Maria Stoian's Take It As a Compliment is, potentially, a very important book. Hardly a week goes by that we don't hear about some sexual harassment or rape case, often on a college campus. Whether people are reporting it and talking about it more, or if society has become more flagrant and open about sexual impropriety I don't know. Stoian has gathered stories from readers of her blog about their experiences as victims of sexual assault or harassment and illustrated them in this book.
One on level, reading these experiences shocks me. Are there really men who treat women like that? My life has been sheltered. These women tell stories of being humiliatingly harassed by strangers in public, both verbally and with groping and slaps. Do some men really think it's OK to put their hands inside a girl's skirt on the subway? Other stories are about abusive relationships, or encounters with friends and acquaintances who force them to do things they don't want to do. (Most of the stories are about men mistreating women, but one or two are about women abusing men . . . )
As shocking as the stories are, I found myself questioning the victims as well. Men are groping you on a crowded subway? Why not yell at them to stop? Do you have that little faith in humanity that you believe no one would have a sympathetic ear? And those abusive relationships--I know they can be complex, but why are women compelled to stick around when a man is beating her or forcing her to do things she doesn't want to do sexually? And when a boy threatens that if you don't perform a sexual act, he will spread rumors about you, do you really think he won't spread rumors anyway when you do?
This comment by a girl who tells the story of waking in a stranger's bed after getting drunk was particularly telling to me: "Of all the times I've ended up in regrettable sexual situations, the one that will follow me the longest will be the one I remember the least . . ." All the times?? Is she a slow learner, or what? After one regrettable sexual situation, wouldn't you learn to stay out of the circumstances and settings that get you into those situations? Apparently not. Girls, here's a free tip: don't get so drunk you pass out when you're at a party. I'm not saying it's OK for a man to touch you when you're passed out, I'm just saying it happens a lot, and you can prevent it.
I know I probably sound like a male chauvinist. Someone might want to label me a predator, or at least a potential predator. I'm not. Guys, treat women with decency. Treat them like you'd want your mom or sister to be treated. Be respectful. No means no. Don't act like the guys in this book.
I hope readers of Stoian's book will take these stories as she intends them to be taken, as a warning of what might happen, an encouragement not to let these things happen to you, and as a comfort to victims of sexual abuse or harassment that they are not alone. She ends with an admonition to listen to and support survivors of sexual abuse and harassment, to watch for signs of it happening or potentially happening, and to intervene to protect others before they become victims. I can get behind that message, for sure!
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!