17 October 2019

Trying to salvage a shit night (not) underground

When I woke up on Friday after a particularly unpleasantThursdayNighter trip I noticed I was still upset. I figured I had best try to do something about it. So I went to see David. We first talked some more pragmatic stuff and then I mentioned what had happened the night before. And he knew everything already! The men had been talking while I wasn't paying attention. He said the bloke hadn't meant it, it is just his way of filling a silence. I know that, but I didn't think that excused him. 'It was just a joke' is a phrase that has been used way, way too often to excuse awful misogyny and racism and homophobia (and probably a lot more things). It doesn't stop it being hurtful.

He also said the bloke had been very nervous about his upcoming operation, and that that was the reason he wasn't careful with his words. And he said he had improved a lot recently! And that he and the other men had tried to slowly but steadily chip away at his behaviour. He is in a job that seems to come with built-in offensive language. He said the men not encouraging him was their way of showing disapproval! Well that was subtle. How was I supposed to read their silence (there was some laughter at Mick's 'joke' but indeed, it hadn't been much) as a condemnation? How was I to know they even condemned it if they never supported me? These Brits. There is so much they don’t say. Why don’t they say things like these? It would have been so good to know they, sort of, actually supported me! As apparently saying that you don't think sexual assault is funny, and that you're so upset about it you need to explicitly point your upset out to the perpetrator, isn't enough for these blokes to realise I'm upset, but they do expect me to be very fine-tuned to the blokes' state of mind. Yeah thanks.

He also said he hated conflicts and hated being in between. I understand! That’s the story of my life. But I figured they had been so careful with the bloke’s feelings they had had no space left for being careful with mine. And as David isn’t really particularly enlightened I used a blunt tool to bring the message home: I asked him if he would have let the remark go if it had been about his daughter. I hate having to use the ‘imagine it’s your daughter’ trope; men should care whether it concerns their own offspring or not! But I think it needed doing. I could see from his face this hit home. So, if it’s not OK if it is your daughter, why is it OK for someone else’s daughter? If you have a daughter, should you have the position that only defending your own is OK? You can't really blame the other 3.5 billion men on the planet for not defending yours if you don't defend theirs!

He also criticised me for being too blunt. I should have done the confrontation in private, I should have not been so confrontational, as it was I might just have as a result that the chap would just think ‘these bloody women’ and never bother with trying to avoid being hurtful ever again. I figured that maybe he was right but it was also easy for him to say. I had never been supported by the ThursdayNighters! How was I supposed to find exactly the right time and words and whatnot if I was in such a hostile environment? It’s all good and well to expect perfection from me and not very much from the perpetrator when he was surrounded by friends and I was socially isolated. But I don’t think David understood how I had been feeling. 

Additionally, David said the perpetrator was very upset. I was a bit surprised. Yes he isn't as indifferent as he tries to pretend he is, but since when do I have that much influence on him? That was probably also the reason we aborted the mission and went to the pub. People were concerned about the bloke! Not me, evidently. But I didn’t want him to be upset. True, I was glad to hear my message had got home, but I didn’t want him to be miserable. Especially with that operation coming up! So I figured maybe I should send him a message of support. For the operation, that is; not for his words of the evening before. I would want to make clear these are two different things.
I went back to my office and sent a message. Fairly soon I had one back. With apologies! I appreciated that. And said so. But then it was time to go and go back to my teaching. I had a lecture and a tutorial coming up! 

When I got home that evening I was still miserable. I am not necessarily the fastest in letting the penny drop (I am a scientist; my pennies are supposed to only drop after either serious study of scientific literature, or thorough experimentation) and it had only clocked with me after the conversation with David that he had clearly known about the whole event the whole time. AND HADN’T SAID A WORD. So he’d been fretting about the perpetrator all night. And all morning. And not thought of asking me if I was OK? FFS! So if you make an unacceptable remark and get told off for it you deserve all the love and care from your friends. If you are the one to call out the remark you did it the wrong way, the wrong time, the wrong place, and you had to bloody sort yourself out without any support from anybody. I know, this is how it always goes, but it still hurts. So what to do now? I wasn’t sure. That night I couldn’t sleep. 

The next morning I was still miserable. What should I do! Phone David? Phone Phil, who is a friend and probably the most woman-friendly of the whole bunch? Yes he also sometimes says dubious things, but when you talk about it with him he’s supportive. He doesn’t shoot straight into straight white male mode. He listens! Maybe write David a mail? Maybe leave it until Monday? I wasn’t sure. In the end I decided to settle on a mail to David. Maybe it would backfire! I have never really managed to talk something out with David. If he doesn’t see something as a problem you can tell him that you do, but then he shrugs and won’t discuss the matter. So this was risky! But I was very unhappy and figured now it had to happen: vent my spleen, and see how he would respond. Dismiss me as an overreacting woman: then it was time to quit the ThursdayNighters. Actually listen and let the information sink in: then maybe I would finally get an ally. And that would be great! 

Pretty much the entire afternoon went into writing blogposts like these and the mail to David. And when I pressed ‘send’ I already felt better. And then all I could do was wait! 

On Sunday I got an email back. He apologised for not mailing back sooner! And he said it was quite something to digest and that he wouldn’t go in detail that day. But he clearly was actually listening! Success!

On Monday I saw him again. We continued the conversation. He said I had made some good points! I'm glad he saw it that way. And he wondered what he thought I should do in the future. And I said it would be great if he could call out misogyny if he encountered it, back me up if it was me calling it out, and keeping an eye on if I was OK after such an event would happen. And I really really hope he would do that outside ThursdayNighter context too! Also supporting women (and men) who would not have explicitly asked him to do so! I'm sure he benefits from rape culture being weeded out. Isn't a better world a good thing for everyone?

So would he now indeed start standing by me? If so, then that awful night was well worth it! A bit of a pity it had needed such drastic measures to get that done but hey ho, an ally is not to be sniffed at. And if he would stand by me then maybe more of the men would have an epiphany and follow suit! It is a sad truth it often is the case that only when a man speaks about misogyny the other men listen. But again, more allies is not to be sniffed at! However they are won over. We’ll see! Something might be changing within in the ThursdayNighters…

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