Of Cats, Kids, and Harassment

I love my cat.

My cat’s full name is His Imperial Majesty Joseph Norton, Second of that Name, Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico.  (Named, of course, after the Emperor Norton, of San Francisco.)  Day to day, of course, we just call him Norton.

Norton’s getting older now; he’s still huge, still insouciant and stubborn, still far too intelligent for his own good.  But he’s mellowed.  He’s had to deal with a new kitten invading his home, and then – worse yet – a new baby, and they’ve taught him a measure of patience.  Back in the day, though, when I briefly lived with my parents right after college and he was the new kitten invading the home of an older, established cat, well.  He was a little shithead.  A lovable shithead, but a shithead nevertheless.

There’s a story I love to tell, about his interactions with my mom’s old cat Midnight.  See, despite being a hunter and carrying a few honorable battle scars, Midnight was never an aggressive cat.  Unless he was out chasing down lizards and snakes, he preferred soft laps and belly pets to picking fights, and was known to be patient to a fault with over-exuberant dogs.  So we were all very surprised, unhappily so, to see how he reacted to the new kitten.  Time and time again, we’d see the same drama play out – Norton would approach him and make a friendly gesture, usually trying to lick his ears, and Midnight would flip out and try to beat the shit out of Norton.  Norton would run to us, meowing piteously, and of course he would get comforted and protected and Midnight would get in trouble.

Until one night I happened to be up later than usual, sitting quietly at the counter reading, and I got to see the whole story.

I watched Norton approach Midnight and begin licking his ears.  And licking them.  And licking them.  Long past the point of being affectionate; long past the point, in fact, where it must have started to chafe.  Midnight sat there stoically, ignoring him, occasionally flicking his ears in irritation – which stopped nothing.  Eventually he got up with a grumpy growl, and relocated across the room.

Norton followed him.  And kept licking.  The exact same spot.  Working at the existing irritation until Midnight couldn’t stand it anymore and moved again, and again Norton followed him.  And kept licking.

Finally, of course, Midnight’s patience wore out, and he turned around and beat the shit out of the kitten, who immediately came crying to me about how mean the big cat was and he was just trying to be friendly, jeez, can’t a guy even lick an ear around here??

And of course I’d seen the whole thing and had no sympathy at that point, and of course it was hilarious, and of course it changed how we addressed cat-drama going forward.  We moved to an apartment soon after and it was resolved, but it stuck with me – in part, as a reminder of how evil-villain-scheming my sweet innocent kitty was!

I guess it’s not that unusual.  I mean, you see the same dynamic on playgrounds every day – bullies tormenting their victims where the authority figures won’t see, or in ways sure to be misinterpreted, so that the victim has the choice of suffering in silence or lashing out – and getting in trouble from those who saw the reaction but not the provocation. 

But what do you do when it happens amongst adults?

The most insidious harassment, to me, is the kind where each individual incident, taken by itself, seems benign.  It’s only when you look at the larger picture that something more sinister emerges.  Take stalking, for example.  There is nothing wrong with taking someone’s picture in a public space.  Within certain restrictions, it is both legal and ethical.  A photographer or reporter, for instance, capturing a busy city street does not need to feel guilty for taking pictures of strangers on the street, and most people do not consider it a threatening thing to do. 

However, what about the person who waits at the same spot at the same time every day, in order to snap a picture of the same woman as she goes in to work?  Who follows her – always in public spaces – to see where she goes, who she associates with, and capture all of it on film?  What if he continues to do so even though it obviously makes her feel uncomfortable and unsafe, even though she’s confronted him and asked him several times to stop?  The laws may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but most reasonable people would consider that person a stalker, and a pretty creepy scary one to boot.  And yet, each individual action was just – snapping a picture.  Something perfectly fine on its own, something that in fact – depending on the audience and how good of an actor he is – might make the woman look like the scary inappropriate one if she confronts him angrily in public about this.  All he has to do is act innocent and aggrieved: “I was just taking a picture of people in the park, and suddenly she just started screaming at me!  I think she probably has some psychological issues.  Maybe she should seek help.”  How on earth do you fight against that?

As you may have guessed, this isn’t an empty exercise.

There is a blog called Drink The Shakesville Kool-Aid – I won’t link to them, because they are trash and I don’t want links to them on my blog.  It’s a site devoted to stalking and harassing certain feminist bloggers – they started with Melissa McEwan, of Shakesville (hence the name), and have since moved on to include my personal friend Ana Mardoll, of Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings.  Along the way a few others have become the targets of their attention.  They claim to be supporting people who have been “harmed” by the way they’ve been treated on these websites (translation: people who violated the comment policy and reacted poorly to being called out for it, because how dare those uppity bitches try to maintain a basic set of rules on their own blogs, amirite?), but in practice they spend a truly astonishing amount of time and energy talking about how awful Melissa and Ana are, combing through their archives for “proof” of it, watching their boards for new posts to mock and complain about and pick apart, speculating about their personal lives (and in some cases not just speculating – they’ve actually dug up information about Melissa’s home and family, and tried to use it to hurt her family offline before), and basically paying a frightening amount of attention to these women.  They’ve publicized personal and business information about them and people who support them, under the premise of “well, if it’s on the internet and we can find it, OBVIOUSLY it’s public not private and therefore it’s ok to distribute it.”  (I think this is the sister premise of “anything not nailed down is mine; anything I can pry loose is not nailed down.”)  They claim we should “just ignore them,” apparently oblivious to the irony in that statement, but when we try to do just that, people from that site come to our blog (I say “we” and “our” because I am a moderator on Ana’s site) and post drive-by trollishness that – when we try to figure out who these trolls are and where they come from – pretty much guarantees that we will see the intense scrutiny they have the site under, and the constant barrage of mockery and hatred they throw at Ana and Melissa.

They’ve been asked to stop.  They’ve been begged, tearfully, to stop.  They’ve been railed at and raged at, and they’ve been on the receiving end of cool and reasonable requests, and none of it works.  They will not stop.  At this point there is literally nothing we can do to make them leave us alone, and we have tried.

And of course, their defense – like the playground bullies, like my shithead cat in his misspent youth – is a wide-eyed “What are we doing wrong?”  So they criticize a blog post.  Is that a crime?  So they complain about someone they don’t like.  Haven’t we all?  So they gave links to people’s personal and business websites (separate from the blog) to people in order to mock them, knowing full well that harassment would (and did) follow – they were just posting a link!  It was a public website, after all – what’s wrong with that?  Each individual action, taken by itself, can be made to seem innocent – just like one picture in a park seems innocent, and thus they can maintain that they’re not doing anything wrong and we’re the ones overreacting.

Until, again, you stop and take a look at the pattern.  And then it looks fucking creepy.

Ana has stepped away from her blog because of all this, possibly permanently (though I hope not.)  Even that has to be mocked.  They have taken sentences, literally lopped off the entire second half of the sentence, and used the first half out of context to make Ana look bad.  They have lied about the things their website and its regular commenters have done, things I have seen with my own eyes.  They’ve called Ana manipulative for breaking down into tears.  They’ve called me abusive for finally giving voice to the white-hot rage I’ve been feeling on my friend’s behalf.   (And don’t even get me started on the concern-trolling and tone-policing.)  They have literally driven her away from her own blog and they still won’t stop coming for her, and they’re still maintaining the fiction that they’re completely innocent.  (“Ana didn’t choose her words carefully enough that one time in 2012, so clearly we are the wronged parties here.”) 

I just… I don’t even know what to do here anymore.  I am angry, and I am tired. 

I know this post started as a cute anecdote about my kitty.  I wish it could have stayed that way.  I wish I didn’t have this going on to talk about.

(P.s. – when, not if, the folks from that website get a whiff of this post?  Troll at your own risk.  I have no patience for you anymore, you will NOT be given the benefit of the doubt, and you will NOT be assumed to be operating in good faith.  If you are from the site in question, you are not welcome here, and you will be treated as any trespasser should be.)

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