21 June 2010

Gendered Experiences, Part 2

The erstwhile GoodMan from Thus Spake Zuska has dropped by and commented on my post Perceived Threats, Gendered Experiences. I started replying on that thread, but decided to make it a post when I realized how many topics (and links!) I was addressing.

TheGoodMan wrote:
I thought that the idea that he was not trying to scare you might comfort you a little. It didn't seem to me that you had considered that he might be innocent [Ed: of what? innocent of the actions I witnessed -- yelling and urinating? Um, no, he definitely did that; I know that empirically. See below for why it's the actions and not the intent that I care about.] (albeit stupid) and didn't purposefully offend you. I'm not saying you shouldn't be offended, I'm just hoping that ignorance is less offensive than maliciousness (to me it is, but perhaps not for you).

Looking at situations from another person's shoes doesn't seem like something you do very often. As your sexist teacher said, you have a very experiential view. [Ed: Golly! Thanks for bringing up that sore subject. Damn, I'd better stop experiencing the world as a woman so I can actually have an objective viewpoint like dudes do.] My goal was to better represent the shoes of the teenage boy who you saw taking a piss [Ed: let's use urinate, just 'cause], since you were condemning him as a pervert.
I'll take GoodMan at his word that he had good intentions. However, I wasn't looking for comfort, even the priceless and extremely valuable comfort of being dismissed. Nor was I looking for a lecture on how I should try harder to look at situations from someone else's point of view. Sweet Mother of God, every time I actually want a lecture on how I ought to be more sympathetic to the male point of view, no one will ever give me one!!! Then, of course, when it's not what I asked for, an angel comes along bearing gifts to surprise me. Humph, as internet feminists know, I've been trained from a very young age to always discredit my gut reactions and my experiences in favor of the "wisdom" of others' perspectives -- especially men's perspectives. More on this below -- along with references to Hanging Chads. Hurrah!

As I had indicated in my original post, I wondered if I had over-reacted and I was trying to unpack my response to the incident. As I wrote:
However, it's the fact that he yelled at me that made me freaked out. Was he angry? Was he just trying to justify his behavior? I had no way of knowing from his tone, and ... it seemed safest to assume the worst, and act in a way that wouldn't leave me alone outside with him.
Rather than my own inarticulate ramblings, I really should just have quoted Starling's incredible essay on Schrodinger's Rapist. The essay is addressed to men who are actually trying to establish a positive relationship with a woman, rather than men who are hassling women while urinating in public -- however, the overall message explains how I and many women think. How we have to think, given the rape culture we live in, and how that culture trains us to think. An excerpt:
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.... Now that you’re aware that there’s a problem, you are going to go out of your way to fix it, and to make the women with whom you interact feel as safe as possible.

To begin with, you must accept that I set my own risk tolerance. When you approach me, I will begin to evaluate the possibility you will do me harm. That possibility is never 0%. For some women, particularly women who have been victims of violent assaults, any level of risk is unacceptable.
Yelling at a woman while urinating in public? Definitely doesn't indicate a 0% risk that the man is possibly violent. I didn't say or do anything to this young man; I didn't talk to him, approach him, and as soon as I realized what he was doing I looked away and started walking away. I was leaving him alone and he went out of his way to shout after me and verbally harass me. Not a good sign that he is someone I should trust and to whom I should give the benefit of the doubt. Remember, women have the right to set their own risk tolerance. If a man's intentions are good but his behavior sets off alarm bells, it is not the woman's responsibility to ignore the disquieting behavior. It is the man's responsibility to change his behavior if he finds that his behavior is eliciting a response different from the response he desires.

I'm glad that I did not give this young man the benefit of the doubt. For me, a man yelling at me without cause is going to make me uncomfortable. Perhaps TheGoodMan feels differently; perhaps he also has male privilege, which I don't have; perhaps he hasn't had years of being warned that men are Possibly Violent accompanied by anecdata of friends who have been violently and sexually assaulted by men -- and actual data on the terrible frequency of sexual assault. For me (and Joy, it seems) whether a man's penis is out in public is also an indicator of his lack of trustworthiness. This doesn't equate to calling the young man a pervert; it merely says that I am inclined to not trust men who yell at me and/or who unzip their pants in public. Man, it really sucks for guys, right? They have to choose between being able to yell at me while urinating in public or being a nodding acquaintance! I don't know how any male sleeps at night with the weight of that choice on his mind.

But really, it's very simple: if Person A's behavior sets off alarm bells for Person B, A can continue with said behavior as long as ze accepts that Person B is not going to be amused. Person B has no responsibility to modify hir reactions or to educate Person A about what aspect of zir behavior is objectionable. Person B can (and should) leave the situation for one in which ze feels safe. And as the Person B in this scenario, I don't appreciate being told by someone who was not present that I should put myself in Person A's shoes and not be so judgmental. GoodMan, why do you feel that it's necessary to ventriloquize what you assume that young man was thinking/doing to convince me to take a more charitable view? Why do you care? And if you meant to be comforting, as you say, you will not succeed by dismissing my experience and telling me that even though you weren't there you know that I am wrong. You know as little as I do about what was going on in that young man's head. And you don't have my empirical evidence that the young man was indeed yelling at me while urinating on the sidewalk. I have the right to say that that behavior is not behavior that is going to make me comfortable.

As far as the ability of man like TheGoodMan to offer his unique male insight to a benighted feminist, I have only this to say (thanks, Twisty, for the incredible post on Hanging Chads -- men who persistently and irritatingly comment ignorantly on feminist blogs):

These hanging chads, they really never get it. Because women generally, and radical Internet Feminists in particular, are to them some mystical, unfathomable alien species, they think we don’t understand them! It is hilarious, the predictability with which they all, without exception, every single time, enduringly and persistently, are compelled to lecture the ignorant Savage Death Islanders on the finer points of the superior dude civilization back on the mainland. Because if we just understood them, we would see how wrong we are to experience Chadly privilege as oppression....

What all chads fail to grasp is that, as members of an oppressed class, we have always considered it a matter of survival and our No. 1 priority to grok the fullness of the oppressor. In fact, we’ve been grokking the oppressor’s fullness since the cradle, mostly without even realizing it. It hasn’t been too difficult, since we were all raised in the smelly nutsack of Dude Nation, and continue to be engulfed by and to marinate in dudelionormative swampwater all day, every day. If there is ever some little dudecentric point here or there that eludes us, not to worry; dudelionormative socialization protocols are in place to take us back to school and whip us into shape.

The result?

There is nothing about men that Savage Death Islanders don’t know. Nothing. We know all about your dicks and your glands and what gets you off and how you were socialized and the terrible strain of male privilege. We get all your dude-jokes. We know all your antifeminist arguments. We know all your porn-is-necessary justifications. We know how you behave when you perceive that someone of a lower caste has challenged your authori-tay. No need to explain to us that we are doing feminism wrong, because we’ve already heard it from the 495,312 dudes who thought of it before you were born. We know that you are not conscious of your own privilege.
TheGoodMan is definitely a Hanging Chad, and his lack of awareness of his own privilege has become abundantly clear at Zuska's blog. I'm getting very tired of it, especially since I've filled up all my anti-feminist bingo cards.

Of course, that wasn't all. (It never is, with Hanging Chads!) TheGoodMan also honored me by echoing what my sexist professor told me when he dismissed my analysis of a film because I -- a woman -- conducted a feminist analysis -- gasp! Yeah, you guessed it, that particular gem from TheGoodMan didn't win him any cookies whatsoever. Especially because of the logical fail in which he calls my professor sexist while reiterating my professor's sexist statement. Or maybe it isn't an error in logic but a telling Freudian slip? Either way, it's as unoriginal as every other privileged argument that an oppressed class is just too familiar with their oppression to take an objective view of said oppression. Magically, the members of the oppressing class are somehow immune to any kind of proximity-based biased, and although they are as steeped in the situation as the oppressed class, the oppressors claim that they possess some delightful distance that gives them a Unique Unbiased Objective Perspective. As Twisty says, ah, the ennui!

Yes, I see the world from a particular experiential viewpoint. My experiences, my body, my gender, how I was socialized, and what I know of the world do indeed influence how I see the world. And guess what? The same applies to my professor and to TheGoodDude. They just have the privilege of an experiential viewpoint that they deem to be "normal" while they consider mine "biased" because the male is the default and they have always been surrounded by the comfortable "objectivity" of their impenetrable male privilege.

You know what's damn un-objective and irresponsible? Presuming to speak as the ultimate authority about an event at which one was not present. My post was anecdata; TheGoodMan's comment was neither anecdote nor data, but profitless speculation.

18 June 2010


With writing like this, who needs cinematography?

Watching "Doubt," it is seems that the script and the story were lifted rather than adapted from the play; the staging, language, story arc, etc. are theatrical and make little to no use of the abilities of the screen image to convey added meaning beyond that which is conveyed by language. (Example: Meryl Streep says something about the wind rising and getting stronger, or "winds of change" and then there is a shot of the wind blowing leaves around her shrouded figure. In the original play, I imagine that a similar line created the atmosphere; in the film, the words are irrelevant if such an image is also employed.)

However, in terms of feminist theory, the film/play is ripe with suggestive moments. The dialogue is fantastic, and many of the tete-a-tete scenes are gripping -- I was almost breathless in one scene between Meryl Streep's powerful and comparatively privileged and sheltered nun and a poor black woman trying desperately to keep herself and her son alive between an abusive husband/father and a hostile community. There is plenty of commentary on male privilege and class privilege in the film -- including several hilarious cuts from the priests wining and dining riotously to the nuns eating ascetically in silence. Philip Seymour Hoffman's abusive priest employs almost every silencing trick in the Patriarchy's book when he tries to get Streep's character to drop her investigation of his abuse of a young boy. The power structure of the church is dissected and displayed, with its dependence upon male privilege and the oppression of the weak particularly critiqued.

The film is a weak adaptation, and I suspect that the director's attachment to his own script was part of what made elements of the film particularly painfully stage-y. However, his writing is incredible in the dialogues between the lead characters (with the exception of Amy Adams, who seemed flat when acting beside Streep) and both emotionally and intellectually stimulating.

03 June 2010

Perceived Threats, Gendered Experiences

There are so many things that I experience differently from men because I am a woman. Part of that is because I can imagine so many worst-case scenarios in which I could get very hurt from doing things that men might do. Some of these imaginary situations are ones I wouldn't have thought of if it weren't for the pervasive images and messages of rape culture around us; others are inspired by the very real fear for me that is expressed by men who care about me. Comrade Dziga goes running after dark all the time. Would he ever feel comfortable if I went jogging at night? No.

All of this is running through my head right now because I am working in a building that has had its plumbing cut off for the week and all employees and the general public are forced to use portapotties in the parking lot. Today, upon exiting the portapotty, I saw a teenager standing outside the building in an odd place. I looked at him curiously for a moment, until I figured out what he was doing. He shouted at me that the bathrooms weren't working as he continued to urinate on the sidewalk. I was freaked out and ran inside to get a man from one of the other offices to go talk to this kid. Yes, I could have told him that there were portapotties. But I just didn't feel particularly safe talking to him given the circumstances.

Now I'm wondering if I should have just said something brief rather than "running to daddy" and getting a man to take care of the situation. However, it's the fact that he yelled at me that made me freaked out. Was he angry? Was he just trying to justify his behavior? I had no way of knowing from his tone, and ... it seemed safest to assume the worst, and act in a way that wouldn't leave me alone outside with him. Sigh.