Dear Survivors

This is the truth I’d like you to place in front of you right now, where you can see it: you survived. You did what you had to in order to survive the assault or abuse or other horrible thing that happened to you, changing your status from “one of the lucky ones” to “survivor.” You got through a situation that could have completely destroyed you. That alone is a triumph. May not feel like one, but you’re here and breathing because you found a way to survive.

Excellent.

That’s something other people don’t get to take away from you. Not ever.

Now. You may have noticed a contingent of shitwads who think your survival technique is something they get to judge, like this is some kind of Olympic sport where you get a score based on how flawless your performance was. [Read more…]

Why Is Kink Fun? A Guest post by Greta Christina

Unzip your mind. Sit back, relax with your drink of choice, and read the following with a healthy spirit of inquiry. Many of you won’t even need to do that much – you’re kinky yourownselves, and you’re ready to go dive into the book without advance preparation. Some of you aren’t kinky at all, or haven’t ever discovered more than a mild, currently socially-acceptable kink within yourself (fuzzy handcuffs, eh? Nice!). Some of you have been conditioned to believe kink is sick and horrible and never ever good.

As with many things, you’ve been lied to. And Greta will attempt to explain why this thing you think is no fun at all is actually very fun and healthy and mucho bueno for many folks. Ready? Then go:

 

Why Is Kink Fun?

Guest post by Greta Christina

"Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More" - by our own Greta Christina - is currently available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. Audiobook and paperback are coming soon!

“Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More” – by our own Greta Christina – is currently available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. Audiobook and paperback are coming soon!

Why is kink fun?

Why is it that some people — in very specialized, negotiated, enthusiastically consensual circumstances — find it not just acceptable, but actively and deeply pleasurable, to be controlled, dominated, physically hurt, used, objectified, shamed, humiliated, and/or have their freedom curtailed?

Quick bit of background. I’ve recently published a collection of erotic fiction — mostly kinky — titled “Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.” (Currently available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords — audiobook and paperback are coming soon.) The book has gotten an excellent reception so far, with lots of lovely gushing reviews. But it’s also been received with some bafflement, and in some cases even hostility, from a few readers and people who’ve seen excerpts or read what I’ve written about it… and who don’t understand how it can be healthy to get sexual pleasure from experiences that are so obviously unhealthy and negative and bad. Example: I got this message on Facebook recently, which I’m printing with the senders permission (anonymously at their request):

I am right in the middle of your book “Bending”. As someone who has a very “vanilla” sex drive with no kinks (literally, none.. I’m as bland as they come) I don’t quite see the appeal to feeling shame that comes with BDSM-style punishment and discipline. As someone who’s been shamed in real life by religion in years past, and by friends and family who don’t understand my hobbies and quirks, I find it hard to empathize with how shame can be a turn-on for some people.

I ask this in the most non-judgmental way possible… but, what is the appeal? I’m a little hung up on your book because I don’t understand how humiliation can be erotic. I think the book is very well written but I’m just having a hard time reading through it because there is a stark disconnect between my sexuality and the sexuality of the characters portrayed in your short stories.

Thank you very much for your time. I love the work that you do and look forward to possibly hearing back from you.

I’ve been doing kinky sex for so long, I sometimes forget how incomprehensible it sometimes seems to people who aren’t into it. But I do recognize why this might be hard to understand. In some ways, consensually sadomasochistic sex can almost be defined as sex that eroticizes, and makes pleasurable, experiences that would normally be actively unpleasant, and in some cases even horrific.

What about that feels good?

There’s a limit to how well I’m going to be able to get this across. Sex is such a personal, subjective experience. Explaining why you like any kind of sex that someone else doesn’t — kinky or otherwise — is tricky at best. Try explaining why you like sex with someone of the opposite sex — or the same sex — to someone who really, really doesn’t. It’s like trying to explain what it is that tastes good about broccoli, to someone who totally loathes it. But I’m going to take a stab.

Caveat #1: I’m just talking about myself here. I know that my experiences are shared by many, but I don’t presume to speak for all kinky people. Caveat #2: This is a complicated issue — what’s the phrase the social scientists use? Multi-factorial? — and anything I say to explain this is going to oversimplify pretty much by definition. All that being said, I’m going to take a stab.

For me, much of what it comes down to is intimacy.

The thing about pain is that it gets through. I can be a very well-defended, self-contained person: I don’t let myself get close to people very easily, and it’s hard to just let those walls down and let someone else in. But pain gets through. It’s impossible to ignore. The very intensity of it — the fact that my body is processing the sensation, on some level, as unpleasant — grabs my attention, wakes me the fuck up. If someone is hitting me, I can’t tune out the fact that they’re touching me.

And it isn’t just pain I’m talking about here. In my experience, most forms of sadomasochistic sex have to do with breaking down barriers. Shame and humiliation break down the barriers of dignity and composure. Bondage and domination break down the barriers of self-containment and self-possession. There is an intense intimacy in putting yourself in someone else’s hands, handing over the reins, letting them control what you’re going to be feeling for a while. And again, the very intensity of the experience, the fact that some small part of my brain is screaming, “This is not okay! Get away from this now!”, can — again, in the right circumstances and with the right person — be an intensifier, a magnifier of experience. Including the experience of intimacy, of connection, of being touched by another person.

There’s a lot more going on here, of course. I’ve found that I tend to fantasize about what I don’t have — and when my life is micro-scheduled and overloaded with responsibility, as it so often is, it can feel like a huge burden being lifted to just let go and let someone else be the decider for a couple/ few hours. (You know the cliché of the high-powered business executive seeking out a dominatrix, to relieve him of responsibility for a short while? It’s a cliché for a reason.)

Also, I should point out that kinky people aren’t the only ones who think power is sexy. Humans are hierarchical apes. Get three of us in a room together, and we’ll create a dominance structure. It’s not hugely surprising that many of us would eroticize power. And it’s not hugely surprising that some of us would eroticize power in an overt, explicit way: not simply by being attracted to politicians or moguls, but by being aroused by a person standing over us with a whip.

Then there’s endorphins: the brain’s natural opiates, which kick in as a response to pain, and which under the right circumstances can get us high. And which sexual masochists will tell you about in loving detail, and at great length. If you understand why many athletes experience pain — and pushing through pain to get to the endorphin high — as a pleasurable experience… then you can understand at least part of why sexual masochists experience pain as a pleasurable experience.

And for me at least, there’s a certain hard-wired quality to these experiences that’s fundamentally inexplicable. I have been aware of being kinky for as long as I’ve been aware of being sexual. And I don’t mean since I was eighteen, or since I was thirteen. I mean since I was eight. I have been aware of being kinky for about as long as I’ve been aware of being queer. That isn’t true for every kinky person — but it’s true for a lot of us. I don’t entirely understand this stuff myself: yes, I have intimacy issues, but I think pretty much everyone has intimacy issues, and most people don’t handle those issues by intentionally eroticizing getting beaten and pushed around. Most people probably couldn’t eroticize pain and submission and humiliation, even if they wanted to. (There are people who come to kink later in life, and who nurture a kinky sexuality intentionally — in response to a partner who enjoys it, for instance — but in my experience, most of them had at least a seed of kink to start with.) The way my body processes pain, the way my mind processes power… I can’t entirely explain it, any more than I can explain why I like girls. The clit has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.

But what it mostly comes down to, for me, is intimacy. Kink gets through. It breaks down my walls. I have formidable walls at times… and the intensity of kink sets dynamite underneath them.

I’ve so far been writing about this from the bottom’s perspective: explaining why it feels good to receive pain, to be humiliated, to be controlled. But I’m a switch, and I can tell you that it feels good on the other side as well… and for much the same reasons. Just as it feels good to both penetrate sexually and be penetrated, it feels good to be on both sides of the connection of sadomasochism. It feels good to break down walls, just as it does to have your walls broken. It feels good to touch, with the intensity of pain or power, just as it does to be touched.

If this still doesn’t make sense: There’s an analogy that some of my readers have made in some other conversations about this. Kink is like a rollercoaster, or a horror movie. It can be fun and exciting to subject yourself to otherwise unpleasant emotions — like fear — in a safe, controlled setting. There is a thrill to fear, a rush… and when you can experience that rush with people you trust, in a place where you know you’re safe, it can filter out the unpleasantness, and leave only the thrill.

Ultimately, it may not be possible to really convey what this experience is like. I will probably never understand on a visceral level what it feels like to enjoy broccoli, or what it is that people find pleasurable about that experience. And someone with no interest whatsoever in kink may never understand on a visceral level what it feels like to enjoy getting beaten or shamed or controlled.

And it may not matter that much. As long as you have an intellectual understanding of this stuff; as long as you have an understanding of the basic fact that people do like different sexual things from you, and that this doesn’t make them sick or bad; as long as you understand that there is literally no medical evidence suggesting that kinky people are sick or bad, and in fact plenty of evidence pointing to the conclusion that we’re every bit as healthy and good as everyone else; as long as you understand that no matter what your sexuality is, there is someone in the world who finds it incomprehensible and weird — and as long as you can use that understanding to accept kinky people and treat us with decency — I don’t know that it matters that much whether you can deeply, viscerally grasp what it is about this experience that people get off on.

But getting a glimmer of the visceral experience can help with the intellectual understanding. It may even help people who do have kinky feelings, and who have been shamed into thinking that they’re sick or dangerous or wrong, come to an acceptance of them, and feel more comfortable exploring them.

And anyway, it’s just fun to think about.

“Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More” is currently available as an ebook on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. Audiobook and paperback are coming soon!

What About Teh Menz? – Answered!

The next time some sniveling asshat starts the “But what about teh menz?!” whine, don’t sweat it. Yeah, it’s annoying as shit, and we’ve answered that “patriarchy hurts men too” about five quadrillion-zillion times, and we’re tired of it, but it’s all good. The question has been answered by someone with a masculine voice and a penis who identifies as a menz. All we have to do is aim the sniveling asshat at this video. Seriously. Watch it. Just use caution if you have any medical conditions that make punching a fist into the air and screaming “Fuck yeah!” at the top of your lungs painful. (And remember to say thank you to Mary at Skepchick for finding it.) [Read more…]

Think You Care About Women? Stop a Moment and Read This

Kylie found this incredible piece of writing that should be widely shared. It’s called “Sleepwalking into Sexism,” and it’s by Harriet Page. I’ve included a long excerpt here; the piece itself is much longer, and every single sentence is worth reading. I’d like it if everyone reads this. I’ll settle for a few sleepwalking sexists, male and female, who need to be jolted awake before they do damage to self and others.

No matter what you have to do to get there, read it. Now.

There’s a rule that you shouldn’t wake sleepwalkers – the sudden transition into consciousness can be terrifying. My little sister can testify to the fact that on the one occasion that she woke me mid-somnambulance, I was so surprised I slapped her face. It’s startling to suddenly find that you’re not where you thought you were and, moreover, that you have no idea how you got there.

And, in a way, this is exactly what happens when nice, reasonable men who call themselves feminists are called out on their unconsciously sexist behaviour and attitudes. These men have sleepwalked contentedly through the minefield of gender relations without ever having cause to question what they’re doing and then BAM. Some crazy feminist with no regard for how scary and disorienting it’s going to be comes along and wakes them up with the rude news that, actually, they have unintentionally been engaging in some pretty sexist behaviour.

The result is, metaphorically speaking, the slap to the face that I gave my sister. She was the one who woke me from my comfortable reverie, and my instinctive response was to defend myself with a rapid attack. In her case, it was an ill-deserved slap. In the case of sleepwalking sexists, the responses are more varied. It might be immediate, unhinged abuse – ‘Crazy bitch, you must be on your period or something’. It might be icy politeness and contempt – ‘I’d thank you not to be so aggressive, it’s completely unnecessary’. It might be fake concern – ‘You maybe don’t realise it, but when you attack men like me who are only trying to help, it hurts the whole cause of feminism’. Whatever the method used, the result is the same; instead of reflecting on their own behaviour and attitudes, these men will retreat into an impenetrable defensive fortress.

[snip]

This is the hard truth that must be learned; if you are one of those men who looks for these slip-ups, then you are NOT a feminist. If you are one of those men who believes in equality in some vague and idealistic way, but then turns on a woman the second she says something that remotely implicates you or the people you share a common chromosome with in something you don’t like, you are NOT a feminist. If you believe that a woman has to reward your attempts at feminism with niceness, like a dog getting a treat for a trick, you are NOT a feminist.

Being a feminist means believing ALL the time, regardless of whether women are nice to you, that the struggle for gender equality is on-going and real and essential. It means condemning all those ‘harmless’ little jokes about nagging women, female drivers and periods because you recognise that from the fertile soil of casual, unconscious sexism sprout the seeds of justification for serious assault. It means making the connection between a joke about a woman who bares her breasts on screen in the portrayal of a rape, and the man who thinks it’s funny to grope a woman in a club because she has cleavage showing and Hollywood tells us that boobs exist purely for sexual entertainment. Being a feminist is not about wanting equality for women because they’re nice to you. It’s about fighting for women every single day because you believe that they are human and that humanity is worth defending regardless of how nice, kind, clever, rude, attractive, funny, accommodating or mean the woman in question is.

Read the whole piece. I wish it had been there in the days when I needed the not-exactly-short, but definitely sharp, shock.

(Reminder to any new visitors: read the comment policy.)

A Refresher for Allies

Recently, I watched a conversation among allies go sadly awry. This was a private venue and I won’t repeat the specifics. They’re not necessary, really: gather together a mixed collection of people whose goals are similar but backgrounds are not, and you can watch the same thing happen. The folks in the group that are members of whatever minority or underprivileged group will eventually end up in the unenviable position of explaining to members of the the majority or privileged group that the tactic they think is so clever is problematic. Rather than admitting this is so and dropping the subject, members of the privileged group tend to dig in. It looks something like this: [Read more…]

Beauties, Beasts, and a Lesson Most of Us Don’t Want To Learn

This is a good read, an important read, and I’d like you to read it all. Gyzym is gentle but firm in explaining why movies like Beauty and the Beast can be jarring for those who didn’t realize that the fairy tale is actually a classic domestic violence scenario.

That’s important to face. And for those who would rather not face it:

We can argue for media that doesn’t push the horrible shit we need to unlearn as a society to get to a healthier place, or we can point out the flaws in our preexisting media, or we can do both. But “Just shut up,” isn’t an option. “Just shut up,” can’t be an option, because we can’t keep playing the “Nobody told me because nobody told them,” card. Nothing will ever get better that way. Nothing will ever improve if we keep not telling people this shit.

People not shutting up and speaking hard truths to hear may have caused me some discomfort and made a few favorite films, songs and books impossible to enjoy without acknowledging their deep flaws, but those folks who said “No, I won’t shut up” and continued to speak the hard truths made me a better human being. When I get back to fiction, they’ll have made me a better writer telling better stories. And they’ve made me unwilling to shut up my own self, which may not be the popular thing, but is a necessary thing, so fuck if I’ll stop. Even if I end up with kids (not necessarily my own, mind you). Even if they groan and grump and implore me to STFU during their show. Like George Wiman said when he posted this link, this is “Why it’s important to do MST3K with your kids when you watch movies.” Because while there’s such a thing as willing suspension of disbelief, we need to be trained that suspending disbelief should be a conscious act, and revocable upon return to the real world.

Fiction is useless except as a panacea if we can’t use it to compare and contrast with our real-world lives, if we can’t use it to throw our conditions and relationships and societies into starker contrast, if it can’t help us think. Escapism is lovely, and I love engaging in it. We all do. But we need to be conscious what we’re escaping from, and escaping in to, and watch out that we don’t allow our lovely bit of escapism to subtly normalize very problematic things*. Performing the occasional MST3K exercise on movies we enjoy is good practice for recognizing problem patterns in life. It’s necessary for separating fiction from fact.
And for those who want to cry, “But it’s art! You don’t need to take it so seriously!!” I have just one thing to say: art was never advanced by people passively enjoying the status quo. “Just shut up” isn’t an option for life, but it isn’t an option for art, either. If you truly love art, you will give it no quarter.**

We can do better.

The Beast with a rose. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

The Beast with a rose. Art with a problematic message can still be loved and appreciated as art. It can help us navigate the complexities of our world. But only if we’re willing to engage it. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

*Read this link. I mean it. Miriam hadn’t even written it when I wrote this piece, but it’s like she’d read my mind and knew I had this post sitting in drafts, and wrote it for the line I inserted it in to, and it says much of what I intended to say, and more.

**Nothing in the above should be construed as advocating for the position that art must always faithfully reflect reality. Fuck that noise. When artists hold mirrors up to life, I like the glass to be at least a bit wibbly.

But Where Have the Women Gone?

As I might have mentioned, I’m on an 18th and 19th century freethinker spree. I’m taking great pleasure in reading the words of atheists and not-atheists-but-at-least-in-the-same-zip-code heretics. It’s refreshing, knowing we’re walking a trail blazed by super-sharp thinkers of the past, and seeing how they dealt with the same old tired arguments we hear ad nauseum today. Of course, there’s the corollary: they dealt with this shit, why do we have to keep dealing with it? But religion is like kudzu, and it takes the effort of more than a handful of heretics to weed it out.

[Read more…]

The Truth About Guys and Gals

Last night was completely fucked up in all the best ways. Well, most of them. And it’s led to semi-deep thoughts.

Mind you, I hadn’t had enough sleep. I’d had a shitty day at work, following the shittiest four-day weekend I’ve had in forever, and just that afternoon our call center director had asked me how things were, which led to me saying “not good” and then doing too much sniveling on the way home from lunch to feel capable of stopping by the gas station for a lighter. So this is the context.

[Read more…]

A ‘Nym is Not an Unknown

I like Google+, I do, but I’m not liking their recent purge of pseudonymous folk at all.  It’s not right that people like Bug Girl and DrugMonkey face the choice between revealing their real names or getting banned.  And we’re not talking just having their profiles deactivated, no, it’s worse than that: they were exiled completely from Google+, not allowed to even follow along in silence, all for the terrible crime of not writing under their “real” name.  Fortunately, it seems they’re now allowed to view, but nothing else.

Google+ is going to have to deal with a few facts or shrink dramatically.

A ‘nym is not an unknown.  Names are easy to fake.  Reputations are not.  Over the months and years, pseudonymous folk build up a reputation, and that reputation follows the ‘nym.  So let’s not pretend that a pseudonym is the same as anonymous.  Some people still get confused about that – apparently, Google+ is, too, and it’s pathetic at this late stage in the game.  Allowing people to use their pseudonyms will not throw open the gates to barbarians and trolls.  Disallowing ‘nyms won’t prevent people from being assclowns.  What Google is doing is about as sensible as banning all Muslims from airports because the vast majority of people who hijack planes are Muslim.  You harm a lot of very good people for very little gain.  There are better ways of guarding against undesired behaviors.  Such as, banning the people who actually engage in those behaviors, regardless of whether they use their real names or not.

Google seems to have this idea that people only use a ‘nym because they’re up to no good.  That’s ridiculous.  There are plenty of excellent reasons why someone wouldn’t want to go by their real name.  I chose a pseudonym a long time ago (ye gods, nearly twenty years, how time flies), not because I wanted to hide my real self but because my legal name isn’t one I want on the cover of my books.  Grow up with a last name associated with a very kitschy retailer, deal with the endless no-longer-funny jokes, and on top of that have a character filch your first name, and before long, you’re having nightmares about doing very Not Nice things to fans who unwitting tell you the Not Funny Joke for the billionth-and-eleventy-first time.  In the interests of public relations, I have to be a ‘nym.

But there are deeper reasons.  Much, much deeper.

I do not want my identity stolen.  I do not want to be stalked.  I do not want current or future employers deciding my liberal tendencies or my atheism or whatever else makes me suddenly unemployable, despite an exemplary track record.  I do not want my rapist able to locate me simply by searching my name. Those, it seems, are reasons enough not to operate online under my legal name.  Besides, my legal name weirds me out, now.  I hear it and it sounds wrong.  I’m Dana Hunter, online and off (except at the office).  That’s me.  Not this stranger on my driver’s license.

There are ‘nyms out there who have even better reasons.  ‘Nyms who risk death by being who they are, and would potentially be tracked down and killed if they went by their real names – Muslims who deconvert, for instance, or women escaping abusive former spouses.  There are ‘nyms who would be ostracized were certain things about them known: that they’re LGBTQ, or atheists.  There are ‘nyms who would lose their jobs for saying what they do: whistleblowers, or simply people who have a lot to share but whose companies don’t want them to discuss anything even tangentially related to their employment in public.  All of these ‘nyms have something of interest to say, something of value to contribute, and the intertoobz would be a far poorer place were they silenced.  Google+ certainly will be a sanitized wasteland if they’re all exiled from it.

And how does it possibly make sense to force ‘nyms to use their real names, even if they’re able?  We don’t know who the fuck John B. Smith is.  We don’t care.  We know a ‘nym, and a ‘nym is who we’re looking for when we go to add that beloved person to our circles.  And how do you, Google, know that John B. Smith is the name behind the ‘nym?  Because it’s a “real” name, not something even the most drug-addled hippie parent would have named a child?  How do you know that real-sounding name wasn’t just cobbled together from a few random entries in a phone book?  We don’t present proof of identity when we sign up.  Google doesn’t have Dana Hunter’s driver’s license or birth certificate on file.  (Should they ever ask, though, I can point them to a rather large number of people in both my online and offline worlds who’d know who Dana Hunter is and could easily pick me out of a crowd.  Even my parents know me by my ‘nym.) 

The solution to whatever it is Google’s hoping to prevent by banning ‘nyms – whether it’s sock puppetry or trolling or general asshattery – isn’t the nuclear option of banning everybody with an implausible name (including Chinese ones).  Just witness the security procedures that put innocent kiddies on no-fly lists only to let a terrorist named Richard Reid on board, no questions asked despite the bomb in his shoe, to see how effective such tactics are.  Targeted tools that enforce consequences for actual bad behavior make better sense, don’t ensnare the innocent quite so often, and ensure actual results.  That’s much more useful to a community. 

Google+ is new, and there are bound to be growing pains.  The real test is to see how they respond to their mistakes.  If they’re smart, they’ll fix their policy and let the poor exiled ‘nyms back in with a swift apology.

If not, my profile may not be long for Google+, whether they cotton to the fact I’m a ‘nym or not.  I don’t think I’d want to be part of an environment that’s unremittingly hostile to my Bug Girl and DrugMonkey friends.

You can help them do the right thing by adding your name (or ‘nym) here.

Dear Richard Dawkins: You Do Not Know What It’s Like to Live in Fear

Oh, dear.  Richard Dawkins is having difficulty understanding why being invited to coffee in a hotel room at 4 in the morning by a strange man can be traumatic for a woman. And, upon realizing he’d begun digging himself a hole, proceeded to rent a backhoe.

A great many people, women who live with the reality that women are the overwhelming majority of the ones who suffer sexual assault and the men who understand that reality, have taken Richard to task.  Most have done a finer job of it, but I can’t help but add my voice.  You wanted it explained to you without the use of the word “fuck” every other sentence, and you said you would apologize if we did so.  Let’s see if you’re a man of your word, then, Dear Richard, who I still do love and respect despite this egregious error in judgment, not to mention human understanding.

By virtue of having been born with vaginas, women are under constant threat.  That is true for women in societies where patriarchy reigns, and it is just as true in America, where we’ve slowly and painfully won some degree of equality.  Richard, you seem to believe that an invitation to coffee is not on the same order as having one’s genitals mutilated, and that is true.  What you fail to understand is that this simple invitation could lead to something similar enough, or worse.

When a man approaches a woman, we have no idea of his motives.  It doesn’t matter how nice he is, or how innocent his motives, or how innocuous the question.  Ted Bundy was a very nice man.  His motives seemed completely innocent: he just wanted help with carrying his books, or loading his boat onto a trailer, or whatever other ruse he’d come up with.  And women who fell for it ended up dead.

Richard, this is what you don’t understand: women live under constant threat of rape and murder, and it’s the nice men just as much as the obvious creeps we have to be wary of.  Let me explain to you what goes through my mind when a man I don’t know asks me to join him in some isolated place: I wonder why he wants to get me, a perfect stranger, in a place where he controls my escape routes and there are no witnesses.  And you think I can use words to fend him off.

You may believe women in these situations are overreacting.  The gentleman only invited the lady to coffee, alone, in his hotel room, at four a.m.  In the world you inhabit, if someone asked you to join them for a drink and conversation, that is all it is.  For a woman, there’s every possibility that the man is not interested in coffee and conversation at all, and simply declining the offer puts us at mortal risk.

Here is what can happen with that: I can use words to tell him no, not interested, and he very possibly could go from Mr. Nice Guy to Mr. No-Bitch-Turns-Me-Down.  He could do that in an instant.  The chances of him being one of those men is small, but it’s not non-zero.  It’s not a chance I can ignore.  So while I’m telling him no, not interested, I’m having to think of the worst case scenario, and what I’ll do.  What environmental weapons do I have on me?  What are my chances against his greater strength?  Should I run now, or will facing him down without fear get me out of this situation?  What will I do if the worst happens?  How am I going to survive this encounter?

You think a man can solicit a woman for sex (and asking her to coffee alone in his room in the wee hours is nothing short of that), in an elevator, and all she has to do is say no.  You think she has an escape: press a button to get out.  Here’s a way for you to test whether this theory is plausible: ask one of your body builder friends to get you on an elevator, alone, and attempt to escape him by pressing a button and exiting down a deserted corridor.  See how easily you can break free if he grabs you; see if you can remain conscious if he punches you out.  See if anyone will bother to respond to your screams as you’re dragged down the corridor.  See if anyone bothers to call the police.  Then explain to me just how easily I can escape a potential assailant, and how “zero bad” being solicited for sex in an elevator is.

Maybe you’ll listen to a man who understands:

“Whether or not men can relate to it or believe it or accept it, that is the way it is.  Women, particularly in big cities, live with a constant wariness.  Their lives are literally on the line in ways men just don’t experience.  Ask some man you know, ‘When is the last time you were concerned or afraid that another person would harm you?’  Many men cannot recall an incident within years.  Ask a woman the same question and most will give you a recent example or say, ‘Last night,’ ‘Today,’ or even ‘Every day…..’

“It is understandable that the perspectives of men and women on safety are so different – men and women live in different worlds.  I don’t remember where I first heard this simple description of one dramatic contrast between the genders, but it is strikingly accurate: At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, and at core, women are afraid men will kill them.”

Gavin de Becker spoke for me when he wrote those words.  I read them a few years after I was raped, as I was still trying to find a way in the world between abject terror and dangerous overconfidence.  If you’ve never been victimized in that way, nor at any real risk of ever being sexually harmed, it’s extremely hard to understand the constant fear.  Do you want to know what my first thought is, upon meeting a male stranger?  It’s always, “What are the chances he’ll end up stalking, raping or killing me?”  And that question is asked at every stage of the relationship.  I have many close male friends who would be shocked to know I constantly reassess them for risk.  I can’t trust anymore, Richard, because it was a friend who decided that if I wouldn’t date him, he would break into the house and take what he wanted by force.  It was a friend who refused to hear the word no.  And if I could be victimized by one friend, whatever on earth would lead me to believe any other friend could be trusted to hear my words, much less a stranger?

I won’t even go in to the other bullshit women deal with in our society.  Just read a few headlines.  You’ll notice that we are constantly dealing with men who want to control our reproductive choices, who consider our health and well-being less important than theirs, who seem to believe we are more property than people.  And if we let any of that slide, even the simple things like believing it’s fine for a man to impose himself on a woman in a hotel corridor at four in the morning, then we’ll lose what precious progress we’ve made.

Men need to understand the world women live in.  They need to know what it’s like to go from coasting along without worries to instant fight-or-flight fear with a few seemingly-innocent words from a stranger.  Because until they understand that simple fact of our existence, they won’t understand all of the other subtle ways society conspires to keep women from gaining equal footing with men.

We live in constant fear.  And what right do you have, Richard, to denigrate us for our response to that simply because the situation didn’t lead to harm this time?

Because this is the truth of it: you could so easily not have been talking about Rebecca Watson because she used the example of this man’s 4 a.m. approach as an example of the kinds of things it’s inappropriate for men to do to woman.  You could so easily have been talking about her rape or murder instead.  And then all of these men, such as yourself, who are complaining that she blew a completely harmless situation out of control would be asking how she could have allowed herself to be in such a dangerous situation as being alone with a stranger.

Think about that the next time you’re tempted to explain to women just how silly their fears for their safety are.

You’re a smart man, and an empathetic man, so I think you can understand.  So listen to us.  Read the following posts, and try to comprehend why what you said was so very, egregiously inappropriate.

Blag Hag: Richard Dawkins, your privilege is showing.

Butterflies and Wheels: A priest and a rabbi go into an elevator and… and Getting and not getting.

ICBS Everywhere: On Sexism, Objectification, and Power.

Greg Laden’s Blog: Rebecca Watson, Barbara Drescher and the Elevator Guy and Women in Elevators: A Man To Man Talk For The Menz.

Almost Diamonds: Rebecca Watson Sucks at Reading Minds and A Letter to Professor Dawkins from Victims of Sexual Assault.

Bad Astronomy: Richard Dawkins and male privilege.

Pandagon: Because of The Implication.

Skepchick: The Privilege Delusion.

Bug Girl’s Blog: A letter to Richard Dawkins from Victims of Sexual Assault.  This one shows rather nicely how well words work to prevent sexual assault, i.e., they usually don’t.

This post on Shapely Prose from 2009 captures a woman’s reality perfectly, and I wish I had written it: Guest Blogger Starling: Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced. Via this excellent post, via Jen.

For those who think it’s enough to say no, and that no means no, and that men will understand a good, firm no, see Yes Means Yes: Mythcommunication: It’s Not That They Don’t Understand, They Just Don’t Like The Answer.

And I know you’ve read these posts at Pharyngula, because you stuffed your foot into your mouth there, but I place them here for curious readers and men who need the example of a guy who gets it: Always name names!, The Decent Human Beings’ Guide to Getting Laid at Atheist Conferences, and Oh, no, not again…once more unto the breach

If I’ve missed anything (and I’m certain I have), my readers can catch us up in the links.

A note to mansplainers and men who refuse to get it (and the few women who are either hopelessly naive or willfully blind): I may or may not moderate this thread, and I have absolutely no problem publicly shaming.  Do not insult the victims of sexual assault by telling us how most men aren’t rapists, and how we don’t have to fear these little situations.  Because of you, I’m turning anonymous commenting off for an undetermined period of time, so that you won’t be free to spout your nonsense without attaching your name to it.  This means assault survivors who don’t want their status broadcast won’t be able to add their voices, and I’m sorry for that.  They should be able to speak safely.  But I refuse to let cowards spew abuse without fear of repercussion on this of all threads.