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On Writing In Public

@barnhouse But who has the right to decide what something is worth on behalf of another person? I don't know what a person's safety and well-being is contingent upon better than that person does. We do know that some people get hounded and bullied for speaking up about assault. We know that some people are physically harmed for speaking up. We know that some people will lose the support of their family and friends if they speak up. We know that some people's mental health suffers as a result–often fatally. There have been several very public cases in the past few years showing us just that. (Not that everyone is as at risk for the same harms at the same level.) I'm not saying there is no value in speaking up–there is a great deal. But I'm not going to decide what that risk is worth to someone who isn't me.

Posted on March 14, 2014 at 3:13 pm 0

On Writing In Public

@barnhouse Yeah, exactly. If some people are OK with it, then fine. They made that choice and I respect their willingness to tell their story publicly. But not everyone did.

As far as the first amendment goes--there are a lot of things that you are entitled to do legally that aren't moral or ethical actions. That is the distinction I am drawing here.

Posted on March 14, 2014 at 2:57 pm 0

On Writing In Public

@Aatom You could also think about it this way--if you were walking down the street talking to some friends about that time you were sexually assaulted, you would be doing it in public. Could someone legally record you and then post it on BuzzFeed? Maybe? (I don't know.) But would that someone be doing something ethically out of line? Probably. Would it do you some harm? Almost certainly.

Posted on March 14, 2014 at 2:53 pm 0

On Writing In Public

"But in this instance, the whole point of the original Twitter feed was to make it clear to as many as possible that people do not "invite" sexual assault with their clothes."

No--this wasn't the *whole* point. The whole point was to share these stories in a way that people who have gone through sexual assault--and who are very likely to be dismissed or vilified for speaking about it--feel they have some small modicum of respect and safety. A lot of the people involved in these conversations have carved out a small space on Twitter where they, like most of us, expect to be involved in a community of a few hundred or a few thousand at most. Small potatoes on Twitter. They didn't expect their tweets to be amplified in the way that a comment-mining juggernaut like Buzz Feed will do. Because many of their images and handles were shoddily disguised, some of their stories were outed to many of their friends, families, and acquaintances. That can cause a lot of real trouble for survivors and their families.

"If millions came to learn what these Twitterers had to say, then that is all to the good. If the people who know about it don’t brave the danger, then the only people left talking about sexual assault are the ones who have the least business doing so."

I strongly sympathize with the desire to change the dominant discourse about rape. But there is a reason Anita Hill is exceptional and heroic. That woman went through hell to speak up. And is *still* attacked for speaking up to this day. But she got to decide whether she was strong enough to speak out to a national public. These women's hands were forced and they are on Twitter right now, saying that they are sad and angry to have their tweets published (no, not all permissions were granted) and that they have been harmed. Why take that agency away from them? Why do a material harm to particular people in the name of an abstract good for an abstract set of people?

And this is the crux--the press having the freedom to speak up against public harms and the press using ethical discretion so as not to do harm are two different things. Nobody is saying in this instance that we need to dismantle the press--juxtaposing the systematic dismantling of the Russian press and free speech with people having ethical objections to American journalists' decisions about how they used the words of sexual assault victims implies a deeply false equivalence. What some people are suggesting is that we don't deny sexual assault victims agency over when and where their narratives are shared and who gets to oversee that narrative. Respecting the agency of sexual assault victims is *especially* crucial if you are making a claim to work against rape culture. They were trying to stake an ownership claim in their own experiences and then it was taken away from them. If you want to be an ally, be an ally and listen to the people you are claiming to want to help.

To say, "well, you shouldn't have gone out in public if you wanted to be safe" to a rape victim is... un-self-aware? bitterly ironic? hypocritical? cruel? Whatever it is, I think a different approach is warranted.

Posted on March 14, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1

On Writing In Public

Posted on March 14, 2014 at 2:28 pm 0