A while back, I wrote a piece initially titled “Dear Men, You are Not Rapists.” I received many criticisms of it, some useful and productive, while other critiques chastised me for a wide variety of offenses. In the backlash, I became frustrated, especially with comments about how I can’t write about this on the grounds that I’m female and can’t know what it’s like to be profiled as a rapist. So I should stop writing because well Joe Commentator thinks so.
I gave him the benefit of the doubt, asking what specifically I could write to write a parallel piece. He hasn’t sent me any constructive criticism on how it feels, nor has he answered my requests for submissions from the male perspective. He didn’t want to remedy the injustice. He just wanted me to stop blogging.
I didn’t recognize it at first, but then I remembered that Daniel Tosh and the etiquette of comedy club heckling. I remembered Anita Sarkeesian and the backlash to her comment that there might be sexism in the gaming industry. The author in who complained about Daniel Tosh, Anita Sarkeesian, Jennifer Helper of Bioware, and Rebecca Watson of Skepchick, to name a few.
These women have nothing in common except for being guilty of Speaking Out While Female. They receive criticisms on their techniques, asked about the validity of their arguments, their tone labeled as off-putting, or accused of not knowing what they’re talking about. In short, they are asked to be silent.
This piece is for them. It’s about being silenced, the shut up and leave mentality, the whole “If you don’t like comedy Daniel Tosh does, leave.” or “STFU, he wasn’t actually threatening to rape her.” It was just a joke. Lighten up. Chill out. Don’t go there. Don’t watch that. And if you happen to see it inadvertently, tough cookies.
Why is the responsibility of half the population to avoid situations that are aggressive toward them? Why isn’t the onus on making welcoming to half the population? We chastise people for being lewd in public because of the impact it has on other people. Youtube is public. The internet is public. So, shouldn’t the same basic rules of decency apply?
Look, I’ll laugh at a good rape joke. But not when rape is the punchline. Because the fear of rape is ingrained in my life in ways that it is not in my male counterparts.
For example, one night I was walking from 30th Street Station in Philadelphia to the bus station, waiting for my uncle to pick me up. It was getting dark, and I was wearing shorts and a tshirt. I was female and alone at night. I waited, pacing the corner across from where I was supposed to wait. I couldn’t actually go to the corner where I was supposed to because there are these three guys who were aggressively hocking water bottles and every day. In fact, just that morning, they had told me to smile sweetheart. I had had the audacity not to be smiling because I had been in a rush, and trying to get past their stand to the Metro station. I had responded with mental finger, but I didn’t feel safe around them; they were three young guys who were pushy and much larger than me. I knew statistically that they were no threat, but I still felt uneasy.
If I was a man, instead of evaluating would haven watching and waiting for my ride, not wondering if they would try to rape me, what restaurants were open so that I can seek shelter, I would have been able to wait in relative ease. But because I’m a woman, socialized to be afraid, my thoughts were racing. My backpack was heavy, and I’m not a fast runner; I debated, should I drop my laptop? But I just bought it! I moved around, shifted the weight in my backpack and watched and waited for my ride. After what seemed like forever, but was really only fifteen minutes, my uncle picked me up. Nothing had happened, just like I knew that nothing would.
This is the story of the time I almost flipped off my uncle when I was walking with my teenage sister. He drove up behind us and honked at us. I nearly yelled, “watch it a******!” when I asked him later, he asked, honestly befuddled, “Who else would it be? ”
My sister, barely sixteen, understood right away.
And these stories are two of many. Only two of mine. Ask about street harassment, sexual assault, and you’ll find that nearly everyone has a story
That, my friends, is why we are speaking out. This is why joking that someone should be gang raped isn’t funny. So, yes, I will speak out. Yes, I will continue to ask people to behave decently, and to be aware of the impact their actions have on other people.
Because these things that we are just supposed to let drop, to ignore, to treat as just a joke, do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in a culture that reinforces those same messages over and over again. These admonitions or “suggestions” to avoid these things whittle away at our basic freedom to exist in public without being threatened or intimidated. Don’t like the comments on Reddit? Just ignore the “front page of the internet,” and all the news it delivers. Don’t like rape jokes, don’t go to comedy clubs. Don’t like the fact that the only character option you have in every single video game is a sex object with unnecessary, pixelated cleavage? Don’t play video games. Don’t like people asking you out in elevators? Don’t go in elevators. Don’t like people harassing you on the street? You didn’t have to be out of the house in the first place.
For each cut at our personal freedom, we fight it, and each time, critics accuse us of over-reacting. We are accused of speaking up, of over-reacting, and are subject to nasty insults and threats. So, when we’re speaking up, we’re not speaking up in a vacuum. We’re just asking you to listen before you accuse us of overreacting. Think of the context in which we’re speaking. Or ask us for a bigger picture. Contrary to popular mythos, women don’t freak out irrationally. There are reasons for our actions, but it’s easier to call us crazy and dismiss our claims without merit than to look for the cause or change your behavior.