Monday, November 14, 2011

Strong woman.

It's a school night.  Quick one.  (Several people asked for a post on "self-de-escalation," so I'll try to put one together in the next couple days.)

I want to address a misconception that I had when I first started getting into feminism, and a misconception that's gotten thrown in my face a few times.  Most recently, it came up in Katie Roiphe's terrible New York Times editorial about how sexual harassment is no big deal and chicks should just suck it up and learn to run with the big dogs etcetera.  The misconception is: "Feminism is the idea that women are strong."

No.  Feminism is the idea that women are as strong as men, but no stronger.  Some men can cut off their own arm to survive; some women can lift a car to save their child.  But lots of men are delicate little crybabies and lots of women are delicate little crybabies.  Women, being people, run about the same range of personal strength as people. And this ought to be okay.  Feminism is the idea that a woman shouldn't have to be exceptionally strong to get by.  Feminism makes no predictions on whether a particular woman can survive slings and arrows, bullying and belittling, mistrust and self-doubt.  Feminism asks "hey, who the fuck said women had to run this bullshit gauntlet, anyway?"

Am I a Strong Woman?  I think I'm kinda strongish, both in the "arm-wrestling" sense and the "doing emotionally difficult things for a greater good" sense.  But that's not feminism; that's good luck.  Feminism is thinking "gosh, maybe going to work while female shouldn't be an emotionally difficult thing."



"I thought feminism meant women were strong" is rarely the full argument.  The full argument is: "I thought feminism meant women were strong, so why are you complaining if you're so strong?"  The implication here isn't just that women should have to be strong to survive, but that strength consists of shutting up and taking it.  That the strongest thing to do is to keep your head down and grind away at whatever task is set before you, silently stronging your way though every obstacle, for your entire life.

Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is complain.

Living every day with being the "girl" of the office and having your ass grabbed and everyone laughing about how funny it is that your ass gets grabbed--no, that's not easy.  But speaking up about it is even harder.  It's taking initiative.  It's taking a risk.  It's facing pushback, retaliation, skepticism, red-tape brush-offs, ostracism, the shit you get for being female compounded with the shit you get for being a troublemaker.  Complaining about how you're treated as a woman is anything but the coward's way out.  There have been times I should have done it but wasn't strong enough.

(Oh, and you also have to face people saying "guess you're not such a strong woman after all, huh?"  Forgot to put that one on the list.)

Doing what people want you to do can be hard.  Doing what they don't want you to do, and standing up for yourself instead--that's strong.

51 comments:

  1. I agree. Why do people think it is so difficult for Herman Cain's accusers to come forward--because it takes strength and courage.

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  2. And the idea of what makes a woman strong often goes unsaid. So many girls believe they need to do what people say is expected of them. More people need to stand up and say there are many ways to be strong.
    Putting your ideas out there, wanting to make a difference, sticking to your beliefs and letting others know- that's strong. Thank you.

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  3. Holly, thank you for doing what you do---- even on school nights.

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  4. Of all the women I've known who have initiated any charges of harassment, more than half have stopped pursuing that complaint because of the strong community backlash that accompanies it. I like to think that's just anecdotal evidence and things are actually better overall.

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  5. In addition, this stuff starts early. Just how much of a "strong woman" is a 14-year-old supposed to be? a 12-year-old? a 10-year-old? I can remember incidents at all those ages.(I suppose at some point it starts being child molestation or something, rather than sexual harassment per se, but really in my experience it was pretty seamless.)

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  6. There have been a very few times where someone has told meit's okay to be weak.

    The most recent example had to be ponies why do I watch this show. Anyway, video is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqSFYiOaN1c

    Discord is trying to trick Fluttershy and make her think that her friends perceive her as "Weak and helpless," like it's a bad thing. So he is all like, "It must be so upsetting to know how weak and helpless they all think you are." And she says, "Not at all! I am weak & helpless!" Etc etc and she knows that her friends accept this. Fluttershy's weakness, isn't really a weakness.

    And it jarred Discord and it jarred me as a listener too - it is very rare to hear that it's okay not to be strong all the time.

    Other examples, I seem to recall occasionally hearing such a sentiment from within the femblogosphere & from the disability activist community.




    For my own self, I haven't really commented much on this sexual harassment Herman Cain topic - or anything else for that matter since I'm doing stuff.
    But for the record, I got sexually harassed this year. It was like, ... the person who did it had been building up to it, being a general bully and making lots of comments that (I found out later) even other people picked up on as inappropriate. (So if a lot of people knew and disliked it, why did they put up with it too? I think it might have had something to do with power imbalances.) I didn't do anything to invite it; still I saw it coming. So I wasn't particularly surprised but I was disappointed and for some reason I still felt dirty. Rationally I was telling myself, "There is no reason for you to feel dirty & bad, because you're fine. You didn't invite this and even if you had, this person isn't supposed to make such comments in this setting in the relationship you have."
    I know it. Rationally I'm aware of what's going on. I have the understanding & the language to describe what's happening and what it means. It's still upsetting.

    I got lucky. I wrote several of the most egregious bullying incidences down, including the last straw, but didn't have to report it. This person left on zie's own before I had to put myself in the awkward position of being the one to say something. In hindsight, seeing what's going on with the sexual harassment comments and comments about the women who reported Cain - I'm kinda glad that's the way things worked out. I got lucky this time. I hope I'm never in a similar position again.

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  7. So true. As with a lot of things, I think scorn for weakness is a pervasive problem in our society that women and men both get in their own special ways.

    My dad, for example, is very supportive and helpful until he thinks you've done something half-assed, the worst sin of all. He was never that into me being an official "strong woman," he just requires full-assing of all tasks. This kind of attitude can bleed into more gendered harassment when people think that being a woman - strong or not - is your assigned task and your contradictory behavior is just half-assing, dammit.

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  8. I hear a lot of guys say things like "I'd LOVE it if a girl sexually harrassed me!" I'm a bit skeptical of this claim in general, but taking it at face value for now, I think it's largely about a difference in power. If you have more power than someone else, then it's not very threatening if they hit on you. There's no shame, and if anyone pokes fun at you over it you can just laugh along with them. Worst case scenario, if it does hurt you somehow, you have the power to hurt them back even more. But it's not reasonable to think it'd be the same going the other direction.

    So I think the "Be strong and just ignore it" argument might make a certain amount of sense in an ideal world. If men and women were treated equally in all aspects of life and everyone were as sex-positive as can be, then sure, maybe some stranger could just walk right up to you and say "I want to have sex with you" and it'd be no problem, you just say "No thanks" and move on. But we're not really there yet and telling people to just "be strong" is like saying "You should act like we're in an ideal world while I actively deny you the benefits of an ideal world." Which kinda SUCKS.

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  9. Major applause here! This cuts right to the core. It's not about whether you're weak or strong, it's that there are certain things no one should have to put up with.

    Not to mention that people's situations are not identical. I've heard a lot of people (primarily men) talk about certain types of harassment as being part of a 'trial period' where you're checked out by a new group, and after proving yourself willing to put up with their 'friendly hazing' you'll be met with respect and inclusion.

    The problem is, I've tried ignoring these things, and very often, they don't go away, they get worse because the bullies see that they can get away with it. Sometimes shutting up works and earns you respect, but other times it doesn't. There's no single right way to handle it, and sometimes there isn't even a way at all, which is part of the reason we need to stop blaming the targets of harassment instead of the people harassing them and the culture which enables them to do it.

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  10. @rwl - "But we're not really there yet and telling people to just "be strong" is like saying "You should act like we're in an ideal world while I actively deny you the benefits of an ideal world." Which kinda SUCKS."

    Oh my god, this. This so much.

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  11. It just occured to me that the idea that "sucking it up and taking it" equals strenght is a reflection of the absurd standarts society settles for males - don't cry, don't show emotion, don't complain.

    We humans are truly screwed up.

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  12. Seems in the interests of equality, now "big Boys don't cry" gets to be hammered into the social strata of both genders, to the detriment of both.

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  13. @rwl And what about the men that *are* hurt by women or get equally ignored when they complain of harassment? You can't say they have the power there.

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  14. This is something I have been thinking about. I am working on a project right now, and a certain portion of it involves women's apparel. I keep hearing, "Oh, you should get such-and-such to support you and advertise for you, you need strong female role models!" And I just want to say, "Hold the fuck up, I am not running this to be part of that cliche." I want to partner with people-- probably women to start with, yes, since they're the ones who'd be wearing these shirts-- who I admire. People who give a shit. People who are not ashamed of who they are. Some of them will be like Mulan, and I am okay with that. Some of them will be male, and some of them will be delicate flowers, and I am okay with that. There is no one way to be strong when you are a woman, and no strength prerequisite to "count." I know people mean well when they suggest how to market, but I am sort of over the one-and-only, this-is-a-strong-woman thing. I intend to ask questions, not to hustle people toward the one socially-sort-of-okay way to be confident in yourself.

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  15. I lost my teenaged attachment to libertarianism (well, better late than never) when my grandmother's health began to fail. "Be strong"--yeah right. She was nearly 80 and her memory was failing. She did herself a lot of harm *trying* to be strong--she stalled moving into assisted care until we had two episodes in a row where she was found, lost, by strangers who brought her in. But she was no longer capable of actually being strong. She got taken for a lot of money by a scam artist, because while she could work out in the moment that he meant her no good, she couldn't hold the thought successfully.

    A just society has to be about it being okay to be 80 and in failing health. Or to have a broken leg, or be taking meds that make you dizzy, or to be carrying a small child. The idea that you can look after yourself 24/7 is bullshit.

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  16. @Anon 2:54 - Ah, I should've been clearer. I wasn't suggesting every man is more powerful than every woman, that issues aside from power don't come into play, or that men can't be hurt by sexual harrassment. And of course, the idea that men aren't/shouldn't be bothered by women being sexually aggressive makes it a lot harder for men who are. Much of the cultural stuff that benefits men has a long list of qualifications that men have to pass in order to receive those benefits.

    And it wasn't my intenton to repeat the idea that men shouldn't be bothered by sexual harrassment either. More just that I think cultural factors make it easier for men to just brush it off. Certainly, if a particular man in a particular situation can't brush it off, his feelings are just as valid as a woman's and he shouldn't be shamed for it or told to just ignore it any more than she should.

    (also the last paragraph kinda reads like I'm saying "in an ideal world sexual harrassment is fine!" when I was more just trying to make a point about how unrealistic the assumptions behind their argument are)

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  18. I cannot see it as standing up for yourself though. Right, a boy standing up for himself in front of a bully - that takes sthrength. His Mom coming to school and demanding immediate punishment of the bully threatening to sue the shit out af the whole District - how much strength can it take from the whistleblowing boy? His Mom just acts like a bully herself, but she is a bully writ large.
    The same thing goes for all the harassment threats with which women can now bully any over-eager PC or simply scared HR department into submission.
    Though, in some Mexican or Iranian factory it still takes a lot of strength for women to stand up for themselves, but I assume, you did not mean THEM, right?

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  19. Hi Holly, lurker here. I just want to say, thank you. Yes. This is what the world needs to hear.

    To Anonymous at 1:37. Heck yes, it takes strength for that boy, who loves poetry, dogs, and hiking, to go home to his conservative Christian parents and tell them that a jock called him a fag and spat on him. It takes strength because his dad spouts utter crap like this. That you've got to 'man up' and 'stand alone'. That if you'd 'Just stand up to them, they'd stop'. It doesn't work like that.

    You stand up. Sometimes you get knocked down. Sometimes you get knocked down so hard it hurts and no amount of inner-strength can ease that. For him, he'd been knocked down so often, he didn't have anything left.

    It took a friend's parent standing up and saying, 'This is wrong. It needs to stop.' And shoving the school's face in the problem before it was dealt with. (Yes, this included a threat of legal action because the school was chock full of bigoted idiots.) It took the support of his friends for him to find the strength to stop cringing when he passed his former bullies as an adult.

    You shouldn't have to be a superhero. You're friends shouldn't have to be superheroes and get between you and someone twice their size. Protecting my friend made me strong. I learned how to throw a punch. I learned how to spit utter bile back in people's faces. I learned that the only way to beat the system is to be meaner, nastier, and smarter than the people in charge. None of that helped my friend.

    The ironic thing is, when we blew the whistle (all of us deciding together). We were the evil ones. We were targeting the bullies unfairly. The bullies were victims of us being 'sensitive'.

    A long-winded story for sure. The point is, it can take as much strength to ask for help as it can to say 'Stop'. Sometimes, it can take more strength to ask for help, because you have to live with the social stigma of needing it.

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  20. @Anon 1:37 -- If calling in the authorities doesn't count as standing up for oneself, then what the hell is one supposed to do if one isn't powerful enough on one's own to make the bullies stop bullying?

    And how the hell does it not take strength to risk losing one's job or worse? Oh wait, you probably don't believe women ever actually do risk those things when they make sexual harassment claims.

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  21. Anon 1:37 - There's no nobility in failing to use all the resources available to you. Parents and school administration are supposed to be resources to kids in distress, and it's not cheating at the game to call them in. (Especially since most bullying victims aren't on level social ground with their bullies. A kid who's younger, or disabled, or new to the school, or a member of an ostracized group can't call on the same peer support that his bullies can. It wasn't a fair fight to begin with.)

    The availability of outside resources with more power than the individual is the only reason our workplaces are better than ones in other countries.

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  22. Holly, the way you finished this post plays into what I wanted to say:
    "Doing what people want you to do can be hard. Doing what they don't want you to do, and standing up for yourself instead--that's strong."

    Why are girls so easily brainwashed into being compliant and polite, always valuing others' feelings and comfort above their own? When I was a child, my mother did her best, quite forcefully, to make me a more girly girl and "more feminine", more soft in my behavior. I called bullshit and refused to give in. I couldn't have done it without my dad, who loved me unconditionally the way I was and encouraged me to be myself. I see my luck (or privilege, if you will) in having his support, but I would have likely had it had I decided to give in and play a more traditionally female role. It wasn't my dad standing up to my mom, it was me.

    Ironically, it's in a large part thanks to my difficult childhood and complex relationship with my mom that I am one of those women the assholes who tell other women to "just ignore it" encourage them to be. The guy grabbing my ass in a bar or yelling on the street hurts me emotionally about as much as a dog biting me would. Only people close to me, like my mother, have that power. It's incredibly freeing to not have these artificial behavioral constraints imposed on me and not worry about offending someone who makes me uncomfortable.

    Telling a woman to just ignore harassment and not be offended by it as an adult is too late. It takes lots of work to deprogram the cultural and family conditioning that lasted for years.

    I don't want to make this a tl;dr post; I'm just coming at this from a different perspective from most of y'all. My view is that of an immigrant who's so damn grateful to her parents (but mostly dad who had to persuade mom) for getting her out of the former USSR at 14 and for whom America indeed turned out to be the land of opportunity.

    I agree with you on most things and am happy to pay the taxes I do or more to help people, but feel hopeless about humanity in general and its ability to help itself. I think Idiocracy is our future.

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  23. I'm initially wary of talking about being brainwashed into being compliant and polite, because I'm a compliant and polite (cis)male and I don't think that's a bad thing...

    It's a minor quibble with what looks to me like a sensible post, however, and I think I see the (good) point you were making there.

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  24. Wormy Apricot - I agree with your comment for the most part, but man, I hate "Idiocracy." It's a movie about how we're all in trouble because inferior types are breeding too fast. In other words, it's a movie Hitler would have loved.

    I have a little more faith in humans than that.

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  25. I'm initially wary of talking about being brainwashed into being compliant and polite, because I'm a compliant and polite (cis)male and I don't think that's a bad thing

    If you were sexually assaulted and your "compliant politeness" caused you to stand there in a frozen panic while rationalizing that the assault must be your own fault because you're wearing something attractive...would you still think it was a good thing?

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  26. Not at all. I may well be expressing myself badly, and I'm probably worrying too much about minor details of language; I very much am aware that there's a problem with people being pressured into that mould.

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  27. Wormy, I like your story for the most part, but there's a serious dark side to "Just ignore them and they'll leave you alone." I was told that more times than I can count as a kid. Unfortunately, my parents didn't realize that it wasn't just one or two kids poking fun at me--it was everyone, and taking my parents' advice meant socially isolating myself for years. I am still learning how to socialize like a normal human being, and it takes me a long time to feel comfortable just getting a friendly hug from someone.

    Not to mention that I developed the unfortunate tendency to ignore other problems, like low grades and, at 16, a speeding ticket. I'm having to train myself as an adult to recognize which problems can be safely ignored and dealt with later and which problems can't.

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  28. I'm sorry to have made you feel this way, goth-is-not-emo, I didn't mean at all to imply that a situation like yours was something to be ignored and taken lightly.

    Like the anon above me was talking about, it's minor details of language. I unfortunately repeated the phrase that assholes/narrow-minded people/usually political conservatives have co-opted to sweep all kinds of actual abuse and harassment under the blanket.

    What I had in mind was more of a situation with asshole PUAs who push girls into uncomfortable situations in which they're unwilling participants taking advantage of the fact that the girl has been conditioned, quite often by her own mother and well-meaning female relatives to never hurt anyone's feelings. I meant that it's nice to not have a problem engaging with someone like that and telling him off.

    Re: Idiocracy and the facile Hitler analogy -- yes, I was partially surprised the movie got made at all given that eugenics comes to mind. But another way to see it is as light-heartedly poking fun at the well-known media and real-life stereotypes of the well-educated professional couple struggling with infertility and the Duggars of this world, taken to the extreme.

    Not all people who are on the whole pessimistic about the direction our world is moving in go on to forcibly sterilize the undesirable elements. Many of us don't have kids because we think the entire biosphere is in trouble because humans are uncontrollably multiplying their consumption of all resources. Some help those living beings already here and adopt. That's who I aspire to be. I'd love to give someone else the opportunity that my parents gave me.

    I may not make it there, but at the very least I can choose not to have my own biological kids. Given that I resent the entitled little fuckers (who won't appreciate their privilege of being born in a first-world country and have the drive I did in my childhood) already, it's also probably best that I do not :)

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  29. K, please take this as a respectful suggestion and not as criticism because it's not in any way meant to be - but you may wish to consider reporting the harasser even though zie is no longer at your workplace. If zie wants to use your boss or your company's HR department as a reference, or if zie decides to try and come back at some point, or if zie claims zie was unfairly fired or pushed out of the company, it would be very helpful to have a written record of zir harassment. Nothing may come of it, but your employer can't say "This person is not eligible for rehire" or "No, we are not interested in providing you a reference" if they don't know.

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  30. ...chicks should just suck it up and learn to run with the big dogs etcetera.

    I have never personally heard this from anyone who actually had to put up with bullying (and I classify sexual harassment as a subtype of bullying.) It's always from people who are in a position where they don't have to put up with it. I always got that from school officials and teachers when I tried to complain about being harassed at school, and from my mother when I complained about my brother (who I now realize was pretty emotionally disturbed) beating me up.

    What they're really saying is, "don't bother me, I don't want to have to deal with it."

    And what Roiphe is evidently saying (I'm not willing to pay for NYT access) is, "I don't want to have to adjust my worldview to include the fact that millions of women have to live with this kind of bullying, for no other reason than that they are women."

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  31. thank you for posting this. i'm facing a damned if you do, damned if you don't feminist moral dilemma right now, and this post was just what i needed to hear for a little reassurance. :)

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  32. AMM, goth-is-not-emo - oh yes, that's my experience too. There really is a dark side to the 'just ignore it' notion. I went through a period of severe bullying in school, and every time I worked up the courage to say something to a teacher (because of course 'tattling' got one worse treatment from the bullies), they told me to ignore it. Which I tried. The result was escalation of the bullying to the point where it was impossible to ignore, combined with crippling self-doubt. Because the message I got from the 'just ignore it' crowd was that it was my fault I got bullied. Because I felt pain in response to someone doing something hurtful, I was to blame! Not the bullies. MY PAIN was the only problem here, was what I understood. So for years I did my best to just not feel things, to distance myself from strong emotion, especially anger. Which is all kinds of messed up.

    Holly - thank you so much for this. It is so very rare to hear that it's ok to not be strong all the time - i.e. to be human, with emotions, and not made of iron.

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  33. I was doing some idle reading on the Malleus Maleficarum. The author, Sharan Newman, nebtioned how the book sort of begs the question "If witches are so powerful, then why aren't they able to escape from their cells?"
    The answer that the MM gives is, rather predictably, "It is well known that witches lose their powers when placed in captivity."
    So why would they allow themselves to be captured? Folks can always make excuses.

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  34. If there's such a word as "nebtioned," I'm a Martian. The word I meant is, of course, "mentioned". Sorry.

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  35. It wasn't a fair fight to begin with.
    And it is definitely fair reversed. Just don't say it takes strength to start an unfair fight - it is a lie.

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  36. "Bullying someone" and "stopping someone from bullying you" are not morally equivalent things. It's like saying arresting someone for a crime is just as bad as committing the crime.

    ...Do you consider people who call the police to be bullies who can't handle their own problems?

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  37. I hope Anon 11:26 is just trolling. It would take a reeeeeeeeally special kind of idiot to make a post like that and mean it.

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  38. Also someone who doesn't realize that telling someone with a boyfriend "this is why you're single and you always will be" generally does not have a devastating impact.

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  39. Whenever someone gives you advice on how to solve your problems, it's worth asking "Who does this advice particularly benefit?"

    "Just ignore bullying" might possibly make things less gratifying for the bullies, though that has not been my experience. It definitely makes things a lot easier for authority figures, who now don't see anything bad happening and don't have to deal with it.

    My son's middle school told me that studies show that prompt, aggressive reporting of bullying is the best tool to reduce bullying. They were not as good on this in practice as they were in theory, alas, but I think it's the right approach. It doesn't remove all burden from the one being bullied, but at least it *puts* some burden on the people with the most power in school situations, namely teachers and administrators.

    When we were working to adopt a child from foster care, aspects of the process were excruciatingly painful to us--particularly the times when multiple families were being evaluated for the same child, or a child was being proposed to families while not yet legally free for adoption. We were told, "It's going to be painful for someone; we try to move that pain to parents rather than kids, because they can handle it better." This struck me as a sound principle.

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  40. Re: Troll -- I swear I saw the exact same comment posted by the same troll on some other blog. He's mindlessly recycling the same thing whether it fits or not.

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  41. Do you consider people who call the police to be bullies who can't handle their own problems?
    I wonder what makes you compare these things?
    I just say that calling police does not take strength. Standing agaist a criminal takes strength all right, but you want to make everyone believe that calling police takes the same strength and it is a definite lie.

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  42. Sometimes, acknowledging that there's a problem that's too much for you to handle, and that you *need* to get someone official in to deal with it, takes a kind of strength. Not precisely the same kind, but a kind nonetheless.

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  44. I really need to update my comments policy to "NO MRA BULLSHIT."

    ...how much strength does it take to whine about whining?

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  45. Methinks that AnonTroll has either been slapped with a bullying charge recently, or someone close to them has, and is now having a "how dare you call me/them a bully you are totally bullying me by doing that" tantrum. They're not that douchecanoe coach are they?

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  47. I think it's very strong to whine about whining about whining about whining.

    Ya happy now?

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  48. This is so very true; thank you for saying it. Made me think of the reaction to #mencallmethings--you know, all the MRAs calling participants wimps who couldn't handle the internet and claiming that see, feminists are just whiny little girls after all. If they were really that weak, why would they bother speaking up about the abuse and subjecting themselves to the predictable backlash? Hell, it would be much easier to just quit blogging altogether. Standing firm and enduring DOES NOT equal keeping silent and doing everything by yourself.

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  49. First off I want to say I just found this blog a few days ago, and I really love it! Yes, Holly, your ideals and viewpoints are radically different than most peoples - it's why I like you so much. Mine are too, and it's nice to see some land from this turbulent ocean of "status-quo" we live in.

    I'm not sure exactly how this fits into everything, or even what to say about it, but I thought my story of a personal experience might be interesting to share on this topic.

    I was raised by my dad, alone. He did his best to be mom and dad to me, gave me "boy" and "girl" toys, and always gave me the strong sense that whatever I wanted to accomplish in life, I was capable of it.

    This is why, when I was in 5th grade (pretty sure, maybe 4th) when some incidents occurred, I stepped up to do the hard thing.

    At my grade-school, at that time, the mentally-handicapped kids were not separated from the regular kids. (Now, I'm not making any statements about that - I want people to be treated with respect no matter what their personal mental faculties are like) But it just so happened that the school decided to keep one boy - who was at least 5 years older than everyone else and had already gone through puberty - in our class.

    And because he had gone through puberty, he was sexually aware. I don't think anyone ever told him about sex, but he knew what he liked. And what he liked was molesting the other girls (10, 11yo) when the teachers weren't around. Keep in mind, he was probably at least 15, if not older, and was probably a head taller than everyone else. Bigger, much stronger, and really mean.

    (continued in next post)

    --Ukky

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  50. (story continued)

    Some girls tried to tell the teachers, but we were called "bigots" and "liars"; they told us that we were making up things simply because we didn't like the fact that he was mentally handicapped. And so his molestations continued, and became more frightening. He seemed to truly enjoy the horror and fear he created. He would grin while being begged to stop.

    I was not one of the victims. I usually scared guys; maybe because I was raised by one and so I was a tomboy, or maybe because I was pretty fearless (still am) and so I wasn't about to be cowed.

    But this really infuriated me and finally I couldn't stand it anymore, so I asked my dad what I should do. (I figured he couldn't complain to the school on my behalf because it hadn't happened to *me*.) Well, my dad suggested I start a petition to get him removed from our classes! And so I did.

    Of course, somebody just had to tattle on me, and I got dragged to the principal's office for daring such a terrible crime.

    I stood in her office (yes, it was a female principal) and was screamed at, yelled at, called a bigot and asked who put me up to such a terrible deed - who told me to do such a thing? Where did I get it into my head to do this?

    I yelled right back (having no fear of authority) and told her my father was the one. When she refused to believe me, I dared her to call him and prove me wrong. I was livid! She finally did, and he admitted to it.

    But what came of it? Nothing.

    We were all marched into a classroom and told to sit down. Then we were given a long lecture on how it was wrong to lie and make up such terrible accusations, and that no matter how much we disliked being around the mentally handicapped, behavior like this was not going to change it, and we would have to live with it.

    The up side is that all the little boys in the class were very gallant and promised to beat him up for us after school was over that year, during the summer. (I guess that sounds bad here, but considering that these guys previously were doing things like throwing worms and saying "ew, cooties!" it was a very nice gesture)

    As far as I know, they did beat him up, because he wasn't at the school the next years after that. And there's no way I'd believe that he was removed because of anything we kids did by "speaking up" about it.

    Sorry for such a long post, but . . . I guess all I can say is that there is *definitely* backlash either way. And sometimes it doesn't even work out to report the bullying. But maybe we need to raise our kids to have the strength to report it *anyway* even if it *won't* get solved or *won't* work, because otherwise something much worse might end up happening. This kid never raped anyone there as far as I know - but he *could* have. And knowing the same thing *might* be happening elsewhere with nobody believing is really scary.

    Also, as an aside, I'm not saying I was better than any of the other kids, or worse. Sometimes we can't "beat up" the bully or "ignore" the abuse. We have to find something else in between.

    --Ukky

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  51. I realize this post is over a year and a half old, but I just found it. I really, really needed this right now. I've been going through a lot of shit right now, not specifically sexually harassment related, but more like if I'm not perfect at what I do and I able to be superwoman and support my family on my own then A) I personally have failed, B) I have proved that women can't do what I'm trying to do, and C) I reflect poorly on feminism as a whole. Which is all stupid, and looks even more so now that I'm looking at it typed out in front of me. Still, it was immensely helpful to see this idea articulated so beautifully, and to be reminded that feminism has no "you must be this strong/brave/capable/awesome to ride" policy.

    So I had to comment on this old post just to say thank you. Thank you for reminding me that I don't have to hold myself to an impossible standard. Thank you for reminding me that no one makes it without some help. Thank you for reminding me that everyone is allowed to cry and need to be held from time to time. Thank you for reminding me that the prescription for Valium I just got (the result of trying to do the impossible and unnecessary without taking care of myself) is not a written notice that says I'm a failure. Sorry if I sound melodramatic, but you wrote the exact words that I've been needing to hear for some time now. I just felt like you ought to know how much I appreciate that.

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