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.


  1. Also: "My goal was to better represent the shoes of the teenage boy who you saw taking a piss..."

    Ahem, not sure if you want to do that, dude. They were awfully close to the actual urine.

  2. I suppose my speculation that the world is not such an awful place and all men are not perverts might be a bit optimistic for your blog.

    Why is it wrong to assume people do not have terrible intentions? Schrödinger’s Rapist assumes that all men are rapists. How would you feel if I assumed all feminists were ugly lesbians? It is a flawed and terribly negative theory.

    1999 Murder Statistics
    Male offender /Male victim 65.1%
    Male offender /Female victim 22.4%
    Female offender /Male victim 10.1%
    Female offender /Female victim 2.4%

    Since 75% of murder victims are male, I think I have far more to worry about than you when murder is concerned.

    Rape is a legitimate concern. It is a horrible crime. Unfortunately life has risks and most happy people would agree that the risk of assuming people are good and nice is far more worthwhile than not.

    I apologize for visiting your corner of the internet and will be on my way.

  3. Rape is a legitimate concern, but I should only be wary of it in the abstract? Violence is terrible, but I should never assess situations and people I encounter to see if they might pose a threat? Contradictory logic, dude. I don't assume that all men are rapists; however, I'm aware that with 1 in 6 women being raped that there are rapists out there, and I evaluate the behavior of men I encounter to determine whether or not they seem threatening. Most men don't raise any red flags and I get along happily with them. Are you seriously incapable of understanding that for some women a man who is aggressively shouting at her comes across as potentially violent?

    Why is it wrong to assume people do not have terrible intentions?

    You tell me, why should I assume that someone who is yelling at me while doing something illegal poses no threat to me whatsoever? What the hell do I gain by that, and what do I stand to lose?

    We're both making assumptions; you believe your assumptions are virtuous because you are insulated by your privilege from any real fear of repercussions. I'm a small woman without a great deal of physical strength. Why should I have taken any chance that this guy was hostile and approached him? What would either of us have gained by that?

    Leaving the situation was the right decision for me. You can dispute that as much as you like, but again, you weren't there and you aren't me -- if you would have stretched forth a healing hand of forgiveness and lead the benighted young man back to the light of civilization, wow, that would have been pretty sweet. But I didn't choose to attempt that. And who are you to say that I should have acted against my instincts and potentially put myself in a risky situation?

    If my pessimism about the possibility that a hostile man might become violent is too much for you, blame the hostile, violent men I've encountered who have lead me to distrust anyone who is demonstrating aggression. I hope you'll spread the word among men that if they treat women poorly, they are making the world less friendly for everyone -- including Nice Guys(TM) who just want feminists to be happy and love men and be nice to everyone.

    Meanwhile, this ugly, fat, hairy, lesbian feminazi is going in search of espresso.

  4. Schrödinger’s Rapist assumes that all men are rapists.

    And of course his understanding is completely wrong. That's not what it means at all.

  5. I'm suspecting he didn't read it. Or didn't comprehend it. I have to admit I didn't expect much better, given his rhetorical skills as displayed on Zuska's blog. "Learn to logic" is perhaps applicable here? :-)

    But seriously, that old canard is brought up so many times in the Schrodinger's Rapist comment thread -- and dispelled as many times. All men are not rapists. Some men are rapists. Those men do not go around advertising the fact *except* sometimes (and only sometimes) through confusing and unclear signs which women have to interpret to the best of our ability. Not because we want to be mean and judgmental, but because we want to be cautious and protect ourselves, to the best of our (limited) ability. (Said ability is limited by the pervasiveness of rape culture and Patriarchal social structures.)

    Thanks for stopping by, SKM!

  6. I never fail to want to *headdesk* when presented with the cluelessness of the Hanging Chad. In TheGoodman's (lol!)case, this ignorance can ONLY be willful, since I have personally, in the last (*checks calender*) 5 days alone (since discovering Zuska), seen him in action and seen the explanations given to him, explanations that are perfectly clear and lucid, and ignored time and time again in favour of mansplainin and hanging chadism, and lo and behold, here I see it again.

    Your explanation was not only perfectly clear and rational and lucid, it was insightful and *true*, yet he must still protesteth that his Manly Experience is the only REAL experience, and if the little wimminz would just STFU and accept what he says, all will be fine and we would be oh so very comforted. Or something.

    Ah, the ennui indeed!

    Although I must admit, I did lol at his "your hypervigilance (which, as Joy pointed out in the other thread, is actually just common sense) and fear of a very real threat to your safety and humanity is EXACTLY THE SAME as me thinking for some unfathomable reason that has nothing to do with any threats at all to my safety OR humanity that every feminist is a big fat lesbian". Coz that makes perfect sense, and all.

    Your account of your experience struck a deep chord with me, and I thank you for both your account and your thoughtful analysis of it. It is something that I experience often (like many other women, and like many things), and have only recently, since discovering the "Bad Radical Feminazi Arena" (most notably the comments), found the words being given to me to describe.

  7. Thanks for stopping by and for your humorous commentary on the false equation "concerns about sexual violence = erroneously believing that feminists fit a particular stereotype."

    Like you, it's been great for me to find in the past year that so many things I couldn't understand are finally making sense because of the excellent writing I find in radfem blogs and comments sections. It's wonderful to see what I couldn't articulate presented with such lucidity, logic, and clarity. And compassion.

  8. Goddman! He yelled at her to say why he was taking a piss on the sidewalk!


  9. I wish my trolls were more interesting. Serves me right for not creating a more robust blog, right? And for neglecting it for so long.

    If I were only as good a writer as Melissa McEwan, I might even get told to stop baking pathetic anger bread! That's when you know you've arrived as a feminist blogger: when your trolls come up with winning epithets like "learn to logic" "lol your gay" and "pathetic anger bread." Anonymous at 8:56 am? Sorry, man, you're not even an "also ran."