I 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.
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.