A little over a year ago, I wrote an article (one of the first I ever published) that talked about women.
I talked about the Slutwalk, specifically, a movement that started in Toronto originally to protest a local Constable saying that, in order to avoid being victimized, women should avoid “dressing like sluts.” The movement has grown since, having incarnations in many cities, and really taking on a life of its own. And aside from the actual marches themselves, it has also sparked a general conversation about the discourse around rape, rape culture, and what leads to victims being blamed for what has happened to them by — in some way or another — not doing what they’re supposed to.
When I wrote the article, I was angry. I had seen things in the modern feminist movement that I disagreed with and felt were trying to “speak for me,” I thought the witch hunt for this particular Constable was unfair, and I — having always been a person who naively thought “better safe than sorry” — felt that what he said had some degree of merit. I wrote it and it was published quickly, my editor here aware that the topic was relevant, that it was a news topic which, like most things on the internet, should be addressed quickly, lest we miss out on the conversation that was clearly happening right now.
The truth is, when I look back on the article today, I cringe. And I don’t cringe because of all the negative comments — though, let’s be honest, that’s never pleasant. I cringe because it was something that I thought and, in my ignorance, said loud enough for the world to hear. It was something that I signed my name to, something that was so offensive as to lead some to think that I had done it just to be contrary. (For the record, I could not have anticipated the response, and it was certainly not done to attract that kind of attention — “all press is good press” only makes sense until you’re getting the worst kind of press, the kind that is both unflattering and true.) But I cringe at myself, and at the idea that some people — many people, even — might rightfully think that it is still how I feel.
And to be clear, it isn’t. I’m not so naive as to imagine that we live in a society free of judgment on appearance, and you wouldn’t wear pyjamas to a job interview, but we do live in a society that tells women that there is a certain line they can’t cross when it comes to how they dress, who they sleep with, or how much they enjoy sex. I’ve been accused, like many women, of not doing something “right” sexually or as a woman before, and it is arguably the most insidious kind of judgment, because it not only imposes an arbitrary moral authority, but pretends to do so “for the good of society.” No one deserves any kind of sexual aggression, no one has “too much” sex or doesn’t present themselves in the “right” way, and no one should ever contribute to the ideas that those moral lines exist. And I did. With one article, I gave credence to every person who ever told a woman that she deserved what she got, that she didn’t merit respect, that she wasn’t one of the “good” ones. I am embarrassed to have done that, and glad to have learned.
It would be disingenuous for me not to say, though, that I do still hold some problems with some of the “mainstream” feminist discourse around rape culture. I think that it too often paints rape and sexual assault as uniquely male-on-female, that it ignores prison rape, that it silences women of color (the white girl holding the “Woman is the n-gger of the world” sign at Slutwalk was inarguably in poor taste), and forgets trans* people. I think that it’s essential that we start talking about sexual assault more as a crime that can, and does, affect people of all demographics, sexes, colors, and gender presentations, instead of just a unique issue that is inflicted upon cis women by cis men. But the fundamental idea that we can ever “deserve” our attack, based on dress or on any other factor, is one that needs to be eradicated from society completely. That, we can all agree on.
I learned a lot from writing this piece, and from its response. I learned how much my words could hurt people, and the responsibility that comes with having a platform of this or any size to espouse these kinds of harmful ideas. I have become acutely aware of the danger of this culture of “get the piece in today, while it’s relevant” that is taking over our society. Often, in the rush to join a conversation or pass judgment on an issue, we say things without giving them the reflection or the education they require to really formulate an argument or statement. I have bitten my tongue on many things since, and am glad that I did, because a short time later, I realize how hasty and uninformed such a statement would have been. And though I can never take back what I originally said early last April, I can take a general sense of reflection and becoming informed with me to everything I write in the future.
Most importantly, I want to say that I’m sorry. I want to say I’m sorry to anyone I hurt in writing that, anyone I made feel — even for just a moment — that they deserved what they got or one day might get, that I don’t care about their pain. Though it’s not anyone’s duty to forgive me or to ever read my writing again, it is mine to do my best to convey how much I am ashamed to have said such damaging things. I have been lucky enough to succeed and grow as a writer in spite of having hurt people with my words, and feel incredibly grateful for all of the people that have been able to forgive my mistake and read and enjoy my work in spite of the ugly things I said.
In the end, I will always write things that people will disagree with, and so will everyone else. You can never please everyone, and negative feedback is an integral part of writing for public consumption. But there are certain lines one should never cross, and I crossed it. I said something that, beyond just being ignorant and wrong, can actively hurt people. I, like many of us, have made a mistake — and I hope to continue to learn from it every day.