Recently a writer tweeted a comment in reaction to a female politician’s actions.
Women on Twitter correctly pointed out that in their experiences, as actual women, that particular advice
1. Wrongly shifts the burden onto women
2. Doesn’t do fuck all
3. Often has the opposite effect
4. Could be downright dangerous
Instead of actively listening to thousands of women who were contradicting his (likely well-meaning) advice with their real life experiences, he doubled down, effectively proving #3 above.
I guess women asserting themselves more forcefully only works if it’s not back at him.¹
I don’t think this writer’s advice was overtly malignant or malicious. More than likely it was poorly thought out, badly expressed or even just hasty. Or perhaps he really does hold the naive view that saying “No” more assertively is going to change the world. Heck, we all express ourselves badly on occasion. We all hold views that could be more nuanced, can all learn things from listening to those who are more experienced at living through a certain filter.
In this case there were literally thousands of women responding that in their experience–again, I can’t stress this enough, as actual women–his advice didn’t hold water.
Welcome to life between a rock and a hard place.
A woman exists in this space, caught between a rock and a hard place–whenever she must trust her own instincts (and the communal instincts passed down from woman to woman, girl to girl, generation to generation) in order to survive a given situation. Most times it’s not life threatening–being talked over, interrupted, having your ideas stolen without credit. Being leered at, touched without consent, told to smile.
But sometimes there’s more at stake than your ego or a publication credit.
It’s quaint to think a loudly shouted “I said NO!” is enough to stop a rape or sexual assault. It’s just not true. What is true is sometimes a woman’s best chance of survival lay in another direction entirely. Yet if she doesn’t say no, the law, the courts, society (men AND women) assume consent.²
Death or rape?
Survival or assault?
Raped more violently or believed in court?
Rock and a hard place.
Even when a woman does say “no”, if it’s not loud enough, repeated enough, in the right pitch, tone, and key–we can come up with 1000 different requirements–it’s not enough. Why? Because even when a woman says “no”, all it takes is her rapist to contradict her. Report it and risk having her actions, dress, sexuality, alcohol consumption, and life choices questioned and judged, likely for naught…or try to move on with her life knowing her rapist got away with it. Rock and a hard place.
A woman who is sexually harassed at work must decide whether to speak out and possibly risk her career, a promotion, her professional reputation. She has to decide if reporting her grope-y boss to HR is worth that risk. If your employer is the US military, the ante just got upped. Rock: ass-grabbing, leering boss. Hard place: a bad reference which could kill her job prospects.
A woman in a domestic violence situation must calculate the likelihood of her abusive partner following through with his threat to kill her, her extended family, or her children. She may have to decide between the rock of financial destitution or the hard place of a fist to the face every other Thursday.
A woman who is cat-called on the street weighs the risk of answering back. A woman told to smile more must decide. The rock of humiliation and anger? Or the the hard place of the real possibility of being followed, stalked, or physically threatened?
Women know, instinctively and through experience, that saying “stop” or “no” more loudly, indeed saying anything at all, is sometimes dangerous–economically, physically, socially. When it is, she is forced to choose the least worst option.
When the least worst option is the humiliation of having to put up with a grope-y boss or some mouthy teenage boys calling you hot mama, you do those calculations in your head lickety-split.
It doesn’t mean you like it. Or invited it. It doesn’t make it okay. It doesn’t make it right.
And yet time and time again, a woman’s choice between two shitty options is used against her. She must have liked it. If it really bothered her she would have said something. If it was true she would have come forward. I see well-intentioned comments to that end all the time .
If it were me I would have….
stood up for myself
Life is black and white to those who haven’t walked in someone else’s heels.
Contrary to the stereotype, women are great at math. Let me tell you about the mental calculations most women do at various points in their life. The ones involved in calculating the odds of walking home alone at night and making it home safe, alive, and un-raped. The odds of being free to continue walking if you snap back at someone cat-calling, dividing the salary you might lose if you report your co-worker by the rent that’s due. Women grow up tabulating these odds in the back of their heads. It’s second nature. When faced with these situations, you choose. And that choice is sometimes between a rock and a hard place.
This is what the women on Twitter and in feminist spaces are reaching out to say. Equality, even within laws that protect against things like assault and harassment–is far more complicated than simply saying no, or leaving, reporting.
If all it took was women saying “no” more firmly the world would be a different place. And a hell of a lot louder.
It is not fair to put the burden of survival, of a life unmolested solely onto women. Yes, women should and must be vocal, assertive, and aggressive at times. But men must also learn to listen. The burden is never on a woman not to get raped. The burden is on a man not to rape. The burden is not on a woman to say “No!” more loudly, to come forward more quickly, or to speak up. The burden is on the men who are doing those things to stop doing them in the first place. ³
What you are seeing now-the clap back, the outrage–it’s not a small coven of women intent on making the lives of men miserable. Women don’t hate men. On the contrary, most of us love them. We’re married to them, raising them, friends with them.
The sound you hear now is women chipping away at those rocks, pushing back against those hard places, securing even more public space for themselves. It’s women trying to forge a broader space to live, love, and work within so that they are not caught between those two shitty places. Rock. Hard place.
It doesn’t mean there’s no room for men. It just means that men must get better at sharing that space.
¹ Outrage Twitter may as well have been ‘hysterical’, ‘shrill’, ‘uppity’, ‘angry’ or any of the myriad of words used against women who are outside their ‘space’.
² Consent: It’s a Simple as Tea is an excellent way to teach consent to children and teens.
³Increasingly we are recognizing that men are victims of rape too. This is not meant to belittle the trauma of male victims, or to excuse female rapists, solely that it was an authorial decision to focus on male upon female rape/assault in this article.