The lines have been drawn in the battle over Noirin Shirley
, the Google tech writer who accused a male Twitter engineer of sexually assaulting her at a conference in Silicon Valley.
Here are the facts: Shirley was at the ApacheCon conference, which migrated from a hotel room to a nearby Irish pub, when a guy named Florian Liebert called her over just as she was "about to enter the loo," pulled her into the bathroom, kissed her, and stuck his hands down her pants. She shoved him away and went home, feeling awful. But instead of showering in shame and keeping her mouth shut, she called him out on her blog
Shirley wrote, in part:
"I don't give the wrong impression, and it's simply not true that guys can't read me right. I don't want to be assaulted, and the vast majority of guys read that just fine. It's not my job to avoid getting assaulted. It is everyone else's job to avoid assaulting me. Dozens of guys succeeded at the job ... One guy failed, and it's his fault."
When I was in college, we'd have those Take Back the Night rallies, and you'd be standing there listening to these hideous tales of horrible crap that happened to other women, and then you'd suddenly flash back to a memory of something you just thought was bad sex, and you'd go, "Wait. He held me down. He spit on me. I was crying. Was that rape?"
The fact that we even had to ask -- was so messed up.
But this becomes a loaded issue because at the other end of our experience is a guy who may or may not have realized what he was doing. Raised in a culture of conquest, being the boss, having stuff to prove, raised by the kinds of dads who run up and down the sidelines of hockey/soccer/football games spitting bile and curses and getting thrown out only to come back and do it again next week -- hey, I get that guys can grow up confused.
They can be violent. They can also be self-effacing. Or whiny. Or insistent. one can say things like "If you won't, someone else will." He can keep you up for hours asking "But why? OK, when?" till you finally give in. He can semi-jokingly ask "Is this rape because I'm nagging you into it?" and you can say no, no, it's fine, just to shut him up.
But when you don't, and instead you open your mouth, people freak out. They get embarrassed by your outburst. They get defensive, because you might accuse them next. They get angry, because they don't want to feel out of control themselves. They vomit a river of comments all over the Internet, saying shut up, stay home, suck it up, stop being a baby, stop being a p*ssy, stop being a slut who can't accept the consequences of her actions.
That last one is the one that pisses me off the most. As if it follows that if I enjoy sex, I have to have it with anyone who asks. Does a Brooks Brothers suit mean a guy has to give me his wallet? If I give a lot to charity, does that mean you can break into my home and take my cash? If someone drives a bus, does that mean you can take his car? Where is the logic in all this?
Here's the funny part: We watch "Mad Men," and we can't believe it. We go, "Oh! I can't believe Joan would stay with her fiance after he raped her like that." We go "Oh! Look at the scumbaggy way guys line up to talk to the women auditioning for the commercial. They're married, for God's sake!" We go, "Oh! Look at how Peggy has to deal with guys making crude sexual jokes in the office." And then we turn off the TV and congratulate ourselves on how far we've come. And then we turn on the computer and read all the comments calling her ugly, slutty, loud, mean. And then we light a cigarette and drink bourbon. Because, ugh.
I love that Noirin Shirley spoke up. I love that the comments poured forth, even the vile ones. I love that we're all talking about this again. Because there's no solution -- it's not going to end. But there is this cycle of discussion, and if we can keep hammering away at the idea that a woman's two choices are "prove it in court" or "STFU," we can make incremental changes that add up to something.
Not enough. But something.