I have developed a steady, borderline concerning addiction to the podcast My Favourite Murder recently. If you’ve not heard of it, it is a podcast hosted by two comedian and actors, Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff and is conceptually what it says on the damn box: Georgia and Karen recount their favourite murders of the week to each other and subsequently spend fifteen to twenty minutes shrieking at one another about how totally fucked up they are. It is wonderful. As somebody who spent their teenage years almost exclusively on Wikipedia reading about the Ted Bundy’s of the world and has since spent a sum total of approximately 18 months of her life surfing Reddit, this podcast really couldn’t be more delightful. If it was any more up my alley, I’d have to take it out with the recycling on Thursdays.
Having listened to approximately 40 episodes in a month, it’s easy to notice recurring themes in the conversations and small valuable lessons to pocket for later, including but not limited to: never trust your emotionally unstable adolescent son with a gun, if a person commits a violent rape and serves a stupid short sentence, they might do it again with a bit of a murder on the side, and ladies: being polite will get you literally fucking killed.
In the wake of the #metoo phenomenon (which could honestly warrant an entire blog post in itself), I’ve been thinking a great deal about being a bitch and how women’s fanatic devotion to politeness is so problematic. The other day my father was discussing the Harvey Weinstein case with a frankly respectable amount of thought for a man who could be dictionary-defined as “a white upper-middle class Thatcherite”. Despite his care and consciousness regarding the despicable acts of that lumbering mollusc rapist, he still ultimately expressed surprise at the account of Lea Seydoux, who stated that she knew Weinstein’s intentions immediately and yet agreed to join him alone in his hotel room for drinks anyway. “Why would she do that?! Why didn’t she just walk away?!” I could only remark that it’s likely the same story as it is in so many of the My Favourite Murder stories, the same story as in so many sexual assaults, and the same reason that so many men feel they can realistically get away with degrading and harassing women: she didn’t want to be called a bitch.
For the most part us women are disastrously, obsessively polite. We slide into small spaces to avoid a fuss, we offer apologies with a bizarre amount of enthusiasm in our day to day lives, and we’re quick to quieten when to speak feels too obnoxious. Undoubtedly this is a product of a heightened social empathy that one could indicate as a learned phenomenon but also allegedly exists as an inherent gender difference in our social brains.
We are also terrified to our cores by the idea of being called a “bitch”. Because having that word used against us is such a painful, scathing slander against our personalities, our sexuality, and our acceptability to the outside world. There’s nothing jovial or light-hearted or inconsequential about it, being branded a bitch fucking sucks. It implies that there is something fundamentally wrong with you as a woman, as though you’re defective and needlessly taxing. I still remember every time a man has ever called me a bitch and even though for the vast majority of those scenarios I maintain that my callous or rude behaviour was entirely justifiable, it hurts. It’s humiliating. It’s an evil word designed to let obtrusive women know that they’re not acting as pleasantly or perhaps as compliantly as those lovely women over there. It’s a word that heavily implies you’re not worth the time or effort – because, ya know, you’re just going to be a fucking bitch about everything.
I don’t want this post to be construed as a victim-blaming tirade by any means but I think it is worthwhile reflecting on how our patent need to maintain politeness can get us into trouble and keep us there. Politeness keeps us talking to strangers, it keeps us engaged in conversations we don’t want to be in, it lures us into houses and cars and spaces apart from the safety of friends, it forces us to accept drinks and kiss people and occasionally even have sex, it keeps us standing stock-still as we’re groped or pawed at.
Politeness is a default modality that assumes the best of people and I am furious at myself for all the occasions that I have assumed the best of people only to put myself in danger or suffer the consequences. I clearly remember when I was followed home at night by a man last year the thought occurring to me: “Does this guy not realise that staying this close behind a girl at night can be rather intimidating?” Had I not pulled out my keys unusually early on that walk, I have no doubt in my mind that he would have attempted to rape me on that pitch-dark street (in fact, he literally took the time to swear this at me as he ran down an alley while I stood there in hopeless shock). When a man rang my phone on an anonymous number to sexually harass me, I humoured the conversation for a full five minutes because I believed that it was just a friend being absurd. My inclination to trust people occasionally borders on idiocy.
Politeness is unguarded and patient and it can be disturbingly naïve. It’s also a remarkably difficult behaviour to shake. I know this because I have been ruminating on this topic for a few weeks and yet, when an appallingly drunk British man approached me at a bar on Saturday night and pressed well within my comfort zone, slurring his Liverpudlian garbage into my ear at a distance where I could feel his breath on my skin, I just stood there and smiled and gave him the time of day for reasons that utterly baffle me. In general, I don’t believe that I have particularly high standards of how I should be treated and this all may be fairly symptomatic of that fact.
Karen and Georgia are drawn to reflect on this topic fairly frequently and how a woman’s need to be safe should always, always take mental priority over our compulsion for politeness. In the episode Eight Is Enough Murders, Karen recalls a time when a man attempted to lure her into an underground garage with the pretence that he needed to ask a question and became enraged when she refused to sacrifice her security to enter the garage with him. Georgia then replies with what I believe all women reasonably need to remind ourselves of: “It’s because we’re bitches and we don’t have to be fucking polite to other people.”
I’m also inclined to add that any decent man who has just experienced a woman acting coldly towards him in such a situation does not immediately conclude that “She must be a bitch” but instead pauses to consider “Huh, maybe I made her feel unsafe.” A while ago, after expressing how cautious women have to be when approached by male strangers, I was affronted by a man who retorted defensively that treating all men with suspicion is akin to treating all Muslims as members of ISIS; I think that the “metoo” hashtag has perhaps bolstered my counterpoint to this argument: terrorist attacks are rare, sexual harassment and rape happen all the goddam time. I’m not suggesting that politeness is never important, it most certainly is and as far as I’m concerned anybody that is rude to waiters or fails to use their “please” and “thankyou’s” can basically be thrown on a bin fire but I also think that we shouldn’t feel so ashamed for raising our voices or walking away when somebody makes you feel uncomfortable. We need to practise saying no and shouting a bit and telling men to back the fuck off, even if that kind of assertiveness is deeply counterintuitive. We’re not here to be nice, be a fucking bitch, use it as necessary.
Stay sexy and don’t get murdered.