Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Old News, But Still Important

In the middle of science fiction's big night to reward folks (think Academy Awards), one male author made the decision to grope the event's hostess on stage. So instead of discussing the awards and the folks who earned them, the SF community raged about this author's actions. And rightly so, there was no excuse for it, and that sort of behavior should be immediately condemned.

However, barely two weeks later, the internet was in an uproar because a woman defended herself when a drunken jerk grabbed her in a bar. I absolutely don't understand this.

Both brouhahas have reminded me about a critique group session last year. There were only four of us there, and we were all women. For some reason, we got on the subject of sexual assault (either one of us had written a scene provocative of that or there was a big case buzzing in the news). The saddest part of that conversation is that every single one of us had an assault story to tell, ranging from the very tame to the stuff of Lifetime movies (or would have been had not the women managed to escape). Some of us had more than one story to tell. None of us got physical with our attackers. None of us ever pressed charges. All of us knew our attackers and trusted them. All of us went through a period of guilt after it happened.

I was at a party in college with a group of friends that I interacted with several times a week and that I trusted. When one of the guys told me I had to try SoCo and Coke, I took the drink without a second thought. No, it wasn't drugged, but that drink and the other two he mixed for me were heavy on the SoCo, and since I had never had SoCo and Coke before, I didn't quite figure out just how much alcohol was in each drink until I was well and truly drunk. Right about this time, I decided it was time to go back to my dorm since I didn't want to stay any longer and risk getting more drunk (it hadn't occurred to me that my friend had, in essence, gotten me drunk). Said friend offered to walk me home, since I was quite obviously smashed. Thinking him the perfect gentleman, I accepted.

No sooner were we in the stairwell than he pressed himself close and kissed me. I was more confused than anything else. I think my first thought was, "But wait, I have a boyfriend." I managed to step away and remind him that he was walking me home and that kissing wasn't conducive to that (or whatever the slurred equivalent is). As we walked across the well-lit and well-populated areas of campus, he kept trying to kiss me again. I kept avoiding it, growing more and more confused and agitated. When we got to a part of the campus that was not so well-lit nor so well-populated, I was remarkably sober. He made to kiss me again, and I put distance between us and threatened to yell rape if he didn't leave me the fuck alone. Suddenly he was remarkably sober and very apologetic and very desirous not to have his ass kicked by my boyfriend.

I made it back to my dorm without further incident, and wouldn't you know my first item of business? To call my boyfriend and beg forgiveness because I had kissed another man. At first my boyfriend was furious with this friend of mine, but I talked him down and managed to take all the blame until--here's the kicker--my man was forgiving me for cheating on him.

So when I hear that Harlan Ellison grabbed Connie Willis's breast and we're having a mostly intellectual debate about it (instead of a real discussion of what consequences such an action should have, such as, I dunno, banning Ellison from future World Cons) followed closely by a discussion of whether it was right or wrong for Campbell Award winner John Scalzi's wife to defend herself from a groper, I wonder if we'll ever get to a point where no part of society in any way tolerates any abuse of women, no matter how "small". Because if we were already at that point, then no guy would think it any way appropriate or "not a big deal" to touch a woman without her permission. I got lucky because the jackass in my case either wasn't prepared for a struggle or was too drunk to realize what he was doing himself and stopped as soon as I made it clear. (I actually think it was the former. Another guy tried similar things to another girl at the party. She and I compared notes, and we both came to the conclusion that the two of them may have bet each other how far they could get with each of us.)

If nothing else, it'll make fodder for good drama in a book later. But let's hope all this dialog actually makes inroads to the greater social problems involved.

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