This is a guest post by Sheelzebub.
It’s like the sun rising in the east: Whenever the subject of harassment or stalking comes up, you invariably get a bunch of dudes barging in, insisting that the guy who followed you and screamed at you for not paying attention to him, the guy who groped you, the guy who tried to follow you home, the guy who kept looking you up and down when you were wearing a turtleneck at brunch with your friend, the guy who refused to accept the “no” and the “I’m not interested,” the guy who waited for you outside of your place, the guy who told you how the way you look gave him a boner, might have had Asperger’s or was somehow autistic. He just had problems understanding social cues/rules.
And to a certain extent, I have sympathy, because I have trouble with that. I have non-verbal learning disorder and ADHD. It went undiagnosed until adulthood (and I’m not really “out” to anyone in meatspace yet, and I’m not sure if I ever will be). The ADHD diagnosis wasn’t a surprise, but I didn’t even know that NLD was a thing. But it definitely fit—one of the characteristics of the disorder is trouble reading social/non-verbal cues, which meant that my childhood and preteen years were hell on earth. It wasn’t so pronounced that they caught it when I was younger, and I didn’t need an advocate in school (well, actually, that might have helped things when I was a kid). I could coast by academically because I’m good with words. But I wish I was diagnosed when I was a kid, even if it’s not as severe as other cases. My life would have been a lot easier. (To be fair, it wasn’t really well-known back then.)
My teen years were okayish thanks to workarounds I developed, but when it came to dealing with the opposite sex, it was fraught. I didn’t know social cues. I didn’t know if a guy was a friend or foe, if he was on the up-and-up or not. Guys would hit on me and I’d have no clue, or (depending on how they did it) it would freak me right out. And when I finally started to figure this out/develop workarounds, I got a whole boatload of shaming for setting up boundaries, or not setting up good enough boundaries.
How could you be so mean, he’s just awkward?
He’s really a nice guy underneath it all.
He’s not so bad once you get to know him.
You know, Sheelz, if you didn’t dress/act in a certain way, he wouldn’t have done that.
You led him on.
It means he likes you, you should be flattered!
He’s just hitting on you, so what if it’s a little clumsy, stop acting like you’re too good for everyone.
Well you’re pretty, what do you expect?
You’re not that pretty, you should be happy anyone’s paying attention to you.
He’s only a teenager (so was I).
You should have been more assertive.
You should have been nicer.
And now: He might be on the spectrum! (Really? Every single one? Really. Let me tell you something: None of the guys who harassed or assaulted me were non-NT. None.)
Unlike the dudes, I was not cut any slack. It’s unforgivable for a girl or woman to not be socially adept. That’s our role—not to mention the fact that a lot of people believe the BS about women’s intuition, so the fact that we’re not already mind-readers is already a big strike against all women, anyway. So it was somehow a gross character flaw for me to not be good with these things. And while like awkward guys, I too had a hard time socially and with people I was attracted to, I also had to deal with guys who thought it would be fun to harass me. Or guys who thought it would be cool to grope me. Or guys who refused to hear the no. Or guys who decided that I owed them my time, or my space, or my body, and me having the nerve to say that I didn’t was somehow a violation of the First Amendment (here’s a ticket to the clue train; it isn’t).
There’s a lovely myth out there that these things are taken seriously. I’m pretty sure the sky is pink in that world. Oh, I mention an instance of harassment or assault and you get “Well of course that was harassment/assault! Who would tell you differently?” Well, um, actually, a lot of people. Have you met the cops these days? Have you met your average bro? Have you met people who are friends with the harasser? Have you read the freaking comments section of any blog post of a woman who talks about this? Have you actually walked in our shoes? Then shut up. We still have 12-year-old girls being called sluts and blamed for their gang-rapes. Kindly stop being so obtuse. This is hardly a world where the needs and safety of girls and women are taken seriously. Misogyny is an actual thing. Your personal feelings about how of course harassment is wrong don’t actually come into play when we’re talking about how this entire culture treats and regards women and girls who are harassed and/or assaulted. And that goes double for girls and women of color, who are disabled or non-NT or mentally ill, who are poor, who are trans*, who are lesbian or bisexual, or who are somehow out of what we’ve decided the norm is here.
For all of the fear-mongering about schools that overreact to boys who act inappropriately, about women who are mean to men who are just trying to be friendly, for poor schlubs who are misunderstood as dangerous, the reality tells a different story. Many schools have made very careful efforts to not see harassment or assault of girls or women, and in some cases have tried to cover it up. It’s easy to tell us to just call the cops, but try getting them to take you seriously. That doesn’t always happen. Oh yes, you can bark at someone to leave you alone, but hello! For many of us that ended up escalating into a downright dangerous situation (and then we were lectured about how we should have been nicer). It’s not like the majority of us surrounded by a supportive community (some don’t even find support in their families), especially if the guy in question is a mutual friend, a relative, or someone who’s known in the community. And for all of the hand-wringing about so-called “creep-shaming,” I don’t see these same dudes decry the slut shaming that goes hand-in-hand with the rationalizations people engage in when a girl or woman is harassed or assaulted. It might be a given to these folks that of course such shaming is bad, but it doesn’t negate the fact that slut-shaming is a huge thing we have to deal with, that these things are not equal, that this is a society that is actually quite misogynist. (Hence, their erasing of women with disabilities who are harassed and assaulted.)
I am so tired of trying to talk about what has happened to us only to have the shaming and erasure begin. These people who cry crocodile tears over abelism don’t fool me. If you decry the fact that a woman is so unfriendly, unwelcoming, or cold and you’re not considering that this might be her workaround to keep herself safe due to a disability, don’t ever go on about how a guy may be socially awkward. And you know? It isn’t just NLD and autism spectrum disorders that we have to remember. What if the woman who has set up mile-high boundaries, who comes off as hostile, has PTSD and this is tripping her triggers? What if she’s got serious social anxiety or another mental illness that affects how she interacts with people? I mean, if we’re going to insist on compassion and empathy, can we have some extended to women and girls? Can we not disappear girls and women when we talk about abelism? Can you maybe, just maybe, acknowledge that this is not a world where the safety of women and girls is not taken seriously in the best of circumstances, let alone girls and women who don’t fit into the acceptable mold of the “right” race/class/age/body/health, and stop acting like all we have to do is educate the poor menz, or do X, Y, or Z?
All these people who come out of the woodwork, quite suddenly worried about abelism, are nowhere to be found when it comes to girls and women who have to deal with this crap. If a girl or woman is trusting of a boy or man and gets assaulted, these self-declared defenders of the non-NT are nowhere to be found—I never see any of these scamps saying, “Hey, maybe she had a neurological issue and didn’t get the cues that this was a bad situation.” It never occurs to any of these folks that we also have to deal with the business end of harassment and assault and misogyny. We’re basically disappeared by the very folks who insist they are our allies.
Yeah. I’m not feeling like these folks have my back.
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