“Where Do You Meet Such Awful People?” & Other Microaggressions

Beware of blowing off steam on the Internet. Even if you tell people to avoid giving you advice, they will give it anyway. Unsolicited advice can often come off as patronizing and condescending. At its mildest, it is often utterly uninformed and useless to the person for whom it is allegedly given.

Advice is just one of the many counterproductive riders people attach to expressions of alleged sympathy. For your edification, here are some responses to some of the ones more commonly heard by yours truly.

I understand that in many cases, the people expressing such sentiments are trying to be sympathetic in face of common microaggressions and insidious *-isms with which they are unfamiliar. However, such statements simultaneously declare privilege without owning up to it. Plus, it feels as if they are putting it on me for noticing and talking about it rather than the world for being, well, full of microaggressions and *-isms.

It is is just fine and in fact preferable to express sympathy without riders attached to it.

Wow, how do you meet such awful people?

At the police station. Through friends-of-friends on Facebook. By participating in organized atheism and rising within its ranksIn college. School-assigned mandatory reading. Village-Voice-affiliated papers. Alt-sex events. Dubious virtue of birth. Dating sites. Gay clubs. Shall I go on?

The bottom line is that awful people are everywhere. Acting as if that isn’t so makes you sound like you think that I go out of my way to meet terrible people or have terrible judgment in terms of the spaces in which I exist. I don’t. Or, at least in the case of the former, I don’t complain about it because I knew what I was doing.

Alternative: “Those people are awful.”

It sucks that you deal with such bizarre behavior.

Jerks being jerks is not “bizarre.” It is my everyday reality. Treating it like it is some weird thing is incredibly Othering and alienating and a product of privilege to boot. It’s like calling me “exotic” and expecting me to treat it as a compliment. I do not doubt that my mere existence is an “exotic” curiosity to you and yes, I am sure the behavior I sometimes vent about is “bizarre”-seeming if you’ve never experienced it. I’m well aware that I’m generally an outsider in society and that my experiences are therefore outside most people’s experiences.

It might be nice, for once, to not be reminded, especially since it serves no purpose for you to do so.

Alternative: “That sort of thing doesn’t happen to me. It sucks that it happens to you. It shouldn’t be that way.”

I would never stand for such behavior; I’d’ve done [x, y & z].

I’m sure you would have yelled, punched, thrashed, or otherwise made your displeasure known. Consider that it is impractical or even impossible for some people in some situations to make their displeasure known, nor should it be anyone’s obligation to respond like that.

The cost versus potential gain of doing so has to be taken into consideration. I’ve been known to hollaback at street harassers but I’d put my money on them resuming their harassment after I’d shown them what was what. I felt good about it and have stories to tell, but I don’t know if I’ve actually had some kind of direct impact on them.

Alternative: If you’ve actually done the thing that you’re advocating others should do, you can speak to your own experience without giving unwanted advice by simply stating “This one time, I did xyz.” If you’ve never actually stood up for yourself in the way you’re describing, you should probably just shut the hell up.

Well, if I had been there, I would have [x, y, & z].

skeptical-looking owl saying "O RLY?"

The only time someone came to help me with a street harasser was that one time a man yelled “I’d love to suck on them titties!” at me when I was standing outside of my Seattle hostel. I yelled back at him; when the front desk worker heard a ruckus, he decided to step in. I was doing just fine but appreciated that he had intervened. I was also surprised, since in the past, no one had ever helped me before, not even someone who knew me or who could get me to safety.

The Internet seems to be filled to the brim with people claiming that they would have stood up for or fought back against jerks out on the street, yet out on the streets, no random stranger has ever come to my aid. Beyond my own experiences, such an occurrence is rare enough that when it happens, it is often remarked upon.

Alternative: Intervene when and where you can rather than make claims that you will.

“Where Do You Meet Such Awful People?” & Other Microaggressions

15 thoughts on ““Where Do You Meet Such Awful People?” & Other Microaggressions

  1. 1

    It is frustrating enough to have to re-live a shitty event when I write about it (though it does also come with catharsis).
    I don’t also need to hear everything I did wrong to handle it.
    “You should have….”
    Well I DIDN’T.
    But I got out of it in one piece. And that’s a good start.

    1. xyz

      These types of jerks never seem to understand that harassment is a dangerous situation that can escalate. Or be escalated by overzealous bystanders.

  2. 3

    All the people who huff that “nobody DID anything” when racists prevented a black man from getting on a Paris Metro train on the weekend got the wrong end of the stick.

    Everybody who recorded the incident on their phones did something, and the thing they did was awesome — they got records of the perpetrators’ faces, _exactly_ what was said, by whom, and in what tone.

    Not only that, they have ensured this evidence is not going away. It’s all over the Internet. The Police have it and they are prosecuting the perpetrators.

    All without anybody (else) being put in danger.

  3. 4

    Dudebro: “Pro-life people aren’t misogynists. They just believe that it’s a human being both before and after birth.”

    Me: (shows him tweets I get from “pro-life” people, such as one guy telling me he’ll gladly throw me down the stairs for my next abortion)

    Dudebro: “Those are fringe outliers! They don’t represent the mainstream pro-life view. I’ve never encountered anyone like that who was pro-life.”

    Me: “Well, you’re a dude. Not a lady who is public about being pro-choice and having had an abortion.”

    But the conversation continued with him persisting with his assumption that his experience with anti-choicers trumped mine.

      1. xyz

        “I feel like you’re asking me for my advice.”

        I don’t want to be rude but WHY would you think this? Offering to insert yourself into a discussion of sexism on a woman’s behalf sounds exactly like a subset of “If I had been there, I would have done x.”

  4. 5

    I handle it differently, online. I encourage people to provide me with the best free advice they can afford. Typically, I get reading assignments. The most helpful ones ask me to do my own research and conclude what they know already.

    As to giving advice, nah, everyone knows more than me; it is never necessary.

  5. 6

    For the last one, how about, “I hope that in the future I’ll remember this and if I encounter a situation like you described, will x, y, &z.”? I use this to make sure it’s clear that I’m not claiming some intrinsic virtue, but rather, as part of a thank you to the person speaking/writing, helping me be more aware of what I might be able to do as a bystander in the future.

    1. 6.1

      I prefer a straight up “Thank you for your input,” and leave it at that.

      The “I woulda” crowd are very unlikely to actually have done what they said they woulda in the situation they’re pontificating on.

    2. 6.2

      I am not a fan of that because it sounds like self-congratulatory bullshit. Things like street harassment are so common. If the person hasn’t already cared enough to act in the past, why are they making a show of saying they will do so? Actions first.

  6. 7

    i wasn’t asking for advice or assistance. I was just giving an example of someone thinking his own innocuous experience with anti-choicers trumps my own ugly and often scary encounters with them. I suppose he might take it more seriously coming from a fellow guy but I’m not even sure about that.

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