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By now I’m sure most of you have heard about the girl who punched a dude in the face on the street because he threatened to rape a drunk girl. There have been a lot of different reactions to this story, ranging from giving the girl, Kelsey, props, to criticizing her violent reaction, to saying that the girl herself deserves to be raped. Obviously that last reaction is absolutely gross and says so much about what is wrong with our culture and how rape culture works. But I figured I’d throw my two cents in, considering that this a website that encourages people to “hollaback” against street harassment, which is essentially what Kelsey did.
I will never encourage violence, and I don’t think that it is ever the answer. However, I’m hesitant to criticize someone who reacted in the moment to do what she felt she needed to do to feel safe. If this woman was empowered in the moment that she felt threatened to react in the way she did, then I have nothing but support for her. She did what she felt she needed to do. I know what it feels like to feel unsafe day in and day out, and I understand the kind of anger and rage that can build up in you in response to prolonged, sustained harassment in the public sphere. And I understand that all of that cumulative harassment and fear can build up into an reaction that, viewed independently may seem severe, but when viewed as a result of an accumulation of incidents, makes complete and total sense.
Allison Francis reflected on this when she wrote about the time that she punched a stranger on the street in Allston.
Whatever that guy said wasn’t the worst thing that’s been said to me by any means. I just snapped. After 23 years as a woman and ~2 years being ‘out’ in Allston, after having been forced to tolerate my relationships and humanity degraded on a regular basis with no option other than to keep walking, I wasn’t going to take it.
In a follow-up piece, she expanded on this a bit.
I probably won’t do something like this again. It was a jarring experience and somewhat emotionally traumatic. However I take responsibility for my actions and my reasons behind them. I understand why some people have been saying there is no excuse for violence; in fact, before being an out queer woman living in Allston, I think I might have said the same thing. I have verbally responded to street harassment as much as I’ve been strong enough to in the past couple years. I have ‘turned the other cheek’ in silence a countless many more times than that. The guy I hit got the brunt of my rage of him and hundreds of other men’s blatant sexual harassment. The punch I threw carried the pain and solidarity of thousands of other women, queers and other non-normative people who are targeted by hate and ignorance every day.
And so, I totally understand where both Allison and Kelsey were coming from when they did what they did. In fact, I’m often surprised that I haven’t done something similar myself. I sometimes wonder what will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and leads to me losing my shit on some unsuspecting harasser.
What is really telling, however, are the responses to this woman’s actions. Many people are reacting with anger towards Kelsey, instead of discussing the problematic nature of the comments that incited her reaction. As is so often the case in rape culture, we try to silence the people speaking up against it instead of the people that are perpetuating it. In fact, she received so many threats in response to her post that she had to take down her site. She posted:
“Due to continuing threats and comments, this account will no longer be active. I have spoken to the police about the whole ordeal and all involved have agreed that this was the best action to take.”
This is par for the course when dealing with rape culture. Allison acknowedged that she received similar harassment: “When I punched a street harasser I received msgs calling me every derogatory name possible & saying I deserved to be abused (in many forms).” See also: Anita Sarkeesian, Melissa McEwan, every other woman who writes about rape culture on the internet. See also: every woman who dares to ignore a cat caller that tries to get her attention and instantly goes from “sexy lady” to “fucking bitch.”
All of this anger is misdirected. Instead of directing it at the victims of rape culture, we need to be directing it at the perpetrators of it. And while I don’t suggest punching every guy on the street that dares to be threatening, I also fully support doing what you need to do to feel safe and empowered in the moment. It is not up to me to criticize someone else’s reaction to feeling threatened. And the truth of the matter is, there is no right way to react to being victimized or targeted. Everyone responds differently. Some people walk away, some people cry, some people yell, and some people literally fight back.
My job as someone who fights rape culture is to support everyone else that is trying to do the same, regardless of how they choose to go about it. And so to the girl who punched the guy, I say, you go girl.
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