This goes back many years, but I once received an anonymous letter slipped under the door at work. My office had a door to the outside world, so anyone could have put the letter there. I also had no full-time colleagues at that venue – spending most of my working days alone.
The gist of the letter was simple. “I saw you at the supermarket and what you were wearing was disgusting.” “I am the father of three girls.” “You have nice tits which you like to show off.” “You are a disgrace to womanhood and ought to be taught a lesson.” My name was spelled correctly, and this person obviously knew where I worked, so it had to be someone I knew (or at least someone who had met me through work). It also scared the bejeezus out of me. Anonymous rape threats tend to do that.
This was, of course, before Twitter, where anonymous rape threats seem to be the new kind of polite handshake greeting.
Believe it or not, I still remember what I was wearing on my last trip to the supermarket prior to receiving this letter. It was jeans and a ballet top – kind of like the one in the picture above, only purple. Hardly disgusting, but yes it crosses over at the front, and yes this means that another person would be aware that I have breasts in the same way that they would be aware that I have arms. It’s hardly a cry for attention. I was grocery shopping and blindly oblivious to all but the confectionery section. However, obviously this awareness of breasts was arousing to someone, and a few days later they were still seething so much that they needed to turn that arousal outward as anger, for some reason which is still unfathomable to me. “I see a fellow human being and I’m thinking sexy thoughts… now I need to hurt them!” I think sexy thoughts about strangers in the supermarket too (don’t we all respond to other humans in that way?). I’ve never felt the need to seek them out and threaten them.
Anyway, I showed the letter to the man who rigged lights for the venue. He swore a lot and told me that there were lots of “crazy, religious motherfuckers in this town”. He offered to walk me home (which I declined). He also offered to call the cops (which I also declined, mostly because I instantly worried that I’d be quizzed about what I’d done to provoke this).
Later that night, I showed the letter to my then-boyfriend. His response was, “How does he know you have nice tits?” He then threw the letter in the trash and told me to forget about it… which I obviously haven’t done, since I still remember a few lines of that letter 12 years later.
I liked the first guy’s response better. He recognised my fear straight away. He put the onus fully onto the crazy motherfucker who likes to threaten people. He offered help in a way that he thought would make me feel safer.
My boyfriend responded like my fear was an irrational reaction to a meaningless incident. That just made me feel worse, and even more at fault.
This is kind of what I was talking about last night: when someone is scared it’s not really enough to just tell them not to be scared. You tend to make them feel stupid and ostracised as well as scared. Instead, show them that there’s nothing much to be scared of. Isolate the threat. Shine some light on it so that it looks less scary. Call it out for what it is: a lone, crazy motherfucker. Not your fault and not a reflection of society as a whole.
I’m coming back to this in part because the Associated Press put out this great breakdown of Trump’s acceptance speech today (seriously, please read it, it’s good), dismantling each fear-mongering exaggeration and fib he told, and injecting a bit of light into the fourth day of relentless, scary, end-of-the-world polemic. Yes, Trump supporters, I know you’re scared – I would be too if I was faced with all of this – but it’s really not as bad as it seems. We can’t stop there being crazy motherfuckers in this world, but the good news is that there aren’t very many of them. You do have nice tits. That’s a good thing and not your fault.
It’s all hopefully a bit more soothing than Jon Stewart returning to TV and calling out Fox News (and many Republican senators) for being dissembling hypocrites. Again, very much worth the click, and very important to stick it out to the end. The good thing is that he doesn’t resort to fear-mongering (which both sides are equally guilty of) and he points out the salient, sainted truth: America is all about inclusion and egalitarianism. That was the point right from the beginning, and it should still be something the country strives for. Everyone gets to sit at the same lunch counter. Being scared is no reason not to sit down at the table together and try to work things out with the weird people who scare you.
In some ways, I wish that letter wasn’t anonymous. The dude was scary. After getting that letter, I felt a lot less safe at my work, my home, and out in public. I never wore that top again.
But I also wish that I could have swallowed my fear, sat down with him, and tried to figure out why on earth he was so scared of me.