Sunday, March 8, 2015

Stalking - Don't Do It

I went to a couple of talks at The Opera House yesterday as part of a big festival called "All About Women".  Naturally, today my head is buzzing with all kinds of things I want to talk about - but let's start with stalking.

I was thinking, this morning, trying to remember the last time there wasn't at least one, more often at least two women in my life who were actively changing their lives to avoid a stalker. I've come to the conclusion it must have been a long, long time ago, because I can't remember it. So many women I know (and I mean personal friends, not figureheads like Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian) have been stalked at one point or another, and I could only think of one, maybe two male friends who've ever had any experience with anything like stalking.

That's fucked up. I mean, it's anecdata and therefore not fact per se, but my experience that women get stalked and men just don't is fucked up. I shouldn't have so much experience with female friends being stalked that I'm no longer surprised when it happens. Saddened, certainly, but never surprised anymore. That's fucked. up.

Social media has certainly made it easier to stalk people. Back in the day you used to really have to put your back into tracking someone's every movement, but now there are a million ways to get at someone. Track their Facebook, their Twitter, their Instagram, their email...there are so many connecting fibers between someone active on social media and the world at large, that it's easy to jump on those connections and take advantage.

Unfortunately, a lot of the rection I've seen to women complaining about stalking (should they have the courage to complain at all) suggests that if they put themselves "put there". then what do they expect. I've seen the advice that women should simply sever these connections too many times to count, and I want to punch them in all the face. Maybe some people could just cut social media ties on go on with their lives - but increasingly that's just not an option.

I can't speak for all of you, but I know the vast majority of my socialising is done online. I'm anxious as fuck, and prone to depressive episodes, both of which can make leaving the house impossible. During these periods, if I didn't talk to people online I wouldn't talk to people at all - which would in turn make my depression and anxiety worse, making it harder to get out of the house, and so on and so forth until I find myself dressed in a makeshift Princess costume talking to a stuffed cat. (True story). I need other people, I need contact with other people, because I'm a human, and we've known since Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs came out in the 1940's that people need other people.

If you're not familiar with this little pyramid, it's basically a way of visualising how people tend to prioritise the things they need. Down the bottom we have things like shelter, food, water. Then safety, which means having safe shelter, enough food to last until tomorrow, plenty of water. Then once all those things are taken care of, we can worry about the love, the self esteem, the idea of who we want to be and living up to that. Social Media, for me, feeds the top three tiers. When I can have conversations about fairy bread with people and no-one says, "What on earth are you talking about that for?" I feel loved, and like I belong. When I post pictures or links to something I've made and people give me compliments, that feeds my esteem like whoa. When I post something I think is clever and other people respond indicating they think it's clever too, I feel like one day I might actually be as clever as I hope to be. The idea that these interactions aren't real, that they should just be able to be severed without consequence, is so utterly baffling to me.

I can get all these things from meatspace interactions as well, it's true. But meatspace is difficult for me. Even when I'm not anxious or depressed, I still have to deal with my Borderline Personality Disorder, which makes finding and keeping new friends very difficult. The space that online interaction provides me makes it so much easier to find and keep new people that I can actually eventually interact with in a meaningful way offline -  I've met friends online that I would never have known how to interact with at first in person. The idea of having to cut that off because some asshole decides it would be funny to stalk me, or that I deserve it for whatever reason, makes me feel sick.

Even if you're lucky enough not to deal with any of the people panic that I do, social media is becoming increasingly important for people to simply do their jobs. The flow of information available on something like Twitter is just STAGGERING. The contacts, the news, the job postings, the reputation you can build that will get you more contacts, news and's kind of mind blowing to think that some people's advice is just to cut that off. If you're a journalist, hell, if you're a writer of any kind, cutting ties with social media is tantamount to quitting. You might as well, because you'd be at such a disadvantage.

Why do women have to make these choices? And yes, I know that men get stalked too, but let's just deal with the fact that it's mainly women who get put in this position. How do we choose between putting ourselves at risk of being stalked, abused, harassed, or missing out on all these amazing social and professional opportunities? We shouldn't fucking have to. Here's a mind blowing suggestion - how about assholes stop fucking stalking women? How about we legislate so there are real, legal consequences for stalking someone online, just as there is for offline stalking? How about we make the consequences for stalking offline a bit more...robust, shall we say? How about you stop fucking stalking women? It's not cute, it's not funny, and no matter how many movies you've seen where it happens, it will NOT bring her back to you.

How about we stop expecting women to just put up with this shit, work around it, accept it as a part of our lives?

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