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Don’t Tell Me to Shut Up

IMG_20160321_140439I feel the stress in the part of my neck beneath my ears. It radiates around my throat as I write this, approximating a fist closing around my larynx. Ever since childhood I’ve noted this inner constriction when I dare to speak about constructive communication, human decency, or empathy, and found myself wholly ignored or, as happened again this week, treated as though I had no right to respond to boorishness.

A stranger, a writer named Mike Essig who I mistakenly followed on Medium, posed a question after an open discussion he was having there about rape. I can’t research the specifics because he blocked me. I tried to unfollow him before realizing he had removed his own content from my feed and saved me the trouble, so I’m glad about it, even as I wish I could share his question here exactly as he posed it, for the sake of accuracy.

From my memory, he asked this: “If a woman drinks alcohol until she is incapacitated, and she is then raped, does she bear any responsibility for what happened to her?”

Although I realized that he had some preconceived notions, from the lengthy discussion that had come before, I thought he was a man who respected women and wanted to expand his understanding by asking questions and considering the views women were kind enough to share. Some came away from the conversation still thinking this about him. Others were so irate that they, according to him, labeled him a misogynist and worse. When he wrote another article lamenting that the conversation had devolved in that way, I found the courage to add my views about that and his original question.

In his universe, he thought what I wrote supported his point (you can find my piece here) — that his original question was actually a veiled statement of his unwavering point of view. To my surprise he sent me this as a private message on Medium:

“I agree. I only limited the question to women because they are the ones who have embraced victimhood. If your son gets drunk and wrecks your car he’s responsible. If your daughter passes out drunk and is raped, she is a victim. Actually, they are both just irresponsible and stupid. Mike”

His words felt like a punch in the gut. I found his analogy vile. For a moment, I wondered if he thought I was a man and this was the sort of solidarity that some of them share. But instead of responding in that vein, I composed myself and addressed the flaw in his logic by sending a message through the email address he shared on his Medium profile. (Because I couldn’t figure out how to send a private message, one of quite a few things I can’t figure out about Medium.) I responded with this:

“I can’t for the life of me figure out how you sent a private note to me on Medium (my tablet doesn’t show me prompts on Medium that others insist are there, and hitting reply took me to the public publish page), so I’m sending this email to respect your wishes and keep this conversation private.

I’ve seen you make the sort of analogy in your note before, and it distresses me because the two situations you mention have something in common, but aren’t equal. Your supposition works better stated like this: If my daughter or son gets drunk and wrecks my car, she or he is responsible. If my son or daughter gets drunk and a predator rapes him or her, they are victims of a crime that should be prosecuted, even though they must also learn how to deal with a world where they are not safe when they are incapacitated.

I’ve heard that young brains aren’t fully developed until well into their twenties. All I know is that in the instance of a crime against my offspring, my role as parent dictates that I compassionately help them come to terms with the fact that they must learn to live with what happened to them, and help them move forward and try to live a healthy life.

I did not write my piece very well if the passages you highlighted were all you took from it. I know it can be difficult for strangers to feel the kind of compassion I mention above (I remember you writing something about what you would do to a perpetrator if one of your daughters became of victim of sexual violence, so I sense that you would have that compassion for a family member), but that difficulty between strangers, and the dangers of it, was what my piece was about.

No one wants to be a victim. What we all want is to have not been violated. So if safety is the goal, we should try something other than a thing done historically to people who have been raped. The problem with itemizing instances where the person harmed is supposedly to blame for facillitating the perpetrator’s actions, is that it benefits the criminal — definitely not society. Victim-blaming doesn’t help us make people safer. It has never helped anything.

Sincerely,
Re Harris”

I thought long and hard about sharing this man’s private message from Medium, but decided to cross that line because his words have added to my reluctance to trust what I see, and they illustrate the different faces some of us show in different places, like politicians do. Or maybe they just illustrate the point that I am sometimes a bad judge of character.

Anyway, I’ve come to terms with the fact that nothing we share electronically is really private, but I’ve decided not to share his awful response to my email. I know that I can, but at the moment, it feels wrong. Suffice it to say, he roundly chastised me for responding to his words, and made sure that I knew he was, in fact mired in the view that drunk women ask for it and don’t deserve “sympathy” (a word I never used.) He also made it clear that he uses the word empathy without understanding what it means. And he buried the ubiquitous non-apology of, “If I misunderstood …” near the end of his, much too long if he really wanted to be out of the conversation (that he started), rant.

I tried hard not to feel that grip around my throat as I processed his diatribe, but I feel things deeply, always have. I’m writing this to fight that grip. And to say out loud that people like this jerk may be able to trick me at times, but when they tell me to shut up, I won’t. I might just get louder.

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25 thoughts on “Don’t Tell Me to Shut Up

  1. He is an ass.

    I know, that’s not the most sympathetic or articulate way to express it, but it’s the gist of it.

    And I know it’s tempting, so tempting, to think about what you could do, say, or be, to make someone not be an ass, to understand the hardness that you’ve faced, but the onus is not on you. It’s on them. And for some “them,” the time will never be right to make the change.

    As I type this, I’m sitting on a half written post that … well, this comment flies in the face of. We’ll just say I’m learning. I’m practicing. I’m trying to be better, for me, even if others don’t deserve my better.

    Big, big hugs. Rock on for trying to keep it respectful and peaceable. You have done well with what you can control.

    (Oh! Since Hamilton is in my brain at all times:

    “I am the one thing in life
    I can control!
    I am inimitable
    I am an original”)

    • I’ve been thinking this, too, that some people just aren’t and probably will never be open to the kind of change that only comes with understanding. I feel so sad about it sometimes, but I have to find a way to rise above that sadness. I want to be the best me even while I just want to scream and hit something. Can’t wait to read your post.

      Thanks for the Hamilton quote. ❤ It's so apt and I love it! I want to see the play so much. My hope is that it eventually makes its way to Great Performances on PBS so the masses can enjoy it, and learn from it.

      • They’re filming it sometime before Lin-Manuel leaves in eight days! Anthony tells me it’ll be another two years before the video is available, but I hope they’ll make it available before then. We’re watching the play in a little more than a year and I don’t want to wait.

        It seems impossible that a musical could have such a huge impact on my life, but it has. It really will take me ages to explain how. The post I’m writing now describes it as the difference between noise and music. Hamilton is music to me in a way that has to do with so much more than tunes.

        I wish more people would watch/listen to it. To hear even the villain treated with such compassion, and to understand that the same folks who play Hamilton’s friends in the first act are his enemies in the second … it helps clarify, for me, where time is best and not-best spent. It also helps me see that I want to hear people for who and where they are instead of for what anyone in power (e.g., the DNC) would have me hear. It’s all much more articulate when I sit down and write it from a place of focus, but sometimes it’s good to just sit down and type, accepting the imperfection that results for what it is. 🙂

      • Yes, yes, yes!! Even though you know so much more about “Hamilton” than I do, I feel like we’re on the same wavelength about it. I love it when people are as passionate about things as you are about this. It makes me feel like I’m not so weird after all. 🙂

      • Haha, I was thinking along this vein earlier … how I suck at sending presents at appropriate times yearly, but how the folks in my life don’t seem to mind because I send them stuff throughout the year as I think they’ll enjoy it. Rache texted me a couple days ago that she’d finished listening to Hamilton (and didn’t cry at all, hahahahaha–but she laughed, too!). The Family M sent a message that they’re now totally hooked on Hamilton, which also made me happy. It’s not that I care what they love, but … with something like this, that took me out of the numbness of just getting by and made me glad to be here, I hope that the impact it has on me is one it’ll have on others. And so far, it is. That’s beautiful. That’s hopeful.

  2. I consider you were extremely moderate. I’d be in the camp that called him a misogynist for a number of reasons. The first for saying a drunken woman is responsible for her own rape – NO, the rapist bears total responsibility for that. It is not negotiable. The second for his patronising and condescending response to you, where he basically ignored what you said and talked over you (typical sexist attitude). The third, that he moaned about the way the conversation had gone, ‘poor me, it’s all about me’. The fourth, that he blocked you for a reasonable and moderate response. The guy is an arsehole. And he is exactly the reason why we live in a rape culture.

    Was this in reference to the Stanford sexual assault where the poor swimming star was so badly done to?(/sarc)

    • Thanks for another opinion. I thought my responses were more polite than he deserved, but I’m so close to this situation and feeling angry about it. It’s hard to see straight.

      And yes, the conversation on Medium was in reference to that case. That perpetrator’s father’s letter made me want to tear my hair out. The six month sentence the perpetrator received proves all by itself that something is seriously wrong about the way rape is perceived in our culture.

      • I wrote something about rape recently and one of my commenters is a lawyer, working for the (UK) police. His words were basically that these sort of attitudes are what make it difficult to bring prosecutions, let alone win them.

        And then, think of all the women who don’t report rape/sexual assault: was she drunk, why was she alone at night, what sort of clothes was she wearing, how many sexual partners has she had … I mean WTF.

        The Stanford scenario just reeked of ‘she was drunk and he was a top swimmer so it didn’t matter’. And yes, the rich father’s letter was obnoxious. Like father, like son?

  3. Re, I know this man but only in the sense of the “blogger skim”, flitting past entries to see what jumps out. I read his piece with growing unease. Because of personal experience it is a subject I have what I consider to be an unhealthy interest in (although it is diminishing as I mature). However, this man is a voyeur, I am convinced of it. He employs Socratic irony to coax women (and young girls) to share their stories. I believe he derives some kind of lascivious pleasure from it. I can’t remember if I commented on his rant but I suspect not because I haven’t as yet been banned from Medium (or FaceBook).

    The whole argument posed by the “She/He’s asking for it” brigade is that a drunken person, probably provocatively dressed (like peacocks! Is that bad?) are somehow responsible. The question I pose in return is this: is it the action of an uncorrupted man to push the head of a drowning, drunken, woman beneath the water? Or, to help her to safety on dry land. Do you finish the murderers job by pushing the knife further into the flesh of the drunken boy? These are comparable analogies.

    The victims of rape mourn the death of the person they once were every single day, forever. For many, it really is a living hell.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful insights on this incident. It hadn’t ocurred to me that he might be a voyeur, but I see now that his behavior has all the earmarks. That also explains why I’ve felt so strange for the past week. I’ve heard experts say that it’s harder for women to trust their gut feelings about experiences because, so far, society still rewards us for being more meek. I want to be a good person, but I have to remember that being meek doesn’t further that cause.

      What you wrote has helped take the edge off my upset. Sharing your thoughts and some of your experience helps me more fully embrace what I said about getting louder. I have to get louder when my gut tells me something is terribly wrong. Thanks.

      • Yell and shout, please Re, be louder because the chances are your instinct is right even so, it’s not a sin to find out you may be wrong. The only sin is not to admit it and carry on blindly.

        You know what, I wish I had been louder when I was a boy. I should have been more angry then, rather than nervous and bewildered.

      • I understand the feeling of wishing you’d spoken up louder in the past. We have to remember that the very young shouldn’t have to know how to process terrible things. As we grow up and understand the truth, we can get steadier on the path of healing. And more comfortable with raising our voices. Thanks for the kind words.

  4. Oh, dearest Ré, I’m so sorry you got mired in this. I know my own version of this death grip around the throat and I just want to give you an enormous hug and reassure you, as I’m reassuring myself, that there are still good people in the world who won’t be as awful as this ass (to borrow your earlier commenter’s word, and it is apt). Not everyone is awful, but the bad ones make so much noise, do so much damage, take up so much space while the rest of us are just trying to help each other along. ❤ ❤ ❤

    • “… the bad ones make so much noise, do so much damage …” That’s what I’ve been struggling with the most. I don’t want to forget the good that people do every day, but when the depression hangs over me hard (and then encounters like this happen), it covers the good in so much shadow that it’s hard for me to see. I’m sending you hugs to you, too, through the ether. Thanks for helping me along. ❤

  5. You responded in an intelligent and well-thought out manner, and brought the deeper implications of the issue to the forefront, where this person obviously did not want to look. My opinion of this guy was formed the instant I read that he blocked you. That, to me, is symbolic of someone who doesn’t want to debate, listen to others, and possibly have to change. You’re head and shoulders above this guy, and did an excellent job of putting into words what many feel.

    • Thanks for sharing your view. I do want to be my best self, especially in situations like this. It helps me to know when people I trust think I’m on the right track and not adding to the mess.

    • Thanks, Ellen. I’m trying. I know that using my voice is better than curling into a ball and shutting my eyes. Even if sometimes I think I’d rather curl into a ball and shut my eyes.

  6. You simply have no shame. Sharing personal correspondence without permission is never justified. Publishing my name just makes you even more despicable.

    You and your ilk never noticed the word “any” in my original and sincere question. Instead, you just attacked, relentlessly.

    You and those like you on Medium are just whining, knee-jerk victims in a country full of them.

    That’s why I left Medium: it is mostly mindless female millenials and frustrated 40ish women taking turns crying on each others’ shoulders.

    Not a place worthy of serious writing or thought.

    I don’t patronize idiots, buI I would never want you to “shut up.” It’s more amusing listening to the pitiful blather of you and your sycophants..

    Mike Essig (Yep. That is my name.)

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