Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Telling Our Stories, Canadian Super-Politeness, and Victim-Shaming

Yesterday I spent a couple minutes reading a brilliant article called True Tales of Street Harassment (And My Anger Issues). And then I spent...oh, probably an hour or so reading the equally brilliant comments from women who are so much like me they might actually BE me. (Imagine a whole world of Giselles! And I thought I was the only one...) It was incredibly empowering to read other women's stories of everyday harassment, and hear what they've said and done to the bastards who have verbally (or physically) assaulted them over the years.

If you've ever felt like you were the only woman out there fighting a lonesome tooth-and-nail battle against assaultive behaviour, I encourage you to read this great article at xoJane.

Because that article and all the comments attached to it reminded me of a blog post I wrote all the way back in 2008, I'm reposting it here. I called this post "Stop Saying Sorry" and it's about blaming victims and Canadian "politeness."

Stop Saying Sorry
Giselle Renarde
March 2008

We have this bizarre custom here in Canada: If somebody pushes you, shoves you, steps on your toes, YOU say sorry. Whether it’s an accident or an act of deliberate malevolence on their part, you must say sorry when you are affronted. That is part of Canada’s unspoken code of social conduct.

I do not abide by it.

I think this inability we Canadians have to stand up for ourselves feeds a more universal problem: namely, that of blaming the victim for crimes committed against her. About a year ago, I read a short article in my local paper. It was a report about a woman who had been sexually assaulted in my area. Apparently, she’d gotten off her bus and was walking home when a car slowed beside her and the driver offered her a ride. The woman said no and kept walking. The driver then got out of his car, pulled the young woman in, and raped her.

The police officer my local paper interviewed regarding this crime said the point this event should really hit home is that women need to be more vigilant about their personal safety.

When I read that article, I was irate. Why? Because of all the comments that could have been made regarding this crime, the officer uttered and the paper printed one that, albeit with a certain subtlety, blamed the victim for the assault against her. Had SHE been more vigilant, this crime may not have occurred.

And why, I ask, does this crime not “hit home” the point that men shouldn’t rape women? That tougher deterrents should be put in place? That greater police presence is required in that area? That systemic injustice is alive and well in this country? There are any number of points that could have been made. The fact that the one comment uttered and published without editorializing implies the victim ought to have done something differently in order to prevent this attack speaks volumes about police perception of crimes against women. And if police hold this general belief, how much are they really going to do to aid the victim?

As I stood waiting for my bus this morning, a woman pushed me out of her way to get by. Did I say sorry? Nope. I said, “If you want to get by, you say ‘excuse me,’ you don’t just push people.” That was rude of me, according to the Canadian code of social conduct. I got some looks – some ‘she must be crazy’ looks – but I don’t mind. It’s time for us – for Canadians, for women, for victims - to stop saying sorry for the crimes committed against us. It’s time to speak up. No apologies necessary.

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