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Jun 11 2013

Harassment Is Not An Isolated Incident

The reason it’s so hard to get people to take harassment seriously is because it looks so different from the outside than from the inside.

Here’s an example many of us are probably viscerally familiar with.

There’s a group of kids at school who don’t like you. They try to trip you every time you walk by, and whenever you try to join their kickball game at recess they suddenly decide they don’t want to play kickball anymore. They even have a nickname for you–”Piggy,” because you’re fat–and whenever the teacher calls on you in class they laugh and make snorting noises. They find out that you have a crush on another kid in your class and they get that kid to pass you a note. You take the note; it’s folded up and has your name written on it with hearts drawn around it. You get butterflies in your stomach. But when you open it up, it’s a picture of a pig.

Imagine trying to tell your teacher (or even your parents) what’s going on. “They keep trying to trip me!” you say. “Oh, come on, I’m sure they didn’t do it on purpose. The hallway is crowded. It must’ve been an accident.”

“They always stop playing kickball right when I try to join the team!” “You’re taking it too personally. I’m sure they just got tired of playing that game.”

“They keep laughing and making snorting noises whenever I have to answer a question!” “It probably has nothing to do with you. They’re just kids having fun.”

“They got so-and-so to pass me a note with a pig drawn on it!” “So they drew you a nice picture. Why do you have to get upset by everything?”

There’s nothing you can do to explain it. You saw the look in his eyes before he tripped you. You know that she passed you that pig drawing because “Piggy” is what they call you. You know they stop playing because of you. What are the odds that almost every day at recess this school year, you just happened to try to join the game just as they got tired of playing it? When they were clearly having fun right before you showed up?

Come on.

It doesn’t make sense to look at harassment as a few isolated incidents. How hurtful is it really for someone to trip you once, maybe accidentally? So what if someone giggles when the teacher calls on you one day? Maybe you did just have the bad luck to try to join the kickball game right as everyone decided to go play something else.

But as a pattern–as a series of tiny acts and gestures that build up over time, intended to make someone feel unwanted, threatened, afraid–harassment can be devastating.

The same thing happens to us as adults, in the digital age. “So they tweeted some random insult at you, who cares?” “I’m sure they didn’t know you didn’t want to be tagged in that photo.” “Yeah, there’s a few assholes on the Internet. It’s not a big deal.”

It’s hard to get people to see that if these were really “Isolated Incidents,” you wouldn’t be so upset. It’s not about the individual little annoyances. It’s about the whole damn thing. It’s about the straw that broke the camel’s back. And while you sit there, sputtering, trying to explain why it’s so hurtful that someone tweeted at you telling you to shut up, they get to lord it over you how “overly sensitive” you are and how you’re just “looking for things to be upset about.”

Sexual harassment works the same way. So some guy on the street told me I have nice tits. Whatever. But some other guy says it when I’m on my way back. Another one says it tomorrow. Another says it on the subway. Another gets off the subway and tries to follow me down the street saying it. Another leaves it in a comment on my blog. Another sends it to me in a message on OkCupid.

And another sits there smirking and telling me it’s not such a big deal, just ignore it.

The fact that it’s so easy for outsiders to deny the painful reality of harassment is not a bug. It’s a feature. This is why harassers harass. Because they know that when you try to do something about it, people are going to throw their hands up wondering why you’re so upset over some random tweet or blog comment.

Another reason harassers harass is because they know microaggression works better than macroaggression. If someone attacked you physically or heaped verbal abuse on you, it would be (more) obvious to you that they’re in the wrong. It would be easy for you to write this person off as a bully.

But harassment is more insidious. It makes you ask yourself if you’re just crazy to be getting so upset over these “little things.” It makes you blame yourself for having annoyed the person to begin with. It makes it that much harder for you to get support from others. Everyone knows what a black eye looks like, and everyone (read: all reasonable people) knows that heaping verbal abuse on people is wrong.

But what about tweeting at them when they’ve asked you to leave them alone? What about making photoshopped images of them just for fun and sharing them? What about tagging them in a photo you know they’d be upset to see? What about giving them “compliments” that you really know they wouldn’t appreciate because it would make them uncomfortable? What about talking about how much you hate them where you know they’ll overhear (or oversee)?

It doesn’t make any sense to look at harassment, sexual or otherwise, as a series of isolated incidents, or else you’re bound to misunderstand it and try to minimize what the person who’s being harassed is going through. Harassment only makes sense as a pattern–a targeted campaign of bullying against a person, the point of which is not just to hurt them directly with words or actions, but also to make them feel like they’re “overreacting” and merely imagining that this is happening to them.

That’s a cruel thing to do to a person.

~~~

*Edit* More on the street harassment bit of this. People may claim that because it’s different guys each time, it’s just “random” and “isolated incidents.” Really, though? You think it’s some huge coincidence that every time I leave my house this just happens to happen? Some might say that it’s because “that’s just how men are” (some real misandry if I ever heard it), but what’s more likely is that this stuff just doesn’t get challenged enough. Most of us learn by 5 or 6 years of age that it’s not appropriate to just shout at random strangers what we think about them.

Further, take that guy who said “nice tits” to me on the street. You really think I’m the only woman he’s ever said something like that to? Street harassment may be perpetuated on the same woman by many different men, but although they may not realize it, they’re acting collectively, taking pleasure at the thought of making a woman feel violated and afraid. That’s why it’s harassment. That’s why it’s never an “isolated incident.”

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  1. 1
    mythbri

    What’s maddening is that I’m absolutely certain this has happened to almost everyone. It’s happened to me – and for a time, I even participated in making it happen to someone else, although I apologized to her later when I realized what I had done. I’m not sure if that meant anything to her, but I wanted to let her know that at least I acknowledged that what I’d done was wrong.

    Why is this suddenly different if it’s sexual in nature?

    1. 1.1
      queequack

      It’s because this is a price I’d be more than happy to pay for the concomitant attention and validation women get.

      I don’t online date anymore, but I used to, and no one has ever first-messaged me on OKCupid, not once. No one responded to my messages either, and I got sad and depressed and stopped because it wasn’t good for my mental health. One time I created a fake account with a really hot (but not unrealistically so) girl, and posted up like 3 pictures of her. I got about, something like 80 messages a day for 4-ish days, before I got bored. It made me feel good, though. I loved that pink notification next to the messages bar. Some of the messages were obnoxious but most were just hopeful.

      Anyway, to answer your question, because, when I hear women complaining about OKC messages or whatever, well, they obviously have no clue what it’s like to be male.

      1. 1.1.1
        mythbri

        Dude, take your “woe is me because you don’t understand what it’s like to be male” wail somewhere else. Conversely, you have no idea what it’s like to be female, and NO, creating a fake OKCupid profile for a few days doesn’t give you any special insight.

        I don’t deny that you’re not satisfied or happy with your life. Obviously this is the case. But quit assuming that no one else’s are ever as bad as yours because you don’t get the attention that you want.

      2. 1.1.2
        Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

        Must we really rehash this argument every time I write about harassment? This must be the third time now. Please respect our time by not showing up in every thread making the same argument and making us respond to it over and over. And read this: http://freethoughtblogs.com/brutereason/2012/10/14/on-men-who-think-street-harassment-would-be-awesome/

        I don’t deny that things are difficult for you. I don’t deny that your situation sucks. It does. But why do you have to keep insisting that it sucks “more” than being harassed? Why do you have to keep derailing threads about harassment with this unrelated problem? Can we just accept that both rejection and harassment suck? I only know what one of them is like, so I cannot make an argument as to which one sucks more. Neither can you.

        I may not know what it’s like to be male, but all of my male friends and acquaintances somehow manage not to insist that it’s worse than being female.

        1. 1.1.2.1
          queequack

          I didn’t say street harassment or annoying OKCupid messages were a good thing, only that it’s a price I’d pay. And I would. And it’s possible you are friends with very good-looking men. They wouldn’t get it either.

          1. Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

            Maybe it’s a price you’d pay until you realize how violating it is, and what a terrible effect it can have on mental health. In any case, the rest of us shouldn’t have to pay that price just because you’d be willing to.

            Most of the men I know look…normal. Some are very attractive (in my opinion), some are fairly unattractive (again, in my opinion), most just look average. Although beauty is not completely in the eye of the beholder, unfortunately, different people do have different standards. I once met a guy that I thought was completely ugly, but then I got to know him better and gradually fell in love with him. Suddenly he seemed like the hottest guy I’d ever met. You never know.

            But that probably wouldn’t have happened if all he’d ever talked to me about was how ugly he is.

          2. mythbri

            And you just can’t conceive of conventionally unattractive women having the same or worse problems that you do, based on what I’ve seen of your comments here.

            I have quite a few female friends who never get approached and are rejected when they approach men. Your situation is not because you are male, and it is not unique.

          3. Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

            Yeah, there’s bias against unattractive people and in favor of attractive people in our society. Full stop. Unattractive people get paid less, they’re less likely to get hired (if the person doing the hiring is of the opposite sex only, though), they may be subject to bullying and abuse. And, unfortunately, the researchers and activists trying to address this issue right now simply get laughed out of the room. I’ve been reading a lot about it.

          4. queequack

            Mythbri, I don’t deny that some women feel unattractive, but I’m speaking in general terms; in general terms, they’re dwarfed by the corresponding number of men. Why are love shy communities always almost exclusively straight men?

            You’re going to flame me, but I really don’t understand how an average woman could possibly have body image issues. I don’t resent it if they do- people are weird- but I just don’t get it. Women need only to put up a picture on OKCupid to be deluged with emotional validation. They need only to approach someone, anyone, anywhere. No one has ever approached me, no one has ever given me any kind of positive reinforcement whatsoever.

            I had to laugh at Rebecca Goldstein’s “mattering” talk, when I heard about it. Mattering? There’s no more fundamental way to matter than to be desired by someone. Every woman, and some men, get that wholesale. Me, I’ve never mattered to anyone in that fundamental way, never. And yet I fucking manage, don’t I? I’ve gotten all the way through undergrad and on to grad school without fucking organizing entire fucking internet movement over my problems. I don’t have an entire blog network devoted to the fact that I don’t matter. So I don’t care. I don’t care. That’s the essence of the matter, I don’t care about this “problem”. There you go, now I will probably be banned. I don’t care about that either.

          5. Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

            Women need only to put up a picture on OKCupid to be deluged with emotional validation.

            Dude. You said that when you made that fake OKC profile, you used a “really hot (but not unrealistically so) girl.” How on earth do you know that ugly women get “emotional validation”?

            No one has ever approached me, no one has ever given me any kind of positive reinforcement whatsoever.

            Based on the attitude you display in these comment threads, I’d venture to say this has little to do with your appearance.

            There’s no more fundamental way to matter than to be desired by someone. Every woman, and some men, get that wholesale.

            No, NOT every woman. Listen to what people are telling you.

            That’s the essence of the matter, I don’t care about this “problem”. There you go, now I will probably be banned. I don’t care about that either.

            So what are you still doing here? Why do you keep coming back here? I’m not going to ban you until you violate my comment policy, so no need to do the whole annoying “ohhhh now I’m TOTALLY GETTIN’ BANNED” thing. If you don’t care about what I write about, LEAVE. Start your own blog. This is not your space to use as your own personal soapbox.

          6. mythbri

            You’re going to flame me

            Don’t do this. Seriously. Just don’t. If you want to say something, say it. Crosses are for Christians – I assume you aren’t one, since you’re on an atheist network.

            Every woman, and some men, get that wholesale.

            This is bullshit. You just won’t accept what other people’s experiences are, because apparently no one in the entire world has problems worse than yours.

          7. Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

            Mythbri, I don’t deny that some women feel unattractive, but I’m speaking in general terms; in general terms, they’re dwarfed by the corresponding number of men.

            Cite that statistic. Because I just took two courses on this and every available study shows that women are much more insecure about their appearance than men.

          8. queequack

            I guess I keep coming back here because this is a pretty good blog that’s well-written, and I like the tolerant atmosphere in the comments section. I don’t not like what you write about. I thought the racism discussion was very cool.

            Dude. You said that when you made that fake OKC profile, you used a “really hot (but not unrealistically so) girl.” How on earth do you know that ugly women get “emotional validation”?

            I didn’t get responses from conventionally “average” or even “below average” women either; I assume they also get many messages. I concede that flat-out ugly women may understand my situation better.

            Cite that statistic. Because I just took two courses on this and every available study shows that women are much more insecure about their appearance than men.

            Well, I don’t have a statistic. I might be wrong, and you would known more than me as a sociology major. But I’m very surprised, and I don’t understand how that can be the case, if it is. Again, look at the dynamics of OKCupid. Look at internet communities devoted to this issue- all straight men, almost without exception.

            This is bullshit. You just won’t accept what other people’s experiences are, because apparently no one in the entire world has problems worse than yours.

            I never said this, but I’m talking about a particular issue, and I guess I derailed the comments from the original topic. I maybe should have not done that.

          9. Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

            I guess I keep coming back here because this is a pretty good blog that’s well-written, and I like the tolerant atmosphere in the comments section. I don’t not like what you write about. I thought the racism discussion was very cool.

            Thanks! I really appreciate that.

            Well, I don’t have a statistic. I might be wrong, and you would known more than me as a sociology major. But I’m very surprised, and I don’t understand how that can be the case, if it is. Again, look at the dynamics of OKCupid. Look at internet communities devoted to this issue- all straight men, almost without exception.

            Actually a psychology major. :P But yes. Please do your research. There are also TONS of internet communities, books, organizations, etc. dealing with the issue of women’s body image. The fact that you don’t realize this suggests to me that you haven’t really tried to find out more about this issue beyond your own experiences. That’s too bad. This is too important not to be taken seriously and researched vigorously.

            Here are some books you might like. The Adonis Complex is a well-known book about men’s body image. I’ve only read excerpts, but I think you’ll find it helpful. Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters is a similar book, but about women, which I’d encourage you to read so that you can start to understand women’s perspectives on this, too. I know of MANY more, so don’t hesitate to ask.

            Dr. Nerdlove is a blog with advice about dating that’s targeted at guys. Try searching it for letters that you can relate to, or write your own if you don’t find any. He can be really useful.

            Also, this post from Captain Awkward, another awesome advice columnist, might help.

          10. mythbri

            I maybe should have not done that.

            You think? Was it perhaps because talking about a string of incidents building up to overall harassment has absolutely nothing to do with “accepting” harassment as a price you’d be more than happy to pay if only you got the attention you wanted? Was it the way you minimize the impact and harmful nature of harassment because apparently something (even unwanted something) is better than nothing, in your eyes? Was it the way you dismissed anything that doesn’t conform to the pity narrative you’ve constructed for yourself and all other guys you think are like you?

            Yeah, I’d call that a derail, too.

          11. ischemgeek

            Not every woman or girl.

            I was pretty much the polar opposite of conventionally attractive as a teen. Overweight, frizzy hair, huge overbite, glasses, short, physically awkward, pasty-pale, braces with head gear. Deciding to own my unattractiveness lest it become even more bully-fodder, I made myself less attractive still with ill-fitting clothes, piercings, and hairstyles that looked like I lost a fight with a lawnmower.

            I can guarantee you: the only times I received “attention,” it was a cruel joke. Around the third time it happened, I started responding to any overture with suspicion if not hostility. My sister was popular, so I’ve since learned that my suspicion was never misplaced. The only “attention” I received was designed to mock me. The only “validation” I received was of my knowledge that I was ugly.

            Looking back: I wasn’t ugly. I was no breathtaking beauty, I was late to puberty, and my features were awkward in the way that teenagers’ features often are, but I wouldn’t say I was ugly. Just… far from conventionally attractive.

            I only started receiving genuine positive interest from people attracted to women when my appearance became more conventionally attractive thanks to the magic of finally hitting puberty, orthodontics, good hair cuts, and muscle gain.

            So, based on my life experience, sir, I conclude that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Not conventionally attractive women have it bad, too. I know. I was one.

            As for internet communities… look on forums and sites aimed at women and girls in general. Most will have a subforum aimed towards body and food issues, unless they’re very narrow in focus. The reason why women don’t make dedicated sites to body issues is because it’s so damn common in women, pretty much all of us can relate. We don’t need to set aside a separate space for the subset of women that are affected by this issue; it’s a majority interest thing among women. I have yet to meet a woman who has never in her life had body issues. And I’ve known a lot of women. I’m not saying that women who’ve managed to dodge that cultural bullet don’t exist, but simply that they’re so vanishingly rare that I’ve never met one. No woman I’ve met feels attractive (even if she is conventionally very attractive). Even superstars and professional models give interviews about how insecure they feel about their appearances. It’s really common for us.

            And if you don’t get why, maybe you should listen rather than pontificate at us about how we can’t possibly understand what it’s like to feel unpretty.

          12. Eristae

            I ask this in absolute seriousness:

            Why do you think it matters what you think you would or would not be happy to “pay” in order to get what you think is the payout of being a woman? Even if you can accurately gauge the price vs the payoff (and you can’t), so what? Some people like being tied to the bed and whipped while being called names. Do I think this means that you would be okay with it? Of course not. If someone did it to you and you objected, would I immediately start trying to gauge how I personally would feel about having that done to me? Of course not. Would I insist that I’d be willing to put up with it in exchange for some perk that I wanted? Of course not. Why? Because none of this is relevant. I am not all people. What I would be okay with, others might not be, and what others might like, I may not. This isn’t about what I personally am willing to endure, it’s about what I’m willing or not willing to insist that others deal with.

            You are insisting that women pay a price they don’t want to pay so they can theoretically get a perk that you want. Not a perk that they want, but that you want. That’s absurd, insulting, insensitive, minimizing, and all and all really vile. So don’t do it.

          13. MrFancyPants

            Okay, I’m a bit late to this comment stream, but maybe you’ll notice it anyway, queequack. You wrote:

            I didn’t say street harassment or annoying OKCupid messages were a good thing, only that it’s a price I’d pay. And I would.

            Dude. No. Just no. You do NOT want street harassment. Here’s a little anecdote for you:

            When I graduated with my B.S., I got a job in Amarillo, Texas, as an engineer. 21 years old, six feet tall, lanky as hell (I probably weighed 145 lbs), and long blonde hair. What can I say, I was trying to be mister hippy rebel, or something. Anyway, I worked in the only tall building in town, which was smack dab in the middle of town, so that’s where I had to park my car. At that time, Amarillo’s downtown was shuttered and dying, for the most part. Lots of homeless people, lots of poor people living right on the edge. I’d never been harassed in my life, never had a single problem, and was blissfully unaware of the way people could act… until a bunch of guys who lived down there noticed me. Guys who apparently had a thing for skinny blonde kids with long hair.

            They started out by leaving notes on my windshield. Initially nothing bad, things like “what’s your name?” I ignored it, but they slowly became really disturbing, disgusting notes about what sex acts they wanted to perform on me. After a couple of weeks, they graduated up to openly confronting me, and telling me in person. I tried parking on different streets, but they always figured it out, and they’d always be waiting for me after a couple of days again. It just kept escalating, and after a couple of months I started to feel real fear, like maybe they would go beyond just harassment and taunts.

            So I quit that job and moved away.

            You speak of harassment like it’s validating–some kind of good thing that would help you feel better about yourself. It’s freaking not. Since I left that job, I’ve never experienced harassment like that again, but the memory of it has stuck with me for the 25 years since then, and there is no way in hell I would want to experience that again. And what I got, in terms of harassment, was likely orders of magnitude less than what a lot of women experience every day for their entire lives.

      3. 1.1.3
        Sally Strange (@SallyStrange)

        I’ll trade you the OKC messages and attendant “validation” for the following:

        1. Equal pay for equal work
        2. Free universal daycare and paid parental leave for all parents
        3. Living free of the fear of sexual assault
        4. No more street harassment

        Deal? It would actually work, too, because if we give up those dumb gender roles about who’s supposed to approach whom, I’m sure guys would get rejected a lot less.

        GEEZ. NOT EVEN ONE CONVERSATION.

  2. 2
    smhll

    I saw on Facebook that National Public Radio is collecting comments for a piece on street harassment. What’s interesting is they have more than a thousand comments, so even though it’s anecdotal and not a random sample, it’s A LOT of anecdotes. Handy to link to in response to people using the “it’s no big deal; it’s a compliment” line.

    https://www.facebook.com/NPR/posts/10151744472681756

  3. 3
    oolon

    Its pretty simple, someone says “leave me alone” … You leave them alone, online or IRL.

    Anything else is you trying to hurt and get at them. I don’t need to hurt others to make myself feel better so I have no problems ignoring people who want to be ignored.

  4. 4
    ischemgeek

    I’m just gonna leave this here.

    Tl;dr: what you call “attention” and “validation” is part and parcel with that same harassment we’re talking about.

    1. 4.1
      ischemgeek

      … Miri, your comment nesting appears broken for me. It works when it wants to and doesn’t when it doesn’t. I meant #4 to be a reply to queequack. :(

    2. 4.2
      Lou Doench

      @ischemgeek I just wanted to respond to your comment above (which is at the end of the nest) where you said this
      “I can guarantee you: the only times I received “attention,” it was a cruel joke.”
      I had much the same experience in 7th and 8th grade. I think its a shame that anyone should go through something like that. It poisons our relationships with the opposite sex (or whatever attraction you end up with I suppose) in a way that is hard to overcome. I was actually relieved to got to an all-boys High School because it put to an end such casual and cruel betrayals.

      1. 4.2.1
        ischemgeek

        I didn’t date from age 12 to age 21. I graduated high school at 17, and it took me four years to heal enough to take the risk again. And my first attempts were train wrecks – I feel sorry for the people involved, who must’ve thought I was stringing them along. I was terrified of betrayal. So I hurt them before they could hurt me. Not proud of it. But it happened.

        Now, I have a functional relationship with someone, but it wasn’t easy getting there – we were dating for over a year, and exclusively dating for almost nine months before he asked me to call it dating. He knew I have some serious mental baggage going on where dating was concerned, so he didn’t ask to make it official until he noticed me not shying away from the topic anymore.

        Buuut yeah. That and a few other remnants from my schooling (I still feel dread when I overhear people mention me when I’m out of the room, I still assume a group of laughing people is laughing at me, and I still flinch when I see sudden motion out of the corner of my eye) have convinced me that bullying as a problem will never be solved until people start calling a spade a spade and substitute “harassment and abuse” for the word “bullying”. Bullying as a word is trivializing because of our societal ageism – kid stuff isn’t serious, and bullying is kid stuff. Therefore, society holds that bullying isn’t serious. Even though, based on my life experience: Bullying is abuse and harassment. I’ve been abused physically, sexually and emotionally in my life. And the only way bullying differed from that abuse was that a kid was the abuser. We as a culture need to recognize this before we can address it.

        1. 4.2.1.1
          Lou Doench

          “And the only way bullying differed from that abuse was that a kid was the abuser. We as a culture need to recognize this before we can address it.”
          That’s brilliant. Exactly my feeling on the matter.

      2. 4.2.2
        namanama

        Wow, I’m surprised to hear more people speak about this. I remember when I was a kid in school and when people spoke to me it was to harass me. Whenever people were nice it raised suspension. I got people screaming at me from a table away asking if I wanted to date someone. Also got people randomly going up to me and asking me out as a joke. Gestures of kindness were flipped around into their game of fucking with me and making me upset. It was 100% based on what I looked like. I couldn’t have been nicer if I tried. But it didn’t matter, I was considered subhuman if I didn’t look good.

  5. 5
    machintelligence

    Once is happenstance.
    Twice is coincidence.
    Three times is enemy action.
    *old military adage*

  6. 6
    Dan L.

    I do know what it’s like to be a male. I know what it’s like to feel really unattractive. I know what it’s like to feel ignored by the opposite sex. I know what it’s like to try to do internet dating and not get any responses. I know what it’s like to be so unsure of boundary issues that I feel unable to let women know I’m interested. Everything you complain about women being unable to understand — I understand it perfectly. I’ve experienced it directly.

    And yet I cringe every time I read one of your whiny, self-serving comments here. I also think you’re wrong that unattractive women don’t have the same problems — and worse — than we do. What do you say to that?

    1. 6.1
      Dan L.

      This was intended to be a reply to queequack.

  7. 7
    Leah

    Great post–I like the choice of analogy and the part about microagressions. Having just done a guest post on harassment in Japan and having just come back to the US and gotta to see all the street harassment here (in the course of 2 weeks), I’m glad to have read this. Keep up the awesome work!

    1. 7.1
      Leah

      *gotten to see

  8. 8
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Seconded.

  9. 9
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Uh, seconded Dan L rather. Dafuq?

  10. 10
    John-Henry Beck

    Seems to me this post spells out the frustrations with harassment quite well.

    Just being an unpopular kid in school I can related to some of that. I didn’t get it too badly, from what I vaguely remember, but enough that I get the idea of microaggressions pretty easily. And the frustration of authority figures, parents particularly, blowing off complaints as no big deal. Which means I get quite irked and frustrated with the harassment deniers.

    Some of the biggest frustration comes, I think, from also recognizing that some of those things aren’t so minor. The sexual harassment, for instance, a lot of those are pretty awful even as individual incidents. Even if I didn’t think the problem was as large or bad as some claim, I think it’s reasonable to go to some effort to tamp it down at the very least; I fail to see the rational reason to make a big fuss about how it’s not a big deal.

  11. 11
    rilian

    This post reminds me of when I was in 4th grade, and kids on the bus would hit me and throw stuff at me every day. I would hear them discussing who was going to do what to me each day. I told my mom about everything that happened, and after a few days of it, we went and talked to the principal and the bus driver. The bus driver said, “It’s just a few kids, it’s not a conspiracy,” and nobody ever did anything about it.

  12. 12
    Setár, Elvenkitty

    Sounds like what I got at elementary school a lot. The most I was told was to “just ignore it”, which, as we all know, works 100% of the time without fail. /waterfall of sarcasm

  13. 13
    Ariel

    But as a pattern–as a series of tiny acts and gestures that build up over time, intended to make someone feel unwanted, threatened, afraid–harassment can be devastating.
    The same thing happens to us as adults, in the digital age. “So they tweeted some random insult at you, who cares?” “I’m sure they didn’t know you didn’t want to be tagged in that photo.” “Yeah, there’s a few assholes on the Internet. It’s not a big deal.”
    It’s hard to get people to see that if these were really “Isolated Incidents,” you wouldn’t be so upset.

    Yes, spot on. And it’s difficult indeed to get through with such a message. I felt it myself. But given the current problems, your diagnosis – i.e. that it is so hard because “it looks so different from the outside than from the inside” – tells only a part of the story (although a quite important part). It still seems to me that a fuller diagnosis is needed before one will be able to counteract effectively. Not that I have such a diagnosis. All I have is rather some additional stuff which (imo) needs an extra explanation, together with the feeling that without taking this additional stuff into account, the risk of being ineffective looms large. Unacceptably large, I would say.

    Ok, here is the thing. Consider a more complicated case, where what you have is not just the pattern described by Miri, but a pattern + narrative. Or still better: pattern + narrative + anger. Consider a place where people gather, some of them engaged actively in reproducing the pattern, most of them engaged in supporting the narrative, many of them just cheering at the tiny bits forming the pattern, a lot of them angered. In time the place becomes a hub, buzzing with life, attracting new spectators and new participants. They are not ineffective, they are not a closed, isolated and avoided group. Quite on the contrary, they are popular and growing. But at the same time … yes, we still have this “series of tiny acts and gestures that build up over time”. Hard to disregard the pattern? No, as it turns out, not hard at all.

    Why? Why is the pattern disregarded by the newcomers and onlookers? I’m not satisfied with the “it looks so different from the outside than from the inside” as a full story. Some of them look like (otherwise) sensitive people. Also some of the newcomers write insightful, deeply felt stuff. So why? What is the reason for this particular blindness?

    I’m not planning to pretend that I know. I’m tempted to look for answers by examining the “narrative + anger” part, but that’s of course only the direction, not an answer itself. The real practical problem is that if the diagnosis is to narrow, the cure is bound to be ineffective. Crying “harassment!” was ineffective. I have better hopes for acting on Miri’s diagnosis – explaining to the most sensitive of them, perhaps in individual conversations, what it might be like to feel it “from the inside”. But it’s still not enough. There is the anger and narrative to be confronted; and maybe a lot of other things which I didn’t even think about. Some good, comprehensive diagnosis would be very useful at the start.

  14. 14
    thetalkingstove

    “I didn’t say street harassment or annoying OKCupid messages were a good thing, only that it’s a price I’d pay. And I would. ”

    No, I really don’t think you would. A friend of mine recently got stalked half way across London by a guy, from tube stop to tube stop. It only ended when she went into a restaurant and asked for help. And its not remotely the first time something like that has happened to her. The following week a guy came and sat next to her on a train and shouted abuse in her face repeatedly when she wouldn’t respond to him in the way he wanted.

    You’d take experiences like that in exchange for a bit more attention online?

    “I don’t online date anymore, but I used to, and no one has ever first-messaged me on OKCupid, not once.”

    The way to get ahead in internet dating is to be witty and interesting and positive on your profile and in the messages you send to people. It’s not to have model level good looks and just sit back and watch the messages roll in.

  15. 15
    Gentleman Ape

    Insightful post on the reality of the cumulative effects of acts of ‘micro-aggression’ and the sheer frustration of being unable to articulate it effectively to bystanders. I myself was subject to a long, painful, and well coordinated series of “small indignities” at the hands of social peers. And this current fashion of “not dredging up in the past and taking responsibility for one’s own feelings” only helps these bullies-by-stealth. At least “macro-aggressive” bullies have the decency to acknowledge their callousness.

  16. 16
    ButchKitties

    Micro-aggression: Every day a group of people get together to dump sand in your driveway. Sometimes they only drop a handful. Sometimes they bring over buckets. More rarely, wheelbarrows. Every now and then they rent a dump truck. Despite your best efforts to clear the sand away, others keep leaving more. You can’t help but track some of the sand into your house. It’s starts getting into your food, clogging up your vacuum, damaging your car, and generally making your life hell.

    But if you complain about the pile, and ask people to stop leaving sand everywhere, most will usually cite the tiny size of each individual, isolated grain as proof that you’re being overly dramatic about an insignificant problem. And then some people who are attempting to be sympathetic (but have never had to live with that sort of thing) are far too eager to tell you that they were in your shoes, they’d be making pearls.

  17. 17
    smhll

    Why? Why is the pattern disregarded by the newcomers and onlookers? I’m not satisfied with the “it looks so different from the outside than from the inside” as a full story. Some of them look like (otherwise) sensitive people. Also some of the newcomers write insightful, deeply felt stuff. So why? What is the reason for this particular blindness?

    I think that a few of the men that get involved with these threads really are mystified that the adjective “unwanted” can modify the noun phrase “sexual attention”. It must seem like an oxymoron.

  18. 18
    jenny6833a

    Another quite typical plaint and, quite typically, one with no suggestions for a solution. It’s just another “Oh woe is me” post.

    1. 18.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I don’t see YOU coming up with any suggestions, smartypants!

      1. 18.1.1
        rilian

        But this post IS a solution. The problem is that people don’t understand, and you’re explaining it.

    2. 18.2
      John-Henry Beck

      It seems to me that clearly identifying the problem is an important first step in dealing with a problem.

      And with a problem like this, identifying the problem behavior is a big start since just having more people recognizing what’s going on and being able to state that harassment is actually happening goes a long way toward stopping it. “Stop blowing off complaints of harassment as minor and discrete incidents,” is a good start on a solution.

      1. 18.2.1
        Tony! The Queer Shoop

        John-Henry Beck:
        You just explained the benefits in writing about harassment in such a clear way, I am certain jenny6833a will be back to apologize for hir contentless comment…any minute now.

  1. 19
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    Lessons from #AtheismPlus | Reality Enthusiast

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