an open letter to my former classmates

Dear classmates,

I’ve been wanting to write this for a long time. Yet, somehow, despite my love of angry words and yelling at and about men, I just couldn’t bring myself to put fingers to keyboard. And now, in no small part thanks to the bravery of fellow blogger and Abbey Park High School alum, Brianna Wodabek (which occurred ages ago now but, you know, chronic procrastination makes writing things real hard), I’ve finally decided to throw caution to the wind. Brianna, thank you for breaking the silence I and everyone else were too afraid to breach. Read her piece here. Especially in our post-Weinstein world, this conversation has never felt so necessary. So, as scared as I am to pen (pixelify?) these words, there’s no better time than the present to burn some high school bridges. Let’s dive right into the fire.

To give a brief summary of the state of things for those who might not be up to speed: According to various news reports, in the fall of 2014, Charlie Barrons broke into his ex-girlfriend’s house after he witnessed her going home with another dude from the bar. He then proceeded to beat up the dude, threatened him, and then – let’s just call it what it is – raped her (allegedly; I’ll spare the details here, but they’re easily Google-able). After being arrested and subsequently bailed out of jail by his doting family, he (well, his parents) hired the best defence lawyer money could buy to counter the charges laid against him. They managed to have his trial pushed until after he finished his undergrad, because God forbid his educational experience be marred by his (alleged) rapey tendencies (never mind, of course, that his victim subsequently dropped out of school due to PTSD). After all was finally said and done, three years after the incident, Charlie received a mere 3-year suspended sentence, along with a few other conditions. He would still be allowed to attend law school, lest his “glowing future” be threatened. The students of U of Ottawa, his future school, were not pleased with the prospect of having a(n alleged) rapist in their midst. Oakville white privilege strikes again.

The defence had some very…interesting justifications for Charlie’s (alleged) actions.  Similar to the infamous Brock Turner case of 2016, the defence seemed hell-bent on blaming alcohol for his (alleged) behaviour, which is complete and utter BS. Can alcohol cause us to do things we wouldn’t have done sober? Of course. I’ve certainly sent a few (okay, a lot) of embarrassing drunk texts in my day, not to mention all the chicken nuggets I’ve eaten in my bed whilst under the influence. But I can say with absolute certainty that alcohol has never caused me to go into a drunken rage and (allegedly) sexually assault anyone. And considering the sheer number of people who are drunk at any given moment who manage to, you know, refrain from being (alleged) rapists, I’d say it’s a pretty shoddy excuse. After all, they say your sober personality carries over into your drunk personality. Sober Sam may be tempted to eat chicken nuggets for every meal, but she’s aware that it’s probably not advisable. Drunk Sam is like, “Fuck the haters, live your best life.” Clearly, Drunk Charlie’s version of his best life (allegedly) is “Fuck the haters, women are my property and I’m entitled to do whatever I want to them whenever I want.” Who knows what goes on in Sober Charlie’s head?

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the lack of sympathy I’ve heard for Charlie. I’d be lying if I said I had enough faith in APHS Class of ’11 to believe that the majority of us wouldn’t write off the girl as a dramatic life-ruining bitch or something. Growing up in Oakville, a place that causes people to make this face…

giphy (1)

…and say “Oh” when you tell them where you’re from, we’re pretty far removed from major social problems. Of course, this is not to say that we’ve never faced any struggles at all, but I’d say it’s pretty likely that none of us has had to take up selling cocaine so our families wouldn’t get evicted or witnessed extreme gang violence or whatever. Our perspective is limited, is all I’m saying. It just means that we have to try a little harder to have empathy.  But…colour me impressed.  Almost every single alumnus I’ve spoken to has had nothing but bad things to say about Charlie.  Almost no one has defended him.  And it’s a start, but it’s not enough.

Personally, I never counted Charlie amongst my friends. I had a few classes with him over the years, even did a group project with him once, resulting in an innocuous afternoon at his house. He attended a couple of my parties, but then, lots of people did. He was polite to me, and I to him, but nothing more. My opinion of him, based on our limited interaction as well as what I’d gleaned from the high school grapevine, had always been that he was a bit of a brown-noser and a little douchey. In any case, I never would have put him on my “Former High School Classmates Most Likely To Be (Alleged) Rapists” list. I doubt many of us would have. I guess it just goes to show that you really never know.

But, thinking back, could we have known? Upon hearing the news, I immediately remembered a story someone had told me about her friend’s experience with Charlie during one of my aforementioned parties. Apparently, he’d cornered her in a bathroom and forced her to make out with him, despite her protests. I’d also heard whispers of another high school night, in which he’d followed a girl into the bathroom (yes, another one), and others present heard her shouting, “Stop, Charlie!” And another girl told me about her friend who’d willingly taken him home to hook up, only for him to get extremely angry and storm out when she refused to have sex with him.

In hindsight, these transgressions stand out as huge red flags. They indicate entitlement and a lack of care for consent. But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20; the sad truth is, this behaviour has become so normalized that we’ve learned to brush it off, to see it as “not a big deal.” In the Weinstein aftermath, as abuser after abuser is being called out and brought forward, it’s becoming abundantly clear that we, as a society, have no idea how to talk about consent. Women (and, I’d hazard to say, most people who aren’t cisgender men) are taught to minimize their feelings, to not cause a scene or hurt men’s egos, while men are taught that silence means “yes” and “no” means “convince me.”

Take the Aziz Ansari case for example. Personally, I truly don’t think Ansari acted the way he did out of maliciousness, or that he consciously thought, “This girl seems super uncomfortable, but I’m going to ignore that because fuck what she wants.” No, the problem is that Aziz, and men as a whole, have internalized the idea that unless the girl is actively punching them in the face and then goes home and immediately files a restraining order against them, they still have a chance to get it in. Aziz ignored all the verbal and physical cues that were indicative of his date’s discomfort and only chose to notice the few instances where she gave in and accepted his advances, because that was easier and more beneficial to him than stopping the whole production. It’s hard not to feel rejected in such situations, and rejection is a hard pill to swallow; trust me, I know. But, as sexually responsible adults, it’s important that we acknowledge and respect the feelings of all parties involved. Rejection is far easier to get over than the disgusting, sickening feeling of being sexually violated.

Are all men rapists? No, of course not. But I can almost guarantee that every single man reading these words has made a woman uncomfortable at some point in their lives, even if it was accidental. So, what does this mean for us going forward as a species?

It means that we need to self-critique and reassess how we speak to and interact with each other. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Well, then women need to stop being such oversensitive whiny bitches,” and I’m going to need you to take a step back. When someone tells you you’ve hurt them or made them uncomfortable, it means there’s work to be done. Take conscious action to make yourself better, and don’t just do it out of fear of legal repercussion. Do it because you care about improving yourself and making the world a better place for those who experience life differently than you. Offhand remarks like “I bought her a drink and she didn’t even suck my dick, what a waste!” need to stop. Rape jokes need to stop. Objectifying and degrading comments about women, whether they’re your buddy’s girlfriend or a random hot girl at the bar or an Instagram model, need to stop. Words are not just words. Words fuel ideas that fuel actions. We cannot continue to foster an environment where another Charlie will feel safe enough to keep (allegedly) pushing boundaries to this end. It’s a slippery slope. We need to call each other out and hold each other to a higher standard, or else nothing is going to change. Clearly, the justice system isn’t going to do it for us. Shelve the useless defensiveness, the fear of being wrong, and listen to what other people are saying.

Maybe you’re just concerned about your own safety going forward; what if you unintentionally cross a boundary somewhere? Or what if those women you’ve wronged decide to speak out? What then? Will you be arrested, trialled, labelled a sex offender for all eternity? And if any of those things did happen, would you believe that you deserved it? Or would you write it off as the privileged are wont to do as an unfair conspiracy against you, it was just a mistake, and you won’t do it again? During his trial, Charlie was painted as a scorned golden boy who made one silly mistake. Why should his future be ruined for, to use the words of Brock Turner’s father, “20 minutes of action”? But if we look at the evidence, it becomes clear that his (alleged) actions that night were a culmination of steadily escalating behaviour. People don’t go from 0 to (alleged) rapist at random. But, if the reports are to be believed, Charlie Barrons is a(n alleged) rapist now, and we all ignored the warning signs. Gentlemen, I’m going to need you to collect your boys. If you see another man treating a woman like shit, all you have to do is say, “Hey man, that’s not cool. Leave her alone.” Show the bad apples that their behaviour is not acceptable. Women often don’t feel safe standing up for themselves or speaking out in the moment. We need male allies in our corner.

Anyway, allow me to quell your fears; the likelihood of any of the women made to feel uncomfortable over the years actually doing anything that results in tangible consequences is slim to none. Here is a short list of some of the negative experiences of varying severity my friends and I have had with men:

  • Girl keeps pulling away whenever dude tries to make a move, so dude keeps trying to force alcohol on her to lower her defences.
  • Dude is groping girl and girl is physically pushing him away, but dude keeps trying to grope anyway.
  • Girl and dude are having sex. Girl tells dude to stop, but dude says “No, it feels too good,” and keeps going.
  • Girl goes to sleep beside dude (platonically) and wakes up to him having sex with her.
  • Girl and dude are fooling around, partially undressed. Girl has already said “no” multiple times to having sex. Dude tries to slip it in anyway, so girl gets uncomfortable and gets up to leave. Dude keeps trying to physically pull her back as she’s trying to escape out the door.

First of all, if you don’t see anything wrong with these scenarios, or if you’ve been a part of anything similar, please immediately reevaluate how you think about and interact with women. Second of all, exactly none of those instances were reported to the police. I don’t think any of us even thought about taking legal action. And I’m pretty sure we’d get laughed out of the police station if we tried. If the average man really had anything to worry about, and all of us – women, that is – have had such experiences and much, much worse, surely dudes would be getting arrested or otherwise penalized left right and centre.

Time and time again, we’re shown that women’s voices are worth next to nothing. Salacious rumours about Harvey Weinstein and Louis CK and pretty much every disgraced major player from the past few months have existed for many years, and the only reason we’re even seeing any pushback now is that the sheer numbers have made it impossible to ignore. Hell, even Larry Nassar, a literal pedophile rapist who sexually assaulted 150+ underage girls (some as young as 6), was allowed to continue under the radar for decades because those in charge didn’t consider the complaints against him pressing enough to warrant upsetting their community. It’s no wonder that all we feel safe doing is talking about it amongst ourselves. And sometimes, even our own friends will tell us to forget it, that it’s not a big deal. It’s easy to write off these experiences because it’s what we’ve been forced to acclimatize to. So really, unless you’ve been going through life blatantly sexually assaulting people at every opportunity, your bubble is extremely unlikely to burst.

In the end, we have all failed, and we are all complicit in the continuation of rape culture. And the frustrating thing is, I know that 95% of you agree with me. It’s easy to agree that Charlie is a piece of shit, that he deserves way more punishment than he received, that we should never talk to him again and delete him from our lives. And of course, none of this is to say that it’s our fault for not stopping Charlie. Ultimately, he made his decision on his own, and he alone holds the blame.

Still, we need to do better. We need rapists to be widely recognized as the most deplorable shitstains imaginable. It’s not enough to gossip about it behind closed doors. We need to shout it from the rooftops, acknowledge that rape culture is woven into the very fabric of all our lives. It’s not something we can hold at arm’s length and pretend doesn’t happen in our own little bubbles. It is insidious, and we must exterminate it. And I understand that it’s hard. Change is hard. Self-reflection is uncomfortable. But our right to feel and be safe is fundamentally worth much more than the comfort afforded by sticking to the status quo.

In the meantime, ol’ Charlie will go down in history as another privileged young straight white boy who managed to skate through an extremely skewed justice system on the back of a “promising future”, joining the ranks of Brock Turner, Chance Macdonald, Connor Neurauter (who is not only a sexual predator, but a pedophile sexual predator), and countless others. I wonder what stories their former classmates would have to tell? Rape is clearly not unpopular enough to stop the Charlies of the world from (allegedly) escalating to the level of criminal assault without repercussions along the way. But I believe that with a little self-reflection and a lot of hard work, there is hope for a better tomorrow. Go Eagles.

Lots of love,

Sam “Feminist Buzzkill” Kim

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