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take two: why it’s not just women’s responsibility

February 25, 2010

A few weeks ago I posted about why I think it’s important for men to stand up when women are being harassed. A little bird told me some of you were surprised by this, because I wasn’t encouraging women to be strong and empowered and all that. Then this little bird proceeded to debate with me about when it would be good and when it wouldn’t for this to happen. I want to talk a little more about this.

Relevant reading, to get you thinking about where I’m coming from. A post from Dr. Isis about how do deal with inappropriate actions from a male superior. Also, (Trigger Warning) another Dr. Isis post about why she isn’t always willing to speak up when someone is inappropriate with her.

Firstly, I do think women should be empowered. But I think women already know this. We know that, when possible, we should be strong and outspoken and all that jazz. I also think that women in male dominated fields have to do this each and every day. I think that we have to be strong to walk in to rooms where we’re the only woman. I think that we have to be strong to argue and stand up for our thoughts when we’ve been taught our whole lives to be quiet and not cause problems.

I also think that telling women to fix this is blaming the victim. Yeah, we should stand up for ourselves. But we didn’t cause the problem. So lets take some of the responsibility off us and spread it around. I have heard many men honestly bemoan the lack of women in physical science grad programs, and not just ’cause they want dates. If that’s true, then guys, you’ve gotta stand up and help us out. While we’re at it, lets work on creating a culture where no one has to stand up for anything. That’s not going to happen unless more people start publicly denouncing such behavior.

Finally, I think it’s like coming out. Every queer has a responsibility to come out when they feel it is safe (and they have the strength) for them to do so. At the same time, every ally has a responsibility to work towards a safer environment, but only as much as they feel safe (and have the strength). It’s the same with standing up for anything else. If you don’t feel that it’s safe for you to tell a male superior that he is making you uncomfortable, because it might hurt your job, then you don’t have to do it. But if you risk very little by telling a male peer that he is making a subordinate uncomfortable, then you really should consider doing it. It’s the same with racism (though that’s very much undercover in most of America today), ableism, cissexism, and any other type of privilege. Now, the acceptable amount of risk varies by person, I know. I just try to remember that, if I am in the in-group (e.g. I’m white and able-bodied), then it’s easier for me to stand up for the out-group’s rights than it would be for a member of the out-group. That helps me be a little bit braver than I might be otherwise.

(Notes. I know I sound forceful. I’m not saying everyone has to do this every time. And I’m not saying no one ever does this. I’m hoping to get people thinking a little more on these sorts of things, because the accepted advice of “strong women should flip out and punch creepers” does not seem to me to be enough.)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 26, 2010 2:50 am

    I also think that telling women to fix this is blaming the victim. Yeah, we should stand up for ourselves. But we didn’t cause the problem. So lets take some of the responsibility off us and spread it around.
    Yes. I can’t agree more. It isn’t easy to consistently stand up for yourself. Especially since girls are basically trained from a young age to just sit and take it. Be quiet. Be accepting. Don’t make a scene.
    Change comes in small and steady steps, and I agree the people on the receiving end of the harassment shouldn’t be the only ones expected to take those steps.

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