‘Polarization’ Polarizes

By Jackie Fisher ‘18

Herald Contributor

A serious question for AJ McFarlane: If I’m sexually harassed in jeans, was it my fault? Your article wasn’t clear on that issue.

When a speeding car drove past me, threw a beer can at me, and yelled that my friend and I were whores, was it because I was wearing a tank top?

No, and no. I really thought that by 2018 I’d be done having the conversation that clothing does not grant permission to any form of harassment. A “creepy” message, as he puts it, is the responsibility of the sender, not the recipient.

I truly hope that McFarlane will listen to his peers and seek to understand our perspective and how his words cause real damage to people. The combination of his words and their careless presentation of them have brought back traumatizing memories for countess survivors on this campus. I take great issue with the manner in which the Martini chose to publish this piece.

I want to be perfectly clear, we absolutely should be having conversations about controversial topics. Publishing a piece on such a topic is one way to incite those discussions. But I didn’t realize that my right to not be harassed was “controversial” or in some way up for debate, but I guess that’s where we are on this campus.

However, the critical mistake of the Martini in this instance is that their publication in no way took the well-being of survivors of sexual assault into account. There is a balance to be struck between the presentation of a controversial opinion and the sensitivity to those who have been victimized by the viewpoint. The Martini strikes no such balance. There are countless ways that the presentation of this conversation could have been handled with more thoughtfulness towards survivors.

For instance, they could have included an editor’s note to preface that the purpose of presenting this piece was to start a conversation. They could have not featured this piece directly on the front page, which reads as an endorsement of this viewpoint. Had its publication not been a last-minute, unilateral decision by a single editor, they could have solicited another staff writer to present a counterargument alongside it.

The piece was not even copy edited to fix the basic grammar and technical flaws. If the Martini really, truly wanted to have a conversation and do so with the utmost journalistic integrity, it should have at least been subject to editing.

It was not a nuanced, thoughtful presentation of a controversial opinion. Let’s be real here: it was ramblings with a heavy hand of (barely) well- thought-out misogyny. The majority of what was circulated was a singular paragraph of a larger piece, and upon reading the piece in full, it is clear that this paragraph about women’s bodies serves no real purpose. There is no transition and no introduction to the discussion of what women wear in an article that covers a wide range of topics, including academic achievement and the likelihood of alien life.

Beyond the problems of the piece at the time it was published, I also feel it’s important to address some of the ways that the conversation has since unfolded. Many students have suggested that critics of the piece address the author and those who agree with him with compassion and empathy. They have suggested that we engage in a conversation with respect. That is certainly something we should strive for, but after the lack of respect that was shown to survivors of sexual violence on this campus, this suggestion can have a negative effect on pushing the conversation forward.

Suggesting that women on this campus sit down with someone who has expressed that their bodily autonomy is dependent on how they dress is inconsiderate to the experiences of many students. Harassment and victim blaming are realities for so many women on this campus, and I don’t speak for all of them. I can tell you that so many of us are exhausted of having to confront these realities every day. Everyone reacts differently, but I personally don’t feel comfortable engaging in a dialogue with someone who has written words that echo and validate the instances of sexual harassment that I and many other women on this campus have experienced.

We are a liberal arts college that should encourage robust discussion, but in this instance, the Martini gets it wrong. They are falling into the national trend of calling what is blatantly offensive “controversial” or “uncensored,” while taking no accountability for the harm that occurs when such views are validated and amplified by their publication.

We absolutely need to have more discussions about these issues as a campus, as sexual assaults have more than doubled in the past year. However, this must not come at the expense of the safety and well-being of women on this campus. It needs to be done with thought, sensitivity, and an acknowledgement that some thoughts are best left in the gutter.

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