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Nov 06 2013

The Truth Hurts

I’ve been feeling somewhat inured to the constant grind on the soul of people coming forward with tales of their having been sexually assaulted of late. Then along comes Pamela Gay, one of the kindest, smartest, funniest people I’ve had the pleasure to work with, however briefly, and her story has such a ring of familiarity and timeliness that people are speculating that she’s the one DJ Grothe and Barbara Drescher were talking about.

And to make matters worse, Dr. Gay is the one feeling guilty here, despite having personally done nothing wrong. She’s the one facing repercussions within the community for having spoken up last year about harassment. She’s the one being targeted for further harassment and abuse, and she’s the one whose career is on the line. Because she’s the one who has breasts. Because she’s the one who spoke up.

I am just fucking GUTTED now.

With ever increasing difficulty I’ve been dealing with issues of gender related to my career. Right now, I am struggling with hearing that an event I categorized as “A drunk ass tried to grab my boobs,” is now being discussed by witnesses as, “He tried to sexually assault her in a bar while intoxicated.” I had created a euphemism for myself, and having that euphemism striped away is making me realize that I have been hiding from myself the true degree to which I have been harmed.


It turns out the talk she gave at TAM 2012, while it was almost universally lauded within the communities, had some serious repercussions — specifically, endangering Dr. Gay’s career.

I did not give this talk lightly. I suspected I’d experience backlash for daring to admit that I too am one of those women who has been touched, who has been held back, who has suffered self-doubt related to my gender. What shocked me was the form and degree of backlash. As a result of this talk I faced threat of professional reprimand. Let me state this more clearly, because I admitted that gender related comments hurt my self esteem, there were authority figures who demanded I be punished. While my direct supervisor and the dean we report to have always made me feel respected and have supported me, there were others within my profession who demanded I publicly apologize; that I be formally punished for what I said. I was asked to justify my speech and name names in confidential written documents. For one nearly fatal moment, I believed that if the people in authority knew the truth, perhaps people in power would undertake meaningful actions to make my profession better for women. And I did name names and I did use specifics … and my words were distributed widely enough that word of what was happening got back to me nearly a dozen timezones away. When I learned what was happening, I spontaneously (and thankfully silently) burst into tears. I hid behind long hair as I exited the audience of the conference session I was attending, and I hid in a foreign bathroom thinking my career was over. Three people wrote documents against me, and they named a forth complainant. No one else came forward to back me up in writing, even though for years there were those who felt fine telling me it was my gender that held me back and that when they had power they’d help me. I felt I had to get a lawyer in order to make sure my career wouldn’t be ruined – someone to find ways to use the existing guidelines to protect me. I exhausted my (admittedly small) savings. I started working more and more in isolation. I was diagnosed with PTSD. I tried to hide in my work, and that alone may have kept me going.

The story gets much, much worse.

I am sick to death of this strange need to heap more and more abuse on people who talk about the abuse they’ve received. I am tired of this injustice piled upon injustices, and I am done with apologetics made by people who claim that we’re not helping the situation by speaking out against the sort of sexual entitlement that is so entrenched in our culture that being a victim of assault is enough to endanger your career. Speaking out against this sort of perpetual cycle of revictimization is the ONLY WAY to make it less socially acceptable. Someone witnessing someone in power misbehaving should not result in a third party — the object of the person in power’s misbehaviour — having their career scuttled. The person who committed the abusive act is the one who should be most proximately punished. This isn’t exactly a wacky, fringe principle of morality that I’m evincing here. So why is it so difficult for our communities?

Elsewhere, on Twitter, someone asked if they could donate to a charity on Pamela Gay’s behalf. She recommended Cosmo Quest, or the AAUW Legal Action Fund. Both are good choices, in my opinion.

A reminder to those of you who think we “Social Justice Warriors” should just shut up because we’re “not helping”: this is not about indicting specific individuals out of some personal grudge. This is about fighting against yet another miscarriage of justice, and this is about the behaviours of those individuals — not the individuals themselves — being unacceptable. If these people are unrepentant about their misdeeds, if others come along and provide apologetics for them and these apologetics in any way serve to further victimize the victims of these stories, then I’m damn well going to speak up. The only weapon I have with which to fight these injustices is my voice, meager though it is. So if you expect me to shut up about people treating each other so viciously — if you expect me to stop castigating so-called “allies” for abusing genuinely good human beings with such aplomb — you’ve got another thing coming.

If this truth — that the people you’re defending have done terrible things — hurts you in any measure, then perhaps that pain will jar you into action against those specific behaviours, instead of prompting you to circle wagons.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I’ve seen some amazing BS over the years that amounts to “you have to embrace your ‘allies’ on one issue even if they are your enemy on every other issue” and “you’re not helping your cause by insisting that your ‘allies’ actually be decent people who share your values” and other nonsense.

    The truth is that too many organizations theoretically working towards a cause become vanity projects for the privileged scum who manage to rise to the top . And too many individuals place too many other concerns ahead of basic human decency. There’s no place for either of those things in any community worth being a part of.

    And thank you for using your voice to stand for decency. Too few people are willing.

  2. 2
    Stacy

    If this truth — that the people you’re defending have done terrible things — hurts you in any measure, then perhaps that pain will jar you into action against those specific behaviours, instead of prompting you to circle wagons.

    Well, it should, and surely for some it will. But others will continue to play their favorite game: “Pay no attention to the evidence–look over there! It’s an FTBully!”

  3. 3
    Alex

    I feel so stupid now for thinking less of her in the past because of her mixed stance on religion and atheism. What a heroine.

  4. 4
    UnknownEric the Apostate

    How much more evidence do the “it’s all drama” people need? At this point, I think it can be safely assumed that they either just don’t care or that they actively support sexual assault, neither of which are defensible positions in the slightest.

  5. 5
    LykeX

    @UnknownEric
    I think there’s also another option: Ignorance.

    It’s a fundamental part of privilege that you are capable of staying ignorant of all the shit that other people have to deal with on a regular basis. As a result of this, when once in a blue moon one of these cases comes to your attention, it seems like an isolated incident, perhaps not that serious in itself. You wonder why people are making such a big deal about it.

    It seems like “drama” because it looks as if it’s one tiny little bump in an otherwise perfect world. If you ignore 99% of the problem, no wonder that the remainder looks insignificant. If you only look at one slice of the data, you’re not going to notice the pattern.

    Of course, that’s all the more reason for us to make a big stink about it every chance we get.

  6. 6
    Pteryxx

    A commenter on Dr. Gay’s post linked to another piece she wrote back in 2009.

    http://www.starstryder.com/2009/09/20/you-must-have-power-to-stop-discrimination/

    In the case of gender discrimination by men on women, I as a woman can do all I want to try and avoid harassment, but at the end of the day, I can be as cautious and uncontroversial as I want (or don’t want), but the choice to be discriminated against based on my gender isn´t a choice I get to make – it is a decision made by others. The only thing that can stop men from harassing women is for men to step forward and say enough is enough. (The same is true if you reverse the genders, or change this to a case of religious, race, or other discrimination.) Always, it must be other members of the group in power who step forward and stand up for the people being victimized. This was true during the civil rights movement, for instance.

    And here is the challenge I want to put out there: If you are a man and ever feel the need to pull a woman aside and say “It´s not you, it´s because you´re a woman,” I want you to act on that need, and then I want you to report to the proper authorities what is going on. Be an advocate. Stand up for someone who may not be able to stand up for themselves. You have the power to change things.

    And if anyone ever tells you, “It’s not you, they are like that to all [women / minorities / Christians / Jews / gays / etc],” look at that person and tell them, “If I fight this, I could lose my job and be labeled a trouble maker. If you report this, they’ll listen. Will you help? Will you report what you’ve witnessed to the appropriate authorities and prevent this from happening again? Will you help me?”

  7. 7
    besomyka

    “I can’t be a misogynist – look how I intervened when that guy was about to grab that chicks boobs! Sure, I didn’t report it or anything, but I stopped it, and that is enough.”

    No, it’s not enough.

    That’s just the thing, right? This is a society problem that manifests in specific instances, but fixing the instances from time to time does not change society. It’s *not* enough.

    There is no other reasonable side to this. Arguing against people going further than stopping the individual manifestation of this social cancer means defending the social acceptance of this.

    There is no nice side to this. Compromise in this case means accepting some aspect of the social structures that perpetuate these abuses, and that is a non-started from the outset. Radical change only, from the top down. Now.

  8. 8
    besomyka

    @6 Pteryxx: And now it turns out that helping by reporting for her still risks her professionally. Because to the systems of oppression, she is still the problem. We can’t dress it up, or help without changing the systems themselves.

  9. 9
    Pteryxx

    besomyka: yeah, I know, and it’s burning the shit out of me. Because the original conversation had nothing to do with Gay at all- it was about DJ lying and covering up witnessed, verified instances of harassment. Again, all the advantage goes to the harassers, because they and their allies-in-coverup know who they targeted, so they already know who to pressure and threaten to keep them in line.

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