Sexual predation in the various offshoots of the home I call “poetry” or “writing” are hitting mainstream media outlets, now. Some of the chatter I’ve witnessed around those communities makes me want to say this: I think that victim blaming and the blinders around sexual assault are frankly tied to a totally insufficient understanding of what constitutes “violence” or “coercion,” as well as “resistance.”
Comedian Louis CK once pointed this out in a stand-up bit, in which he describes how after a date, a guy goes in for a kiss, while the woman–who is NOT interested–gently turns it into a hug and thanks him for the date. The guy walks away thinking this means she’s still into him. Most “women” in this situation would see how she’s clearly not interested in dating the man. The woman used this “soft” no as a way of avoiding *overt conflict* between them. Louis CK pointed out how this was magical. How did she learn to do this? Well, it’s because the man *could potentially kill her.* She’s so brave to date, because men can physically overpower her at any time. Louis CK of course overstates this to make it hilarious, but the not so subtle subtext is totally terrifying, because it is totally true. Most women who are murdered and attacked are murdered and attacked by men they know.
A lot of times we read these women’s behaviors as avoidant and unassertive, without recognizing them as *survival strategies* in a potentially violent, definitely coercive environment. We fail to recognize or value this as a frequently used strategy by those who don’t wield power–a way of navigating the social terrain with as little scathing as possible. Not everyone has the vigor and guts to scream their head off or fight off an attacker. The poetry world I live in is mostly kind, and I have frequently stayed with people I do not know well–all because I have a connection to them through our love of writing. This habit can be dangerous, I have learned. I once had a man WALK INTO MY BEDROOM AND LAY DOWN IN MY BED after I told him not to. I was a *guest* in his home, and we were very alone. Please imagine my terror. He touched me and made his intentions very clear, and THANKFULLY, my persistent but assertively NICE NO got him to leave. I could be telling an INCREDIBLY different story if my “nice-ness” hadn’t worked or if he simply decided to only value me as a sexual object in that instant. It was close.
For a lot of folks who’ve been on the “nice” or “avoidant” or “passive” side of a social situation, I think you would agree with me that you take this tactic because you don’t want to create a “big issue” or “stink” about something. That language of “not wanting to make a stink” or “big issue” is a way YOU ARE MASKING YOUR OWN TERROR TO YOURSELF. BECAUSE TO ACKNOWLEDGE IT IS TO BE OVERWHELMED BY IT.
So please, do not victim-blame niceness. It’s a strategy that didn’t work. It’s often the only one the person could access.