A perfect opportunity to follow up on my last post showed up in the comment stream today, so I thought I’d share it with you all and respond to it publicly.
What you’ve got there is a fearsome internet warrior, one Bradeep Ncube, challenging me about whether or not I was telling the truth about talking back to cat-callers (click on the image to see the comment in its unchanged condition on my original post). What Mr. Ncube doesn’t know is that he owes me a crisp fifty dollar bill now, because not only would I do any and all of what I wrote about last week, but I have done that and will do it again, whenever I have the safety to do so, and am doing it now by talking back to him.
But let’s recap, okay? What I wrote about last week was an instance of street harassment and my response to it. I had been called out at on the street, just down the road from my house, while biking home one recent evening. A young-looking fellow had yelled something to me like “hey baby, why not roll on up here blahblahbullshitblah” and I responded with a very similar diatribe to the one I posted on Friday. The abridged version, for those of you who don’t want to (re)visit my vitriol, is as follows: you don’t have the right to speak to me that way and if you do, I’m going to get in your face and call you on it. No one has the right to put my body on display and attempt to belittle me for my female subjectivity, so the kind of pathetic adolescents who enjoy cat-calling should be prepared to get a loud, humiliating, public earful if they make the grave mistake of calling out this bitch. End quote.
So anyhow, as you can well guess, Mr. Ncube thinks that I’m full of a lot of hot air, but unfortunately for him, I’m mostly full of piss and vinegar and I take his kind of bullshit just as seriously as I take the things that get yelled at me on the street.
Mr. Ncube, you may be unaware, but your behavior here is the part and parcel of the privileged, patriarchal, misogynistic behavior of every man who hollers at women on the street; you are challenging my personhood and my humanity by calling into question my voice. You are attempting to reduce the power of my response by co-opting it, by passing judgement upon it, by re-framing it as, what? A whole lot of feminist bluster without any force behind it? I can’t speak for you, but there’s my assumption. In essence, I assume, based on your comment, that you think I am actually the weak female stereotype who talks a big game but is easily cowed by the presence of male privilege.
Mr. Ncube, you are so very wrong. You see, my mother and all my Feminist Godmothers raised me to believe that I have a voice and that I can use that voice and that it is my primal responsibility to use that voice to protect myself. So if you think I won’t call out the men who cat-called me, then you must think I won’t call out you, either. But I will and I am and I will continue to speak back at those who speak against me and I will not let you silence me. Surprise!
Here’s the part where you speak a grain of truth, Mr. Ncube: I do not always talk back. Because the sad goddamn truth is that I don’t have the privileged subject position to always speak back; sometimes it’s late at night, or it’s dark, or I’m vastly outnumbered, or I’m alone, or I feel unsafe, or I’m in any number of other circumstances that mean it is safer for me to remain silent and accept verbal abuse than to open my mouth and risk physical abuse. Did you know, Mr. Ncube, that someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the US? That nearly one fifth of women report being sexually assaulted and that since 54% of sexual assaults are never reported to the police, chances are that 1/5 is a low estimate? I’m attempting to beat the statistical likelihood of being assaulted, because I live within the dangerous bodily experience of being a woman, so yes, sometimes I choose safety over speaking out. Sometime, the kind of privilege you’re attempting to wield here does succeed in silencing me. But you know what else? You scare me precisely not one bit, so this? This is one of those times when I will speak out.
Look, I doubt Bradeep Ncube is reading this. He likely sidled by my digital soapbox, left his mark like a dog pissing in the street, and moved along, because he likely doesn’t have the courage or moral fortitude to actually face me. I mean, how brave is it to leave a virtually anonymous comment on some random blog you don’t (to the best of my knowledge) follow? At the same time, how goddamn brave is it for me to use this digital platform to broadcast my voice? Not that much braver, in actuality, which is why I practice what I preach and type and teach, and did in fact speak back to the boys who cat-called me and am speaking back to Bradeep Ncube, whether or not he’ll hear me. I tell the truth here, friends, and that’s what’s brave. So Ncube isn’t likely reading this and thus I’m unlikely to change his mind or actually have the chance to engage in real discourse with him. Oh well. No big loss.
Therefore, what I mean to do in this post isn’t (just) to give the lie to his assumption of me, but is part of the same talking-back project I outlined in my last post. When people speak against me, I speak back, whether those people are cowards on a street corner or cowards lurking in the corners of the web. There have been many things written by smarter and better informed people than me about the incidences of digital harassment of female bloggers. I recommend reading those things, because they are profound and insightful and offer useful and nuanced approaches to dealing with this new realm of harassment. This, however, is my approach: talking back.
In sum: Bradeep Ncube, you owe me $50 and an apology. I doubt I’ll get either, but that won’t — now or ever — stop me from saying it.