Hey Dude, It’s Not Always About You

In March of last year Andrew Sullivan posted a video by the Washington City Paper called The Terror of Catcalling, Ctd. The next day he posted a reader’s comment:

You struck a nerve with this one, as I was just discussing this very thing a few weeks ago with a group of high-school freshmen in my English class. We were discussing homosexuality because of an allusion to it in the book we were reading, and several boys made comments such as, “That’s disgusting.” We got into the debate and eventually a boy admitted that he was terrified/disgusted when he was once sharing a taxi and the other male passenger made a pass at him.

The lightbulb went off. “Oh,” I said. “I get it. See, you are afraid, because for the first time in your life you have found yourself a victim of unwanted sexual advances by someone who has the physical ability to use force against you.” The boy nodded and shuddered visibly.

“But,” I continued. “As a woman, you learn to live with that from the time you are fourteen, and it never stops. We live with that fear every day of our lives. Every man walking through the parking garage the same time you are is either just a harmless stranger or a potential rapist. Every time.”

The girls in the room nodded, agreeing. The boys seemed genuinely shocked.

“So think about that the next time you hit on a girl. Maybe, like you in the taxi, she doesn’t actually want you to.”

The quote has been making its way around the internets ever since. A couple of days ago a guy who I went to high school with posted it on FB. I immediately “liked” it because I think it really gets to the heart of the matter-men sometimes don’t understand what it is like to live your life looking over your shoulder all the time.

Now wait a sec, you might say. Isn’t that a little over dramatic? Who do you think you are? Some hot little piece of tail that just has the guys lined up waiting to sexually assalt you?

That isn’t the way it works. Sexual assault is not about guys being horny. It is about violence. And control. And asserting your will over someone who is weaker than you. According to the CDC, which last I checked was not some crazy left wing feminist organization, nearly 1 in 5 women will be raped in her lifetime. Nearly 20% of all women. Let that sink in for a sec, guys. Do you have 5 women in your life? For instance, a Mom, two Grandmas, a wife, a daughter? So yeah, one of them.

Ok, ok. You say. I know all this stuff. What are you getting so riled up about? I’ll tell you why I’m riled. A guy who I don’t know commented on the quote on my friend’s page and his response has festered in my head ever since. So I’m trying to respond reasonably to the spirit of his argument  which I think is fairly typical of a certain type of white American dudes in his 20s (yes I FB stalked him enough to ascertain that much about him).

So what did he say that has me so upset? First of all, I’m not going to quote directly. I’m not going to share his name and try to embarrass him. He’ll actually never see this anyway. And it wouldn’t be fair to my fb friend.

The kid asks if the upshot is you can’t hit on anybody ever. He disagrees because you can’t know if someone is interested unless you ask. You just need to respect people’s views after you ask. Then he goes on to say it’s ok to be cool with gay people but also ok not to be cool with them.

Are you surprised I’m so worked up over something that seems rather benign? It’s certainly no diatribe against women or gays. In fact, he’s probably is a nice guy who is decent to the women in his life. His FB cover photo makes me think he has a good heart. So why am I so fucking pissed?

A certain kind of white dude who thinks he is a nice guy (A certain kind, I’m not saying every single nice guy white dude in America ) has a pretty big problem. He can’t fucking get out of his own head and put himself in someone else’s shoes for a second. He thinks “I’m a good guy. I’m not going to make a woman uncomfortable, why shouldn’t I be able to hit on anyone I want? Why should my freedoms be impinged upon? I’m harmless anyway.”

Well, here’s the deal, nice guy. This isn’t about you. Did you read the quote? A freshman in high school hates gays because a guy hit on him in a cab. The age of the guy isn’t clear, but the fact that he is bigger and could overpower the kid is. The kid is scared and uncomfortable during the interaction. “But I would never make someone I’m interested in uncomfortable.” you say. Yes, may I remind you that this isn’t about you?

And also, how do you know?

A woman comes to every new interaction with a history, the sum of every interaction that has proceeded it. She has not only spoken with “nice guys”. She has no idea what kind of guy you are. She is wary, she might be a little frightened. With absolutely no extra information besides the fact that you are hitting on her how the hell is she supposed to immediately get that you are a “nice guy”? Think about how she must feel for a minute. In fact, take more than a minute. Really think about the fact that women are scared every single time they are alone in a parking garage and pass a man. Every single time. That is truth. That is real. Things have gotten pretty good for women in America, but there are still major problems. It’s uncomfortable. You might not want to deal with it. But it is reality.

And if that woman is raped? If the thing she has feared for most of her life happens? She doesn’t receive automatic support and help. Nope. Instead she is asked, “What did you do?” a million different ways. “Did you drink? Did you flirt? Were you not careful? Did you lead him on? Was your skirt too short? Did you make him angry?” “Why were you out so late?” “Why were you walking there alone?” And every question means, “This was your fault.” Please, imagine the woman that is being asked these questions isn’t just some slutty coed, but one of the five closest women in your life. Pretty terrible, huh?

Of course you should be able to approach a woman you are interested it. But may I suggest just talking to her? Trying to get to know her? If you hit on her you put her on the defensive.  And that, my friend, probably isn’t going to work out for you in the long run. So sorry to cramp your style, or your constitutional right to mack, or whatever. Your consolation prize is you don’t have to be scared when you walk through a parking garage. See? You still win.

So when you are faced with an issue involving the treatment of women I beg you to get out of your head and imagine life from their point of view for a moment. If you are saying, “But I should be able to because I’m a nice guy” you are completely missing the point. It’s like saying to a woman, “You don’t have to lock the door to your car! I’m a nice guy and I would NEVER steal from you, so you are totally good!” Pretty ludicrous right?

One more thing-about the “ok not to like gays” part (and that is a direct quote)-I noticed on your FB page that you are a Christian. Being cool with not liking a group of people because of a feature they were born with-skin color, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation is pretty unchristian. It is also ignorant and bigoted. Sorry, I just can’t be politic about this issue. Not liking someone based on their sexual orientation is flat out wrong. There are no two sides to the issue. And I’m not saying you should like everyone and let’s hold hands and kumbaya.  Hell, I don’t like tons of people. But I don’t like them for reasons. Not because they are members of a minority. That isn’t ok.

***UPDATE January 28, 2014***

The very day I posted this almost a year ago it began to bother me that I used the term “slutty coed” within the piece. I’ve thought about editing it ever since. The term was meant to be tongue in cheek. Obviously there is no hierarchy of who deserves to be raped (and I’m not even touching on how the term “slutty coed” is dripping with misogyny). Rape is rape. I was making a joke out of anger and it reads as small and lazy. It doesn’t seem like a joke, it seems like I actually think an anonymous college student deserves to be raped more than your Mom. The idea that anyone would think that is what I actually meant makes me sick to my stomach. And it is my own fault, a result of my own poor writing. So much time has passed since posting this that I don’t feel like an edit would be honest. Instead I’ll say this: If I was writing this piece today I’d find a less lazy way of expressing the thought.

Ok. I feel marginally better now that I’ve gotten that off my chest.

silly t

Man, things got a little intense around here for a minute! How about a picture of T being crazy to sort of lighten the mood a bit…

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9 thoughts on “Hey Dude, It’s Not Always About You

  1. I got into a huge argument with an ex-boyfriend on exactly this topic. I was talking to him on the phone and I told him I had been studying late at medical school and I heard footsteps following me down the dark halls when the place was empty at 3 AM, and how I ran for the stairs in terror and threw myself in my car. He told me I was “thinking like a victim” and how I needed to rise above that. What???? I was so mad I slammed the cordless phone I was on down on the table by its antenna. It bounced back and hit me and broke my nose. So I was furious and broken. And had two black eyes. And I have never forgiven him for telling me I was thinking like a victim. Spoken like someone who has never had to feel afraid when alone at night. A-hole.

    • The lack of empathy and inability to understand that everyone doesn’t experience the world in the same way is so maddening.

      I’m sorry your ex didn’t understand. I’m glad he’s your ex.

      And I’m sorry you broke your nose.

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