Gender Issues

Another Thing That Should Not Be Difficult

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Memo to Not All Men: WHY DO YOU ASSUME THEY MEAN YOU?

You either have nothing to be defensive about, or you have something to be defensive about that you don't like being defensive about. If a guy who couldn't get laid goes on a virginity-fueled, woman-hating murder spree, and this leads to a conversation about the general atmosphere of fear that women live in, and you feel the need to defend yourself, what does that say about you?

The hashtag #notallmen blew up on Twitter in the wake of the UCSB shootings, and it quickly became a haven for "men's rights" types, anti-feminists, wingnuts, assholes, creeps, bad nerds, catcallers, pedestal-placers, and general penis-based douchebaggery.

Where does this defensiveness come from? One place. Males who exhibit traditional male behaviors that have been socially acceptable for decades even though women don't want or like that behavior don't like being told that the thing it was OK for them to do yesterday because nobody spoke up is no longer OK because people are speaking up. Period. End of discussion.

This behavior might be rape, might be the general misunderstanding of consent that is too gradually being recognized as sexual assault, might be low-grade grabassery, might be "complimenting" a woman's body as she passes you on the street, might be leering, might be creeping, might be stalking, might be just the basic assumption that any female in the open without an obvious sign of attachment is a potential target for matrimony and/or penetration.

The point is, most women don't like it, most women have never liked it, most women have always wished you would cut it the fuck out, and now more of them are willing to say it because society is making progress despite your various efforts to the contrary. This forces you to, if not change your behavior, at least feel briefly in the wrong about it. Feeling leads to defensiveness, defensiveness leads to hate, hate leads to hashtags, hashtags lead to mockery.

A favorite argument online goes something like this, from a commenter on Slate, but I've seen it everywhere. ACTUAL NOT ALL STRAWMEN TIME!

"Why is it OK to say, "When I get in an elevator with a man, I don't know if he's a good one or a bad one."? But not OK to say, "When I get in an elevator with a black man, I don't know if he's a good one or a bad one."?

Short version: Different things are different.

But you probably need the long version. OK. When you worry about a black man on an elevator, you're worrying that, because of the color of the person's skin, they will violate society's laws and norms and basic human decency in order to harm you. It's assuming that this is more likely because of the person's race, which is not true, and is therefore racist.

When you worry about a man on an elevator, you're worried that, because of the person's gender, they are going to follow society's laws and norms, act in a way they've been taught is in line with basic human decency, and do things to you you still won't like. And also maybe the lawbreaking violent stuff, but that's just a part of it, not all of it.

See the difference? There's a whole stack of stuff that men think is OK that is not OK, because culturally, the gender norms in our society have said for decades these things are OK. So worrying that men might do those things makes sense. Whereas the race-based fears are all behaviors that have never been OK in society, so there's no reason to assume the other person thinks those behaviors are OK unless you assume there's something about being black that makes you more likely to violate long-standing social contracts.

I know. You think it's OK to tell a woman you've never met before that she looks nice. You think it's a compliment. Why would anyone be upset at a compliment? Because it's not just a compliment. It's a compliment loaded with implied intent. The fact that you made the effort to point out the appearance a stranger carries that intent with it. You may deny the intent, you may acknowledge the intent but deny you'd ever act on it, but you've already acted on it. You just haven't acted further. Asked for a name. Asked for a phone number. Tried a pickup line. Blocked a door. Followed for a block or two. Pursued.

And no, this doesn't mean you can't seek out sex and love and romance and companionship. It just means that the appropriate contexts for doing these things is somewhat narrower than every goddamn place, all the goddamned time. Figure it out. Some of us already have, and that's why this conversation doesn't make us feel defensive.

You say you wouldn't mind it, but then a gay guy does it to you and you take him behind the alley and kick his ass. So you don't mind it when you're not threatened by it. And when you are threatened by it, you do mind it. See? Not so difficult to understand. Now all you have to do is understand that our society has let you be threatening for pretty much ever, and shut the fuck up now that the tide is finally turning.

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