Any girl who has ever walked down the street and had to listen to jerks catcalling, joking or otherwise harassing a woman will well relate to Kelsey, a 20-year-old Minnesotan, who took matters into her own hands while walking home last weekend. Like any good netizen, she shared the whole story on her blog, along with the picture of her smiling with a bandaged hand.
According to Kelsey, as she was walking home after last call she heard two men behind her catcalling an inebriated woman across the street. The woman didn’t respond to their overtures (can’t imagine why!) and instead just tried to walk faster. One man then (allegedly) said “F***ing c***, I’d take her into the back alley and show her what I’m made of. She won’t even see it coming,” and then laughed. Before he could get another rape-y word out, Kelsey spun around and punched him in the face.
She then wrote on her blog, “I hope your mother/girlfriend/sister/friends/everyone asks what happened to your nose. I hope you have to explain that you thought it’d be funny to joke with your friend about raping the drunk girl across the street. I bet you didn’t think that the girl who was walking in front of you would turn around and punch you in the face. You’re a filthy piece of sh*t and I don’t regret this at all. “
Raise your hand if your first thought was “AMEN SISTER!” I remember one occasion after an evening out with my girl friends where some guys followed us all the way back to our car yelling stuff at us in Spanish. I didn’t catch much of what they were saying but as they closed in around us, their intent was plenty clear. The harassment didn’t stop until one friend – old enough to be their mother – stepped in and reamed them in Spanish. I’m not sure what she said to them but I’m pretty sure it involved them calling their moms, grandmothers and sisters and apologizing for being the dregs of humanity. It was a scary moment and we weren’t even alone.
I also remember when I was interviewing MMA fighter Kendra Ruff for the Shape article about her (hardcore-you-have-to-try-it-right-now!) workout that one of the most poignant moments was when she talked about her reasons for getting into MMA. She was first introduced to the violent sport by her (soon-to-be-ex) husband who told her she couldn’t do it because she was too pretty. She showed him and everyone else that you can be pretty and tough at the same time as she rocketed up to the #1 amateur in the state. And then she added, “It’s like having a secret. I can put on my cute dress and go out for a night on the town and not have to worry. I know I can take care of myself. I always feel in control.” I didn’t tell her but I desperately envied her confidence. My past traumas have left me with a significant amount of lingering fear and I would love to be able to say “I always feel in control.”
But would I punch someone in the face? Probably not, honestly. First, because I’d be afraid they’d punch me back and it’s virtually guaranteed they would hit harder than I could. (And I don’t have mad MMA skillz with which to defend myself in a physical fight.) And second, because I tend to try and avoid confrontation like that if at all possible. Instead, I’d probably feel crappy about it and then come home and post it on Facebook so my friends could give me sympathy. That said, I kind of love Kelsey’s moxie. She didn’t feel afraid. She just acted. And in a society with such as strong rape culture as ours, that takes guts.
Unfortunately, while the story inspired a million virtual fist pumps, it also inspired just as much controversy. As the story went viral, Kelsey reported receiving an alarming number of rape and death threats along with the adulations. People everywhere were divided as to whether or not her vigilante justice was even warranted, much less commendable. For me, the comments have been even more interesting than the original story.
One commenter on Jezebel.com offers a different option:
“The way to fight back against rape culture is to get out her Iphone and dial 911 and report the threat, and describe, whilst standing directly in front of said misogynist, his exact appearance, clothing, shoes, height, apparent weight, and any identifying marks, and make sure to tell the police that she will be glad to appear in court and give evidence. It does take a little more thought than punching the guy’s lights out, but she has effectively become a perpetrator in her own right by taking retribution against his physical threats against a third party. He is guilty of verbal assault and threatening: but she has in turn upped the ante by making an unprovoked assault upon a stranger who was not harming her personally. We live in a land ruled by laws, not by vengeance. It was a bad thing to do. “
Another commenter asked, ”How is he guilty of verbal assault? According to this violent vigilante, the guy was talking to HIS FRIEND. He didn’t yell out to the woman he was going to rape her. he said it to his friend.”
Yet another commenter questioned the veracity of the initial report:
“This woman is so full of sh*t. “F***ing c***, I’d take her into the back alley and show her what I’m made of. She won’t even see it coming,”
Then she woke up at 3 in the morning with a Tarratino movie blaring in her eardrums.
“What I’m made of?” – What is this, 1976? No dude says that anymore.
“I’d take her into the back alley” – As opposed to the front alley? More bullsht. If a dude would have said this, he would have said alley. period. I’d take her into the alley. “back” is not needed and wouldnt have been said
“She won’t even see it coming” – More bullsht. If the guy..er..RAPISTY MALE!…had any intentions of doing this or even talking about, he wouldnt have given a sh*t is she saw it coming. It would be even better if she did see it coming. It’s more horrifying to see something coming and know you cant do jack sh*t about it.
This doesnt pass the smell test, ladies and gentleman. Your hero is a fraud.”
[Charlotte's note: For the record, this comment made my skin crawl.]
A female commenter wondered how common this really is, asking, “This is hard for me judge considering I’ve never been catcalled in my life. Attractive people problems?”
Then a reasonable commenter pointed out:
“Engaging in violence with strangers is insanely dangerous and nobody who has anybody that cares about them should do it… excepting self defense in the case that escape is impossible. Human beings are capable of doing catastrophic damage to each other in no time flat. The truth of the matter is that there are far too many ways that her decision could have ended badly for us to laud her as a hero. Nobody’s even mentioned the fact that if her punch is off by a few inches, she could catch the jackass in the temple and catch a murder charge. No, we’re all just caught up with how cool a big overhand left hook looks when Angelina Jolie and Bruce Willis throw them in the movies.
I’m not particularly mad at her, young people often do stupid and impulsive things, what I dislike is internet commenters acting like she’s Batman. As this goes viral, it has the potential to influence others to do the same thing and there’s no guarantee that their encounters will have the same happy viral ending.”
The problem here is not that the situation happened, although that was unfortunate. The problem is how aptly it illustrates the glaring inconsistency in how we deal with sexual violence in our society. The other day in talking with a male friend, a situation was brought up where a common female friend had expressed worry about being raped. My male friend was surprised, as he thought the situation to be innocuous. He asked me, “Why would she even think that? Do girls go around thinking about getting raped all the time??” Both the other girl present and I answered immediately, “Yes!” We have to. It’s a survival skill. I’m not saying it’s at the forefront all the time or that I always pay attention to it but yes, it’s there.
To punch or not to punch, that is the question.
In the end, Kelsey answers it herself with her most recent update on her now-removed blog:
“Due to continuing threats and comments, this account will no longer be active. I have spoken to the police about the whole ordeal and all involved have agreed that this was the best action to take. Edit: I did tell the police the entire story. I turned myself in and understand the possible legal consequences.”
What do you think – is Kelsey a hero or a misanthrope? Have you ever been catcalled or otherwise harassed on the street? How did you handle it?