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World Poetry Day: An Open Letter to the Guy at Work by Liz Ruddy

If there is one poem I’d like to share on World Poetry Day 2017, it’s this one:

It’s a Monday morning and we’re making small-talk,
like,
“How was your weekend?”
“You see that fire out in Calabasas?”
“It’s been so cloudy lately.”
“So how about that rape letter?”
Yeah, you saw I’d posted about it “like seven times.”
Yeah, I tell you it makes me angry.
Angrier than usual.
(You know, because this is usual.)
“Listen,” you say, and you pause,
like, “I’m trying to figure out how to phrase this.”
That’s when I pull out the thick skin,
the kind women always keep tied around their waists
like an extra flannel shirt,
ready to throw on before meetings or rape trials,
or walking down the street,
or making small-talk at the office,
like,
I’ll try my best not to get offended by what you say,
because I know how offensive it is
to have my own opinion.
“People are saying that it’s 100% his fault and 0% her fault…”
You say, hesitantly,
the way women are taught to speak,
afraid of their own mouths.
“And I agree…

BUT—
DON’T YOU ALSO AGREE
THAT THIS WHOLE THING
COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED
IF SHE HAD JUST BEEN
MORE
RESPONSIBLE.”

I stare at you in disbelief for a moment,
sick to my stomach,
like, stranger groping my ass in a crowded train
kind of sick to my stomach,
just as unable to respond,
to discern bile from protest
bubbling in my throat,
wanting to explain,
like, hey,
JUST SO YOU KNOW,
you don’t need to play devil’s advocate—
he’s already got one,
and he’s good enough to get him off
with only six months.
But I knew that any response of mine
would be sharp
like, car keys between knuckles sharp,
and so instead
I did the only
responsible
thing I could do in that situation.
I walked away.

But I should’ve remembered
that my retreating back
is a fucking invitation,
because as I did so,
you felt the need to add insult to injury,
like, turning away wasn’t enough of an indication
that this subject was too painful
for me to deal with right now,
like, I wasn’t allowed to walk away
without your permission.
So you got in one last word, like,
“Seriously! Just think about it!”
Think about it.
Like I don’t.

Like I have the fucking privilege
of not thinking about it.

Like I don’t think about it
when I go for a run after work
and instead of using a timer,
my personal best is just
running faster than anyone who’s following me.

Like I don’t think about it
when I leave the headphones at home
on my way to pick up milk,
because I need to hear if anyone’s coming up behind me
and it’s already hard to make it out
over the soundtrack of my someday interrogation

like,
Don’t you know you live in K-town?
Why would you walk alone after dark?
What did you think was going to happen?

Like I don’t think about it
when I pick an outfit from my closet
and look at it like a piece of evidence,
like,
if I get raped when I’m wearing this tonight,
how guilty would it make me?
Like maybe they should mark it on the tag,
60% cotton, 40% her fault.

Like I don’t think about it
when strangers offer to buy me a beer.
Like this is fucking Wonderland
and that bottle says
“drink me”
and my miniskirt says
“rape me,”
like we’re all just making bad choices,
and the fact that I’m shrinking
into nothing
is just a nasty side-effect
of this toxic culture
to which we both fell victim.

Like I don’t fucking think about it
when my little sister sends me photos
that she wants to put on Facebook,
for my APPROVAL.
To make sure they’re appropriate.
To make sure they’re safe.
To imagine them under a headline
about how she got raped behind a dumpster,
like, does this profile picture test well
with the jury of Buzzfeed commenters?
I wonder if they’ll use his mug shot or his yearbook photo.
I wonder what his swimming times are.

“Just think about it,” you tell me.
Just think about it?
Like I don’t think about it when boys like you
say shit like,
“But don’t you also agree
that this whole thing
could have been avoided
if she had just been more
responsible.”

Like I don’t constantly think about
how I live in a world
where women are held responsible for the actions of men.
Like I didn’t learn that in middle school
when girls were sent home
for wearing tank tops with straps
thinner than two fingers.
Like it wasn’t made clear
every time they called us
“daughters, sisters, mothers”
that we only exist in relation to men,
that we are merely extensions of them,
so of course,
naturally,
we should be more responsible,
so as not to let them rape us
and ruin their own life
with the same two fingers
they once used to measure our straps.

Like I don’t think about it.
Like I can choose not to think about it.

Like I wasn’t up all fucking night thinking about it.
But it’s almost 5am,
and I need to sleep before tomorrow,
so I have the energy to smile at the men on the street,
so they don’t have to ask me to.
But first, I need to make sure
that I’m being perfectly clear—
like, “no means no” clear,
like, “an intoxicated person cannot consent” clear,
like, “an unconscious person cannot consent” clear,
like, “sex without consent is not sex, it’s rape” clear,
like, “guilty on three counts of sexual assault” clear.
(I’m sorry, am I not being clear?)
Here, let me keep it simple.
NO.
I do NOT fucking agree.
Seriously.
Think about it.

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5 thoughts on “World Poetry Day: An Open Letter to the Guy at Work by Liz Ruddy

  1. I read this on another site, and the only comment left was from a man basically saying that women need to dress more modestly so as not to provoke our male counterparts.

    Just when I thought I couldn’t get angrier and more despairing about this kind of situation.

    It is staggering that some people don’t believe that rape culture exists.
    It is staggering that anyone can possibly offer any kind of defence for rape.
    It is beyond staggering that people apparently still think that a woman’s clothing is her consent, and if she dares to go out dressed ‘immodestly’ she is asking to be raped, and these rapists had better perform their civic duty and get on with it. Because that’s clearly what she wants, right? It doesn’t matter if she’s saying no, or if she’s in a state where she can’t actually say anything, because her clothing has already done the talking for her.

    And you know what one of the worst parts is? Guys can walk down the street in summer wearing nothing but shorts but they are, generally speaking, not in danger of being raped. They can strip down to a mankini in the beach, and that’s not taken as any form of consent. They can pass out drunk and not wake up to discover that someone has decided to take away their choice and turn them into an object.They don’t have to experience their value as a human being being diminished based on their clothing or sexual choices.

    People sometimes ask why I get on better with animals than people. This is why. This will always be why.

    Like

    • Couldn’t agree more, Bella, well said.
      I’ve honestly gotten to the point where I’ve given up trying to understand people.
      There are too many stupid, stupid people in the world. I don’t know if we can ever change it. Probably not. But just to feel like the sensible people outnumber the idiots on this planet would be victory enough.
      Sadly I still feel like we’re so far off…

      Like

      • I’m routinely astounded by how many stupid people there are in the world, and just how stupid some of them actually are. I mean, so stupid that you have to wonder how they actually function on a day-to-day basis.

        You’re right, it really does feel like we’re still so far off. We get a victory like rape victims no longer being required to be in the courtroom with their attackers, but then we get more rapes being treated as fairly inconsequential, more rapists getting away with light sentences that they probably won’t even see through to the end, and more people defending them or making excuses for them. It does make it feel like we will never actually see world in which women aren’t treated like utter crap.

        And that’s only the tip of the ice-berg that is institutionalised misogyny.

        Like

      • I completely agree. I don’t believe we’ll see proper equal treatment in our life time, I don’t know if humanity will ever figure out how to treat all people right. I just feel like adulthood has slowly eaten away at my optimism and left me a full-on cynic.
        But, at the end of the day I feel it’s realistic. I don’t know if, as a species, we have the capacity to get any better in our treatment of each other.
        But through my pessimism, I’ll never stop fighting

        Like

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