A Rock and a Hard Place

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 are killed for less.

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….

punched him
walked away
fought harder
divorced him
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.

21 Comments Add yours

  1. Sheri says:

    Dina–This leaves me speechless; it’s so spot on. So relatable.
    May I have your permission to share it with my high school classes?


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I’ve been struggling a bit of late on a personal basis, trying to figure out what to DO. I feel like I should DO something. And I’ve been struggling with finding the intersection of what I am able to DO, what I can, what I should. How I can be of help in any way.

      So your question about sharing this with your high school students? It touched me deeply. Because perhaps that’s the start of figuring out what to do. Because if I can find a way to combine all the things I love and all the things which are important to me, in a way that DOES something for others? Then that’s my best life, for real.

      So please share. And please let me know if you do, and if it reaches those students in any way.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Shalini says:

    Dina- I wish I could write a more ‘intellect-y’ nuanced reply to your post but all I can say is that was one of the best thing I have read in recent times. And the next thing I will do is share it with my 16 year old son!


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Oh thank you! Your comment made me smile. Will you let me know what your 16 y/o son thinks?


  3. speak766 says:

    Incredible post. I couldn’t agree more with all of this. It’s not a woman’s responsibility to “not get raped.” Just like we wouldn’t tell someone it’s their responsibility to not get mugged, robbed, or that it’s their fault for getting mugged, robbed, etc.
    I especially agree your line “Life is black and white to those who haven’t walked in someone else’s heels.” I am dealing with the aftermath of an abusive relationship and there’s problems that come up for me that make me want to tear my hair out, but to anyone else it seems so straightforward.
    Thank you for posting this. It helps to know that there are other people writing and speaking about this. Wish you all the best – speak766

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dina Honour says:

      Thank you. The responses to this piece have been great so far, and I think the more of us out there recognizing and teaching and modeling this stuff, the better.

      I’m sorry you’re dealing with shitty choices after an abusive relationship, but I’m also relieved you were able to get out of it (something, again, that people think is incredibly black and white, when it’s not). It’s always easy to think “Well, I would do X” when we’ve never experienced those things before. It’s very, very different when we’re living in the moment. Stay strong. There are lots of folks out there who’ve got your back.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. speak766 says:

        Thank you for your kind words and support. They mean so much to me. Much love – speak766

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Dina this is a great post. As a mother of two sons I wonder what the parents of those who don’t understand a forceful “No” is teaching their sons.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I think, unfortunately, that it comes down the messages that many boys and men get from society at large (and I’m not even going to go into the message that having someone like our current president sends to our young boys and men). There is still-STILL–an idea of ‘girls play hard to get, no doesn’t really mean no’, when of course it means exactly that. Ironically, I think one of the ways to change that mindset is to teach young girls to be more open about enjoyment of sex. That is it OK to enjoy and want to partake in sex if and when they are ready. There’s no shame in it. Obviously we need to teach boys that as well, that girls like and enjoy and WANT to have sex and that if they are saying no, it means no.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think you are right.


  5. This is exactly what I’ve been trying to say! I’ve been arguing with my male friends for weeks about pushing the burden of safety on the victims. Can I please share this post on my blog? My friends and I are in our early twenties, and I think it’s important for my friends to see this.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Absolutely. I hope it helps go a little way toward explaining what it is like to walk through the world as a woman.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Priya says:

    Excellent post – thanks for writing this. I wish people would read every word of this and reflect on it. I’ve had a relatively privileged life (education, middle class background, supportive family, etc.) and I can still relate to so many of the situations you discussed. I can only imagine how much worse it gets when women are in more troubling relationships/situations. You rightly pointed out that the burden is not on the woman getting belittled, groped, harassed, intimidated, or raped. It is on the man doing the belittling, groping, harassing, intimidating or raping. Teach your daughter to say ‘no’ by all means but don’t blame her when she fails to do so or when doing so fails her. That’s victim blaming and it gets us nowhere.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Victim blaming keeps us from moving forward in terms of social evolution–and, as I think we’re seeing, backwards at times. I don’t fault all of mankind for not ‘getting it’. What I ask is that they now listen when women tell them. When a woman tells you that the walk through life as a woman is different, acknowledging that, and working to understand that is not belittling the life that you walk through if you’re male–it’s just pointing out there are differences–and that it’s important to take those into account when we’re rushing to judgement (which we all do). And the reverse is true as well. There are situations men/boys must deal with which I have absolutely no clue what it’s like to deal with b/c I haven’t walked in their brogues if I want to keep the metaphor going.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is unfortunately so true, and I’m so sick of being in conversations about rape that end in victim blaming. I think the comparison to being mugged etc is a good and valid one.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Some of the best comparisons I’ve seen too have to do with theft. If a guy is drunk and has his wallet hanging out of his pocket, stealing it from him is still wrong. But I think what gets lost A LOT is that when you are being mugged/assaulted/raped/abused–it is natural and normal to try to limit the damage. And often that means not fighting. Like you say, the same advice you get if/when you are mugged. Don’t fight. Give them what they want. Your life isn’t worth X. Of course for a woman, it’s not as simple as handing over an iPhone or your bank card–but the comparison stands. I think often men (and some women) think the worst thing that can happen to a woman is to be raped. Whereas most women, I’d venture to say, feel like the worst thing that could happen is to be dead (or to watch their loved ones harmed).


  8. Reblogged this on The Amused Onlooker and commented:
    THIS. This is exactly what I want to say.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Shanna S Mathews Mendez says:

    Hello, just fell in twitter love with you and found your blog. I just launched my site here on wordpress, and I love finding other blogs that inspire me. I love the tone of your posts and your use of real, direct, but also humorous language. Looking forward to reading more. Come on over and check me out when you get a chance! I’d love your feedback. http://www.californiawomanwifemama.com


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Well now I’m blushing! What a compliment, thank you! Looking forward to checking out your blog and seeing you around Twitter!


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