I came across this column on Facebook yesterday and decided to rework the blog schedule a bit in order to share it. It is essential reading for any man:
You don’t get it because in your world, this is just you being clever and hilarious, just a little light-hearted late-night banter! Where’s my sense of humor? Dude, you are the third, or fifth, or ninth man this week to be rude to me, to think that what you want—to get a rise from your friends, to make your desire known, to make me uncomfortable, to project some twisted “proof” of your virility into the air—is more important than my comfort or safety. This is not an anomaly. This is constant.
So what? You say. So you get a lot of attention, why is that such a bad thing? Annoying, maybe, but no harm, no foul! You know you mean no harm, but how do I know that? When women get harassed on the street, or at a bar, or on their walk home from work, do you know what we think? We wonder, am I going to get out of this safely? Am I going to walk away from this? Where are my keys if I need to stab someone in the eye? Are there people on the street? Will they hear me? Which way will I run? Solar Plexus, Instep, Nose, Groin. I’m exaggerating, but only so slightly. Does it disturb you that we think like this? That we have to think like this?
Comedian Ever Mainard sums up this mindset in her excellent bit about the fact that women are constantly aware that “their rape” could happen at any time. She says, “The problem is that every woman has that one moment when you think, here’s my rape! This is it. OK, 11:47pm, how old am I? 25? Alright, here’s my rape! It’s like we wait for it, like, what took you so long?” I’ve had that moment. I was 20, it was about 11pm and I was on a sidewalk in Barcelona. It didn’t happen, and that’s a story for another time, but Mainard’s observations stands; I remember thinking “So this is how it happens.”
Do you want to know the saddest part? When I started this essay describing my Friday night, I almost included descriptions of what my roommate and I were wearing. I almost mentioned that we were casually dressed, that our clothes weren’t revealing, that neither of us was drunk. I almost fell into the trap of proving to you how undeserving we were of harassment and I’m embarrassed to admit that to you now. That’s how easy it is to go into victim mode, how easy it is to absorb the lesson that you are somehow responsible for unwanted attention, for harassment, even for assault. No one is deserving of your behavior.
Ask your female friends, if you have any, if they’ve ever walked home late at night with a key pushed through their knuckles, just in case, if they’ve ever crossed the street to avoid a stranger, just in case, if they’ve ever taken the long way home because of the weird guy on the corner, just in case. Ask them if they’ve ever made up a boyfriend to get a guy to leave them alone, if they’ve ever gotten off a train car and moved to the next because you just never know, if they’ve ever shelled out for a cab because men like you were at the bus stop. Do you really want to be that guy?
Reading this reminded me of an equally important essay that my friend Monica shared with me several years ago. Reading it was something of a watershed for me in thinking about issues related to sex and gender and privilege. The difficulty with privilege is that, to those who have it, it is part of the invisible fabric of their lives so that they are no more aware of it than a fish is aware of water. It is simply a taken for granted reality so fundamental to their understanding of the world that they are unable to see it. This is the way men often come to issues related to sex and gender. And if you don’t understand that, you too can become a person who does real and tangible damage to your sisters. (I should add, though it saddens me that such addendums are often necessary, that one does not have to share the opinions and sensibilities of Ms. or Bitch or Feministing to understand and agree with this more basic point. What we’re talking about here is about respect, safety, empathy, and compassion, things that you should be able to desire and pursue regardless of your political leanings.) Anyway, on to the second essay, titled “Schrodinger’s Rapist.”
Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.
“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”
Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is. When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?
So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?
Do you think I’m overreacting? One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any rapists, but consider the sheer number of rapes that must occur. These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion. While you may assume that none of the men you know are rapists, I can assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?
When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.
All of this is to say that most men do not appreciate the realities of day-to-day life for women in a society where rape is a neglected but inescapable reality of life. And if you do not understand this, then you will live out of your ignorance and, in your ignorance, you will likely do some sort of harm.