Least Helpful Well-Meaning Responses To Women Sharing About Harassment
Sometimes a woman will share about some unpleasant or horrific incident of harassment. The responses are often terrible. Of course there’s the usual crotchwads that say outright cruel or dismissive things, but there’s also well-meaning or apparently well-meaning folks that are exhausting for different reasons.
1. The Liam Neeson In Taken
There is always some weirdo who basically goes on a “particular set of skills” monologue about what they would have done to this guy. This armchair Rambo would have simply tactically disabled the perpetrator with a simple Krav Maga move or devastated them with an incredible verbal zinger, or perhaps they are offering, pointlessly, to use their particular set of skills on this loser, for you, as revenge.
Not everyone can turn another person’s venting about a traumatic experience into an opportunity to share their own martial arts class resume or skill at witty repartee so hats off to them.
1A. The Person Who Thinks You Should Have Been Liam Neeson
It’s often implied in Liam Neeson Person’s subtext, but sometimes they’ll explicitly say “you should have” executed such-and-such a karate move or delivered the contrived insult they crafted. It’s good to imply that a victim of a bad act was simply too dumb or too cowardly or too incompetent to execute the movie action hero response that you would have carried out. This will be certain to make them feel better.
2. The Ambassador For Men
This is the man who apologizes for all men, because he was voted by the World Man Council to be the Man Ambassador. He needs you to know that he is so sorry and that not all men are like this. He’s NOT a #notallmen guy because he doesn’t want to excuse any men, in fact he thinks #allmen have the responsibility to say sorry and spend their entire conversation with you talking about how sorry they are that other men are like this, and how horrible and gut-wrenching this makes them feel, as a man, and very little of it thinking about how you felt then, how you are now, what you need going forward, or any of that non-man-related shit.
3. The Man Who Did Better
This man has a great success story for you about a time when a man did NOT do what that bad man did to you. Instead of refusing to hire someone because she was a woman, he hired TEN incredible women, and they are doing GREAT. And he’d do it again! That man? Was him.
Some people might tell this man to read the room. He did read the room. It was talking about a bad man, who did something bad, and maybe a woman that something bad got done to. What the room is looking for is a hero, a story where the main character (the bad man) was a different man instead, who did the right thing. That’s uplifting. The woman? Of course, of course she shall have her part in the story. She gets to bookend the story by replying “and this, my friends, is what a true man should be.”
4. The Woman Who Did Better
Sometimes a woman will pop up to say that this has never been a problem for them, because they are TOUGH and don’t let these little things bother them, and if you want to stick around you need to be TOUGH. All the FEMINISTS are ruining things for women by making them weak. Right, boys? I’m one of you, right? *punches nearby men in the elbow* Broads these days are so whiny, am I right, guys?
This woman will soon be thrown under the bus by the fellows she is sucking up to.
5. The “Name and Shame” Popcorn Eater
If the woman doesn’t name the person, someone will inevitably demand names. This can be legit, people who want to help often want to know who to boycott or avoid or report. There are a certain subset of people that are a little too insistent, where you can smell the popcorn cooking in their microwave, where they were getting ready to sit down for some juicy drama, and are mad they’re not getting any more fun details.
These people ask repeatedly, even after the woman says no thanks, or cites safety concerns, or other reasons, sometimes turning their full wrath on the woman herself and claiming she’s part of the problem and she’s a coward or a liar. At this point it’s unlikely this person is asking out of deep concern for her.
6. “Ignore Them”
Happens more if the harassment is online than in-person but there’s always someone that wants you to ignore the haters and think of happy things. “They just want attention,” they say. “You’re giving them exactly what they want, and they win.”
Again this is a really weird perspective where the outcome of the situation centers around whether the harasser thinks they “won” or “lost”, making them the central character in the situation. Most women do not care quite as much how the harasser feels about the outcome so much as how her own life (and/or the lives of other women) is affected by the outcome.
The ideal outcome is something along the lines of not getting harassed anymore, and nobody else having to worry about getting harassed in the future. Real life evidence seems to indicate that ignoring seems to not accomplish this at all.
Also, in many cases, this seems to, at heart, be a disturbing variant of “stick to sports”/”stick to comedy”. The “ignore them” adviser is used to getting entertaining content from this woman, and these sad stories and angry rants about harassment are very negative and make the adviser feel bad and helpless. They would like the woman to get back to doing the entertaining thing.
What Should I Say Instead?
I think the whole point here is to respond to the person as if they are an individual human being with specific and unique things going on in their brain and to not pull your favorite story or response out of your bag of tricks. If someone says they don’t know what to do, offer advice. If they have some call to action, like sign a petition or don’t work with so-and-so, then if you agree, do that. If they are just venting, say that it sucks. If you know them personally, offer to talk. If you don’t, maybe not.