The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of other things
Of shoes, and ships and sealing wax; of cabbages and kings”
This is off my regular topics; but Friday is my day to discuss controversial things.
As a woman, I fear rape and sexual exploitation above all things. It goes bone deep, beyond a ridiculous fear of public speaking, or of terrorist attacks, or breast cancer. The fact of the matter is, I am at constant risk for assault by the people closest to me.
More than half of women in Canada will experience sexual violence in their lives. 1 in 7 will be attacked by their intimate partners, still others by friends and acquaintances. In reality, only a fraction will not experience that kind of betrayal and loss of trust and be attacked by a stranger. Lucky them, right?
This is reality.
And what’s more, this is reality in a first world country, where women have the most rights, the highest advocacy anywhere in the world.
The Vile Scribbler recently posted this excerpt, which he said made him realize how lucky he was to live somewhere that “people like him” weren’t unduly harassed. I said, “People like me, too.”
…It got wearying, the constant crude sexual bantering and self-aggrandizement of the macho, his contempt for women, his bristling pride and enjoyment of violence, his needless cruelty to dogs and horses and livestock.…I came to hate it with as much venom as the most strident lesbian feminist. It was the root of the worst evil in Mexico, I decided, the real reason why men killed each other and raped women in such horrifying numbers. Not that those numbers are available. According to Mary Jordan of the Washington Post, fewer than 1 percent of rapes are reported in Mexico, because it is not treated seriously as a crime and because rape victims who do go to the police are usually mocked and blamed for inviting the crime, and are sometimes raped by the police, who get aroused hearing the victim’s story. In the Sierra Madre the practice known as rapato, where a man kidnaps a girl and forces her to marry him, is still commonplace. Raping an underage girl is not against the law in many Mexican states if the rapist marries her.…But I couldn’t help feeling outraged that the punishment for stealing a cow was more serious than the punishment for rape in most of Mexico. I still recoiled at the idea of a raped teenage girl being forced to marry her rapist, like Chana in Babarigame and thousands of others every year. I still thought it was indefensible that so many unfaithful husbands and boyfriends thought women should be beaten or killed for infidelity. It was pointless to make these judgments. It was none of my business. But I couldn’t help making them.
Feminism has become a dirty word, and I’m sorry about that. But I don’t give a fuck what you call it, as long as you can understand that I will not allow my physical vulnerability to men mirror any sort of psychological vulnerabilty. Because in spite of great leaps, women are still socialized to be appeasers. Women still worry more about hurting people’s feelings than of protecting themselves. And the mockery of feminism seeks to invalidate all the strides we have made towards correcting deficiency.
This is what Gavin De Becker, author of The Gift of Fear wishes women would say when confronted with a man who doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘No’.
Man: What a bitch. What’s your problem, lady? I was just trying to offer a little help to a pretty woman. What are you so paranoid about?
Woman: You’re right. I shouldn’t be wary. I’m overreacting about nothing. I mean, just because a man makes an unsolicited and persistent approach in an underground parking lot in a society where crimes against women have risen four times faster than the general crime rate and three out of four women will suffer a violent crime; and just because I’ve personally heard horror stories from every female friend I’ve ever had; and just because I have to consider where I park, where I walk, whom I talk to, and whom I date in the context of whether someone will kill me or rape me or scare me half to death; and just because several times a week someone makes an inappropriate remark, stares at me, harasses me, follows me or drives alongside my car pacing me; and just because I have to deal with my apartment manage who gives me the creeps for reasons I haven’t figured out, yet I can tell by the way he looks at me that given the opportunity he’d do something that would get us both on the evening news; and just because these are life-and-death issues that most men know nothing about so that I’m made to feel foolish for being cautious even though I live at the centre of a swirl of possible hazards doesn’t mean a woman shouldn’t be wary of a stranger who ignores the word “no”.
I certainly wish I had known what to say.
In their defence
Most men have no idea what this low-level anxiety is like because they have never experienced what it’s like to be objectivized. Perhaps the men reading this will be dumbfound by these numbers, these accounts.
I have worked almost exclusively with men for more than half of my adult life, in what is arguable the last male-dominated field — the Oil and Gas industry.
People used to ask me what it was like, how hard it was. The truth was, the patch is peopled by rafts of extremely caring, sensitive, polite men. They were often old-fashioned in the best sense of the term. Yes, I
occasionally regularly experienced breath-taking sexual harassment, but 99 % of the men I encountered treated me well. Not as an equal, perhaps, but well enough.
So I think it’s perhaps that the decent guys simply cannot concieve that you would treat a woman like that, and so do not experience it and do not see it.
So I’m saying— It happens. It happens all the time and it is minimized, swept under the rug, downplayed, ignored and the victim is made to feel like it’s best not to say anything. Maybe it was all a misunderstanding. Maybe she was too sensitive. Maybe she led him on. Maybe it was her fault for not saying no more clearly or earlier on.
Men are bigger, and stronger. It’s a fact. I can beat a man, but I have to be scared, and I have to mean it. When you’re being attacked, there is a dreamlike quality to the situation: This can’t be happening, can it?
I think we’d all like to think it’s some kind of nightmare; something else the media blows out of proportion, another silly thing we fear, like the bogeyman in the closet.
Harassment is a crime, too
The numbers I gave you are just for violence and rape. Harassment and inappropriate conduct are so underreported I don’t think it’s worthwhile to toss out stats.
I have nothing against ribald humor, personally. In the patch, it was a subtle form of hazing, just a way to see if the men were going to have to watch themselves around me. Going into the doghouse to see it papered with centerfolds was nothing to blink an eye at, but it was clear that it was I that was the interloper.
I’m not saying that the men all saw me as a piece of meat. In fact, many of them have told me they enjoyed working with me, because they found that the other guys worked harder and they all had a better time with a woman on location. Sure, you can clearly see I was not “one of the guys” but I wasn’t resented. They respected me and the job I did.
But there’s always that assumption that you’re going to be swayed by charm and finesse. There’s the idea that you need to be protected. I find that protecting someone brings out the best in people, so I’m not decrying that — but you have to be on guard against actually coming to believe that you need the protection.
It’s easy to say, “Men need to stop doing X to avoid victimizing women.” I don’t think that’s true. It may be unfortunate that I get a slap on the ass for a job well done, but you know, the men were doing that to each other already. Arguably, not giving me the swat I’d earned was more of an inequality.
I harp on motivation a lot around here. Motivation is everything. A condescending offer of assistance from a supervisor, in my opinion, is a lot worse than the sweet, but poorly-worded compliment, “I’d like to fuck you and see if any of your awesomeness sticks.”
It’s incredibly hard to police motivations. That’s why we try to police actions. It’s an easy metric, but it actually doesn’t mean anything. I have felt more skeeved out by a handshake than an explicit but heartfelt compliment.
I think I have about a 40-60 split of male to female readers, and I would like to humbly request that we begin a dialogue, to bring the issue out into the light.
Were you surprised by what you read? Does it ring true, or false? Have you experienced fear or violence, and how has it affected how you react to situations now? Have you witnessed violence or harassment, and how did you react? Men? Women? I want to hear from both sides, because there’s evidently so much we’re not saying.
What role does harassment have in your life? What kinds of things make you uncomfortable but aren’t actually against the rules? What kinds of wildly inappropriate things have you heard?
Thank you to Lindsay Donner for the inspiration and courage to post my own feminist rant.