Tag Archives: sexism

Sexual Violence and (Non) Survivors’ Guilt

The title of this post is confusing because when we talk about “survivors” in the context of sexual violence, we are talking about people who have survived it. When we talk about “survivors’ guilt,” though, we are talking about someone who narrowly escapes the primary impact of a tragedy.

I read and write about rape and rape culture A LOT. And that’s partly because it’s impacted me personally. I can name fifteen people who have been victims of sexual violence off the top of my head without thinking too hard (but I won’t, because outing survivors isn’t cool), members of my biological and chosen family. But one name that ISN’T on that list is mine.

I have never been the victim of any kind of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, or sustained sexual harassment, and sometimes that makes me feel guilty like I survived a car crash that maimed and killed everybody else.

Admitting that feels insulting to my friends who have been victims of violence, the way admitting you feel bad for walking away from the car crash feels insulting to your friend who lost his legs. But that’s exactly why I feel so bad – because there is not one goddamn thing that makes me better or smarter or more deserving of keeping my metaphorical legs than my friends who were raped and abused.

And guilt is an insane thing to feel! Because it’s not like I was driving my rape culture truck down the street and crashed into one third of the population. And the asshole drunk driving the rape culture truck doesn’t feel bad at all – he’s sitting in his jail cell (because drunk driving is more jailable than rape) going, “man, this is bullshit, why can’t you just let me live my life” and crying because his football career is over. And I am sitting in the hospital waiting room feeling guilty because I’m not in critical condition. Where’s the sense in that?

File this under “depressing feminist thoughts that saw the light of day because of wine.”


And I’ll Cry If I Want To: an open letter from a basket case

I am a crier. I have always been a crier and I always will be a crier. Both of my parents describe themselves as criers (relative to their age and gender – more on that later) but neither are such prolific criers as I am. I erupt into tears at the first sign of distress, even when I know with my entire brain that the distress is stupid, insignificant, or temporary.

As a crier, this is what I would like you people who do not cry very often (and those of you who cry very often and feel shitty about it) to know:

Crying is a physiological response to stress. It is an involuntary reaction, like raising your voice slightly when agitated, not a decision like screaming at someone or cursing or calling people names.

Crying is not a guilt trip. It’s not “manipulative.” Can you imagine if we read other physical signs of stress as manipulative? “God, that last applicant started sweating during the job interview. Can you believe that? What kind of person tries to guilt trip you into giving them a job like that?”

I don’t cry to make you feel bad. If we’re having a tough conversation and I start crying, the message I’m sending is “I am experiencing abnormally high levels of stress,” not  “look what you did!” Causing me stress does not necessarily mean you have done anything wrong. People cause each other stress all the time. If I am crying but I say you haven’t done anything wrong, you should believe me, because if you are mistreating me I will sure as hell tell you. 

 I am aware that you may be experiencing as much if not more stress than I am, but that your crying threshold is probably higher than mine. Do not assume based on your own crying threshold that my tears mean that my whole life is crashing down around me and I am beside myself. That is not what crying means for me. If I say I will be fine in twenty minutes and that we can either continue the conversation as though I’m not crying, or resume it when I’m finished, depending on which makes you more comfortable, believe me.

If I tell you that you haven’t done anything wrong and that I will be fine in twenty minutes and you still feel personally attacked and indicted by the fact that I am crying, that is your damn problem. It is a problem that I’m sympathetic to, because the cultural conditioning that makes you feel that way makes my life difficult as well, but it is still your problem and not mine. I’ll do my best to work with you around it, but what I will not do from now on is fight a losing battle to stop crying in order to spare your feelings, because:

Crying is good for me. Many researchers believe that crying is good   for you in general, with some exceptions. The vast majority of people report feeling better after doing it. It reduces heart rate and blood pressure from pre-cry levels, and releases toxins that build up in your system. But I KNOW crying is good for ME, for the simple reasons that:

1. I feel better after I do it, and

2. I feel like absolute, grade-A shit if I force myself not to do it.

Crying makes me feel so much better that yesterday when I was emotional over leaving all my friends behind in Pittsburgh, I forced myself to cry on the Megabus by listening to a sappy song on repeat, because being very-sad-and-on-the-verge-of-tears-but-not-crying for two hours sucked ten thousand times more than just sobbing it out. I am sure that I looked a hot mess, and if anyone (I had my own seat, for the record) noticed me sobbing like a hot mess on the Megabus, they might have felt uncomfortable, but that discomfort, like the previously discussed feelings of guilt-trippery, is their cross to bear because it is my one-woman Megabus pity party and I will cry (at a courteous volume) if I want to. 

Finally, treating crying as an optional, hysterically dramatic, manipulative outburst that anyone with good sense or decency would refrain from doing, at least in front of people, is totally sexist. 

Studies show that women cry an average of forty-seven times a year (I haven’t counted but my personal normal is probably twice that, for real) and men cry around seven times a year. This split happens at puberty – prepubescent boys and girls cry at the same rate. While harmful social conditioning no doubt plays a serious role in this, scientists think it also has something to do with the fact that men, on average, sweat more and thus have somewhat less need to release toxins by crying.

In other words, the Men’s Rights-tinged view that men don’t cry because they were taught to be tough, and if women want to be tough they should be like men and stop crying (in other words, BOOTSTRAPS!!!!1!), might honestly be akin to a woman saying that if men wanted to be civilized then they ought to sweat less. (Although men do struggle more on average with high blood pressure so if anything, it is y’all who need to cry more.)

Even if they aren’t “allowed” to cry, men have different ways of being “emotional” which are often penalized less in the public arena than women’s tears, as wonderfully outlined in this blog. The likes of Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly have built whole careers off of yelling at people on television, but can you imagine if Rachel Maddow cried during a debate on gay adoption? Jesus. And that’s an issue that affects her personally.

I’m not saying that Rachel Maddow SHOULD go around crying on TV. Her ability to keep cool under pressure is one of the reasons she is on TV, and my penchant for tearful outbursts is one of the reasons I am not. But there is a double standard apparent in letting folks like Rush Limbaugh go shrieking all over town while my journalism professor fervently warns her female students never to be caught dead crying at work (something she didn’t have the heart to tell me, six months earlier, when I cried in her office. in front of my editor. over a story I hadn’t even written yet.)

P.S. I am aware that this post does nothing really to address the issue, and very real struggles, of highly sensitive people (especially men and people being raised as men) who have nevertheless trained themselves not to cry. I figure it is probably best for those people to get together and discuss, decide on and publicize what they need from the rest of us. That said, I have always thought that people should get safe space stickers like LGBT-friendly high school teachers have in their classrooms that indicate “You can cry in front of me. I won’t treat you like a hysterical leaking alien.” Actually, that would do us criers a lot of good too.