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Going Down Swinging

March 17, 2010

image via photobucket

Today was one of those days – those days when something makes you so angry that you can’t quite let go of it.  I’ve been trying not to have so many of these days – to pick my battles and save my energy for things I know I can change.  As Snarkysmachine recently pointed out at Shapely Prose, “You can’t eat all the eggs or fight all the windmills,” and there are some asshats whose minds you just can’t change.  Spending your sanity on those people who won’t budge – well, sometimes it takes away the energy you need to fight a bigger battle.

But todayI lost my cool on someone I know I can’t change.  I spouted passionate words knowing they were ill spent.  I dug for just the right phrase, knowing it would have no impact.

IRL I work as an assistant manager at a retail store in a major mall.  Since the economic downturn, our mall (and everyone else, I’m sure) has seen an increase in problems like theft and credit card fraud, so the local sheriff’s office partnered with our mall security team to host a security meeting advising stores about how to handle the increased risks.  The meeting itself was handled surprisingly well, from a feminist perspective.  There wasn’t nearly the amount of mansplaining and condescension I’ve seen from some L.P. officers,   and there was also none of the profiling that I’d feared there might be.  The officers provided us with useful information that might actually help us to prevent – or at least deter –  thefts from our store.

The most significant moment for us, though, was when the head of security stood up, his arm in a sling, and informed us that the offenders in our area were beginning to grow violent when approached or apprehended.  In general, malls deal mostly with small-time criminals – lots of petty theft and a few cases of stolen cards here and there.  But according to the officer, more and more of the thefts at our mall were being committed by frequent offenders with other, bigger crimes on their record.  Out of fear of being taken in for outstanding warrents or other major charges, they were beginning to fight back against those who managed to catch them stealing.  “So above all,” he said, “remember that we’re here to help you.  If you see something in your store, call us.  Don’t try to apprehend a shoplifter on your own.  It isn’t worth the risk to your safety.”

Unlike many of our mall neighbors, we are a locally owned.  Our bosses have no problem instructing us to confront shoplifters and ban problem customers with impunity – a practice I’ve always refused to participate in.  So it was nice to be able to return to my store knowing that security would be on my side the next time I refused to confront someone alone.  My manager and I immediately gathered our employees and let them know that we agreed with security’s findings; attempting to confront a suspicious customer is just too dangerous.

One of the employees – a girl my age (late 20’s), whom I’ve known forever – immediately grew red-faced and said, “I’m not afraid to confront someone.  If anybody messes with me, I’ll just grab a vase off the shelf and hit them over the head.”  My manager, assuming she was joking, tried to move onto the next topic of discussion, but the girl wouldn’t let it go.  She lectured us about how women are “taught to be passive” and how she believed we should all overcome our passivity by being prepared to hit, spit, and stomp, to nut-kick and claw anyone and everyone who might mean us harm.  She explained that getting away from an attacker was actually very easy.  “Did you know that most women, if attacked by someone with a knife, will immediately freeze up?”  she demanded, her eyes growing wide.  She explained that getting away from a knife – hell, even getting away from a gun –  was actually pretty easy.  Anyone who really valued her life could get away.  “All you have to do is…”

Her “all you have to do” included every tip and trick ever included in the magazine articles, campus security postings, and self defense courses aimed at teaching women “how not to be victims.”  And there are tons of great blogs out there that have fought against these ideas already, that have explained how telling women what to do or what not to do to avoid being attacked is really just another way of telling women it’s their own damn fault if they get assaulted.  What made me so sad about this girl’s argument was not just the victim-blaming quality of it (although that steamed me plenty).  It’s that I know her well enough to know how she lives her life.  Outside the Buffy-girl Ass-kicker persona she put on this afternoon, she is basically house-bound when not at work, afraid to go out on her own.  Meeting anyone new is terrifying to her.  Men in general are even more terrifying.  She’s constrained by many of the very fears she ridiculed, and the cognitive dissonance at work made me want to break down and cry.

It put me in mind of this post at Shakesville.  Here Melissa M makes the crucial point that many of the women who victim-blame do so out of “an attempt to disassociate from the ugly reality that there’s no magic strategy to insulate oneself from all possibility of sexual assault” or, in this case, other violent assault.  The words I heard from my coworker spoke to exactly this sort of “magic strategy”.  What she described was like something out of television or film – a fantasy scenario where the powerful woman defeats the bad guy and saves the day.  It was more Buffy the Vampire Slayer than Jane Doe the Mall Employee.  And I wish I could have made her understand that she doesn’t have to be Buffy.  She has the right to live her life as herself, as a girl without magical powers or uncanny strength.  And that if someone uses violence or abuse to infringe upon that right, the fault lies entirely with them.  And that her value and her right to life are based on the fact of her humanity; nothing more, and nothing less.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. John Dias permalink
    March 18, 2010 10:20 am

    So your friend is constrained because she’s afraid to go out. But you’re liberated, and so you jeopardize your safety wherever possible, to the maximum extent. There is no degree of precaution, except to the degree that you accept being oppressed. Is that it?

    • marybullstonecraft permalink*
      March 18, 2010 9:45 pm

      John, QueenGeorge said nothing about herself being liberated, or doing anything to jeopardize her safety. In fact, she acknowledges that there is nothing she can do to prevent her safety from being jeopardized, if someone chooses to attack her. The point is that pretending that women who are attacked could have done something to prevent it puts the responsibility in the wrong place, instead of where it belongs: on the people who choose to attack.

      She has reported doing NOTHING to jeopardize her own safety.

    • March 18, 2010 10:06 pm

      Oh, John Dias. I am familiar with you. If I weren’t already familiar with you, if I thought you were a person genuinely concerned with better understanding my argument, or a person genuinely concerned about the safety of women, I’d respond to your concerns. And I’d keep responding. And use my valuable time to help you learn about things from my perspective. But I won’t be doing that. Because I know who you are. And I know that you aren’t concerned about learning anything here, nor are you actually all that worried about women’s safety. Because you’ve made your presence known on the net. You hang out at The Sexist all the time, badgering Amanda and the commenters, making sure they know you’re still out there, still watching. You’re a feminist blog stalker, and I’m not willing to be stalked.

      I’ve dealt with plenty of men like you in my life. You come into my space, and you put words in my mouth. You ignore the basic premise of what I’ve said (as Mary B points out above). You conscript my post for your own purposes, misread me intentionally so that you can make the argument you want to make. And that argument is ALWAYS the same: “You women don’t know what you’re talking about! Stupid ladies.”

      Oh! Woops! I just put words in your mouth. Never actually used those particular phrases, did you? Well neither did I use any of the phrases you imply that I did. Your interpretation of my argument is entirely incorrect, and you know it. You know exactly what you’re doing. And I’m not having it. Mary and I will have to discuss it, but my bet is that we won’t put through another one of your comments. I’m too familiar with your game already. And I know you’ve designed the game so that you’re the only one who can win, because you’re the only one who knows the rules.

      My website isn’t your patriarchy. Out in the world you may have the privilege. But not on my site. I have the “ban” button, and I’m a righteous bitch. I win.

  2. John Dias permalink
    March 18, 2010 11:56 pm

    Oh yeah? Well I’ll just make a well-timed phone call to Patriarchy HQ, that’s what I’ll do! We have people everywhere… I notice that your blog is hosted on WordPress. Should I call one of my comrades there, you know, the cabal of abusers and misogynists? I could, you know. The patriarchy is all around you, even now, in this very room.

    • March 19, 2010 2:11 am

      Readers, I want you to pay very close attention to what he’s doing here. Because when I stop responding to him and block him from comments altogether, I want you to understand why.

      Mr. Dias is very good at Derailing for Dummies (http://www.derailingfordummies.com/). He’s taking taking my concerns about something realistic – something that actually does happen everyday in the world of women, and he’s belittling it, making it seem ridiculous via sarcastic language. There are plenty of times when men have silenced women via political connections, professional power, or other means of intimidation. But when he sarcastically talks about his “comrades” at wordpress, he makes it seem ridiculous that I should believe such a silencing is possible. But it is. Why do you think I don’t use my real name on this blog? Because there ARE plenty of abusers and misogynists in the world. And if I attached my real name to anything I write here, they could very well prevent me from, for example, getting a job because of something I’ve written. So those concerns are not at all the sort of small, silly concerns that Mr. Dias implies with his sarcasm.

      In his next comment, he says he is putting “kidding aside.” That’s meant to imply that his previous comment – the one about the cabal of abusers and misogynists – isn’t to be taken seriously. If I take it seriously (as I have just done), I’m just a humorless bitch of a feminist who can’t take a joke. He wasn’t being SERIOUS. Geez.

      He then says “Let me engage with you a little bit,” as though he is offering us a courtesy. But then, what he does is not actually engaging. He continues to intentionally misinterpret what we’ve written, and to outright ignore the points made in the original post. That’s another common trait of derailers: they want very badly to get you off track. They want you to forget your original point, to feel confused and befuddled. They want to turn the discussion in a direction they can control.

      Ladies, don’t engage with guys like this. You can’t win. I was about to fall into his trap. You should’ve seen the rant I started composing a few minutes ago, explaining all the ways that his comment is unrelated to my post or to Mary B’s repsonse. But I erased it. Because he already knows that. Because he hangs out at The Sexist, and Amanda covers these topics all the time. (http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2010/03/10/holla-back-dc-and-the-districts-sexual-harassment-reporting-problem/) Since she’s instituted a slightly stricter comments policy, he seems to show up significantly less. So I guess now he’s over here hanging out with us.

      That’s what pisses me off about these comments. Mr. Dias has had plenty of opportunity to learn about what we’re really trying to say. Because he’s hung out on other blogs where these EXACT SAME TOPICS are covered. What I’m saying is old hat to him. So there are only a handful of reasons why he’s hopping over here to have the same old fights over and over again, and none of those reasons have anything to do with caring about women’s safety.

      Don’t let guys like this get to you, ladies. (That would be like taking candy from strangers.) I used to, but I’m not being gaslighted anymore.

  3. John Dias permalink
    March 19, 2010 12:16 am

    Okay, kidding aside… Let me engage with you a little bit.

    Mary wrote:

    “In fact, she acknowledges that there is nothing she can do to prevent her safety from being jeopardized, if someone chooses to attack her. The point is that pretending that women who are attacked could have done something to prevent it puts the responsibility in the wrong place, instead of where it belongs: on the people who choose to attack.”

    Pretending that you could have done something to prevent an attack? Who is doing the pretending? Of course there are situations in which violence could have been prevented if only more cautious choices had been used. It has nothing to do with pretending. Or do you tell a victim to walk straight into a dangerous situation all over again, because the victim ought to have the right to do so?

    I love my kids, and I sure would tell them to make smart choices about their own safety. I tell them not to accept candy from strangers, not because I want to blame them in case a stranger wants to poison them.

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