The Empowered “Victim” No One Talks About

Or, “My Face Is In Cosmo!?”

Have you seen the latest Cosmo? I don’t assume that our supporters are regular Cosmo readers, but sometimes you find yourself in the doctor’s office with nothing else to look at. I would not say that I fall into their demographic (no matter how much they would disagree). Sure, I’m a 29 year old white cis-gendered woman, but I’m below the poverty line (and therefore I avoid caring about fashion and other costly vices), I already communicate well with my partner of 6 years (we value honesty, trust and a GGG lifestyle NOT focused solely on his pleasure, but our pleasure) and I prefer a realistic view of beauty (a little more nature, a little less Photoshop).

But, like most of their readers, I have experienced street harassment. When they sent out a request to the Hollaback! network in hopes of learning more about street harassment, I volunteered to tell my story. Here is what they report on page 182 of the March 2012 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine:

… Adds Dr. Stone: “If you were brought up to feel confident and capable, being groped – and then unable to take action against the offender, is an unsettling, disempowering feeling.”  That sense of powerlessness continues to haunt Shawna Potter, 29. While she was walking down a bustling, well-lit NYC street one night with a male friend, a 20something guy going the opposite way closed in on her, grabbed her butt and have it a squeeze and then sauntered off. “My friend suggested I forget all about it, but I couldn’t,” she recalls. “For a long time, it made me feel like a target or an object, and I still feel this weird passivity and weakness when I’m on the street or in a public place. I’ll walk past a group of men I don’t know and worry, Which one of these jerks is going to the the next one to grope me?

So, that sounds really sad, right? Seeing it in print I wondered, Am I that pathetic? Friends have seen the quote next to my picture and asked “Wait, really? You don’t strike me as someone who needs any more confidence.” That’s what I thought! Only child, front person for a co-ed feminist punk band, all around loud mouth: is it all an act? No. Being afraid of strangers instead of greeting them with a smile is an act. Crossing the street when I don’t have to is an act. Self-policing my style of dress just to avoid leering, comments and groping is an act. I believe in the good in people, but because I am female-bodied I am forced to put up with the gender-based violence our society permits. Reading the Cosmo article I threw my hands back into the air, giving up all over again. Then I remembered MY story, in MY words, that I originally submitted to the author:

For my friend, the moment of danger had passed; the guys kept walking. I doubt he ever thinks of that moment. But for me, I think of that time I was groped on the street in NYC every time I walk past a group of men I don’t know, especially when they are laughing. I have to remind myself that there were no magic four-letter words that could have changed the situation, and that my friend and those two other strangers were in the wrong for not taking the incident seriously enough to even ask if I wanted to press charges. One time of being touched inappropriately by a stranger on the street is one time too many. Sure, maybe one time of being stared at or hearing “Nice Ass” from a stranger on the street wouldn’t be a big deal, but it happens consistently when I’m in public and always makes me wonder, “Which one of these mouthy jerks is going to the next one to grope me?” That is no way for anyone to live, but it is a daily reality for women around the world. This issue resonated with me so deeply that I was compelled to start my own chapter of Hollaback!

Oh yeah, I found a way to empower myself in this world. I decided to get up and do something about street harassment. I decided to help others while helping myself. I’m glad Cosmo decided to take on this under-reported human rights issue, and that our bestie Stop Street Harassment got in some good tidbits, but I guess I take it for granted that people already know that it can and does psychologically effect victims (male/female/gender-queer) in a negative way. I thought we needed to hear more about all the things we can do in the moment for ourselves and for the world (HOLLA!).  If Cosmo has to educate its’ own readers that it is OK to feel embarrassed/shocked/degraded/vulnerable/angry/depressed/annoyed after being groped, then Hollaback! has some more work to do. Luckily, we’re up for it. Watch out street harassers, we’re after you, and Cosmo has our back.

2 responses to “The Empowered “Victim” No One Talks About

  1. Oh no!!! I’m so sorry! That is just laughable. ‘Working to regain your confidence in public’??? And that’s all they have to say about you?

    You probably don’t remember me but I work for a related agency, was at SlutWalk, can sometimes come to the TRT meetings etc. and as such am aware of the great work you do. I concur that painting this picture of you is absurd. While it’s perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed of to react to, you know, sexual assault (which, by the way, I am really sorry to hear about. No-one deserves that and everyone deserves much better) with the feelings described, it shows a depressing myopia that that is all they apparently took away from your story, or all they thought was worth including! I can’t imagine why they didn’t think there was a far better story in there than ‘person was assaulted and had a perfectly normal reaction’. Did they even include the part about Hollaback Bmore and all the other related stuff you do? Because frankly, my impression is that you have become a real force in the city and do much more than simply manage a website.

    While it’s helpful to normalize these reactions, I doubt any Cosmopolitan readers are unaware that being sexually assaulted in any way can have that sort of effect. (As you say.) When I work with sexual assault survivors, I never just leave it at that. I always try and let people know (sensitively) that I believe recovery is possible and hopefully, with good support, is in their future (at their own pace, obviously – and a lot of my work is with families and friends, letting them know there is no right way to get through it, and encouraging them not to pressure the survivor to ‘just get over it’). I think a little more of that in such sources as Cosmopolitan would do a lot to help survivors. I get a little tired sometimes of the constant media drumbeat of ‘sexual assault is bad’. We know it’s bad. We know it has awful effects on people. But what are you supposed to think after reading about how people are victimized with no hopeful message afterwards at all – that you just shouldn’t go out in public any more? Let’s educate people about how to help survivors (something which Hollaback definitely does with its emphasis on people’s rights to be themselves without getting assaulted or harassed) and then let’s empower survivors, not just focus on the fact that something awful happened to them. I remember being a teenager and just being saddened and scared by messages like this. And I was a teenager a long time ago… depressing to see how little has changed in these magazines. Admittedly I don’t read much of them any more so perhaps I am being unfair. But I doubt it.

  2. Thanks for kind words & affirmations! We know that any conversation is good conversation, but since we lean more towards the empowerment phase here at Hollaback!, I would have liked for Cosmo to allow a bit more room for that. Didn’t catch your name, but I bet I remember you! You keep up the good work,too, and we’ll rock this town eventually!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *