Monday, May 3, 2010

Benny decision.

I'm going to talk to Benny.

Funnily enough, I realized that "do nothing" wasn't the answer when I saw every commenter who advised "do nothing" as a total asshat. It's interesting how I could tell myself "it's none of your business, don't be psycho" but when someone else says it... how dare you, motherfucker? (Top prize going to "call the cops otherwise it was nothing" dude. Cops always want to hear about how someone violated the rules of a sexually deviant subculture 8 months ago in a different state.) I think this reaction means that it really is important that I do something.

So I'll talk to him. And he's not irredeemable, I think; he's not some serial predator who consciously plans the grooming and undoing of his victims, he's just a garden variety insensitive and disrespectful jerkbag.

(It isn't just one incident that makes me think that; there was other stuff, some of which I didn't write about at the time because I didn't want to be called an idiot for staying with him. He would think it was really funny to tickle me even though I hate tickling, and tell me I must like it because I was laughing, and there was one incident where he just held me down--he's about 100 pounds more than me--and didn't do anything to me but wouldn't let me up. But again, funny, right? Okay, and one incident where I said "no" and he stuck his dick in me anyway, but only for a second and I'm not really sure why I said "no" anyway and it wasn't like a big dramatic thing. It was more "momentarily really weird" than "OMG RAEP.")

What is my goal, really? My goal isn't "Benny never touches a woman again," that's vindictive and anyway impossible--say I could reach this girlfriend, it would only make him angry and I couldn't reach the next one. My goal is "Benny treats women respectfully." And to do that I have to go to him.

What's my message?

1) This is not an attack. I'm not going to harass him or "out" him. I just want him to read and really consider this one message, and after that message I'll unfriend him and disappear.

2) Women's bodies and feelings are Serious Business, no exceptions. Benny often fucked around with me as a "joke" or because I somehow "didn't count," and thus mocking (funny!) a pervy slut (not a regular person!) is not like abusing a woman. Maybe I can point this out to him and maybe he'll catch himself if he starts thinking of reasons why an act or a person doesn't count.

3) What he did to me was Bad. Not "seems like we both made mistakes," not "bad sex," not "miscommunication," not "awkward." He knew what I wanted and he did the opposite, and it it was painful and frightening for me. He did wrong and he should know it.

4) If he knows what he did wrong, he knows how to not do it again. Maybe he'll figure out that he really did something wrong, experience a little guilt, become a little more self-aware of how he treats women, and learn that "no" or "safeword" doesn't mean "maybe not" but means "EMERGENCY BRAKE FULL STOP BOLTS OPEN MAGS OUT." Boy that's a lot to hinge on a Facebook message. But it's worth a try.

Ugh. I'm sorry if this post comes off weird. I know it's too dramatic, and maybe a little too therapy-speak-y (I was watching "Hoarders"). I don't want to compare myself with people who've lived through abuse abuse, I know there are people out there who've spent years going through stuff every day worse than two or three minor incidents with Benny. But this is the thought process I went through, so... yeah.


  1. One suggestion I'd make is not unfriending him and disappearing. If you disappear he might take it as a last lashing-out at him, a parting shot. If you're still friended to him on facebook, you might get a 'fuckyouyoumiserablecrazybitchyoupsychohowdareyouomgbbqpotatochips' reaction, but you might (if he's not irredeemable, as you say, and has grown a little) actually get a somewhat bewildered 'Really? That's what it was like for you?' reply that you could then reply to in turn and still calmly, neutrally reinforce the ideas you want to communicate to him. A couple repetitions might work where a one-and-done might not.

  2. Jack - That would be nice, but what I don't want is to get a reply that says "you're wrong because" and get into a back-and-forth debate. If we start debating, it puts us into a situation where "Benny didn't do anything wrong" is his Victory Condition and then he won't question himself.

    You're right though, I shouldn't announce my disappearance, I should just not engage with any "you're wrong because" messages.

  3. Honestly, I think this is about the least dramatic post I could imagine on this topic, unless your sole criteria for drama is 'failing to pretend everything's peachy.' He was an ass to you, but you're a resilient person with options, and the next woman he treats like that may not be.

    A significant portion of abusers are just regular guys who've internalized fucked up ideas. They aren't monsters, they don't deserve to die fiery and painful deaths--but on the other hand, they shouldn't keep getting away with it, either.

    Good on you. This is a lot more mature than I would be in the same situation, I can say that with confidence. I hope it makes a difference.

  4. Frankly, I think this is ill-advised. You have a chance of behaviour modification when you are in a relationship with someone. (Or in a supervisory relationship). Your chances of success AFTER a relationship are slightly higher than nil as to be indistinguishable.

    Of course, as long as you realize you're not going to do anything but antagonize him--and you will, even at the best of times--and it looks like a chance to be self-righteous at his expense. In teaching, we look for the "teachable moment"--that time when the learner, for whatever motivation or situation will be able to hear, accept, and internalize the lesson. Learning theory also says you might have had a chance at the time. Feedback loses relevance with time, and that holds for both positive and negative feedback.

    You mentioned being politically aware--to me, that sounds like a really good rationalization for being self-righteous that I used when I was in my early twenties. Of course, it IS your life and your actions.

    Be honest with your motives. If you're talking to Benny about it now because you're mad that you didn't and you wish you would have--well, that's a valid reason. Remember, though, you're doing it to make YOU feel better. If you're doing it to elicit a change in BENNY--you aren't doing it for the right reason.

  5. That's pretty much what I meant -- be available if there's still a chance of him asking for further confirmation/understanding of why he was wrong (sometimes you have to repeat yourself a couple times before things sink in). And if he responds like a moron, just don't engage. Either way you'll have done all you can to achieve your own goal of Benny treating women respectfully.

  6. William - Yeah, maybe I am doing it for me. Maybe what I'm looking for isn't "he learns" but "I don't stand idly by." And I realize I am about 8 months late on that.

    I know I'm just a dumb kid, thanks. I'll be sixty later, okay? Hopefully.

    But I'll say this: no one ever learned shit from getting away with everything and never even hearing about it. I'm fully aware I've got about an 0.1% chance of making a difference but it beats 0%.

  7. Holly

    Not standing idly by is a good reason. And you can be sixty later--that's ok. But here is a lesson that took me until age 36 to learn (and, I confess, you may be too young to appreciate it, so it isn't a teachable moment for you. Be that as it may, saying something at the time (or even close to it) is powerful. Waiting eight months looks whiny.

    If you feel better for confronting, and are more likely to confront again if the need arises--fine. A confrontation that fails is...undignified. Which is why now I'd avoid it. But, again, I'm a 42 year old largish male. Who has no skin in this game. And is giving free advice. On the INTERNET. We all know what that's worth.

  8. "But I'll say this: no one ever learned shit from getting away with everything and never even hearing about it."

    This. Kudos, Holly.


  9. You are exactly, exactly right. And I want to encourage you not to doubt yourself about how you felt about what happened. A problem you see when people talk about abuse and rape is that people want two opposite camps to put things in: this was Abuse, this was Not Abuse, this was Rape, this was Not Rape. And because there are potential criminal penalties for being on one side, there's this pressure to make the bar really high, like, "proven beyond a reasonable doubt" high. Whether something is worth prosecuting is a whole other ball of wax and we're not talking about that here.

    There's a continuum of behavior that encompasses being a boundary-violating asshole through being a rapist. It's ALL completely wrong. And just because it didn't give you PTSD doesn't mean it's not on the spectrum of violation and he sure as hell needs to learn it. (I'm sure you know all this, but still.) It's not your JOB to teach him, but you do have every right to speak up. You're a good enough writer that you can express exactly what was wrong with this and while it's most likely to make him defensive, he'll never again be able to honestly say he didn't know.

  10. here is a lesson that took me until age 36 to learn (and, I confess, you may be too young to appreciate it, so it isn't a teachable moment for you
    Well, nothing condescending about that.

    See, WtC, now you've been told. Next time you're tempted to say shit like that, you're that much more likely to wonder if you might come across as condescending. That's something like what I gather Holly is trying to accomplish, allowing for differences of scale.

  11. Of course you're doing it for you, which is a good enough reason. But you are also doing it for him (giving him the opportunity to learn from his experience with you) and for all the women he has contact with going forward.

    Before his behavior can change, his thinking on this subject needs to change. To do that he needs information. That is something you can help with, and that is something that does not need to happen immediately after the event. In fact, sometimes its better if it doesn't happen right away, particularly if intense emotions are involved.

    Learning happens in lots of ways - there is more than one 'learning theory'. You can't teach him something he isn't ready to learn, but neither can you determine what his "teachable moments" are. You can only provide information for him to integrate into his collection of knowledge and experiences.

    It doesn't matter if its 5 minutes after, 5 months after, 5 years after, or 50 years after. Its never too late to learn something.

  12. Now this really just smacks of someone trying to assert themselves way after the fact. If you insist on any dialogue with this shithead, maybe it should be an honest one....not as a valiant feminist, but as a girl who has some lingering feelings about what went down who feels it's worthwhile to try and explain to him how and why what he did was wrong. He sounds like an abusive guy and like your dichotomy was abusive, so I wouldn't really leave him any opening to reopen wounds.
    Also, sometimes "asshats" are right, and you should stick to your initial gut instinct instead of getting all contrarian.

  13. I just want to throw my vote in with pretty much everything aebhel and chi said. Waiting this long does not make you whiny. There's a lot of lip service paid in our culture to how BAD and TERRIBLE partner abuse is (and it fucking is). But very little of that talk is backed up by how people treat people who've actually been in abusive situations--especially when that abuse doesn't look like the battered woman on the poster. It is *actually hard* to talk about this kind of thing--exactly for the reasons that you've been showing us in your writing. Abusive behavior doesn't always look like the stuff on the PSA's, can come from people we've known a long time without trouble, from people we've really enjoyed sex with, can come without bruises and PTSD, and none of that makes it any less abusive or wrong. At most, it makes you lucky, but it doesn't make Benny any less of a boundary violator. And sadly, it's really difficult to understand exactly why it's hard to just stand up and take decisive, feminist action right away unless you've actually been faced with this kind of abuse.

  14. Holly, I don't think your post comes off as weird and I think talking to him sounds like a good idea if only because you will know that you made an attempt to raise his awareness.

    I also understand not mentioning the other stuff and not wanting people to know you put up with (emotional and other) abuse for awhile. I was in a relationship where there were a lot of red flags and I ignored them and even now there are things I would rather not say happened.

    I think you are doing the right thing.

  15. I agree that you are doing the right thing...something about the situation is still on your mind 8 months after, which means it was not something minor and I do think that making an effort to reach him with your very eloquent words about how the events affected you is worth it to you, to him, and maybe to other people in both your lives down the line. Sometimes it takes some time and distance to sort things out in our minds...just b/c you didn't act in the moment doesn't mean shit.

    And yes, there's a good chance he may not listen but in these situations, I think it's important to give the person that moment of discomfort, where their behavior or words are under a scrutiny that they may have never expected or anticipated. Most people will be at least a little affected by that experience and will think on it. You may plant a seed that germinated later, when he's had some time and distance to consider.

    I've been in a similar but different position and chose to address it way after the fact and I know it takes guts. For what it's worth, I felt better afterwards, even though the person I approached reacted defensively. Go with your're the only one who knows what will feel right to you.

  16. Hershele O: I have been told. As I also don't care if I come across as condescending. I agree, saying that I have more life experience and I've made that mistake IS condescending. It's also true. My life would have been improved if I'd learned it earlier.

    Holly can (and should) do what she wants. She asked the question--she is free to ignore it.


  17. Also, sometimes "asshats" are right, and you should stick to your initial gut instinct instead of getting all contrarian.

    And sometimes they're not, and seeing someone else put into words what you were sorta-kinda thinking is the kick in the pants you need to do some self-examining.

    Sorry, the 'you missed your chance to say anything so suck it up and deal' crowd really gets under my skin...

  18. WtC:

    Can't speak for anyone else, but my issue with your comments is that you seem more concerned with making a point about how much older and more experienced you are than actually dispensing advice.

    Age does count, up to a point. But age and experience do not make you automatically right, especially when your argument boils down to 'you shouldn't do this because it'll make you look stupid'. And using 'you're too young to understand' in a disagreement with another adult is cheap tactics.

  19. Off topic slightly but I am SO with you on the tickling thing. Being tickled both puts me into an immediate panic attack and makes me want to kill the tickler, simultaneously. But for some godforsaken reason it also makes me LAUGH - so nobody takes me seriously when I scream at them to stop.

    And I've had boys who pinned me down while I was yelling at them to let me up (not going "Tee hee! Quit it!" but actually YELLING). Usually I bit them. Then they'd let me up but be all petulant: "I was just kidding around! Why'd you have to be so mean?!"

    The stupid thing was that I imagined standing up for myself "in the moment" was enough. I saw myself as a tough broad who didn't take shit from anyone because I hit back - but I didn't actually eject the offender(s) from my life. :P

  20. Most recent anon - Yes, omigosh. The worst part is that it's very hard to compose myself while laughing so it comes out as "ha ha STOP ha ha SERIOUSLY haaha I REALLY DON'T LIKE THIS ha ha" and I can sort of see how that's a mixed message.

    I did hit Benny, but between the whole 100-pounds-more thing, his ability to put me in positions that gave me no leverage, and my unwillingness to hurt a person, I didn't hit him hard enough to make him stop.

    As for why I didn't walk out afterwards--I dunno, man, I was lonely and "I left him for tickling me" sounds stupid. Plus, perniciously, his intent didn't seem bad. If he'd been all "grrr I hate you and I'm hurting you," that would have been one thing, but it was all more of a "I thought you liked it, I thought we were having fun." No one ever talks like that in the health class video.

  21. No one ever talks like that in the health class video.

    Seriously, they should.

  22. I did hit Benny, but between the whole 100-pounds-more thing, his ability to put me in positions that gave me no leverage, and my unwillingness to hurt a person, I didn't hit him hard enough to make him stop.

    Totally off topic, but, well, pretty much no one resists a slow thumb in the eyesocket.

  23. perlhaqr - and my unwillingness to hurt a person

    I wasn't in a "my attacker is overpowering me" mindset but a "my friend is going too far" mindset. It's not that I didn't know how, but friends don't stick thumbs in friend's eyes.

  24. @WtC:

    Being older often means you've just had more years to practice being stupid.....age does not automatically confer wisdom. Ex: my mother.

    My youngest daughter is the one I usually ask for advice: smart, funny and analytical, she also has the guts to tell her mother she is being an idiot. I, having been an idiot too many times in my life, usually listen. Or else I tend to regret it.

  25. "A confrontation that fails is...undignified."


    Yes, we must all be Dignified and Ladylike, even when we are being assaulted. It's more important not to Make A Scene than to defend yourself! (See also: you might hurt your attacker's feelings.) Is there a bingo card for this?


    (also comfortably on the far side of 36, though now my eyeballs hurt from rolling)

  26. I was lonely and "I left him for tickling me" sounds stupid.

    I know...I hate that this silly, fun thing people do to their toddlers to make 'em giggle is this huge thing to me (us). The last time someone tickled me (and I'd already fucking told him that it makes me panicky and homicidal...but that just makes people want to try it, for some reason) we were walking down the street and I ended up literally running home crying. I felt stupid but hey, I can't help what I feel.

    and my unwillingness to hurt a person, I didn't hit him hard enough to make him stop.

    I'm weak and uncoordinated (especially when I feel like my internal organs are collapsing from someone poking at them) so I haven't injured anyone yet - but tickling makes my fight-or-flight reflexes kick in in a big way so unwillingness to harm is...not an issue. In all seriousness, I worry that someday someone will pull this shit on me and there will happen to be a knife nearby and I'll end up stabbing them in the face.

    Running down the street bawling because someone tickled me felt stupid...going to jail because someone tickled me and I turned his face into pulp would probably feel a lot stupider. Although I bet my cellmate wouldn't try to fuck with me.

  27. Flightless - with you on the eyerolling.

    "A confrontation that fails"? Undignified! Egad!

    The purpose of this confrontation is to TELL him. After that, he'll be done told, as they say around here. Mission accomplished.

  28. -say I could reach this girlfriend, it would only make him angry and I couldn't reach the next one.

    I voted for option A, but this is a really good point.

    Maybe you could send him some links to learning resources on stuff like consent and kink... are there any support groups for men learning how not to be assholes?

  29. From my experiences with a long-lived public Pagan group, one factor people may be discounting is that sometimes you don't speak up earlier *because the abuser is manipulating you not to.* In that case, deciding it's too stale and keeping quiet is playing into his hands.

    I got grabbed and groped by a group member. I didn't say anything, to him or anyone else. A year later we found out that this was a pattern, and that he always went after women in moments of vulnerability where they'd be unlikely to react sharply. My complaint was a year old; he didn't even remember the incident, he said; but that was the point at which I finally understood that something had to be said, so I said it then.

    If you never say anything, there is a risk that you are reinforcing a strategy of manipulating partners to keep quiet about his bad behavior. Yes, at the time would have been better, but it can be very hard in the context of a social relationship.

    Why didn't I slap the heck out of this guy when he grabbed me and held me and french-kissed me against my will? Because I'd been playfully running away from him, and had known he'd chase me if I did; because it was a random solitary moment in the middle of a big rehearsal and I didn't have time or space for a fight; because I didn't want to be criticized by other group members for "leading him on"; because I just didn't want to give the stupid incident any of my precious and limited energy.

    I felt like shit when I found out that someone more vulnerable than me had been much more badly harassed. Then we threw him out, but it would have been better to confront him much earlier.

    You missed the best moment, but Benny had an incentive to make sure you missed it, and from the tickling story, sounds like he did make an effort to make it socially difficult for you to speak up.

  30. Holly, you get the best Anonymouses of any blog I know.