It would be easy to say 2015 was about herpes. In reality, this year was about my voice and the Internet and growing up and falling short. I conquered some demons by capturing a specter in words. I gained a few thousand Twitter followers. I broke my own heart and never wrote about it. I moved into my first apartment. I met new, important friends.
But 2015 was mostly about harassment. I got harassed a lot this year. My friends were harassed. My mother was harassed. I spent one of the final days of 2015 in court waiting for her to testify against her stalker. We sat on a rigid bench for six hours and I thought about 2013, when I was harassed, properly harassed, for the first time. The first time, I didn’t know what it was or what to call it other than he won’t stop texting me and what do I do. I knew not to answer and just watched the missed calls rack up. Then there were texts, and then Facebook messages. There weren’t a lot, but a handful was enough to turn up the dials on my anxiety. It felt like all the air had been quickly sucked out of the room. I did all the right things, told my parents, saved screenshots, and eventually it stopped. I created a Dropbox folder of evidence if I ever… needed it, for some reason. I knew I could go to the dean about it and get a no contact order, but at that point it seemed safer to go quiet. And so I hid. And shook. And cried. And kept hiding.
If you hide, it will stop. If you’re quiet, it will stop. That’s the promise people make, and it’s rarely if ever true. When it comes to sexual harassment, it never stops. It is a daily reality for women. When it comes to online harassment, the tools that shield us are woefully inadequate. Social media companies are clueless and unmotivated to make more than sweeping statements about it being “not allowed” if they even acknowledge it at all. When it comes to interpersonal harassment from an ex or a family member or a stranger with a fixation, even if it stops, it never truly stops. Harassment echoes. It echoes before I press publish on a new essay, and when I get a phone call from an unlisted New York number. It echoes after every big interview when I tell another sliver of the story he doesn’t think belongs to me. It echoes, but I’m learning to yell.
2015 was the year I learned how to coil anger around my arms like rope instead of letting it clog up my veins. Anger can be incredibly useful for activists when it’s deeply rooted in the sense that this isn’t right. But what can you do when you’re harassed? When you’re furious but can feel yourself folding in all the wrong places like a discarded map? You hit block online, knowing that somewhere they are still ranting, still hating you, and you can’t stop it, only stop yourself from seeing it. You can screen calls and block texts. Or you can put them under the magnifying glass and get used to the swirling alchemy of anger and fear and agency it gives you. You can talk back—yell—at a price, knowing that will only make it worse.
In June, I went on a date with Billy Procida. We bantered at the bar until last call even though I had work the next day. When I got home, he texted me. He texted me the next day, and the next day, and when I told him that during the week I needed to focus on work—a polite nudge to lay off the throttle—he proceeded to live-text me his reactions as he read my blog (so I would have something to “read later”). When I opened my phone at the end of the workday to find roughly a dozen texts, I realized I had a problem.
Several problems, actually. He was in the sex-positive community, and I didn’t want to burn a bridge. I wasn’t sure how to extricate myself neatly when my attempts at gentle distancing weren’t working. He wasn’t hearing me when I asked him to stop. Besides, rejecting a man is always a gamble. It’s impossible to guess who will take it well or argue, who will fly off the handle or refuse to leave you alone. But I was also still in love with my ex, so I went with that, dodging the “you are seriously annoying and don’t respect boundaries” conversation entirely. He didn’t want to take no for an answer, wouldn’t let the conversation end, and sent me sad emoji, which I didn’t answer. It was over. For a while, at least.
He started replying to my tweets and inserting himself into conversations he wasn’t part of. Elsewhere on the Internet he began to show his true character, ranting about articles that had questioned his politics and starting “debates” about consent with sexual assault activists. I counted my lucky stars I had dodged that bullet by trusting my intuition.
Then I had a very bad, hard day in the middle of a very bad, hard month, and I tweeted about how no one should fuck with me today. He responded to my tweet, “I’ll just push back that ‘Call Ella’ iCal item another month…”
I told him to just delete it. He said maybe he would if I weren’t so awesome. I replied with an awkward Steve Buscemi GIF. He DMed me to say he didn’t get the joke.
Maybe it was seeing him mistreat women I respected, or the fact that he refused to listen to us when we told him his behavior made us uncomfortable. Maybe it was the fact that someone close to me had been sexually assaulted and I’d just found out that morning, which was what prompted my original tweet. For him to come up into my mentions being a little shit, feeling entitled to my attention when I’d been ignoring him since June, finally broke me. I snapped and sent him the most carefully constructed fuck you message I was capable of. The line that got caught in his teeth was: “I think we’ve solved the big mystery of why you’re still single: you don’t know when to stop talking.”
I felt better, but I’m still paying for it. Want to see a man’s true character? Tell him to shut the fuck up.
Men very rarely see their behavior as harassment, they think they’re just talking. Being told to stop talking feels unnatural and unfair—it’s not like they were being mean. It was a compliment, or they had an opinion to contribute, or they wanted to make a friend. If that makes her uncomfortable, that’s her problem. She’s too sensitive. Wait, she blocked me? I wasn’t done yet, and this is important, because it’s important to me. She’s overreacting, jeez, I’m literally just some guy, I’m not threatening. Whatever, I’ll let it go once I’m finish. I don’t understand why she’s telling me to stop talking to her, she’s making such a big deal out of nothing. She’s playing the victim card. I would never harass someone, I believe in gender equality! This is her problem! This is PC culture run rampant! This is censorship!
What a bitch.
I’m tired of explaining to men who reply to every single tweet I make why their uninvited and sustained attention makes me uncomfortable. I’m tired of giving “nice guys” who won’t take a breakup for an answer the benefit of the doubt. I’m tired of victims who speak up being told that they are selfish, or immature, or holding a grudge. I’m tired of it being impossible for women to be heard over the dull roar of men who won’t stop talking. I’m tired of nothing ever changing.
I don’t have a New Year’s resolution, other than to take as many screenshots as possible.
6 thoughts on “Everything 2015 Taught Me About Harassment”
Ugh, I’m sorry to hear you had to deal with that. I will definitely rethink contributing to his Patreon. I have enjoyed his podcast, but don’t want to give money to someone who engages in that sort of behavior.
I’m so sorry you have to deal with this shit. Rachel, too; that you have to take those measures is appalling, but I’m well aware of the need for steps like that, from several female colleagues of mine. It even violates your economic freedom to have emotional and professional limits placed on you like this. And that’s just one of many reasons guys like this piss me off. I wish there were more I could do about it. Calling it out seems to be the most we can do. Oh, and not doing this shit ourselves. That’s most certainly step one. But your writing about it is a huge help as well. You might not realize, given all the men who don’t listen (and boy do I know so many who don’t), at least enough of them do that the more accounts like this they read and hear, the more they move toward no longer being a part of the problem and becoming part of the solution. So if you ever fear your writing about this only falls on deaf ears, please know, it doesn’t.
I am sorry for the torment you must be going through. As someone who grew up before the Internet was invented, this was less of a problem for my generation, although stalkers were a nuisance even then for some people. As a writer, I write under a pen name and don’t have a picture of me online anywhere. I never accept single men as friends on FB, unless they are fellow writers, or are known to me. I only go on Twitter to promote my writing, and never in a personal capacity. That way I hope (but cannot guarantee) to prevent problems of the sort you describe. I also do not date, so don’t use dating websites. It is sad that we have to be so cautious, but it seems to be necessary to protect ourselves from obsessive men (whose obsessive behaviour I think is a form of mental illness). I do hope that you manage to shake this man free, and can go back to living a normal existence, without fear or anger. Good luck.