coraa: (hopeful flamethrower)
The boy and I just got back from going out for pizza. While we were there, a man entered the restaurant -- I'm not sure whether he was homeless, panhandling, mentally unstable, or what, but he made a beeline for us and tried to get our attention to ask us for something. An employee intervened very quickly with a polite but firm "I'll have to ask you not to disturb our customers," very quickly.

I was sitting facing the door, with my back to the wall, at the very back of the restaurant; the boy had his back to the door, facing me. I observed, "I wonder why he came straight to us? He had to walk through the entire restaurant, right past the counter, and he passed tables and tables full of people."

"Hm," the boy said. "I wonder if he thought I was female?" (He has long hair, and not long hair in a guy-ponytail but long, relatively well-groomed, loose wavy hair. And as I said, he was sitting with his back to the door)

I looked around the restaurant again, and sure enough, there were no women there at that moment (the restaurant was only maybe half full) who were by themselves, or with another woman; there were a couple of men alone, and a few women with men. I suspect he saw a table with two women and no men and thought we were the best target, and so passed by every other person in the restaurant to get to us.

That's something that's happened to us a few times. I'm used to getting catcalled/shouted at when alone, and when I'm with my female friends. (In fact, sometimes it seems like a group of women together gets more catcalls than a woman alone; I'm grateful for this, because they frighten me less when I'm in a group, even if there are more of them.) I'm pretty used to hearing them.

But I never heard them when I was with a guy until the boy's hair grew out enough that he was mistake-able for a woman at a distance, or from the back. (From the front, up close, the persistent stubble does give him away. ;) And as soon as that happened, we started to get catcalls. Not often, but more than often enough, thank you.

(Another example: we were walking down the street when a pickup truck full of young men -- I'd say late teens and early twenties -- pulled up to a stop at the same time we were waiting for the light to change. We happened to be holding hands. The men in the truck started to holler at us, whoop, shout, "Oooooh BABY," say "Kiss her! Kiss her for us!" and "YEAH, that's SEXY!" We were absolutely croggled; why on earth would a truck full of men be so interested in watching a couple of very normal-looking people hold hands? It wasn't until they'd driven on that it occurred to us that they'd mistaken the boy for a woman, and therefore that they'd thought we were a same-sex female couple.)

And you know? It hadn't even really occurred to me the difference -- that the hollering, catcalling, shouting, sexual remarks didn't happen to men as much, or to men with women, but instead happened mostly just to women alone or women with women... until I noticed that it started happening to us when the boy started being mistaken for a woman at a distance. And if I didn't realize it, how many guys don't realize that it happens at all?

(And, to show my own lack of perceptiveness and empathy: despite having several gay and bisexual friends, I hadn't realized how much abuse lesbian couples can get on the street until we started being mistaken for one. I should have, but it didn't occur to me, and there's my privilege.)

(And one more thing -- another element that I was privileged enough to not realize until I started reading a wider variety of blogs this year: I am told that African American women get even more catcalling on the street than white women [I don't know about other POC; I think I've heard Hispanic women say the same thing], which furthers my impression that this -- reducing a woman to her sexual characteristics and assuming that they're there for your pleasure -- is mostly about power, and about who 'owns' the public sphere.)
coraa: (girl with book)
I don't always agree with Bitch, Ph.D., but this post about empathy really resonated with me.

Especially:


A couple nights ago, I had gone over to the house of my dear friends to celebrate my engagement and was coming home late. I was almost home, standing at the corner waiting for the light to change, when a man approached me.

Guy: Excuse me?
Me: Yes? What?
Guy: What's your name again?
Me: I didn't tell you my name.
Guy: Oh, well, hi. What's your name? [holds out hand]
Me: Look, I don't want to tell you my name, and I don't want to talk.
Guy: Why not?
Me: It's late. [looks at phone] It's 12:30 am. I don't want to talk to you.
Guy: But I'm just being friendly. [holds out hand again] What's your name?
Me: Do you have any idea what it's like to be walking around as a woman in this city, late at night? It's scary. It's late and I want to get home and I don't want to talk to you.
Guy: [stares at me]

[stares some more]
[backs away]
[retracts his hand]

Guy: I can respect that.
Me: Thank you. Have a good night. [light changes, I cross the street and go home]

It was really bizarreā€”I could really see him actually considering, what is it like to be a woman walking around late at night in the city, trying to get home? Answer: it's scary, and it scary enough that you don't want to talk to anyone you don't know, no matter who they are or what they're about.


(I'm sure some of my female friends are going to say: it's not scary for me! I'm perfectly happy making friends with strange men on street corners after midnight! And I am happy for you. I am delighted for you. But that's not a reason to discount the experience of the many, many women for whom this is frightening -- and the many, many women who have experiential reasons to be frightened. I did the calculations: thirty percent of my close female friends have been raped. If you add in people who fought free of a would-be rapist, the number raises to forty-five percent. Their fear is not hysterical -- oh, I hate that word -- it's rational. But that's a post for another day.)

Anyway. It's a good read.
coraa: (serious face)
I was going to shut up about this now, but this is too useful and true and excellent not to share.

From [livejournal.com profile] synecdochic, Don't Be That Guy. Where That Guy is the guy who sets off women's creepdar (and often rightly so). How to recognize what behaviors you might have that make you look like an entitled creep, how not to do them, and how to back up women who are encountering them without making yourself creepy in the process. Covers such topics as I-deserve-your-attention entitlement, but-I'm-a-feminist-so-I-deserve-some-tail-too entitlement, why "no" doesn't mean "maybe" and why you might think it does, why you may want to avoid being a Man Who Explains Things, why it's okay to fuck up but not okay to get dismissive, and why "men can be raped, too!" is a non-starter of an argument.

Yeah, these aren't creepiness flags that Every Woman Everywhere find creepy -- but I can tell you that they're dead-on accurate for me, at least, and I know I'm not the only one.

Also, as a follow-up to the Back Each Other Up pledge, via [livejournal.com profile] shaysdays, a post on how women can back up or 'rescue' other women without putting themselves in a dangerous situation (as might happen if they confront a creeptastic guy directly), and also on how to spot body language that means 'I do not want to talk to this guy or even look at him but I'm too polite and/or frightened to actually say so or walk away.'

Most of the how-to-back-up tips there are more appropriate for women rescuing women (the body-language tips are generally applicable) -- it's trickier for men to do so, because so many women (including me!) have had one of two bad experiences. Either a guy tries to 'rescue' me in a way that's actually alpha male posturing, faux-chivalric 'I shall rescue you and then surely you will bestow a kiss upon your knight' stuff, which is ew. You shouldn't try to get a woman away from a creep so that she'll pay attention to you instead. OR: guys leaping straight into trying to Solve The Problem and chase the other guy away before they even determine that I want to be rescued -- at which point it gets directly into I Know Better Than You, Helpless Female territory. [livejournal.com profile] synechdochic's suggestion for how a guy can back up a woman is brilliant: he should join the conversation and start talking to the guy, thus providing a distraction and allowing the woman to more easily make her excuses and escape. That way, if she was enjoying talking to potential-creep, she can continue, and if she wants to get away, she can.

At some point I'm going to pull together my post on Hugs Of Inappropriate Length (kind of like the more gropetastic cousin to Rodents Of Unusual Size), but not today. Today I'm making earrings and writing a story.
coraa: (hopeful flamethrower)
From [livejournal.com profile] vito_excalibur: This is not a joke. This is not a satire. This is not a test. ... This is a little real world help for a real world problem.

Here's my pledge: if I see somebody groping you in public, and you're not moaning Yes! Yes! Yes!, I will break through your Somebody Else's Problem invisibility field and come over and ask if you're okay. If your situation looks dangerous enough I can't help on my own, I will call over friends or, if it's a situation in which I think the cops would be on your side, I will call the cops. If you're being harassed by a guy, you can say so to me, even if you don't know me. I pledge I will distract him so you can get away, or I will tell him that he needs to leave, or whatever I can do to the best of my ability. [...] If you tell me that a guy just did something shitty to you I will not refuse to look at any evidence and tell you that I know him and he's a great guy and you must have been imagining things.

And 'guy' is defined as gender-neutral in the post, too.

There have been times in my life when it would have been a big help for someone to step up to the plate and say, "Are you okay? Is he bothering you?" There have been times in my life when some wonderful person did do exactly that, and I was so grateful for the sense of not being alone and defenseless. (Once, in a bookstore... but that's another post for another time.)

I think I can pledge to step up to the plate when someone else needs me to be that person.
coraa: (moon)
So tonight [livejournal.com profile] jmpava and I were talking, and I realized that I hadn't told... most of you? any of you? the story of why I wound up going to the terrifying private school. Hint: it's not religious mania in my family. It had nothing to do with not liking public schools, or secular schools. It's that the local public school was, for me, much worse than even a scary private religious school.

This is also, in a very real way, the story of the way I learned that conflict is sometimes not as effective as walking away. It's also the story of how I first became a rabid feminist. It's also, maybe, a story of why many women worry about different things than many men. It's also a story of how maybe women who you don't think of might be a sexual harassment statistic.

A few notes to begin: I avoid naming names and places on purpose; please respect that. Also, it's not locked, because I am not ashamed of it, and because I think more people need to say things publicly about sexual harassment and the use of physical abuse to keep socially unacceptable girls down -- but it is an uncomfortable story, so be aware of that. Important, but uncomfortable. Also, I've had friends who had been raped -- not to mention that I follow the news, where I hear of more atrocities than I could shake a forest of sticks at -- so I know that my experience is not the be-all and end-all of trauma. Please don't feel the need to tell me that other people dealt with so much worse; it will just make me angry at you. I'm not trying to monger for sympathy; I'm telling something that's true about my life. This is my story; it is mine; it is important to me.

Like many people, I'd never been popular in elementary school -- but like many people, my unpopularity was more of a deal in junior high. I went from being vaguely-mocked and mostly-ignored to being the pariah, and all but two of my friends jumped ship and stopped talking to me after it became apparent that I was about as good for their reputations as bubonic plague. This would have been bearable -- irritating, sad, but quite deal-with-able -- except for the way that two of the boys in my English class chose to express their disdain for the social pariah.

They started groping me. In class. I don't think they were actually attracted to me (though I matured a little bit early, so I think breasts were an attractive novelty -- but it really didn't seem to be about sex). They had just been spending weeks finding ways to make me cry, and that was the most foolproof one. Taunts and insults I could ignore, nasty pranks I could overlook, but reach for my breasts and I would instantly turn red, hyperventilate, start to cry. It was easy, and they wanted to belittle me, to make me cry, and so they did it all the time. Two or three times a week.

Did I complain to the teacher? Of course I did -- after it became clear the problem wouldn't go away on its own, I summoned my courage and talked to the teacher. (Those of you who know how much I dislike conflict will know that that means it must've been upsetting me pretty badly.) He said that he couldn't do anything. Why? He hadn't seen it, of course. Ah. So it was mine to deal with. (The fact that he'd had two students regularly groping a third, and that third crying in class, without seeing it, spoke either to gross negligence -- which, given the way he ran the class in general, was possible -- or of not wanting to take a stand.)

What's more, about a month later, he rearranged seating. And put me right between them. I don't know if that was more gross negligence, or an attempt to show me what happened to people who rocked the boat.

I had been telling my parents about this the whole time. (To their credit, I never, never, never was afraid to tell them what was going on. My parents and I don't see eye to eye, but I have never doubted that they loved me or would back me up.) They went to speak to the administration when it became clear that my reporting it to the teacher would do nothing. The administration referred me to a counselor to 'resolve' the issue.

Meanwhile the problem continued, and since I now sat between them, it had increased to pretty near daily. I went to the counselor. I told him the whole sad story. He started to try to think of ways for me to stop them from doing it -- as though writing them letters saying that I didn't appreciate it would do a lot of good! -- but finally called the boys in question in to 'discuss' it. (I wasn't there.) Afterward I found out that both boys had denied it (of course) and backed each other up (of course), and so he said that he couldn't do anything. My word against theirs. His hands were tied.

"Okay," I said, "okay, I don't need them punished, that's fine, but can I be in a different class? A different period? A different seating arrangement? Something?"

"Why sure!" said the counselor. "Except we can't do anything about it now, so you'll have to wait for the end of the semester to change periods, because we never move students mid-semester. But then we'll move you."

I grit my teeth. I bear it. It keeps happening. The teacher is deliberately not paying attention, I'm sure. If I scream, I'll get in trouble for disrupting class, and the boys will have removed their hands as soon as he looks -- why should I have faith the teacher will do anything to protect me, when he hasn't for months? If deck the boys, I'll get in trouble, and it'll give them a reason to hate me more. And I can't risk that.

I start crying every weeknight, and every Sunday night, because I have to go back, and there's nothing I can do to protect myself.

I start volunteering for the teachers I like and trust. I clean the science teacher's lab after hours. I help the history teacher file papers. I do this because I'm afraid to walk home after school, when they're walking home. If they'll put their hands on my breasts in the middle of class, in full light, with an authority figure there, what will they do if they get me alone?

I get called back to the counselor. There's a snag, he says; my schedule is such that I can't be moved. (Why? I don't ask. I'm eleven, and easily cowed, easily frightened, especially now. I don't know how to stand up for myself.) But they'll move the two boys. I don't want to be in the room with the teacher who won't protect me, but I agree: as long as my tormentors are gone, I'll manage okay.

Also, he wants to know: what could I have been doing to provoke them? I have no idea how to answer.

(I don't recognize the ridiculous misogyny of this question until I report it to my mother, and see fire in her eyes. I'm eleven. I'm pretty sheltered.)

I wait for the change of the semester. I count the days until the boys will no longer be sitting right next to me every day.

I show up after the Christmas break... and there they are, sitting on either side of me, when I'd been promised I would now be away from them, safe. I go home in tears.

My parents go in to talk to the counselor. He says that the secretaries changed the schedule back. Why? I don't know. He won't answer them. It can't be changed back. He won't explain.

(We could sue. Do we sue? No. We don't have any money; we have just barely enough for food, not for lawyers. My dad's in college; we're living on a teacher's aide's salary and a military retirement. We have no money for a lawsuit, and if we anger the school district, my mom can lose her job. She's an at-will employee, after all.)

I start getting threatening notes from the girlfriends of the boys who are harassing me. They hate me for the same reason the boys do: I'm a pariah, an easy scapegoat. They hate me for another reason: their boyfriends are touching my breasts. They want to beat me up. I make sure I don't leave school when they're around, either.

My parents and I talk, and talk, and talk. They talk to the administration. Short of suing, there's nothing to do, and my parents won't leave me somewhere like that. (A boy -- another outcast -- kills himself that year. My mom said, years later, that that was what decided her: I wasn't suicidal then, but with another year of that? two years? three? -- who can say? Maybe I would've gone to the junior high and hanged myself from a basketball backboard, too.) The only other option in town is the scary conservative Christian school. They switch me over. (This is a significant financial hardship, but they bear it without complaint, because they cannot bear to see me hurt like that and do nothing.)

The school district is sad to see my GPA go, but relieved to see the back of a 'problem' student.

The private school was scary, repressive, controlling. Was it the wrong decision to send me there?

...Well, I didn't kill myself, there. No one ever touched me there, against my will. No one ever made me fear for my safety. I don't know. I doubt it was worse, though it wasn't good. I don't know what two more years of abuse would've done to me. Lying about my political affiliation was much, much easier than the year I spent weeping as people touched my body and I could. not. make. it. stop.

I think you would be surprised how many women have stories like this, that it never occurs to them to tell. I forget, sometimes. It's easy. I don't think it traumatized me -- but it's important, and it's real, and it happened.

Please, please, do not try to explain to me what I or my parents should have done differently. There might've been a different way to solve the problem -- but I was eleven, and we were poor. And furthermore, it shouldn't be the place of the victim to solve the problem. I hate that I have to make this caveat, but....

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