❤ I can't always make up my mind, but I am boldly undecided. ❤

16 July 2013


Cause of ambivalence:
A sheer pink t-shirt (and the consequences of wearing it).

Note contents:
"Dear distressed pink t-shirt,
I love how comfortable you are but I hate that when I had to go report a case of online sexual harassment to the police, my first instinct was to replace you with a top that was a little less sheer. AY❤"

Place left:
At home, with my unworn t-shirt.

A few mornings ago, I logged into my work email to find that I had seven new emails from a former employee I hadn’t spoken to in months. He had always seemed a little odd to me, but in a completely harmless way. Our contact had been brief in the few short months we worked together, so I never thought much about him after he left. Needless to say, I was not prepared to see so many emails from him waiting for me in my inbox that morning and I was even less prepared for what they contained. The unexpected correspondence started off with an email that contained an up-close and personal selfie of his manhood. In the next six emails he expanded on his original offering by writing about the voices in his head that told him that he and I should engage in sexual relations. My first reaction was to be grossed out but not completely shocked. Any avid internet user, who has spent time in chat rooms or scrolling down a tumblr dashboard has had to suffer through at least one or two unsolicited phallus images along the way. Yet, when I shared these emails with my partner and saw the look of terror on his face, I decided that maybe I needed to take this situation a little more seriously. It occurred to me that this wasn’t some unknown internet cyber-pervert, this was someone who knew my name, my phone number and where I worked, which meant that his online advances could easily escalate into an in-person solicitation. Furthermore, this person’s actions were being motivated by the irrational voices in his head, and if they could convince him that exposing himself to me online was a good idea, it was terrifying to speculate what else they could convince him to do. Suddenly every episode of Law & Order SVU, I had ever watched started playing in my head and before I knew it I was angry and afraid. I finally decided it was best to report this incident to the police, but before I did, I needed to change my shirt. My partner and I were supposed to leave for a ten hour-long summer road trip that morning, and I was wearing a pair of short jean cutoffs and a distressed fitted pink t-shirt in anticipation of the long, hot car ride ahead. Once we decided to delay our plans to go talk to the police, my first instinct was to change from my sheer deep V t-shirt into something a little more opaque and modest. I realized as I was changing how sad my instincts were, as though anything I wore would/should make me seem any less credible or any more deserving of what had happened to me. Yet, after hearing about so many incidents of slut shaming and victim blaming in the media, I was afraid of how I was going to be received at the police station. According to a recent Canadian poll of people aged 18 to 34, one in five stated that women who get drunk or dress provocatively encourage sexual assault: “The belief that women are responsible for sexual assault because of their actions or appearance is still common in our society,” said Anu Dugal, Director of Violence Prevention at the Canadian Women’s Foundation, in a release, “and can cause women who have suffered abuse to stay silent and often feel responsible for what happened to them.”

Even though my own experience was not a physical assault, and I had email proof that the advances I was receiving were completely one sided and fuelled by mental illness, I was still afraid of being belittled or shamed. My experience at the station however, was nothing like I had feared. I definitely felt awkward when I was escorted into a small room with charcoal walls and asked to make a formal statement. There was a stack of pamphlets near the door for a local woman’s clinic, each one with the words PRO-CHOICE handwritten on the front with a black marker. I wondered how many other women had been in this room, women who had been through something a lot more terrifying than I had. Suddenly my discomfort felt unimportant, and I proceeded to tell the officer about the emails, in full detail, without even bothering to replace the word penis with any cutesy alternative. While the officer was no Olivia Benson, he was kind and reassuring, and never once made me feel as though I was overreacting or asking for it. Within hours, the police managed to track down the man who had emailed me and warn him that if he ever approached me or tried to contact me again he would be criminally charged, (apparently emailing someone a picture of your penis is not illegal unless you are formally asked not to do so beforehand).

When questioned, the man told the police that he thought that the sexual feelings he expressed in his emails were mutual, and that his enthusiasm was a result of his extreme loneliness. This made me sad. It made me sad that he was struggling with mental illness and will probably end up with a criminal conviction before he gets any actual medical help. According to Statistics Canada only a third of people in need of services for mental illness actually receive them, so what happens to the other two thirds?Yet, it also made me sad that I had to be afraid before I could be compassionate. The terrifying statistics for sexual aggression in North America, where one in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, make it hard to be anything else but afraid. And although I felt unaffected by the incident at first, I still, days later, catch myself lying in bed late at night, trying to remember if I’d ever told my emailer where I lived and jumping at every unidentified sound. There is such a fine line between productive fear and paralyzing hysteria. There is also a fine line between being brave and being carelessly stupid. I am sad that I changed my shirt, that I let my fear and my assumptions stand in the way of my principles. I am sad that I don’t even know how relevant or accurate all of these terrifying statistics I’ve been quoting here actually are. Is the world actually that dangerous for women or is research data being manipulated to scare women into dressing more modestly? I am sad that I still can’t decide if I’m overreacting or not, if I should just get over it, forget about it and move on. But maybe overreacting is ok. To quote Audre Lorde, “Your silence will not protect you”, so if no one overreacts, nothing is going to change and we will have to keep buttoning up our blouses out of fear. While showing emotions like fear or sadness is thought of as a sign of weakness in our society, I think that it takes a lot more courage to share these feeling than to hide them. So I am sharing because I want to be braver, I want to stop being afraid at night, I want to be daring enough to wear a sheer t-shirt without feeling like I'm asking for it.  What doesn’t kill you just makes you a stronger feminist.


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