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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.