Many of you already know about some of the recent events concerning various YouTube performers and allegations of sexual misconduct. When I read about this (and it seems to come and come right now), I thought, “I have nothing to add to this.” So I just watched. And was sad. And also heartened by the fact that a really serious, progressive conversation as going on.
But then I read a piece about these events (it was in the Daily Dot, the link is here). This quote stuck with me.
“Looking at the responses from Alex Day, the Green brothers, and the cofounder of DFTBA records, one begins to notice something missing from the conversation: female voices. Among the various sex scandals and the resulting blog posts from friends and coworkers, it’s vanishingly rare to hear from any woman who isn’t speaking from the perspective of a victim or fan.
I thought about this a lot. Aside from Melissa Anelli, I didn’t see any women speaking about it from entirely outside the sphere of events. And that did bother me. (Though I want to add: I think Hank Green made an excellent video on this topic. I hope it gets a million views.)
I’m about to get personal, and also, if you have any issues with stories of a sexual/abusive nature, just be aware that I am about to list some. But if you can bear with it, maybe go through, because there is a rainbow on the other side.
I was recently reading David Sedaris’s latest book, and in one essay he brings up the fact that as a teenager, he had the sudden and off-putting realization that all of his sisters had been approached by men in cars who had exposed themselves to them while masturbating. And I stopped for a moment, because something in my brain said, “Well, of course.” It happened to me when I was 14, stuck outside of school on a Philadelphia side street late one afternoon when my mom had forgotten what time our holiday concert practice was over. I was lured to the car when the man mumbled a request for directions. I seem to remember using a string of expletives and most likely my middle finger, then I spent the next 45 minutes debating whether or not to knock on the convent door and ask to be allowed to stay inside until my mom got there. In the end, I angrily paced the sidewalk until she got there, furious that it had happened, thinking up new, as-yet unheard of curses. I wanted him to come back so I could key his car into the next century. I wanted to go home.
I said nothing to my mother.
In my protected life, largely devoid of danger, I have been:
- Physically grabbed twice on city streets and pulled along by a stranger until breaking loose
- Groped on the street (no count on that)
- Groped on an airplane over the course of several hours while crossing the Atlantic until I told the person responsible (who had by then come to sit next to me on the plane) that I had a TERRIBLE SICKNESS (I had mono) and coughed in his face until he retreated. Then I leaned over and coughed over the seat on him.
- Ground on the subway. (Look this one up if you don’t know it.)
- When answering an ad for a nanny while working abroad in London, lured to a remote location by a much older man, where it was revealed the entire interview was a false pretense. I was then offered money in exchange to be a live-in sexual partner (the salary would include “three times a week, some dinners, and clothes.”) This episode ended with me jumping out of a still (slowly) moving car.
- Given GHB (or similar) at a party by someone who then followed me as I left (as I realized there was something wrong and I was losing consciousness). He attempted to lure me to come back with him to his room, and I kept conscious long enough to continue walking away. I got to where I was staying and locked the door before passing out, fully dressed, coat on, on the floor for five hours.
- And one other incident I prefer not to go into, of a more serious nature. (Don’t panic. I just prefer not to, and it’s my prerogative not to. I am sure you understand.)
I really have led a very protected life. These things I describe? Are really quite common. Gross, right? And I was born into relative privilege, so there are so many women facing so much worse. (Also, gender is irrelevant here. These things can and do happen to anyone. But the numbers for women are higher, and I am getting to that.)
Why did I just make that list? Why did I drop this series of bummers on you? I’ll tell you.
The idea is this: things just HAPPEN to girls, and it’s part of the fabric. We often don’t even mention them. Or maybe, we DIDN’T. Not so much. Because it was just understood that there was a certain amount of shit we were going to have to go through, and the only possible responses were to: OVERPROTECT US, or BLAME US, or NOT BELIEVE US. Because what the hell else do you do? (When I have described these things, often matter-of-factly to men I now know in adulthood, they tend to sit there and boggle because so many SIMPLY DO NOT KNOW how very common it all is.)
It is important to note that in cases of abuse and exploitation—gender is irrelevant. But it is also worth noting that the cases we are talking about now are all about girls—usually underage—being taken advantage of by males, a bit older, with some celebrity. I spend a lot of my free time* trying to start discussions on the nature of gender in book publishing, as that’s where I work. As a culture we do tend to give the nod to men more than women—as voices of authority, as objects of adulation, as examples of excellence and the standard bearers of quality. This is not a vast conspiracy, but a long and deep rooted habit that is taking time to unwork. But one of the steps to unworking is to realize that it’s a thing. THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU CANNOT OR SHOULD NOT HAVE MALE HEROES. It does mean that we need to explore, on occasion, the nature of the adulation.
Do not be afraid to tell someone. It’s the only way it stops.
Those of us who have crashed on the rocks—well, we climbed the rocks and built a lighthouse. And we keep the lights on for you, and we will always be here, and the light will remain on no matter how great the storm. And when the storm is over, we will still be here.
edited and bolded to include my favorite parts. but you should definitely go read the entire thing.
when will women’s voices and stories stop being ignored? when we will stop listening to white males as if they are the only ones whose opinions count??