Bullying and cyberbullying: A social commentary post
September 10, 2012
Of late, there have been a few poignant posts and conversations that touch on a very important issue: safety with an underlying theme – sometimes not at all hidden – of misogyny. Safety’s important for everyone, a message I communicate to all, but the degree to which men don’t experience the same issues of objectification and targeting as women do is obvious by the reactions and ::horrorface:: that we get from our husbands and those men friends who haven’t ever run a protection detail for us on a night out when we Facts-Only describe the experience of a simple solo walk or a run.
This woman’s experience on public transit when she just wants to be left alone to read her book may sound like an exaggeration to anyone who has had hundreds of safe and easy rides, day or night, sober or drunk, but I have had thousands of those and I still have my guard up every minute against this occurrence because it happens.
The vast majority of my rides are peaceful, most people talking to me just want directions, need a bit of information or are a bit curious and then drift back to their own world after a 30 second exchange. I’m approached or interrupted by people – usually tourists or new commuters – all the time on my commute and once I’m past my initial startlement it’s not a big deal.
Still, there are a few jerks who think they’re welcome to bother me rudely, persistently and without regard for boundaries. They aren’t too frequently imbalanced so I’ve been able to put them off politely or immediately change cars and seats at a station stop if the polite wave-off doesn’t work.
Sometimes it doesn’t work. Then it gets uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable. There’s often cursing, raised volume, nastiness.
It can even devolve into something extreme like what she describes – the person froths and foams, screams, raves, rants, flails and threatens. (Sometimes they board transit like that, actually.) And you need someone to reach in and physically haul you, the target, out because you need someone watching your back. You don’t know if your movements will trigger an actual physical attack. I’ll point out, too, that the would -be attacker is not always male, sometimes the person demanding something from you is female. I’ve seen that too.
You don’t need to be pretty, I certainly deliberately dumb down my average-enough appearance for transit travel, you just have to be unlucky enough to have attracted some persistent fool’s attention.
The incessant stream of Twitter threats against a variety of comics professionals, many of whom, like the public who came into contact with the repulsive slug probably blocked him, recently came to the attention of Mark Millar who took a vocal stand and insisted that we all do something about this, but the fact remains, people can do this with impunity.
And the reaction of a number of people? Blame the targeted persons. “Big girls know Twitter has a block function.” (comments thread) Really. That stops the bullying and the threats and the invitations to bodily harm?
Clearly not, as Sue and Kelly of DC Women Kicking Ass have been trolled, harassed and cyberbullied to an outrageous degree for years by that very troll. Yes, blocking makes no difference, folks.
You can’t stop a bully by ignoring them. And I’m hugely thankful that people like Ron Marz recognize that:
Ignoring a miscreant does nothing to prevent the same disgusting behavior from being inflicted upon someone else. It probably encourages it, frankly. You’re just passing the buck. I’d rather spend time dealing with it, and finding a way to get the abusive behavior stopped, than turning a blind eye. The goal should be to prevent the asshole in question from moving on to the next victim.
Comics is a medium that tells a great many stories about heroes, about people who do what they can to protect others. About doing the right thing, especially when it’s hard. I like that. I believe in doing what’s right, and helping others when they need it. I believe people who cross the line of acceptable behavior so outrageously should be punished. That’s why I did what I did. That’s why Mark did what he did.
While there’s been plenty of support for what happened (which is much appreciated), I’ve also seen a fair amount of dismissive reaction: everything from claiming this poor troll is having his free-speech rights violated, to the lazy shrug of “Well, it’s the internet…” Maybe I’m pissing into the wind here just as much as I am when get on my soapbox about digital piracy. But in just the same way, I believe it’s a discussion is worth having, a fight worth fighting.
Social media offers access for people like him to abuse innocents. But it also offers ways for us to come together and do what’s right. If you see something that shouldn’t be happening, don’t just ignore it. Do something about it. If you’re suffering abuse from someone, ask others to help you. We can all be somebody’s hero.
via NicoleandMaggie, to them via a comment thread on a Scalzi post: Letter Writers who don’t know how to deal with the Creepy Guy in their friend groups.
A quick sum-up: Letter Writers have dude friends in their groups who are tolerated despite their creepy-ass and inappropriate and unacceptable behaviors as Situation #1:
“concentrating on the other women: telling them to expose themselves, telling them their skirts weren’t flying high enough while they were dancing, hitting on them when he knows they have boyfriends….. Whenever there are parties, it seems like he goes with the mindset that he will meet someone there that he might be able to have sex with, rather than to have fun with his friends. A couple months ago at one of these parties, some of us went to the park after dark to hang out; Creeper approached one of my friends, asked where her boyfriend was, and when he was told that the BF was out of town he put his hands on her shoulders and told her that BF had “forfeited” her for the evening.”
Or outright sexual assault in Situation #2. Evidently in Situation #2, Letter Writer was dismissed by her BF who didn’t want to confront the assaulter because they were longtime friends.
Captain Awkward’s extensive responses to both were pretty spot-on. I’m only writing here as an adjunct because, of course, I was outraged that the situations were ongoing and the men involved were that blatantly laissez-faire about their own friends, male and female both, involved.
I can’t conceive of the notion of living with, or staying friends with, people who were so utterly dismissive of basic human decency.
I have been in situations like that, and like this, and my friends have been verbally assaulted time and again, and I react very very negatively.
PiC had a creeper friend, you see, and before we ever started dating, I met all of his friends. Including that creeper friend. He thought it was totally appropriate to spend the conversation standing way too close to me, staring exclusively at my – let’s face it, folks, remarkably unendowed chest – so I concluded the conversation quickly and walked away, disgusted.
I related the story to PiC later, half smiling, and told him that should that creeper ever pull that stunt again with any move to touch me? I’d feed him his own eyeballs. I made it quite clear to him and a close mutual friend that their fuzzy friend of yore, going back double digit years of history, now with all the drunken-excuse embellished, prostitute-centric and other “amusing” gamy stories whenever he came back up on their radar was a creepshow and he was unwelcome.
They could do whatever they wanted together on boys’ nights, but he was certainly never welcome to join us, ever. There was never a moment’s hesitation or disagreement with my statement, and I noticed that his presence at mutual parties and gatherings was incredibly rare thereafter. I also noticed that he wasn’t voluntarily added to the guest list of boys’ gatherings either.
I don’t take responsibility for the changes in that set of relationships across the board – there were many mutual friends who chose to step back from their own personal friendship. But I do note that there were at least two important narratives that had to exist: I had to be willing to speak up very clearly with my observations and expectations, and PiC had to respect me and those expectations more than he cared about that friendship. And in addition, at least a few of his key friends happened to agree with my observations and acted accordingly to disengage from the creeper on a regular basis.
There was no doubt in my mind that it was possible the guy’s creepiness could be curbed but not if he was “encouraged” or rather, enabled, as guys can and will do in their casual friend group environment simply by not saying anything about the Creeper’s actions or behaviors. I’ve seen that happen because there’s no comfortable way to police a friend in a friends-only environment. And yet, I’ve watched others do it casually with a “Dude, that’s creepy, don’t do that.” Those are powerful words: Don’t do that. It’s not right.
But many don’t do that because they don’t feel like it’s their place to criticize a friend, they don’t feel like the behavior is really out of line when they’re among friends, a multitude of reasons. Still, it has to start somewhere lest a minor creeper grow out of hand to become a Full Scale Creeper and worse.
People like him are those who think it’s ok to catcall and harass women trying to walk down a street – he definitely didn’t think that was an issue.
And I certainly can’t tell the difference between someone who’s just catcalling because it’s amusing to one who has intent to assault, harm and/or rape. From my perspective, the 3 guys in that car who decided to stalk me for more than a block and cut across several lanes of traffic to pull up next to me at the corner several weeks ago certainly made themselves a credible threat so calling the police and pulling anything to defend myself was an appropriate response. From theirs? Who knows? It could just be a game that they always win, big or small.
And that’s not counting the 11 other instances of catcalling in the previous mile of walking up til they arrived.
I’m not of the mindset that we have to spoonfeed a new narrative for men to understand how to react in shitty situations – I know plenty of men who are perfectly decent human beings and know pretty much the right things to do in principle. They are the ones I am friends with. This is why I am married, PiC’s not a rotting jerk in any degree and neither are his friends.
I do think, however, that there is plenty of evidence there are idiots out there who do need to be identified and not enabled. The reinforcing that the creepy and unacceptable behaviors are in fact, creepy and unacceptable, has to happen before it’s too late and harm is done.
At the very least, the fact that we all should be able to recognize and say that creepy and aggressive behaviors are wrong, toward men and women, without coming under ridiculous fire, should be a given. And it’s incredibly disturbing that we often don’t even have that basis of humanity to rely on.