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July 2012

6 Common Derailment Tactics Used In Conversations About Street Harassment and Sexual Assault

1) "Well…don’t dress sexy then!" - The idea that a woman deserves or asks for street harassment or sexual assault based on the perceived “sexiness” of her wardrobe is the most common derailment tactic. (Between our society promoting a victim-blaming culture and a rape-culture is the Just World Fallacy.) Even if men gained the “right” to harass and assault women based on “sexy” wardrobes, it becomes a challenge for the men using this derailment tactic to explain the harassment and rape of millions of women wearing jeans and tees, scrubs leaving from hospital work, long dresses and hijabs. Most men who use this derailment tactic know that it is complete crap, the weakest of all 6 of these, and hope that the women they are debating with will ascribe to the perversion of patriarchy that creates a madonna/whore binary. They hope that such women will ascribe to the “good girl” end of the spectrum and believe the delusion that this could never happen to her since she doesn’t ask for it by wearing clothing that is labeled as “sexy.”

2) “Take it as a compliment.” - Most men who enjoy derailment during conversations about street harassment and sexual assault won’t try to claim sexual assault is a compliment…unless they are psychopaths. (And in that case…run.) This particular derailment tactic is focused more towards street harassment. And as I mentioned in Street Harassment Observations, some of the most sexually aggressive and horrible things that are supposed to be “compliments,” often come from the same men who are badgered by the police. They want the right to harass women but live in a society free of police harassment, simultaneously. The good old, "let’s unite as men—of all races, and then subjugate women equally" meme—a common  quasi-equality proselytized by minority men. (White men also use the “take it as a compliment” derailment tactic.)

3) “X lied about Y celebrity, thus ALL claims are lies.” - The celebrity-worshipping man who enjoys derailment will mention cases that settled in civil court, ones where women recanted, ones where the defense or prosecutor ruined the case or celebrity cases. They will invoke names like Duke Lacrosse, Kobe Bryant or Mike Tyson. This overgeneralization via exceptionalism is used to undermine the reality that sexual assault effects 1 in 6 women…who are not on TV. Everyday citizens. (Sidenote: A society defined by patriarchy and capitalism has MUCH to gain by promoting the stories of cases perceived as lies versus the millions that are true. Women having the agency and courage to report abuse AND not receive backlash for doing so would actually mean that patriarchy is unraveling. There are many people who are not going to let that happen—not going to let the upset of the status quo occur.)

4) “It’s a two-way street!” - This is a derailment tactic for the more advanced derailment expert. Men using this tactic will claim that since men are raped too, women as rape victims no longer matter—the old, “if it happens to everyone, it should matter to no one" claim. (The two-way street argument being applied to street harassment is statistically and practically ludicrous [though I have encountered men who claim that women street harass equally to men—this isn’t only statistically inaccurate, I think this is a bold face lie]; this tactic is more focused towards sexual assault.) They will completely ignore male privilege, the statistically significant incidence of women as rape victims, and the rape culture that we live in that makes rape jokes "funny" and reporting rape problematic. The superbly advanced derailment expert will go a step further. He will talk about men who are raped while incarcerated. (This matters to me, of course—it is a huge civil rights issue.) He will neglect to mention that these men are in fact RAPED BY MEN (thus making the two-way street argument more of a one road spilt into two divergent pathways like the letter y argument. Also, women who are incarcerated are more likely to be raped by MALE correction officers, not other women inmates.) They know that when women discuss street harassment and sexual assault of women, that they are not automatically saying that incarcerated men (who again…are also raped by men) no longer matter. The derailment pros create this binary to discuss incarcerated men (that truthfully they rarely actually care about) so that again, women’s experiences with street harassment and sexual assault can be silenced. They need a way for men as victims to be the focus so that men as the primary aggressors are ignored. (The less skilled derailment angle is to claim that women rape men just as often as men rape women, which of course is a lie. Whether the victim is male or female, the aggressor is more likely to be male than female, by a ridiculously large percentage.)

5) "Well, this woman agrees with me!" - This is the evolution of “the Black friend” derailment tactic. (i.e. When a White person is accused of racism, they will often mention that they have a Black friend and their Black friend agrees with them—that what they said or did is not racist.) A man who defends street harassment or sexual assault will try to get women to cosign with his views. A patriarchal sexist society plus the nature of our victim-blaming culture doesn’t only impact men. Of course it impacts women as well! Many women are very complicit with this line of thinking. Many will engage in any or ALL of these very same derailment tactics! Many women will quickly side with anyone male who uses any of the previously mentioned derailment tactics because siding with an aggressor reaffirms patriarchy, the status quo, and makes them feel emotionally distant from the status of “victim”—-even “stronger” if you will.

And finally…

6) “Joe Blow from Pasadena, Cali doesn’t derail conversations about street harassment or sexual assault, so your whole argument is null and void.”- Obviously not every single man on earth has engaged in street harassment or committed sexual assault. Obviously, discussing a common behavior does not mean every one of the nearly 3 billion men on earth has engaged in the behavior. And obviously, not every single man (or woman) is going to engage in (or cosign) derailment of these conversations. Some are going to ignore it. Some are on the other end of the spectrum and are engaged in some phase of awareness, advocacy, or activism against this. People know this. They simply ignore what is logical to end conversations and silence people about what makes them uncomfortable. Often times, derailment is not even about the person speaking up. It is about the person derailing. They’re scared. They feel judged. They don’t want to get too deep into their own views. So they make inappropriate remarks. Ad hominem attacks. Logical fallacies. Jokes. Derailment. Silencing.

I won’t be silenced though. No one who talks about these issues and other important issues should ever be.

Related Posts: Derailment Bingo (chart), The Invisible War and Racial Politics, Me. Black Men. Street Harassment. White Audiences., Street Harassment Observations, Social Justice and Cultural Hierarchy

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    6 Common Derailment Tactics Used In Conversations About Street Harassment and Sexual Assault 1) “Well…don’t dress sexy...
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