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A learning experience all round - The Ex-Communicator

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November 9th, 2009

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10:57 am - A learning experience all round
This very long thread in metafilter (800+ comments) and this discussion of the thread (currently at 200+ comments) may seem impossibly lengthy to consider reading, but nevertheless I am going to recommend them.

The original thread is a discussion of a 'guide for men' about how not to appear threatening to women. And to understand why women get edgy when you - innocent man, with no bad intentions - approach them in a friendly way. The discussion kicked off with a range of comments from men saying the article was silly and attacks and street harassment by men on women were rare. For example (this is a man speaking):
I read the article and am saddened that this woman feels this way on a daily basis, but I also don't think she speaks for all women. In fact, I am pretty sure she doesn't. She's right in that she gets to set her own level of risk assessment, but I think she set hers on the level of paranoia. That's not a good way to go through life.

But then the thread took off with dozens and then hundreds of women posting their normal experiences of being pestered, harassed and threatened. Stories that are normally not shared. A very small number of men on metafilter interrupted the thread to try to stop what was happening, but the majority did not.

It was a learning experience for me too. Not because the stories of being followed, shouted at, groped, flashed at, frightened etc are new to me, but because I hadn't really ever considered that men don't know what it's like. Men literally don't realise what happens, and how often, and how upsetting it is. I've got to my age and I didn't realise that men don't see it happening the way women do. Because the harassers don't do it when you are walking with a man. And women don't talk about it much.

Don't get me wrong. I am old and plump with grey hair. I don't get hassled in that way. When I was young I did. I hated it, and I was frightened of it. I am so glad that it doesn't happen any more.

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:November 9th, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC)
I was never enough of a looker for it to happen to me, and while in most ways I'm glad about that, it wasn't that much fun being invisible either. Still, mustn't grumble...
[User Picture]
Date:November 9th, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)
If you read some of those stories from that thread, this is not something anyone would regret missing out on. I'm not sure whether it's about looks, or about being a young woman in a space men think of as theirs (ie the city street).

Here's one - not a dramatic one, just one of the shortest I could find to quote here.
After I'd gotten away from my pushy suitor (a previous anecdote I'm omitting) relatively unharmed, the other woman at the bus stop didn't have quite as much luck. She turned the guy down and he got extremely angry, huffing and puffing about and calling her an ugly bitch and all these other horrible things. She got on the same bus I did, in the seat in front of me, with her friend. The guy actually came and smacked on her window again and again until the bus took off.

That kind of thing: cunt, bitch etc. screamed at you because you won't drop what you are doing and go off with a stranger. A car trailing you at walking speed all the way up a long road. Men talking to you - asking the way or something - and you realise they are masturbating inside their clothes.

And then I think eventually (or for some women quite early) you stop thinking you can walk about with impunity. Or, as I did, you become very aggressive. You shout fuck off back at them. Which people tell me is dangerous but I literally couldn't stop myself I was so angry. And i still am very angry as I type this with the convention that makes so many men feel this type of behaviour is OK.
[User Picture]
Date:November 10th, 2009 11:19 pm (UTC)
"But nothing really happened."

That's the statement that sums up my life as a young woman. I was never raped--not really. I was never assaulted--not really. I was big and strong and super-smart, and attractive only in a limited way; the penis-exposers, the leapers-from-bushes, the shouters-from-cars, the ass-slappers and the bus-seat gropers, the "why don't you smile?" demanders, the public masturbators; none of them ever really did anything to me.

Conversations like this powerful one on Shapely Prose make me realize how much damage they did. I've long been aware of the ridiculous idea that somehow I (young women in general) exist only to ornament or comfort the lives of men; I don't think I ever fully realized before now how dangerous these non-rapes and non-assaults made my world.

Pointless to say, I know, but I wish with all my heart that I'd had information like that blog post 30 years ago.
[User Picture]
Date:November 11th, 2009 08:42 am (UTC)
I talk in a very assertive way about it (for example to hafren there) but in reality I spend a lot of time criticising myself mentally: I was too loud that one time, I was too compliant that other time, I should have been more suspicious this time, I should have been less suspicious that other time. I think women sharing stories is a way of blaming myself less.
[User Picture]
Date:November 11th, 2009 07:22 pm (UTC)
I made up my mind this morning to share the essay with my teenaged nieces. They may scoff; perhaps they don't feel the need of such things. Perhaps they will roll their eyes or be bored.

But I can't say "I wish I'd known this 30 years ago" and then not at least try to give it to the young women in my life. The self-criticism you mention is part of the danger, because it muddies our perception of the here-and-now; so I'm going to ask all three of them to read the essay. It might make a difference.

Thank you again for pointing it out.
[User Picture]
Date:November 11th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)
Dropping back by to say that I've added Shapely Prose to my blogfeed after a very engrossing afternoon of reading. Thank you!

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