Essay:Elisions

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This is an essay written by Stephanie Zvan of the Almost Diamonds blog on freethoughtblogs.com and was originally published here. It is copied here with Zvan's permission. Links are as in the original post.

It’s always fascinating to watch a tale be retold and see what gets left out. It says almost as much about the storyteller as what is left in.

In the case of the infamous elevator, sometimes all that has been left in is the coffee. Even the elevator itself is sometimes elided. The hours of opportunity for a single word of conversation generally disappear. Certainly all the hours of discussion of being tired of being hit on are gone. So is the expressed desire for sleep. That one never makes it into the story.

If it is acknowledged that we’ve been discussing the need for anti-harassment policies the egregious nature of the events that prompted the call are somehow missing. We haven’t educated thousands of people about the difference between flirting and harassment. We haven’t explicitly recognized that other mores prevail in other circumstances. We haven’t, many of us, been explicitly sex-positive for years.

When we’re talking about the propositioned speaker, the card contains no nakedness. The clearly stated professional nature of the event is overwritten by expectations of socializing. The lack of interaction prior to the proposition is replaced with friendly conversation. The praise the speaker had for the event and its organizers has somehow become condemnation.

On the topic of the written harassment report, everything is disappeared but the lack of in-hand upskirt photos. The following, the invasions of personal space, the outspoken sexism–they’re gone. So is every instance of “No” and “Stop” and “Get away from me”. It’s as though they never happened. Even the point of discussing the incident in the first place becomes invisible.

It would say one thing if these details were elided because they were considered unimportant. It would tell us that those trying to argue against us truly had a fundamental disagreement on the issues. “No, I don’t think you have any right to ever set a boundary that I should be expected to respect” doesn’t require changing a thing.

That isn’t what happens, though. Set up a situation in which people must defend that position, and almost every one of them declines or fails. Tell people you will ban them if they ignore or debate the details, and the discussion gets ever so much quieter.

People understand that this position–that we may never demand that our boundaries be respected–is untenable, inhumane. They get this. Their silence when they’re forced to confront that notion directly speaks more eloquently for them than they ever could with words. This isn’t really in dispute.

That tells us that these elisions mean something else entirely. We have a right to have our personal sexual boundaries respected, and they know it. Every omitted detail then becomes an attack on those rights.

Maybe not the first time, of course. People do get things wrong, and they don’t question their sources. But when they do it again, and then again, there really isn’t any other option. They know we have these rights, and they are actively refusing to grant them to us.

Does anyone really have any problem understanding why this makes us angry?

[edit] See also

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