The Absence of “No” is Not Enough

For the last week I’ve been watching the #MeToo movement rise and fall in the media. Women are sharing, in great detail, personal experiences in order to highlight just how pervasive the problem of sexual harassment and assault really is.

What I’m also noticing is that men, on the whole, have been largely silent.

Now, I hope–sincerely–the relative silence is about allowing a safe space for women to talk about their experiences without trying to interrupt or explain why those experiences are wrong or mistaken or taken out of context. Sincerely.

My worry, however, is the silence is due to many men not hearing what women are shouting over the chasm. The chasm which exists between the way women define and view sexual assault, harassment, and consent, and the way that men do. That chasm is so wide and deep when you shout across it no one on the other side can hear you. All you get in return is a fading echo.

Generally, there are things which both women and men see as obviously and categorically wrong. A woman raped and beaten by a stranger. A child sexually molested by an adult. They tick the boxes of what we agree is defined as rape or sexual assault.

We go down the list. Is it any better if the person who rapes and beats a woman is someone she knows? How about if it’s her spouse? How about if the child is thirteen and the adult in question is twenty-two and swears she told him she was eighteen?

How about if a woman doesn’t bear any marks from her rape or assault? Rape is a crime of violence against women, regardless of bruises or ligature marks. Yet some feel a woman has to have noticeable marks of that violence as evidence of a man raping her. She must bear physical evidence of having ‘fought back’ in order for some to believe her consent was not given.

Already we’re wading into murky territory. And that’s just rape.

What about a man who badgers a woman into some sort of quasi-consensual act? I know women who have had sex because having sex was safer than continuing to be bullied, badgered, stalked, or harassed. I know women who have had sex because it was easier to have sex than to keep fighting against it. Think about that for a moment. Women, especially young women who are still defining their own boundaries, will sometimes have sex simply to shut men up, to stop further harassment, to control the situation, or to be able to walk away. 

If you don’t see that any of those as wrong, it’s a good indication of how wide the chasm really is.

If a woman has sex or sexual contact with a man because she knows the danger of him forcing himself upon her violently is real, does that make it any better that what we classically define as rape? Does it make it right or ok? How about if a woman has sex or sexual contact with a man because she knows the real danger of him ruining her financially? Does it make it any better? Does it make it right or ok?

Sometimes men will grind a woman down to a point where she does not say ‘no’. She doesn’t say ‘yes’. She simply stops saying ‘no’.  To some, the lack of the negative implies consent. I’m guessing this is where Harvey Weinstein’s defense of the accusations of rape is going.

He’ll argue because his victims didn’t say “NO”, there was implied consent.

This is important and this is where the chasm is the deepest: consent is NOT JUST the absence of ‘NO’. It must be the PRESENCE of ‘YES’. 

This is what sexual harassment is. It is badgering. It is pressuring. It is using the power held over someone else to wear them down, not to the point of yes, but to the absence of no.

And if that absence of no is taken for consent, or seen as ok or justifiable, or not that bad, that’s a massive, massive problem.

What women are trying to do with campaigns like #MeToo is show what all the badgering, the pressuring, the threats, the bribes, the blackmail does. They are showing, with their own stories, how the very real potential for serious harm–bodily, psychological, financial–plays out in real life. Women are not dumb. Women will do what they need to do to take control of the situation in any way they can to mitigate the damage.

Out of all the articles I’ve read recently, this paragraph from Lupita Nyong’o’s account of her time with Harvey Weinstein, stood out to me, yet it will likely get lost in the shuffle of more salacious details.

“Harvey led me into a bedroom — his bedroom — and announced that he wanted to give me a massage. I thought he was joking at first. He was not. For the first time since I met him, I felt unsafe. I panicked a little and thought quickly to offer to give him one instead: It would allow me to be in control physically, to know exactly where his hands were at all times.”

Harvey Weinstein will use that as evidence of consent. Many men will read that as evidence of consent.

Women who have experienced a similar situation will read it for what it is: a woman swallowing a smaller indignity to save herself from a larger one.

All of the lewd comments, the innuendo, the leering, the lurking, the touching, the insinuation? All of that is done without a woman’s consent. No man on the street has ever asked a woman if she wanted her booty to be commented upon. No boss has ever asked a female colleague if she wanted him to opine on what she’s like in bed. No supervisor has ever asked a woman if she wanted to view his porn collection or hear about the dirty dream she featured in.

Harvey Weinstein did not ask Lupita Nyong’o if she wanted a massage. He announced what he wanted, to the complete and utter disregard of the woman standing before him. She was nothing more than a vessel for his sexual gratification. Not dissimilar to the potted plant he allegedly ejaculated into in front of a female reporter.

Women do not exist for the sexual gratification of men. Women do not exist for the viewing pleasure of men. Women do not owe men sex, sexual acts, sexuality, politeness, smiles, sashays, exposed legs, cleavage. Women are not human repositories for male sexual fantasies, they should never be expected to bear the weight of those fantasies outside of consensual relationships. And by consensual, I mean one which is clearly marked by the presence of yes, not just the absence of no.

We need to have an open and ongoing dialogue about sex, about power, about violence. About consent. And that conversation needs to between women AND men, not just women shouting ME TOO in an echo chamber. And not just men shouting NOT ALL MEN in their own.

Maybe #MeToo will be the rickety, dinky little rope bridge that allows a few people at a time to cross that chasm.

One can hope, right?

 

 

 

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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.

Why?

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
screamed
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.

Dear Matt Walsh, Your Opinion On the Women’s March is Worthless

yertle-2Dear Matt Walsh and others,

Hear me loud, and hear me clear. When a woman, a group of women, several million women say “My experience as a woman is this” you don’t get to say with any merit “No, it’s not.”

It really is that simple. You are not a woman. You have never lived your life as a woman. You have never lived a life filtered through the lens of being female. Therefore it cancels out your opinion. It invalidates it. Have it, spout it, shout it from the rooftops if you like. It’s still worthless and invalid.

Yes, that’s right. I called your opinion worthless and invalid.

Do you think women factor in your mansplained opinions? Because frankly the very idea of that is laughable to me. We don’t factor them in. They have no space in our discussions, in our experience, in our drive to do better. You can have a thousand opinions. They carry no weight. They carry no legitimacy.

Let me say that again. There is no room for your male bullshit in our discussion as women.

Oh we want men there, we need men there, we want men to plan with us and demand with us. But those men are allies. They LISTEN. They know that they cannot possibly speak about the experience of being a woman, BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT A WOMAN.

Your Christian God has not given you the divine power to see into the minds of others, to live the lives of others.

Such a simple concept and yet one which seems so difficult for many to grasp.

Do you believe that a global march under the banner of women’s rights was a way for several million women to kill time between hair appointments? Do you think we are plotting to psychologically castrate the men in our lives (many of whom are our husbands and sons)? Do you think the end goal is to take over and treat men as abominably as men have treated women over the last few thousand years? Is that what you are afraid of?

yertle

What rights do men have, you ask? Let’s start with this: Men have the unspoken, unwritten right to be the standard by which everything in the world is measured. In this great dick-swinging game of life, men always get to roll first. Men have the right to do what they wish with their bodies. Imagine if we introduced mandatory vasectomies at puberty to help control the abortion and unplanned pregnancy rate–because that would actually work like a charm. In fact, I can’t come up with a single policy which would work better. Yet just imagine the uproar at the audacity of the government interfering with a man’s body without his consent. Hell, I’ve seen white men go apeshit on sarcastic memes about needing a wife’s consent for Viagra. God forbid someone police your misplaced erections.

(And for the record, I have no problem with health insurance covering prescriptions for Viagra. Do you know why? Because I cannot possibly know the psychological effects being unable to obtain, maintain, or enhance an erection has on the lives of men. Because I’m not a man. What I object to is the utter hypocrisy of using specious arguments about God’s will when it comes to reproduction. If it is God’s will for women to carry pregnancies to term, then surely it should follow that it is God’s will that so many men can’t get it up.)

You refer to a woman’s right to ‘kill her children’. Well, I think it’s about time that pro-choice women and men started using the phrase I hear so very much as a liberal whenever I point things out: It’s the law. If you don’t like it, you can go  live somewhere else.

Why don’t you trust women? Why don’t you and others like you trust women to make decisions about their bodies? If a woman is willing to risk death by coat hanger, or ordering dodgy drugs off the internet, put her life in the hands of a back-alley butcher, shouldn’t we take it seriously that she does not want to be a mother? I’ve delved time after time into what can be done to make it easier for women to have children, but for now I’ll just say this: Not all women should be mothers. The myth that all women will love a child once she brings it into the world is just that: a myth. And it’s a dangerous one. But, at the end of the day, you can call it whatever you like. For now, medicine, science and the law agree with women. Frankly, I think that’s what rankles people like you. The law sided with women on this one and you can’t quite get your male head around it.

You talk about the illegality of rape, but you fail to mention the dismal failure of the law to actually do it’s job when it comes to rape. Rape claims which go un or partially investigated, victims who are vilified and shamed, disbelieved, young white men who are convicted of sexual offenses who receive slaps on the wrist because their lives have been disrupted enough. Their lives mean more than the lives of the women they’ve violated. That’s not the law working for women, that is the law working against women. And the answer women receive at every turn? Well, women should do X, Y, and Z to avoid getting raped. How about using your moral high ground platform to teach men NOT TO RAPE?

Do you think women don’t report rape and sexual assault because it’s no big deal? Or can your wrap your head around the idea that women don’t report it because they fear the repercussions and have no faith in the system? If it’s the latter, do you think the problem is with women….or the system? Hell, it’s illegal in some states to carry an ice-cream cone in your pocket, but no one does a damn thing if you’re walking down Main Street with Ben & Jerry’s dripping down your ass. For many women, their experience of  the legal and judicial system when it comes to rape? It’s the same thing. They don’t do a damn thing.

But more than anything else, I think you’re a sanctimonious ass. You don’t get to preach on nigh from your Yertle the Turtle kingdom of white, heterosexual Christendom, the highest perch in all the land, and then tell the turtles at the bottom that the bones breaking in their backs aren’t really breaking–they only think they are (and, while they’re at it, shut up already, some turtles don’t even have jobs being the backbone of society–now go make me a sandwich. That’s the subtext of statements like that, and you know that).

dr-seuss-yertle-the-turtle-banned-booksYou don’t have the knowledge, the history, or the validity to explain our experiences as women to us. Because you’re not a woman. And you will never, ever know what it is like to be a woman. And here’s the thing: despite all of the above, despite being hated, despite draconian laws meant to literally kill us, despite being burned and raped and hindered and oppressed for all of time save the last hundred years, ALL of that, women possess a strength and a spirit you will never, ever have.

I’d venture to say that probably bothers people like you most of all.

Hear Me Roar

sisterhood-is-powerfulI talk a lot (no, really, A LOT) about my passion for women’s issues. I talk a lot (A LOT) about how important it is to change the way we think about women, talk about women, and treat women. I talk a never-ending lot about systematic sexism, about reproductive rights.

But I’ve never explained why I’m passionate about these things.

I’ve never explained why I roar.

I roar because for most of my life I have been made to understand I am less than. Sometimes the message is subtle. Sometimes it is as clear as a cartoon anvil landing on your head.

The problem is, I do not feel less than. I don’t wake feeling less than. I don’t approach a situation or a problem and feel I’m unable to do, achieve, or be simply because I am a woman.

And so I roar. I roar because there is nothing about me that feels less than.

There are things I am good at, just as there are things I am not so great at. Some of those things even fall along stereotypical gender lines. I can’t read a map to save my life. In fact, I can’t even follow the GPS on my phone. But while that means I probably shouldn’t get a job as an Uber driver, it doesn’t make me less of a person. Or a person deserving less.

I roar to make sure we make that distinction.

I am passionate because I believe in the strength of women, even though that strength may not be as physically evident as a male’s. A woman’s strength comes from a willingness to compromise, to empathize, to listen. It comes from an instinct for adaptation, change, and growth.

I roar to recognize that strength.

I believe, passionately and to distraction, that empowering women to make decisions about their own bodies is crucial to the function of society. Yes, this includes abortion, but it includes so much more. Providing women with information, resources and access to make informed decisions about the very personal and complex issues we face as women affects every level of society, from the micro to the macro.

Demanding bodily autonomy for women is why I roar, continually and repeatedly.

I roar for your sisters and your daughters so that one day they will know what it is like to walk down the street without having to cross over when a man approaches, to run through the woods with both headphones in, to walk home without their keys in their fist.

Women should not be raped or beaten or killed for rejecting a man’s advances, to satisfy the honor of some imagined wrong, to appease a God. As a woman, I don’t want or need gun-toting advocates rallying outside of a rapist’s house as protection. I want the culture that allows, condones, and yes, justifies rape to stop. That is the protection I want.

That is why I roar.

I roar because women are not punching bags or blow-up dolls. I roar because we exist outside of the Madonna/whore continuum. We are multi-dimensional, we are complex and we are flawed and as such, we choose different paths.

I roar to make sure that we are not forced onto one path. That both the road less travelled and the well-worn path are equally recognized and valued.

I roar so that men understand that if we sometimes put our heads down, it is not because we are weak. It is because we have been strong enough to know that sometimes it’s the only way we will survive.

I roar for the girls who have been silenced, burned, cut, sold or given away. I roar for the women who have been beaten, raped, killed. I roar for those women whose voices are shuttered, who cannot roar for themselves.

roarSo share this with your daughter so she knows I roar so that she won’t feel less than. Share this with your mother or your sister or aunt so they know I roar loud enough for them. Share this with all the women who roar so they know their voices are not alone.

Roar with me.