Lose-lose situations in which misogyny always wins and sometimes kills

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Mary “Unique” Spears was shot and killed by a man after she rejected his advances.

*Trigger warning*

There seems to be no shortage of advice for women about how best to deal with the constant barrage of harassment we’re expected to put up with for the privilege of existing in public spaces. Generally, it tends to fall into two categories: 1) ignore it or 2) very firmly and unambiguously make it known that it’s not welcome. Tellingly, despite being pretty much opposite approaches, both are supposed to ensure that you do nothing to “encourage” it.

A woman in Queens apparently tried the first tact. When an unknown man approached her in the lobby of a building and tried to talk to her, she ignored him. It was just after 5 AM, so likely she had places to be and was in no mood to be chatted up by a stranger in the pre-dawn hours. When she turned away, the man grabbed her from behind and slashed her in the neck. She’s in stable, but critical, condition, and the man has not yet been caught. 

Another woman, Mary “Unique” Spears of Detriot, went the other route. She was out with friends and family after a relative’s funeral on Saturday night, when an unknown man started hitting on her, asking for her number repeatedly. Spears told him in no uncertain terms: “I have a man, I can’t talk to you,” even pulling out the boyfriend card that sometimes works when nothing else does. But the harassment continued all night, until, as they were leaving around 2 AM, the man grabbed and hit Spears. Her fiancé stepped in and the man pull a gun. He shot Spears, and as she tried to run away, shot her two more times, before turning the gun on the crowd and injurying five of her relatives. Spears is dead and leaves behind three children.

These are just two examples–that ended in the most tragic of ways–but this lose-lose dynamic is hardly limited to street harassment. As tech blogger Kathy Sierra documents in a must-read piece on online harassment that’s making the rounds today, the standard advice about dealing with trolls is similar: if you’re not going to leave online spaces altogether, you’re supposed to either ignore it (brush it off, “don’t feed the trolls,” develop a thick skin, etc.) or fight back. But at a certain point, Sierra argues, all options end in the trolls winning. “That’s right, in the world we’ve created… they always win.”

The only silver lining is that if we’ve created this world–if we’ve enabled rampant misogyny and harassment in our public spaces, online and off, by putting the onus on individuals to manage impossible situations–we can also create a different one.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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