When Good Women Do Nothing

Posted by on March 11, 2013 in example, Family, feminism | 29 comments

boots_grayFriday Night
It’s an unfamiliar scene, I’m at a country dancing bar, surrounded by cowboy hats and boots, listening to twangy music that’s foreign to me.  If it sounds like I’m not enjoying myself, I am. Partner dancing-  country, swing, and ballroom- was one of my favorite pastimes in high school and college. Although that was awhile ago, I still love it and country dancing is a popular type of partner dancing in Arizona.  Unfortunately, my husband is not interested in joining me, so I go with my cousin when she visits, which he doesn’t seem to mind. This means it the second time in my adult life I’ve been to a country bar. What I find are couples  dancing the two step and country swing, spinning and twirling around the dance floor.
This time, as I watch the dance floor to see which guys know how to lead, and waiting for one of them to ask me to dance, I get bored and ask a guy next to me if he knows how to dance. Unfortunately, it’s so loud he doesn’t hear my question and thinks I’ve just asked him to dance. Which wouldn’t be a problem if he could dance, and was sober. But, I’ve just lost the Texas Roulette and this guy is not a winner. He’s holding my hand and back SUPER tightly and swaying around like a drunk person. Oh, that’s because he’s drunk. He tries to dip me, this fails, he briefly grabs my behind and then I’m really uncomfortable and irritated, wishing the song would end so I can escape his death grip. While I’m not a regular to these events, I’ve never danced with a guy like this.  When the song finally ends, I walk to meet my cousin and tell her about the creep who just pretended that swaying and groping were actual dancing.*

That’s when it hits me, his behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable, but I didn’t stop him. I didn’t push him and walk away. I was the one who stayed. I felt trapped, I didn’t like the situation I was in, but I didn’t change it. I didn’t teach that guy he couldn’t treat me or any woman that way.  Suddenly, I was irritated with myself and the drunk punk who pulled me around the dance floor.

Saturday Morning
The next day, I was at a family party for my uncle.  He and his son had fashioned a zip line with small wooden seat.  One of the teenage girls takes a ride and the seat breaks.  Her mother mentions this to the rest of us, telling us that she’ll be really embarrassed and upset and we should not bring it up.  So, when she comes in, the first thing my uncle does is make rude joke about her breaking the wooden seat.  She is humiliated, obviously embarrassed about her body and that the rest of us know what has happened.  The implication of the joke was that she was fat (ironic, because my uncle is 80+ lbs overweight).  It was very upsetting for her, but the man just laughed, thinking his tactless joke was a gift to the party.  Silently breathing fire, I held my tongue.  It was this man’s birthday we were celebrating, I didn’t want to ruin it by calling him out in front of everyone.

But I should have. I should have called him on behavior that hurt and demeaned women.

Both these scenes happened within 24 hours of each other and I was startled to see how misogyny is alive and well all around me. Because I spend so much time thinking, talking, and writing about feminism, I can’t believe I let both of these men off the hook for their actions. Mostly I’m upset that I didn’t see in the moment the broader issues of misogyny. In both situations, I felt trapped, and chose to stay silent instead of speak up against the systemic problem of misogyny and male dominance. Knowing that my silence contributes to this problem is still very painful for me, almost as painful as the actions of these men. The more I analyze my response, the more I see that I felt isolated, powerless, and myopic. I wasn’t looking at the bigger picture, or evaluating my choices to see which was the best. Instead, I just held my breath and wished it would be over, not wanting to make waves or break social convention.

Clearly, by standing up for myself and other women, I wouldn’t necessarily change their long-term behavior, but I would be one more woman who doesn’t accept bad behavior from men. And if all of us do that, then we may start to see change.
By comparing these situations, I don’t mean to imply that they are exactly the same. The dance partner situation has a very simple resolution, I should have walked away the second I realized the guy was not interested in really dancing. On the other hand, I’m still uncertain how best to have handled my uncle’s misogyny. It’s common for him to make jokes about women or feel like he can comment on women’s bodies. He’s been told by many women, including his former wife, that this is inappropriate, but he continues to do so. If I had confronted him during the scene at the party, it probably would have helped the girl to feel better, but it may added to the current family drama.

Have you been in a situation where men have behaved badly and failed to stand up for yourself or other women?

Why do women do this? Especially women who care deeply about feminism?

*Fortunately, I found some great dancing partners shortly thereafter and had a really great evening, dancing, twirling, and even flipping on the floor.  There are lots of men who like to dance and are very respectful to their partners.

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29 Comments

  1. I studied in Italy during my junior year of college, and at the end of the year before returning home, I wanted to visit Pompeii and Naples. As a single women in that part of the country, I knew I had to be extra smart and aware during my travels. (I was traveling alone, which may not have been the best choice, but I felt confident in my travel-smarts and I spoke Italian fluently.) The first evening there I met a well-dressed young man who said he was studying Law, and by all accounts, he seemed to be an upstanding guy. Long story short, after spending the evening together, he started to direct me to follow him down a particularly private street/alleyway. At that point, and probably the only time in my life that I’ve felt the Holy Ghost warn me (at least, I interpret it that way), I had the undeniable impression to get the hell out of there.

    I immediately turned to him and told him I had to go, at which point he changed his tune/nature and started to get very angry with me and up in my face trying to convince me to come with him. I was very scared, but instead of booking it out of there, I stayed for another 20 minutes trying to resolve things and explain why I didn’t want to go with him. DUMB.

    And you know what one of my main motivations was for not leaving immediately? I didn’t want him to think Mormons can be rude!! We had talked about religion prior in the evening, and I was the first Mormon he had ever met. My good girl, missionary self was in full-force during those moments of feeling threatened. I felt it was my obligation to leave the situation “on a good note” so that he wouldn’t think badly of Mormons.

    I finally got the clue and just booked it out of there, but I was scared he was following me the whole way back to my hostel. Luckily he didn’t. I was so naive.

    My conversations w/ my three daughters will be very different than those my mom had with me (or more accurately: didn’t have with me). Unfortunately, the butt pinching and bra slapping starts way too young….we need to arm our daughters with the ability to raise hell if needed and not worry about the “nice girl” image.

    • Corrina,
      That’s a very scary story. I’m glad you got out uninjured. Yes, the idea that we need to be nice is so ingrained, even those of us who know better sometimes don’t stand up for ourselves.

      It’s awesome that you toured Italy in college, I’m jealous ;)

  2. I don’t see how your second example is obvious misogyny. Do you know that if a boy had sat on the zip line and broken the seat that your uncle would not have said anything?

    • KLC, this is a good point. While I can’t be absolutely sure he wouldn’t have made a joke if a boy had done it, I am fairly certain.
      There’s a long history of issues like this with him and it’s always involving women and young women. He knows that they are sensitive about body issues and likes to poke fun at them. (He once saw a HS friend of mine eating a brownie and said, “Why don’t you just rub that on your thighs?’) He doesn’t do it to be mean, but he thinks it’s funny. I don’t have many boy members of my family, but the ones I have have no body image issues, so this wouldn’t be a subject that he would tease them about.

      • That makes his personality more clear, it sounds like you’re reading him correctly.

  3. This is my single biggest problem when it comes to feminism. If I am able to say something, it’s usually with humor to diffuse tension (which often makes the offense seem less serious because of my way of approaching it).

    In fact, a man could take it as a compliment when I tell him about a behavior that concerns me because I’m more likely to risk that with a relationship I truly care about or with a man who I think “gets” feminism.

    It’s tricky, but even just hearing the successes and failures in situations like these help me to be more mindful when I come across misogyny in this form.

    • EmilyCC, I like your idea of humor to diffuse tension. Mark does that a lot.
      I think you both could teach lessons :)
      It doesn’t come naturally to us. My instinct was to call my uncle an ass in front of everyone. I probably should have made a joke about how he would have broken the zip line seat instead.

      You’re right, this comes back to the idea KMilecam has brought up before, “Eat garbage or ruin the afternoon.”

  4. Lovely article!

    I’m so happy that you are starting to recognize the dialogue/behavior that is going on around you and possibly making a healthy change for yourself and other women/humans.

    I too enjoy dancing and it is hard when put into a situation where you are made to feel uncomfortable.

    As far as your Uncle is concerned he was wrong. In this situation he was warned not to say anything. He chose to say something anyway. Possibly because he likes the power, maybe the attention, maybe both. Whether it was a niece or a nephew doesn’t matter. He stated something that was hurtful and possibly harmful. The only way to provoke a change in his behavior is to call him on his damaging ways and to set super strict bondaries. Be firm, be specific, be calm.

    Thanks for this article!

    • Thanks for stopping by :)
      Yes, my uncle was wrong. I see it now, and I’ve seen it for years. It’s so hard because he doesn’t see it. He sees himself as a righteous priesthood holder who presides in love and honor. It’s really difficult for me to watch and I sometimes think about distancing myself further from this relationship.
      But, then I think that maybe one of the benefits of this relationship is my influence of tolerance and equality.
      It’s such a difficult balance.

  5. Well, if any of you have read any of my comments here before (I think I’ve only left one or two — I’m new!) or anything I’ve ever said on ZD, fMh, BCC, you’d see I talk a LOT about my mission and the horrible things I saw there that were, truly, insulting to women. But, I’m going to mention something else today.

    I really needed this post. After some of the things I’ve experienced in the last couple of years, I made myself a promise recently that I would have a voice and *be* a voice for others that are being mistreated. I’ve found I’m doing pretty good at that, but still hurt when people “just don’t get it.”

    I’m a member of a group on facebook for my singles ward. Yesterday a man (whom I don’t know) posted a link to a youtube video about Mormons living their faith while being gay. The first comment from the group was, “If this video was supposed to make me jump on the Gay Pride Parade, it didn’t work.” Wow, just wow.

    I looked at that and thought I could be like the 100 other people that had “viewed” it and walked away or I could say something. So, I commented that sometimes it is more tasteful to ignore something on your feed that to provide potentially painful feedback.

    The hours passed and several comments followed. Most were supportive following the Christ-like teachings of loving all our brothers and sisters, but there were some that were hateful and went off on lack of scientific proof of being gay and other such ridiculous things. Things got heated in the thread. I stepped in again and said that we should all remember the church doesn’t have a policy on political parties (it had become an “evil liberal” thing in the thread) and that we should remember Christ’s teachings on love. I never once stated an opinion; I just encouraged love and tolerance. That’s it.

    This morning I checked my facebook and I was removed from the group.
    Me. Not the ones spouting hateful things. Not the ones making it a conservative v. liberal thing. Me. The one that said let’s love each other.

    I know it’s stupid, but it really bothers me. I know there’s a price to pay when you speak up for yourself and others. But, I have this weird notion that if I speak up, people will appreciate it. What a blow when that’s not the case (plus, it doesn’t help when you’re struggling with how you feel about the church and THIS happens). Maybe that’s a reason why it IS hard to speak up. Perhaps it’s even subconscious.

    • I don’t think your reaction is stupid at all. I would be bothered as well — especially if this was the “official” Facebook page of the ward and the person with administrative rights and actual “authority” over the page was also someone with spiritual authority like the bishop. If it was just some random person called to keep track of the page, I might appeal to the Relief Society President or bishop to get you back on. You shouldn’t be excluded from a ward forum at the whim of some random moderator.

    • How disappointing. I’m sorry that your comment was greeted with rejection. It really is such a difficult road to walk when we advocate tolerance and love and are met with neither. Stick around here, though, we do our best to find both.

  6. My problem is sometimes I feel really, really tired. This is particularly true at church when I hear things that are exclusionary or sexist. I just get tired of being the one who always says something, I get tired of fighting the good fight. I get tired of trying to explain only to feel like most people don’t really have the vocabulary to understand sexism or feminism.

    • EM,
      I think you’re exactly right here, “most people don’t really have the vocabulary to understand sexism or feminism.”
      It’s also part of the mindset, or lack of awareness to these issues of equality and men’s treatment of women.

    • Yes. This exactly. It is so tiring to feel like the only one in a room willing to speak up or, worse, the only one that seems to care.

  7. Thanks for posting this. I’m still new to calling myself a feminist (although in retrospect I’ve always been one!) and I’m still looking for my own feminist voice. Reading your experiences helps me think about my own “what-ifs”. I appreciate your willingness to share your own struggles with this so we can all learn!

    • Thank you, LMZBOOKVLR, welcome to the world of Mormon feminism. It’s a tough road, but we think it’s worth it. Please feel free to share your stories as well.

  8. I find the two scenarios different in nature … And the first one raises a question I’ve always struggled with is where is the line when between accountability and victim-blaming? A man who grabs your behind without permission is crossing a line whether or not you’ve walked away when you realize he’s creepy. I don’t think you had a responsibility to tell him “don’t grope me”…that should just be understood from the outset. So I’m glad you’re not letting him off the hook. But I can still understand your frustration with yourself that you didn’t walk away or stayed silent.

    As to your question about why we don’t stick up for ourselves and others more often — I think in situations like the first one or the one Corrinna mentioned, it’s out of fear or uncertainty o. It’s hard to know how to walk away from a creepy dance partner or a threatening date when you’ve never been in that situation before and are uncomfortable and/or afraid.

    In the second situation I think it’s just what you stated a desire not to rock the boat or break social convention. I don’t know how much of this is a common human response and how much is a conditioned “nice girl” response.

    • Brooke,
      Yes, accountability and victim-blaming can be very tricky. I thought about that after I wrote it, it’s not my fault that they guy groped me, but I still felt responsible for not handling it better. It makes my heart ache for women who are hurt much worse and more often by men, especially men they love. That must be so difficult.

      And yes, the fear of uncertainty is what motivates us to not rock the boat. When we get into “fight or flight” mode, our brain down-shifts and we aren’t thinking as clearly and rationally as we would otherwise be thinking. It’s part of how we preserve our species, to just get through the tough situations as best as possible, avoiding conflict if we can.

      Perhaps women are more likely to do this, as the physically weaker of the two sexes?

  9. ‘But I should have. I should have called him on behavior that hurt and demeaned women.”

    this kind of behavior doesn’t just hurt women it hurts men as well. My downstairs neighbor is physically disabled. In an effort to maintain his independence he will often call our city handicap transportation division. One day the van was parked outside and five cars were waiting behind the van, now, every single one of these people saw my neighbor struggling to get out of the van and walk to the steps, one idiot kept honking and actually got out of his car to come and say something not only to my neighbor, but, the driver. I herd the man yelling at the driver that he didn’t have the right to hold up traffic. I came downstairs and told the idiot ” get his A#$ back in the car and wait,” Suddenly, no more honking horns.

    Now, when I was younger and used to get teased I never stood up for myself, however, now as an adult, I’ve realized that no one will stand up for me, especially church people because the expectation is (especially when bullying occurs at church) that you should just automatically forgive them. Now, I have no hesitation, if someone says something once, I’ll let the issue slide, say it twice, I have no qualms about opening my mouth not only for myself, but for others who may not be capable, or for those who might feel isolated.

    • Diane,
      This is a great story. Thank you for illustrating how sometimes it is easier to advocate for someone else than for ourselves.

  10. Interesting article and comments. I’ve thought a great deal about this over the years and have come to the conclusion that – at least in me and my siblings cases – when we don’t speak up when hurtful things are done and said to us, it’s not that we’re too timid, or don’t know what to say, or we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I think it has a lot to do with being brought up to be obedient, and not disrespecting our elders, etc. I was raise to be very obedient, and when I wasn’t I receive severe punishment, so it was very difficult for me to speak up. Now that I’m in my 60′s I find it a lot easier, except to speak up to my 92 year father, who is still verbally abusive.

    • EM,
      I’m sorry to hear this. But, as a woman whose abusive grandfather died a few weeks ago, I pray that your burden may be lifted as has ours.
      Wishing you the best.

  11. I actually have a story when I did stand up for myself and women …. I was walking down a busy street ….. it was summer … a man was stopped at a light in his truck …. and he started to whistle and call out to me. For some reason my blood boiled, so I marched into the street past other waiting cars and up to his open car window. I said something like, “You don’t know me and your cat call make me feel really uncomfortable and vulnerable. You should behave better.” I looked stunned and I walked back to the sidewalk. He actually flipped a U-Turn at the next light, drove back to where I was an apologized.

    But, there are other times when I remain silent.

    I set a goal to talk about Exponent, recent articles, and recent discussions with everyone I talk to …. family included. But last week when I had dinner with my aunt and uncle, I said nothing. It just seemed easier.

    Suzette

    • Thanks for the comment, Suzette. It was so nice to see you for dinner!

      Great example of a standing up for yourself to that man. How cool that he apologized. You must have made quite the impression. :)

  12. Many times when I have served in Church leadership positions, I have heard bishops ridicule, demean, and marginalize women. I have observed vulnerable women verbally attacked and abused by their bishops, and because I was taught to honor my priesthood leaders, I remained silent. I was a younger woman then and not a feminist. In addition, I feared what the bishop might do to me in retaliation if I spoke up an defended the sisters whom were being abused by their ecclesiastical leaders.

    I am older and wiser now. I speak up when I see anyone being abused, whether it is a man or woman that is abusive.

  13. Chris,
    Thank you for your comment. It’s important to learn these lessons and pass them to the next generation.

  14. I literally just came home from grocery shopping. No big deal right, wrong, a guy who was waiting behind me totally came up on me encroaching on my personal space. He put his things right up on the counter where my purchases should have been placed and was standing close enough that I could feel him breathing. When I asked him to step back he stated that he wasn’t bothering anybody. I took his purchases and placed them on the counter behind me and I politely, but firmly told him that he was invading my space. He got snarky back with me but I held my ground and went back to ringing up my own purchases.

    I actually come upon this behavior all the time when I’m walking Beau people seem to have no problem assuming that because they have a dog and I have dog its all right just to let their dog come be right up in Beau’s face(which he hates) and then when I tell them no they get upset like I’ve just insulted them. This kind of invasive behavior happens all the time, one day as I was walking Beau this happened no less than four times. By the fourth time I lost it and went off on the person.

    I tell these people that I meet that just because I’m a friendly person I doubt that they would appreciate me just walking up to them and sticking my nose in their faces, in fact if I did that I think they would haul off(and rightly so) and punch me in the face. and yet, they do it with out even thinking about it. GRR

    Sorry, I just had to vent

  15. I see such incredible awareness in your self-assessment when looking back on these situations. So often, the first and greatest stumbling block I run into is that I don’t even recognize misogyny when it rears its scary head in my life. What I usually do is instead blame myself for situations like this. I would have scolded myself for thinking I could dance with a man, it’s my fault he grabbed me inappropriately because I put myself out there, I’m married and shouldn’t have thought it was okay in the first place, etc. That train of thought is totally illogical and untrue, yet that is how my frightened mind so often reacts. In the situation with your uncle, I would have felt awful for the girl, while wondering if it was in fact her weight that was the cause, rather than focusing on the real issue of emotionally abusing a young, adolescent girl in front of friends and family.
    The sad thing is I think I am not alone in this. I believe a lot of women would have taken blatantly misogynistic situations like these and turned the blame on themselves. As women, we too often take the fault for situations that are solely the result of the arrogant, societal assumption that men are justified in what they do to women, that women are asking for it by simply being a woman.
    Thanks for that post, I need to be much more conscious and self-aware when it comes to understanding and addressing chauvinism and misogyny around me.

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