Talking to Lindy West About the Internet, Rape Culture, and I Believe You | It’s Not Your Fault

Ladies, get your tumblin’ fingers ready: there’s a new incredible blog in town. Jezebel’s Lindy West started I Believe You | It’s Not Your Fault after a fellow writer shared a story about a friend’s daughter getting sexually harrassed at school, age 12. The girl felt blamed for what had happened to her. “Is there anything out there like a Girl’s Guide to Rape Culture?” the friend asked. There is now.

Described as “notes from your older sister,” the tumblr compiles letters from women about their early life experiences feeling victimized, blamed, or harassed. While the site aims to cover as broad a scope of young female experience as possible, many of the submissions so far have had to do with rape, molestation, and sexual harrassment. The site is a hard read, but an important one. Much like #YesAllWomen, it drives home HARD how commonly and at what a young age the consequences of rape culture make themselves known.

Lady-God bless the internet, really. The project started a few weeks ago and has, as these things will, exploded. Lindy said submissions keep coming in, and I can’t stop reading them. For teenagers, from everyone, the site does an important service: reminding girls and young women that they are not alone, and that someone out there is listening, and believes them. I chatted with Lindy about the new project via email.

SDTC: So how did this project come about? Why did you decide this needed to happen?
Lindy West: I’m in a couple of different online writing groups (of mostly women), and, honestly, I think we spend more time making jokes and yelling about our problems than we do sharing writing advice. One day, a few weeks ago, we started talking about kids–specifically adolescent girls dealing with rape culture. One group member’s 12-year-old daughter has a friend who’d been the target of some really cruel sexual harassment by some boys at school. Her family, apparently, is extremely conservative–they believe that dressing provocatively is “asking for it,” and so on–and she’d clearly already internalized that narrative. She was saying that the harassment was “her fault,” that she should have just capitulated and done whatever the boys wanted, that she could never tell her parents. And it was clear that this girl (and a LOT of girls like her around the world) simply doesn’t have anyone in her life who could provide an alternate worldview. Who could say, “It’s not your fault.”

Everyone in the group was livid, of course, and people asked if they could write her letters. Instead of violating her privacy (she really didn’t want anyone to know, and she’d already been violated once), I suggested we collect the letters and put them on a blog. As soon as the idea was out there, my Inbox was full. It’s really been astonishing.

What kinds of stories are you hoping to share?
So far our submissions have mostly been about navigating and coping with the trappings of rape culture–abuse, molestation, rape–but we’re really looking to offer advice and solidarity on any issue that might be confusing or alienating for teenagers and young adults (and, let’s be honest, old adults). Mental illness, disordered eating, toxic friendships, toxic parents, sex, death–I can’t make a definitive list because it could really go anywhere. It can be awkward for adults and kids to communicate candidly about difficult subjects face to face, so that’s what we’re hoping to provide.

Where are contributions coming from, so far?
All over, as far as I can tell! I haven’t even read through at least half of the submissions I’ve gotten (but I’ll get to all of yours, I promise!) and they just keep coming in, all day every day. It’s amazing–as soon as you bring up the concept of this website, stories just pour out of people. I think, so far, it’s been as healing for the contributors as for the readers (if not more so).

It feels like *something is happening* in feminism right now, like there’s this powerful surge of women’s spoken experiences. Was this spurred on by #YesAllWomen?
This site is very much a product of #YesAllWomen.

Did you have anyone you talked to about these things—an actual big sister, a mom, a close friends—like this as a teen? What would this site have meant to teenage Lindy?
You know, I was really fortunate growing up. I always had a really solid, supportive group of female friends, and even though I was absurdly shy and would NEVER ask a sex question in a million years, my mom made sure I knew what I needed to know. I knew about boundaries; I knew I could tell my parents if anyone ever victimized me; I remember her sitting me down and explaining what “sexual harassment” meant during the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearing. She didn’t leave any gray area at all–sexual harassment was NOT OKAY. That’s been a hugely important lesson in my life.

Are you worried about people getting shit for sharing their stories online? People online seem terrible, as you know more than many of us.
Oh, I’m terrified. I feel super protective of our contributors and I deal every day with how abusive and barbaric the internet can be. It takes me forever to keep the queue updated because I send everyone, like, five e-mails confirming whether or not they want me to use their real name, if they want their age posted, if they need me to change the names in the story, if they’re SURE they’re ready to post something so personal. It would just break my heart if I screwed something up or moved too hastily and someone wound up feeling overexposed or violated. More than anything I want to honor these stories and make sure the writers feel safe and supported. And as far as trolls go, I can’t stop what they do on their own Tumblr pages or on other platforms, but I’m moderating our page 100%. All abusive messages and Asks will be deleted.

If you could say one thing to yourself at 16, what would it be?
THROW AWAY THOSE WIDE-LEG JEANS.

You can contribute your own story to I Believe You | It’s Not Your Fault by emailing lindy@lindywest.net.

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