Thomas Pluck asks, when confronting harassment, why do we say “what if she was your sister, mother, or daughter?” What if it was You?
When men catcall, grope, or otherwise harass women, it is common to confront them with the supposedly clever rejoinder, “what if she was your sister, mother, or daughter?” This assumes a lack of empathy, because that doesn’t happen to men, right? But it does. What if it was you?
There’s a reason that it’s a pop culture staple, to the point where it is a sick running joke, that every man’s worst nightmare is to be locked in a cell with a musclebound horny guy. Because deep down, we men know how it makes women feel, to treat them as if they exist for our pleasure. I don’t think it is a catcaller’s intentions to make women feel like they are the fresh meat walking into gen pop in a state prison, but how is it any different?
The recent upswing of groping and harassment of women at ComiCons and Science Fiction conventions led me to share an experience I have done my best to forget. Some people think these cons are like a fantasy trip to Vegas, where the rules of normal social interaction do not apply. You may not believe it, but I’ve had my ass grabbed at a convention. By a guy. And my reaction surprised me. I thought in such a situation, I’d clock the guy. But I was too shocked. I felt like I’d swallowed an ice cube. That initial, unbelievable invasion of my personal space and objectification was something utterly new and alien to me. After a moment, I stammered a threat. He waved it off and walked away, and my friends held me back as my shock turned to rage.
I was shocked because I felt safe. This wasn’t supposed to be a place where that kind of thing happened. I’d been to a lot of places where I had been “on guard,” but this was not one of them. Then I thought of how it must feel to worry about that all the damn time, and how pissed off, resentful, or scared I would be, even if I could knock the guy out. Because who wants to get in a fight every day? The adrenaline dump, the fear leading up to it, that kind of stress lowers your life expectancy. Do I claim to how women feel when groped, even if it’s at a Science Fiction convention? No, because that was an isolated incident for me. It has never happened again, not at bars in Chelsea, not at Burning Man as thousands of mostly naked people chanted in the desert around a techno wicker man. I don’t walk around dreading it, expecting it, waiting for it to happen because it happens so damn often.
Nor does it haunt me. I hadn’t thought about it for almost twenty years. I remember it now, but the only effect it has on me is a desire to catch a stranger groping friend of mine, so I can pound his head in. Actually, now that I think about it, I did get my ass grabbed at a bar in Greenwich Village, when I met a friend at a gay bar. An older woman gave me a pinch as she left the bar and walked out the door. I rolled my eyes, that time. I didn’t want to punch her, but I sure didn’t think too highly of her. If you want to grab the Charmin, lady, ask first.
And yes, I joke about it because it is something I was not raised to be comfortable talking about. Men aren’t supposed to be weirded out by a woman grabbing their ass, right? The problem is we’re not talking about it. For example, more men were sexually assaulted in the military last year than women. And those are just the men who reported it; we all know sexual assaults are under-reported, even more so by men, because of the shame. That’s a bit harder to take than the rapes in prison, because disgustingly, our culture thinks of sexual assault as part of the punishment inherent with incarceration, and thinks our soldiers are all honorable heroes who protect our freedoms. But that is the ugly reality of sexual assault, and we’re joking about it because we don’t want to face it and fight it. Assault and harassment are both acts of devaluation and belittlement, and neither should be tolerated- no matter which sex initiates it, or which sex is the target.
—Photo richard_north / Flickr