“Lady” problems

On Friday a woman who I respected as a peer, despite our tendency to disagree on matters relating to feminism, wrote a piece for VICE disparaging forms of womanhood that she considers lesser (certainly less subversive) than her own. She goes as far as to suggest that those who don’t line up with her standards of womanhood (in which the Woman’s impulse when she is wronged or in danger is to destroy her oppressor) are not women at all, but “ladies” or even “girls”.

She crudely used me as an “example” of a lady concerned only with “amicable co-existence with men and ‘the status of women,’ so long as it doesn’t upset the status quo.” Her reasoning? Last year I turned to the justice system to prosecute a man who harassed me incessantly for months on Twitter. Well this guy bothered her too, y’know, and getting rid of him was as easy as being “directly and verbally a cunt” until he disappeared. As such she felt it was within her rights to judge the acceptability of my decision to go to the police, and to deem me an inferior woman (not a Woman, but a “lady”) for it.

“Good ladies, for example, complain daily about female bodies and identities being “policed,” then call the literal police, the literal fucking patriarchy, when something threatens that body or that identity. […] Giving the bro-force some nice, educated, single, white female to protect is the lowest of low things a lady can do, and while it was maybe, depending on her immediate threat level, okay to report him, it would have been far righter to fight back, to go Foxfire on the guy.”

Thanks, Sarah. I’m glad to have “maybe” secured your approval for the choice I made in order to protect myself, although it was “the lowest of the low” things I could have done [?????????]. The morally superior choice, the “righter” choice, would have been vigilante justice, “going Foxfire” on the guy. If only all women being relentlessly pursued and harassed by men who come across as hostile toward women and emotionally unhinged (perhaps dangerously so) knew that they could just form a gang and beat the living shit out of the guy.

I’m not entirely sure that such choices would end as poetically IRL as they do in, well, literature and films. I’m also not entirely sure how responsible it is to advise the readers of a publication that this is the “righter” way for women to deal with situations that make them feel unsafe. But then, Women probably don’t concern themselves much with issues of personal responsibility because they’re far too visceral for that.

For most people, I hope it would go without saying that perhaps Sarah’s experience with this guy was not identical to mine, and perhaps she is in no position to determine what the best way to handle it would have been, because we are not the same person nor are we in identical situations.

The police and the justice system are far from perfect, both on the handling-gendered-violence front and the knowing-what-the-internet-is front. I am more than a little insulted at the insinuation that I’m naive to their roles in the patriarchy. But there are officers who are doing what they can to push their institutions in the right direction. I was lucky enough to find such an officer, who spoke in front of a group of his peers last week about online harassment at SMILE (Social Media in Law Enforcement) Conference.

I would never attempt to prescribe the most appropriate or “right” way for a woman to cope with a situation in which she feels unsafe and in which I lack personal knowledge – I’ll leave that sordid task to other Women. The truth is for many women in many situations, the police are not a viable option. But I’m not willing to wholly write them off, and I’m certainly not willing to make determinations about the character of any woman who turns to them in her pursuit of justice and safety.

The more officers like Detective Bangild find opportunities to do good work and set positive examples for their peers, the more viable police may become as an option for women in dangerous situations. And if some Women continue to choose vigilante justice over courtroom justice, well, I wish them the very best in those endeavours and hope they choose their tools and targets wisely. There are many routes to personal safety and peace of mind, and none of these routes make the traveller any less a woman.

6 thoughts on ““Lady” problems

  1. I believe this lady has misprinted her definitions of: “lady and “woman”. I have not seen a woman call out, be-little, and defend herself by comparing to another female. The true woman here is the one who takes action to protect herself and others. Creating awareness not attention. It makes me sad females today still have the wrong idea of what a woman is. Not the fiscal nor the upbringing, but the value a woman has to be a mother, a lover and a counterpart to society. Thank you Stephanie for, once more, clarifying who woman are.

  2. This was a classy and well-reasoned response to Pritchett’s column. You’re an asset to women (and ladies, and girls, even) everywhere.

  3. Reblogged this on Scintillator and commented:
    This is a bit inside baseball, so forgive me if you’re not up on the entire backstory here, but I love the grace Steph shows here. If that makes me a lady, I think I can handle that.

  4. There are a million ways to be a woman. Every woman has the right to respond to violence in a way that works for them, and to not have their response to victimization evaluated and judged. I commend women who use a flawed system to protect themselves, and maybe even make a little positive change within that system while they’re at it! I also respect the author of the initial article for her response to violence – BUT – the comment in which she says she dealt with (what was possibly an entirely different situation) by simply being a direct cunt – is totally victim-blaming, and not far removed from Krista Ford saying that if women don’t want to get raped they shouldn’t dress like whores. If women don’t want to be raped, we should all be “cunts”?
    I have had really, really horrible experiences with the police in which I’ve been re-victimized after violence, despite being a nice, educated, white (albeit gay) female. That experience only made me realize how much worse that experience is for women of colour, trans women, sex workers, women with disabilities, etc. and it makes me want to scream and pull out my hair every day.
    But in Steph’s case, she had a positive experience, and that is something that should be celebrated and encouraged. Steph was brave to use the system to her advantage, knowing how flawed it was, and demand an appropriate response.
    Before I was sexually assaulted, I always thought that if I was threatened by a man, I would totally kick ass like Buffy or the Foxfire girls and leave the ceep wishing he’d never seen the likes of me. But that was a fantasy based on TV and movies and comic books. In reality, sexual assault doesn’t always happen in a dark alley with an obvious attacker, and in reality I am a non-violent, non-athletic, shy, trusting person who was taught (for better or for worse) to be polite at all costs. I am not practised at being a “cunt”, especially when I’m scared, threatened, and unsure of my safety. Many people have told me since then that I wouldn’t have been sexually assaulted if I hadn’t been so nice, and that has been very hard to hear. I also love and respect many women who revel in their cuntiness, and that it so rad, but it’s not me, and I am still trying to figure out how to live in a world where I can still be a nice and open person without being scared for my safety. This article in Vice didn’t help that progress.

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