at 11:30 p.m., and I walk to work, so that’s Prime Harassment Time for me.)

    There’s not much chance of an edifying dialogue between me and my harassers when I am on foot and they are going past at 40 mph, yelling, “Nice TITS!” “I’D hit that!” “Nice VAGINA!” Usually, these encounters leave me doing a lot of inward fist-shaking and not much else.

  272. I have been reading the comments on this post for half an hour. Men should definitely care about women’s issues because it affects the way women will relate to them.

    I am one of those women who has been told catcalls are a compliment and to “just ignore it,” and I thought I could let this stuff not affect me. I started living in a neighborhood where I got catcalled on a daily basis.
    Then after months of this my loving boyfriend said to me in bed, “Aw, I love your titties.” I immediately felt like I wanted to vomit and lost all interest in having sex. Even hearing a “good guy” use that phrase reminded me of all the times I’d heart it from people I didn’t know who I didn’t feel had the right to sexualize my body. Because all those other times it really wasn’t a compliment when I’d heard it, that now tainted even one potentially good situation I could hear the comment in.

    It was really disturbing and sad to realize that. Very upsetting that being harassed by strangers on the street when they didn’t even touch me, could taint something that would happen INSIDE my house between me and a man I love.

  273. On a more subtle note…

    I was reading dear abby today on Yahoo ( http://news.yahoo.com/s/ucda/20090910/lf_ucda/wivesfindmanywaystocooloffhothusbands) and there was a perfect example of this in the letters.

    They were response letters to a previous letter about a husband wanting morning sex and the wife always finding something else to do. There were only 2 letters that were on the woman’s side saying that he should spend more time with her to get her in the mood and 3 saying that she was wrong in trying to clean while her husband was waiting.

    Maybe I am over sensitive…but it struck clearly that these people were buying into exactly what you spoke about here. She is trying to let her husband know she doesn’t want to, and he is getting mad because she won’t have sex with him.

    It also goes deeper in saying that a woman’s place is always to have sex with her husband even if she doesn’t want to (for whatever reason). Like the response that said “There’s a time for cleaning, and it’s not when your husband is waiting with his motor running.”.

    Or the one that says, “shows a lack of judgment, compassion and understanding on her part. “.

    While we can only guess at the wife’s side of the story…maybe she was trying to put him off, maybe she is just OCD…It pissed me off that soo many were making it the woman’s fault. How about him? Why is it his “right” to have sex in the morning just because he wants to? And why is it wrong for her to tell her husband “no” when she doesn’t want to?

    I could go on…but it is bringing back some bad memories and I don’t think I will.

Comments are closed.