By Tori Muzyk
I caught my 55+ white, male-identifying, neighbor recording me. I was dancing in my living room, participating in a fundraising event for an organization for differently abled folks. But does that matter? Should I have to justify my activity, in the apartment I rent and pay for with my own money? Would it have been acceptable, expected even, had I just been dancing in my underwear as though I was Meredith Grey, and this was an episode of Grey’s Anatomy?
The answer is no. In case you haven’t already assumed or gathered thus far, I am a feminist. I could have been pole dancing nude. Recording me in my own residence is illegal. Vermont state law criminalizes the following: Capturing photographs or video of an individual’s “intimate areas”, capturing photographs or video of an individual engaged in a sexual act in a situation where they should be able to expect privacy, capturing and/or sharing photographs or video of an individual within a residence when they should be able to expect privacy.
This law can differ from state by state within the U.S. and internationally. But for the purposes of this article, move to Vermont with me, the land of Bernie Sanders and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, just for the moment, because here, we have the right to privacy in our own homes.
When I confronted my neighbor–which I am not promoting for safety reasons–his response was volatile and offensive. Now, when I say confront, I mean I knocked on his door, introduced myself, and asked if he had been recording me earlier that evening. He came out with a baseball cap promoting a gun company and an attitude the size he wishes his dick was. In less than five minutes, he informed me that he has every right to record me, that I should not come back, and I better go home to New Jersey. None of those statements exist within reality.
I understand 2020 feels like a combination of the unfinished fifth Matrix film and an episode of Black Mirror that never aired due to the trauma onset from the cast, but that does not permit us to write reality. Saying something out loud, even if you are a straight white male, does not make it true.
His wife stepped out shortly after and shouted how she’s been here for thirty years, that I’m a bitch and don’t belong here. Despite the verbal assault, I felt a flicker of relief. I’ve lived beside this gun-owning douchebag for three years and I’ve never seen his wife. Somehow, for whatever reason, learning she existed made me feel the smallest bit less violated. Like somehow him being married makes him less likely to use the video of me to get himself off. I know this is an unfounded sense of safety. Nowhere does it state that having a wife make a man less likely to mistreat and abuse women. But I did feel a little better after I saw her bolt out of their house.
Then I began to focus on the fact that she clearly wasn’t on my side. She was defending her husband’s illegal recording activity. Which is disinheriting and infuriating. I posted an Instagram story recapping the series of events and was flooded with messages from women and a handful from men, all of whom matched my disgust, rage, and fear. I was surprised to hear, from nearly everyone, that I should call the cops. America is not in a place, in my opinion, to be 911 trigger happy. If the protests I’ve participated in and watched globally have shown me anything, it’s how valuable de-escalation is and how incapable most of our gun-carrying, neck-crushing, officers are in reducing situations of tension.
Before determining the next step, I decided to call my landlord. I wasn’t comfortable with any aspect of the encounter, but specifically the fact that he, as a homeowner, knew my landlord and threatened to contact him and continue to record me. If they had already done so or were planning to, I wanted to be sure my side of the story was heard. That next morning, while standing in my kitchen, finding it difficult to remain upright, I listened as my landlord explained how they are good, decent people, that they’d never hurt me, and how I probably aggravated the situation by going over and accusing them. He then instructed me to be a good girl. I hung up the phone.
To recap, I was illegally recorded, in my own home, without knowledge or consent, I attempted to calmly address the situation with my neighbor and was meant with verbal assault and threats, and in addressing this attack with my landlord, I was told to, essentially, shut up and stay quiet. As a reminder, under federal law, one has a reasonable expectation of privacy in their home. It’s not in most, if any, woman’s best interest to be a “good girl.” Especially if those instructions are coming from a man. And just because my landlord feels they’d never hurt me, doesn’t mean they didn’t cause harm. That video, taken without my permission, of me in the home I pay to live in, is damaging.
If this happened to a friend of mine—which means any woman on the planet—I’d be devastated for her. This is no different than seeing someone get aggressively hit on and going up, as a complete stranger, and becoming their fake best friend who hasn’t seen them in so long or was late to meet them for coffee, etc. in order to safely remove them from that situation. We’ve all been there. We’ve seen a woman and become a brightly flashing emergency exit for her. This is a “we’re in this together” situation if I’ve ever heard one, even if it didn’t happen to me directly.
Safety does not exist in public spaces for women. There are some women where safety is not guaranteed in their own homes, despite it being a right for them to claim. Men do not have permission to attack us, intimidate us, and assault us. They do not have the right to record us without our consent.
I called a lawyer. I called the cops. I made a sworn statement. I don’t yet know how this may or may not continue to unfold, but I can say for certain, we deserve safety, especially in our homes, even if that right needs to be demanded and fought for. Where we live, weather we own the property or not, grants us the right not to fear being watched or recorded. If something like this has happened to you, you have my deepest apologies and my strongest support. This is violent. This is an attack, one that is so often overlooked and accepted by society as a whole. These moments of men, or women, calling us “cunts” and “bitches” telling us to, “get out and go home” has to be combatted. We need to keep fighting in order to enact change and no one knows better than men how impactful war is at introducing that change. Here’s to not being intimidated and silenced by the aggressors. Here’s to sticking together, even when we’re forced to watch women on the other side of the fence spit at our fervor.
Know your rights. Refuse to be silenced even if they try and scream over your protests with petty insults. This week happens to be the International Elimination of Violence Against Women aiming to raise awareness of how violence against women and girls is one of the largest human rights violations worldwide. Us surviving is us combatting their fists. Our refusal to go silently into the corner is a battle won. This is what change making looks like. This is history not yet taught. This is the good fight. This is the first step at changing the public opinion that our bodies are up for grabs and scrutiny and advances. Safety is not yet guaranteed, and we can continue trying to ensure, one day, in the not so distantly near future, it will be.
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