THAT GUY WHO ISN’T YOU

March 11, 2015

by Stacey Forrester

 

When I was twelve, I was finally allowed to take the city bus alone to and from Saturday gymnastics. After class, even if I took my time and helped my coach put away the mats I would have to wait sixteen minutes at the stop before the bus came. One afternoon I stood at the stop in my leotard and shorts, making puppet shadows with my topknot and the shape it made against afternoon sunlight on the sidewalk. A man crept up to the bus stop in his brown car with its brown seats and beckoned me over with his rust-stained fingers. He told me the bus wasn’t coming and that he would give me a ride. I backed away, pretending I hadn’t heard him. I stood frozen at the bus stop and stared at the line between my block of sidewalk and the next, lining my top knot shadow perfectly in the middle, like an arrow pinning me to that very spot. I pretended not to see him as he circled the block twice until the bus came. He wasn’t you though, because you and I are the same age and this was a long time ago, and the man with the brown fingers in the brown car that day was older than my dad.

I was thirteen and Amanda K had the biggest boobs in the whole seventh grade. We were all still wishing to fill our training bras, meanwhile her bra straps announced the passage to the other side, like ropes holding up the drawbridge of womanhood. There was probably an Amanda K in your school too. And maybe your Amanda K and her bra straps also got called into the principal’s office before first period was over, and got sent home, missing math and chem because exposed bra straps made it hard for boys like you to memorize multiplication. We all learned a valuable lesson from Amanda K while she was home missing class, and maybe you did too: that girls were the gatekeepers of boy’s urges.

We were fifteen and he was nineteen. He insisted all three of us; Jen, Tiff and me, squish into the front seat of the car beside him as he drove to the liquor store. Tiff stole her sister’s Revlon Cherries in the Snow lipstick, which now slicked all six of our lips. My contribution to the evening was a water bottle one third full of Malibu rum, a splash of peach schnapps, and topped off with vodka. Jen didn’t bring anything, but said she would score us a cigarette, hopefully menthol, that we could smoke behind the 7-11.

We asked this guy to buy us smokes and he said he had some at his house and we could stop on the way there and he would buy us real booze. We crawled into his car, not your car, and I quickly felt dizzy from the artificial scent of not one but two orange tree-shaped fresheners hanging from the rear-view mirror and whatever odor they were trying to cover up. I watched them swing back as he started the car in second gear, slamming the gearshift between Jen’s legs, forcing his hand uninvited and unavoidably deep underneath the hem of her school uniform skirt. I felt her body tense beside me and I watched the little orange trees hit the window, and I heard her gasp and I felt queasy.

The summer before I start grade twelve, I am baptized in the streets and given the names that will be used in attempts to get my attention for next two decades: hey baby, darling, nice ass, hot stuff, and sweet cheeks.

In college I go to a party at a frat house that is floored in linoleum from the ’70s. I am drinking beer from a keg. All the girls are drinking beer from the keg, except some of them on their head and some of them crouched at the bottom end of a funnel with boys, none of whom were you, at the top who keep pouring and pouring. I go to find a bathroom and I see my roommate leaning off the back deck with a boy who isn’t you pulling on the waist of her Levis. He tells me they are fine, and I really have to pee, so I promise to be right back but then I see the babe from my Phil class and I forget to go right back.

Later in the evening, the pattern on the floor is moving like a sundial only nineteen-year-olds can see and it tells me it is time to go home. I can’t leave without my roommate, because the posters all over campus remind us that rapists will stay away if we don’t walk alone. I can’t find her so I run-walk all the way to my dorm and it kind of sobers me up. I crawl into my bed without making a noise and I realize she isn’t alone, and I hear him tell her to be quiet and I hear her say they should stop, really they should stop, and I hear him having sex with her and I don’t hear her saying no but I also don’t hear her saying yes.

I just finished my degree and I have had a boyfriend who isn’t you for eight months. We are going out and so I put on the dress I wore when I met him because it is the most flattering dress I own for how the fabric clings with all its fragile strength to my collar bone before giving up and plunging recklessly under my sternum. I meet him at the restaurant and we see a girl with a dress much more modest than mine and he makes a comment under his breath that she is just advertising her daddy issues. I assumed he was implying that her issues stemmed from a dad touching her in wrong ways, and if that was the case I could fill up one hand with friends I knew whose dad or step-dad did that, and if we extended the source of said issues to include uncles and swim coaches, or even a boss grabbing an ass, I would need more fingers and toes. The ones I know had a hard enough time whispering about it, much less advertising it.

One night, two years and a few boyfriends later, I am out dancing with my friends and men are imposing their way into our evening uninvited, and they don’t back off until we lie and say our boyfriends are coming, because they will respect an imaginary made up man before they respect us. You aren’t a journalist, so I know you didn’t write the advice in the paper about how not get raped by the creep attacking women lately. It’s all shit like don’t drink, and don’t walk alone, and don’t go out at night, but I take it seriously and decide to cab home and not walk like I usually do.

I am in the cab and two minutes into the ride, the driver offers me money for sex. I call the taxi dispatch who thinks it is reasonable to forward me to the complaint voicemail, so I jump out at a red light, and the cab driver follows behind me in his car down an alley offering me money not to tell on him. I walk four blocks past my house so he doesn’t know where I live before he gives up. Planning a “safe ride home” turns out not to be so safe.

There are women for sale in my neighbourhood almost any time, but there is more selection after dark. I make a point to know all the workers on my block by name, and memorize things like hair colour, height, tattoos and scars, so that I can vouch that somebody paid attention, if ever they don’t show up for work. Sometimes when I am waiting for the bus, or a ride, or the light to change, or doing anything that has me stopped near a corner, a car will slow and the brake lights will flash—a not so subtle way of selecting me off the shelf. You say this bothers you, and I say “yeah, me too.” Not because I think I am better than the women selling, in fact it sparks this rage because I feel that we are all the same. Purchasing sex to me is violence against women and asking for a price check tells me a man I’ve never met wants to give me two black eyes.

Since we are talking about where I live, and the place that I call home, there is a tower going up behind my house, and for three straight mornings last week, men’s voices rained from above as I stepped out of my house. I couldn’t see their faces, as they were five stories up, but I am pretty sure none were you, offering opinions about my cut-offs, my crop top, my baggy t-shirt, and my dog-walking capris.

On the fourth day I stood on my porch and imagined what would happen if the clinic where I work as a nurse was above a business, with families and neighbours walking by underneath, and what would happen if I spent my day yelling my sexualized thoughts about people passing by, getting bagels, buying coffee. I think that people would complain, businesses would suffer, mothers would not bring their children anywhere within earshot and the police would surely be called to deal with the nurse yelling “Hey hot buns” to strangers from the window.

I marched across the alley, my flip flops beating with confidence, and I sought out the site manager. He told me to relax, he told me they were really nice guys and that I should learn to take a compliment. I wonder if it’s just a friendly compliment why they don’t yell it at other men.

It’s not you telling me to smile, shake it, show my tits, or call you while I am walking to work, going to buy tampons, thinking about global warming, or wanting to be left the fuck alone. At least I am pretty sure, but things are often said from passing cars, in the part of the street with no light, in the park on a noisy afternoon, or from across the road and other places where I can’t always see who is talking to me, so I can’t be certain. Even after I have plotted new routes and added time to my walk to the bus, the voice that I am almost sure isn’t yours, still finds me.

This isn’t even as bad as I have heard it can get. When I interrupt my thoughts about important things to replace them with thoughts about the fastest way away from men who aren’t you, when I say nothing, I sometimes then become ugly-dyke-bitch-whore-I-wouldn’t-fuck you-anyways. I know girls who have been spit on, followed to their door, or had bottles thrown at their head. And worse. Not nearly as often, but sometimes, it can get so much worse.

So I am thirty-four, and this conversation starts, how it always seems to start, because I have had it at least twenty-seven times, with men who are just like you. I am ready when you to tell me that it’s not you, and it’s not all of you, and I should know you’d never do that, and why am I so angry? And besides, aren’t there more important things for me to be upset about? You are littering my exit with questions it isn’t my job to answer and you’re standing in the doorway to my equality, where you are taking up a lot of space. You mention something about a bad apple and I want to fall asleep.

Because when you say it wasn’t you, the truth is you are right. You didn’t do all these things to me, or any girl, any woman, ever. In fact you didn’t do anything, and herein lies the problem. You didn’t speak up. You minded your own business. You let it enter your mind that she deserved it. You looked at pictures not meant for your eyes. You looked away. You believed him because he is a nice guy. You felt uncomfortable but not enough to say anything. You dismissed it as a joke. You ignored all of those times you saw things you knew weren’t that right and you didn’t make it your problem, instead you made it mine, and you’re not listening to me now, you’re just waiting for your turn to talk—so yes, you are right it was not you. You just let them all take parts of us — robbed, and stripped, and on display. I know you’re a good friend and that this may be hard to hear, but I need to find a way for you to see that it’s the silence you keep that allows their kind to be.

ABOUT

Stacey Forrester is a nurse who lives and works in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. She has a penchant for community, DIY, social justice, misfits, harm reduction, and music. She explores these things and more in her zine, “You’re a Masterpiece.”

 That Guy Who Isn’t You originally appeared in Briarpatch Magazine.

This piece is now closed for comments

 

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  1. “You are littering my exit with questions it isn’t my job to answer and you’re standing in the doorway to my equality, where you are taking up a lot of space….
    I know you’re a good friend and that this may be hard to hear, but I need to find a way for you to see that it’s the silence you keep that allows their kind to be.

    Enjoyed this article very much.

  2. Thank you, this is an amazingly insightful piece. Thank you for speaking for so many of us, who have put up with this shit for years. Thank you for pointing out that silence not only doesn’t help, it excuses and encourages.
    The only thing sadder than this, what you, we, all women have experienced, is that someday you reach that age where there aren’t any comments. Because we are old women, and we are invisible. It’s a relief, in many ways. But still hard, because, well….invisible.

  3. I was sympathetic to the author until I got to this part:

    “You didn’t speak up. You minded your own business. You let it enter your mind that she deserved it. You looked at pictures not meant for your eyes. You looked away. You believed him because he is a nice guy. You felt uncomfortable but not enough to say anything. You dismissed it as a joke. You ignored all of those times you saw things you knew weren’t that right and you didn’t make it your problem, instead you made it mine, and you’re not listening to me now, you’re just waiting for your turn to talk—so yes, you are right it was not you.”

    And that presumes that I’m “that other guy”…the guy who silently watches other men abuse women, and does nothing.

    My experience is that the men who do things like this simply don’t do things like this in front of guys like me, because they think we’ll “ruin their fun”.

    And I know that isn’t the answer you want to hear, but consider this: Guys walking out of a business meeting in suits don’t catcall the women in the lobby, unless they want to get named in a sexual harassment suit. Guys working in construction…what do they have to lose?

    When you have a good answer to that one (and a good answer isn’t to berate the guy next to you who doesn’t work in construction to “do more”, whatever that is), let me know.

    1. Jeff Larson – we do not need you to be sympathetic, rather, EMPATHETIC. There is a big difference. If I may share my opinion, while the specific piece you reference relates to one aspect of how women are harassed, I don’t think that is the point. I believe the author is trying to use this piece to speak to a greater social responsibility. I personally have met many men in my life who say the same thing you say, and who I know would never catcall a women (whether they are actually sexualizing her in their minds or not – completely different story and issue for another time), but I don’t see them self-identifying as feminists, I don’t see them joining student organizations or professional organizations that support equality. That begs the question – what are they afraid of? Afraid of being labeled a feminist? Afraid of speaking up and saying that equality is important, for fear the their male colleagues, friends, etc. will judge them, poke fun at them, etc.? I’m not sure and I wonder…

      1. The author’s frustration in explaining how widespread harassment is over and over again really comes through in the writing. I myself feel like I’m going crazy when I try to explain any feminist issues to my friends. That said, I’m a guy that tries to call out sexism when I see it and it’s true that the more often you do it, the less your friends will do that kind of shit in front of you. Your friends like you and they respect your opinion at least to some degree because they are your friends.

        Isn’t that the point? For people to stop doing it? Maybe if more of us were “ruining the fun” then we could find something fun to do that wasn’t necessarily at the expense of making women feel objectified or, even worse, afraid. You just have to not be afraid of your friends making fun of you, odds are if you have dude friends you’re already pretty used to them making fun of you and vice versa!

    2. Way to argue for maintaining the norm of complicit behaviour. Congratulations on proving this article’s point.

      Would you like a shiny gold star?

    3. Men in suits don’t pay women equally for equal work. Men in suits speak over women in meetings, take credit for women’s work and ideas in the workplace, make jokes and comments that perpetuate oppression when fewer people hear them, mansplain to women, and don’t contribute their fare share when it comes to housework and child rearing. This isn’t about class it’s about gender. My experience tells me that men in suits don’t get a pass just because they don’t catcall in the lobby of their office building. So yeah, the answer is DO MORE.

      Dear Not That Guy who doesn’t even see That Guy being That Guy because you’re so Not That Guy,

      Before you throw your hands up about your inability or lack of obligation to “do more” please, elaborate on what exactly you are currently doing.

      Does your company have a transparent pay structure? Who is expected to call out of work if your child is sick? How many trans* people work in your company, or your industry? Is your state passing legislation to limit access to women’s healthcare? Did 1 in 5 women who attended your university experience sexual assault? When women are ignored or talked over in meetings do you stop the interruptor and bring attention back to the women? If you see a woman writing about her lived experience do you discredit her or lift her voice even though it’s different from your lived experience (ahem…)?

      The point is that if all you’re doing is not being That Guy, you’re not really helping women. We’ve heard your schtick before and we “need to find a way for you to see that it’s the silence you keep that allows their kind to be.” So educate yourself (maybe read this article again?), call your legislator, talk to the heads of your company about making your workplace better, make sure that diversity happens and is supported on whatever boards you serve, donate some money to organizations that help women, recognize that making the world safer for people of all genders is your job even if you were lucky enough to have a gender that allows you to benefit from the unjust system that oppresses women and trans* people, use your privilege to uplift instead of to dismiss people who lack that privilege, and learn how to apologize for mistakes when you’re not being a good ally.

    4. Just because the guy in the business suit isn’t catcalling women in the lobby doesn’t mean he isn’t doing somethig else in the boardroom or the lunch room or his office. Guys working in construction have everything to lose just like the man in the business suit; just because he doesn’t wear a business suit doesn’t mean what he has to lose is any less valuable. Nice judgement buddy. Thanks for proving why articles like this still need to be written.

      1. Also, just because business suit man isn’t being a creep on the job (and believe me, some of them will be, though in more subtle ways), he might very well be a creep off the clock. He might be the guy in the elevator making creepy insinuations about the book you’re carrying, or the one who won’t leave you alone at the coffee shop or bar. Relative wealth absolutely does not equal common decency.

  4. I’m pretty sure men are as guilty in this matter as you are about that homeless guy in the street you pass by, avoid or ignore every day, or that you know is probably on the adjacent street. What about all those poor people dieing in other countries from lack of water, disease, war or any other number of reason or even in your own city or neighborhood. How about all those people getting exploited to provide you those lovely shoes, dress, jewelry or that nice new smartphone. What about the environment getting destroyed from all that consumerism you’re doing. Are you speaking up about that guy that gets bullied because of whatever reason associated with his gender that you don’t know about ? What about 10 million other things you ignore on a daily basis that you could help alleviate, fix or diminish if you involved yourself ? But nahhhh, that’s not your fault, is it !!? Afterall, it’s not you that’s doing that, right ?

    Stop trying to associate things to people they don’t relate to trying to guilt-trip every guy in your sense of self-entitlement. Men have their own problems. Some of them related to the female gender, just like women have problems with the male gender. You know what men do ? They deal with it. They fix it. They ignore it if that’s the best answer. Everyone has their own realities to deal with, stop making a big deal about unimportant business.

    1. Dear “anonymous” If you knew Stacey (the author) you would definitely eat your words. I have had the pleasure of knowing her for 17+ years. One of the things I admire about Stacey besides her talented feminist writing, is her concious-raising far exceeds most. This is the girl who buys her clothing from ethical sources and second hand shops to make sure what she buys has little to no footprint both on society and on the environment. She recycles like “whoah” and buses everwhere/walks/bikes. She is a dog rescuer and would not hurt a fly. Plus, she is vegetarian, works with the most marginalized groups in Canada (in situations that give me nightmares) and does so all without breaking a stride. When she walks into a room, she literally turns heads. Not only because she is gorgeous (which she is) but because people gravitate to someone who is so in tune with others. She speaks and acts in a way to better society and knows when not to take up space in dialogue and action . (Which is something you might want to consider) So before logging on to a site … A feminist site… To critique issues of consent, check yourself and ask: what the hell you have done to make this world a better place and what the hell have you done that would make reading this article clearly so uncomfortable for you?

      1. Well said Salal. I think some haters will just be haters. Stacey was very eloquent and I am so glad you stood up for her.

      2. If Stacey was such an ethical, eloquent, talented-writing, dog-rescuing, vegetarian; that’s so in tune with other people, then mr “Anonymous” (and myself) wouldn’t find her tone to be so menacing towards men, and her friend of 17+ years wound’t have to defend her by being a cyber bully. Totally defeats the purpose of resolution, don’t you think? I’m sure she’s just great, but tension is building because men like me, who HAVE taken a stand for his sisters, and his mother, and all of his girlfriends, (even in the presence of other women trying to tare them down) still get this repetitive-broken-record monologue about how men aren’t just predators & pigs anymore; No, now they can graduate to just being mindless, cowardice cogs who, with proper direction from our friendly neighbourhood feminists, might just meet the standards they see fit. Let’s get one thing clear. You don’t represent and share the views of all women, and you sure as hell don’t give a fair representation of all men. There’s nothing anyone can do to turn my back against the fight for women’s rights and equality, but when I read something that makes me feel ashamed to be a man, or guilty for being so privileged, it just builds a disinclination to put up arms with the likes you. You don’t know the first thing about my struggles with prejudice and abuse, no do I believe you’d give a shit. Nobody is forcing her to change your tone, but she won’t get allies by depicting all men in such a general way… oh and before I end this, do you want to know the root of all this antipathy I have for radical feminists. At my University I asked to join the women’s centre because I came from a small redneck town and thought it was so cool that there was actually a student society like this. I got yelled at, called names, and the door was slammed in my face for having the audacity to even ask to partake, as if I was some kind of parasite trying to take their segregated space. Maybe think about that the next time you wonder why a guy doesn’t feel so inclined to speak up.

        1. Walking on eggshells to avoid hurting mens feelings has had a good long run. Welcome to everyone else voicing their feelings.

        2. Hi Dan,

          I am a little confused at to where I was being a cyber bully. Cyber bullying is when you use hurtful and condescending words to “bully”. There is not one point where I personally attacked “anonymous”. Try to tread lightly with the use of that term. When you throw around terms that are a real social issue without actually knowing their real meaning, all that happens is your words become discredited.

          Stacey’s writing clearly hit a nerve with both you and “Randy-anonymous”. When it does, you have to ask yourself why? Because for the people reading your and anonymous posts, it definitely speaks volumes and makes me super appreciative for this magazine and for Stacey’s talent to put so many of our experiences (yes ours… not yours) into words.

        3. Dan, it’s not all women’s job to personally thank you every time you’re a good ally. If you’re doing the right thing and upset for not getting credit or can’t handle it when women talk openly about all of the men who are not doing the right thing, you’re allying wrong. You may very well belong to groups that face oppression and I strive to work in solidarity to end any oppression you face. But this piece is about gender. So the oppression you face in other groups isn’t relevant here if you are a cis-man.

          People with privilege should feel uncomfortable about it, you’re benefiting from unfair systems and maybe it’s not your fault but it’s still true. Read some articles about intersectionality and being a good ally.

          Question what made you feel entitled to enter women’s space at your school. Women risk the common experiences listed in this piece every time we enter public space so we need safe spaces to process trauma, support each other, and plan actions. Why would these women on your campus owe it to you to stop the work they are doing to explain things to you? I can’t barge into the locker room before a football game and ask the players to stop what they’re doing and explain all of the rules of the game just because I think it’s cool my school has a football team and I’d like to learn more about it.

          If you want to learn more, sit on the sidelines watch what’s happening, cheer for the right team, and ask the folks around you to explain things in a way that doesn’t interrupt their participation. If you want to be involved, find groups that are looking for male allies, there are plenty.

  5. Just call the cops. They get paid to arrest people, not me. I have no legal authority to shoot anybody. Especially not over accusations as vague as these.

  6. Go to the police with crime reports. They are legally allowed to arrest people and they have guns to defend themselves if the perpetrators get violent. Vigilante actions will only lead to violence and possibly legal ramifications for intervening.

  7. Very much enjoyed this article and rammed the point home.

    In my line of work, in a small town where everyone knows each other and businesses rely on work from other businesses, there is a distinct problem that I find hard to deal with and it is this:

    There are a handful of “men about town”, so called “professionals” who exhibit reprehensible behaviour towards female professionals because they can get away with it. Revolting creatures who greet women at networking events and meetings by thinking its acceptable to give them innappropriate kisses and bear hugs, and spend the rest of the time making sexist lewd remarks and making the women they speak to feel deeply uncomfortable. I find this to be abhorrent and quite frankly astonishing in this day and age.

    One of my colleagues before a Christmas meal explained to me (as I was new to the town/business) how she was dreading the meal because of this behaviour, and how she felt violated by these men’s advances. Ordinarily she would call these men out on their behaviour if it was outside of the workplace but because the business relies on referrals of work from these people she felt like she couldn’t speak up to stop it. Sure enough when we went along there they were, indecently infiltrating her personal space to such a physical degree that I was really shocked – it should have been just a handshake greeting and polite conversation! These men of course do this,because they know they can get away with it unchallenged.

    This leads me to my personal problem – I’m there, at this function, being that guy – the guy who finds this behaviour reprehensible and the guy who should and wants to speak up to challenge it. But I’m new to the business and town and I know that the business I work for relies on referrals of work from these guys so I feel I cannot challenge it and I don’t . Pathetic. I don’t know the answer as to how to deal with this and I’m not sure what I’ll do next time but I hope I can figure it out and if anyone has pointers that could assist I’d be grateful.

    1. I don’t think you should put your career at risk by confronting them publicly. One thing you could do is maybe send an anonymous complaint letter to their company’s HR department? Write an open letter and send it to the local paper or trade organization? In addition, if you know any of these women personally you could possibly sympathize with them about how you think these particular men are jerks.

    2. We see this issue in Law, as well. Whether it be female associates or secretaries, and it is very hard for people to stand up to individuals who have power over them. The issue is also raised in a fact scenario in our legal training classes – fortunately for us, we have anonymous agencies with which we can file complaints and who will attempt to deal with these issues for you. However, I have often wondered what would happen if you actually stood up and said something about it – whatever “it” happened to be at that time. My guess is that a few things would happen:

      1) the guy you call out is probably, depending on the strength of his own character, going to hate you for life, and probably not forward you any business;
      2) the woman you stand up for, is probably going to be extremely grateful, and you’ve probably made yourself a lifelong friend, ally, and business connection; and
      3) word is going to get around to other women about what you did, and they’re probably going to be just as impressed.
      4) Words is going to get around in the general community that you’re the type of guy who is willing to stand up for those people that need it – for me, that’s exactly the type of guy I want to be in business with or have doing work for me; and chances are, there are a lot more guys out there that feel the same way you do.

      My guess? In this day and age, you are going to make far more friends than enemies for standing up for what you believe in.

  8. As one of the men who have said something, and do, and always will, please do not assume we do not exist. We won’t be ignored, either.

  9. This is so insanely good. Thank you so very much for it. It’s everything I’m always attempting to explain to the men closest to me, all the conversations that are responded to with a “not all men” speech, which also makes me want to smother myself with my pillow. This is much appreciated.

  10. First off, amazing article! I think it is very powerful. It is evocative and stirs up some powerful and personal feelings–on both sides–as can be seen from the comments.

    I can understand as well why some of the reactions to this piece, by men, have been from a place of taking offense in being glommed together in the same likes as classless construction workers, rapists and pedophiles. I have to admit that when I first started reading this article that was my first reaction as well. I have been beat across the head so many times by the “all men” argument that I have come to expect it, and emotionally I was preparing myself for yet another barrage of man-hate and “men must pay.”

    As a man who does care about this issue, it is a terrible thing to be attacked with such vitriol by women who don’t know me, who don’t even ask if I do care before trying to beat me down. It sucks because this is something that I do want to engage in more, but to do that I have welcome the women who are not interested in (for whatever their reason): having the conversation; who only want to make me pay for the crimes of my sex; to use me as a proxy outlet to exact revenge for all that has been done.

    But I kept reading.

    I realized what the author was intending to do with the repetition of “…man that isn’t you.” The purpose was precisely to be repetitive, monotonous and inescapable. Just as inescapable as are the terrible experiences that were being shared with us. The point was to give men a clearer understanding, or as one commenter put it, an empathetic response to the realities of women’s experiences.

    Clearly the article doesn’t blame men for not being “enough on the side” of women as a lot of militant feminist arguments do. Merely it is a plea to the men who do care about this issue to think of a different response when women talk about their frustrations in trying to bring about real change, and to not just say “I’m not that kind of man.”

    What I think is happening here is that a conversation needs to be had between women who struggle with social imbalance (and violence) and the men who are their allies in realizing a more equal and level society. Right now the conversation of equality doesn’t have a clear shape. It is a bit messy because we’re still trying to find the common ground, to start having shared experiences–men and women–while we figure out what to do and where to go next.

    Is this article perfect? No. But perfection is too much to ask for, and it is unreasonable to expect it before progressive steps are made to address the issue. It’s gonna get messy. It isn’t gonna be pretty. But lets allow for ourselves to be imperfect, to make mistakes, to learn from our experiences and move forward with better understanding.

    Lets take it for what it is and start the conversation there. Both sides have some growing to do, some learning to accomplish while a more defined and solid alliance is built. But that cannot begin until we start acknowledging that the solution to this problem is much bigger than any one sex can fix on their own, than any one government can fix through legislation and that if we want to see change we’re all going to have to participate in re-shaping our culture around equality and respect.

    So let’s figure out what that looks like. What does a movement for equality look like that everyone can get behind, that dispense with any doubt about alliance and to know that we are creating a better world for everyone, not just improving it for some of us.

  11. I really love this article. I don’t know why it is so difficult for so many men to accept the reality of sexual violence against women. For the vast majority of women in our society, it is a universal experience to some degree or other. And it’s a burden that everyone bears including men indirectly. It’s in men’s interest to stand up and be counted because fear gets in the way of positive relationships between men and women – and you know, also, because it’s the decent thing to do?! Building a relationship with women (this encompasses social relationships that are not sexual) with any sort of trust is going to require empathy on men’s part for the special challenges that women face that men generally do not.

    The only thing I disagree with is the assertion that paying for sex is inherently violent. I don’t agree with this, but I do accept that the way that sex workers are treated is frequently violent and stigmatising, and that the sex industry as it frequently works has that effect.

    Good on you Stacey.

  12. Can anyone else just notice that this otherwise well-conceived article about not objectifying women is horribly objectifying toward sex workers? I mean come on. “Women for sale”?

    It’s not an act of violence to purchase sex. The violence that sex workers have to live with comes from the STIGMA about buying sex – which you’re perpetuating by using such objectifying language. If sex work didn’t have a stigma and were decriminalized, workers would experience far less violence – both because clients wouldn’t think of them as “women for sale” and because if a client DID do something bad, the worker wouldn’t be afraid to go to the police and the police might actually do something about it.

    Educate yourself: http://leighalanna.tumblr.com/tagged/end-demand

    1. The author works closely with women in the DTES who are sex trade workers. She is very familiar with their plight. The fact is that these women are being objectified. They are not in the sex trade because they want to be. They are being used by people who have power over them (pimps, boyfriends, sometimes even family). I believe the author wanted to illustrate the harshness of these women’s reality. They are basically sex slaves.

  13. Dear Amanda
    Thank you very much for your expressing your concerns about my language around sex work. I want to give you some insight into how and why I chose to speak like this, and as such am posting something I wrote to another woman with similar concerns … I hoped that this piece would ignite conversation, and even challenge people. All challenging messages I have received thus far, have not been people seeking clarification or discourse, but rather seem to be male identifying folks, with rather boring stawman style comments, which I am not engaging in.

    Before I explain more about what I fully know is one of the most loaded sentences in the essay, let me set it in the context of where I live and what I do for work. I live and work in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, and I included this in my bio, as I hoped it helped to frame some of the things I say. I am sure you are somewhat familiar with this community, as it has an international reputation. Main and Hastings is metaphorically and literally the intersection of homelessness, classism a failing mental healthcare system, addiction, sexism, colonialism, unlivable welfare rates and poverty. I work down here as a harm reduction nurse, proving health care services to some of the most marginalized people in the country. I choose to live down here, so that my work comes with a sense of legitimacy – meaning that I am imbedded and invested in my community, and see the people I treat and connect with as neighbors, and people that I care about not just because I am paid to.

    I recognize that when we talk about prostitution there are multiple camps within feminist circles, which has tended to divide us, and even worse, wants to apply a once size fits all approach to all women involved in all facets sex work. This is not helpful. Conversation about “choice” may translate well when we talk about other levels of sex work, but when it comes to street level survival sex work, these women slip through the cracks of that dialogue. I am being careful here, as I don’t want to speak for anyone, and I consider these women’s stories sacred and not mine to tell or dissect.
    I recognize that the Abolition argument comes across as VERY MORALISTIC and tends to have a “savior” element – this is something I do not support or agree with, BUT most of the women I care for down here, are here as the result of a system that is broken and has failed them time and time again, so that they are left with little or no choices.
    They are not using the free market to earn a living, they are JUST earning enough to eat, or for the money or drugs to support their addiction, or because the welfare rates are dismal and unlivable, or because they were recruited or forced in the sex trade at a young age. Johns, who utilize the sex trade in this particular area, are exploiting a power dynamic that may not be present in other forms of sex work. I do often wonder that if addiction and drugs, homelessness, and poverty were removed from the equation- would consent still be given? Would this be a choice a woman would make? Is it even consent or choice with those factors present …If we leveled the playing field, and the government stepped up with solutions, (raising welfare rates, more social housing, attempting to fix the mental healthcare system) then we could apply the choice paradigm here

    We cant have this conversation without taking about the fact that aboriginal women are overrepresented in the DTES and in the survival sex trade, due to the impact of colonialism and its relegating of aboriginal women as less than even second class citizens and therefor not worthy of protection from dangerous foster parents, pimps, johns or police. The Pickton case illustrates this perfectly – over 30 women were deliberately preyed upon, tortured and murdered due to violent men exploiting their vulnerability and lack of options. Exploiting (and hence abusing) a HUGE imbalance of power and dependency. It has come to light now, years later that the police had a building pile of evidence that a serial killer was preying upon the women down here, but didn’t act, and dismissed eyewitness accounts as not relevant as they came from “junkies.” Women I see in my clinic are the sisters, mothers, daughters and friends of some of those murder victims, yet still have to choose street level sex work themselves to survive. The conversation of a bad day at work looks different here – as it could mean not eating, getting dope sick, getting beaten or killed

    Staysee Marie
    also – the aboriginal womens statement on prostitution delves into the uniqueness of this community really well – http://www.prostitutionresearch.com/aboriginal%20statement%20on%20legal%20prostitution.pdf
    http://www.prostitutionresearch.com
    prostitutionresearch.com ·

    Anyways – this is super lengthy I know- and I want to end it by saying that aspects of the choice / capitalism, / sex work as work/ discourse I totally support, because they serve to empower some women – which is what we feminist want, obviously. But to situate some of the things that I see as a primary health care provider as something someone would choose willingly – doesn’t elevate the status or address the larger issues at play for them. I hope this makes sense, and gives you some insight into why I chose to use a term like violence to frame an aspect of my community and honestly – thank you for engaging with me !!!

    1. Preface, to situate myself: I’m white, university-educated, and middle-class. I’m also an indoor trans sex worker for whom sex work is my sole source of income and full service is most of the sex work I do.

      Thank you for your elaboration. It does help to see your (still outside) perspective, that you do connect to these folks as human beings in your line of work, that we all acknowledge the complex and sometimes coercive reasons why people do sex work.

      But language is extremely important in fighting stigma against sex workers, in humanizing us (ESPECIALLY for Aboriginal/Indigenous women or other women of colour, ESPECIALLY for poor women and street-based sex workers).

      So please don’t say that “There are women for sale” unless it is explicitly in reference to human trafficking. Sex workers sell sexual services, not themselves. Equating sexual services to one’s self or one’s body is dehumanizing; it’s just age-old sexism of equating women’s entirety to their sexual value. It makes it harder for people to exit the industry and deal with the emotional fallout. It is the kind of sentiment that brands us with a history in sex work for life.

      And please rethink why “Purchasing sex to me is violence against women” in blanket terms because that kind of thinking is used all the time to erase physical, sexual, socioeconomic, capitalist violence against sex workers. If all commercial sex is violence, then none of it is noteworthy, then law enforcement doesn’t need to care, then our pain is a joke. If all commercial sex is violence then we lose our voice to talk about bad dates, the men who hurt or rape or rob or kill us.

      Using striking but careless language to encompass the genuine suffering you see doesn’t help us, it simplifies our experience and our lives to a trope.

  14. This was one of those writings you can feel in your bones. Thank you for the rawness of this.

    I think the fact that so many commenters are arguing and getting all heated about so many related topics points to how brilliant this piece is — only something really evocative and thought-provoking could stir up this many strong feelings. You can’t read this and not feel something.

    For my part, the only concept I got stuck on here was the strong implication that I somehow need men to stand up for me, and to make my problems their problem. I suspect it’s just that I don’t expect my problems to become anyone else’s problems, regardless of gender. I expect to have to bear my burdens and face dangerous situations by myself, to force change or cope independently, and to salve the bruises alone. The implication that I need support from men to fight my battles and protect my rights as a woman doesn’t sit well with me.

    Then again, perhaps it could be fairly argued if I had more support from men in the first place, there wouldn’t be so many battles or burdens. And realistically, it is probably just pride that makes me think I can somehow maintain my rights and self agency and sense of equality with no external support at all. To be fair, the idea of needing support from other women is only slightly more palatable.

    And at the same time, I’m eager to offer support to other women when they’re in bad situations, being harassed, being abused. I’d happily go call some family members, some employers, some lawyers. But that is often too much help — too far to push the issue. A sympathetic ear and an offer of a couch to crash on anytime is almost always as far as it goes. We often choose to knuckle under instead of standing up. Sometimes, that’s all you can manage: keep moving, keep breathing, don’t get crushed. Who has the breath to yell for help? Who wants to cause so much trouble? Even when help is available, we won’t always take it. Even so, basic logic suggests that if more help were offered, more would be accepted.

    But then, what about stopping the problems that caused a need for help in the first place…?

    Whose fault is this? Whose problem is it?

    I’m not sure blaming men, or even demanding their support, is the answer. I know many women in my part of the world, in my generation, have begun to shrink away from the title of “feminist,” fearing (with good reason) that this will label them, cause them grief, or bring them rejection.The problem is so complex, I barely understand my own feelings here.

    And that, I think, is probably the most beautiful thing about this piece: that it causes me to feel so conflicted, and that it plants within me so many different questions to mull over — that it has moved me to learn more about myself.

  15. profound article. the comments section is revealing. Some guys who are “not that guy” are certain they’re “not that guy in the article”….

    I find a thing is, at least with some guys I know, not silent acquiesce, but ignorance – they really have NO CLUE that women ever have any troubles with gender issues; they see and hear NO inequalities (well, they’re not looking or listening) and I believe their ignorance to be genuine – I remember having no clue either (mind you, I was about seven or eight…) so I know it’s a state one can exist in. NOT an excuse for ongoing denial once learning begins… but a reason for inaction *before* learning begins…

    As a commenter pointed out; there are MANY inequalities. but only an idiot would say, “well, I can’t fix everything, so I’ll fix nothing.” begin with learning, with looking and listening…

    and instead of being “not that guy” or “not all men” – BE *that* guy – who speaks up for women (and men! and everyone!); who will be aware of and not allow the disrespect of ANYONE. It isn’t about some men riding to womens’ rescue; it’s about intolerance to ANY disrespect and inequality. And sadly, women ARE a big group on this planet who get a lot of flak from another big group they share the planet with…

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