Trigger warning for rape
When my grandmother was eighteen and freshly out of high school, she got a job doing clerical work at Pier 21 in Halifax. Pier 21 was the landing spot and first point of contact for those immigrating to Canada across the Atlantic ocean, and my grandmother helped process paperwork. She loved her job. She especially loved learning people’s stories, poring over their forms and finding out where they came from, what their children’s names were, and what possessions they’d chosen to bring with them all the way to this strange new country. You can tell a lot about a person and their priorities, apparently, based on what stuff they believe is worth hauling across the cold, grey Atlantic.
My grandmother was only able to work at Pier 21 for a few months, though, because it was just too exhausting for her father. Why? Well, because her shift ended late (around ten or eleven at night), and the docks were considered to be a very dangerous area for women. This tunnel especially, which connects the south end of Barrington street to the waterfront, was a place that women were told to avoid at all costs:
So my great-grandfather would go meet her every night after work and escort her home. Because that was the only way that her parents would allow her to keep the job – if she had her father with her every night to make sure that she got home safely. But eventually, this was too much for my great-grandfather – who had to get up every morning at five for his job as a stevedore down on the docks – and my grandmother had to quit. It didn’t matter how much my grandmother enjoyed the work. It didn’t matter that she promised to come straight home, to stay on the main streets, to carry a knife. Without a man to keep her safe, the trip home from work was just too risky for my grandmother.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this story lately, ever since Sophia Katz published this essay on Medium about the rape and sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of a well-known member of New York’s alt-lit community. Although Katz doesn’t give her rapist’s real name – instead, she calls him “Stan” – several other people have come forward and said that Katz is writing about the Stephen Tully Dierks, the 29 year old editor of Pop Serial.
In her essay, 19 year old Katz recounts her trip to New York earlier this year, where she hoped to make business connections with other writers and editors. Unsure of where she would be staying, she was initially grateful when Dierks, who she’d met online, offered to let her sleep on his floor. Except that it turned out that he didn’t mean his floor. And he didn’t exactly mean “sleep” either.
Dierks manipulated Katz into his bed, and then coerced her into sleeping with him. Although Katz repeatedly told Dierks that she didn’t want to sleep with him, he continued to pressure her until she did. I really don’t know what else you would call what happened to her other than rape. Here is Katz’s own description of the first time they slept together:
“Wait, Stan we can’t. Everyone just got home; they will definitely hear,” I said, hoping this was a way out.
“No they won’t. It’s fine. Let’s keep going.”
“No, I think they will. I really don’t want to if your roommates are home. We really shouldn’t.”
“No, it’s fine. We should. We should. Let’s keep going.”
“Stan [Dierks], please can we just do this later. Your walls are really thin.” I felt tears welling up in my eyes and tried to dissolve them. I didn’t want to do it later. I didn’t want to do it ever. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to leave, but I was trapped with him in his tiny, dimly lit room.
“No, we should keep going. Let’s keep going.”
He got on top of me. I began to relinquish control.
“Wait, aren’t you going to use a condom?” I asked.
“Oh, come on. Please don’t make me do that.”
“Stan I really, really think you should use a condom, please use a condom.”
“I’m clean. Are you?” he questioned.
“Yes but it doesn’t matter. Please. Come on.”
“Its fine Sophie, come on, we don’t need one. I hate condoms.”
I realized there was no way for me to win. I lay back and closed my eyes.
Katz continued to stay with Dierks while she was in New York. He continued to rape her.
Since Katz’s essay was published, I’ve seen a lot of people of supporting her, but I’ve also seen some incredibly vicious victim-blaming. People who ask why Katz didn’t fight back. Why she didn’t scream. Why she didn’t find a place to stay (while under the intense watch of a powerful, well-known, incredibly manipulative man in a city where, by the way, she knew almost no one). Why she agreed to stay with him in the first place, even though it was clear that he wanted to sleep with her. Why she stayed silent for months. Why she wrote about it at all.
People keep asking about Katz’s “common sense,” as in “why doesn’t she have any?” Because she should have known that if a man offers a woman a free place to stay, the unspoken contingency is that he expects her to sleep with him. If a woman politely tells a man that she’s not interested in having sex with them, she should automatically assume that he will rape her. If a woman does not want to be raped, she should not accept free drugs and alcohol from a man. If a woman is raped by a well-connected, much-respected writer, any negative repercussions that she might fear should never stop her from immediately fleeing his apartment.
People keep asking why Katz didn’t take responsibility for her own safety, as if rape had to be the natural and inevitable consequence of all of her choices. Because if a woman is raped by man, there is always a whole catalogue of things that she could or should have done to stop it. Always.
It seems almost certain that if Katz had decided not to take Dierks up on his offer of a free place to stay, then he wouldn’t have been able to assault her in the way that he did. What seems equally certain to me is that Katz (and all women) should not be expected to believe that any and all roads you walk down with a man you don’t know very well must lead to rape. You can say that different choices would lead to a different outcome in just about any given scenario in life – that doesn’t mean that you know ahead of time where the choices you’re making will take you. It is not Sophia Katz’s fault that she was raped. Not even a little bit. Not even maybe. Dierks chose to rape Katz, and all of the fault for that rape rests with him, now and forever.
When I think about Sophia Katz and my grandmother and, well, pretty much all women everywhere, I am just so unbelievably angry at how many sacrifices and concessions we’re told to make in order to stay safe. Don’t dress a certain way. Quit the job you love. Be careful about how and when and where you travel. Don’t walk down certain streets. Don’t go out alone at night. Don’t drink. Limit your presence on social media. Don’t be outspoken. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t send nude photos to anyone; in fact, don’t even take any nude photos. Don’t trust men, ever, in any way. And if you don’t follow these rules, anything bad that happens to you is your own fault.
I’m sad that my grandmother didn’t get to stay at the workplace she loved, and I’m even more sad that there are people who think that Sophia Katz is at fault for the fact that Stephen Tully Dierks raped her. It’s 2014, and we’re still blaming female rape victims for daring to travel, to drink, to wear short skirts, to trust men. With everything that we know about rape culture and how it works, why are we still singing the same damn tune?