Tell your daughters there are times not to be polite

We raise girls to be polite, to compromise, not to make a scene. Mistake

Nobody knowingly raises a boy to become a rapist, just as nobody knowingly raises a girl to be a victim

Nobody knowingly raises a boy to become a rapist, just as nobody knowingly raises a girl to be a victim

 

He got away with it because the women he harassed didn’t want to make a fuss.

Rumours trailed Harvey Weinstein for years, say the reports. They may have trailed him, but they didn’t derail him. His movies have won a collective 300 Academy Award nominations. He has been thanked more times in Oscar speeches than any other individual on the planet.

Men like him do what they do because of power, entitlement, arrogance. Or because they are sick, they are bad, they don’t care about the consequences.

Men like him get away with it because the women they target do care about the consequences. They get away with it because many of these women –women like Angelina Jolie and Mira Sorvino; women like you, perhaps; women like me – don’t want to cause a scene. Or we are embarrassed. Or we don’t want to be rude or we are worried we got it wrong. We don’t want to make a fuss, even though our amygdala is screaming, and our bodies are pulsing with hormones urging us to run.

Let me count the fusses I wish I had made.

A corridor, when I was a teenager. A much older man I encountered in an educational context slipped his big, beefy hand into the pocket of my skirt in the middle of a conversation about something definitely unrelated to hands, pockets, or permission to insert one into the other. The deal did not need to be spoken aloud: I could have what I wanted if he could do what he wanted.

Another corridor, a few years later. A party this time. I stepped out of the bathroom, and saw a man. I knew in that moment that this was trouble; that nothing good would come of being alone in this place with this man. Then his hands were pulling me into a darkened bedroom, turning the key, pushing my shoulders against the wall. There was disbelief and then a dreadful, slow-dawning certainty of what was going to come next. I said ‘no’, but even in that moment, I didn’t want to make a fuss. Long story short, I got lucky: my friend – a fearless woman who has always been enviably unconcerned about making a fuss – noticed I was gone and came looking for me, charging down the corridor, hammering on doors. He let me go.

A familiar story

More years passed. Another corridor. It was a hotel this time, a work trip. I was in my room and an older, married man was hammering on the door trying to inveigle his way inside. I was more confident, but still embarrassingly anxious about making a fuss. I locked myself in the bathroom and he presumably got bored and left. I was triumphant to have got out of it without having to make a fuss.

Not making a fuss is the currency of rape culture. So are the jokes about boys being boys; the knowing remarks about women who lead them on; the suggestions – subtle and not so subtle, that it is a woman’s responsibility to not ‘get herself into’ such situations; that implication that if she does, it’s up to her to manage, to charm, to cajole, to negotiate her way out of them.

The accounts of the women who have accused Weinstein of harassment and assault are chilling because they are so familiar. We have heard those words before in rape trials, in news reports, in late night conversations with friends. They are words we might even have whispered ourselves.

“I tried to get away, but maybe I didn’t try hard enough.” “I must have said no a thousand times.” “I just sort of gave up.”

That’s the most horrible part of it, and that’s why he’s been able to do this for so long to so many women: people give up, and then they feel like it’s their fault.” “If I were a strong woman, I would have kicked him in the balls and run away. But I didn’t. And so I felt responsible.”

“I thought about how much I would lose, and I decided to just move forward.” “I just put it in a part of my brain and closed the door.”

Nobody knowingly raises a boy to become a rapist, just as nobody knowingly raises a girl to be a victim. But we do raise our girls, particularly, to be polite, to be accommodating, to compromise, not to make a scene. And sometimes, that can be the same thing. We need to tell our children, daughters and sons, that there are times when it’s okay, when it’s desirable, to not be polite. We need to teach them that it makes sense not to put yourself in the path of danger, but that sometimes danger comes looking for you anyway, stalking you down corridors, into hotel rooms, in schools, on darkened streets, maybe even into the quiet rooms of their own home.

And when it comes – no matter how beguiling it seems, no matter how powerful it is, no matter how persuasive an argument it makes, no matter how embarrassed they feel – their very best defence is to make that fuss.

joconnell@irishtimes.com

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