“I’m Not Apologizing for Voicing My Opinion”: Entitlement Goes to a Middle School Play

So someone I know recently went to his kid’s middle school play. Awwwww, adorable, right?

During the event, he posted a picture of a beautiful Black woman– surely another parent or relative (because who else goes to school plays?)– in a fit-and-flare leopard print dress with short sleeves, a modest neckline, and a hem that hits just above the knee. She was also wearing boots and a vintage-inspired updo. It was a secretly taken picture. She is smiling. She looks beautiful.

Image

Imagine a leopard-print version of this, worn by a smiling, gorgeous Black woman with fierce boots and an adorable updo.

His comment on the picture was that her outfit is not appropriate for a “jr high play (sic),” but more appropriate for a club “or, better yet, a street corner.” He secretly took a picture of another parent at a school event, posted it online, and called her a whore. The wind was just . . . knocked out of me.

Several people called him out. The first few posts were all curious, on the order of “What? That outfit looks fine to me,” or “Why?” Mine was a little more detailed. I agreed with the other commenters that there was nothing wrong with the outfit, and that I’ve taught in similar outfits, although animal prints are not my personal style. I told him that it’s never appropriate behavior to post a secretly taken picture of a woman–a fellow parent at a school event!– that includes her face and calls her a whore, no matter what your opinion is of her outfit.

He reacted angrily. He said that my comments were “subtext crap” and refused to admit that his behavior was inappropriate in any way. He told me I needed to stop being “every females champion (sic).” He told me “If you don’t like it, that’s not my problem.” He told me, “I’m not apologizing for voicing my opinion.” He told me “I’m not going to sit here and have you ridicule me for voicing my opinion.” (Of course I wasn’t actually ridiculing him in any way, merely stating the things I’ve posted above.) He told me, “I thought you were a better friend than that.”

I received a couple of messages from people who had seen the discussion, thanking me for standing up to him. One called me her “hero for the day.” It was touching.

But the incident still nags at me, and I need to speak out. I need to speak out because this one man’s behavior reflects a pervasive cultural pattern of behavior that plagues women and people of color every single damn day in this country. Enough is enough.

This necklace is sold by the etsy shop MetalTaboo. They have a lot of great stuff, so check them out!

1. She was not dressed inappropriately. When facebookland responded with that, his response was “You weren’t there. I was,” as if being in the physical presence of her magical Black sluttiness would make her dress lower cut? Shorter? What, exactly, was he objecting to about her outfit? A brilliant friend of mine jokingly speculated a subgroup of people who get their information about sex workers from 80s cop shows and believe leopard print = prostitute. The outfit was actually quite modest. Was it her figure? She was what used to be referred to as “va-va-va-voom.” She was a busty, curvy goddess– a full-figured hourglass head-turner. Was it her weight? Her curviness? Would he have objected to her outfit had she been a skinny white girl? It’s unclear, precisely, what he was objecting to, and he refused to clarify. The truth is, he created a rule in his own mind and punished her publicly for breaking it. He targeted her for reasons of his own. He targeted her because he could.

2. He secretly took a picture that included her face. If the picture had been from the neck down, or from behind, it would at least have had some tiny, tiny speck of respect for her as a human being. But he included her face. And of course she wasn’t a complete stranger at a mall he’ll never see again. She’s a fellow parent at the school, or a relative close enough to come to a middle school play on a Thursday night after work. The chances of running into this human being again are high. The chances of having, or at one point acquiring, mutual friends is high. This woman was reasonably identifiable within his social network reach. What does he think this woman, her partner, HER CHILD would think? Would he have done this if the woman was white? Would he have done this if the woman was walking with a man? He feels well within his right to publicly point out a woman and name her a whore. Would he be OK with another man doing this to his wife or daughters? Of course not. But this woman, in his opinion, deserves it. She is not worth basic human consideration to him.

3. “I’m not apologizing for voicing my opinion.” We’ve already covered that he targeted her simply because he could, and that he felt entitled to put her face on the internet and label her a whore. Now we get to the inevitable part where he defends this behavior as his right.

When called out by multiple people, he said he’s entitled to express his “opinion.” He clearly feels that the scope of his “opinion” includes public shaming (but only for others, as we’ll get to in a moment). He does not see the difference between having an opinion and expressing that opinion publicly. He has no fucks to give about that public expression’s consequences for OTHERS. Despite our dissent, he couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that the picture he posted belied his opinion, and instead insisted that the OPINION redefined THE PICTURE– that his opinion was more REAL than the EVIDENCE. (“You were not there. I was.” “It must just be the picture. You had to be there. It was inappropriate.”) He believes he has every right to state his opinion (no matter how hurtful to others), that his opinion should be accepted as fact without question despite evidence to the contrary, and that there is no possible way the public expression of this opinion could be wrong in any way. “Voicing my opinion” is, for him, a magic formula of entitlement.

4. He believes his actions should have no consequences, and is shocked and appalled when they do. It comes as no surprise that someone who targets a woman almost at random, feels entitled to put her face on the internet and label her a whore, and defends this behavior as his right should also believe that this behavior should be completely without consequence– for HIM. One wonders what school admin would think if they discover a parent is secretly taking pictures of other parents at school events and posting them to the internet with nasty comments. One wonders what this woman’s attorney would think.

I know what I think: That all too often men think they are perfectly entitled to claim authority over women’s bodies and determine when and how we are displaying ourselves “inappropriately”; that all too often white people think they are perfectly entitled to claim authority over Black bodies and determine when and how they are displaying themselves “inappropriately.” This struggle over “appropriate display” has tentacles into every aspect of our culture, including my own world of theatre. WHO is appropriate for WHAT role– WHO determines what body is acceptable to inhabit Lady Anne or Biff Loman– and HOW those determinations are applied– are processes that many in this community are constantly fighting to open wider. Representation– and who controls the definition of “appropriate”– MATTERS.

This facebook debacle is one example out of millions, happening every day. THIS MATTERS. Am I “every females champion”? FUCK YES I AM.

One of the many Black Madonnas of medieval Europe. This one is from the 12th century and is in Barcelona.

One of the females I champion. One of the many gorgeous Black Madonnas of medieval Europe. This one is from the 12th century and is in Barcelona.

I was much less . . . fiery in the actual discussion, posting about four or five comments, most in response to his assertion of entitlement and (inevitable) accusations that I was attacking him. Of course, I never once attacked him. Instead I told him he did not have the right to attack HER. My comments were all respectful (no name-calling, no personal belittling), stating that he was not entitled to post secretly-taken pictures of other parents and call them whores, that her outfit was actually quite modest, that I have several outfits very much like it.

His reaction was unfocused rage. He accused me several times of “ridiculing” him, and twice told me, “Don’t you know when to quit?”

speakthetruth

And THAT, I think, reveals the heart of the matter. He felt entitled to the right to ridicule a Black woman for displaying herself publicly in a manner he found unacceptable. He did not, however, believe that *I* was entitled to the right to disagree, and that my public disagreement with him was “ridicule.” Of course I wasn’t actually ridiculing him in any way. I know how, believe me. He was automatically interpreting a woman’s dissent as ridicule. I was challenging his authority. He felt entitled to claim authority over a woman’s body without consequences, and did everything he could, including deleting my comments, to silence my dissent.

His twice-repeated “Don’t you know when to quit?” came while he was still directing comments at me– comments I was expected to take silently.

5. “This is MY facebook timeline . . . I’ll remove content from my timeline I don’t wish to have there.” Apart from the obvious (there are still ToS, harassment laws, and fucking basic human decency), he’s right that it’s his timeline and he can control its contents. He has every right to remove content from his own timeline that’s critical of his actions.

When I told him I agreed that he had every right to delete my comments, and that I would, since I had quite a bit to say about this issue, blog about it instead (assuring him I would not reveal his identity), using my own venue for my own thoughts, he accused me of “throwing him under the bus.”

He believes, correctly, that he has every right to delete comments that are critical of his actions or unflattering to him from his own timeline. But he also believes he’s entitled to post whatever unflattering content he likes about other people, and– this is the real kicker– that no one else is entitled to post anything critical or unflattering about him in ANY venue.

Of course it never occurred to him that he was throwing this beautiful Black woman “under the bus.” In his mind, she DESERVES IT by daring to appear in public in an outfit of which he disapproves. He feels that he deserves sympathy, empathy, and compassion, but she does not deserve the like.

This is the very soul of entitlement. He believes he intrinsically deserves, and should automatically receive, a level of consideration and compassion he is unwilling to extend to others.

This is an attitude I see far too often about women, Black people, people in poverty, LGBT people, people who exist outside of any of the basic markers of privilege in this country. We are not entitled to the same treatment because people like this refuse to see us as fully human, as real, as entitled to compassionate treatment as THEY are. They feel entitled to mete out punishment and shame to us as they see fit, and howl with rage when met with dissent. They do everything within their power to silence or discredit dissent.

DO NOT LET THEM SILENCE YOU. Enough is enough.

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33 thoughts on ““I’m Not Apologizing for Voicing My Opinion”: Entitlement Goes to a Middle School Play

  1. One of the sad truths about schoolyard bullies like this man is that, while they feel completely entitled to dish out crap to anyone they think is worthy of their contempt, they are totally incapable of taking it on the chin when the tables are turned.

    Suppose (just as a hypothetical) that a woman who was in attendance at that performance took a picture of this man — a picture that included his face — and posted it on her Facebook page with the words “child molester” as a caption.

    What do you think the consequences would have been for that man? For his child (who was a student at the school)? For that man’s family?

    And what if all of his outrage at being labeled a child molester was met with the statement “I’m not apologizing for voicing my opinion.” What do you think would happen then?

  2. kizzylee says:

    oh my words almost fail me thank god you spoke up, he was lucky i didn’t know him or was part of any of it i would have not being able to stop myself- it makes me boil to see small minded people like him think they have some right to ruin another persons life, i hope that woman is strong and not sensitive, i wonder if this took place in england? because while he may be entitled to his opinion he is not entitled to slander and that is exactly what he has done slander and here in england there are laws against that, and i hope karma plays a role in all of this; may he suffer also a person making assumptions about him, and post those assumptions for the world to see, ack i could fill a whole book with how much this man needs to be brought to bear the weight of his own behavior but i wont take up your comments page with this i shall say you have my complete and full respect and friendship for life, thank you for being there, for saying what you did and for being the good person you are, xx

  3. sergigalemontague says:

    I totally agree with you. On the other hand, I am very glad you know Moreneta, as we barcelonins (people from Barcelona) call our black Virgin

  4. graysea says:

    the lack of explanation may have insinuated the link is sketchy: it’s actually just a refreshingly well-written piece about the topic you’re so intelligently outlining

    • chasbelov says:

      I agree that link is a well-written piece. Although Melissa’s piece (as well as at least one other) would seem to indicate that women aren’t welcome in public either.

  5. Ellen E says:

    Thank you so much for speaking up to him. And for sharing.

  6. Karla says:

    Since I’m not in that FB thread (thank god) I can voice my opinion fully: he’s calling her a whore because she’s black. Either he doesn’t like black people, or he doesn’t like black people but wants her, and is pissed off because he senses (rightly) that she wouldn’t want him. There’s a lot of anger in his actions: i mean, it takes effort to secretly photograph someone and post her image on your FB page, he had at least an hour during that time to think it through and cool down, but he didn’t, and it takes real nastiness to call her a whore for dressing in an acceptable way. Maybe he isn’t comfortable when a woman expresses her sexuality, even in a mainstream manner. What’s especially enlightening is his response that your comments are “throwing him under the bus” since: 1. it indicates he thinks in cliches, and 2. he got the cliche wrong. “Throwing X under the bus” is the same as “having X throw himself on his sword” or “throwing X to the dogs.” That is, two or more people are taking heat for something, so they sacrifice a group member to bear the brunt of the animosity. Which has anything to do with your discussion how? He sounds like a dim bigot.

  7. Bruch Reed says:

    Your failure to reveal his identity and post a link to his page/comments renders your blogging a meaningless activity.

    • I disagree. The post addresses a TYPE of behavior, as well as this one incident. And since I have seen this TYPE of behavior many times on the internet, it seems to me that this post speaks to a larger problem.

      Naming this man and including a link to his post and would have read as retaliatory and spiteful. I don’t know the author, but from reading this one post, I get the strong impression that she’s a bigger person than that. In addition to this, outing him would have pointed more people to his post, compounding the violation of the woman’s privacy and ensuring that more people would associate her with the cruel label he publicly slapped on her.

    • Nikki says:

      No it doesn’t.

  8. gwangung says:

    Geez. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. If you make a comment, don’t be surprised by a response you don’t like—he has his right to opinion, and other folks have a right to THEIR opinion on HIS opinion….including pointing out if there are racial elements to that opinion

  9. cynthiaw says:

    Wow – that whole thing just makes me so, so RAGEY. I cannot even believe the nerve of some people – even if she HAD been dressed inappropriately, who is he to call her a whore and publicly shame her?

    Even if he removed your comments, I’m so glad that you stood up to that bully. I hope that poor woman either never finds out what he did or she does and she confronts him over it. Personally, I’d complain to Facebook and ask for it to be removed.

    I do find it ironic that people like that think that they are entitled to spew their garbage all over the place, but that no one else has the right to call them on their bullshit.

  10. The shear power of truth, expressed.
    I could not agree more.

    Michael Fleming/Brahmacharya Baba

  11. I applaud you for not revealing his identity, because it’s not the person so much as what he did that appalls. He is not a lone idiot in the sea; there are many like him and you are right, we need to speak up. Good for you.

  12. Hi, I came over from Facebook after seeing commenter Ellen further up the thread posting this there. Just wanted to thank you for posting this and sharing the story.

  13. Kori says:

    I found this article interesting and overall well done, addressing a much-needed topic that usually only gets filed under the general word “bullying” and never really addressed on its individual harm. However, I’m hoping you’re up for a little constructive criticism, because there was something about this post that really bothered me.

    Overall, I love the points you made; the differences in having an opinion versus expressing that opinion harmfully, entitlement, and lack of awareness of consequences. All of that was not only well-written, but a great expression of standing up for yourself and for others who are being ridiculed.

    My complaint with the way this article was written lies in the addressing of race and gender. From the comments you quoted from this man, he did not seem to ever mention her color as being a driving force for his post or his cruel and childish name-calling. The fact that so much of your article addressed that she was black, and would this have happened were she white, was actually irrelevant and only weakened your argument. Whether she is white or black doesn’t matter, what matters was that a person was publicly ridiculed and shamed. The man did not use race as a manner of humiliation, whether he is racist or not (which he may well be). Bringing race into it only clouds the issue.

    Similarly, focusing so much on the fact that this was a man ridiculing a woman also changes the focus from Public Humiliation to Sexism. Now, this point is definitely not as unfounded as bringing race into it, as the man did denounce her with a term generally used against women and not men, so I do see where you were coming from bringing the discussion of gender into it. However, I still feel that this man should not get to claim that you’re being a “champion” of females everywhere, as you are actually being a champion of EVERYONE everywhere. Addressing that this was a woman he was ridiculing only gave him more reason to ridicule. That man needs to understand that he should not be able to post pictures of any parent at any time with the express goal of ridicule – be it man or woman. What he did, in the very bare basics of it, was wrong. Unfortunately, by bringing the fact that she was a woman into it only attempts to distract from the main issue and gives him the ability to claim that you’re only being a feminist (again, this man sounds like such a shining example of humanity. Sarcasm, just in case that didn’t come through in text form).

    This woman should never have had this happen to her, not because she is female, not because she’s black, and not because she wore a dress he did not approve of. This should not have happened because of what you said – basic human rights and common decency. I hope that man learns something from your work, though my hopes for him are incredibly low.

    So, I hope this constructive criticism does not sound harsh or rude. I think you made some amazing points in this article and I really think this needs to be shared. You stood up for everyone – not just this one woman – when you decided to write this and point out yet another case of bullying. Good on you, and thank you for sharing this.

    • Respectfully, there’s an assumption that underlies your criticism here. The assumption is that we (men, women, various racial identities) are already equal. It assumes no structural problem underlying the actions of this man and casts him as a lone bully. The problem she addresses here is not simply generic bullying, although that is a problem in our culture and many others. It is a kind of bullying that, while it does occasionally run the other way, is disproportionately directed at women, by men. And it is *particularly* directed at black women, not just by white men but also by white women (see Miley Cyrus, Lilly Allen). Broadening the issue to make it only about bullying, in my opinion, dilutes a particularly pernicious, specific problem that the writer seems to be trying to address.

    • But what you seem to be glossing over is the fact that both Blacks and women are subject to biased scrutinies that are not directed at other marginalised groups.

      Melissa, the author of this post, isn’t pulling the Sexism focus out of thin air, she’s basing it on the fact that the “photographer” chose to none-to-subtly refer to the woman as a prostitute. That makes him a sexist.

      And while you may have a point that – from what Melissa has shown of his comments – he never seems to directly address her race, one would be remiss to not consider it a possibility. The clearest sign that one is encouraging/enabling racism – intentionally or not – is saying that it doesn’t exist.

      As well-intentioned as one might be, treating discrimination as “one size fits all” would just add to the problem rather than solving it.

  14. There’s a one word description for this guy, but you being a lady, I shall simply pass it over in silence.

    You done good, ma’am.

  15. These kinds of characters like to howl about how their First Amendment rights are being infringed upon when people find their speech offensive. As you said, incendiary behavior is going to have consequences. When someone’s image is used and the person’s character assailed, others have a right to react. He’s lucky this woman isn’t litigious.

  16. Stanley Justice says:

    In some states what he did was a criminal offense, punishable by a $10k fine and jail time. So people should take that into consideration as well.

    • Kathy Stuart says:

      Yes, I do think it might be appropriate for someone in the practice of law to explain slander/libel to him.

      If I were the woman he defamed I would be very torn between kicking his ass in court or taking the moral high road and just ignoring his ignorance. Oh hell, who am I kidding, I would have had him served before close of business next day.

  17. Sandy Steer says:

    Please give us the name of the young man and his picture so we can offer him a teaching moment……

  18. Mrs. L says:

    As soon as he posted a picture of the woman without her permission and made inappropriate, perhaps even slanderous, comments about her, he lost the privilege of having his name kept secret and his Facebook page kept private. What amazes me is that you still seem to be willing to keep him as a friend. His behavior is grounds for divorce.

  19. I’m not black, I’m white. I see this happening to women far too often. I’m also a plus sized model. I’m also heavily involved with the vintage community. I find that this kind of shaming of women happens to plus size and especially plus sized women who aren’t white (I work with a gorgeous plus size Asian gal). You can put myself and my Asian friend next to a white skinny girl in the exact same outfit and we are either called sluts or told we look like dolls (infantized).

    Reading this today is timely. I posted yesterday that I found my wedding dress finally (after weeks of fat shaming in bridal salons I found one not only with nice dresses in my size but who treated me like a human being). I posted simply “I think I just said yes to the dress.” I woke up to this reply:

    “Please tell me you don’t have your cleavage spilling all over. I cringe whenever I see those brides to be choosing dresses that look like a part of a strippers wardrobe. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of female anatomy, but a wedding day is not the place for a woman to show everyone her tits. Save that for the beach on the honeymoon. But do post wedding pics, I know you’ll be beautiful. ”

    Seriously? With my bust size I can wear a turtle neck and be told I look like a stripper. In fact due to comments by the same man I have a dress I haven’t worn in a couple months. But your post has given me much to think about and perhaps a way to from my thoughts in response.

    • Ugh, that’s ridiculous. What a turbo-charged jerk.

      I wrote a bit more about thin privilege and visibility in an article called “The Weapon of Invisibility,” and I plan to write about it more in a future post specifically about casting. Here’s the link. The first part’s about race and the second part’s about size. https://bittergertrude.com/2014/03/12/the-weapon-of-invisibility/

      Do you have an online portfolio? I would happily approve a comment with a link to your work. 🙂

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  21. You’re kind of awesome. No, wait. Strike the “kind of”. You’re awesome, period.

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