GAMERGATE, CATCALLS, DANGER, AND REAL LOVE
It was 10 am on a Saturday morning in “the valley,” a broad expanse of suburban Los Angeles where I live. My neighborhood is interesting because while there are many middle and working class families along the major thoroughfares, behind those busy streets are downright mansions and elite private schools, and yet gang encroachment is on the rise, at least, in the form of street tags and from the little bits I pick up talking to my local police. And yes, I do talk a lot with my local patrol officers. I’m only on a first name basis with a few, but that’s true for all the folks my entire neighborhood. For the most part, I talk with everyone, greeting everyone with a friendly smile and a “Have a great day!”
Late at night, of course, when I take my dog out into the front yard, I keep my phone handy and my mace handier. I am a little less friendly with the folks walking down the street and I barely leave the front yard, just in case. I honestly don’t know if any of this is helpful or even necessary, but I’m a slight single gal who appreciates seeing another neighbor out with his or her dog at 11 pm, which I rarely do.
Sometimes, late at night, men walk by who seem to sense my anxiety. I don’t chat, but if a fellow says hi, I say, “have a good night,” and then say, “Good boy, Henry!” to remind them I have a dog. Once a man walked by smoking a cigarette. He looked at me and said, “You need a bigger friend.” Henry is 15 lbs, or 6.8 kilos. The man wasn’t being threatening or even jovial. I think he was offering his honest advice.
I’m a risk-taking sort, generally. I face my fears as a way of life and as a practice. I’ve dived off cliffs and rappelled down waterfalls. I’ve booked my own tours as a musician and traveled the world. I’ve volunteered with lepers and never once had to dip seven times into the sea.
On the other hand, I’ve also been mugged at gunpoint, a young man (or boy) with a gun at my left temple and another one to my right. Two masked boys tried to empty my bank account at an ATM. They didn’t really believe me when I told them there WAS no money and I was depositing the hondo to keep from bouncing a check. They took the crisp, clean $100 dollar bill and told me to get of there. I counted my lucky stars they weren’t kidnapping me for purposes worse than a Benjamin.
I give a lot of context because I would like to point out that I’m not naïve (…mostly), and I’m not unaware. I learned lessons the hard way, but not the TOO hard way, and I choose to believe that “love of the deepest sort” is still the antidote to all these interpersonal wars of survival and greed and fear and power struggles.
I’ve seen miracles. I’ve watched homeless folks with apparent personality disorders or psychotic splits become lucid for a few moments to sing folk tunes or to answer a question about the weather. I met an angry man on the street with a bottle of whiskey in his hand yelling about the state of the world until I told him we were all scared and hurt. He told me a bit about HIS life and now when I pass him by in the street, we smile and sometimes hug.
I walk my dog every day, three times a day, sometimes four. In the daylight, when the streets are full of people, my neighborhood is safe but for the rogue angry driver, honking his or her dismay.
So imagine my surprise that Saturday morning when, on the sage and lavender scented pathways that travel along the bus routes, I was followed by a young guy, maybe early 20s, just the two of us and Henry for the entire 3 city block stretch of walled off pathway.
You see, my neighborhood is NOT free of cat calling. I get honked at and hollered at and cat called and I ignore it. I just ignore it.
And usually, on this beautiful path, especially late morning on the weekends, there are plenty of families and bike riders and dog walkers and ladies with baby carriages.
But that day I was oddly alone. We passed one lady with her dog at one end of the pathway, but she did not continue along the path. This walk- and bike-way is separated from the Metrobus lanes where only buses and cop cars are allowed by a 12 foot wire fence. There is a wall on the other side of the pathway, another good 12 feet, separating the houses from the pathway as well as the sound of the buses, I imagine. Same thing on the other side of the buses- on the south side of the pathways, another great wall separates THOSE houses from the thoroughfare.
Henry and I walked along. I had headphones on as I was listening to, well, nothing. I was searching for the podcast I wanted to listen to and couldn’t find it. That young man I mentioned before? I had seen him standing at the lights when we entered the pathways. Now he was jogging up alongside us.
“Hi,” he said.
I ignored him, pretending I was listening to the world’s quietest podcast.
“Hi,” he said again. Henry just kept trotting along, which I figured was a pretty good sign, because sometimes he can get a little aggressive.
“What, no hi?” the kid said.
Now this was annoying to me and also mystifying. After all, I am the QUEEN of talking to everyone in my neighborhood. In fact I briefly wondered if I had talked to this kid before, but then decided that I hadn’t, because I usually remember everyone.
He ran ahead. We were about 1/3 of the way in and I thought about doubling back. Then my inner rebel overrode my inner sensible self and said F*** THAT! I don’t have to amend my walking route just because some boy is trying to hit on a woman old enough to be his… older cousin.
As Henry and I approached, Henry stopped right there to do his “Duty.” Not number 1.
‘Henry,’ I thought, ‘your timing couldn’t be worse.’
The fellow came up to me then. “Hi, hi, hi” he said. “What, no hi?”
Henry and I walked quickly now as he followed us. “What, no hi? No hi?”
I decided not to run, but to walk with purpose, with Henry’s leash pulled taut. It was no longer an annoyance. It was starting to feel threatening.
I rebuked myself. Had I been watching too many online videos about street harassment?
Then I thought about the girl who had been the “anonymous” subject of one video, who was later receiving death and rape threats merely for taping all her interactions in a day.
Who says I have to say hi? It’s my prerogative. This is the US and my fellows fought sorely for my freedom, and my foremothers who fought (and were beaten and jailed and sometimes worse) for my right to vote let alone many other things were owed a better homily than this.
Of course, I was also completely alone with a kid about 5-6 inches taller, probably about the same weight, but with all the force of youth and violence and god knows what else. Maybe he just wanted to say hi, but now it was a serious potential that he wanted so much more. I would give him NONE of it.
If he just wanted to meet me, or say hi, then he could have offered a simple, “Just wanted to say hi,” or, “you’re a pretty lady,” or, “do you have a dollar?” So many others have done or said such things to me and I’ve smiled, or said hi, or said, “sorry,” or offered up some change. No, this was different.
I called my partner, a former law enforcement man himself, and told him I was being followed by a young guy and gave him my exact location. I said very loudly on the phone that I was calling him and telling him to make sure that I was in no danger.
My little plan worked, as the young man dropped back and followed at a very far distance. Carlo talked me through the last of the pathway, until I reached the street on the other side. I have never been so happy to see two bikers and a homeless man in my life!
Of course, my dear partner then offered up that he sometimes is followed and harassed as well. It’s true, of course. He’s a beautiful man. I asked him if it was women doing that. He said, “no! That would be almost welcome! Well, I mean, if it weren’t for you.” I reminded him then that he also didn’t have the thousands of years of sexual violence and oppression borne against his gender in quite the same numbers as I did. He said, “of course. But I’m just pointing out it’s not just women.”
Eventually, the follower dropped back and Henry and I finished our walk. I have kept my eyes open since, just in case, and haven’t taken that path any longer as well. It’s a real bummer because I so enjoy those pathways, but I guess at this point in my life I will simply take another, more populated route. At least I can.
See, now, literally as I write this RIGHT NOW, #gamergate is happening, yet another violent anti-woman movement in a new arena, the internet. Rape, whether it be in the modern definition of the word, or even in an archaic definition, has been around since, probably, the dawn of humanity, or at least a generation or two in. I don’t know, of course, but I do wonder if Gunther Grass’ novel “The Flounder” (“Der Butt”) has a few details right about female dominance in earlier times. Of course the novel does not take feminism very seriously and the idea that matriarchy was superseded by patriarchy isn’t originally Grass’ himself. He also goes on to create a section in the novel in which women gang rape men, indicating that violence and oppression are not gender specific.
Interestingly, I’m not so sure. I think it’s worth giving us ladies a chance at world domination just to see if in fact things might become more peaceful and egalitarian? Perhaps? Just as an experiment.
I am not being glib, but I suppose I am just a bit.
Anyway, I started digging around and did a little research into the history of cat calling and street harassment, just to see if there were recorded examples of such behavior. Surely it must appear in Shakespeare now and then? Everything seems to appear in ONE of Shakespeare’s plays…
I discovered a fascinating section of American history, beginning in the 1880s when women began taking to the streets and the marketplace on their own much more often. http://www.scribd.com/doc/96759302/Smashing-the-Masher-the-early-women-s-movement-against-street-harassment-in-America … Industry was replacing agriculture and women were out running errands and shopping more- and working in those shops! One fascinating turn of events from this wave of crime and harassment against women was the hiring of 300 female police officers to help fend off the “mashers.”
While in the 1880s- through 1919 (when woman achieved the right to vote) the public outcry was largely a moral one, still it is notable that the harassment occurred while more and more women were entering spheres that were more traditionally male. Again, in the 1960s and 70s, street harassment seemed to rise at another time in American history when women were entering into male spheres.
Look. The thing is, I wonder WHY street harassment happens? I mean, really. Not just harassment but rape as well. I think about recent incidents in India, in Egypt, all around the world. Why? What is to be gained by this? Aren’t our lives improved by women? Yes, in fact, they are! Women doctors save lives, and mothers give life, and women code and design and study and move just like men. This all seems so strange to me that in a world where we are curing diseases and creating friendships all around the world, still this behavior not only exists but thrives.
One of my dear friends, a woman, says that the onus will have to be placed on the young women. She says things often like, “We just have to teach our young women how to fight back and make a stand, because that will be the only thing that deters the men.” She is specifically advocating physical response- i.e. violence. I pointed out that perhaps part of the problem is not that women and girls aren’t defending themselves- why should I be responsible for someone else’s bad manners, let alone aggressive behavior? Is it my fault if I get robbed? Is it my fault if I get hit by a car?
Plus, possible punishment is not as great a deterrent as a cultural paradigm shift.
I have any other friends who say that this is all part of our soul contracts and that while it may not be my “fault,” I somehow manifested this. Perhaps I was harassed so I could write about it and open up other people’s hearts to create more safety and healing as opposed to anger and retaliation. Or maybe it’s just… the culture in which I live.
I imagine that street harassment occurs largely because, yes, our culture DOES allow it. But then again, why do I know so many boys and men who DON’T street harass?
So while my friend who thinks we need to train the girls to “fight back” may have one part of the solution sort of kind of, I think that encouraging more anger and aggression may not be the deeper solution to the problem.
See, I keep coming back to this idea I have about love. Love conquers all. Love. Love of the deepest sort. I have tried it again and again. I blessed those muggers and while they did take my $100, they were scared to death as I blessed them and I imagine their long term fate, should they continue down that path, is a dark and frightening one. Maybe me choosing love had nothing to do with the outcome of their crime, maybe they were never going to do anything worse than take my money in the first place. But it has everything to do with my sense of well-being and purpose and clarity in life. I do not fear that ATM and keep going back to it to prove I am aware and safe and protected… Just not after dark….
Why not face street harassment with love- but what does that even mean? Perhaps it was a mother’s love that came through me, one that is strong and full of boundaries, one that does not enable bad behavior. In my thinking, a righteous mother does not reward her child for stealing candy from the store. She punishes or rebukes in accordance with that child’s age and awareness. She does not let the child have its own way simply because that child insists. She holds space for something more loving, which may be discipline, or may be a new learning of proper boundaries.
But then again, that young man was not a child. And who am I to think that those who commit random acts of control and aggression, let alone violence and oppression, are children deserving of a gentle rebuke? These are adults we are talking about, for the most part.
I am really fascinated by this topic, not just street harassment, but #gamergate and the online harassment and threatening of women who speak out against this “bad behavior.” But it is MORE than bad behavior in the form of words and online memes. Remember Eliot Rodger, the boy who killed people in Santa Barbara in May 2014 while on a mission to kill sorority girls as revenge for his perceived rejection by other women? He spent a lot of time in chat rooms dedicated to Seducing Women. This was a young man who, mentally unstable, yes, took his online vitriol and relative youth into a world of violence and destruction.
The thing is, I’ve spent a bit of time lurking in some of those seduction chat rooms. I used to be, er, let’s say, an acquaintance of one of the GURUS of seduction. This is a serious blog post and that man’s attempt to seduce me was downright pathetic. I will someday write THAT blog but don’t want to take away from the seriousness of this one- still- I would love for young men who are legitimately using those tactics (because I hope that most of them just need tricks to learn how to talk to the women) to see that in fact, the mindset of many of those websites and paradigms is actually really, embarrassingly, pathetically setting them up for more failure. So next blog, or in the future, I’ll share that story
How many random comments and letters and notes I’ve received in my time!? MANY! And I’m not even famous. I’ve had people write notes and comments with insults on my comedy, my voice, my appearance. I don’t now what those folks are after, because I tend not to believe a word of what they say because none of them are named Steve Martin nor Barbra Streisand nor Heidi Klum. I tend to write back with diffusive comments either about God or Divine Mother or blessing them, or I ignore all together. Of course I’m not talking about thoughtful criticism or constructive notes. I’m talking about the trolling I’ve received as a human on this world wide web.
The reason I am connecting all these dots is because there is some deep hatred going on, and I don’t think it’s justified and I think it is all stemming from fear. I get angry and upset, too. But I want for us to heal. I want for people to strive to make the world safer and more loving.
So, I decided that I wanted to invite men along side women to join this conversation. For my radio show Monday, I have invited a very grounded, spiritual, growth oriented, manly guy friend of mine to enter a discussion with me. We will likely not solve any problems, but my hope is that between the two of us, we can have a conversation of yin and yang, exploring different spiritual possibilities about why this anger and violence against women, even online, is coming to prominence now. Adam Schomer, filmmaker, author, actor, director, producer, and yogi will be my esteemed guest, on 12radio.com, Monday December 1st, at 9 am PST.