It’s always a bit fraught to write about certain topics when you, the author, are an old white guy. The topic of sexual assault and harassment is fraught no matter who you are, make no mistake, but… For me the topic is difficult for a few reasons. When I was closeted (especially when I was very young and didn’t understand what was different about me from the other boys), I was under constant pressure to act like the other boys. This meant, at times, parroting the verbal bullying (or at least acting like I agreed with it) which was aimed at gals around us and at any guy who wasn’t coming up to the impossible masculine ideal. So, I am keenly aware of many times when I perpetuated misogyny. I’ve teased people, or laughed along while others teased people, or looked the other way, rolled my eyes, and generally didn’t help (or even recognize sometimes) the victim of many types of harassment.
Guys are socialized to unashamedly express their interest and demand the attention of the people we are attracted to. And we’re socialized to never take “no” for an answer. All humans are socialized to allow men to get away with never accepting that “no”—just look at the millions of movies, novels, et cetera where the hero keeps pursuing the girl that can’t stand him until she finally realizes that he’s the one for her. So we’re socialized to think that certain types of harassment are cute and romantic.
As an out queer guy, I’ve found myself the target of various kinds of harassment/micro aggressions (in the workplace or elsewhere) from straight males that is a strange mix of anti-gay and anti-feminine. And I’ve also had my own experience of being date raped (including spending many days blaming myself for letting them take advantage of me, until a friend told me to stop thinking of it that way). So the topic also pushes some of my own buttons.
As I said, we’re all socialized to accept harassing behavior, which is part of the reason assault victims are seldom believed. On the rare occasions that we believe assault might have happened, we’re socialized to blame the victim: Did you lead him on? What were you wearing? What did you think would happen if you agreed to be alone with him? Et cetera and ad nauseam. So it is actually amazing that in the last couple of weeks we’ve starting believing people when these allegations came forward.
Not everyone, unfortunately. I’m not surprised at all, for instance, that a single guy coming forward and talk about an attempted sexual assault another man committed against him years ago was instantly believed, whereas many women have come forward to talk about the many times a senate candidate did similar things to them and there is emphatic doubt. But we’re at least tipping a little bit in the direction of believing assault victims.
Now, what do we do about it? Well:
…at least once a month a woman will reach out to me to let me know that a man I’ve worked with, socialized with, or even considered a friend, is an abuser. These aren’t tales of one incident, it’s almost always a pattern of abuse quietly shared by multiple women who are scared of being publicly known. Occasionally these are stories from women who made their accusations VERY publicly known—but they were quickly and violently shouted down by their own community and, almost immediately, the accusations were forgotten by everyone except for the women who had been abused and cast out.
These aren’t famous people.
If you have sexually assaulted anyone; If you have shown someone your dick who did not want to see your dick; If you have sexually harassed anyone; If you have casting couched anyone… you have to know right now that your time is coming. You know who you are. You are probably sitting there right now, worrying about when that will be, when those you hurt will find the strength to come forward. Because the question is no longer if, but when.
Some companies depend too much on “there’s no problem right now, so we don’t need to fix anything” mentality… “The insights of the culture need to come from the women working there”
But definitely don’t do this:
And in case you’re still wondering about some aspects of this:
Finally, is someone starts talking about false rape accusations, you can explain how fewer than 10% of such allegations are false, and more importantly, how to tell the difference:
When a woman says she’s been brutally raped by seven men at a public party on a bed of broken glass, as the UVA accuser did, and when that woman has a history of strange lies, as the UVA accuser also did, there’s nothing wrong with being skeptical. But if a woman without any history of dramatic falsehoods says she went home with a man and, after they’d kissed a while consensually, he held her down and forced her into sex—in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary, you can just assume it’s true. This is not because of any political dictum like “Believe women.” It’s because this story looks exactly like tens of thousands of date rapes that happen every year, and nothing at all like a false rape accusation.
There is something very relaxing about making a cup of tea, then sitting down with a book (or my Kindle or the iBook app on my iPad) and reading. It was especially nice to do that out on the veranda when the weather was warmer. I still go out there with a mug of tea, but I wind up drinking the tea faster because it’s getting cold (and I’m chilled). So I come back inside once the tea is done. Besides, now that we get frequent visitors to the bird feeder, I feel guilty being out there and scaring the little guys off.
I do sometimes sit in front of the window and watch them. Which means I don’t always get much reading done. But it’s all good.
It has only been a few weeks since I changed the format of my Friday round up of links, and I have to say that the much shorter list has made Thursday night feel much more relaxing. I wish that I had been self-aware to realize that the old long form version was such a stressful chore, but that’s okay.
I’ve mentioned that I began questioning how much effort was going into the process because the number of people reading the round up had gone way down. What I didn’t mention was the timeline. If I look at the stats on my blog, I can point to a very specific time when the readership dropped: the first Friday after the Inauguration. They didn’t drop all the way to the recent lows right away, but the drop off was noticeable.
Now, long before then, the round up had always included a stories about unpleasant topics. And I dare say the ratio of bad news to good news was about the same. But I totally understand how exhausting it is to be reminded about this bad stuff since there is now so much of it, and it’s hurting everyone, and it feels as if there’s nothing we can do about.
So, that’s another motive for the change: I don’t want to contribute to other people’s sense of exhaustion or hopelessness, and I don’t need to wear myself out, either.
This doesn’t mean I’m not still reading as much news as before. Nor does it mean that I’ll stop calling my congresscritters and adding my voice to the throng. I’m just not spending as much time aggregating the news for other people.
There are other habits I’m trying to get into to try to limit how often I’m having to think about unpleasant topics. That’s part of the reason there is a lot less activity from me on Twitter, for instance. I still find reading my friends, acquaintances, et al on Twitter useful, I’m just limiting how much time I spend on it.
I’m behind on my writing goals (NaNoWriMo notwithstanding; there are things that I meant to have done before November that I didn’t get done). But there’s a lot of stuff going on, and I just have to accept that some of my energy is going to go into other things. And some of those other things are about taking care of myself and my husband.
Like curling up with a good book and a nice warm cup of tea.
One of those things we’re doing this week specifically along that line is we are not going to drive down to see family for Thanksgiving. I don’t need the stress of the drive each way. Neither of us needs the stress of constantly biting our tongues around my Trump-voting, Bible-thumping relatives. It will do wonders for the blood pressures of several of my relatives, too, truth be told.
Which means that instead of figuring out what dishes I can make in advance and transport down there, we’re doing a whole dinner! So far it’s just the two of us; which will be fine. And since I love talking about food, here’s our current menu:
- Relish tray (many many olives, pickles, pickled carrots, pickled green beans, pickled asparagus so far…)
- Turkey (my hubby found a 10-pound one, so not too big!)
- Green bean casserole
- Creamy sweet potatoes
- Sweet potato pie
There will likely be other things added before we’re done.
Also, the official cocktail of our holiday will be a Spicy Manhattan. Based on the recipe suggested at Central Market, this weekend, but after trying it, I have to change it so:
2 oz of your favorite bourbon or rye
1.5 oz of sweet vermouth
Several dashes of orange bitters
Tillen Farms Fire & Spice Organic Maraschino Cherries
Chill your glasses. In a cocktail shaker with ice, mix the vermouth and bourbon, stir at least 45 seconds. Shake a generous number of dashes of bitters into the cocktail glass, strain the contents of the shaker into the glass (turn the glass while he do so to mix the bitters better). Garnish with two of the spicy cherries.
Cheers! And happy holidays!
(Also, feel free to leave your menu or your favorite holiday food in the comments!)
Yes, occasionally the press will focus on the shooter’s history of domestic abuse, as they are doing with the Texas shooter right now. But even then they keep saying how we will never know why he did it.
It’s right there. The history of abuse tells us plenty.
Not just about the Texas church shooter, but for other mass shooters. Time and again we find a history of domestic abuse. If you go find those interviews of the people who describe the shooters as quiet, you’ll also notice hints in the quotes to other traits of abusive people. They’ll say something like the person had a dark sense of humor when he did speak up. Or they’ll say he had a wicked tongue when someone got his dander up. But they’ll hasten to say how those moments were rare, and he only acted that way when he was provoked.
There are a few things going on here. First, we’ve all been socialized not to speak ill of the dead; the rationale being that this event is so painful for the family of the shooter, you don’t want to make them feel worse by truthfully describing what a sullen, angry, antisocial person their loved one was. That’s why you’ll sometimes see one or two candid interviews early, and then the same people will claim their comments were taken out of context. Seeing what they said in black and white and realizing the shooter’s family have seen it, too causes people to clam up.
Another part happens before this. There is a tendency to decide when someone in your social circle says something angry or hurtful that they are just joking. He didn’t really mean it when he said, “Someday someone’s going to sock you right in the mouth when you say stupid stuff like that.” Or the time he said, “If someone put a bullet between the eyes of every one of those bleeding heart lazy assholes, the world would be a better place.” Or the time he said, “You know none of those perverts have never worked an honest day in their life. If they all died nothing of value would be lost.” He was just teasing, we tell ourselves. He wasn’t actually threatening anyone or seriously wishing anyone dead.
So later, when he actually goes out and puts bullets in people, the folks that knew him talk about the dark sense of humor and so forth. They don’t want to think that the missed warning signs (which they did).
Abusers believe that the people they abuse deserve it. They believe that when anyone does anything that irritates them, or doesn’t conform to their ideas of how people behave that they are doing so with malicious intent toward the abuser. It can’t be that those other people are simply interested in different things, the abuser believes. They must be doing it to annoy him. That’s why abusers yell, “See what you made me do?” at their victims. They blame everything on other people. Everything, including their own unhappiness. If other people seem to be happy when the abuser isn’t, it’s because those other people are laughing at his expense, or irritating him on purpose, or causing other unpleasant things to happen the he has to deal with, and so on.This is also one of the reasons why increasing mental health resources (the only thing that Republicans are willing to pretend to be willing to do after a mass shooting) isn’t going to do anything for the problem. The abuser doesn’t think anything is wrong with him. They’re never going to seek treatment for their anger and resentment. The few who do get ordered into anger management type programs (usually as a way to avoid felony charges after an abuse incident that got them arrested—and thereby letting them in most states retain their right to buy firearms) think of the treatment as punishment and a joke. They aren’t going to make a serious effort to change.
Another thing abusers do is target the loved ones of the people they are actually angry at. We see this in domestic abuse all the time. If punishing the spouse doesn’t seem to be making the the changes they want, then they’ll punish the kids or a family pet in order to hurt and motivate the primary victim. It serves the dual purpose of making all the frequent victims hostages to get what he wants, but it also hurts in a different way than a direct attack.
So in a situation like the Texas church shooter: he was angry at his wife and his mother-in-law. His mother-in-law attended that church. His wife also had connections to the church. Everyone there was either someone who his wife and mother-in-law cared for, or had provided mental and spiritual support to the wife and mother-in-law, or they were happy people when he (the abuser) was unhappy. It’s been reported he took his kids to a social event at the church just five days before the shooting. He may have already been planning the shooting. He may not have gotten that specific. The issue is that he was a violent, angry man who had many times before used violence to try to make people in his life do what he wanted, or to punish them for not being what he wanted. Going to the festival was a way to find out more about the mother-in-law who was, in his mind, interfering with his happiness. The more he knew, the more likely he’d be able to force a change.
And even in the case where specific people don’t have a connection to anyone he is angry at right now, remember, the abuser thinks that all of his problems are other people’s fault. He likely had a wide variety of definitions of the kinds of people he blamed for specific things in the world that he didn’t like. Seemingly random people at an event like that are “those kind” of people in his mind.
The motives are easy to fathom, if you take just a few minutes to learn about how abusers think.
Edited to Add:
A couple of things came across my feed after I wrote this. Well worth your time:
I don’t want to spend a lot of time writing anything that isn’t NaNoWriMo right now, but sometimes there are stories in the news that I can’t let go by without some comment. The recent revelations of prominent men actually facing some consequences for their years of sexual harassment is (if these kinds of consequences stick around and we start believing women when they say they’ve been subjected to this treatment) a great thing. Some people are trying to make hay out of the fact that the most recent cases have been people in the entertainment industry, but please don’t be fooled. Every industry has this problem. This is a systemic societal manifestation of male privilege/rape culture.
A lot of other people have written about the general topic over the last few weeks, and there isn’t much point in me weighing in further, but one particular aspect does require some commentary: A Pattern Of Abuse: How Kevin Spacey Used The Closet To Silence His Victims. It’s not just straight men that behave abominably in this way. Gay Actors Open Up About Sexual Harassment In Hollywood: “I’m No Stranger To It”.
The first article I linked above looks at an aspect of this problem that doesn’t get talked about a lot: how the closet makes the problem especially bad for queer people: 1) a lot of straight people who either experience the harassment or witness is feel that they can’t say anything because doing so would out the people involved, and involuntarily outing another person is wrong; 2) if the victim of the harassment isn’t out, they feel that they can’t defend themselves because doing so would expose their secret. The article, unfortunately, focuses primarily on that first bit: how Spacey counted on people’s reluctance in order to continue his behavior with impunity. But I really wish the article had spent some more time on the second one, because I don’t think enough people understand just how bad it can be.
Particularly for young people, such as the second of Spacey’s accusers, who started a sexual relationship with Spacey when the victim was 14, and willingly went along with it for quite some time, until the incident when Spacey tried to force him to do a new sex act he wasn’t ready for (at the much more mature age of 15). This is another way that the closet plays into this kind of abuse, especially for queer teens. See, the kid has spent his whole life being scared to death that people will find out they are gay. They are convinced their families will reject them (and given how many do kick their gay kids out on the street, that isn’t an unreasonable fear), they fear all their friends will abandon them, and so on. At the same time, they are teen-agers, with hormones raging through their body, they have crushes on people that they can’t pursue, and so forth. There’s no socially acceptable way to explore those feelings, to take someone they like to the school dance, et cetera.
But then someone comes along and offers them part of what they crave: someone who desires them, someone who claims to have feelings for them, someone who will let them experience these things they’ve fantasized about. Never mind that the person is older (sometimes a lot older)–and what kid didn’t have at least one crush on an older person at some point–this is someone who is finally giving them something they thought they would never have. So they may go along with it. They may enjoy it, at least for a while. They may believe the other person actually cares about them. So, once they have gone that far, then they believe anything unpleasant that happens is their fault. They agreed, originally, right? They assume any of the bad feelings they have are because something is wrong with them, not recognizing that it’s the toxicity of the closet and the exploitive behavior of the other person that is at fault.
Whether they go along with it at all or not, they still can’t tell anyone. They can’t ask for help or advice, because doing so means admitting they’re queer, and then all of the things that they’ve feared will come true. So they suck it up and try to endure. Which continues the whole toxic cycle.
And let’s make something very clear. The reason they were targeted was because the older person suspected that they were gay. The abuser is looking for victims who may let them have their way, or who will give in to the harassment out of fear, or at the very least will stay silent because of that same fear.
This is the reason that Spacey’s attempt to use his coming out as an excuse when the first allegation came forward was so infuriating. By attributing the first assault to a “drunken mistake” and then saying he’s finally chooses to live as an openly gay man, he was trying to make himself the victims. While I’m sure that growing up a closeted queer kid was just as unpleasant for him as to any of the rest of us, he embraced the toxicity of the closet and used it to abuse other, generally younger guys. The truly sad thing is how many of the media initially let the tactic work, the headlines were about him coming out, not about the fact that he’d sexually assaulted a 14-year-old. Enough people called them on it (and more accusers came forward) that it shifted: Media Skewered For Focus On Kevin Spacey Coming Out Rather Than Harassment.
Spacey doesn’t get to hide behind the queer community. He doesn’t get to use booze and being closeted as an excuse to prey on teen-age boys again and again. He is not the victim in any of these cases. He’s a sexual predator.
I’m on a mini vacation, so I haven’t been paying as much attention to the news as usual since posting last Friday’s round up of links. So one of the first things I looked at when waking up this morning was my blog site, where I saw a whole bunch of hits on one of my posts from June 2016: Why thoughts and prayers are worse than inadequate which filled me with dread. It did not take long to find comments and news articles about the shooting in Vegas: Las Vegas shooting: At least 58 dead, 515 hurt in Mandalay Bay shooting.
I could rant about the usual suspects saying now is not to time to discuss control, and the usual BS about thoughts and prayers.
I’ve already said so much on the topic of gun violence and our society’s refusal to do anything about it: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced, either and Oh, lord, the leaping! and #TwoMenKissing and why the Orlando Pulse shooting was a punch in my gut…
I’m angry. I’ll be calling my congresspeople (even though they’re all progressive Democrats). But I’m not going to write about this yet again. I’m feeling a lot like Alvin McEwen of the Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters news blog: “I can’t preach or talk about anything in my usual critical stance, folks. Nor do I feel like putting out news briefs. God, I feel so very bad over the entire thing. It’s a kind of sadness that takes away all of your purpose and makes you ask why. Nothing else. Just why. But I find that when things like this happen, it helps to let the feeling wash over you. Don’t try to keep them inside. And do something light.”
So, I’m going to go do something light before getting back to work