#OpenMinday – The harassment of women and the fear of men @DawnHFoster

What is Open Minday?

I’m sorry to every woman that I scoffed at for not walking home along a route that made them uncomfortable, but that I was happy with day or night. I’m sorry to every woman that I made to feel belittled through my disbelief of their stories of harassment. I’m sorry to every woman who felt as if I’d brushed their experiences aside because of my own.

Just the other week I was attempting to illustrate how white, middle-class western men already know what it feels like to be a woman, they just don’t realise it. The headline was nice, and I tried hard in the article to make my point. A point I thought I had grasped. But, as it turns out, I was distressingly far from the truth. I’m sorry for this, too.

My mistake was clear once I’d read @DawnHFoster, her blog post Background Noise, and the shockingly close-to-hand anecdotes of real women that she collated. I wanted to help men empathise with how women can feel intimidated. Dawn’s article is cold, unavoidable evidence of the active and actual harassment women suffer all the fucking time.

By the end I didn’t know whether to be more upset or furious, but I was also concerned that by expressing the keenness of my feelings I’d be stepping on the toes of the women who’d had these experiences. Does a man responding emotively to such awfulness end up overriding the perspective and justified feelings of the women involved?

Oh, what a tonne of bullshit.

Sadly the comment below below mine is a neat illustration of how a male response can be an obstacle. It’s by a man who has read the article and is taking time to comment, and who could be assumed to have given a level of consideration to the topic. But it’s a dispassionate voice, a defeated voice, a voice that does nobody any good.

“This isn’t a problem anyone can solve,” it begins, perfectly, though admittedly severed from the only natural sub-clause to such a statement: learn to put up with it. Instead it’s followed by a defence of inaction and a description of the perceived outcome, the feared outcome – that acting to protect might result in being labelled misogynistic.

Men, a question. Would you rather be called misogynistic by a traumatised woman who has been assaulted before your eyes while you did nothing, or by a terrified but now safe woman who has been protected from assault by your actions?

This is not about YOU. This is about HER.

As I wrote in my comment, I’ve never witnessed the level of inexcusable treatment that these women are talking about. But I did once step in to challenge a drunk, pathetic and unthreatening man who was subjecting a young Middle Eastern guy to a sustained racist verbal assault. This was an easy thing to do.

It was easy because I could talk the idiot into the ground. It was easy because his assault was entirely verbal and only barely coherent. It was easy because there was never any threat to me, either verbal or physical. It was an easy thing to do.

But I will admit that I am scared at the prospect of stepping in to protect a woman being surrounded by a group of men. I fear that a man who has found it so easy to violently or aggressively intimidate a woman would not hesitate to turn the same level of violent or aggressive intimidation against a man who is not strong, threatening or big.

I’m average size, I’m no alpha male and I simply don’t have the capacity to intimidate another man. Especially not the sort of masculine waste product that congeals in numbers and treats women as community property or sub-human objects. I’m scared. I’m afraid of being beaten up. I’m terrified of becoming a headline.

But at least I don’t suffer the fear that grips others. Manboys who fear being ostracised by other manboys, childmen who fear their ability to take a joke being questioned, as if casual assault were an established comic vehicle. Emotionally stunted and tribalistic males who value belonging above self-regard, above pride, above all else.

Because it’s fears like these, abstract and unexamined, that lead to male and female (but mostly male) commenters to turn discussions expressing rage at sexual assault into discussions about how difficult it would be to police a wolf-whistle. Or for debates about rape to twist into redundant arguments over whether all men are potential rapists.

(On a side note, before anyone talks about rape culture they should read Shakesville’s blog post on the subject. For me, the term is encapsulated in a single point: “Rape culture is tasking victims with the burden of rape prevention”. Our approach to rape prevention reduces rape to burglary, and by extension, women to objects.)

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” is overused but the more I read, the more I experience and the more I see the more accurate and spearing the statement becomes. Men, arguing that you are not a rapist and shouldn’t be treated like one is not helping. Standing up for a woman’s right to be protected from rape is.

At the heart of the problem as I see it is that many male voices, many So-Called-Men, can’t see the difference in their position (their privileged position) and the position of women. Women aren’t resisting change, So-Called-Men are. So-Called-Men aren’t standing for something, they’re standing against something.

Women are asking to be considered, to be given respect. SCMen are asking to be excused the responsibility of doing this. Women want equality, an equal share. SCMen don’t want to give up anything in order to balance the scales. Women speaking out are speaking out against society. SCMen are only speaking out against women.

I want to believe that I would stand up for the principles I believe in and defend a victim of harassment, but I cannot deny that I am afraid of the physical fallout of doing such a thing. But because I accept my fear it’s something I can consider, I can examine. SCMen bury their fears so deep that discussion or examination is impossible.

If you are really afraid that by stepping in to protect a woman who is being harassed you will be thought of as misogynist, then I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry that you’ve allowed your fear to suffocate your principles. But I suspect that at the heart of your fear is a conflict, because you have never been taught to examine or discover your own principles.

Do you know what you stand for? Have you ever asked yourself what your principles are?

Behind misogyny, as with every prejudice, is fear. I am afraid of being beaten to a pulp, but by examining what I believe, by understanding what I stand for, I can face that fear with the strength of my principles. But if you don’t know your principles or what you stand for, how can you challenge what makes you afraid? How can you challenge harassment?

So-Called-Men are afraid. But women – mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces – are being harassed. Men should never be afraid of wanting to stop this.

About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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1 Response to #OpenMinday – The harassment of women and the fear of men @DawnHFoster

  1. A sort-of-related aside – I just received an email at work about indecent exposures along a road close to my office. My first instinct was to laugh.
    I saw a Benny Hill sketch, a funny old man dangling out of a mac, a hilarity.
    Then I realised it might be a little different if you’d had to suffer him exposing himself at you.
    It can still be *funny* and I don’t feel bad for laughing, but this is precisely the problem – SCMen can’t get past this point, and won’t accept it is anything but funny because they see it as funny.
    But it’s okay to laugh, just as it’s okay to say what you feel. You just have to accept responsibility, accountability.
    If someone in my office had been offended by my laughing, because they had suffered a similar experience, I would have been protecting myself from accountability by defending my interpretation of it as funny. Far better to apologise, or empathise, and accept the other person’s experience, their point of view.
    I don’t have to agree with someone that it isn’t funny, only that they were upset by it. I can still find it funny, though the realisation experience that I might have upset someone has, naturally, reduced the sense of fun and comedy I now see in indecent exposure.
    Is losing a little childish joke really worth getting upset about?

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