The UW Crushes site was a page where students of The University of Wyoming would submit anonymous comments about crushes for fun, but it seemed that the page was host to many sexually harassing, borderline creepy, and flat out stalkerish comments.
Last week a student posted something about student, radio personality and local activist, Meg Lanker Simons. The anonymous commenter said:
“I want to hatefuck Meg Lanker-Simons so hard. That chick that runs her liberal mouth all the time and doesn’t care who knows it. I think its hot and makes me angry. One night with me and shes gonna be a good Republican bitch.”
The facebook administrators who published the anonymous comments refused to take responsibility or reveal their identities, presumably for fear of sanction under the school’s honor code. They gave the excuse that they could not possibly be responsible for actually reading the posts they shared on their page because they were ever so busy engineering students. Then, they tempered what apeared to be an attempt at an apology with the suggestion that those of us who were offended ought to learn to take a joke and relax.
I cannot help but wonder if the community of Laramie would react quite so vociferously to the threats and abusive comments shared on that page if the administrators of it hadn’t made some serious mistakes. In addition to having no clue or care as to what they were posting, they operated under the University seal, with the school mascot in the banner, which implied school affiliation. Perhaps if the individuals had chosen to take responsibility for their mistakes, and not shoved it off on the victim, the need for a rally for awareness might not have been found.
The problem is, too many people in Wyoming have defended the vicious comments of the now nonexistent UW Crushes page. This showed a clear need for us to gather and speak up against rape culture.
I went to the event for many reasons, and with many opinions as expressed in the transcript of my speech below. I share this speech because there were only a couple hundred people at our rally which leaves almost 600,000 people who need to hear this message in Wyoming and untolds more who need it from out of state. Feel free to share widely.
“Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to speak. This is one of my first chances to appear publicly as the state director of Wyoming’s chapter of UniteWomen.org. I must admit that I didn’t picture my first speaking gig to be like this.
I had envisioned that I would be fueled by excitement when I got my first opportunity to represent the women of Wyoming…. But I am not excited today. I am angry, I am defensive, I am righteous, and I am determined to make it known that the Women of Wyoming will not tolerate this kind of deplorable behavior anymore.
I am proud to call Meg Lanker Simons my friend and neighbor.
Meg isn’t just a vocal Wyoming Liberal. She isn’t just a well known, confident and educated woman. She is a veteran. She is a married woman with a dedicated and loving husband. She is a survivor of rape. She is someone who has put herself on the line publicly for a number of years to fight worthy causes and defend the constitutional rights of others even in the face of harsh blowback from locals and significant personal sacrifice.
I am not surprised that this is the woman that the anonymous poster targeted with his vile threats. He chose her, not because she is a victim, or feeble minded, or amoral, or worthy of disdain but because she is the shinning example of an independent woman.
I am proud to tell you that like her, I am a survivor of rape. I understand what it means for someone to take something from you with force and malice and anger and hate and violence. I understand that the crime of rape is a crime of rage and not an act of passion. It is not just an assault on the body, it is the theft and attempted annihilation of spirit.
Now. Let us talk for a moment about that comment that spurred this whole thing into action. There are too many among us who have attempted to make the case that this is something innocuous, or that perhaps Meg doesn’t understand that hatefucking isn’t rape.
Well, I sure hope that those people choose to take the time next semester to sign themselves up for a reading comprehension course, because regardless of the meaning of that particular word, the threat of rape becomes clear when it is taken in context with everything else that was said. The anonymous commenter didn’t just say that he wanted to hatefuck Meg. He said that he was motivated by anger and had the intent of stealing or annihilating her spirit, her sense of character, and her definition of self. That is a threat of rape and anybody who defends that, defends the vile underbelly of rape culture.
This is not a case of boys will be boys, misinterpretation or freedom of speech. This is a clear cut case of slut shaming. This is choosing to attack a married veteran and rape victim in the most malacious way possible in order to shame her and terrorize her to silence. As a friend of Meg’s, as a representative of the wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters of Wyoming, and as a mother of two impressionable young boys, I have no choice but to say that it is never okay to threaten a woman with her own chastity. It is never okay to use her body, her gender, her sexuality or her sense of self as a weapon of shame.
I am a writer. That is my profession, my hobby, my talent and my gift. Because of my love affair with the written word, and my desire to use the almighty pen to change my world, I have no choice but to place value on the words that were directed at Meg in that post on the UW Crushes page last week. I cannot dismiss them as simple words that can’t hurt anyone because then i dismiss every positive word that I have ever written as nothing. Instead I choose to recognize the power in what he said.
Obviously, it has inspired a righteous conversation, and for that I am grateful. Today we have a chance to stand together and affirm our commitment to a better university, a better Laramie, a better Wyoming. Today we get to remind each other that we are indeed the Equality State and we do indeed cherish women like Meg, even when we don’t agree with them.
Last week, somebody thought it was okay to submit a degrading comment to a public forum. Someone else thought it was ok to publish that comment and nine people clicked like on it. Scores have come out in defense of those distasteful words. Perhaps a hundred have even viciously attacked meg and those who love and stand by her through anonymous hate mail and relentless Facebook pursuit.
They have told Meg to kill herself. They said, “I hope you get raped.” “Eat a dick bitch” and “go stir the pot somewhere else.”
This is the problem. People think this is ok. They blame my neighbor, Meg, for sticking up for herself. They publicly threaten her by sharing her address, and the color of her car while calling her a terrorist in online forums.
Well, Laramie, I remember when y’all tied Matthew Sheppard to a post and crucified him for his sexuality, his gender and your own bigotry. I remember being out of state and having no words with which to defend the city of my birth. I was ashamed of you then Laramie, and I don’t feel a whole lot better as I stand before you today and try to make sense of the fact that at least one student here thought it was okay to suggest that he and his mighty penis could physically force a woman to change her mind with but one night of unwanted and degrading sexual intercourse. I don’t know how to defend the fact that the person or persons who chose to publish this comment thought that their ridiculous apology, straight from the Rush Limbaugh school of apologies for dummies, counted as anything but a second assault on my friend Meg. I don’t know how to justify this piss poor behavior to Meg’s husband. I don’t know what words of comfort to offer to her mother.
I can only remember that this started not because of the gross ignorance of a hateful, nameless, individual but because of the power and might of one woman who refuses to be kept down.
Last Monday, Meg and I met for coffee. During our conversation she cautioned me for my personal safety and that of my children by warning that some people in the area were quite vociferous in their hatred for vocal women and liberals and she worried that putting by myself in the public eye, I might risk my family. At the time, I laughed and boasted of my momma bear skills, completely dismissing her warning.
Today I am not ashamed to admit that as I have watched the online community bicker over the fact that Meg refused to be beaten by the hateful words of a small man, I have asked myself if it is worth it to speak out on her behalf. I have two little brown eyed boys at home who deserve happiness, safety and security and it is very hard to make the conscious decision to put them at risk. Still, as a mother, I have to ask myself if I would feel the same way if those four brown eyes belonged to daughters in stead of sons. Would I consider standing back and letting this battle be fought without me if I had two daughters counting on me to show them that they too are worthy of happiness, safety and security?
The answer to that question is obvious. It is why I am here today. Regardless of the gender of my children I have a responsibility to fight back and say that the women of Wyoming will not be silenced, and we won’t be afraid.
I don’t know if you were paying attention, but I have mentioned it twice in this speech so far. I am Meg’s neighbor. Do you know why I make a point of sharing that? Because somebody out there has threatened to come to my neighborhood, my hometown, my beloved state to silence women. He threatened to rape and terrorize my friend. And I won’t tolerate it.
I think that he picked Meg because she leads us. He picked Meg because she is strong and loud and righteous. He picked her because “she’s always running her liberal mouth”. He picked Meg because he thinks that if he can silence her, then maybe he can silence all of us through fear.
Well, guess what?
Meg isn’t afraid. I am not afraid. Nobody has been silenced or shamed except the people who won’t even tell us their names. I for one, am not going to hide in my house and fear that someone will threaten or shame me for being that thoughtful, informed, educated liberal woman that all the mommies in Sweetwater county warn their sons about.
I am Sarah Zacharias. I live on Meg’s block. I write for several online publications under my pen name The Bucking Jenny. You can google me. You can stop me in the grocery store. You can call my momma in Cheyenne and my grandaddy in Pinedale. I am not hard to find and I will not be hiding. The easiest way to reach me is at Sarahzacharias@rocketmail.com. If you have hate mail, rape threats, mysogonistic comments or a defense of rape culture that you would like to share, please, by all means, send it to me.
I represent the women of Wyoming and if you are the guy who thinks that it’s ok to threaten to hatefuck one of us… I want you to come find me. Lets talk. Let’s sit down for a minute and divy up the shame. I’m game, are you?
I am not afraid to stand between you and every single woman in Wyoming. I am prepared to stand beside Meg without fear and most importantly, you coward you, I am prepared to sign my name to every goddamm word I just said.”