The other day, a little late to the party, I tweeted my experience with male entitlement as a part of the larger #YesAllWomen conversation. The tweet goes, “Too scared to walk home at night, only to have a taxi driver threaten to lock me in if I didn’t give him my phone number. #YesAllWomen”
Within minutes I had a few @replies from men who were clearly stalking the hashtag to intentionally mock, provoke, and silence the women speaking out. A man by the twitter handle @sawcasm (you know, like “sarcasm” except with a speech impediment, which is actually pretty cute on its own!), tweeted me asking why I didn’t just give the cab driver a fake number. One of his friends responded, saying I was “too dumb” to think of such a brilliant evasive tactic. And promptly, a third good friend of this person responded directly to me “let him tear your ass open for a free ride…?” which, you know, god, even though I was in fact broke as hell, I didn’t even think about as an option at the time!
At the time, I was so paralyzed with fear during the 25 minute cab ride, as a man, easily twice my weight, preyed on my natural friendliness to manipulate me into sitting in the front seat, and proceeded to ask me invasive questions about who I’ve dated, what I do to “party”, and whether I’ve ever been attracted to older men (like himself). At the time I was too busy fighting a full panic attack as the cab driver placed his hand on my knee and told me how “effortlessly sexy” I looked. At the time I was very focused on trying to swallow the bile that rose in my throat when I realized that, locked in this man’s car, in his touching/grabbing/bashing/raping range, with a dead battery on my cell phone, and no experience or athleticism to try and duck and roll, my only option to try and avoid potential assault was to continue sounding friendly, and receptive, but still dismissing his advances. Being forced to smile and laugh at his aggressive and threatening advances made me never want to smile or laugh again. I walked a tightrope of performing mild flirtatiousness to assuage any violence but not invite “more” advances. After profusely promising him that I would go out on a date with him, and being forced to sit in the locked car while he called my phone to make sure it was my number, I escaped what is the closest I’ve been to living hell. I shattered a water glass that night when I dropped it because my hands shook too violently for hours afterward.
I was not raped. And I cannot imagine the hell that survivors of rape and sexual assault must surmount to heal and live their lives. But if you think the above account is melodramatic or exaggerative, then go ahead and think that if its easier, but that is as close as I can get to describing what it felt like, and how it continues to feel living in this society of male entitlement and violence. To think that it is just part of life as a woman to always fear that men might like you enough to just take you.
Twitter only has 140 characters. So I sanitized my experience. I was nervous to share the extent of that cab ride. I felt I made my point, but in the most pared down and mild way, just to add my voice to the many who I felt so empowered by. And yet, this extremely watered down testimonial was still met with the leering taunts of men who feel so threatened by our voices.
I hate the word “troll” for this because it is dismissive to how vicious, destructive, and dangerous the words and actions of these men can be. As a fan of the power of writing, I love the idiom about the pen being mightier than the sword, but it stands to remember that the same pen that can be subversive and revolutionary can also be oppressive and cruel.
“Trolling”, is so often paired with “just”, and then usually followed by the urge to ignore. These men, self-proclaimed “MRA’s” usually, try so hard to come off with the blasé air of indifference and casual irony to everything, but I read their tweets and blog posts and comments and I can see past their steadfast adherence to this seemingly indestructible tone. I see the sizzling panicked terror just under the surface; I see the utter fear. They know their world is slipping away. In reality, we’re not close whatsoever to the hegemonic Matriarchal women’s commune I and all feminists are fighting for, but even the slightest loosening of the reigns on male dominion shakes them to their core.
The fact that a hashtag allowing women to share their experiences erupted into a national phenomenon of community and support and solidarity fills with me boundless pride for the capabilities of technology for good.
The fact that the inevitable backlash is so vicious, so immediate, and so pointedly ignorant only fuels my fire for all that is necessary to better this world I wanna live in for a few more decades.
All these men, whose cries of “not all men” are the backbone of the language in “yes all women”, are so angry. They are angry because they feel attacked. They are angry because they’ve convinced themselves they are innocent. They are angry because they know in the pit of their souls that they are not. They allow this culture, this rampant unchecked male entitlement, the clear cause and effect between the coda they preach and the skyrocketing of sexual assault cases. And for the first time, ironically through the guise of “trolling” a hashtag, they are seeing the destructive and malevolent world they’ve helped build and maintain. And if I were them, and I too saw its nauseatingly violent effects, I would bury my guilt deep down and also tweet threats to a cute 20-something girl who normally just tweets jokes about chicken nuggets. But their shame and guilt is nothing compared to the pain of women who’ve experienced violence and sexual assault. So I don’t care. Instead I will tuck their tweets into a mental folder, and be fascinated by the rhetoric and logic and tone, and try to wrangle my anger into something helpful.
If you’re a guy, and you read this whole thing, good. You should read this, and you should read more, read every fucking #YesAllWomen post that rolls past you on social media. Don’t be the guys who have harassed me and countless other women sharing their stories. But that’s just the bare minimum. Be an ally. I know many who are and it makes me feel safe, and optimistic. Admit to yourself and to anyone ways in which you have probably, at some time or another, made life harder for a woman in your life. Do better. We want you to, we hope you do.
As for @sawcasm, I know he’s sad and pathetic, but I won’t ignore his “trolling”. He is still part of the forces at work. As far as I know, he didn’t lock me in a taxi, leering, and forcing me to play a sick game of cat and mouse. But he allowed it. And all the other accounts of terror women have shared.
For my part, I’ll probably go back to tweeting about chicken mcnuggets soon, but right now I’ll continue to be awed by the women speaking up, humorously, seriously, and bravely. And I thank them all for giving me the courage the write this too-long thing.
Once more with feeling, #YesAllWomen.