Skip to content

Will Some People Never Get It?

February 16, 2009

I won’t lie – the live tour for Yes Means Yes has been, by and large, an incredible experience. Getting to travel around and talk with all kinds of people about their work and our work to heal our very diseased sexual culture and prevent rape has been like a dream come true. The passion that people are bringing to these conversations gives me hope for the world. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love signing books that have my name on the cover, too. 😉

But there have been a few jarring moments, too. And the more I think about them and my responses to them, the more I realize how far we all have to go.

Exhibit A: At one venue, which shall remain nameless, the venue owner rushed over to me after the reading to gush about how awesome and powerful it was, how much he had learned and how his understanding of the world had been shifted. He offered to buy me a drink (bar at the venue), which of course, I accepted. As we’re waiting for the drink, he’s going on and on, and then he starts… fondling my hair. Not just touching my hair. Not brushing accidentally up against my hair. I mean full on stroking and petting it. This goes on for entire minutes, during which time he also manages to put his arm around me.

Now, here’s the thing. He’s the owner of a pretty powerful literary venue, and I’m a writer. I could totally have called him on his shit and asked him to stop. But a) I was kinda in shock that it was happening, especially given the context and b) I didn’t want to piss him off, lest he never book me again. So, instead, I waved and poked wildly, behind my back, at a friend of mine who was standing close by with her back to me, until she got the hint and stole me away.

But every time I tell this story, I wonder if I should have spoken up. Taken one for the team and risked pissing him off in order to maybe prevent him from doing this to someone else. I wasn’t ever in any danger – it was just creepy and inappropriate and not OK with me. Mostly I’m angry it happened – at a Yes Means Yes reading of all places! But I also can’t figure out – is there a right thing to have done? And did I do it? Would it have even made a difference to his addled brain if I’d said something, or would he have just decided I was an angry bitch and gone about fondling someone else’s hair the next night?

But… what if the next time he did that, that woman said something, too? Would he eventually be unable to keep blaming individual women? What’s our individual responsibility to the group? Have I asked enough questions yet? No? How about now?

Cross-posted at Bitch Ph.D.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. jen permalink
    February 16, 2009 5:38 pm

    ooga booga. how awful and to say the least, annoying! its certainly not easy to live up to, but my personal goal in these situations is to very plainly (precisely dispassionately) say “i think that’s inappropriate,” adjust your body language and quickly continue with whatever subject you were discussing. i understand the power dynamics, but clearly, this “educated” man should know this is wrong and was likely testing your boundaries…no? i find it to be the rudest possible act imaginable to a woman who has just poured her heart into such a brave and ambitious project about this very subject. i’m getting angry now. but back to my thoughts on an “ideal response” – i think not questioning your position to say something and saying it so plainly that you are without a doubt in the right to say it is what we should aim for…BUT…i know that’s much easier said than done. i simply cannot imagine the shock i would have been in, given this circumstance. thank you for posting this and letting it be known!!

  2. February 17, 2009 10:50 am

    Ugly. This is why it’s not about what they think, but about the environment they operate in. Neither the monster nor the opportunist can be inhibited by explanation alone. Inhibition comes in the former case from the likelihood of consequences; in the latter from internalized norms that tell them that when they start to pressure, push, cajole and insist that they are doing something wrong. Neither the likelihood of punishment nor the norms against coersion are part of our culture now. They need to be.

  3. February 17, 2009 12:18 pm

    Thanks for being brave enough to voice your concerns about this weird situation. I agree with Jen. This man was obviously testing your boundaries…and violating them. I mean, in THAT environment of all places, he clearly knew what he was doing. He found it to be some weird power challenge.

    I still remember a director rubbing my knee while telling me about his new play. I “heard” the message loud and clear. It still makes me feel uncomfortable and that was over 10 years ago.

    The challenge is to realize when we’re being infringed upon (to put it lightly) at that moment, not later. Its easy to be shocked and confused, and understandable. But perhaps our radar needs to be more finely tuned and more immediately responsive.

    I wonder whether simply moving away would have sufficed. In my opinion, that’s not enough, if we are to be genuinely true to ourselves. He made such a bold overture, it should be met with an equally bold response. I mean, really, can you even IMAGINE doing that to someone else after such an event?

  4. February 17, 2009 1:20 pm

    As always, patriarchy and its manifestations are not any one woman’s fault or responsibility. A guy acts a certain way because his culture surrounds him with permission. If a woman stands up, the responsibility and the consequences fall on her. Like the (now) old saw about women being paid less because they are less likely to negotiate starting salary: they are, because they know that they are likely to get a more negative response for trying to negotiate than men will; and the research backs up that impression. So a woman “taking one for the team” really may be taking one for the team. That’s something a woman can decide to do, but something we shouldn’t ask or expect of her, on my account. Not even if she’s coming from a place of relative privilege.

    Instead, it’s my job. It’s my job, and other men’s jobs. We have to break down the culture of permission. If women could, they would. Individually they can’t, and collectivley all those who care to try are already trying. Men are missing. We can demand that men be better than that. We can raise our sons to be better than that. We can tell our sons this story, and say, “don’t do that. It’s not right.”

  5. Wendell permalink
    February 18, 2009 1:15 am

    Thank you for sharing, Jaclyn–like you said it shows how far we still have to go.

    Someone recently told me about a horribly misogynistic episode they had with a male professor. When she told her parents about it, her father got angry and swooped into protector mode, threatening physical harm, legal action, etc. While her father’s reaction may be understandable, all she wanted was to know he would support her, however she decided to handle it. Men should definitely call other men on upholding the culture of permission, while always being mindful of the “benevolent patriarch” script, whether calling other men on it or noticing vestiges of it in themselves.

    Your questions at the end of the post gave me pause, Jaclyn. And Thomas, your last comment brought another dimension to them, especially the last three sentences of your first paragraph.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: