I'm not "offended," Julien Blanc. I'm terrified.

[Content note: sexual violence]

I wasn’t going to comment on this Julien Blanc thing because it wouldn’t be anything I haven’t already said many times. However, I was catching up on my saved articles and found this bit from a piece about Blanc being denied entry into Great Britain:

For now he has canceled the remainder of his tour. Describing himself as the “most-hated man in the world,” a nervous-looking Mr. Blanc apologized “for everything” on Monday in a CNN interview. He said he had not been choking the women in the photographs but merely had his hands around their throats. It was all “a horrible, horrible attempt at humor” that had been “taken out of context in a way,” he said.

“I just want to apologize, you know, to anybody I’ve offended in any way,” Mr. Blanc said.

This made me see red. This word “offense” gets thrown around whenever something like this happens and someone apologizes for it, as if “offense” was ever the problem. As though my desire to go about my day without having a strange man run up to me, put his hands around my neck, and force my face into his genitals has anything to do with “offense.”

Then I remembered a recent interaction I had on Facebook with a man who had made extremely inappropriate comments on my posts months ago and been roundly rebuked for it by me and my friends. Last week he sent me a message apologizing and asking if we could be friends. I responded very calmly and formally, accepted the apology, and said that I am not interested in being friends at this time. He wrote back, accepting my answer but adding, “I feel bad that I hurt you so much that you’d prefer not to be friends.”

This statement was the only part of all of this that made me feel any emotion at all–namely, anger. I had never been “hurt” by this man. I was not upset. I was not “offended.” I simply didn’t want anything to do with someone who would say and do the things he had proven himself to be willing to say and do. My choice not to interact with him further was informed by my knowledge of his willingness to cross boundaries, and even if he had changed significantly as a person since that incident, I wasn’t interested in taking that risk.

I was angry that he presumed my emotional state, as men so often do. I was angry that I was given no space to reject his offer of friendship except as a consequence of my feelings. I was angry that he thought that he, one of dozens of men who have disrespected me, crossed my boundaries, and hurled sexual harassment at me in the past year alone, actually thought that he had the power to substantially influence my emotions.

I am not comparing this particular man to Julien Blanc. Not even at all. Rather, I’m illustrating the belief that people (women) choose who to avoid or cut out of their lives or protest against solely on the basis of their feelings. I declined this man’s friendship because I was “upset.” Women protested against Blanc entering Great Britain because they were “offended.”

The NYT article echoed this in a different way in its lede: “This week, Julien Blanc became possibly the first man ever denied a visa on grounds of sexism.”

Attention-grabbing exaggerations aside, this is inaccurate. Blanc was not denied a visa because he holds sexist beliefs. He was denied a visa because he was threatening to assault people and encouraging others to do the same. Later in the article:

But as women’s rights and antiviolence campaigners point out, videos and photos of Mr. Blanc explicitly encourage men to harass women and lower their self-confidence in order to have sex with them. One tip suggests that men make derogatory comments about other women’s bodies to flatter their prey. Others recommend pretending to grieve over the recent death of a girlfriend or threatening suicide.

[…] The video clip that caused the most outrage was filmed in Tokyo and shows Mr. Blanc pulling women’s faces into his crotch on the street. In one scene, he harasses a visibly distressed Japanese cashier by kissing her neck and ear.

It is abundantly clear why Blanc presents a danger to women. Yet he, as many other men do, used language like “offended” to describe what he perceives as the backlash against him.

Pay attention to this. This is one of many ways people delegitimize our demands to be free from harassment, assault, and abuse. “Offense” is subjective. “Offense” can be caused by “thin skin,” “weakness,” “intolerance of dissenting views,” and so on. “Offense” is a reaction to a claim or idea with which you disagree.

I am, in fact, offended by Julien Blanc’s views on women, but that’s not why I want him to stay far away from me. I want him to stay far away from me because he has a record of harassing, assaulting, and abusing women, and I do not want to be harassed, assaulted, and abused. It is my right as a human being to be free from these things. It is reasonable for a country to deny a visa to a traveler who intends to enter that country in order to harass, assault, and abuse its citizens.

I have had strange men put their hands on me both in public and in private enough times to know the terror of not knowing–not knowing what will happen next, what someone who delights in making women uncomfortable will be willing to do. I no longer have the luxury of merely being “offended” at the idea that someone might do such a thing. It has happened enough times for the thought of sharing physical space with Julien Blanc to be terrifying, not offensive.

Julien Blanc imagines–or, more likely, pretends–that he is “the most-hated man in the world” because his ideas offend people. The only reason I care about the contents of his mind is because those seem to correlate quite strongly with violent, abusive behavior that harms me and people I care about.

And by the way, you cannot take sexual assault “out of context.” There is no context that makes it no longer assault, unless there was consent given and it was never assault in any context to begin with.


As a small sidenote, I’m annoyed by how many of the articles about Julien Blanc, including ones from writers I really respect, took space to insult his physical appearance. As someone who has written for publication before, I know that word limits are almost always in effect, and taking valuable space to make childish and irrelevant insults to someone’s looks means that much less space to use on actual points. It’s not just that insulting someone’s appearance is mean and pointless, though–it also makes you come across like you don’t have a better argument against them (even if you do). We should stop doing it. I say this not because I care about Julien Blanc’s feelings, but because I care about ethical consistency and good writing.

(Remember, too, that the problem with men like Blanc is not that they are “lonely” or “pathetic” or “desperate for female attention.” Many men are lonely and pathetic and desperate for female (or male) attention, and so are many women. That’s not what makes them creepy predators. Many people manage to be lonely and pathetic and desperate for sex without ever harassing or assaulting anyone.)

I'm not "offended," Julien Blanc. I'm terrified.

18 thoughts on “I'm not "offended," Julien Blanc. I'm terrified.

  1. 1

    Well said.

    Being potentially offended is secondary, and is among the extra reactions that potentially occur after making an estimation of someone’s speech and behavior and deciding what actions to take based on that.

    Sure, some people react more on emotion and possibly are unable to explain even to themselves why they react the way they do, but this hardly should be assumed, and certainly not when one has already been given well thought out rational and reasonable verbal responses.

    This is why I always enjoy a return reaction to a strongly worded verbal response that says, “Wow, calm down”, or “No reason to get all angry”. And it frequently seems that the “emotional response” is actually on the other side. Even “fuck off” isn’t necessarily very emotional, it’s just a statement that “I’m not dealing with you any more”.

  2. 2

    I’ve always been fond of (I think it was coined by Melissa McEwan) “I’m not offended, I’m contemptuous”. But I think in this case terrified makes much more sense.

  3. 4

    Great post! I ripped into someone for apologizing for “offending” people the other day for the same reasons: because the mere act of framing the problem as one of “offence” is a minimization/dismissive tactic. As you note, “offence” is subjective, based on personal sensibilities, and thus generally irrelevent. I’m offended by singular “they” and the use of “who” instead of “whom” as an object pronoun and ending sentences with prepositions and countless other minutia. Nobody except those friends who care to appease my quirks because they actually care THAT MUCH about my happiness should care in the slightest bit about whether I’m offended by something. What matters is that a given behavior is demonstrably harmful in some way. The “offence” framing denies any consideration of systemic effects or actual harm; fuck that noise.

  4. 5

    Great post, but a small complaint. I am not pathetic for being lonely. Took me a long time to stop seeing myself as pathetic because I’m not having sex with other people and I’m not in a romantic relationship, and “pathetic” gets slapped on people like me by society. I’m fat and not conventionally attractive and I live in an area without a visible queer population. My opportunity to not be lonely is slim. I can’t make anyone be attracted to me. That’s just how it is, and while it hurts (a lot), I don’t harass anyone. I just deal — it’s a problem I wish I didn’t have. I would appreciate it if not-lonely people would stop taking a shit on me because of my alone status. Salt in the wounds, dang.

    1. 5.2

      But also, there is nothing wrong with being pathetic or desperate for sex, either. Those things do not carry with them any moral connotations whatsoever, and they shouldn’t even be associated with creepiness, much less sexual assault. There are, apparently, a lot of stupid assholes who think otherwise, but they’re wrong.

      1. Oh, tell me about it! A lot of those stupid assholes attaching moral connotations to loneliness, unfortunately happen to be major players in the psychological media. How many articles are out there that say some variation of “loneliness will kill you”? A whole freakin’ lot!
        As you cannot make someone else be attracted to you — or even, really, to be your friend– then that means that those who believe loneliness is a health hazard either: 1. Have relationships to “sell” and a narrative to set; 2. Are oblivious to the concept of mutual free choice; or 3. Most perniciously: believe that you are 100% in control of whether others like you, and if you are lonely it’s all on you for not being attractive/ likeable/approachable enough. Asshole indeed.

  5. 6

    Many people manage to be lonely and pathetic and desperate for sex without ever harassing or assaulting anyone.

    Yes, I love this. In the two-three years after I broke up with my ex-wife, I was lonely, pathetic, depressed, inebriated and dysfunctional. And I managed to do it without harassing or assaulting people! In fact that’s one of the things I’m proud of in my life!

    1. 6.1

      There certainly have been a lot of terrible, boring writers making cracks about Blanc’s appearance. It’s particularly ineffective because in addition to being irrelevant, the fact is that Blanc is not actually ugly; he’s young and thin and moderately attractive in the agreed-upon conventional sense.

      This matters because a writer who mocks Blanc’s body is not only guilty of bad writing but politically motivated dishonesty – that is, they are one of those people for whom reality is subservient to ideology. Which is, for me, pretty much the number one sign that they have nothing of value to offer.

    2. 6.2

      And I managed to do it without harassing or assaulting people! In fact that’s one of the things I’m proud of in my life!

      Just FYI, I would avoid this sort of phrasing; that is, being “proud” of refraining from bad behavior. I know what you mean, as does anyone with half a brain, but SJ cyberbullies will view it as an opportunity to jump all over you.

      1. queequack–I’ve asked you numerous times in these comments sections to refrain from inserting pointless barbs against “SJ” where they are irrelevant. It’s annoying and distracts from the actual conversation. Nobody is going to bully anybody here. =8)-DX is welcome to be proud of whichever personal accomplishments they feel proud of. I am an “SJ” person and I understand their meaning perfectly.

  6. 7

    But also, there is nothing wrong with being pathetic or desperate for sex, either.

    Ehh… this is something I’m still fighting within myself for personal reasons. I hate one thing about me, not least because I don’t know how to do anything about it.

    So I definitely feel wrong and pathetic for it.

    As for Julien Blanc, I’m just glad he’s being booted out. Hopefully this means the end of his PUA career, but we’ll see…

    1. 7.1

      Well, what I’m saying is that there is nothing morally wrong with being “desperate” or “pathetic” (for whatever value you choose to attach to those vague adjectives). If you consider yourself pathetic you probably don’t feel very good about yourself, and that’s not presumably not fun, and you likely wish it were otherwise. But it’s not immoral to have low self-esteem or to be ugly or whatever; it’s quantitatively different from being a criminal or a harasser or even a “creep”, and the implicit correlations that are being drawn in the Blanc situation are bullshit.

      But anyway, this is all in reference to a relatively small section in the OP, so I think this will be my last word on the subject.

  7. 8

    Spot on, Miri. Thanks for writing this, and for including the bit in parentheses at the end.

    ‘Pathetic’ is definitely a loaded term, at best, in real-world usage. If you make the necessary clarification (as posters in this thread have done) that the word isn’t being used to denote low moral character or worth, fine… But as kellyw. said, it’s not generally helpful to get called ‘pathetic’. Personally, I avoid using it and wince whenever I see it thrown around unqualified by people I otherwise agree with on social justice issues.

    Kind of related to that; it’s no secret that the MRA/PUA/Red pill/whateverthefuck narratives and communities offer lonely men (and even a handful of women) some FAR more satisfying and palatable ‘solutions’ to their woes than does feminism, at least at first glance. It’s complete bullshit, for sure, but that’s the first camp they stumble into, at which time everything to do with feminism and progressive ideas (“Cultural Marxism”, amirite?) is preemptively poisoned by their new buddies. Speaking from experience, it’s pretty hard to talk a person out of that camp. It can be done though, and I think FtB, Skepchick and so on are great places to learn how. So thanks again.

  8. 9

    Blanc’s posture in that choking video (the still; no way would I watch the thing) is absolutely that of a rapist, to me. Standing there holding a woman’s throat, his finger to his lips – that says “If you make a noise or struggle I will hurt you even more than I am going to anyway.”

    I’d be more than happy to see him put in prison for a very long time.

  9. AMM

    I won’t speak to the main thrust of the OP, because Miri has said it far better than I could. One sentence in the OP, though, brought up in my mind, at least, a tangential point, which I thought I’d add, since so many people out in WebLand (and RL as well) don’t seem to get it.

    My choice not to interact with him further was informed by …, and even if he had changed significantly as a person since that incident, I wasn’t interested in taking that risk.

    May I just highlight, just in case there are people in the audience who aren’t already aware of this: I don’t think Miri is justifying not choosing to interact with this guy. (She can correct me if I’m wrong.) Miri doesn’t need to justify or explain not interacting with anyone. Even if she could prove for a fact that he had turned into the Dalai Lama, even if he could prove that he never made the posts, she has the right to still not want anything to do with him, for any reason or no reason at all.

    (I’ll get off my soapbox now.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.