Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#YesEveryWoman and #YesAllWomen: Some Thoughts

So the mass shooting in Isla Vista has kicked up debate on gender issues, women's safety, and perceptions of women. I won't rehash the whole debate about whether society is sexist and what needs to change for women to feel safe, but I'll offer a few observations of my own here, some of which I haven't seen stated elsewhere (which isn't to say they haven't been stated at all, I just haven't seen them.)

Women aren't always great at reading men.

You know, all too often in the gender debate women are framed as being more competent, more perceptive, more mature, etc., and I think we women need to recognize how that poisons the dialogue. Why do many women behave as if any man they do not know could be a rapist? Let's be honest about this: Because we aren't necessarily able to tell the difference, even when men can. Men who get offended at being treated like potential rapists might be self centered and not thinking this through, or may in fact wonder why so many females welcome "obviously" dangerous men into their lives and shun "obviously" harmless ones. It's because these things are not always obvious to us.

I was once on a hike with a male friend who, partway through, started poking around in the forest litter by the trail to find a big stick to carry. No, this is not a story about finding out my friend was an aggressor. He'd noticed a guy following us, and I'd missed it. The guy following us was good. He hung back. He was subtle. There was a lot of traffic on the trail. I'd like to say this experience was a lesson learned, but despite the hours I spend people watching and the awareness I try to cultivate, I could miss another instance of this. I have, if not a blind spit, then at least a blurry spot for this, and I see women making more "obvious" mistakes than me all the time.  Them: "But he seemed so nice." Me: "REALLY? Are you nuts?" We aren't always the more intuitive/perceptive gender.

So gentlemen, the next time a woman ducks away when you smile or freaks out when you enter an elevator with her and try to strike up a conversation, rather than get offended and feel like she's disrespecting you, have a little charity. Many of us women, when it comes to male behavior, are like a fashion blind person trying to dress for a major interview. Don't be upset that we're filtering too many good men out. Recognize that we're doing the social equivalent of putting colored paperclips on articles of clothing so that we can coordinate them Garanimals style. It's not always you. Sometimes it's us. And when we get it wrong, the price is incredibly steep, so please let us overcompensate.

Women get rejected too.

Whenever I hear guys complaining about rejection, I struggle not to say, "You think that's bad???" Being the self-motivated, independent person I am, I decided early in my dating life to be the one who asked the guy out for the first date. That isn't to say I turned down dates that I didn't do the asking for, but if I could tell that there was mutual attraction, I made sure to ask first. I figured this would filter out guys who didn't like my personality, because I'm the kind of person who calls many of the shots in my own life. How did the filter work? Well, most of the guys I dated were pretty cool about it. Having said that, it was a terrifying thing to do each and every time. Why? Because I had enough guy friends to overhear their gossip about women, and the female who did the asking did not typically fare well in their universe.

I should add that back in the dark ages when I was dating, men weren't all that used to being asked out, but women's lib had gone far enough that they all thought they were completely onboard with the idea.

And they were wrong, because what they didn't understand about being on the receiving end of the question was that it wasn't all supermodels crooking their fingers across the dance floor. Being the recipient of date requests means being asked out by people you never noticed, don't like, or find annoying. It means learning to be kind when you turn someone down and not telling all your friends what a loser they are (though yes, I'm aware women do this also. My point, guys, is that in my experience, you are often no better and sometimes quite a bit worse.) It means not thinking that someone who wants to date you is "clearly desperate" or is so hot for you that you are entitled to behave however you want and expect them to still be interested.

Maybe the world has changed since then. I hope so. But I would hesitate to say that men get rejected and mocked more often than women. Rejection is rough, guys. We know. No really, we do.

All women are affected by sexual aggression. Hence the #YesEveryWoman and #YesAllWomen hashtags (I'm seeing both).

Too often I hear men complain that women are too wrapped up in the idea of gender wars and too obsessed about their own safety. We are not. Google the latest stats on sex crimes. My guess would be that if you do that today or five years from today or ten, you'll still see that about a quarter of women in the US report a sex crime. Sex crimes are often unreported (how often is difficult to say given they are, as I just said, unreported, but anonymous surveys tend to bring in higher numbers than are reflected on police reports.)

I think a lot of men, and even a lot of women, don't fully comprehend the scale because it's truly mind blowing. I've led a pretty sheltered life in this regard. None of my male friends or partners have ever crossed a line with me. Couple that with my upbringing in a town where nearly everyone has been vetted for a security clearance and you get a pretty good picture of my life. If there's a war of sexual aggression raging, I live far from the front lines.

Nothing I'm about to say in this paragraph contradicts that. I personally know two women who were gang raped and nearly killed in the process - and these are two women willing to talk about it. I have no idea how many rape victims I actually know. I have been first on the scene to an aftermath of a rape. I have had other women confide in me about experiences that they never reported to the authorities.

Though the perpetrators may be few and likely none are reading this blogpost, they are nevertheless effective and far-reaching in their crimes. Next time a woman acts afraid to be alone with you, I want you to repeat these words to yourself: "This woman knows several victims of sex crimes and has a one in four chance of being one herself." Substitute any other word for "sex crimes" and think about this. If it were HIV, we'd be in the middle of a pandemic. If it were attacks by clowns, Ronald McDonald would be a shameful blot on the history of McDonald's marketing efforts that the franchise chain might never overcome. If it were sightings of Big Foot, this would make sasquatches more numerous in North America than all wild cougars, bears, and wolves put together.

It's just a statistic that's been around so long that it's lost its punch with a lot of people. Don't let that happen to you. Reasonable women get jumpy over it.

Most men are good people who are repulsed by and even outraged at sex crimes.

And women know that. If men need us to say it more often, then just ask. "You know that I'd never do something like that, right?" "You realize I'm shocked that happened, don't you?" and the like are reasonable questions. Ask them as often as you need to hear the answers. Also understand that women could use a few, "That was terrible and you shouldn't have to live in fear of that," affirmations from the men in their lives. And yes, we should ask for them, too. Ladies, the same rules apply. Unprompted affirmations are great, but the lack of them isn't proof of some deep moral flaw. Humans of both genders need prompts now and then.

The Isla Vista shooter was once at a party where he got pushed off a wall and broke his ankle, and one of his complaints about the experience was that no hot girls offered to have sex with him to make him feel better afterwards. Do I wish more guys would say this is messed up? Yes I do. It just seems like the kind of thing that should provoke a strong reaction. So, guys, you think this is messed up, right? Now there may be a troll or ten lurking out there with nothing better to do than spam my comments, but deep down I know that the majority of you reading this blogpost are nodding in agreement. It still would make a difference if more men said as much. You can post in my comments if you want, or even better, turn to the woman next to you and let her know. Even if it's always been clear to her you're no rapist, affirmations help soothe the hind brain, where the knee-jerk fears lurk for all genders of the human race.

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