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'Are You OK?' 

Is rape culture the third rail of discourse?

Two weeks ago the Journal published an op-ed I wrote about the rape and exploitation of women in our local weed industry. It got a very interesting response.

A friend from my hometown emailed to ask if I was writing about a community member accused of rape.

Another friend who works in the industry texted to thank me. She's turned down numerous jobs with growers who have bad reputations. It hurt her bottom line, but it was worth it.

A man I'd never met befriended me on Facebook. He is a grower concerned about what he considers rampant sexism in the industry. He says that he always strives to ensure the safety of his workers, male and female, but has heard many stories of less ethical employers.

And then the mysterious emails started, from friends and colleagues.

"Are you okay?"

"Are you okay?"

"Wow, dude, that's just crazy. Are you okay?"

And that's how I found out a 400-comment strong dogpile of strangers were saying vulgar things about me on a local comedian's Facebook page. It didn't feel great. Actually, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. In my brief tenure as a freelancer for the Journal I've written about some controversial stuff: poverty, murder, addiction. I didn't expect that rape would be the third rail, especially in our progressive little corner of the world. And the fact that it is comes with alarming precedent. In October 2014, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel speaking dates after her venue — Utah State University — was threatened with a mass shooting. What prompted the threat? Sarkeesian's web series exposing sexist stereotypes in video games. In 2013, Jezebel writer Lindy West received a barrage of threats after she criticized a comedian for making jokes about gang rape. Among the threats: "There is a group of rapists with over 9,000 penises coming for this fat bitch." Other women have been doxxed (their personal information, including street addresses, were released online), have had their personal photographs stolen and put on porn sites, and have been threatened with assault and murder across social media sites. The formula seems pretty clear: Women who talk about rape get threatened with rape.

So it was ultimately a relief to see that most of the thread consisted of puerile jokes and some passionate criticism of my writing style. Being told that anal sex might "get the stick out of my ass?" That I can handle. Thanks, Humboldt.

And honestly, Humboldt? You're paying attention to the wrong thing. I appreciate your concern, but it's really frustrating to write about something as serious as the problem of rape culture within grow culture only to have it buried under questions about whether I'm going to engage in a fight I didn't pick with a person I don't know, especially when the "controversy" attached to the article is a non-starter. Should comedians be allowed to demean women and joke about rape? Absolutely. The First Amendment protects your right to sound as stupid as you want, as well as my right to call you pathetic when you choose to punch down rather than punching up.

So stop asking if I'm OK. I'm great. You're reading my words in a newspaper. I have a platform. I have power. Don't wring your hands over men versus women, writers versus comedians, or Linda Stansberry versus the peanut gallery. Both I and (I assume) my critics are blessed with a legal system that protects us, an audience that is willing to hear us and a community that will support us.

If you want to be helpful, start asking about how we can build a community that supports people with no platform, no power and no voice. Start with the people who don't look like you, who make you uncomfortable, who have different values than you, who don't have the law to depend on or a daddy to bail them out of jail or even the simple human dignity of not having their very existence be the butt of someone else's jokes. If you're housed, fed, not mentally ill, not addicted to drugs and don't have a criminal record you are immensely privileged and immensely powerful. The very least you can do is not kick people when they're down. The very best you can do is use that power to effect change, even if that just means refusing to shut up about the things that make people uncomfortable.

A few months ago I got a late night phone call from an old friend. She was fighting sleep in the barricaded room of a grow house, where she'd been left alone with a worker she didn't trust. She was scared, she told me, that if she fell asleep he'd force his way into the room. When I asked for her address she panicked and hung up, saying, "You'll call the police. The police can't come here."

If my friend doesn't trust her boss to protect her, the police to help her or me to simply be a good neighbor and come get her, who does that leave? And how did it get this bad? I'd like to say that she's an isolated case, but she's not. If she were, then I wouldn't be getting those other emails in response to that column, the ones that say, "Thank you," or "Me too," or "Are you talking about this?" or, heartbreakingly, "I worry about my daughter every fall."

So take your time. Think about it. If the best you can do when I call on you to create a community that protects women is to say (in the words of one Journal commenter) that I need "to get laid," then fine. I've never been one to turn down romantic advice. Maybe I'll meet a handsome fellow feminist and we'll find out whether or not you were right. In the meantime, know that I'm here for you too. If it was you who was too drunk to stand up at that party, trapped in the hills without a car, friends or money, or on the other end of the phone, I would stand up for you. No matter what you've said or done, you deserve the simple dignity of having a neighbor who will listen and reach out her hand. Call me whatever you want, and call me anytime.

journalist from Honeydew and regular Journal contributor.

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