Synecdochic (synecdochic) wrote,

Don't Be That Guy.

I keep thinking about the discussions that have come up in the comments to my post about sex-positivism and performative sexuality and the concept of bystander consent, and I keep thinking about all the subtle little cues and clues I personally use to separate Okay from Skeevy when people approach me. Talking in the comments there made me realize that I do have a list. It's my list, and it's not the be-all and end-all of everyone's list. Most everyone has a different subset of The List.

Then I found timjr's A Straight Geek Male's Guide to Interaction with Females, and I read it, and I thought: hey, good post. And then I stopped myself. Because fucking hell, those parameters -- though nicely stated and I'm really glad the guy has both figured them out so early and can articulate them so well -- shouldn't be something that's so rare. They should be standard default operating assumptions. And I read jimhines's Thoughts on Men and Rape, and I nodded along through a lot of it:

How pathetic is it that, in our culture, the only thing you have to do to be a good guy is say, "Hey, one of these days I'll write something about rape." Even that sort of vague, empty comment about rape is enough to make you stand out. Because that's already more than most guys seem willing to say or do.

I noticed the same thing when I worked with Take Back the Night years ago. Practically all I had to do was show up, and I was some sort of freaking hero.


And I pulled that together, and I thought about a dear friend of mine, who is -- genuinely and with all sincerity -- one of the Good Guys, someone who understands the fact that he has straight white male privilege even if he doesn't always spot it in action in the wild. We were talking about privilege (in another context, before this blew up), and he said something I found really sad -- not that it makes me sad about him, but sad about the society -- which was (paraphrased) that he knows he has this privilege and he doesn't want to fumble around and make things worse for people by accidentally displaying it. So he stays out of those conversations, because he doesn't want to impose and make people uncomfortable. Which I think is an admirable attitude, really (because, you know, not making things worse is a pretty good starting point). But he's scared that he's going to accidentally be That Guy, and he says that he knows some of the things that would make him into That Guy but not all of them, and he really, really, really doesn't want to trip over one of the others.

But all of this input came together, and I think I'm finally ready to take a stab at this. I'm going to try to articulate the concept of That Guy, as I see it. Disclaimers and my epic longwindedness behind the cut.

(Also, huge huge props go to rydra_wong, who talked a lot of this out with me and pointed out a lot of things I would have otherwise missed.)



To go through the getting-the-cards-on-the-table thing again up front: this is my list. I come from a place that isn't everyone's place, because there is no such thing as everybody's place. This isn't an exhaustive list, and everyone's creepdar is calibrated differently. I'm also discussing this from a position of heterocentrism; I'm assuming that you are a straight man who is mostly interacting with straight women. (Mostly because introducing sexual orientation into this would complicate it umpteen billion times over. I'm not saying that gay men are immune to That Guy-ness towards women, and even in some of the same ways, but it usually has different unconscious motivations.)

I'm using the phrase "That Guy" here, because, as I said in my other post, the people who display these behaviours are predominantly male; these behaviours come from a place of privilege, and right now, in our society, the men have the privilege. Yes, it's possible for women to be That Guy from time to time. (Please don't feel the need to point this out before you've read the whole post, because, well, that's on the list.) But I'm very much talking to men here.

Please do feel free to link this post anywhere. I'm going to try to include not only "what makes me take a step back", so as to (hopefully) give men a window into the kind of thing that creeps me out, but also "how allied men can call other men on their fail when they see it" -- for my friend who wants to know what to do and has never known any way to ask, and for any other man who feels the same way. It's very long. Please don't feel you have to read it all at once. It'll still be here when you come back.

I'm also using generic "you". I don't mean you. Unless I do.

So what makes That Guy into ... well, That Guy? Either in person, or in discussions on the Internet? Basically, how do I identify creeps?

For me, That Guy displays one or more of:

THE BIG THREE

1. Entitlement.

This word gets thrown around a lot, and I think everyone uses it a little differently, which is one of the reasons why I have so much difficulty putting it into words. Let me try with: If you approach me with the presumption, stated or implied, that I owe you anything -- my time, my attention, my energy, my conversation, my acquiescence to your desires -- that's entitlement. If you make me think that you think you can express a wish and I will fulfill that wish, that's entitlement.

Women don't owe you anything: not their bodies, not their time, not their emotion. Hell, not even their attention. (Nobody owes anybody anything except basic courtesy, respect, and trying not to be an asshole.) A lot of guys walk into a situation and give the impression that they have the right to take these things, through outright force or through a more subtle coercion. Giving someone that impression makes you That Guy.

It is so hard to explain how this is made manifest. Body language. Disregard of personal space. The way you talk to me. Intonation. Innuendo. I can't give you any real guidelines about how not to trip over this, I really can't. Maybe the best thing to do is to watch very carefully for the body language. If a woman keeps stepping back away from you, or pulling away from you, or looking away and seeming extremely distracted, or coming up with ways to remove herself from the conversation or the situation, you may be tripping that radar, and you should step back (physically and metaphorically) and let the line of discussion or behaviour die a graceful death.

And if you think or you know that your ability to pick up on body language is not that great, err on the side of caution. (And if you think your ability to pick up on women's body language is great, confirm this with a bunch of women friends, because a lot of guys think they're pretty good at it when the fact that they aren't and think they are is part of what makes up their That Guy-dom.)

When I talk about this point with guy friends of mine, the most common response is "But guys are always thinking about sex, and that's going to show!" And yeah. I know a lot of guys are. Hell, often I am. But there's a difference between your awareness of me as a sexual being, and your expectation that our mutual awareness of each other as sexual beings implies some sort of obligation to mutually act upon that awareness. And trust me, I can tell the difference between you looking at my tits (because yeah, they're kind of hard to miss) and you looking at my tits and building elaborate fantasies about what they would feel like pressed up against you. And further, I can absolutely tell the minute you get the bright idea, spoken or unspoken, that you're continuing our interaction for the sole or even the primary purpose of building the chance to feel those tits down the road.

And it's not just sexual. It's not just the tits. There are a lot of men out there who are looking for someone to service their emotional needs -- to Heal Their Pain, as it were -- and that can trip the alarms just as sharply. I'm one of those people who complete strangers walk up to and tell their life stories, and that can trip the entitlement thing too, because it can carry an equal undercurrent of "I'm using you as an emotional dumping ground". It's okay to drop heavy emotional shit on a friend, but doing it with a stranger is often a presumption. (Although I do not count LJ comments as falling in this category, a lot of the time. Hell, that's kind of what LJ is for.)

And if you see a man and a woman having an interaction and the woman's displaying those signs -- backing up, pulling away, looking away, her mouth smiling politely but her eyes nowhere near the person she's talking with -- the way to gracefully stage a rescue is to step in from a distance (not in her space, not within touching distance of her) and distract the guy by striking up a conversation with him, not with her. That gives her the chance to slip away if she feels the need, with less of a chance of making her feel more threatened. (Not no chance, sadly. But less of one.)

Then say to the guy, once she's gone: "Hey, I think you were making her feel really awkward. Back off a little next time, hey?"


2. Entitlement (part two.)

Related to the first: if you make me think that you're coming from a place of "but as soon as she sees how awesome I am, she will of course see that I am not one of Those Guys and want to reward me", that's entitlement too. This is what a lot of women mean when they derisively say "Nice Guy™" -- because, and sadly to say, a lot of men who say "I'm a feminist!" carry the distinct undercurrent of passive-aggressive "I'm a feminist! I'm one of the Good Guys! So it's totally okay for you to sleep with me, and in fact, you should do so right now and as often as possible."

These are the men who give allied men a bad name. These are the men who are poisoning the well and making it harder for us to believe you when you say that you want to help -- because there's a really, really good chance that we've had frequent experience with guys who think there's some kind of magic incantation they can recite and get the instant rubber stamp of Okay Person, forevermore absolving them of having to be aware of these issues and undercurrents -- with everyone they meet, not just their friends. This part, right here, is the #1 reason why I say that if you think you're not That Guy, you might still be That Guy.

Being an ally is not a destination. It's a process. Everyone fucks it up sometimes. I have made some spectacular fuckups myself, and that's with trying to be very, very careful and aware. There is no get-out-of-jail-free card; there is no Magical Incantation. If you catch yourself thinking that of course you're not like those men, stop and take a good hard look at yourself, because statistically speaking, chances are good that you might be patting yourself on the back and forgetting that you have to walk the walk as well as talking the talk.

If you consider yourself an ally, and you wind up doing or saying something that gets a really strong negative reaction, and you see one of your friends saying something along the lines of "it's okay, he's one of the good guys, it's not like that", that should be a warning sign that it's time to immediately apologize. A real apology, not an "I'm sorry if you were offended" -- because that kind of language isn't an apology at all. You clearly did offend someone, or else the dogpile wouldn't have happened. "I'm sorry that I offended you, and I'd like to make sure I understand why, so it doesn't happen again; what I'm getting is that it was such-and-such, and I'm sorry I did that, and if that wasn't it, I'd like to listen to anything else you have to say..."

If you hear a guy who says "I'm a feminist", but who behaves in ways that trip women's creepdar, call him on it. It is a very sad fact that nine times out of ten, people with privilege, who are exercising that privilege in a way that makes other people feel uncomfortable, will not hear the fact that they are making other people uncomfortable until it's pointed out to them by someone with the same privilege. They literally will not process what people are saying. It happens all the time, and it is so subtle and pervasive that people don't see it even when someone calls them on it. You can, however, use this for good in terms of pulling another guy aside and saying: dude, you're being a creep. The sad fact is, that guy is way more likely to listen to you.

(Be careful about not displaying points 4 through 6, though. More about that in a minute.)

And no. You don't get laid cookies for being an ally. You get the warm fuzzy glow of knowing that you're a human being, and over time as you demonstrate that you are an ally, you will find that women who know you are growing more and more willing to cut you some slack, because you have demonstrated that you are a human being. But being a human being doesn't entitle you to get laid. (Or, to generalize: being a human being doesn't entitle you to override point #1.)

Don't be an ally because you think it will get you something; be an ally because you don't want to be an asshole.


3. Cajoling.

Otherwise known as "if you give a mouse a cookie..." or the camel's nose argument. And I think this is a very, very hard thing for men to understand, because they don't have anywhere near the same experience as women do.

A woman's default assumption is most likely going to be that if she says yes to a small thing, a man is going to try to get her to also consent to the next small thing, and then the slightly bigger thing, and then the really bigger thing, etc. A woman's default assumption is likely going to be that if she says no to the small thing, the man is going to ask her again. And again. And again. He's going to beg, and plead, and guilt-trip, and pressure, and try by any emotional blackmail possible to turn that "no" into a "yes".

This can be really blatant -- trying to use physical intimidation to gain reluctant consent, for instance, like constantly trying to touch her or loom over her or get in her space -- or more subtle. The more subtle form can be anything from constantly dropping conversational references to the question or proposition, to the very very subtle "puppy dog eyes".

You must understand this. Chances are, you do this too, even if you think you don't. This is the point that gets turned, in certain circles of dialog, into the "all men are rapists" argument that you might have heard: the notion that women say "no" and many men hear "maybe". It's not just men. Everybody, and I do mean everybody, tries to cajole other people into giving them what they want. It's just that, from men, to women, it takes on an additional layer of pressure, just by the very fact that it is a man interacting with a woman.

Because the society we live in, the society women move through, is one of pressure. Constant pressure. Women are -- well, seperis said it best and I really can't improve on it:

Short skirt, pantyhose, tight pants, tight shirt, no bra, no underwear, high heels, lipstick, eyeliner, perfect teeth, perfect breasts, smile already, you look sad, straighten your back, chin up, posture, nice ass, that's my life, kids, that's our lives, that's what we see and what we hear and what we're asked to be.


That's the world that a lot of women walk through. Women have, for the most part, come to accept that, oh, anywhere from fifty to ninety percent (based on the situation and circumstance) of their male acquaintances will at least pay lip service to the concept that "no means no", because it's been drilled into their heads over and over again. But there's a huge number of men whose actions behave as though "no" means "maybe", and they will keep turning up the pressure, and women have no idea which category you fall into when you're a stranger to them -- and because they don't, they must assume the most paranoid reading.

And chances are, you -- the guy reading this -- read that sentence and said to yourself, "what do you mean, women think I don't understand that no means no?" Because you've been told it over and over again, and you think you've got that basic concept pretty down. And you probably do, right now. But when you're in the middle of something, when your emotions (and other things) are aroused, it's your natural inclination to try to talk someone out of that no, because it is basic human nature to try to talk people into doing what you want them to do. And -- particularly when it comes to sexual matters -- that's where the point of becoming That Guy lies.

Yes, you have to be more careful about not doing that than a woman might be. That's because you carry the privilege in this situation. Because -- okay, let's take a potential transaction here. Let's assume You and She are at a con, and happen to be standing next to each other in line or something. Let's take it from your point of view:

You: [thinking: she looks stressed and tired and tense, I'd like to increase happiness in the world around me and do a good deed] Hey, wanna backrub?

Her: [speaking very sharply] No. I have to be somewhere else right now.

You: [thinking: ...wow, that was really kind of rude, I was just trying to be friendly.] Are you sure? Really, you look stressed, I'm happy to --

Her: [walks away, quickly]


Whereas the reality is, to her that might look really different:

Her: [thinking: oh God I'm tired and stressed and I don't want to deal with anybody in the world right now and oh God this guy next to me is in my space and I don't know what he's going to want]

You: Hey, wanna backrub?

Her: [instant wham of thoughts: what does he want, what is he suggesting, if I consent to accepting this and being touched what else is he going to try to talk me into, dammit, I said no and I am sick and fucking tired of having to say it sixteen times before it fucking sinks in and I so do not want to deal with this fucking shit right now because I do not have the energy to fight off yet another creepy guy hitting on me, I need to just get the fuck out of here] No. I have to be somewhere else right now.

You: Are you sure? Really, you look stressed, I'm happy to --

Her: [thinking: How many fucking times do I have to say it? Dammit, I just dealt with this shit ten minutes ago and I don't want to argue with another fucking horny jackass who's just doing this to try to get into my pants. I'd better get out of here before he starts pulling that "I'm doing this for your own good" crap even more.]


I know a couple of guys who think that because I made the utter mistake of making out with them once, they have the perpetual right to beg, plead, whine, wheedle, and cajole, presumably until I agree not only to do it again, but do it again and then go further. They think they have the right to try to coerce me into agreeing to have sex with them, by any means and pressure tactics necessary, and there's a definite feel of "I will badger you into saying yes just to shut me up if that's what it takes."

Persistence is not a virtue. Don't be That Guy. And if you see or overhear another man countering a "no" with "well, but --", you should repeat, very firmly and loudly, "Dude, she said no." Whether it has to do with sex or not.


THE MORE SUBTLE THREE

Those big three things up there, though, are not just the only ways (for me) that men can set off my That Guy alarms. Those three up there are mostly in-person, in-your-face issues. The next three are more likely to be encountered on the Internet, because that's where men are more likely to step into discussions that are going on where women believe they're speaking predominantly to other women.

Because these are more rhetorical issues, not action issues. But they're no less skeevy:


4. Patronization.

I was going to explain this point, and then rydra_wong linked me to the absolutely brilliant Men Who Explain Things, and so I can just point at it and say: yes. That. That.

Women -- in person and on the internet -- hear, day in and day out, implicitly and explicitly, that their experiences don't count. That they need a man to come along and Explain Things. And it might not always stem from overt sexism -- personally, I view a lot of this behaviour as a sort of human male version of the peacock preening behaviour. "Look! Look at me! I'm smart! I'm smart! Let me show you how smart I am! I want to impress you!" Because, you know, brains are sexy!

But to a woman's ears, that sounds a whole lot like "Let me come along and tell this woman (who cannot possibly be as smart as a man) about all the things that she thinks she knows. Because she can't possibly know them. She hasn't had them explained to her by a man. It is my duty to come do her this service." Whether or not that's what you mean, that is what women hear.

If you are ever, ever in a conversation about anything relating to gender expression, sexism, male/female relations, etc, and you catch yourself thinking, "She doesn't understand, and I need to explain this to her," stop. Walk away from the discussion (if it's online) or shut your mouth (if it's in person), and ask yourself: is it really that "she doesn't understand"? Or is it that she's coming from a place so different than yours that you feel like she doesn't understand your position? Do you think she doesn't understand your position because she doesn't agree with your position?

In the case of clear-cut facts, there is an objective truth: you can reasonably expect to find the "right" answer. When it comes to personal perception of the world around you, there is no right answer. There's my right answer, and there's your right answer. Resist the urge to explain to women how "the world works". No, really. Women know how their world works. For us, it works kinda shitty at times, thanks.

And again, if you see another guy trying to explain to a woman that she's "wrong" because "that's not how the world works", pull him aside and say "dude, that's coming across as skeevy and patronizing. Here's why. Listen to what she's saying, okay? It's true for her, and she doesn't need you telling her how things 'really' are."


5. Dismissal.

Having gotten this far, it's time to reiterate: You are going to fuck things up.

You are not bad or evil or wrong for fucking things up. You really aren't. The fail happens if you, when called on your fuckup, fail to recognize that your experience of the world is not the only experience -- if you say "that's not possible", or "but my (wife/girlfriend/best friend/sister/etc) doesn't think like that", or "but my (wife/girlfriend/etc) hasn't ever experienced that, so it must not exist". The fail happens when you take what people are saying to you and start coming up with arguments to counter and invalidate those experiences.

Everyone gets defensive. Everyone. But if you've said or done something to call down the dogpile, please stomp on the initial impulse to come out swinging, no matter how in-the-right you think you are -- because a basic fact of possessing privilege is that you have to be really careful to avoid anything that looks like you're trying to silence the people without that privilege. And just about any defense at this point is going to come across like you're trying to use your privilege to silence people.

It's okay to fuck up. I tell you three times. It's going to be a painful process for you, because you are probably going to get your skin torn off in the immediate reaction, but if you shut up, listen, and actually process and engage with the truth being conveyed by that dogpile, you will be able to ameliorate the damage caused your fuckup -- or at least not make it worse.

There are things you don't know. There are things you can never know. You can be told about them, and you can, as you start to open your eyes and observe and listen, start to see and hear them, but you can never experience them firsthand. It's okay if you don't immediately understand the true reality of women's experiences and perceptions about sexism, sexual assault, fear, history of being silenced, etc, etc. You're not going to viscerally get it when it's explained to you. You can start to understand, but it will never be your world the way it is for a woman. (Hell, it's not the same world for every woman, and that's an important point to remember too.)

You will learn to be able to see that truth, and you will learn to recognize it when it is spoken to you (even if it's whispered), and you will learn, slowly, that this is someone else's truth even if it isn't your own. But it's not going to happen overnight. When you fuck up, and accidentally behave in a way that invalidates or dismisses the perspective and experience and worldview of the women around you, apologize.

And then stop and listen to what is being said to you, and imagine, as hard as you can, that the world being described to you is your world, and work from there. Even if it's not your world. Even if it's not the world and the experiences of your wife/girlfriend/best friend/sister/etc. Don't be the guy who says "this can't be true, I would have noticed", because people are telling you -- loudly -- that it is true. Work from the perspective of: this is not my experience, but it clearly is her experience, and her experience is just as valid for her as mine is for me. Too many times, women speak up to try to educate men, and men say "you must have misunderstood" or "you must be imagining things" or "that's not possible". She didn't misunderstand. She's not imagining things. It is possible. You just don't see it, because you have the privilege of ignoring it if you want to. Failing to recognize it makes you That Guy.

And women don't owe you an education -- see point #1 -- but, you know, a lot of us want to try. There are those of us who want you on our side, because we think that you do have the capability to understand it -- really understand it, actually have that moment of "oh holy fucking shit, I get it, and I thought this was all being exaggerated and overdramatized before, but now I see that it's not and holy fucking shit how is it that nobody else is fucking outraged about what life is like for a woman sometimes?" We want you to have that moment. Because that's when you start realizing that things should change.

When you fuck up (and everybody fucks up; I fuck up, you fuck up, we all fuck up), it's probably going to feel like getting hit in the face with a very large, very wet, very unhappy cat. There will be hissing and clawing and spitting and you may walk away bleeding. Please don't let this discourage you from trying. You're not expected to get it perfect all the time. The rage will be directed at you, but it's really a spontaneous explosion of the rage that comes from knowing that the world we live in is broken, and your accidental fuckup has been the latest manifestation of a more systemic brokenness. The women reacting probably don't hate you personally (unless they know you personally); they hate the systematic failure that your particular actions were exhibiting. I want you to understand the reasons for that rage. Because if you see that things are broken, and you see how badly it's hurting us, you'll want to help try to fix it.

You will be tempted to stick your head in the sand and never come back out again. You will be tempted to say "fuck, man, I tried, and I got back rage, and I guess they don't want me to participate after all." This kind of awareness is hard. Assuming a basic level of decency, it makes you really fucking uncomfortable to realize that you are hurting other people, and that will provoke guilt, and you will be tempted to say "well, I can never make things totally better, and it's uncomfortable and hard to be aware of all the ways in which I'm failing, and that makes me guilty, so I'll just leave it alone and let someone else do it."

Please, please, please don't do that. I know it's hard. I really do. I experience the same kind of guilt and failure when it comes to racial issues, where I (as a white woman) put my fucking foot in my mouth when it comes to invalidating the experiences of people of color, or accidentally showing my ass (which is to say: exhibiting behaviour or unconscious attitudes with which I have been programmed by society's defaults). I have been that fuckup, where something I say without thinking hurts someone else.

You are never going to eliminate all of the unconscious assumptions that your privilege -- whatever that privilege might be -- has programmed you with. You do not have to devote your entire life to crusading against sexism or racism or ableism any other kind of -ism there is. What makes you not That Guy is recognizing that you have that privilege, that your experience is not everyone's experience, and -- this is the critical part -- not assuming or behaving as though your perspective is the only perspective and anyone who doesn't match it is wrong.

And if you see another man who has fucked up, and that man's getting the Dogpile of You Have Fucking Failed, pull him aside and say: "hey, dude, stop a second, take a deep breath, and let me tell you why what you said was troubling from her point of view." That way, he can start to see that world and that experience as just as legitimate and valid as his own, and start down the same path you're working on.

Likewise, it's possible that the minute you have that moment of Getting It, you're going to want to dive headfirst into the experience of being an ally, and you're really going to be bursting at the seams with all of the awesome new things you've learned and how much you want to help and hey let me just dive right in here and tell everyone I talk to my brilliant ideas for fixing this problem. Please don't. Or, in lolcat terms: lurk moar. I want you to tell other men how to stop being That Guy instead of telling me all the brilliant new ways you've come up with for how I can make guys not be That Guy. The one tells me you want to be a pair of hands; the other tells me you want to be yet another person in the long line of people who are trying to a). exercise control over me and b). tell me that the situation is All My Fault.


6. Co-Opting The Argument.

Okay, if you're still with me, first of all, thank you. Second of all, I'm about to say something that (in my experience) makes a vast majority of men I've ever said this to sit up, open their mouths, and say "But --":

The absolute last words you should ever say in a discussion of sexual assault are "men can be raped too".

Or "but men can be falsely accused of rape". Or, well, pretty much anything that attempts to shift the focus of the conversation, subtly or not-so-subtly, away from women's problems and onto men's problems.

Because most women have spent their entire lives living in a world where it's All About Men's Problems. (In fact, we can generalize that: most people without $Privilege have spent their entire lives living in a world where it's All About $Privileged_Group's Problems.) When a discussion is happening among people without a particular privilege, it's ridiculously common for a member of the privileged group to come across it, see that rage or upset directed towards the people with the privilege, feel like they personally are being attacked (because they are a member of that group!) and leap in, guns blazing, to talk about how their group is also affected by the systematic brokenness of our society.

This doesn't calm the rage. I think it's probably pretty safe to say that no woman, ever, has heard the words "men can be falsely accused of rape" and suddenly said "Yes! You're right! Let's stop talking about how angry we are that women worry about being raped and start talking about how angry we are that men worry about being falsely accused of rape!" Whether or not it is a problem (and I so do not want to have that debate, and if you're tempted to bring it up in comments, please go reread points 1-6 again), by co-opting the argument like that, by attempting to re-focus the argument like that, your actions will be taken as not giving a shit. Your actions will be taken as trying to make it All About You.

On the surface, this can look like women doing the very same thing I've been cautioning you against: them trying to say that your experience isn't valid, and that their way of viewing the world is the only way possible. And yeah, in some rhetorical circles, that might be happening, because women are no more automatically enlightened than men are. Having a vagina does not make a woman automatically not-an-asshole any more than having a penis automatically makes a man an asshole.

But ultimately, the fundamental difference is this: because men are the group with the privilege, every conversation, if not stated otherwise, is assumed to be about men's worldviews and men's issues. And for a woman (who's used to running smack into that default assumption a hundred times a day), finding that she's in the middle of a very good conversation about something that matters to her in a place where her worldview is being given due weight and consideration can be so tremendously uplifting that to have someone come in and (in essence) say "Whups, just kidding, let's restore that status quo, it's still all about me" is either a). very frightening, or b). very enraging.

Co-opting the conversation like that is a rhetoric-specific form of Point #1 all the way back up there. By coming into a conversation in that fashion, it does not matter what your intention is. There is a much-greater-than-nontrivial chance that the women who are listening will view it as an expression of entitlement and a manifestation of your privilege. And in a predominantly-female space, there is a much-greater-than-nontrivial chance that the women inhabiting that space will feel empowered to tell you to sit the hell down and shut the fuck up.

Sometimes it is not about you. If you have ever received a LiveJournal response anywhere along the lines of "your life, so hard", or "let me tell you, internet, it is tough being a white man", or "get off the cross, we need the wood", this is a sign that you have been That Guy.

Does this make you angry? Does it make you feel upset? Do you feel like your right to speak, like your right to be heard, has been silenced?

That's the space many women live in all the time. And we can't put it down and go back to a place where that silencing doesn't exist the way you can. Because for us, the conversation you just took over was that space, and we are sick and tired of repeating this fact over and over and over again.

Don't be That Guy.




Edit, 4/27, 7:30PM: In framing #6, I have accidentally displayed a case of being That Guy myself. My point in saying "don't bring up male rape" was aimed at men who don't have that experience, and in using that example here I unconsciously uncovered a prejudice of my own -- assuming that men reading this wouldn't have that experience. I apologize to anyone whose personal experience I've accidentally invalidated by framing the point in that fashion.

To clarify, from my comment to one of the threads that made me aware of my fail:

In trying to say that, my point was more that sometimes it's okay to just concentrate on one piece of the massive seething puzzle of sexism and racism and ageism and ableism and classism and everything-ism that we swim through. Because everyone's got some privileges and lacks others, and a lot of times, a discussion that focuses on one set of privileges (or, more to the point, a discussion among people who lack one particular privilege) will get co-opted into a discussion about all sets of privileges.

I was aiming more for a generalized point of: when you're a person with a particular privilege, and you're in a discussion about that privilege, composed primarily of people without that privilege, it's a good idea to avoid mentioning ways in which, in your experience, that privilege isn't all it's cracked up to be.


That's closer to what I meant, and I picked a bad example. (I'm not revising the initial post because I want the comment threads to make sense.) Further discussion on the issue can be found here and here, and thanks to griffen for helping to point out the problem.
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kita0610

April 26 2008, 22:34:40 UTC 6 years ago Edited:  April 26 2008, 22:35:35 UTC

Very nice.

PS- It's your tag, and so I might be totally misconstruing, but I don't think this essay should be dismissed as a "rant", because it totally is not.

cos

April 28 2008, 10:35:40 UTC 6 years ago

I don't think "rant" is dismissive. Great essays can also be rants, and it can give them more emotional force. Like this one.

kita0610

6 years ago

amireal

April 26 2008, 22:37:15 UTC 6 years ago

Yes. Especially that conversation. Exactly. Sometimes I'm glad at Cons I'm so busy running things I don't have time for random strangers (or even to meet too many new people) unless I'm telling them to do or not to do things.

I think it's really hard to understand that the default assumption is "possible danger until proven otherwise" and I get that but man, tiring.

ghostrunner7

April 26 2008, 22:37:47 UTC 6 years ago

Made it! I... have to go rethink my "I'm not much of a feminist" stance. 'Cus really, there's got to be a better way of saying, "It doesn't infuriate me when men open doors for me," than to simply write off an entire philosophy.

j00j

April 26 2008, 22:39:51 UTC 6 years ago

I tend to favor bell hooks's definition of feminism: "feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression."

incidental_fire

6 years ago

tanyahp

6 years ago

hilarytamar

6 years ago

syrenslure

April 26 2008, 22:46:05 UTC 6 years ago

Thanks for putting this into words. I have gently nudged the man in my life toward this post, with the idea that we don't have to discuss it if he doesn't want to, but he should read it, because this is what I have tried to explain to him for years... he may think he's a good guy (and he mostly is) but he doesn't realize when he crosses the line and starte making things more about him and making the women he is interacting with uncomfortable.

maygra

April 26 2008, 23:04:40 UTC 6 years ago

Bravo and well said.

Anonymous

April 26 2008, 23:08:59 UTC 6 years ago

Hi- just wanted to say that I appreciated this post not only as a woman who is really sick of That Guy, but also as a white person whose eyes just got opened to her own privilege and who very much wanted advice on specific attitudes to watch out for in my own behavior. Thanks.

cos

April 28 2008, 10:43:44 UTC 6 years ago

My big eye-opening moment on race came in an early college class, when a teacher pointed out to us how easy it is to buy band-aids colored such as to look inconspicuous on a white person's skin, and how hard it is to find ones that don't stand out much on a black person's skin. I hadn't even thought of the color of bandaids, or the idea that they might be made in different colors, before that. But sure enough, on my skin the blend in more or less, and they were designed to. All of them that I've ever seen.

cameoflage

6 years ago

yduras

6 years ago

lskull86

6 years ago

jenlev

April 26 2008, 23:09:12 UTC 6 years ago

Thank you for this post. I wish I could articulate a response that contains all the thoughts and feelings that reading this produced.

I continue to be amazed at a culture in which I experience being invisible at the same time that I'm judged and allocated a 'role' based mostly on how I look. Based on a definition of self that I didn't chose or sign up for. So developing a voice as well as using it is vital and not easy.

Hopefully this makes some kind of sense as a response to what you've written...it's what came to mind, so I'll leave it as it is. It's much harder to type these thoughts instead of speaking them. I end up wanting gesticulate which of course doesn't work.

Anyway, thank you again for this post.

inlovewithnight

April 26 2008, 23:13:00 UTC 6 years ago

Wonderfully written. Point 4, in particular, is something I wish I could print on fliers and staple to peoples' foreheads as needed.

matitablu

May 24 2008, 14:31:35 UTC 6 years ago

I agree on point #4. It's something that always, always gets on my nerves. Guh.

wolfshark

April 26 2008, 23:23:36 UTC 6 years ago

Thank you!

ivorygates

April 26 2008, 23:28:29 UTC 6 years ago

You are my hero.

alchemia

April 26 2008, 23:29:13 UTC 6 years ago

I would like if someone would take up the tangent of how this applies outside of heterocentric interactions, because as much as I try to understand what's going on, it is very difficult to understand, related to, or even figure out what my role is. I'm trans (hormones & SRS) but don't identify as either gender, I'm called both "sir" and "miss" (but it is not due to conscious presentation; I never can tell which it will be until a person does), i'm physically disabled and autistic (which does impair me in picking up body language, tone, etc.). When I jump into an online discussion (such as some of the recent ones) only to be banned and told 'feel silenced? now you know what it's like for us', I am bewildered, because in most parts of my life I have been also (I'm not even legally my own guardian). Most of that silencing has come to me via parents, scientists, priests, doctors, teachers, social-workers, etc. But when parents, drs, etc jump into a conversation with me, I am not usually offended as long as they aren't name-calling, making threats, etc. I cannot see how it can contribute to improving society, if I refuse to help them understand, and/or if I do to them, what others have done to me, and/or I express violent fantasies about them, simply because of their gender/career/religion/etc. I have been very uncomfortable by both the men and the women in this latest issue.

elspethdixon

April 27 2008, 06:55:20 UTC 6 years ago

I would like if someone would take up the tangent of how this applies outside of heterocentric interactions, because as much as I try to understand what's going on, it is very difficult to understand, related to, or even figure out what my role is..

That would be a very long and complex essay (I know I wouldn't be up to the task). One of things I've observed that can complicate the issue is that when the two areas converge (i.e., when a heterocentric issue, like men groping women's breasts, is at stake, and men who are not straight or people who are not easily categorized as male or female speak up) -- people will tend to assume that "not-female" automatically means "straight male" (since straight men interacting with women is what they're discussing).

Including multiple sexualities can also complicate discussions of feminist issues. One of the things I've gradually become aware of during my time in comics fandom is that, as a bisexual woman, I operate from a place of priviledge that many straight female comics fen don't: I can look at comics art of sexualized female characters and perceive it as hot (provided the art isn't hideous or ludicrous, which isn't a guarantee), while straight women get nothing out of it, or even feel alienated because it's so obviously aimed at an audience that doesn't include them. Whereas with me, the "fanservice" art may be intended for straight men, but the fact that I find women attractive lets me borrow some of their male priviledge while I read. And that can extend to include television and film shots of women as well. I think it's the only situation I've ever been in where not being straight actually gives me priviledge.

I have been very uncomfortable by both the men and the women in this latest issue.

Some women carry around a lot of anger against men, either because of their own experiences, or on behalf of other, less fortunate women, and some men have some very creepy attitudes towards women. You're right, though; lashing out angrily at men-in-general isn't always the best way to improve gender relations. It seems like a recurring problem in these kinds of arguments over "-isms" (be they religiously motivated -isms, sex/gender -isms, or racism); people's anger and hurt often lead to them lashing out not just at the source of their hurt/anger, but at people who are trying to learn, commiserate, or help.

aberrant1

6 years ago

tanyahp

6 years ago

elspethdixon

6 years ago

Anonymous

5 years ago

rydra_wong

6 years ago

rainbow

6 years ago

alchemia

6 years ago

indywind

6 years ago

umbo

April 26 2008, 23:44:47 UTC 6 years ago

Posts like this one and the last one always make me think, and often I end up pointing people to them in my own LJ without actually commenting on yours. But this--this is really great, and not just for men (although I do wish every single one of them would read it), but for all of us with whatever kind of privilege. So thanks for writing it.

surreallis

April 26 2008, 23:45:28 UTC 6 years ago

Amazing post. Very well-written, although I'd hardly expect anything less from you. Definitely going into memories. Because, yes, you see, how do you explain to someone who will never have the same experience what it's like on a daily basis? That it isn't the big, obvious things, but it's all the constant little things that wear away at you over the years. The basic assumptions about you, the dismissal, the sexual viewing that you have to learn to just deal with because there's no choice in the matter. And, no, it doesn't mean we're all walking around constantly embattled, or even that every woman experiences that or sees it. But it's there. It's just very frustrating to see it and feel it and have it be virtually invisible to so many men and even other women.

(You throw like a girl. Crying like a little girl. You're such a fucking girl.)

And one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced is this place online where it IS predominantly female, and my opinion is NOT automatically suspect or dismissed because I am a woman. How freeing!

setfiretolife

April 27 2008, 04:51:02 UTC 6 years ago

So your parenthetical statements reminded me of a story and since it's late, pull up a chair.

At sometime last fall, a friend of mine hosts a game night. I attend. I'm sitting at the table with 2 women, 2 men. We're playing a board game about pirates, which I think is actually called "Pirate Island" or, maybe not. One of the islands that a player's pirate ship can go to is Crew Island, where you pick up Crew members for your pirate ship (as opposed to the islands for guns, cannons, treasure, etc). For giggles, this is referenced as Boy Island, or the Island of Men and is expected to be the #1 spot that us 3 women chose for our ships to land. Iirc, this is also the island to which one retreats to "repair" one's ship (aka, lose a turn) after losing a battle with another ship. So it is also referenced as "running away to Wuss Island" and "running away like a girl". (general note: it's a fun game, we're all laughing our way through the game, being both silly and flirty)

Eventually, I lose a battle. Smartass that I am, I take my ship in hand and in a singsong manner explain as I do so so that I am prancing like a girl back to Wuss Island to fix my ship. One of the guy players just looks at me and says, "you like being a girl, don't you?"

I leaned back in my chair in a way that gave him a better look at my cleavage, grinned evilly and said, "Why wouldn't I?"

... Ain't nothing wrong with being a girl so I'm willing to be the one to reclaim those words as positive things. I cry like a girl, I throw like a girl, I'm such a fucking girl. Because those are the genetics that I have. :P

the_10thdoctor

5 years ago

chaos5023

3 years ago

The rage, it is strong in me.

cara_chapel

April 26 2008, 23:54:11 UTC 6 years ago

You know, I weigh a LOT, and I'm not graced with particularly pretty features even if I were thin-- I'm plain, and a lifetime of unpleasant treatment has left my face pre-set in what I can only describe as a hard, somewhat cold expression. I have learned the hard way over four decades that EVERYBODY male is That Guy to some degree when they interact with me: colleagues, male friends, random strangers in the hall or on the street, my students, my own father. They all look at me the same way: a flick of the gaze up-down-up and a displeased purse of their lips as they instantly sum me up as completely lacking worth as a sexual partner for any male. The tone and content of all our interactions are quite obviously based on that summation forever more even if they gradually come to know I'm more than they assumed at first. I have to fight to get any kind of positive recognition from them, and if it ever comes, it always comes with a faint air of startlement.

My "best" relationship with a male friend right now is with a self-absorbed asshole who has actually come farther than most in that he recognizes how capable I am at writing, editing, taking pictures, and thinking-- but who automatically assumes that since he's attractive, he can snap his fingers and I'll run and do his bidding in return for a big cheesy fake "who loves ya baby" wink and grin:


That Guy always thinks he's being quite charming when he does this. One of these days I'm going to rip his fucking head off and beat him with it.

Anyway, I get all these things you mention to varying degrees from every That Guy I meet, even if it's from a different perspective than an attractive woman's. Entitlement, assumption that I'll agree automatically rather than even being cajoled, assumption that I "want" them automatically because being heavy, obviously I'm a supplicant for sexual attention from every man I see... patronization and dismissal are especially huge factors.

My father doesn't think he's That Guy, but he only opens doors for me and my mother in public where other people can see him and judge how nice he is, but if we're home, there's no consideration at all. He will even use his body language (and physical strength by elbowing or bumping us aside, if we don't obey the body language) to force us to step aside and let him pass a narrow place when we're carrying something heavy. He finds something to sneer at about anything I wear, do for my hair, or achieve in my personal life, pretends I don't exist and can't be heard if he doesn't feel like interacting with me, and takes great joy in interrupting with inane, off-topic prattle and destroying the conversation every time I'm having a meaningful conversation with someone else.

Where do you turn when even your dad is That Guy?!

I've got a chip on my shoulder about a mile wide about That Guy, and I've learned to relate to men socially either by becoming invisible except when I can't avoid the responsibility to interact and then doing so meekly with expectations of being dismissed, or by being aggressive and being judged as unpleasant and "stepping out of my place" for it, or by being openly cold and hostile and getting called unreasonable bitch. (In most cases with male students I manage pretty well with a facade of calm authority/neutrality, but when a male student assumes he can get a grade through insincere flirtation, watch out-- here comes the hostile ice bitch.)

As a result, the OSBP discussion has reached inside me and touched me in a way that is much deeper and has aroused much more seething fury than the original incident or post would seem to warrant; it has aroused a deep-seated and ugly rage in me that threatens to overwhelm me in helpless vitriol. Your post expresses why very concisely, and helps me frame my rage in a way so that though it's far out of proportion to any single given interaction short of rape, I can begin to explain to a few of those That Guys that my anger, which they feel so undeserving of, is not unjustified when viewed in a larger perspective.

Thank you for helping me put voice to my frustrations.

Re: The rage, it is strong in me.

strega42

April 29 2008, 04:02:30 UTC 6 years ago

It sounds to me like your dad is going beyond "that guy" and into being emotionally abusive. I'm obviously making an assumption here based on a brief comment, so rather than give you an "OMGFREAKOUT eleventyone!!1!" I will just suggest that if this comment gives you *any* reaction other than "eh, not really", that you do some 'net searches on how that's defined. You sound intelligent, self aware and insightful, so I don't think you need the lecture or advice on what to do (although if you'd like some links or anything, I've got stuff handy).

holdouttrout

April 26 2008, 23:56:49 UTC 6 years ago

I really appreciate this post, both because I think you nailed it and because I think it's valuable to me as a reminder of the privileges I DO have. I know, for example, that just being more confident than an average female of my acquaintance means that I have sometimes been an "Explainer."

And I've had plenty of experience with my interpretation of events not being the one that people perceive as correct, because obviously I misunderstood the situation, or with people assuming I wanted to be more intimate (in an emotional sense, primarily) with them than I felt comfortable with.

I don't think I've EVER had a discussion about rape without bringing up false accusations or how a woman is sometimes responsible for certain behaviors. Which freaks me out--if something happened to me, while alone with a guy, I know that I would automatically not be believed as much as he would. Especially if my friends also knew him.

maschalismos

April 27 2008, 00:05:27 UTC 6 years ago

Way to give voice to some of my frustrations with this ball of hot mess of late.

fangedfaerie

May 1 2008, 18:20:11 UTC 6 years ago

TOTALLY off topic. Your icon rocks. Avada Kedavra! :)

On topic, original post: a bit rambling, which is the only part that would qualify this as a rant. Otherwise, absolutely, 100%, dead on.

Thank you.

wearemany

April 27 2008, 00:09:58 UTC 6 years ago

Don't be an ally because you think it will get you something; be an ally because you don't want to be an asshole.

ah, this is perfect for so many occasions.

hederahelix

April 27 2008, 00:20:47 UTC 6 years ago

Well said.

I know this is heterocentric by design, and a post on the equivalent variations on these themes that queerness introduces into the discussion is WAY beyond the scope of the post, but the only thing I don't see covered here (and I should add I don't know how to put it into words, but I'm blaming that on the Santa Anas making me feel like I'm a piece of pottery in a kiln just by sitting in my apartment) is the thing that heterosexual guys do when I start casual conversations with them in public places where I am bored.

It happens to me a lot, probably because I travel a lot, and I'm not sure I could even begin to remember the last time I got on a plane with a friend I was traveling with. I almost exclusively fly alone. Which means I spend a lot of time sitting next to total strangers.

For better or worse, I, apparently, do not look like a dyke to your average straight guy. So if I strike up a conversation with the guy next to me in that horrible (and utterly ridiculous) window of time between the time I have to shut my laptop/PDA/cellphone/iPod off and the time when the plane reaches 10,000 feet . . .

A brief aside:

Every. Single. Time. I have to comply with those stupid rules, I flash back to Toby in the opening scene of the pilot of The West Wing. It takes all the strength of will I have not to quote the whole monologue verbatim at the flight attendants. But I digress.

Back to the main story.

So if I strike up a conversation with the guy next to me, within the first five sentences he always seems to slip in mention of his wife back home.

So far, I have also resisted the impulse to rip the tray from the seatback in front of me ad bean him over the head with it.

I was unaware that among some weird subset of straight people, the default assumption was that women only talk to men when they are sexually interested in them.

In my social circles, men and women talk to each other when they are interested in talking to one another.

I know that's only tangentially related to what you're saying above. Except for the part where it strikes me that random guy traveling for business, who has the misfortune to be seated next to me, is projecting his worldview onto me, and it makes me crazy.

sparkymonster

April 27 2008, 04:32:21 UTC 6 years ago

OK must tell you amusing anecdote. I also don't visually read as queer.

I was on a plane with a trans guy friend of mine, heading back from a conference on GLBT literature. I was talking with my friend about some of the books and authors we liked. Blah blah.

The random guy next to me leaned in to insert himself into our conversation. Repeatedly. Me turning my body away from him didn't help. He insisted on writing his e-mail down and handing it to me.

After we all got off the plane, he appeared again to try to talk me up. Finally I went "fuck it" and mentioned I had just been at a Gay and Lesbian conference. HE stopped dead in his tracks. We thought he had gone, until he suddenly appeared again to let me know he wasn't homophobic and make some other dumb small talk.

At this point I was 1) extremely annoyed 2) extremely freaked out that we were being stalked in an airport. I ended up going into the ladies room and waiting in there for 10 minutes until he went away (I had given my friend the heads up on my plan). Insanity.

hederahelix

6 years ago

margaretc

6 years ago

cos

6 years ago

thatbox

6 years ago

killing_rose

6 years ago

hederahelix

6 years ago

killing_rose

6 years ago

starwatcher307

6 years ago

hederahelix

6 years ago

hederahelix

6 years ago

starwatcher307

6 years ago

hederahelix

6 years ago

browneyedgirl65

6 years ago

forestgreen

April 27 2008, 00:28:11 UTC 6 years ago

Thank you for this post. It has been very enlightening, even if I'm a woman. I don't think I've really ever stopped to think about the issue or privilege, and when I don't have it (as a woman) and when I do (as white).

The fact that the concept is so new to me has to do with growing up in a society in which the existence of privileges of any kind was denied: we were all equal, and even if some people were more equal than others you needed to shut the fuck about it and pretend you didn't see it.

Just lately I've started to wake up from that society-imposed and self-accepted blindness and this post has help me a lot to understand how to recognize privilege, mine and other's. It certainly has given me enough to think about and I hope I do justice to the time and care you took into putting all this into word.

Thank you.

gryphonwing

April 28 2008, 02:45:37 UTC 6 years ago

Responding to your response--

I just wanted to say that I really love hearing people say that they're beginning to see privilege, and to understand why they haven't. It gives me hope.

I think you're spot-on about why we don't think about it in this society, too. Good insight!

adina_atl

April 27 2008, 00:35:29 UTC 6 years ago

I just have to comment on something:

most people without $Privilege have spent their entire lives living in a world where it's All About $Privileged_Group's Problems

If you are reading this, especially online, you are privileged. You are, at the very least: literate, not subject to extreme censorship, a member of a "first world" economy or a privileged member of a third world economy, and thus have access to a computer and the internet. Because you are disprivileged by one aspect of your life, by being female for instance, doesn't negate that you are privileged by another aspect of your life, being heterosexual for instance (or white, or American/European, or able-bodied, or whatever).

You use the example, "But men can be raped too!" as privileged men trying to make the conversation about them instead of about women. Well, I once had the experience of being the only woman in a room full of gay men talking about rape. Every single one of them had been raped, threatened with rape, or knew another gay man who had been raped--raped, I might add, by "straight" men--and this from a randomly selected group of gay male college students, not a rape survivors meeting. Everyone who had reported a rape was dismissed out of hand by the police, who assumed that raping a gay man was a matter of not giving him time to say "Yes, please!" These are privileged men? Is a gay man who's been raped less capable of contributing to a discussion of rape than a woman who hasn't?

The problem is that most of us find it easier to focus on the privileges we don't have than those we do have. So if we're female we forget our white privilege, and if we're African-American we forget our male privilege, and if we're a female African-American we forget out heterosexual privilege, and if we're a blind, deaf, mentally ill, African-American lesbian in prison we forget our first world privilege.

alchemia

April 27 2008, 01:06:24 UTC 6 years ago

I appreciate your reply. I am trying to understand people's reactions, and I think I sometimes see why they are expressed a certain way, but I cannot relate, and find some of the reactions upsetting, adding to the problems in our societies, instead of coming together to make things better.

sparkymonster

6 years ago

alchemia

6 years ago

adina_atl

6 years ago

sparkymonster

6 years ago

adina_atl

6 years ago

kragen

6 years ago

commodorified

6 years ago

adina_atl

6 years ago

male rape

pir_anha

6 years ago

commodorified

6 years ago

siljamus

April 27 2008, 00:39:50 UTC 6 years ago

I'm still going to sit this one out, despite or rather because I'm so emotionally fucked up by this whole mess, but I wanted to thank you for taking the time to write this (and your previous "rant").

mullenkamp

April 27 2008, 00:46:58 UTC 6 years ago

...Y'know, given how unaware I was of most of this, I wonder if I'm "That Guy". I just don't think about male/female interactions any differently than I think about male/male or female/female, and thus I don't notice this kind of thing happening to me at all. Couldn't count how many times I've had people tell me that a guy was "obviously" hitting on me and I hadn't thought that at all, or had females get mad at me for not being sensitive enough. I have honestly never felt vulnerable just because I'm small and female and working by myself at night - and am honestly puzzled when someone suggests that I should. I think I've even been the one to bring up "Yeah, but then a girl could just say that the guy raped them and screw up his life forever!" at times.

But then, my mental image of myself if I'm not thinking in literal terms seems more skewed towards the stereotypes associated with "six foot tall dude, probably wearing black leather" rather than those associated with "scrawny little five foot tall girl probably wearing a snarky t-shirt", so that might have something to do with it.

shusu

April 27 2008, 11:10:03 UTC 6 years ago Edited:  April 27 2008, 11:14:37 UTC

I fall into that category as well, physically and mentally.

In my own life I have no clear-cut answers, but over time I've come to assume that my small size and my usual dress codes me as "child" instead of young woman. Children get privileges too, a sort of free pass -- and again, I don't *know* if this is truly the case in the places I've lived in, including places where my size is not below the norm. Or how subconscious it is.

What's more, I don't know how much of my personality is conditioned to usurp those privileges. Children get the first cut, are first to be protected, and I'm simply not aware of how often I've claimed that first cut, or run for that protection. My personality has changed since elementary school, but quite frankly unless I dress differently, my body is pretty much the same, so it's possible I've experienced no change in perception. Perhaps I'm simply not "fair game."

Now as I age, I can't pass for "child" as much, I'm getting more reactions that are typical for my female friends. "Are you married?" "Do you have kids?" "Do you have a boyfriend?" Plus strangers casually getting into my space and touching me. I have to say that this is partly cultural (in the two dozen instances in the last ten years, it's been exactly one demographic, which I will not share here), so if it's in that slot, I will tend to be friendly because it's partly curiosity about my ethnicity, and on that front I'm willing to take more risks to communicate. Who knows, it could be curiosity about my ass, or the fact that tit-level is actually eye-level (hah!); I have no idea why it's so consistent.

So basically... yeah. I think I can universally talk to anyone of any gender and get the same consideration -- and my mother, who has the same body type, is also able to exact not only respect but goods and services just from personality alone (she's more outgoing and social than I am). I have the luxury of choosing how to engage -- my mother is largely experiential, and I'm largely academic, but we are both novices when it comes to walking through that fire. Connection? I'm not sure. All I know is that most *every* other woman I know does not have that option. eta: And by and large, these discussions are about exposing each other's experiences. I have to consciously identify when it's about that, and even then I still chime in with footnotes.

Are we (my mom and I) both camouflaged? Diminuitive-ized? Have we built up defenses based on that? Will I pay for this camouflage by slipping from "child" to "little old lady"? I don't know. But I suspect that if I were to throw out half my wardrobe and dress to be noticed, that umbrella of privilege would be very quickly ripped away from me. I don't think my experience would remain academic, and to tell you the truth, I'm extremely hesitant to try that experiment.

(Body image reaction may have influenced my dating drought, because I can't help wondering about men who are overwhelmingly attracted to my body type... what else are they attracted to? It's an ugly thought, yet I can't quite put it away. Especially since I frequently work with kids.)

Anyway. YMMV. I do push back with my own personality and presence, but unless I have more data, I can't tell how much of my bubble of space is what I demand and how much is from people's perceptions of my appearance.

pandorasblog

6 years ago

alchemia

6 years ago

voxael

6 years ago

pandorasblog

6 years ago

amberite

6 years ago

20thcenturyvole

April 27 2008, 01:00:43 UTC 6 years ago

*CHEERS*

I have been incredibly lucky to be raised by people who told me to never let anyone tell me to shut up, that when I know something I should say so, and that if some guy is pushing at me to do something I don't want, my automatic reaction should be, "Back off, you creep." I didn't realise how lucky until I'd met people who weren't raised that way, who were instead taught to say yes to everything, people who didn't know how to make a fist or raise their voice. A lot of guys don't get that on a really basic level.

And then there are good guys, guys who aren't just paying lipservice in order to get laid, but even they trip up, because they're still coming from a fundamentally different mindset. So yay for this essay, and I hope it wasn't just women who read it right to the end.

juliekarasik

April 27 2008, 01:03:08 UTC 6 years ago

I've got a supervisor at work who does #4 all the time. Sometimes he mixes in some #5 for variety. To be fair, he's an arrogant, condescending, ass to everyone, but over the years (we've worked together since '99) I've become less and less tolerant of it. Probably has something to do with me getting *over* my need for approval from authority figures.

tablesaw

April 27 2008, 01:03:42 UTC 6 years ago

Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, so much, thank you. This is, like, everything I've been looking for ways to say for a few months, written perfectly.
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