• Yehudit Zicklin-Sidikman

Two Stories. One Point.



This is a letter from a dear friend.


I'm sharing it because it's too important not to.


Please read:


I woke up the other day thinking about a conversation I had many, many, many years ago. And although I generally avoid long tirades, I've decided I'm going to share this one.


I was a young graduate student living in Berkeley. The prevalence of rape was an issue. A young woman walking across campus, walking home from the library, walking anywhere by herself, was at risk of being followed and attacked. Emergency call stations were a brand new thing on campus; you could use them to call any time for someone to come walk you home, if you wished. On top of campus rape, there was a notorious serial rapist in the news in the Bay Area (“Stinky”). And on top of that, there were several stories in the news about murdered women in the, possibly victims of a serial rapist/murderers of prostitutes.


So, on this one evening, I was walking with two fellow grad students, young men, and we reached the edge of campus at Euclid Avenue, and stood there talking for a while, as people do, before heading off in different directions to our respective homes. And then one of them asked whether I wanted them to walk me to my place three blocks away, and I said no, it wasn’t necessary, but it sucked to have to worry about that kind of thing, looking over my shoulder because I might be attacked or murdered.

. . . but it sucked to have to worry about that kind of thing, looking over my shoulder because I might be attacked or murdered.

“Murdered? What do you mean?” – and I referenced the women found dead in Oakland or wherever it was.


“Oh, but they were prostitutes!”


Wait. So I asked, “It’s okay to rape and murder someone if they’re a prostitute?”


“Well, no, but the REAL scary people are the prostitutes themselves! They have guns, and they’re liable to rob you or shoot you – you have to be ready to protect yourself!”


Seriously! These pale little grad students who had probably never been with a prostitute and never would be, were full of this fear. “You don’t think maybe they have guns to try to protect themselves from abusive and murderous clients? I mean, they work a pretty risky job,” I said.


“No way. They’re rough people, and they’re criminals; half of them are out to attack and rob the johns.”


Somehow, the fact that some actual human women had been murdered - had lost their lives - was forgotten in the conversation.


“Well, I don’t know,” I said, “but in any case, women shouldn’t have to spend their lives worrying about whether they’ll be assaulted and raped.”

. . . but in any case, women shouldn’t have to spend their lives worrying about whether they’ll be assaulted and raped.

“Oh, sure, of course,” one said; and the other one added, “And you know what’s REALLY bad, is men getting raped in prison!” And the first one agreed, and then they were sharing their mutual fears together again and suddenly it was as if I was not even in the conversation.


After a minute I butted in and asked why *men* getting raped was *really bad,* but women getting raped was just *bad.*


“Well, you know, men getting raped is *unnatural.*”


Let me just interject that these were “nice” young men, well-educated, self-identified as open-minded, generous people. If you accused them of being sexist, or classist, or homophobic, they’d have objected furiously! They’d have cited their intelligent grad-student girlfriends, their charitable donations, their friend or relative who is gay.


It’s necessary to lay out what these guys were saying.


Context matters. When the subject matter was that some women were being murdered and dumped by the road, they said, “Well, that’s not good, but what’s REALLY bad is prostitutes with guns who might rob ME.”


In other words, the lives of those women didn’t count for much compared to their own discomfort about hypothetical scary criminals.

In other words, the lives of those women didn’t count for much compared to their own discomfort about hypothetical scary criminals.

When the subject matter was that half the population – women – can’t just live their lives without looking over their shoulders in fear of being followed, attacked, and raped, they said, “Yeah, but what’s REALLY bad is when men like ME get raped!”


In other words, their own discomfort about something that could (hypothetically) happen to THEM, is way more important than the safety and quality of life for half the human population. And besides, rape of women is *natural.* And it’s natural for prostitutes to be involved in, and therefore victims of, violent crime.


“That’s not what I meant!” you may cry on their behalf; but, sorry. They said what they said, and that is what it meant. If it’s not what they intended, if it’s not what they really believed, then they needed to examine their assumptions, examine their words and the context – and say something different. Admit their mistaken (or absent) reasoning and take it back.


Beware: What you blurt out without thinking is liable to show your true nature. These guys were so steeped in their own privilege they couldn’t see it. It was just a given. Of *course* their own personal concerns as young men should count for more than a bunch of women’s lives!


So here, at last, is my point.


Context matters. Words, in context, matter. If the huge discussion of the day is that a man had the life crushed out of him under a “peace” officer’s knee, and that it’s one more senseless death in a long line of senseless deaths for generations, and you say, “Yes, that’s bad. But I wish I didn’t have to worry about my car getting broken into.” You’re saying your concern about your car is comparable to those people’s *lives* - and you’re afraid if you interfere with police brutality, then the police won’t be able to protect your car.


Instead of saying, for example, “Stop! Let’s deal with this brutality issue; my personal concerns can wait.”

Instead of saying, for example, “Stop! Let’s deal with this brutality issue; my personal concerns can wait.”

And if the national conversation of the day is that millions of Americans cannot live their daily lives without fear that they, their sons, their brothers, husbands or fathers, might meet the same fate as that man crushed under the cop’s knee, and your response is, “Yeah, but what’s REALLY bad is that people are saying mean things about cops!” – you are ignoring the reality of all those millions of fellow Americans, saying their right to live a decent life without fear of being killed counts for nothing compared to the hypothetical feelings of a police officer hearing hateful words on the job.


What we all need to be saying is “these people have a real grievance; I wonder what we and the cops can do to solve this?”

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