Many of you already know about some of the recent events concerning various YouTube performers and allegations of sexual misconduct. When I read about this (and it seems to come and come right now), I thought, “I have nothing to add to this.” So I just watched. And was sad. And also heartened by the fact that a really serious, progressive conversation as going on.
But then I read a piece about these events (it was in the Daily Dot, the link is here). This quote stuck with me.
“Looking at the responses from Alex Day, the Green brothers, and the cofounder of DFTBA records, one begins to notice something missing from the conversation: female voices. Among the various sex scandals and the resulting blog posts from friends and coworkers, it’s vanishingly rare to hear from any woman who isn’t speaking from the perspective of a victim or fan.
It would be grossly inaccurate to say that there are no women in the amorphous online community that surrounds the vlogbrothers, DFTBA Records, Tumblr fandom celebrities and geek-culture bands like Chameleon Circuit. But when it comes to the kind of devoted fan community one finds on Tumblr, most of the Internet celebrities who end up with “idol” status are part of the same demographic: cute, nerdy white guys who write and vlog about things like Doctor Who, YA literature, feminism, gay rights, and Internet culture.”
I thought about this a lot. Aside from Melissa Anelli, I didn’t see any women speaking about it from entirely outside the sphere of events. And that did bother me. (Though I want to add: I think Hank Green made an excellent video on this topic. I hope it gets a million views.)
So, because that gap is there, and because I have the benefit of being older—I thought I might widen the focus a little and talk about my own experience and maybe how we got here and where we can go from this point. Because there are many, many places to go.
I’m about to get personal, and also, if you have any issues with stories of a sexual/abusive nature, just be aware that I am about to list some. But if you can bear with it, maybe go through, because there is a rainbow on the other side.
I was recently reading David Sedaris’s latest book, and in one essay he brings up the fact that as a teenager, he had the sudden and off-putting realization that all of his sisters had been approached by men in cars who had exposed themselves to them while masturbating. And I stopped for a moment, because something in my brain said, “Well, of course.” It happened to me when I was 14, stuck outside of school on a Philadelphia side street late one afternoon when my mom had forgotten what time our holiday concert practice was over. I was lured to the car when the man mumbled a request for directions. I seem to remember using a string of expletives and most likely my middle finger, then I spent the next 45 minutes debating whether or not to knock on the convent door and ask to be allowed to stay inside until my mom got there. In the end, I angrily paced the sidewalk until she got there, furious that it had happened, thinking up new, as-yet unheard of curses. I wanted him to come back so I could key his car into the next century. I wanted to go home.
I said nothing to my mother.
In my protected life, largely devoid of danger, I have been:
- Physically grabbed twice on city streets and pulled along by a stranger until breaking loose
- Groped on the street (no count on that)
- Groped on an airplane over the course of several hours while crossing the Atlantic until I told the person responsible (who had by then come to sit next to me on the plane) that I had a TERRIBLE SICKNESS (I had mono) and coughed in his face until he retreated. Then I leaned over and coughed over the seat on him.
- Ground on the subway. (Look this one up if you don’t know it.)
- When answering an ad for a nanny while working abroad in London, lured to a remote location by a much older man, where it was revealed the entire interview was a false pretense. I was then offered money in exchange to be a live-in sexual partner (the salary would include “three times a week, some dinners, and clothes.”) This episode ended with me jumping out of a still (slowly) moving car.
- Given GHB (or similar) at a party by someone who then followed me as I left (as I realized there was something wrong and I was losing consciousness). He attempted to lure me to come back with him to his room, and I kept conscious long enough to continue walking away. I got to where I was staying and locked the door before passing out, fully dressed, coat on, on the floor for five hours.
- And one other incident I prefer not to go into, of a more serious nature. (Don’t panic. I just prefer not to, and it’s my prerogative not to. I am sure you understand.)
I really have led a very protected life. These things I describe? Are really quite common. Gross, right? And I was born into relative privilege, so there are so many women facing so much worse. (Also, gender is irrelevant here. These things can and do happen to anyone. But the numbers for women are higher, and I am getting to that.)
Why did I just make that list? Why did I drop this series of bummers on you? I’ll tell you.
The idea is this: things just HAPPEN to girls, and it’s part of the fabric. We often don’t even mention them. Or maybe, we DIDN’T. Not so much. Because it was just understood that there was a certain amount of shit we were going to have to go through, and the only possible responses were to: OVERPROTECT US, or BLAME US, or NOT BELIEVE US. Because what the hell else do you do? (When I have described these things, often matter-of-factly to men I now know in adulthood, they tend to sit there and boggle because so many SIMPLY DO NOT KNOW how very common it all is.)
I’ve seen many of you commenting about these recent events and saying that you want to give up on your community of friends, that you’re confused and sad and disappointed and what is going on and how did this even happen?
To the case at hand…
It is important to note that in cases of abuse and exploitation—gender is irrelevant. But it is also worth noting that the cases we are talking about now are all about girls—usually underage—being taken advantage of by males, a bit older, with some celebrity. I spend a lot of my free time* trying to start discussions on the nature of gender in book publishing, as that’s where I work. As a culture we do tend to give the nod to men more than women—as voices of authority, as objects of adulation, as examples of excellence and the standard bearers of quality. This is not a vast conspiracy, but a long and deep rooted habit that is taking time to unwork. But one of the steps to unworking is to realize that it’s a thing. THIS DOES NOT MEAN YOU CANNOT OR SHOULD NOT HAVE MALE HEROES. It does mean that we need to explore, on occasion, the nature of the adulation.
In these recent cases, the adulation turned into sexual exploitation, something that’s not new in any respect. BUT! What is new is the focus and awareness that’s been brought to the subject. Take heart, and take notes. And watch Hank’s video, because I think he really nails it. The idea that sex and romance is a chase—a wild, violent chase in which one party must submit—is problematic in the extreme. When discussing any kind of sexual contact—if you’re not talking from the same level, it’s not a discussion, and it’s not healthy. If you are offered the chance to have some kind of sexual contact with a “celebrity” (of any water) ask yourself this: do I feel like I am less than this person? Is this person doing me a favor? Is this person LIFTING ME UP because I am SO LOW and they are so AMAZING and they can do ANYTHING and I am A WORM and must put up with it to keep this AMAZING THING.
Those are the wrong answers, and it means it’s not a healthy relationship.
And if you’re a minor and this person is an adult? Please listen to your Auntie MJ. You may be thinking, “But this case is different! We really love each other! [Other person] is not like the others! I’m not like the others! This isn’t weird! We’re totally a couple!”
You’re not a couple. You’re a victim, and you need to get out of there and tell someone what is going on. I know there may be a pull inside of you—a pull so strong—toward this person. You may think this is going to work out. It’s not going to work out. I am not trying to kill your dreams, but to get you to a place of safety, as you are currently not in one. ACTUAL ADULTS KNOW THAT IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE TO HAVE SEXUAL CONTACT WITH MINORS. Adults that do not follow this rule ARE PREDATORS. There is a reason it’s illegal. It’s not just some idiots trying to ruin your good time. YOU WILL ONLY BE THANKFUL LATER THAT YOU GOT OUT OF THERE.
And don’t let this mislead you into thinking that you should give up on all the things you love, that there’s a dangerous spider under every rock. There isn’t. And if we all move into this conversation and make it a public one, and make it a healthy one, only good can come.
I can tell you this…I’ve been, like I said, in some of these dark corners, and I’m here, right now, a FULLY GROWN LADY, and I’m doing awesome. None of those bastards slowed me down. If anything, I stepped on a few of them to get to you guys. I love your enthusiasm and I love your fandoms and I love how you embrace all of these new, great things—these songs and stories and people. There is no reason to give up. None at all. NOT EVERYONE IS BAD. That’s one of the lies that these kinds of incidents breed. If you need help, HELP IS OUT THERE IN DROVES.
Do not be afraid to tell someone. It’s the only way it stops.
Those of us who have crashed on the rocks—well, we climbed the rocks and built a lighthouse. And we keep the lights on for you, and we will always be here, and the light will remain on no matter how great the storm. And when the storm is over, we will still be here.
* the concept of “free time” is a nebulous one