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Aug 16 2008

When women don’t blame

To those blamers who are anxious that amateur video with sub-par production values is now the “new format,” be of good cheer. A good spinster aunt knows her strengths. I do not intend to infest the blog with my vulgar extempore prattling on a daily basis.

To those who complain that they prefer essays that take me 3-5 hours to research and write to amateur video with sub-par production values that takes me 10 minutes to toss off, I remind you of a limiting factor — in fact, it is the founding principle — of this blog: you get what you pay for at I Blame the Patriarchy.

To the blamer who inquired about the origins of my dog Zippy’s name: Probably it had something to do with the fact that she couldn’t walk when I found her, but I really can’t remember. The dog is 15 years old.

Now, before I return to my regularly-scheduled chores, let me reprint an email, which has nothing to do with dogs or amateur video, that I just received from Texan blamer Politichick. The topic is an oldie-but-goodie: when sexual harassment in the workplace and women’s poor grasp of feminist principles collide. Politichick requests a Blamer Brain-Trust intervention.

I fairly recently started working for a union, which I had hoped would be a bastion of progressiveness in this otherwise redneck town. Yesterday a colleague mentioned to me that a union member, a flag person, wanted to file a grievance about the ongoing catcalls and honks that she receives while doing her job. To her credit, my colleague did not dismiss the idea out of hand, but was concerned about providing recommendations to the employer. How could they provide a harassment-free work environment when the worksite is completely accessible to the public? While brainstorming ideas, imagining a precedent-setting case that resulted in huge fines to guys that think it’s cool to hurl drive-by verbal abuse at women, another female coworker became involved. Her first few statements included:

1. What was she wearing?
2. I don’t take it personally when people honk at me. Other women shouldn’t either.
3. I hate when women get into male-dominated industries and then complain about it later.
4. Men get honked at too, but they don’t complain about it.

I attempted to explain:

1. Who gives a fuck? But coveralls and a hard hat, as if it mattered.
2. That I take getting honked at personally, and in fact it sometimes scares me because I have no idea what the dude’s intentions are.
3. That if women had decided, back in the day, to avoid pursuing careers in male-dominated industries, there would be no industries containing women. That includes the jobs that she and I work in right now.
4. Men get honked at, but they rarely get raped.

The conversation deteriorated after she responded with “when people take offense to this there is a deeper, fear-based issue that is worth exploring and they should be referred to community agencies that can help.”

So after spending the rest of the day hiding in my office with the door closed and a huge lump of rage in my chest, I thought I thought I would ask you and the other blamers for help.

What do you do when women don’t get it? How do you present feminist information and ideas to women who are obviously heavily invested in the patriarchy and are more than willing to engage in victim-blaming? This is extremely important to me, as other women rely on my colleagues to put forward grievances that can change how women are treated in the work place, which can change how they are treated everywhere.

Please help. I need tangible coping strategies before I completely lose it.

What Politichick seems to be asking is how you turn a civilian into a blamer in a hurry. I regret that time constraints prevent me from addressing this myself, but I have every confidence that the Blametariat can handle this with ease. Women, go forth and blame.

66 comments

  1. PhysioProf

    I do not intend to infest the blog with my vulgar extempore prattling on a daily basis.

    I love your vulgar extempore prattling!

  2. monika

    I don’t have anything brilliant to add, just to say that “cat calls” and other harassment demeans, degrades and can downright frighten women. And when it happens on the job, it becomes the employer’s issue.

    I know of many women (myself included) who become incredibly anxious anticipating this harassment from men; women who have been sexually assaulted/abused (and that’s a lot of us!) can become incredibly triggered because the dynamics of street harassment mirror rape.

    The “referral to community agencies” comment makes me want to vomit. So we should “fix” the women – not the problem?

    Blame blame blame blame

  3. speedbudget

    I honestly don’t know how to change a woman like that into a blamer. I suspect she and others like her might be a lost cause. But I would ask her if it wouldn’t be nice for her to live in a world where she didn’t have to spend time in front of the mirror wondering if what she’s wearing is too provocative or not provocative enough. I would ask her if, even if she enjoys or doesn’t mind the catcalling, she can see how it might bother and/or scare other women, and what makes her think these guys have the right to comment on women in that fashion in the first place. I would ask her if she has such a low opinion of men that she thinks that they can’t control how they act, or that they are incapable of being polite in society. I would point out that men might get honked at, but they don’t spend every minute of their waking lives wondering if the women around them are just “being nice” or if they are going to come at him and attack him sexually when the moment is ripe.

    And I hate that “male-dominated industry” crap excuse anyway. Men go into teaching, and they don’t have to worry about the women around them acting like complete artards just because they happen to show up to work. What makes her think men can’t act the same way? Sheesh.

  4. RKMK

    2. I don’t take it personally when people honk at me. Other women shouldn’t either.

    Suggested response:
    “Oh, I don’t take it personally either. But I’m offended by the fact that the fuckneck engaging in harassment sees all women not as individual people, but as interchangeable sex objects who merely exist to provide sexual fantasies, or sex itself. It’s the depersonalization that’s offensive.”

    Feel free to use the base idea to convey your own personal kernel of contempt.

  5. Shira


    2. I don’t take it personally when people honk at me. Other women shouldn’t either.

    This person needs to have it explained to her that standing up to male harassment is in fact, the opposite of taking it personally. It’s taking it politically, recognizing that the harassment has nothing to do with the individual woman or anything she did or wore, and everything to do with some dude’s desire to harass a member of an oppressed class.


    3. I hate when women get into male-dominated industries and then complain about it later.

    Well hey, if you’re going to go there, just go all out. I for one hate it when women get into a male-dominated life and then complain about it, as if they didn’t know exactly what they were doing when they attracted that x-bearing sperm.

    Why aren’t women allowed to complain about their conditions once they actually, like, know what they are? Whose interests does that serve? Why aren’t the men scolded for getting into industries (ANY industries) if they can’t manage to work nice with their female coworkers? Harassment is a big fat admission that the menz got into a line of work unprepared to deal with the female-adjacent working conditions (or, in the case of civilians, went outside unprepared to deal with female humans). I am not sure I trust these little rascal wannabes with heavy machinery, ya know?

    4. Men get honked at too, but they don’t complain about it.

    In fact, no men have ever complained about anything. That’s why all revolutions are shrew-organized, nag-led feminist uprisings aborted into existence at post-election planning meetings. Geez, though, who shows up to a male-dominated political system and then complains just because their interests aren’t represented? I mean, I don’t take oppression personally, and if it doesn’t bother me, it must not matter to all other members of the fungible female servant class.

  6. atheist woman

    Snigger. Fuckneck, are we rescuing that for our own usage now? (and hell what is that word that means that anyway?).

  7. another voice

    If she is in the “I don’t worry about that stuff ’cause I just expect equality” group, it may be a lost cause. I have a friend who is deeply invested in the patriarchy for god-knows-why, and talking about feminism creates this weird supercilious attitude in her. She pontificates about how she always just moves in a male world with no problem. The fact that the patriarchy has done her no favors (abusive boyfriend, almost poverty level jobs despite 4-yr degree, serial moving in w/ losers to much heartbreak) never seems to dawn on her.

    I like the idea of asking pointed questions, like Shira’s #3 seems to be clever. Have them ready, but I can tell you the opportunities rarely match your internal pre-dialogue.

  8. ::Wendy::

    I have not yet found a ‘quick’ way to raise the awareness of a female with this type of attitude. The only way is slow, to continue with the tactic Politichic is already employing – provide a clear, sensible, consice reason why every stupid comment uttered by the person holding this stance is stupid.

    That this attitude is expressed within a Union that should ensure that its workers experieince equivalent, safe, working conditions, is disappointing is sadly not suprising.

  9. TP

    The brilliance of Shira will be hard to top. But here are some ideas for explaining the obvious to the majority of women who turn off their reasoning faculties when they hear words that signal feminism or socialism.

    Talk about manners and civility being essential for the maintenance of a just society. Talk about the lack of simple consideration that an aural assault means. A honk at the wrong time could cause someone to jump, lose their balance, and fall into traffic.

    If you talk about simple respect for other human beings and refer to women as human beings – which is a kind of code for men, as advanced blamers all know, since men are the default human being in this world – you can get past the attitude that she’s only a woman that underlies your colleague’s lack of concern for women. She obviously believes that women don’t deserve any better than what men allow them.

    It’s unfathomable, how ingrained male supremacy is in this culture. Once you accept that it is, it’s impossible to understand how women can accept it.

  10. Antelope

    Here’s my little suggestion related to the issue of the flagger herself, rather than the obtuse co-worker.

    Perhaps there are two or three large guys at her worksite who could stand by her while she refuses to flip the sign around and let the cat-caller pass…

    No wait, they probably do their cat-calling after being permitted to pass, cowards that they are.

    How about this then?

    Perhaps she’s standing at one end of a construction zone, and while the fuckneck is driving slowly across a stretch of gravel, she could phone someone to have them block the other end with a piece of heavy equipment. A guy then comes out with a loudspeaker to explain to the fuckneck, and however many cars are in the group with him, that they are being blocked because the fuckneck thought it was okay to harrass a female flagger. They are now going to be held for a while, to make it clear that this workplace doesn’t condone that sort of behavior by anybody. They are not going to be told how long they have to wait. This may seem unfair, since many of the drivers are innocent, but they should use the time to think about how women don’t expect random harrassment any more than drivers expect random delays. Innocent drivers should understand that the fuckneck is to blame for the rest of them being held up.

  11. Courtney

    Antelope, that’s brilliant. I only wish the innocent drivers would blame the fuckneck too. Unfortunately, their beef would probably be with the construction team.

  12. Izzy

    I hate the “can’t you take a compliment” line. Street harassment isn’t a compliment; it’s an expression of “dear lord, that being has neither a Y chromosome nor a handler! I should remind it that this is my street.”
    The goal is not to show respect for some positive attribute, but to make a woman feel uncomfortable and it works. Perhaps you should suggest to your co-worker that if she’s so indoctrinated as to not be able to tell the difference in a genuine compliment and blatant harassment then she should consider getting some help, herself?

  13. slythwolf

    I have made a conscious decision not to try to explain shit to women who are at that stage. It’s too stressful for me and I ain’t good at it anyway.

  14. professor animus

    Please take a look at another very infuriating discussion on work place harrasment on the Department of Higher Ed site ” If One Professor Gropes Does Everyone Need Training?” http://insidehighered.com/news/2008/08/15/harass
    I could use some blamer back up here…

  15. AngryJules

    Politichick,

    I have a relatively conservative best friend (serious struggle…) who horrifies me with comments along the lines of your coworker. The best way I’ve found to approach her is calmly, always giving her space to explain her thoughts, and then respectfully demonstrating how she is completely fucking wrong. In this case, I might reply…

    1. What was she wearing?
    -Well, what uniform justifies men treating women like objects when they’re just trying to do their jobs? At what length do shorts justify cat calls? How high does a neckline have to be for sexual remarks to be inappropriate? The truth of the matter is, there’s nothing that women can wear to escape harassment.

    2. I don’t take it personally when people honk at me. Other women shouldn’t either.
    -It doesn’t matter what bothers you. You don’t represent all women. The woman in question is obviously bothered, as indicated by her compliant. Don’t you think all people have a right to speak out when they’re uncomfortable?

    3. I hate when women get into male-dominated industries and then complain about it later.
    She’s not complaining about working in a male-dominated industry. She’s complaining about being sexually harassed by people driving by. Just because she works with men doesn’t mean men in general get to treat her however they please.

    4. Men get honked at too, but they don’t complain about it.
    Really? How many men get honked at? Are they being honked at as a representative of their sex? Regardless, shouldn’t all people who file a complaint be taken seriously regardless of their sex? If a man filed a complaint, would you consider solutions more seriously?

    I think she’s absolutely right that there’s a deeper fear-based issue. The female worker is scared, because we know that men regularly rape women without consequence. We know that sexual harassment gets so bad at times that women leave otherwise fulfilling and successful careers. We know that women are taught from a very young age that they don’t belong in certain public publics during late hours of the day without men. If those aren’t reasons to be afraid, I don’t know what are. And those certainly aren’t personal problems.

  16. Dawn Coyote

    I’d address the blame-challenged co-worker thusly:

    What outfit would warrant such vocal attention from males in passing cars – for you? I mean, imagine you’re a beach volleyball player, practicing for the Olympics, and you’ve just skipped up to the 7/11 for some water. Or you’re a jogger. Perhaps you have blonde hair – natural, even! Perhaps you’re wearing a bit of makeup because you’ve just been at a business meeting. Would it be okay with you if men were hooting at you from their cars? Imagine them without the cars. Imagine them standing on the street hooting at you Imagine them on the street hooting at you as you walked by. Is that okay with you? It doesn’t feel threatening? Uncomfortable? Do you think you should be able to go outside the home to work without having to be subject to that?

    And so on.

  17. Kay

    When trying to convince a friend of the harms of pornography, she brought up the whole “but I don’t feel affected, so it’s not reasonable for other people to feel affected” argument.

    Another friend eventually pointed out that if we were in a room that someone was filling with poisonous gas, but only some people were affected, the thing to do is to turn off the gas for the sake of those who were choking, not keep it on because it wasn’t bothering everyone.

  18. rootlesscosmo

    @Shira:

    This person needs to have it explained to her that standing up to male harassment is in fact, the opposite of taking it personally. It’s taking it politically

    I think that’s the crucial step, though I don’t know how to get people to take it. Most Americans think “politics” means “electioneering” or “office power games;” they don’t use the term more generally to refer to the world of power, who has it and who doesn’t, how it gets used etc., in all spheres, including home and job etc. What used to happen in Consciousness Raising groups was that women, telling individual experiences, would discover that these were widely shared, and thus came to see themselves as a political category (like Twisty’s term “the sex class”–nobody joins up, you get assigned to it.) But women came to CR voluntarily, and there was a movement going on that CR was only part of. What to do in the present, post-Backlash, post Reagan Revolution moment? I don’t know. There’s an old Southern Mountain hymn, “You Got to Cross that Lonesome Valley By Yourself;” the CIO in the 30′s adapted it to “You Gotta Go Down and Join the Union,” but the basic idea–”ain’t nobody here can cross it for you”–still seems valid.

  19. Chai Latte

    It sucks when this happens. I like to think of other women as my fellow sisters-in-arms, and when one of them sends me garbage like the above, I want to vomit.

    I absolutely HATE the rationale that women shouldn’t complain when working in a male-dominated field.

    1. Ok, with the exception of early childcare, ALL fields are male-dominated. If we accepted this bullshit argument, we’d never get anywhere. (Though I suspect that’s probably the point.)

    2. Women are pretty much taught from birth that we basically should never complain about anything, lest we be nags.

    3. We are all entitled to safe working conditions in which we are free of imminent harrassment and danger.

    So bite me, Lady Who Doesn’t Get It.

  20. phio gistic

    Street harassment is the aggressive reinforcement of the social hierarchy. Women -have- to pretend they don’t notice, or that they even like it. Because women know that the next step after verbal harassment is physical assault. The men that do the harassing are generally in a car when the woman is on foot. The man is safe from retaliation, and the woman is vulnerable. If she fights back, talks back, or otherwise refuses to demonstrate her submissiveness, she becomes open to an escalation of aggression.
    The “hollaback” sites are one of the few organized attempts to resist this. Perhaps the union could support taking photographs of the harassers and their license plates for posting online.

  21. mir

    Politichick,

    Maybe ask your coworker in which industries it would be inappropriate to allow female (and/or any) employees to be subjected to harrassment?

    ie, Would it be okay if the sign-holder were a barista, and male customers stood at the counter and hooted and whistled at her?

    Would it be okay if she were an ER doc and patients and passers-through ambled through the hallways yelling and gesturing suggestively to her?

    What if she were in an office setting: would ‘the public’ be allowed to amble through grabbing their crotches and calling stupid things at her?

    A workplace is a workplace is a workplace.

  22. Helen

    Street harassment isn’t a compliment; it’s an expression of “dear lord, that being has neither a Y chromosome nor a handler! I should remind it that this is my street.”

    This is the best concise definition I’ve ever read! I’m going to memorise it for regurgitation when needed!

  23. Lar

    I have no answer to that question as I ask myself the same one quite often.
    When women say “Well, what was she wearing?” or “I hate when women get into male-dominated industries and then complain about it later.” it breaks my heart. It’s hard for me to understand how some women can become victim-blamers themselves, so I have no idea how you’d change somebody’s mind if they’re heavily invested in the patriarchy. I see it everywhere.
    When I was 18 this creepy old guy at work kept harrassing me. He harrassed me pretty aggressively and he would regularly talk in graphic detail with other male coworkers about “what he’d like to do to me,” what I must look like naked, etc. I regularly lodged complaints with my boss, another woman, who considered herself one of the guys at work. She regularly sympathized with them. I eventually left, but a year later the office ran into quite a few problems when the same guy raped two women at work – one was underage.
    So your colleague *should* take things like honking and harrassment seriously. How to persuade her to do that is beyond me.
    I really like Mir’s explanation – really, where is this kind of thing acceptable?

  24. Abra

    Try catcalling her yourself, ma’am. It’s been my experience that many patriarchy-addled women are scared to death of lesbians.

  25. Yellow Submachine

    The most (literally) logical tac is to put the complaints in the context of global patriarchy in which women’s bodies are systematically used and abused by intimates and states, women’s unpaid labor underpins every micro- and macroeconomy under the sun, and women’s human rights are not legally defensible in the courts of the wealthiest, most “progressive” countries in the world.

    Of course then she would really think you were crazy. Because this is a crazy world. Violence against women and the “dual assaults” of their communities and governments are senseless crimes against humanity. And yet the evil is so banal that it is not conceivable to consider it a crisis. It is simply human society, same as it’s ever been, for all the networking and the nanotechnology and the UN Special Reports on Oops, We Did It Again – Darfur Edition.

    Thanks for trying. It’s all you can do, and you’re doing it.

  26. kate

    Fact is, in my experience people don’t change their core beliefs and gender identity and all its attendant perks and quirks are a big part of one’s core. Gender is afterall a huge piece of one’s social marker/identification in a hierarchical social system like ours.

    So, when you stab at someone’s core, you hit a tender spot and they are likely going to retreat and/or defend with all their might. They are very unlikely to give in, say you were right, switch all the machinery around and thank you for it.

    All we can do is plant seeds here and there that will hopefully stick in their craw enough to disturb their assumptions. We can hope that this disturbance causes a search for relief which will cause as a result, some change in the thought process.

    The best situation allows us to remain by in order to tease along this process over time. Getting them to continue the conversation and allowing them to go through the mental and emotional adjustments necessary to make change.

    Yeah, fat chance, who has that kind of time and how many people allow us that close access to their innermost thoughts and fears? At least not a few in my experience and women who are patriarchy enablers tend to get pretty queasy around questions about the social implications/roles/duties assigned by their gender. This cuts so close to the bone as to shake the very root.

    Of course blamers didn’t just happen to sprout up yesterday so the patriarchy has plenty of defenses built in for questioning women. Once they get a hold of one of those, they will quickly retreat. The Femi-Nazi, the ball breaker, the woman hater, the lesbian, the home wrecker, the atheist, heathen, sinner — whatever.

    In a nutshell, I don’t get immediately offensive with these types of women. I do with the men though.

    I don’t want to alienate them from me. I want them to develop some trust and then be able to slowly walk them to the door of freedom, or at least to see the light peeping out under. I can’t open that door for them, they have to, but I can let them see how its possible and let them know its there.

    The few times that’s worked there’s usually at least one man in the picture who ends up hating me and then banning the relationship entirely in an effort to pull said woman back into line. Usually it doesn’t work completely. By that time the seed is firmly rooted and even if she goes back into complete compliance, its not the same for her and she’ll continue her search for the truth on her own. I’ve seen that happen more than once.

    As for the workplace, if politichik is in a position of authority, then she needs to make clear to this woman what sexual harassment is and what the law is. Make sure she tells her in front of other woman. There is no flexibility there and blaming the woman is not what the federal law has in its interpretation. I have seen many workplaces have very poor leadership on this issue and many women who very well could have, do not report harassment.

    Poilitichik, if she’s in a leadership position, really needs to be more aggressive on this issue and make sure all the women understand the harassment policy and feel ok coming forward with complaints. She also needs to make clear that she is the person of action if the chain of command in that area seems broken or inactive, if she can within her job scope.

    Also, I hope this dispels politichik’s dream of unions as being bastions of liberalism and progressive thought. Aside from the upper echelons of the organization, unions are by and large male dominated, good old boy fraternities that are resistant to change at any level. Hell a good number of them still have lost any concept of why they existed in the first place and are stuck somewhere in about 1975.

    My daughter last year or so was encouraged by her union member boyfriend to sign up to join. She related that when she stood in line and signed her name to the roster for an interview or something the woman receptionist said, “I hope you understand what its like to work in a male dominated field, you know, I hope you aren’t like so many other women who come in here and complain about some guy making some jokes or something. These are guys you know.”

    I wanted to kill the bitch with my own bare hands but my daughter insisted I resist as her boyfriend didn’t want the fallout if she complained. Now, after breaking up with said boyfriend she has mentioned that she just wants to go back there, sign up again and deal with the situation differently. Unfortunately, we can’t take back the past.

    Unions need to change and move forward but that means more progressive people have to join. That means the present membership has to be willing to let more progressive people join. But they don’t. So they are dying off.

    I know someone is going to come here and defend their union and their fine experience in it. Good for you. Anecdote does not change the facts.

    (directed at the aforementioned folks) Oh and I also am not talking about unions of traditionally female dominated industries. Lets just get that straight.

  27. thebewilderness

    It is a workplace safety issue, and I think it should be addressed as such. Unions can’t do much about harassment by non employees directly. But they can address the issue with management. There are a number of states that have instituted programs, because of union demands, to make the public aware of the danger inherent in distracting workers. Some states have implemented doubled fines in work areas, and lots of signs. This state, WA, is inclined to cutsey childlike creations that say “please be careful, my mommy/daddy is working here”. Whatever, something being better than nothing.
    I don’t think there is much to be said to a woman who works for a union who thinks that only some union members are entitled to a safe workplace.
    But I do think that when the ignorant bigot sees that safety issues are addressed, even when a woman raises them, she will have an opportunity to discover that she needs to rethink her position, or that she is in the wrong line of work.
    I would also like to add that highway flagging is a very high risk job, partly because it is a public safety job that the public sees as a hindrance rather than a help.

  28. thebewilderness

    “I know someone is going to come here and defend their union and their fine experience in it. Good for you. Anecdote does not change the facts.”

    Perhaps not, but it would balance out your anecdote.

  29. dizzywhizzy

    Why aren’t women allowed to complain about their conditions once they actually, like, know what they are? Whose interests does that serve? Why aren’t the men scolded for getting into industries (ANY industries) if they can’t manage to work nice with their female coworkers? Harassment is a big fat admission that the menz got into a line of work unprepared to deal with the female-adjacent working conditions (or, in the case of civilians, went outside unprepared to deal with female humans). I am not sure I trust these little rascal wannabes with heavy machinery, ya know?

    This is so my reality right now I just want to…do something something big. “Dont react, we must preserve the peace”, my mothers mantra coming to me over the miles. GAG. Glad ya’ll are here

  30. Spiders

    Politichick, you need to dig up your state or federal anti-discrimination legislation act and use it to back up your case with your colleague.

    Sexual harassment is officially against the law in my country and I’m assuming it is in the US too. At least I’m sure hoping it is.
    As others have said already, frame it in terms of a human rights issue, I find that tends to give those with internalised misogyny going on a bit of a wake up call. Shows them that the personal is actually the political.

    I have very little advice as to enlightening this woman, although I have found some patriarchy-invested women respond to sentiments of solidarity such as “Hey, women really need to start supporting each other in this world”.
    We know that all the stuff she’s saying is just the stuff she’s been socialised to believe her entire life, and some women just need to hear somebody say its ok to think otherwise.

  31. Dykonoclast

    1.) I LOVE the Twisty vids.

    2.) Antelope’s idea = amazing.

    3.) I’m a delegate for the Industrial Workers of the World.

  32. Lauren O

    As far as suggestions for what to say to Clueless Coworker, I don’t have anything better than what other people have already said. I would add, though, that the way you say it is very important. Because the coworker is so clueless and infuriating, it might be easy to lose your temper with her, and even though she may not deserve your patience and understanding, you’ll never bring her over to your side without those things.

    I’ve got a Christian, Republican dad with whom I fight about everything. Often I get so angry at him that I yell or storm out of the room or something. This only makes him get more defensive about his positions and/or think that I’m reacting the way I am because I don’t have valid responses to his arguments.

    When you’re trying to beat someone in an argument, rhetorical flourish and smackdowns are handy, but when you’re trying to persuade someone, you have to act friendlier. I suggest using phrases like, “But don’t you think that…” or “Sometimes that’s true, but think of it this way…” and so on.

  33. jess

    I agree with ‘planting seeds’ and not risking alienation when it comes to women. I have a female friend who pathologically reduces women to their looks, herself included. Recently she was telling me about a new female manager at her workplace who ‘looks like a man/is a dyke’. I was pretty restrained – ‘wow I wonder how much crap she will get from idiotic customers just because she doesn’t conform to the gender stereotypes?’ sort of thing.
    The other thing is to compare male/female to black/white because often it’s the ONLY metaphor that they can grasp.

  34. Virago

    I work in a female dominated field (nursing), and my immediate supervisor was a male nurse. This guy was continually making remarks about the looks of the female employees under him, and just being down right nasty. He even treated female patients like this. Anyway, a few years ago, some female employees accused him of sexual harassment, and their complaints were dismissed. I’m not sure why, but after seeing how this guy treats women at work, I have no doubt he did exactly what he was accused of. Anyway, I tried to complain about his behavior, and this guy’s female boss totally dismissed my complaint. Later on, he heard that I made the complaint, and he made my life miserable working there that I ended up quitting. Ironically, I heard this guy complain that other men disrespect him because he’s in a “sissy field like nursing” (his words not mine). Yet, this asshole can use his male entitlement and privilege to make the lives of the female employees under him miserable, and he still gets away with it just like in a male dominated field. We worked night shift, and this guy would call us his “ladies of the night.” He told several females we wear our clothes too tight (we were wearing scrubs for god’s sake). He told another woman that she was too pretty to wear her hair like that (in a ponytail), and she would look hot with her hair down. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

  35. AngryYoungFemme

    Dawn Coyote:

    In regard to the article about the University of Iowa faculty being required, indiscriminately, to participate in sexual harassment after the “individual” incident of one professor assaulting more than one female student, I have this to say:

    These so-called “individual” instances of sexual assault are not, in fact, individual. The reason the entire faculty, and I would think the student body; since the argument was made by that douche Miller that the problem with sexual harassment is among the students only (despite the faculty-student incident that prompted the writing of the dang article), should undergo this very necessary training is precisely because this kind of harassment is NOT individual–it is the symptom of rape culture, of the dominant class, read: men, actively oppressing the oppressed class, read: women, aka the sex class.

    It actually hit me tonight, after escaping the heat via my first brain-numbing night breaking my tv-fast with the free, sporadic, antenna-acquired cable. CSI: Miami, America’s Most Wanted, and two consecutive Cold Case Files beat into my mind the problem with this “individual” case problem. By focusing solely on one woman’s rape, one woman’s murder and the “individual” psycho-perpetrator (as they are invariably portrayed–could never be that the distillation of rape culture in the heads and egos of men erupt in these systemic episodes from otherwise “normal” guys) this form of displacement erases the idea of the ubiquitous, all-too-common, and all-too-real oppression of women as second (sex)class citizens. Better not to confront men with their own privilege and the fucked up ways in which that privilege manifests, especially when the manifestations are assault, rape, and murder.

    Puke! Despite my visceral reaction to each and every instance of oppression I read about, see, witness or experience first-hand, I just can’t not think about it, recognize it, and want to escape it. Too bad revolution ain’t comin’ for a long while, what with the majority of women with their heads so far up guys’ asses, desperate for that pat on the head; that’s a good little female chauvinist.

    So fuck you to that Miller cock. The training IS necessary, particularly, it seems, for his over-privileged ass. Get over yourself already! That anyone can argue against this kind of training today, is irritating to say the least and, yet, not surprising in the least.

    PS, what is with the term “fuckneck”? Maybe I just watched too many murdered-raped-women forensic fantasies tonight, but the images with that particular term makes me sick. I prefer the term “cock,” but perhaps that’s just me.

  36. AngryYoungFemme

    Correction: that should have been addressed to Professor Animus.

    Sorry, y’all!

  37. atheist woman

    AngryYoungFemme,

    I believe that a fuckneck is something that a troll called someone at Shakesville during the famous “lol your fat” gamer(troll) attack of 2008. Melissa McEwan of Shakesville critiqued a video game called Fat Princess for it’s fat-hate and sexism, and well I guess the man-boy generation was not all pleased.

  38. katarina

    Well, I enjoyed reading all the comments and I’m memorising some of them for future use, but I don’t see how Politichick’s original responses could have been improved on much. They were great.

  39. balabusta

    When women don’t blame: this is well put. Why is the blog called “I Blame the Patriarchy” instead of “I Blame Individual Dudes, All of Them, and Exonerate All Women Even When They Are Colossal Ginormous Stooges?” Because it’s the actions that are the problem, not the essence of maleness. (Essence of Maleness: a new perfume?)

    In a society in which men can behave like schmucks toward women, both women and men can decide to break down the rewards for schmuckliness. It’s a sign of cowardice and false consciousness to side with the schmuckly behavior. It might be that men are preserving their privilege to act like schmucks when they defend patriarchal/sexist social structures, but what do women get out of defending those structures? A sense that they are somehow exempt from the sexism. Which they ain’t.

  40. lawbitch

    What these women get is the illusion that they are safe. It’s a very human defense. If the scales fall from their eyes, they have to deal with the ugly truth.

  41. larkspur

    lawbitch: “What these women get is the illusion that they are safe. It’s a very human defense. If the scales fall from their eyes, they have to deal with the ugly truth.”

    This is exactly right. It’s a kind of warding-off behavior in which you say, “Oh my god, that’s awful, but it won’t happen to me because I don’t dress like that/go there alone/et cetera…” It’s ugly, but it makes an ugly kind of sense.

    I don’t know. Maybe this person needs to be walked through via a racial analogy: what if the flagger were black? How would she deal with racial taunts or harassment? How would she encourage the other members of the work crew to close ranks and support their more vulnerable co-worker? Maybe empathy is too much to hope for, and if so, potential liability and the attendant expense might have to suffice.

  42. Katherine

    Politichick: wot Mir says… you can’t change your colleague’s attitudes, but the law is the law and the workplace is the workplace, and flaggers have the right to work in as safe a place as possible.

    Your colleague is the one taking all this “personally” because she’s dismissing a complaint using her personal attitudes and experiences as a yardstick by which she judges that complaint; which is unprofessional and incompetent.

  43. politichick

    Thank you all so much for the support and advice. And many thanks to Twisty for providing the forum.

    I’m going to try to integrate these ideas into my interactions with the woman (actually women, as I wish it was only one) at work. And I’ll pass along the relevant potential legal remedies to my coworker. I’m not in a position of power in the union; I’m a workplace organizer, and the only female one, so unfortunately the suggestions may remain just that.

    And as for unions themselves, double bah. Our union’s Women’s Committee is putting out a cookbook as a fundraiser. It’s called “Sisters in the Kitchen”. I actually almost cried when I heard about it.

    Dykonoclast: I’m a member of the IWW as well. Solid, sister.

    Thanks again, blamers. I love you all.

  44. narya

    lawbitch and larkspur have it right, and that might be an additional avenue for discussion.

    Many people do this kind of magic incantation: “That [e.g., rape] won’t happen to me because I do all of the Right Things to prevent it. Ergo, if someone is raped, it is Her Fault for not doing all of those right things.” (I see it in economic arguments, too: “Those People should just be more responsible with money. If they hadn’t eaten all that fast food, and had eaten rice and beans instead, they would have been able to pay for Junior’s chemo.”)

    You may be able to find a way to speak to that and call her on it. In other words, remind her that she is not, in fact, safe, despite her fears and her beliefs that she is somehow protected. Which then opens the door to exploring why she is not safe, and why calling a halt to that offensive behavior is a key to changing that.

  45. Cathy

    I especially love the comments by Shira, Izzy, lawbitch and larkspur. You are right about the illusion of safety/”can’t happen to me” thinking. I’d also add that the victim-rather-than-patriarchy blamer has been deluded into thinking that she enjoys some status that regular women do not receive. Perhaps she is married to a rich man, and she thinks it’s in her best interest to prevent other women from becoming too successful, because she might not look so great by comparison.

    I thought of a way to convert her into a patriarchy blamer fast, but it seems dangerous. If the abuse happened to HER (maybe some male friends not employed at the office could provide the catcalls) she might realize that it does happen to properly dressed women, just trying to do their jobs.

    Izzy is right – they are not complimenting her. They are reminding her that she has no right to be out in public; she belongs in the kitchen/bedroom.

  46. Cycles

    Or invite her to the work site to see exactly what’s happening. Surely even women who consider harassment to be a compliment eventually get sick of it after enduring it constantly for 8 hours, a week, a month.

    When you think about it, it’s scary that they’re asking the flagger to ignore this problem. This worker has been charged with the safety of the entire crew; she’s responsible for controlling a steady stream of multi-ton vehicles, staying focused on hazards, and keeping the crew from being hit. For fuck’s sake. It’s not a beauty pageant. Constant distractions (and that’s putting it mildly) threaten these goals.

    Yes, yes, it gets complicated when an employer is asked to take responsibility for the behavior of members of the public. It’s hard to manage a group of people who come and go, and who are not accountable to the employer. However, none of that is the flagger’s job to solve; that’s the employer’s responsibility. Or, if they’re willing to let the flagger come up with a method of controlling the environment, then they’d best be prepared to back her up and deal with the fallout from solutions like Antelope’s (which I love, by the way).

    If the members of the public present a threat, then they need to be handled appropriately. Think about police who deal with strangers every day; they don’t depend on the good graces of the public to do their job. They carry guns, riot gear, and radios. I’m not saying the flagger should carry a weapon or anything, but the employer does need to think about the threat posed by the honking drivers, and figure out a way to control the fucknecks who endanger the entire worksite.

  47. Mezosub

    Personally, I think it might be a smashing idea to have the flagger take a photo of each vehicle’s license plate when the driver harrasses her.

    After all, if local police forces can use technology to issue citations for running red lights, I don’t see why the DOT and DOL can’t do a joint task force and issue citations for violations of Title VII.

    Besides, it’s the employer’s job to protect the employee from harassment and discrimination, and they bear the liability if the employee ever gets a mind to sue them for damages she suffered because of the conduct of her employer’s clients (even if the clients are the general public).

  48. Superlagirl

    This

    “when people take offense to this there is a deeper, fear-based issue that is worth exploring and they should be referred to community agencies that can help.”

    would have made me tear my hair out had I actually heard it said aloud.

    I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape, and I have had no luck finding a community agency that will help me explore my deep, fear-based issues. I get a lot of medication and advice on changing my mindset, but never have I had a therapist who will actually acknowledge that my experience is exactly what can be expected for a girl or woman living in a patriarchy.

  49. TwissB

    On being told that you should feel complimented at being harassed by sexist catcalls, it might be the moment to bring up Abraham Lincoln’s story about the man who remarked, while being tarred, feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail, “If it wasn’t for the honor of it, I’d just as soon walk.”

    As for the guy who says he’d like to see you with your hair down, you can always respond in silky tones that you think he’d look really good impaled on a barbed wire fence with his pants on fire.

  50. rootlesscosmo

    @Mezosub:

    it’s the employer’s job to protect the employee from harassment and discrimination, and they bear the liability if the employee ever gets a mind to sue them for damages she suffered because of the conduct of her employer’s clients (even if the clients are the general public).

    Unfortunately it’s a long, hard road from that moral liability to the kind that could give rise to an actual, enforceable legal remedy. For starters, the law of employment discrimination, and the agencies authorized to move cases to the courts, have been drastically weakened since the 1980′s. And I haven’t heard of any cases that found an employer liable for discriminatory conduct for placing employees where members of the public (not even customers of that employer, so no business relationship) could harass them. So bringing such a case would be expensive, time-consuming, and unlikely to prevail in the present political and legal climate; realistically, it might not even be possible to find a lawyer willing to undertake such an uphill battle. I Blame the Patriarchy–in fact this is The Patrarchy in action.

  51. larkspur

    Absent a cooperative supervisor or labor rep, the flagger’s best option may be to take it to her male co-workers (and I’m kind of assuming that she’s the only non-male hominid on the crew). Some, if not most, of them could be brought on board…if only they can see the “us-ness” that’s involved. (This is something I recall from long ago: Harvey Milk, celebrating his election to City Supervisor, letting folks know that we are us, you and I are us, that we’re doing this for us, that we are in this thing together. You can see it in the documentary “The Life and Times of Harvey Milk”.)

    This puts a burden of outreach on the flagger, one that she ought not to have to bear, but we have to focus on the mission, and I think it’s worth it. If her co-workers can rally around her, and recognize that her work benefits and protects them all – and also that (a) if a guy was flagging, he wouldn’t get sex-related taunts, but he would inevitably, at some point, by some asshole, get dissed, or (b) how would they feel if their mom or sister was just trying to do an honest day’s work, and had to face that bullshit? – well, then we have the glimmerings of a coalition. The mission is for everyone to do a day’s work for a day’s pay with as few impediments as possible. Impediments slow things down, make folks grumpy, contribute to mistakes and accidents, increase annoying paperwork, cause annoying meetings, and don’t serve the goal of getting home in one piece and on time.

    I think it’s possible. The flagger, while on the job, is “one of us”, one of the road crew. One of “them” who’s acting like a jerk, is dissing all of “us”. Another crew member can take a photo, or issue a quiet but unmistakable verbal smackdown, or (en masse) deploy a fierce bear-stare as the offender drives by.

    Power to the people. Onward and upward. Blah blah blahbicakes. It’s so hard to keep believing.

  52. keshmeshi

    Many people do this kind of magic incantation: “That [e.g., rape] won’t happen to me because I do all of the Right Things to prevent it. Ergo, if someone is raped, it is Her Fault for not doing all of those right things.”

    It’s modern day superstition. Instead of throwing chicken guts on a fire and praying to Yahweh, we’re now not walking dark alleys or wearing tight clothing. People have a huge amount invested in the idea that if you do x and y, z won’t happen, whether it’s women wanting to believe they can’t get raped, middle Americans wanting to believe that voting for Republicans won’t screw them over, or everyone believing that they can’t get sick or wind up disabled.

  53. Jen

    What Politichick seems to be asking is how you turn a civilian into a blamer in a hurry.

    Machete, skull. Fill in the blanks.

    I was a nice pacifist person before I became a feminist, honest to God. Then I discovered the existance of simpletons like the gem above, and how they will go to any lengths to defend the poor wittle white men from the scorn of bad she-bitches that dare to think they can walk, talk, and coexist in the world without being treated like a piece of ass.

    Women like this are beyond help. One day she might stumble across the fact that her best friend or mother, or some other woman close to her, was brutally victimized by a man (with statistics the way they are, it’s not exactly far-fetched as much an inevitability). Then she will pounce upon them will all her victim-blaming glee, only to be utterly cut out of the lives of her family and friends for her asshatery.

    Then she will die alone. Miserably and terribly, with gangrene and puss and all other sorts of nasty rot. Nobody will go to her funeral either.

    If nobody could tell, I like to entertain notions that karma is just as vindictive as I am.

  54. notalady

    I recently had a similar experience at a LGBT caucus within a convention of progressive political activists.

    Two gay men said that they didn’t mind hearing people use the putdown-du-jour “That’s so gay.” They don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean anything.

    One of those men continued on the “I Hate Pride” tangent, and proceeded to say how much he hates “twinks” and does not want them to be “so public” because they make his life so much harder.

    I got stuck in my observation of, “Holy Crap! Internalized Homophobia! In Real Life!” I wanted to respond, but couldn’t remember having had such a conversation with a queer person who didn’t have a grasp of IH.

    Then a straight ally piped in: “If I heard someone say “That’s so gay” in my office, I would respond exactly as if they had called me a n—–. That is hate speech, and it should never be tolerated. I encourage you all to ask your offices to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward all hate speech.”

  55. B. Dagger Lee

    I think the thin end of the wedge into the non-feminist colleague’s mind is the idea of workplace safety; I wonder if just as there are signs about increased fines for speeding in work zones, portable construction signs about increased fines and/or fines for harassment/distraction of workers might do the trick.

    I understand women’s anger at those women who Don’t Get It, but I’ve heard and read too many feminist conversion stories running the gamut from hard knock upside the head to gentle, consistent, persuasive argument. I think the vast majority of women can be educated in the right set of circumstances, and with the right information and argument. It’s a principle that anyone who has ever been a teacher will be familiar with—there’s a certain amount of faith in the process of education. You don’t always know exactly what the student takes away or when she will use it to flower, but you have faith, even in the face of willful ignorance and inattention, that her mind is taking away some of the information and tools; that she is, in fact, being educated.

    I enjoyed the Lincoln story, TwissB.

  56. larkspur

    Very good point, B. Dagger Lee. I would add that sometimes you may want to impart just enough persuasive information to get a particular problem mitigated. In this case, the mission is to get the flagger’s objections heard so that her workday is less burdensome. The advantages are less stress for the worker, a safer workplace, and possibly a prototype for future problem-solving that particular crew.

    I’m fine with venting, and this is a good place to do it (if it’s okay with you, Twisty), but the fact is that this non-blamer supervisor/labor rep is a real person and a real woman, and while treating her with respect may not change her attitude one little bitty bit, treating her with disrespect is a guaranteed, reverberating Fail. This is why I don’t really care about whether she Sees The Light, and why I don’t object to some principled manipulation that might at least persuade her to stop blocking the light. Ya know?

  57. bluwhisper

    Not even wearing a hijab is enough
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/16/AR2008081602063_2.html

  58. Claudia

    Sexual harassment. Sigh. It’s terrifying. Very difficult to stand up to, I don’t care how strong you are.Or even tell someone about, if you grew up in the 50′s. Carlsbad Caverns, NM, I was twelve. The OWM guide made sure to sit next to me in the area they turn out the lights. He put his arm around me and fondled my breast the whole time. Scared the crap out of me. He pursued me in the gift shop, and my mom picked up on his stalking and got between us. We didn’t tell my dad. That’s what the sorta average American household was like, or at least a small town minister’s family.

    Women who are still swimming in the testosterone sea. Gentle modeling, speaking the truth, always quietly, and with a smile, is the only way to educate these frail, fragile creatures, and only when they approach you. They’re like a wild animal who hasn’t figured out that the hunter is Not Her Friend. One can only change ones self, we can only offer the plain truth, which becomes a tendency for change over time.

    A bully society is always dangerous for women and children. Look what our bully government is doing around the world. The way to handle a bully is to be who you are, ‘roid up your boundaries, and interface in an aware, communicative manner. Shed light on the cockroaches.

    Mil gracias to all the commenters. Most enjoyable discussion.

    Flag person: walkie-talkie or other electronic communication device. Call in any incident as it’s happening. Set up a dangerous alert system for immediate backup–truck license and description to be logged at base. Make it part of your safety procedures. Then it becomes like accessibility on Web sites–good for everyone.

  59. monika

    I am very much enjoying everyone’s awesome posts!

    Anyways, I was thinking that the attitudes towards sexual harassment are very similar to “if you are going to be raped, you might as well enjoy it.”

    “If you are going to be violated by someone yelling about your breasts, you might as well take it as a compliment”

    “If you are going to be punched in the face, you might as well appreciate the attention”

    monika/shermanvolvo

  60. Anarcha-Feminist Superstar

    I have actually dealt with this exact problem when I publicly accused my stalker. A “radical” bookstore full of “feminists” proceeded to tell me that I was paranoid due to the high rate of abuse in my life, that my deeper, fear-based issues needed to be addressed because I was obviously just scape-goating a harmless man who happened to be somewhat mentally ill and therefore deserving of my sympathy and help.

    Women can be shits.

  61. Greenconsciousness

    Reminds me of the narcissistic brats who drive into fast food places and throw liquids at the workers taking their orders. They, being the bright lights they are, videotape themselves which helps with the prosecution.

    Can you get a picture of the license plate? That would be the first step. Then to brain storm with National Women’s Law Center or 9 to 5. I hesitate here because so many feminists groups are not feminist anymore.

    But getting a snapshot of the plates and a recording of the taunt would be No 1. If the taunt can be characterized as a threat or hostile or “disorderly conduct” there are fine enhancers based on the fact that it is done in a construction zone to a worker.

    What is needed is some kind of visual documentary which will bring the reality of what it is you are suffering. A woman’s movie crew can’t really do it because I suppose you go for long periods with no harassment.

    Just take a picture of the plate with a cell phone (or camera)hung around your neck for the purpose. The cell phone would allow you to call the cops with a description of the car, occupants and license plate number. You might discuss your plan with the sheriff once you get the backing of your union and get things co-ordinated.

  62. PoMo

    Politichick–

    People are rarely changed both fundamentally and quickly, and rarer so for that to happen through a cognitive appeal. As a tactic, you could try making a hard hitting emotional connection by telling a real (or fictional) account of how you, or someone you know were made to feel by the action you’re trying to get them to empathize with. Give them a reason to want to see things your way – by rhetorically positioning them into being the bad guy if they dismiss your argument:

    “You know, when I went to high school, there was this group of guys in my class that used to hang out in the parking lot. They’d have loud discussions about all the girls as they went by – about their bodies and what they liked or didn’t like. You might think it sounds stupid – just boys being boys… I was pretty good at ignoring them until junior year when one of them raped my best friend.

    Ever since, I can’t shake the idea that maybe the two things were connected – they way they felt free to talk about us like we were meat and the way he felt free to attack her like that. In any case, every time I hear a guy catcalling, it makes me think about her and about what happened. It makes me really mad, and it makes me wonder how many women who are getting catcalled might have been victims of a sexual assault in the past, and how the guys doing it might be making them feel, ya know?”

  63. JA

    the inner part of me that loathes women like that would completely take over.

    “that sounded just exactly like something my/a rapist said”.

    “someone around here is obviously brainwashed”.

    “why should i get help? i’m not the one with the overarching need to dominate, humiliate, and subdue other human beings against their will…”

  64. SoJo

    A friend of mine invited a couple of men she met on an overseas holiday to stay in her home. One of them told her that he loved her and then proceeded to show her the photos he had been taking of her with his phone without her knowledge and videos of her sleeping. She ran around telling everyone how disturbed she was by this but said nothing to the guy, or the police, and let him stay in her home. She almost took it as a compliment- giggled about it in a semi-hysterical way.
    This scares the shit out of me …. and infruriates me at the same time.

  65. Mack

    Hiya,

    In terms of the work safety/the woman concerned feeling safe at work issue, I reckon it would be cool to call a workplace meeting and suggest some sort of collective action – everyone wearing the same t-shirts with a slogan that go to the issue of honking and that this occurs on all shifts…

    As for the fellow worker, I wish I could offer some advice, but I don’t have any.

    Work with those that want to see change in the world!

  66. Starfoxy

    I know this is an old thread, but just in case it might help.

    I would turn it back around on her, and say something along the lines of: “Why is it so important for you to believe that this is an insignificant and isolated problem that this woman must overcome on her own?”

    When the coworker responds in protest (“That’s not what I was saying”), press on with “Are you sure? Because you’re putting firth a lot of effort to place the responsibility for this only on the victim. Are you threatened by the idea that this woman might have a legitimate complaint? If you accepted her complaint as valid, would that make you feel less safe in public?”

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