This is a brief follow-up to last night’s very long post concerning the blogger backlash to Amy Dickinson’s column about a college student who wanted to know if what happened to her at a frat party was rape. At the end of a post in The Sexist criticizing this column, Amanda Hess writes,
“As this column makes clear, we should all probably refrain from consulting Ask Amy, as well.
* Note: Amy Dickinson’s “Ask Amy,” a syndicated advice column out of the Chicago Tribune, is not to be confused with the “Ask Amy” advice column penned by Amy Richards, published at Feminist.com.”
I’ve read Amy Richards…and here are some excerpts of what she’s written to women with questions and uncertainties about rape and sexual harrassment:
To a woman who had been abused as a child and is now unable to maintain a healthy sexual relationship:
“Unfortunately, I’m not a “doctor” and, therefore, can’t professionally answer your question. However, through my work with women’s issues, I am familiar with many resources in response to sexual abuse. I also personally know many people who have had similar experiences.” (Amy then recommends a number of books)
To a woman who is receiving uncomfortable comments from her (female) apartment manager:
“Sexual harassment is a fine line and I’m not an expert . . . it sounds like a good first step would be to simply tell your apartment manager that although she may mean for her comments to be flattering, they make you feel uncomfortable. If that doesn’t work, maybe try subtle threats and if that doesn’t work….maybe look for a new apartment. “
And finally, to a woman describing an upsetting sexual encounter with her boyfriend:
“Your question is not unlike many others that I have received over the years — not necessarily the exact details, but the fuzziness when it comes to rape. For some people it’s very clear when it is/was rape — they felt violated and felt that rape is/was the most accurate description of what happened to them. However, most people are less clear about how to describe what happened to them — and even less clear about what they want to do about it. Even if people are describing “it” as rape – they are resistant to entirely labeling it in that way because they then think they have to act upon it and they don’t always want to. Rape is also very personal — what one person experiences as rape, another person wouldn’t necessarily and so in that way it becomes harder to talk about universally since we aren’t always having the same conversation.
I say this all by way of comfort — your mixed, confused feelings seem entirely natural and in sync with most people that I interact with. In terms of what you should do…of course, only you can answer that.”
I’m not quoting these to respond to or comment on Amy’s advice (in fact, in these quotes I haven’t always included her advice). Just pointing out that, even for a woman who writes at http://www.feminist.com, and who is endorsed by the very bloggers who blasted Amy, things get a lot more tentative when you’re advising a specific person who needs medical attention, therapy, legal advice, or possibly all three. The question of “what exactly happened here, and what can I do?” isn’t much clearer to this Ask Amy than to the other one–and both of them seem to recognize that it’s rarely as black and white as the bloggers want it to be.
I’ll agree, of course, that this Amy Richards is softer and friendlier than Amy Dickinson–each of her responses seems to start with “thanks for writing and I’m sorry for what you’re going through.” But niceties aside–the meat of it is largely the same: