I had a dream last night that women were being forced to use the language of consent for whatever men asked them to do. I saw a man with his hand on a woman’s throat, holding her against a wall, saying, “I will only touch you if it’s okay with you. Is it okay with you?”—and pressing her neck harder against the wall until she said it was okay. A woman who was already with a man was safe from other men, because of what men had decided was honorable male behavior toward women. Paul and I were in a museum and got separated, and I was getting that cold nightmare feeling because a man had approached me and I couldn’t find Paul; I put the man off with a light remark, but he was starting to get closer and angrier and louder.

Things are not great right now in the waking world, either. There are a lot of people who are having a lot of trouble understanding that even though they themselves feel comfortable and safe from assault, and even though they themselves believe they would not assault someone else, those two things combined don’t mean everything is fine for everyone, and that all other people can also feel comfortable and safe. Even some really great people are saying things like, “This whole thing is getting out of hand”—referring not, as you’d like to expect, to the vast number of assaults, but only to the REPORTING of the assaults. The REPORTING OF ASSAULTS is getting out of hand, they’re saying. Like: in order to improve the situation, reduce the reporting.

I have thought a lot about this, and I think it must be that some people’s brains are jumping over a tricky spot: the spot where “hearing about it less” does not equal “happening less.” The brain is saying, “Listen: until recently, you and I did not think very much about how many people-unlike-us were being assaulted. It is very, very uncomfortable now to think about how oblivious we were to the really bad things people-like-us were doing to people-unlike-us. It is also very, very uncomfortable to feel as if we are being accused just because it was people-like-us who were doing the things, and WE are people-like-us. BEFORE people-unlike-us were making all these reports, we felt pretty good: we didn’t know, we didn’t think about it, we didn’t have these bad feelings in response. If we went back to not hearing about it so much, things would go back to how they were Before, and we would feel pretty good again.”

Here is why we need people to stop thinking that way: people committing assaults don’t listen to the objections of the people they’re assaulting. Of COURSE the people being assaulted don’t like it! In order to assault people, you have to already NOT CARE that they don’t like it. Change happens when the people who are NOT being assaulted, people in the same group as the assaulters but who do not assault or approve of the assault, stand up for the people who ARE being assaulted. People listen to people-like-us, not to people-unlike-us. It is a well-known and understandable phenomenon of human psychology and, like the bystander effect, even just KNOWING about it can be enough to break it.

People who feel accused of assault but are not participating in assault: YOU ARE THE ONES WITH THE POWER TO CHANGE THIS SITUATION. Currently a lot of that power is being diverted and wasted. Some people’s brains are channeling it all into self-defense: “I’M not doing this! Why do we have to judge ALL of us based on the actions of a FEW?” Some people’s brains are going further and channeling it into attacking the accusers or finding ways to defend the assaulters; that is such a sad and upsetting response to suffering, I don’t even want to think about it or talk about it anymore. Some people’s brains are channeling the energy into wishing it would all go away. Here is how some of it could actually go away: if the people with power use that power to defend the people being assaulted, rather than using it to defend themselves or the assaulters.

18 thoughts on “Nightmare

  1. el-e-e

    I can just picture you writing this, and then doing Find/Replace for “people like us” and “people unlike us.” At least I think that’s how I would have done it.

    Well said, in any event.

  2. MomQueenBee

    And may I extrapolate this to all sorts of situations in which People Like Us (who have our race, gender identification, immigration status) are tired of hearing about People Not Like Us? We need to be speaking for them.

  3. Angela

    Yet again, I am wondering how it is that Swistle is not yet a published columnist in the NYTimes or other mainstream media outlet. Well-written and insightful.

  4. SheLikesToTravel

    Just reading about your nightmare was like a punch in the gut. Seriously, I’m still trying to recover from that opening paragraph.

    So thinking of non-scary dreams, I recently woke up to a dream where I was getting busy with Prince William (?!?). Today’s Prince William. I am still so perplexed about how that happened.

  5. Artemisia

    You have distilled this down perfectly:
    ‘People who feel accused of assault but are not participating in assault: YOU ARE THE ONES WITH THE POWER TO CHANGE THIS SITUATION.”

  6. Jenny

    I keep thinking of this whenever I hear someone say, “But what about due process?” Yes, absolutely. As a woman and someone to whom minority rights of all kinds are important, due process is vital. For the people who were attacked and harassed, who never got due process. Let’s start there, hmmm?

  7. Tommie

    I once stupidly posted something on FB about people not like me assaulting people like me and one particular person not like me came back with the age-old comment of, “I’m so sick of this…not all ‘people like me’ do this.’

    I was so frustrated!! I am still mad at myself for not telling this person that I KNOW not all people not like me assault people like me but until NO person not like me assaults people like me, we have to speak up, we have to keep talking about it and we HAVE to believe people like me when they say they have been assaulted.

    Thank you for this post.

  8. Rah

    Had I the power, I would see that this post was reproduced in all forms of media, TODAY. So carefully analyzed, thoughtfully written. Well done!

  9. Liz Miller

    I was coming here to say, your nightmare is coming true in Utah, but @MommyAttorney beat me to it.

    And I agree that your post should be syndicated nation-wide.


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