Content Notice for not-very-detailed mentions of abortion, sexual assault, genocide, Nazis, and sexual harassment.
One of the most odious yet versatile arguments is one where the person in question offers their own existence as a justification for the objective value of something or other.
Forced birthers use it — “My mom was poor / raped / abused / young / unhappy with being pregnant, are you saying that I should’ve been aborted and not exist today?”
Status-quo warriors use it in their passionate defense of sexual harassment — “My dad once wolf-whistled at and complimented a woman’s tits on the street. That woman later became my mother. Without what you sensitive SJW snowflakes call ‘harassment’, I wouldn’t have been born.”
Don’t you just hate it when you think of the perfect thing to say after the fact? There’s a term for that: esprit d’escalier (or “staircase wit”). Then there are times when you can’t think of anything to say at all, which can be just as annoying. This can happen with friends, family, or strangers, online or off.
Nearly no one is born issuing snappy comebacks at the drop of a hat. It’s a skill that can be practiced and improved upon and worked on over time. If you want to join in the war of the wits pitted against oppressive jerks, you can, no matter how unfunny or dim you think you are (because you probably aren’t that bad). Getting started means training yourself to more quickly recognize situations ripe for a comeback, surrounding yourself with people who can inspire your courage and give you ideas, and practicing your newborn-to-newfound skills in lower-stakes spaces. Continue reading “Wit Against Misogyny & Various *-isms: A Beginners’ How-To”→
Content Notice for Sexual Harassment and Body Image
This past weekend, a friend of a friend insinuated that the reason I had been able to get two beers at this particular brewery instead of the single one he had managed to procure was my breasts.
Never mind that the bartender who had given it to me was the female one, not one of the two male ones, and that one of the beers was a half-pour. Never mind that I was wearing a high-necked dress, had another person in my company, had been a regular at the brewery’s former location, was in line far ahead of him, and was behaving rather sedately, especially compared to how loudly and boisterously as he was acting.
Nope, it must have been my breasts.
Had it been a passing remark, I would have rolled my eyes and let it go. Instead, he went on to hurr-hurr about it with another male friend-of-a-friend, so I was compelled to point out the most dramatic and most recent example of what my breasts have actually gotten me: rape threats.
There are plenty of other things my breasts have gotten me.
Before I started dating, I listened to a lot of men. One of their biggest complaints was that women aren’t straightforward enough. “Why don’t women just say no?” they lamented. “I waste all this time pursuing women because I don’t know for sure that they don’t want me.”
I have always believed in honesty and directness, so it seemed absurd to me that all these women weren’t just saying “no” when “no” was what they meant. Sentiments like those found in this article could’ve been snatched from my lips in those days.
I think the solution is simple — we simply stop using excuses. If a man is coming on to you […], respond with something like this: “I’m not interested.” Don’t apologize and don’t excuse yourself. If they question your response (which is likely), persist — “No, I said I’m not interested.”
Before I started dating, I knew and listened to a lot of men. One of their biggest complaints was that women aren’t honest or straightforward enough. “Why don’t women just say no?” they lamented. “I waste all this time pursuing women who don’t want me because I don’t know for sure that they don’t want me!”
It sounded right to me. I believe in honesty, straightforwardness, and directness. I believe in telling people the truth and communicating how you feel as clearly as possible. It seemed absurd to me that all these women weren’t just saying no when no was what they meant. Sentiments like those found in this article, which was posted to xoJane and made the rounds yesterday, could’ve been snatched from my lips in those days.
I think the solution is simple — we simply stop using excuses. If a man is coming on to you (and you are not interested — if you are, go for it, girl!), respond with something like this: “I’m not interested.” Don’t apologize and don’t excuse yourself. If they question your response (which is likely), persist — “No, I said I’m not interested.”
Just be honest and all will work out better, right?
You guessed it: wrong. It’s not always so simple for all women.
In my experience, many men take any kind of response from a woman they’re hitting on, any kind of reaction at all, to be good. The theory that all publicity is good publicity is not lost on those kind. By saying “no” to a man like that, a woman is acknowledging his presence and the fact that he is hitting on her, which, alone, is a win for him. He could take it as a challenge, a reason to engage and pursue, an opportunity to debate the woman as to his merits as a man.
Other men take it further and believe that a no is merely a yes in disguise. A “no” will mean escalation, often into the physical: cornering, following/stalking, groping, and so on. Still other men take it even further, interpreting the “no” as a challenge to their manhood and a personal insult to them. Reactions range from insults (“you’re not even that hot! no wonder you’re single, turning down a good dude like me!”) to threats (“I’ll show you what a real man is!”) to physical violence (grabbing, pushing, shoving) to various forms of sexual assault (so-called “corrective rape” is an extreme, LGBT-specific example of this).
All that for daring to express a lack of interest in a particular male someone.
The alternative? Lying in a way that those types of men understand. Men with such sexist views will be more likely to leave a woman alone, or at least not harm her, if she tells him that she’s “taken” by another man. It’s similar to street harassment: a woman is far less likely to be hassled by men on the street if she’s accompanied by one or more men. Obviously, not all men are like that, but women often have no way of knowing if a man is that kind of man until after that fact, and some of us are not okay taking that chance.
Honesty is only the best policy when it’s a two-way street, when your word is fully accepted as honest by the other person. In the case of some men with some women, such is hardly the reality of the situation. Feminist theory is all fine and well until, say, there’s a man much larger and stronger than you trying to grab your shoulders and force you to kiss him.
The idea that a woman should only be left alone if she is “taken” or “spoken for” (terms that make my brain twitch) completely removes the level of respect that should be expected toward that woman.
It completely removes the agency of the woman, her ability to speak for herself and make her own decisions regarding when and where the conversation begins or ends. It is basically a real-life example of feminist theory at work–women (along with women’s choices, desires, etc.) being considered supplemental to or secondary to men, be it the man with whom she is interacting or the man to whom she “belongs” (see the theory of Simone de Beauvoir, the story of Adam and Eve, etc.).
And the worst part of the whole situation is that we’re doing this to ourselves.
It’s gross, and it’s messed up, but alas, this is the world in which we live — which is why that last line makes my brain twitch. Some of us aren’t “doing it to ourselves,” we’re making choices based on reality. I’d love to quote Simone de Beauvoir to some sexist who can’t take no for an answer, but unless it’s online, to do so often represents far from the safest choice.
It disgusts me to my core that I have to use my partner as a shield against men who can’t take no for an answer. It upsets me that those men don’t respect my consent, my agency, and my ownership of my body. It infuriates me that my word is not taken seriously. Every time I use such an excuse, I’m angry. Unfortunately, in the end, my anger is safer for me than some man’s.
Months ago, when I mentioned GaymerX at an atheist meetup, someone posited what I’m sure was thought to be a simple, well-meant question: “Why a separate gay con? Why not attend Comic-Con?”
I didn’t — and don’t — plan on attending Comic-Con for reasons that have little to do with the existence of GaymerX (the fighting online for the privilege of paying them, the overcrowding, the obscenely long lines, the zero to -8734817 chance of actually getting to see any of the panels I’d actually want to attend, and so on).
Even if I were a Comic-Con aficionado, though, GaymerX has the right to exist. As stated in the journalists’ panel there, we can have cons about whatever we want with any level of unoppressive specificity we prefer and don’t need to justify their existence to anyone, least of all someone to whom the specificity does not apply.
As if being a member of a perceived minority like geekdom renders you immune to oppressive behavior — it doesn’t. As if a person cannot attend mainstream cons as well as the more specific ones — we can. As if members of the mainstream are shot on sight if they’re not part of the target audience at specific cons — they aren’t. As if mainstream cons don’t cater to a specific demographic — they do, and that demographic isn’t one around which I necessarily feel safe.
You see, I enjoy cosplay. The character I embodied for GaymerX is something of a queer icon, especially given one of her lines.
More than one person wanted a picture with or of me. Countless others high-fived me or exclaimed with delighted recognition. And, of course, most found their eyes drawn to the cleavage window. Yes, even the gay boys. Whether breasts are sexual to someone or not, there’s something hypnotic about a heaving bosom. I faulted exactly no one for looking since everyone treated me with respect, acceptance, and camaraderie.
The self-aware acceptance of con probably went to my head because, later that day, I volunteered to run an errand alone. A mere two blocks up from the con area, a random man stopped and asked if he could take my picture. Figuring he had seen my badge and recognized my character, I agreed. It was when he clarified that he wanted to take the picture with me that I grew suspicious. How could he get a picture of my costume and my pose that way?
The truth dawned on me as he attempted to squeeze my waist tightly as he took the picture (which, in true selfie style, only managed to capture both of our faces). In slowly-dispelling disbelief, I asked him if he recognized my costume; he hadn’t. Why he had wanted my picture if he didn’t know what my costume was, then?
“Well, to be honest, I noticed your cleavage.”
In an ideal universe, I would’ve said, “Oh, really? I had no idea my breasts were on display, but thanks for notifying me of this astonishing fact. I shall cover my bosom post-haste. May I add that you’ve done an excellent job in ensuring that there is less exposed cleavage in the world for you to behold and enjoy?”
Instead, I walked away, counting myself lucky that he hadn’t hassled me further. Hoping to be left alone for the rest of my walk, I zipped up my dress.
No such luck. Each block brought fresh reminders that I was a woman daring to walk alone: kissy noises, whistles, sexual solicitations, all from passing cars and street corners just far away enough from me so that I couldn’t quite see, let alone confront, the harassers. I trudged on even as I vacillated between terror and rage.
Rage ended up winning. I lost it when a man outside of his apartment building made animal noises at me after I walked right past him without acknowledging that he’d made a slimy comment. I turned around and issued a forceful “Hey, hey you! Has this ever worked for you? No really, I want to know!” Instantly, he made a mad dash for the inside of his building. As is often the case in the city, the door locked behind him. After a few frantic presses of the call button for the elevator, he fled up the stairwell. Meanwhile, I knocked on the glass of the door, repeating my question at higher and higher volumes, slamming my fist and yelling for a little too long before I resumed my walk to my destination.
Later, when I was walking with two men rather than alone, I unzipped my dress — and was left alone. What was once a body up for grabs to straight men had been, by the magic of masculine presence, rendered a body to be left alone. Perhaps, I dare say, a person? A girl can dream.
We don’t live in a world where a woman can wear what she wants without walking in fear. We don’t even live in a world where covering up her cleavage is enough for a woman walking alone to be left alone by harassers. We do, however, live in a world where people question the very notion of safer spaces for people who don’t get to feel safe in the majority of the world.