This is how many women practice self-preservation: we vanish.
October 12, 2017 1:55 PM   Subscribe

"On the way out, I demanded he never touch or speak to me again or I would address his behavior publicly. Then, the demoralizing introspections: Should I voice this now—potentially putting a wedge in their marriage and positioning myself for backlash and ostracism? Should I do as I said and await a future transgression—again, knowing ostracism would be almost certain? How important to me is my inclusion in this community? This group helped me climb free of my divorce-induced depression, gifted me a network of peers, offered encouragement, but now this—and it would most certainly land in the murk of he-said/she-said. More specifically, he stays or I stay. And why? Why is this litany of concerns mine to bear—not his? All I did was eat a goddamn salad. " A Dossier of Red Flags: Literary Encounters with (White, Straight, Cis) Men by Jeanann Verlee
posted by a fiendish thingy (23 comments total) 93 users marked this as a favorite
It's a great description of a death from a thousand cuts. UGH doesn't begin to cut it in describing how the stories of women up against this ocean of shit makes me feel.

I liked the part about a woman's voice from the crowd saying "SMART."
posted by 41swans at 2:08 PM on October 12, 2017 [12 favorites]

Very good article. It just never ends. I think back over my own life of over 70 years and there it all is, with little recourse. I'm so proud of women standing up, keeping on keeping on.
posted by MovableBookLady at 2:15 PM on October 12, 2017 [32 favorites]

Later, a different boyfriend who was highly supportive of my work curiously began to refer to any of my successes as “ours.” He insisted we were “a team.” He began to claim shared credit for my intellectual work. I am not this generous. The relationship failed.
I have stopped discussing writing ideas with my husband. I don't want to deny the value of talking with him - he often has relevant detail experience ("what's a normal office-worker car in 1972?"), and it's useful to bounce plot twist ideas around, but he grumbles at me if I don't mention his "contributions" in my author notes or blog post or whatever.

I'm tired of him wanting co-author credit for brainstorming.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 2:25 PM on October 12, 2017 [47 favorites]

Powerful writing. I'm not familiar with her work, but her poetry chops come through in the structure and rhythm of the essay.
posted by agentofselection at 2:35 PM on October 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you for this post.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:59 PM on October 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

It is important to underscore that women of marginalized identities often do the heaviest lifting: demanding sight, building sanctuary, and encouraging others. I aim to laud and support and listen always to such individuals.

Quoted to underscore the underscoring. Write it on a banner in 3-foot-tall letters.
posted by nicebookrack at 3:32 PM on October 12, 2017 [15 favorites]

"This is how many women practice self-preservation: we vanish."

I immediately recognised myself in those succinct words. I've been fleeing some scene my whole life.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:34 PM on October 12, 2017 [59 favorites]

Dammit, I wish that white, straight, cis men didn't suck so much. I feel like those of us who can't answer the question "Are women people?" with an honest "yes" need to be sent to the reeducation camps until we can.
posted by rockindata at 4:06 PM on October 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

The second worst thing after all the things in this piece is when you do stick your neck out to do the right thing, either to stand up for someone or stand up for yourself is to look around and see all your friends, your peers not back you up. It took me until pretty late in life to figure that out. I remember the last time I did this, in a work setting, but I was smarter. “Amanda, you should really say something! You should tell those guys just what you told us!” And I said, “How will you back me up? Will you corroborate and publicly denounce this same behavior?” To their credit, they thought about it and said ‘no, it was too risky for them.’ ”But you still should....” Nope.

I am more solid now, though, in my values and my place in the world. I do stick my neck out but not just for anyone and not just for anything. I continue to have Tina Fey’s advice in her Bossy book rattling around in my head - Is this person a roadblock to something you need or want to accomplish? If they are standing in your way, you have to deal with it but if they aren’t, drop it, drop them. Sometimes it feels like everyone is more important than ourselves. Women are socialized that way, too. And while the personal is political, we do ourselves best when we can reframe the situation and drop unnecessary douchebags from psychological orbit. I don’t mean this to sound victim blaming but the more we can just sideline these guys completely, the better. Maybe they will learn.
posted by amanda at 5:02 PM on October 12, 2017 [42 favorites]

either to stand up for someone or stand up for yourself is to look around and see all your friends, your peers not back you up.

My first experience of this was when I was 16 dealing with a friend who had been sexually assaulting, abusing and severely gaslightiing me. The steadfast refusal of the people who had witnessed many of the assaults to take me seriously and back me up was confusing, heart-breaking, devastating and I'm not sure that I ever really learned to trust people fully after that.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:39 PM on October 12, 2017 [12 favorites]

"This is how many women practice self-preservation: we vanish."

I immediately recognised myself in those succinct words. I've been fleeing some scene my whole life.

Yeah, because fleeing is the only way to make it stop. Lord knows going to authorities, yelling at a guy to stop, or whatever other options you can think of don't ever seem to work.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:43 PM on October 12, 2017 [16 favorites]

Yeah, because fleeing is the only way to make it stop.

And sometimes, not even then. If you so much as peep about your experiences elsewhere, you can be assured that somehow, some way, a man will pop out of the woodwork to ask what it was you did to bring it on.
posted by MissySedai at 7:58 PM on October 12, 2017 [16 favorites]

Fantastic piece, thanks for sharing.
posted by vignettist at 8:10 PM on October 12, 2017

As I think about my writing, and the spaces that encourage it I remember these threads. The frustration and isolation.

I'm super proud of those who fight this fight, because it's one I've avoided. Not only for the undercuts and dismissals, but for the over praise and the men who like my work as if it is it's own labor that needs repaying.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:34 PM on October 12, 2017

Ah man, I recognize parts of this story so well. Suddenly I'm remembering again all the stories I read at a women's modern art exhibit I saw a few months ago, tales of so many women who never came into their own until they were divorced or widowed. A lot of these women were midcentury artists—yet this is not solely the domain of historical accounts! Too many of us still bury ourselves under a whole decade's worth, two decades' worth, three decades' worth of self-abegnation before we find ourselves and our ability to create again.
posted by limeonaire at 11:47 PM on October 12, 2017 [8 favorites]

tales of so many women who never came into their own until they were divorced or widowed

Yes. I forget where I first heard it – it may well have been here! – but the insight along the lines of "for men, it's their future potential that's seen; for women, only what they've already done is, and even then it's often underestimated" has long rung true for me. I get it even in the best of places (here included, cough cough, ahem), as do all the women I know.

It's only been while single the past 13 years that I've truly discovered my own abilities. As in, I'd gotten so used to being underestimated or not estimated at all, that, in spite of my ambitious streak, my general career approach has been, "well, that sounds nice, but I'll never be more than a project manager," and it was hell getting to project manager. I got there five years ago. Now I'm a project director. In Paris. And London. At a place that's in the Fortune top 10. I'm at the level where I advise other directors.

Now, where the real irony comes in (yeah I'm using irony colloquially) is that all my life, people got on my case for talking about achievements matter-of-factly. (I didn't lord it over anyone, I was just damn fucking happy with what I'd done.) I was top of my class and shit, so I took that feedback seriously, since, y'know, I was at the top and thus no one else was around to look at as a role model. So I kept quiet. "Modest." Older top students were all boys, and at the time I didn't see them talking about their achievements as the same thing as I was doing. It took me decades to figure it out. Took me noticing that, huh, how about that, guys toss around their achievements all the time and it's taken as useful information. "I won X award doing Y" gets them considered for more work on Y. Speaking language Z gets them considered for working with people who speak language Z.

"I'm an experienced writer with awards in poetry and fiction, have edited the speeches of a prime ministers and of NGO presidents, translated for Fortune 25 CEOs, and been consulted by Paris museums on their communications. I contributed as well – you can see some of my writing on display in exhibits." Man or woman? Read to the end to find out.

I started daring to "brag" again. It got me the smackdown like before, but I was single! I wasn't going home to an ass who told me to shut up and cook dinner from scratch he then complained about. I was going home to cats who purred and asked me to serve them prepackaged dinner they then were delighted with. So I kept bragging. Because like, LOL I don't care any more, I'm already a project manager and don't live with any of these smacker-downers. The worst that could happen to me is that I go back to doing what I did successfully before. LOL oh noes bring it on, patriarchy.

Then I started getting promotions from people who listened and noticed that I wasn't bragging, I was telling the truth. Now it's so good I hardly dare say it any more. Because not only am I still going home to adorable furballs, I'm also in a position where I can influence how women are viewed. And so I keep telling the truth about my achievements, and listening when other women do the same. People (mostly men, let's be honest) want to talk smack about it? LOL I grew up in that shit and nearly died from the effects of it. Bring it on. I'm here and nothing can change what I've done in life. If I died right now, at this instant, nothing would change.

But it's taken 13 years of living alone.

It was a woman, between 1998 and 2008. Before I got into my current line of work.
posted by fraula at 2:50 AM on October 13, 2017 [49 favorites]

have edited the speeches of a prime ministers lol there was only the one, good job editor me :D
posted by fraula at 2:57 AM on October 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

"On the way out, I demanded he never touch or speak to me again or I would address his behavior publicly."

I am still beating myself up about doing this 5 years later and wishing I had gone straight to HR instead of giving him another chance.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:22 AM on October 13, 2017

What kills me is that there is a possible version of this article in 100% of industries, creative fields and subcultures. Anywhere that people gather, you can count on a large subset of the men ruining it for the women involved. And another subset if the men letting it happen. And maaybe a much tinier subsection of the men at least being willing to call other men out, but then you gotta watch those dudes for any stealth Joss Whedon creeps. Fucking exhausting.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:31 AM on October 13, 2017 [8 favorites]

I am still beating myself up about doing this 5 years later and wishing I had gone straight to HR instead of giving him another chance.

Even if HR had listened to you, there's a solid possibility that whatever action they took would've just made things worse for you.

Women who don't report creeps to the authorities aren't holding back because "aw hey, he deserves the chance to improve;" we know how likely that is. Instead, "maybe he'll get better" is what we tell ourselves to feel less guilty about not having the energy to push through a complaint and the willingness to face an onslaught of public condemnation if it's not taken seriously.

I have no doubt that if you believed HR would believe what you told them, and act to remove him from any role where he could cause you problems in the future, you would have reported him. I suspect what you were facing was, "maybe HR will believe me... and if they do, maybe they'll put a note in his file, or talk to him about 'appropriate office behavior,' and maybe he'll tell everyone in the office that I'm that bitch who can't take a joke and my career will get slammed, and he'll just move on to the next target."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:14 PM on October 13, 2017 [8 favorites]

I am increasingly TIRED by the hour of white-cis men. I honestly have started treating them all like they have a serious learning disability or mental disorder, quietly to myself, even my damn husband. Yes, I know #notallmen, but seriously.

I'm at the point where damnit, it IS their fault they were all coddled and told they could do anything while failing miserably and being nothing more than mediocre. It is their fault that everyone around them is freaking killing themselves to do their best: to be the best person, intellectual, worker and human, yet their gender, sexual preference or color of their skin trumps all that. It like the dumb kid in kindergarten who made some crap finger painting gets awarded the highest honor in art, ignoring the actual museum-quality work of his female peers. I'm so damn TIRED of men getting away with being so average and mediocre yet thinking they all just cured cancer when there are just so many more capable people hiding in the background because of their tone deaf, self-serving behavior. I'm completely exhausted of walking into business situations and meetings that immediately take on the persona of a date because that is all my white-cis male colleagues know of how to act around their female boss. I'm tired of the invalidating comments made to see innocent and innocuous...but they didn't KNOWWW my colleague would be offended by a cooking comment. Or that I hate small talk about kids because I choose not to have any. I'm just SO TIRED.
posted by floweredfish at 6:58 AM on October 14, 2017 [17 favorites]

Yeah, I've encountered too many white, straight, cis guys over the years that have turned out to be very narcissistic. They are socialized from cradle to grave to be very entitled, to not feel their feelings (especially compassion and empathy) because doing so is perceived as weak (which of course it isn't, but that's the way these folks think), and there is apparently never any shortage of people ready and willing to step in and enable them. The only way I can deal with that is to opt out of having anything to do with them by going no contact, or if I have to deal with them, only to the extent that I need to work with them to get something done. So yeah, "vanishing" one way or another from whatever scene I encounter them in.
posted by jazzbaby at 9:23 AM on October 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

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