Wednesday, July 30, 2014

People Hate Women's Boundaries: The Shakesville Story

One of the most important things I learned in therapy was about boundaries. Boundaries are extremely important. They're like the walls between social dimensions, and if you don't respect them, the dimensions bleed into each other causing unimaginable chaos leading every living being to die a horribly painful death.

Okay, technically that was the plot of season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but you know what I mean. Boundaries need to be set and respected, and a healthy relationship between oneself and others cannot exist without this.

Unfortunately, men are taught to not respect women's boundaries. It's not even that they're not taught to respect our boundaries. They're specifically encouraged to DISrespect them, to push up against them, or downright walk all over them.

Socialization Strikes Again

When you ask a woman out and she says "no," she's setting a boundary. She's drawing a line in the sand at romantic involvement. If you were to respect that boundary, you would say "okay" and not push the issue. But that's not what happens, is it? Men rarely respect this boundary, which is not surprising. They have this type of disrespect modeled for them time and time again in media. Movie after movie of men refusing to accept no for an answer. Accepting "no" is considered failure, "giving up," un-manly, unacceptable. If you REALLY want a woman, you have to keep trying.

And what is a woman who reinforces these boundaries? Who continues to firmly say "no," or who gets angry when her boundaries are disrespected? Oh, all manner of names, including adjectives like "cold" and "frigid." It's considered cruel for a woman not to "give him a chance." Of course, it's very different when a man rejects a woman. Men's boundaries are to be respected, and a woman who pushes against them is a deviant to be looked down upon.

Whenever women set hard boundaries and insist they be respected, men get upset about it and express that displeasure by going out of their way to walk over said boundaries. Try to tell men that you don't want their opinion on something and they'll flock to you to give their opinions. Tell a street harasser to leave you alone, and at best they'll keep yelling stuff at you.

True story: I once said "no thanks" to a guy who offered me his fortune cookie. He got mad and told me it was rude to decline when someone offers you something, whether you want it or not. I stared at him in disbelief until he left.

And that was over a cookie that had to be at least 30% Styrofoam.

The Shakesville Story

Recently, one of my favorite feminist bloggers - whom I can credit for shaping many of my feminist ideals and teaching me about fat hatred - wrote about a campaign of harassment that has been going on for quite some time, but has recently escalated to include the harassment of her husband, friends, moderators, members of the community, and anyone associated with Shakesville. Melissa McEwan has been ignoring this harassment up until this point, but as she's so invested in protecting people she cares about, including community members, she was compelled to speak out about it.

While I don't agree with absolutely everything she says and does, I owe a lot to her, and there is no excuse for the harassment being thrown at her - let alone her loved ones, some of whom have nothing to do with the blog itself. The harassers excuse their behavior by claiming that they're trying to "protect" people and rescue the community members from themselves, because they apparently view Shakesville as some kind of cult (how you can have a cult entirely online is beyond me) - but that is clearly a lie. They hate Shakesville because of the strict, clear boundaries that she sets and enforces for the space that belongs to her.

True story: Several months ago, I Googled my name for funsies. Among old articles and a Pokemon fanfic I wrote when I was nine, I found my name on a Tumblr blog dedicated to convincing people that Shakesville is a cult. I was disgusted by the find and had to investigate. Turns out they'd take an interaction between myself and Melissa McEwan in the comments section of one of her posts. She'd simply corrected me on something I said that was disrespectful, and I apologized and edited the comment to remove it. That was the end of it. She was gentle in her comment and I respected her enough to comply with the rules she'd set for a blog which she owns.

And some shitty Tumblr blog took that interaction to use as evidence that I was some brainwashed follower who wasn't allowed to speak my mind.

I actually sent them a message explaining that I was Lindsey Weedston and I was not brainwashed, and made the decision to follow her rules of my own volition. I don't know if they ever replied, because I did not particularly want to go back to that blog. The point is that they took the most innocuous interaction to try and spread lies about Melissa and Shakesville, saying she had me brainwashed when all she had actually done was reinforce her boundaries. Because she did that, she was a brainwasher, and because I had respected her boundaries, I was a brainwashee.


I'm sure some of the harassers are not men, because the truth is that no one respects women's boundaries, including other women. We're all taught that women who set boundaries and insist they be respected are bad.

The harassment campaign against Shakesville is a perfect example of this. The main complaint they have about Melissa is that she has an extensive commenting policy and enforces it well. Many of the harassers are people who once commented on her blog, even former community members, who were banned because they refused to follow the rules (i.e., respect her boundaries). The same went for the blog I discovered months ago. They say that this enforcement of the rules she set for a space she owns (I cannot stress that point enough, the blog is HER PROPERTY) is "abusive."

What they really mean is that she told them no, punished them when they failed to take no for an answer, and now they're all mad about it. Because people hate women's boundaries.

In the same way that some of the most vicious violence against women comes from men who are told no, for the same reason so many women are assaulted for shouting back against street harassers, these people are assaulting Melissa's space and attempting to take away her career. When she ignored this, they changed their tactics - harassing the mods, commenters, and even her husband, who is not affiliated with the blog in any way.

As Melissa accurately pointed out, this is an abuser tactic. And no one hates boundaries more than abusers.

This Needs To Stop

I don't know Melissa personally, but I've always had a lot of respect for the way she sets and enforces clear boundaries, and as such has created one of the safest feminist spaces I've ever seen on the Internet. She is certainly the safest of the more well-known feminist writers. That is why I'm taking the time to spread her story and raise awareness about the harassment campaign. I stand by her, and I will strive to be as healthy about my own boundaries as she is about hers. I stand firmly against misogynists and women with internalized misogyny who hate her boundaries and react by attempting to violate them in any way they can think of. They are truly despicable, abusive people, and I have nothing but the deepest contempt for them.

Like refraining from interrupting people, respecting a woman's boundaries is some of the best feminist/ally work you can do. Setting clear boundaries and demanding they be respected is one of the best things you can do for yourself. I say we should all have zero tolerance for those who disrespect anyone's boundaries, especially those of women and people of other oppressed groups. We can start by spreading Melissa's story around.

You can find a detailed post about the harassment campaign against Shakesville here. Please share and stand with Melissa.


TheDom said...

Very well said. And yes: *her* blog, *her* rules. The need for a safe space is pretty much the entire point of why she does this and why so many of us appreciate her strictness. Same goes for you, and for me when I had the Delphiad. I didn't stop blogging because of trolls, but because my own writing was triggering me so much; nonetheless, the extent to which trolls and abusers will go to silence you and others is just unbelievable, never mind having the gall to call stalking and threats "free expression".

Lindsey Weedston said...

Thanks, Dom.