Why Don’t They Scream/Laugh/Make A Scene/Call The Police/Fight Back?
This is a common question asked whenever the topic of sexual harassment and sexual assault comes up: why didn’t Person X yell/point and laugh/punch him in the dick/call the cops? Obviously it couldn’t have been too bad if they didn’t. They were just overreacting…
…all of which carries the subtle insulting hint of “hey, it’s your fault for not struggling,” that rape victims have known all too well. But the question remains: what happened? Why didn’t they react differently?
The Body Works Against You
We all like to think that we’re secret bad-asses; when confronted with danger, we’ll react with steely-eyed resolve and perfectly clear heads. We’ll punch, scream, whip out our phones… anything besides freezing up. And it’s a nice fantasy, one that lasts right up until someone punches you in the face. Or leans in and starts screaming at you from out of nowhere. Or grabs your hand and forces it down to his crotch.
Our brains can only process information so quickly; we have a minimum level of time needed to perform cognition. The more complex the task – reacting to events unfolding in a rapid fashion – requires more time to process than something simple. In times of extreme stress – such as when we suddenly find ourselves in danger – our processing resources are constricted, which causes us to freeze up. Similarly, our body starts pumping out adrenaline, stirring the classic “flight or fight” reaction. To someone who is unused to the sensation of adrenaline suddenly dumping into your system, it can be incredibly disorienting on top of an already stressful situation.
As a result: we’re slower to react than we would be under normal circumstances.
People who react best in times of stress are either people who are best able to calm themselves quickly or who have drilled reactions into muscle memory, turning what might be a complex cognative task – evaluating a potential threat, locating a viable escape route, determining the best way to fight back – into a simple one.
This is why the military and paramilitary organizations such as police spend so much time drilling their cadets. This is why martial artists spend so much time sparring and practicing strikes, blocks and kicks over and over again. This is why women’s self-defense classes have stunt “rapists” for women to react to – to help break the cognitive slowdown and turn an unfamiliar experience into one that people can respond to instinctively.
Socialization Is Hard To Overcome
I’ve said this over and over again, but women are still taught from a young age to be less assertive, less aggressive then men. They’re taught that they should be more passive and more considerate of other people’s thoughts and feelings, even at the expense of their own. They have been taught to not draw undue attention to themselves.
They have been taught, to a certain extent, to be helpless.
This level of life-long cultural socialization is incredibly difficult to overcome, even in extreme circumstances. There have been studies about the level of control social taboos have over people. In one, groups of people, men and women, segregated and mixed, were confined in an ostensibly “social” situation and denied bathroom breaks. The taboo against public urination was so strong that many participants ended up pissing themselves rather than moving over to a corner while others were in the room.
This corresponds to violence as well. We as a culture are trained to be conflict averse and to avoid fights whenever we can. Confrontations, especially for those of us of the nerdy persuasion, are things we’ve tried to avoid most of our lives. Even men have issues with it. We’re taught that displaying strong negative emotions in public is a bad thing… even when there might be call for it.
Even when one finds oneself in a stressful, threatening situation, it can be incredibly hard to break taboos and socialized lessons that have been drilled into you over the course of a lifetime.
They Don’t Want More Attention Drawn To Them
As fucked up as it might be, one of the most common emotional reactions to sexual harassment or assault is often embarrassment and self blame. It’s so out of the ordinary that it seems almost unbelievable… and the fact that it happened at all can feel humilating. Even more so when many victims will blame themselves first for somehow “causing” it.
Ky says it herself:
People tell me I should’ve called the cops or screamed or made a huge scene, but I didn’t want that type of attention and the reaction of the security guard made me feel like cops would be even more of a waste.
Its incredibly common for victims of sexual harassment or assault to want to not think about it anymore, to just put it behind them and try to forget that it ever happened… and honestly, who could blame them?
Don’t Be A Creeper
If you don’t want to be seen as being creepy, the onus is on you to develop some self-awareness and realize just why women react to certain behaviors and attitudes. Putting the responsibility on women to somehow magically divine your intentions rather than changing your own behavior is misguided and insulting.
I’m know that there are indeed assholes in the world who will deliberately mislabel otherwise innocent men as “creepy”. The fact that assholes exist does nothing to mitigate the fact that that your right to approach them does not outweigh their right to listen to their instincts.
I’ll let UnWinona have the last word:
…when people (men) want to talk about “legitimate” forms of assault, tell girls they should be nice to strangers and give men the benefit of a doubt, tell them to consider it a compliment, tell them to ignore the bad behavior of men, I want them to be forced to feel, for even one minute, what it feels like to have so much verbal hatred and physical intimidation thrown at them for nothing more than being female and not wanting to share.