Update: How To Be Selfish

Thank you to everyone who read, liked, and shared my previous post, “How To Be A Slut.” I truly appreciate the feedback, since I think that this is an issue that needs to be talked about.

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Today, I received this comment on the post from someone with the name Realist Existentialist:

“This is not a slut moment, my friend – it is a selfish moment.

There is a harassment that this woman goes through and then there is also the social harassment that those two men are going through – they are lonely. Let us solve problems by identifying the root. Their problem has become yours…their loneliness has forced them to beg for your company and cry for your help. You didn’t care for their despair, did you? You didn’t reach out and try to introduce them to two 200 pound girl friends of yours (or someone their type) did you?”

This is my response:

Hi Realist Existentialist,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on my post. I wrote about this experience because many women I know have had similar interactions, and I thought that opening up a dialogue about sexual harassment might be helpful.

I admit that I did not consider the feelings of the two men who verbally harassed me on the street at 1 in the morning, while I was walking alone. In that moment, gripped by an intense fear that I might be further assaulted or even raped, I did not pause to speculate on whether it might just be their immense loneliness and internal pain and suffering causing them to lash out at a stranger walking in the street – how very selfish of me.

I was rudely thinking only of myself because I was terrified that they would do more than simply scream “slut” and “fucking bitch” at me. It was a real possibility that, in their unfounded rage, they could escalate from verbal harassment to physical and/or sexual harassment. After all, I am tall, but no match for two large men. They were fully in control, by virtue of their size and the fact that they outnumbered me.

I should point out that the situation would have been just as intimidating if they were both 100 pounds or there was only one of them. Regardless of these factors, the sheer vitriol hurled at me – for simply being a woman who chose not to engage in a conversation – was enough to both terrify me and make me feel immensely hated.

You’re right, it was completely selfish of me to not offer myself up to comfort them, to give them my phone number and the numbers of two of my friends for them to date and help extinguish their loneliness, or even to take them up on their invitation to go party that very night. Of course I have nothing better to do than to cater to the whims of random people who are yelling lewd and spiteful comments at me! After all, based on our first and only interaction, they seem like two awesome dudes who have lots of redeeming qualities, right? Like people I would want to get to know better and who wouldn’t threaten me sexually or try their best to demean me just because I happen to be a woman?

I should have intuited when they screamed, “You’re a fucking bitch!” that they really meant to softly confide, “I’m so lonely, and I have never known the love of a good woman. I would love to get to know you or one of your friends better, treat her right, and feel that warm glow of intimacy that has been such a lack in my life.” You’re right, me not assuming that they had only the best of intentions, and that they just made a mistake in their wording and tone and volume, was purely selfish. What a narrow-minded way of interpreting the words “fucking” and “bitch” yelled at me multiple times.

Also, regardless of their motivation for acting in such a malicious way towards someone who did nothing to provoke them – be that loneliness or lack of love or simple boredom – I am confused as to why you think that I owe something to these two people, or that it is somehow my fault that they acted in this way. Why is it that “their problem has become” mine simply because I happened to walk past them on the street? I won’t speculate on what they are actually like in “real life,” whether they are lonely or “good guys” in other situations, because this was my sole interaction with them. How else am I to interpret their actions but as violent and misogynistic?

Why should I be chastised for the fact that I didn’t respond politely, decide to smile and be friendly, or even flirty, and act like I would love nothing more than to interact with these two potentially dangerous, hate-filled people?

Why should I be asked to “reach out” or “care for their [supposed] despair” when all they did to merit such a response was to intimidate me, reduce me to sexual chattel, and cause me to fear for my safety?

You’re suggesting that I should feel guilty for not reaching out to these two men, who probably walked home without a second thought about the incident, while I was left shaking and crying afterwards, and still thinking about how violated I felt days later?

How selfish of me not to consider their feelings, after they were so very considerate of mine.

This was not their innocent attempt at reaching out to a stranger – I’ve experienced plenty of those, as well, and have felt genuine connections with people I’ve talked to for only a few minutes. I know many friends who admit to being lonely, and who don’t find an outlet for these feelings by screaming the word “slut” repeatedly at strangers. Most people do not choose to express their “despair” or loneliness by making others feel scared, small, and ashamed.

The reaction of these men towards me did not indicate they were trying to “beg for [my] company and cry for [my] help.” I find it exceedingly hard to believe that they were merely attempting to reach out and find a friend for comfort in the cold, dark night. This was intimidation, pure and simple. And they enjoyed seeing my fear. It was entertaining for them, and probably made them feel powerful.

Thank you for belittling my fear, and for trying to make me feel guilty for not – what, setting up these two wonderful gentlemen with two of my own friends? It was quite a shock to discover that there are people who do think it is a woman’s fault for getting into these situations, that the victims “owe” something to those who would treat them with an utter lack of respect, and the harassers do not have to be held accountable for their violent, disgusting actions.

After all, the harassers are not the selfish ones in this scenario, they’re just expressing their loneliness. That’s a perfectly suitable excuse for making another person feel anxious, demeaned, objectified, and hesitant to ever walk in public.

The next time something like this happens to me (and it inevitably will), I’ll just try reaching out to those people who derive pleasure from instilling fear in women and who seek to destroy my confidence, my sense of safety, and any illusion that I own my own body and don’t have to offer it up to anyone I happen to pass by in the street.

Thanks for the tips.

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6 thoughts on “Update: How To Be Selfish

  1. I never cease to be amazed at your ability to so beautifully articulate your stance to the world – I would likely let such a comment doubt myself, and my conviction, and eventually just try to forget it. I’m so glad you can take such feedback, break it down and show how misguided and hurtful it is, not just to you – but anyone who has had an experience like your last one. Hopefully the Realist Existentialist can take something from it, and maybe reconsider their stance.

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  2. Your response to this is perfect!

    I had to read the comment in question over several times to be sure I wasn’t missing something. While I sincerely hope it was penned by a bored troll, sadly, it would not surprise me if it was genuine.

    Feeling lonely, something that all people go through, sometimes for long periods of time, while not fun, is not the same thing as being harrassed or threatened by other people. It’s not even in the same family and it in no way entitles someone to attention from whomever they decide to demand it from. In fact, feeling lonely does not entitle you to anything at all, and it is not up to anyone else to make you feel less lonely.

    Loneliness is not the root of harrassment, even if the perpetrators happen to be lonely. If they truly feel despair due to loneliness, they could call someone who loves them, join a meetup group or seek professional help. What these men displayed was not loneliness but a lack of understanding, respect and empathy, and it is certainly not the responsibility of the victim of harrassment to put his or herself in harm’s way or to go out of his or her way at all to gently educate the perpetrator.

    These men are pathetic bullies who are old enough to know better and to take responsibility for and change their behaviour.

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    1. Thank you for your eloquent comments! I was also hoping it was just a troll comment, but thought I should record my thoughts just in case it wasn’t. I read your post on sexual harassment – also very well written, and unfortunately, it is just one story of many.

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