Horrible friendship dissonance (in which I react badly to a joke about sexual assault)
December 30, 2010, 4:06 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Last night was awful. I went to the pub thinking “I haven’t left the flat in days and it’s going to be awesome to see my friends and socialize, yay!” but when I came back home I just felt grimy. At the pub my friends were talking about some party where there was one room that was completely dark and you had to move around by touch alone. “But you can only touch another person if they give their consent” Friend A said, and Friend B replied “Aw, that’s no fun!” and laughed at the hilarious joke he had made. I was kind of shocked and I sat there waiting for someone to say something, but no-one did, and then I quietly, half-heartedly started to say “I don’t think that’s OK”, but I was at the other end of the table and no-one heard, and I realized that if my friends did hear me they wouldn’t get it anyway, they would be thinking “That Gethen, she needs to get a sense of humour, doesn’t she realize that obviously Person B doesn’t really think sexual assault is OK, it was just a joke, duh.” And no-one except me would be thinking “Hey, actually, in a world where sexual assault is common, in a world where around one in three women are survivors of sexual assault (which statistically probably includes some of the people sitting in the pub here now), in a world where women are frequently told to just put up with sexual assault rather than demanding the right to live and work in safe places, in a world where we are frequently told that sexual assault isn’t important or serious (so put up and shut up), in a world where many, many women are desperately, silently trying to get through PTSD and put their lives back together without any support at all from friends because many survivors of sexual assault don’t tell their friends what happened to them because in this world SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE ARE MADE TO FEEL ASHAMED OF THE FACT THAT THEY ARE SURVIVORS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE, in a world where many men (a minority of men as a whole, but still scarily quite a lot of men) openly say that they think sexually assaulting or raping a woman is OK in certain circumstances, such as if she’s drunk or she flirted with him or she had sex with him in the past or she agreed to go home with him or she’s his girlfriend/partner/wife – in a world like that, it obviously wouldn’t be OK at all to make jokes about sexual assault and clearly only an asshole would do so, but upon reflection that is exactly how the world actually is, and therefore I am going to make a conscious decision never to make light of sexual assault because this makes it easier for perpetrators to tell themselves that sexual assault is OK, it makes it harder for people who have been assaulted to speak out and ask for support, and it makes it less likely that, when someone speaks out about the fact that they have been assaulted, others will take them seriously and offer support .”

So I’m pretty sure no-one was thinking that except me, and I didn’t say anything, and as the conversation moved on I sort of forgot about it. But the rest of the evening wasn’t fun. I felt this weird sense of disconnection from my friends, I’ve known most of them for years but suddenly I was looking at them and if felt like they were strangers. At the end of the night I came back to my flat feeling terrible and I couldn’t sleep for hours and then I had nightmares. I woke up the next morning/afternoon i.e. now and realized that I was so upset that I couldn’t concentrate on anything, so I decided I might as well write about it since I wasn’t going to be able to get anything else done anyway.

The thing that’s driving me crazy is that because I was silent in the face of that stupid joke, I ended up in a position where everyone probably thought I thought it was a reasonable thing to say, when in fact it made me want to throw up violently. I didn’t stand up for what I believed in, and that means I am morally equal to pond scum. By writing down what I really think I am trying to get back a little tiny piece of the integrity I lost, even if it’s too late, even if I’m just writing this stuff in a blog that no-one reads.

Of course an obvious solution to this type of dilemma would be to always speak out about things that I think are important in future, but it’s not that simple because I’m pretty sure if I did that I would end up being rejected by my friend group. And the reality is I need friends, everyone does.


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