Friday, March 16, 2012

Who's Responsible?

Two nights ago, I saw the following picture on Pinterest.  (Link to original pic and comment trail here.)



It took maybe 2.5 nanoseconds for anger to kick in. Because honestly? This is a dangerous, dangerous statement. It's a slap in the face to both men and women. I figured others would immediately see that, but the comment trail proved otherwise. Not only was this posted by a woman, but other women commented their approval. (And thousands of people repinned this.) In the comments, sprinkled in among outrage and disagreement, were statements defining what it means to be a lady (dressing up to go grocery shopping, smiling when you feel like crying, deceiving your husband into thinking he has the power ... all of those were mentioned).

And it occurred to me that the underlying assumptions in this statement are still firmly rooted in our culture, and are therefore being passed down to the next generation. So, I want to take a stand. Explain why the statement above is a dangerous lie and why I feel so strongly about it. If the discussion I opened on Twitter about this issue is any indication, there are many who have feelings about this, one way or the other. You are welcome to share your opinions in the comment trail. I welcome a respectful discussion.

Here's what is wrong with that statement:

1. Assumption #1: Men are sheep with a surplus of moral bankruptcy who cannot figure out how to behave unless a girl shows them the way.

This is a lie. Men and women alike are perfectly equipped to understand the difference between right and wrong. And they are able to choose their actions for themselves. There are men who choose to be jerks. Men who choose to be honorable. The key word is choice. A man of integrity treats others with respect, regardless of that person's appearance, economic status, behavior, culture, or beliefs. An honorable man does not allow his behavior to be dictated by the behavior of another. There are many, many men who daily live honorable lives. The men who choose not to live honorably do so for reasons far more complex than the fact that the woman they are treating like a piece of crap isn't wearing a dress to the grocery store. And a man who chooses to behave dishonourably is not going to suddenly "feel challenged" to change his ways simply because a woman is willing to "act like a lady."

2. Assumption #2: There is one perfect ideal that all women must strive to fulfill.

What's your definition of a lady? Maybe it's the same as mine. Maybe it isn't. If you look at the comment trail under the original post, you see that definitions swung wildly from "putting one's best foot forward every day" to "dressing up when you leave the house." Which is right? And what does it mean, specifically, to put one's best foot forward every day? Or, for that matter, what items of clothing are specifically required to count as being "dressed up" when one leaves the house?

Do you see the problem here? With no specific definition for "lady," we slide deeper and deeper into the dangerous "well, she deserved it" territory. And we remove all responsibility for a man's actions from his shoulders and shove it at the woman instead.

3. Assumption #3: The woman is responsible for the man's actions.

This is the most dangerous underlying assumption in the quote. If a woman must be willing to change herself in order to challenge a man to step up to the plate and start behaving like a gentleman, then the reverse is also true: when he fails to behave like a gentleman, it's because she hasn't sufficiently altered her own behavior.

It becomes her fault.

Several commenters couldn't seem to see past the "dress up and more men would step up to open a door for you" mentality to the real sickness that lies inside of this assumption. When men don't behave like gentlemen, they do a lot more than fail to open a door for a girl. They beat her with their fists. They tear her down with their words. They rape her.

According to this way of thinking, those actions are the woman's fault. Before you leap forward and say I'm taking this too far, that people don't actually mean that, allow me to open your eyes. I'm a rape survivor (my story). And I then went on to date an abusive boy who hit me and regularly tore my self-esteem to shreds with his words. Guess what both abusers had in common? They both blamed me for their actions.

But it doesn't stop there. Throughout the years, I've encountered people who after hearing my story say things like "But what were you wearing?" or "Well, you must have done something to set him off."

Why are they saying things like this? Because deep down they believe that if I'd acted more like a lady, the abusers in my life would've been challenged to behave like gentlemen.

And that is a dangerous, dangerous lie.

It's a LIE.

I want to be so very clear about that. Because some of you reading this post have a man in your life who tells you what he does to you is your fault. And he is lying. Some of you have abuse in your past and you can't look past the moment where you're sure if you'd just done THIS instead of THAT, the entire landscape of your life would have changed. And that is a lie, too. The question isn't "What could I have done to change the way this man hurt me?"

The question is "What kind of sick freak would hurt a woman in the first place?"

Listen to me. Please. Until we rid ourselves of the belief that a man is constantly controlled by his desires and his baser instincts and cannot be held responsible because a woman was "asking for it" or was "allowing it," we will continue to raise girls who don't realize they have the right to be respected. We will continue to have debates over whether a woman dressed up to go clubbing deserved to be raped. We will continue to question how a smart girl could be telling the truth when she says she told her boyfriend no.

Here's the TRUTH: We are each of us fully responsible for our own actions. Fully responsible. I am raising my boys to treat everyone with respect. I am raising my girl to do the same. And I am raising all of my children to understand that if someone hurts them or disrespects them, they should walk away because they deserve better. Not because they fit a certain image of lady or gentleman, but because every person has a right to be treated with dignity and honor.

It's hard to believe we still have debates about mutual respect and responsibility, but apparently we must. Because until asinine statements like the one above disappear from our culture, those of us who see the danger inherent in this line of thinking must step up and speak out.

Feel free to join the discussion in the comments.

One last note: If you (man or woman) are in a situation where someone is hurting you--emotionally or physically--or someone in your past has hurt you, there's help and hope available. Here's a place to get started: RAINN

70 comments:

  1. Amazing post CJ. I couldn't agree more. I used to believe part of how a man (or woman) behaves is based on how they were raised. But, not any more. Each person on this planet chooses their actions. Placing blame on another for their actions indicates lack of responsibility. I'm so sorry to hear about your rape, and sickened by the reactions some had to it. Peace & harmony always...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. And yes, we can choose how we act. Some choices might be harder to make than others, but it's still our choice.

      Delete
  2. Spot on. No one should outsource their conscience, which is what blaming someone else for your choices does.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "No one should outsource their conscience." Exactly. Love the way you put that.

      Delete
  3. Couldn't agree with you more. Many people never get to the point where they even consider the implications of a statement like that--it just sounds kinda sweet and they swallow it. Hear it enough, and you believe it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. I bet most of the thousands who repinned this didn't stop to really think through the implications.

      Delete
  4. Agree to the nth power! When I first saw your tweet (Are women responsible for a man's behavior?) before reading your post, my first thought was, "Yes, but only when that man is a boy who is my son."

    The logic you speak of has always troubled me. It's basically saying men are nothing more than animals, unable to control their own behavior. They're loose cannons and morally bankrupt, and if we women don't watch ourselves, we're going to be sorry.

    Frankly, I should be able to walk down the street naked and not have herds of men run up to me and force me to have sex.

    Many people in our society blame others for their failures. "I'm not really a loser because it's your fault."

    But in my world, a real man is not an animal.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I don't have anything profound to add to this discussion. I will only say that I 100% agree with everything in this post, and I thank you for taking the time to speak so eloquently about an issue I see surfacing way more often than I should.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for so clearly expressing the danger of this idea. I was the victim of a sexual assault, and I was told that, "You shouldn't smile at men anymore." That is right. I shouldn't smile anymore. So, thank you! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so sorry for both the assault and the ignorant advice afterwards. I hope you smile every single time you feel like smiling.

      Delete
  7. I agree wholeheartedly. Every single person is responsible for his or her own actions, to say that "that person did it first" "or he/she was asking for it" or "my parents/friends did it all the time" does not make it ok and does not excuse your own behaviour. Whenever my little brother does something I don't think is right and he says something along the lines of his friend's did it or his friend's parents have no problem with it, I have to remind him that just because someone else is doing it does not mean it's right.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Allow me to join the chorus of Well Said!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well said, yourself. I appreciated your comment on the original post! :)

      Delete
  9. ABSOLUTELY, 100% TRUTH.

    I count myself as one of the lucky ones who got out of a bad relationship before it devolved into physical abuse, but this was only after months of emotional and verbal abuse. He got a tattoo he hated? My fault. I should have talked him out of it. Nevermind that I tried. I'm so lucky to be out of that one.

    And I'm lucky because my mother raised me the same way that you're raising your boys: everyone is accountable for their own actions and if they mistreat me, it's THEIR fault, not mine.

    Thank goodness for moms like mine and you.

    Thank you for putting this out there. I'm going to send it along to all of my friends, because I think there's an incredibly crucial lesson to be learned here.

    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so glad you got out before it became physically abusive. <3

      Delete
  10. I absolutely concur. And thank you for taking the time to address how such assumptions hurt men as well as women. Thinking like this is degrading and harmful to everyone. As a woman I know it's disrespectful to me, but as the older sister of a gaggle of younger brothers, it always bothered me that no one seems to discuss that there are detriments to men as well. It's not men vs women. It's about moving beyond basing relationships on power struggles or the need for control.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Agreed. It's a disrespectful assumption all the way around.

      Delete
  11. Thank you so much for this. I have tears in my eyes at my desk. I am a rape survivor as well, and someone who has seen the effects of domestic violence firsthand. In a social climate where Chris Brown can beat a woman's face in, show no remorse and still continue to make millions of dollars and earn accolades from both the industry and fans alike, you're clearly not taking your outrage too far.

    This line of thinking is insidious and all too prevalent. Thank you for speaking out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, Chris Brown! I have FEELINGS on that subject. I think many of us do. And the more we stand together and speak loudly and clearly about this dangerous way of thinking, the closer we come to changing it.

      Delete
  12. I agree with you 100%. My sister works in a batters women's shelter and she comes across this attitude all the time. Well why did those women stay? Why wouldn't they leave sooner? Something is wrong with them. It's their fault. It's the subtle attitudes that can be the most harmful because we don't realize they can lead to a deeper more hurtful way of thinking.

    Thanks for posting this and for sharing your story in the first place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. I don't know what it is inside of us that makes us look at the victims with distrust and blame instead of the abuser, but we have to speak loudly against that attitude. Thanks for your comment.

      Delete
  13. Yep, yep, yep.

    Also, it doesn't do our men any favors to be forced to remain boys, with a cadre of stealth-mommies governing their behavior. They deserve better.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly. This statement is equally disrespectful toward men and women.

      Delete
  14. Everyone is responsible for their own actions in life. FULL STOP!!!

    Not only is the phrase in the picture a dangerous one for the reasons you state, but it's downright offensive as a gender stereotype for both females and males.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Full disclosure: I'm a guy, I was a US solider in Afghanistan.

    I agree with you. 100%. I will also say that saying men have no control is disrespectful to men in general. Guys need to stand up and do whats right.

    I love the motto of the US Special Forces: "De oppresso liber" or Free the oppressed. If guys need a reminder of what is right and good, maybe they should choose to step up and help someone out who needs it. Now that would be a "real" man.

    Disclaimer: These are my opinions and you are perfectly free to disagree with them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. First of all, thank you so much for your service. I appreciate you. Second, a thousand times YES. This statement is incredibly belittling to men. The vast majority of the men in my life are men of honor, and it isn't because I challenge them to behave that way. It's because they have integrity, and they daily choose to live it out. Thank you for your comment.

      Delete
  16. i agree with you about men needing to be in control of their actions, and needing to be held responsible for them too. They are being taught that their nearest relatives in the animal world are the apes. A man or woman without character who is willing to let that be their excuse for their behavior is in their mind not responsible for it. However as the soldier stated in the post above, when someone takes a stand to Stand for something greater than ones self, character wins out over animal desires. It all comes down to what i call the want-to-factor. i chose to treat people like i want to be treated, even when they don't reciprocate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I respect your choices. It's a shame that our culture can't honor both men and women equally as intelligent beings worthy of respect. In the end, as a culture we end up dishonoring us all.

      Delete
  17. I saw this on Pinterest, and the comment about how women should "stick to their role as ladies" made me seethe. I'm a strong, intelligent woman and I don't need a guy to support me financially or hold the door for me (whether I'm wearing a dress or PJ's!). Thanks for writing such a well-reasoned response!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would like to understand clearly what "their role as ladies" actually means. I'm loud, opinionated, blunt, quirky, often ridiculous, hopeless at many traditional womanly pursuits, and I hardly ever wear a dress. Statements like the one above marginalize me and the thousands of other women like me who don't fit a narrow stereotype but who respect ourselves JUST THE WAY WE ARE. *high fives you*

      Delete
  18. Thank you so much for this post.

    I'm so tired of men being painted by the media, our culture, etc, as dumb, stupid, incapable. Men apparently need women or they wouldn't be able to survive. What comes to mind first is that diaper commercial where the diapers are tested against 'Dads.' I'm sorry, but since when are men so inept, so stupid that they can't even care for their children?

    I'm also sick of slut-shaming. I've noticed in a lot of YA recently that girls who are sexually active are getting the short end of the stick. Namely in Deadly Cool, the girl who has sex ends up strangled to death, the other girl who has sex gets pregnant, drops of out school, and is abandoned by her friends. The virgin is popular and gets the boy.

    Victim blaming is the worst though. I, too, am a rape survivor. I can't explain fully how many times I've gone over that night in my head, going over all the different things I could have done to prevent it. It was a struggle to get past that guilt and self-blame. I don't need everyone else tearing me down, too!

    Bottom line, men are capable of making decisions and women shouldn't be blamed for degenerate scum bags acting like, well, degenerate scum bags.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad to see another survivor who is able to see that this statement is as disrespectful toward men as it is to women. Thank you for your comment! :)

      Delete
  19. I didn't know your story. After going back and reading your post and this one, I just have to say, BRAVO! Standing up for yourself, demanding your right to respect is not easy. And speaking out about abuse is even harder. Unfortunately, I know this too well. I think you are a very brave woman and I am thrilled you chose to voice your feelings. I couldn't agree with you more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm grateful to be in a place in my life where I am strong enough to speak up. :)

      Delete
  20. When I started reading this post, I was like, "What is your problem? Get a life."

    By the time I finished reading it, I was like,"Yup, I can see that. True. True."

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and allowing us to decide for ourselves. After reading this article, I understand why that statement on the pic is all wrong. It's not my fault what men do. Even though since I was born, I've bsen told it is. I needed that reminder.

    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for joining the discussion. I'm glad you read. :)

      Delete
  21. Well said. (Applause)

    One thing about the people who pull the 'It's women's fault' card is how often they'll start ranting about 'personal responsibility'. Could they be bigger hypocrites?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *nods* You can't apply personal responsibility to one gender and not the other.

      Delete
  22. I couldn't have said it better myself. I agree wholeheartedly!
    DeAnna

    ReplyDelete
  23. Totally with you on this! But I'd like to add that this isn't only a male/female cultural statement. What is really being addressed is an abuser/victim mentality.

    Abusers of any kind (physical, mental) have, since the dawn of time, been manipulating their victims into believing "I wouldn't act like this if only you would stop making me". Abusers can't or won't look honestly at themselves, and so where must the guilt go? Onto the victim.

    Victims are left with not only the scars of the abuse, but with a broken self-image; "I brought this on myself." It's a double injury.

    Advertising execs manipulate to get people to buy soap. Politicians spin to get believers in their propaganda. It's no great leap to grasp that, as social animals, we have a certain amount of influence on each other.

    But the minute we make a choice; to vote in an election, to purchase Brand A instead of B, or to take NO as a NO - that choice is squarely on the individual.

    The seconds before a decision reveals a person's intention. The long moments after reveal integrity.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Absolutely. I frequently get annoyed with Pinterest because I see things like this, and the fact that there are women out there that encourage this line of thought sickens me.

    ReplyDelete
  25. So many things ring warning bells with that statement. For one it puts a back a few generations.

    For two you can't go into a relationship thinking you can change someone.

    It reads almost like an abuser's accusation - "If you didn't piss me off I wouldn't have hit you!" So the victim is responsible for the abuser's abusive behavior. I'm pretty sure if all the people read the above statement the way I just looked at it, they wouldn't even come close to agreeing what a wonderful concept that is. (Hugs)Indigo

    ReplyDelete
  26. There have always been abusers such as you have described. The clothing style or the times haven't changed that. I think women tell themselves lies about clothing or ladylike behavior to quite the fear it could happen to them. Following some trite set of rules isn't going to save a person from abuse. The best chance is having confidence in your worth as a person.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Bravo on this post, CJ. Also a rape survivor, and most recently, exited a relationship with a man who was mentally ill and abusive. That one was tougher, because I did tend to think I should be able to help/control/rescue him.

    We all need to be responsible for our own actions. And we need to stand up and politely say, "T'aint so when people try to push off blame on others."

    ReplyDelete
  28. I wish it were just insidious comments like this one, where people don't think about the implications behind it; don't realize exactly what it means. But I've seen a book talking to men about how they behave in relationships that *expressly blamed women* for the fact men today aren't "real men." That we let them off the hook for their behavior or do everything for them so they don't have to step up. My blood pressure skyrockets just thinking about it. How is it 2012 and that's still being advocated? HOW? Ugh.

    ReplyDelete
  29. CJ, you are my hero. Forever and always. And you are able to articulate what is wrong with a statement which, for many, may seem harmless. But I did not know how to express why my heart cringes when I see things like that. Thank you for putting it into words. I'm sharing this blog on twitter and FB. You are a woman of character and standard. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I was nearly as outraged as I was when I heard the clip from Rush Limbaugh. When he called a woman a slut, did he think she was having sex with herself? That no men had blame? (Even though there was no slut or manwhores involved and it was all just his imagination.)

    I'm shocked and saddened, but what I fear most is hearing this in church this Sunday...

    ReplyDelete
  31. I remember reading Hamlet in Jr. High and being struck by the line "God gives you one face and you paint yourselves another." And I wonder how much of that women do to try to convince themselves they are worth something. We really do hurt our daughters when we dress them up like little dolls instead of letting them be people.

    My DH says when I get "blue" about my life and my lack "beauty" (I'm not thin), "I didn't marry you for your body; I fell in love with your mind."

    We both dress down a lot and spend our time playing with our kids, hiking, gardening, reading a good book, etc. He cooks me dinner some nights and some times I make him pie. We are equals and THAT is the important part.

    My mother has said, "women marry wanting to change the man, men marry thinking everything is the way it will always be." I'm not sure that's completely true, but I learned from that to love and marry a man just the way he is. Worked out perfectly for us.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Eloquent truth. Thank you. I'm going to make sure my daughter reads this post.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Reading this post made me see that picture in a different light. It really IS about equality, integrity, and respect, regardless of one's gender. Thank you for this heartfelt articulation of truth.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I have the same problem with statements like this, and for the same reason. And I'll add that my problem with stereotypical instructions to "act like a lady" somehow never seem to advocate a woman's acting powerful, confident, or intelligent, but weak, deferential, and compliant.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I have the same problem with statements like this, and for the same reason. And I'll add that my problem with stereotypical instructions to "act like a lady" somehow never seem to advocate a woman's acting powerful, confident, or intelligent, but weak, deferential, and compliant.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Those underlying assumptions are so dangerous. I've lived a lucky and lovely life, but as a teacher I've seen so many suffer because of these kinds of assumptions. We have to stop them

    ReplyDelete
  37. *TACKLE HUG!* CJ, You're just AWESOME! I'm so honored to call you my friend and thank you for sharing picures like this and your story!

    ReplyDelete
  38. I love you.

    And when my ex-husband was hitting me, no amount of me acting "like a lady" would have "challenged" him to act like a gentleman. And he blamed all his atrocities on me regardless if I was wearing a dress and able to balance a book on my head.

    While I understand the prevalence of social media has pushed us all toward embracing pictures with pithy quotes, I'm glad you took a long moment to truly challenge all of us to act like human beings and not just repin like sheep. Yes, we as women need to take heed of how we act and not everything is the man's fault, but a person should be challenged in and of their own beliefs and values as to how they choose to act.

    Because it's just that. A choice.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I am the product of a knife point sexual assault and the survivor of sexual assault as a college age adult. While I understand your points with the implications of specific interpretations the saying that you describe I can also see a different side to it.
    In addition to those experiences I mention of myself, I also have worked with a high percentage of mostly women living in poverty and negative situations who behave in manners that are disrespectful to themselves and thus seem to attract others who behave disrespectfully over and over and over and over and over again. When I say disrespectful, I visualize not taking the time to put on underwear when a homebound teacher is SCHEDULED to be arriving at your home to work with your child, dressing in the same PJ's 24/7 and in a way that it is painfully obvious that you are not wearing underwear, not washing your hair, teeth or body for what looks like weeks or more, and just making a continuous series of choices where you don't even have the same address for more than a month, and do not take advantage of the support services available to you including drug rehab, abuse shelters, etc... and you and your children continue to suffer. I understand that depression and early childhood experiences can be and are most likely contributing factors but to refuse the assistance offered to you at NO FINANCIAL COST??? To intentionally raise your children is such a manner? Really, I've seen rats be better parents and show better respect for themselves. (I used to have pet rats, so that's why I chose rats. Dogs & cats are just too typical to use as an example)
    The other side I can see in that saying is that if you "up" your behavior and you expectations of behavior that is "acceptable" in your world, you have the power to eliminate those who behave disrespectfully from your life.

    To me, a lady and gentleman BOTH behave appropriately and respectfully, use good manners, are strong, confident and secure, expect others to behave kindly and fairly, discuss differences, and see their role as to contribute positively to society and the world as a whole.

    ReplyDelete

People who comment are made of awesomesauce with a side of WIN!

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails