What’s the matter with you? Are you a lesbian or something?

I woke up the other morning, as one does, and found myself reading, at a free speech outlet not a million miles from here, a joke.  At least I think it was a joke.

Hell!  I hope it was a joke.  The notion was that women being systematically shoved from ‘always wear a head covering when you go out’ (which could almost have applied to my late mother) to ‘abaya at all times and a male escort if you ever go out’ should take advantage of their anonymity to create mischief.  Mischief?

Where dress codes are enforced they are, in the final analysis, enforced on pain of death though the death rate may stay low.  And as you read that, dear Westerner, think not of faraway places with deserts.  Think trans people.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, a cover story is unravelling in a very untidy manner.  One TV company did a story on, I think, 4 women who had been sexually assaulted, when teenagers, by a not-long-dead pop super-star.  First response, in chorus, was I don’t believe this because he was a good bloke.  End of story, as they thought.

As more women came forward that changed to but why didn’t they tell anyone at the time?  Within minutes the news came back  –  they had reported, not all of them but enough to establish a pattern, had anyone been interested.  Cases had been dropped, journalists had backed off, one distressed teen had been punished for telling lies about that great and good man.  And so forth.

There is, at last, to be a full police inquiry and two very successful women have come out and said that their success was bought  –  bought at the price of having uninvited hands shoved inside their clothing when they were live on mic and broadcasting to the nation, a culture enforced by managers to whom they complained asking, “What’s the matter with you?  Are you a lesbian or something?”

Should we be shocked?  Yes, but only if we can be as shocked about denial of the right to a personality, to full citizenship, as we are about sexual impropriety tipping into the criminal.  Anything less than this is prurience.

We are still together, right?  Now, what about freedom of the mind?  What about the right  –  which the teenage girls above were denied  –  to say, ‘This is what happened to me and this is the effect it had.’  And be believed!

Doing anything necessary to shut up a crying teenager may seem at 40 years distance to be a failure of empathy.  Yes, but we can’t leave it at that, can we?  At the time it was an abuse of power and  –  didn’t they tell you?  –  the effect of abuses of power is cumulative.  It acts against the social good as it damages individuals.

So the people who have done real damage to whatever it was  –  we can discuss that  –  in the 16 months since a woman of our acquaintance put up four words of advice to the lovelorn on YouTube are not the repetitive trolls.  Nor are they the idiots who have argued, inter alia, that women’s brains are entirely different in every way from men’s brains or that terms I learned in the social sciences 50 years ago are neologisms and should not be used, that the definition of a word given in a dictionary  –  even if that’s Dr Johnson’s original  –  is the only sense in which a word may ever be used, especially by a woman.  No, such people are merely incredibly boring.

The destroyers have been that small handful of men who, either all the time or just when drunk, believe that they are Genghis Khan and destined to be the ancestor of just about everyone a thousand years from now.  They have supporters, of course, and at two levels.  First line of defence  –  the powerful people of all genders who address bad behaviour with a sort of gamesmanship.  You know, I can get away with ignoring this, we can circulate our own version to key opinion formers, by next year no-one will remember exactly what happened and so forth.  And then there is the Greek chorus, very numerous, always masked of course, who make a lot of noise but seem always to be acting from fear and have no real part in the drama.

And now, because I am not a philosopher, I can sum this up in a sentence.  You do not get to barrack, harass, humiliate, exclude, disbelieve and disregard another group of your fellow humans and then call them the splitters.

Lessons of history and all that.


  1. A Hermit says

    Yes, jelly…

    As more women came forward that changed to but why didn’t they tell anyone at the time? Within minutes the news came back – they had reported, not all of them but enough to establish a pattern, had anyone been interested. Cases had been dropped, journalists had backed off, one distressed teen had been punished for telling lies about that great and good man. And so forth.

    And still the deniers will say “I’ve never seen it” or “where’s your proof”; they will demand CSI levels of airtight forensic proof of every harassment claim and when it isn’t forthcoming they will call the complainants liars and attention whores and marginalize them and mock them and threaten them and tell them to shut up and go away.

    …and then they’ll ask why no one comes forward…

  2. Aratina Cage says

    Great post! I just learned the other day that one of the repetitive trolls is a man who went on a toxic sock rampage (he made automated spamming sockpuppets) at Pharyngula when someone dismissed his superior programming skills. We could probably take into consideration him and Hoggle, another person well known for his sockpuppets, and a few other big troll names on that side and see the actual number of trolls shrink by half or more.

  3. Rodney Nelson says

    You do not get to barrack, harass, humiliate, exclude, disbelieve and disregard another group of your fellow humans and then call them the splitters.

    But that’s being divisive or something equally nasty. Why can’t we go back to the good old days, when men were men and women could be groped with impunity? Do you actually think women should be treated as humans? What will Emery Emery and ThunderfOOt say?

    <snark off>

  4. No Light says

    The enraging thing about Savile is that everyone knew. I remember. discussing it in 2001, and not being met with shock, but with “Yeah, I know”.

    In his autobiography he wrote about having sex with young girls and making formal complaints against female police officers who were suspicious of him,

    The sick bastard then gave a signed copy to one of his victims, with the phrase “No escape!” scrawled in the front cover.

    When Gary Glitter was arrested due to his huge child porn stash, Savile was angry, said “It’s not like he was selling them. They’re only dodgy videos”.

    His headstone was ground into tiny pieces today. I almost wish there was a hell for him to burn in. Not to mention those in charge of children’s homes and approved schools who rented vulnerable girls out to him. Oh, and everyone who covered it up or turned a blind eye because of ;Charidee!”

    I’m so divisive me. Can’t help it.

  5. iknklast says

    Of course, sometimes the cover ups (at the administrative end) are more out of fear than arrogance. I was harrassed as a young woman, and my supervisor, a tiny mouse of a woman who was one of the only women who had managed to make it so far in a good-old boy agency, simply brushed it off. I should be flattered, she said. Flattered? Because someone thinks of me as a piece of meat? If I wanted compliments, there were plenty of places I could have gotten them. I wanted a professional working relationship, peace to do my job, and no harrassment just because I was a recent divorcee with a history of depression. Instead I was subjected to subtle (and not-so-subtle) unwanted sexual attention, then told by one of my own gender that I should be flattered that this piece of human flotsam found me attractive. If she’d told me to suck it up, at least I’d think she recognized the problem. Instead, she preferred to insist that no problem existed.

  6. Beatrice, anti-imperialist anti-racist Islamophobiaphobic leftist says

    No Light,

    That’s… I have no words.

  7. davidmc says

    Pleased more than jelly, I can barely string a sentence together.
    Shout out for Maureen, from down the canal

  8. says

    Oh, shit, I didn’t mean it that way! God, that was stupid – I meant the other FTBers. A jokey “don’t you wish Maureen guest blogged on your blogs?”

    Agh, sorry.

  9. says

    So I posted on my wall yesterday “Guys, when you claim to support women and I go to your albums and see photo after photo of tits and ass, you are not the progressive you think you are. Justsayin”
    and I got this in response

    “Atheist that doesn’t understand BASIC science… You need a better boyfriend I’m thinking.

    Yeah, or not. I need a pint of Ben and Jerry’s is what I’m thinking

  10. Martha says

    The absolute horror of this story almost drowned out the joy of realizing that Maureen is guest-blogging here. This story has had little, if any, air time over here across the pond, but I hope that changes as we all think about the girls and boys who have fallen prey to the abusers and their enablers.

    Ophelia, FWIW, I read your “jelly” comment the way you meant it. I mean, of course the other FtB bloggers should be jealous!

  11. says

    iknklast #7

    “Flattered?!” Yup, that’s exactly what I thought as a social misfit teenager whenever guys paid attention to me. In retrospect, I consider myself very lucky that I didn’t end up raped or pregnant.

  12. F says

    I see myself as being the last pers to look for good things in a world of shit, but I read this, from the article linked in post 5:

    “It was rather like The X Factor going round the country then. Can you imagine X Factor judges rounding up the contestants and asking for sexual favours after the show? I don’t think so.”

    Well hey. All right. (I mean, assuming this is an accurate perception. I wouldn’t have a clue.)

  13. HM says

    I saw a segment on Canadian national TV today about Savile, so that story is definitely getting airtime here.

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