Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sexual Harassment: What Allies/Witnesses Can Do

A while back, a friend of mine asked what he could do when he sees this happening to a friend or stranger.  His concern was that as a dude, he didn't want to compound the situation by assuming or coming off as just another macho dude trying to help out a defenseless lady (I'm totally paraphrasing here).

And I think it's a good point.  I can think of at least a few incidences where a butch or masculine-identified lover of mine took it upon themselves to intervene in a situation where it wasn't at all warranted.  Example: I was out with my girlfriend, some guy ran into me or something - I can't quite recall, but the point is, it wasn't too egregious and I was already moving on.  But my girlfriend decided that she needed to defend my honor or something, and without checking in with me, got all aggro on the dude in question.  I was NOT happy.  Besides the fact that I'm not a big fan of street altercations, I was mostly pissed that she didn't ask me about it - that somehow she had to be the big bad butch protecting her little lady.  I ain't no little lady and if I need help, I'll ask for it.

While I'm not any sort of anti-sexual harassment advocate, I think that's my biggest advice:  ask the person being harassed.  Just ask.  If my girlfriend had just said, "hey, that guy was really rude to you and I'm pissed - do you want me to do anything about it?" then that would've given me the power to decide.

If, during my recent experience being harassed in downtown Olympia, there had been a bystander who'd hollered as they were walking past "hey, is that guy bothering you?  do you need some help" - that would've given me the power to say "yes, please, I feel unsafe" or "no, thanks, I've got this under control." (and for the record, oh, how I wish someone had been there to ask me that!)

The last thing I need is to feel like someone else thinks I am unable to decide for myself what I need - it's like a double-whammy of disempowerment.

In Seattle, I once witnessed a woman being verbally abused by a man.  I was across the street and hollered "excuse me, miss?  I don't think it's okay for him to be threatening you like that.  Do you want help?"  She said "no" and I said okay, but I did continue standing there for a little while, just in case.  It may not have been the perfect thing to say, and I have no idea if the situation was as bad as I thought, but at least the woman in question knew that someone noticed how she was being treated, that I thought it wasn't okay, and gave her the choice of accepting help or not.

Unfortunately, a quick Google search didn't turn up any resources for what bystanders can do, though there are good links for those who've been sexually harassed.

What do you think?  What do you want people to do if you're being sexually harassed?  What do you do when you witness others being sexually harassed?

Monday, January 10, 2011

yo estoy estudiando mucho

Es verdad.  I'm not really sure what's going to happen with this whole blogging thing.  I'm currently taking Language & Power, an excitingly challenging 12-credit program in sociolinguistics (the workload is way more like 16, though) and a 4-credit Beginning Spanish II class.  And I'm working 10-14 hours a week.  And I'm stressed out because even though I feel like I don't have enough time to get everything done (and done well), I need to figure out how to work in some extra actual paying work because finances are looking really fucking scary.

To those who work full-time and go to school full-time (not to mention those who do that AND are parents) while maintaining some semblance of a decent life:  ginormous kudos to you, my friend.  I don't know how you do it.  My hat is so far off to you that I'm like Mary Tyler Moore, walking down Nicollet Avenue.

Other than just being a post about how I'm not sure what's going to happen with posting, I also wanted to share something that struck me just now in one of my readings, English and the discourses of Colonialism by Alastair Pennycook:
"...the issue is not so much the truth and falsity of facts but the truth effects of discourse...As I discussed in Chapter 1, the issue for Indigenous Australians cannot merely be through 'positive' representations of themselves.  Such representations have already been reappropriated by an exoticizing, Orientalist discourse that turns Indigenous people into primitive beings in touch with the earth, a sort of New Age nomad doing dreamtime and painting the desert...such an exotified view of Aboriginal people already denies the history of colonialism that has inflicted such suffering..."
The phrase "'positive' representations" reminded me of USian gay rights organizations like the Mattachine Society, the Human Rights Campaign, and the current marriage equality movements, which sought and seek to normalize gay people as "just like everyone else."

The passage could easily be rewritten:
"...the issue is not so much the truth and falsity of facts but the truth effects of discourse...As I discussed in Chapter 1, the issue for LGBT people cannot merely be through 'positive' representations of themselves.  Such representations have already been reapprpriated by an exoticizing, heterosexist and gender essentialist discourse that turns LGBT people into hypersexualized beings in touch with their artistic sides, a sort of court jester providing comic relief for heterosexual and gender insecurity...such an exotified view of LGBT people already denies the history of heterosexism and gender essentialism that has inflicted such suffering..."
This kind of attempt to de-Other is understandable, but as Pennycook points out, it attempts to state facts rather than addressing the root of the problem:  the existing discourse (oh, Foucault, you tricky bastard you) is the problem and that's what needs to change.

As Pennycook also points out, this is an uphill battle and much harder to do, especially since so much of contemporary discourse is covert rather than overt. (Much like Pennycook's own repeated assertions thoughout the book, I offer all this not as a criticism of politics/people, but rather as a different way to frame the debate.)