This article originally appeared on Geek Feminism.
Warning: discussion of harassment and bullying. There is mention of self-harm and links to real-life bullying accounts at the end.
It’s like if you’re a parent of a bullying victim, and you find yourself repeatingignore it
So I’m supposed to treat women like they’re my children. Isn’t that extremely sexist and patronizing?
I didn’t reply to it initially because I think it’s a misreading: here’s the full paragraph of mine that Corey excerpted (emphasis as per the original post):
This is the kind of advice given by people who don’t actually want to help. Or perhaps don’t know how they can. It’s like if you’re a parent of a bullying victim, and you find yourself repeating “ignore it”, “fight back with fists” or whatever fairly useless advice you yourself were once on the receiving end of. It’s expressing at best helplessness, and at worst victim-blaming. It’s personalising a cultural problem.
I am, of course, saying that if one advises that women should or must hit back at harassers/attackers, then it resembles giving a bullying victim the same advice. Since the entire post is discussing why that advice is often bad advice, I’m fairly clearly not making the argument there that people should treat women as if those women are their children; I’m making the argument that they do, and they shouldn’t.
So much for that.
Except… that’s not quite right is it? Of course you should not treat unrelated adult women who complain of harassment at geek conferences like they are your children, because Corey and I would both tell you that’s sexist and patronising.
But the way we treat harassment victims and the way we treat child bullying victims have many parallels:
- we tell harassment victims it’s the price of admission to the awesome community; we tell bullying victims that it’s character building, the price of admission to adulthood
- we tell harassment victims they asked for it by wearing certain clothes or being a certain gender or not being a certain gender enough among many other things; we tell bullying victims that they’re so satisfying to tease, because of the way they react, that they are different from their bullies in some way and hiding that difference is the way to go
- we tell harassment victims that he’s basically a nice guy and he’s just a bit inexperienced with women, or with alcohol, or with both, and that his social skills need gentle nurturing; we tell bullying victims that their bullies are actually fine kids with good qualities that we don’t want to crush by labelling and punishing them as bullies
- we tell harassment victims that it’s a private matter that they could solve by ignoring it, or fighting back; we tell bullying victims that it’s… a private matter that they could solve by ignoring it, or fighting back
When they do report it, we also often leave them both with such failures that bullying victims and harassment victims both come to internalise the lesson that their persecution is a private matter, or at least that better keep it a private matter than tell anyone with power about it, because people with power will just back each other up.
(Should be obvious: I don’t support required reporting, or shaming people into reporting. I do support solving the problem when they do report.)
So harassment and bullying are the same class of problem, in fact they blur into each other very strongly: bullying of children and adults often includes harassment and assault (among the other forms of bullying, like sudden unexplained ostracism and you’re-our-friend-today-no-you’re-not yoyos and so on), an individual incident of harassment or assault might be the beginning of or part of a bullying relationship.
And neither can or should be solved by the victim, whether by ignoring, or by fighting back, or by changing themself into someone or something that the bully or harasser will approve of.
While, yes, adult harassment victims are not the same as child bullying victims, and they shouldn’t be treated exactly the same, here’s what I would argue: we should be treating them both a lot better. If you think that it would be extremely patronising if your chosen approaches to dealing with bullying in a child community resemble approaches to dealing with harassment in an adult community, then perhaps your understanding of the rights of children who are bullied isn’t bloody good enough.
It also really puzzles me, frankly, that geeks, who I think are a population that has disproportionate experience of being bullied at some point in their life, are so unwilling to recognise the dynamic and similar ones when it occurs in their culture.
Warning, the quotes and links from here are from bullying survivors. Some include descriptions of bullying they experienced, and of self-harm or mental illness or physical harm that was a result.
I’ll leave you with a few links from geeks who wrote about bullying a few months back, in the discussions following the suicide of Tyler Clementi, who was bullied and harassed by homophobic classmates:
- Kate Harding: On Good Kids and Total Fucking Assholes.
Hey, speaking of which, how ’bout that LGBTQ teen suicide epidemic, which is finally hitting the news? While following that news, I, like probably everyone reading this, have been screaming obscenities, sputtering helplessly, cheering on Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project, and wondering what the hell adults are supposed to do about bullying. I don’t have a lot of coherent thoughts on the matter, but here’s one of them: We need to call bullies what they are — total fucking assholes.
- Karen Healey: On Bullying and Being Failed.
When bullies target people at school, the victims are often told to report to teachers. Unfortunately, teachers, constrained by regulations or poorly thought out policy, lack of opportunity, lack of witnesses, or a lack of understanding, compassion or will, often fail those kids.
- Seanan McGuire: Bitterness, bullying, and breaking the circle.
I listened to the adults when they told me it was my fault for being different. That if I just ignored the bullies, they’d go away and find an easier target. That if I was willing to change, to conform, that the bullies would be my friends, and not my tormentors. Why I would want to befriend people who once pushed me into traffic because, again, they thought it was funny…that part was never explained.
- Marianne Kirby: It Gets Different; Leveling Up:
But here is what happens: When you’re playing an RP game, and you first start out, there are these enemies at the beginning of the game who seem impossible. All you’ve got is, like, a flashlight, if that, and you don’t know where you are or what to do. You fight those enemies and sometimes they wound you gravely and you limp along avoiding other fights until you find something that will heal you. You repeat the process, and you level up… You keep leveling up until, when you go back and fight those early monsters, they seem like a cakewalk in comparison. The enemy isn’t changed at all – they are still the same low-hit-point ridiculous monsters they were at the beginning of your campaign. But you have changed. You’ve survived in spite of them and sometimes you even get to deliver a hearty fuck you in the midst of it all.