Hitting on women in elevators and subway exits.

By now you may have heard about Rebecca Watson, a speaker at an atheist conference in Dublin, and how she departed from a hotel bar at 4 a.m., headed back to her room, was propositioned in an elevator:

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more.  Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?”

Rebecca was unimpressed, and on her blog and in a video (starting at 4:30) she discussed how this made her uncomfortable.  Richard Dawkins, among others, argued that the man had done nothing wrong:

The man in the elevator didn’t physically touch her, didn’t attempt to bar her way out of the elevator, didn’t even use foul language at her. He spoke some words to her. Just words. She no doubt replied with words. That was that. Words. Only words, and apparently quite polite words at that.

So who is right?  Well, as far as I know, Rebecca is a rational, reasonable, and sane individual.  I don’t have any reason to believe she spoke about this for kicks and giggles or to get attention.  Furthermore, as a woman she is going to experience the world differently than I do.  That means that certain situations that may not be troublesome to me may be rather upsetting to her.  So if Rebecca goes to the trouble of telling us that the elevator incident was upsetting to her – assuming she is rational, reasonable, and sane – then we can make two reasonable inferences:  First, that the elevator incident really was upsetting to her, and second, that other rational, reasonable, and sane women have also become highly uncomfortable in similar situations.

So Rebecca has the winning argument here.  Yet I don’t think it’s sufficient to simply admonish men and call it a day.

Consider a different “pick up” situation, this time not in an elevator, but in another “enclosed space” – a subway exit.  Imagine that I am walking down a flight of stairs to catch a train.  It’s quarter after eleven at night, and I accost a woman – call her “Samantha” – as she is walking up the stairs:

Miguel:  Hey…

Samantha:  (Turns around, surprised.)

Miguel:  I’m Miguel.

Samantha:  (Confused.)  Okay…  Miguel.

Miguel:  Today’s my birthday.

Samantha:  (Smiles incredulously.)

Miguel:  No, it really is my birthday.  At midnight.

Samantha:  (Sarcastic.)  Really?

Miguel:  And believe it or not I don’t have any plans…  Some people took me out after work.

Samantha:  Hmmm.  And that would be at – let me guess – Bank of America or AT&T?

Miguel:  The Great American Insurance Company.

Samantha:  Hmmm.

Miguel:  I’m part of that corporate establishment that – let me guess – you think is responsible for all the evil in the world from Afghanistan to diaper rash.

Samantha:  You have to add “bad breath.”

Miguel:  (Looks surprised.  Covers mouth.)

Samantha:  (Laughs.)  Just kidding.

Miguel:  You’re not going to let me spend my birthday all by myself, are you?

Samantha:  (Sighs.)  Listen Miguel, you’re pretty cute but I don’t date guys who are forty. 

Miguel:  Well then this is my lucky night.

Samantha:  Why is that?

Miguel:  I’m still thirty-nine.  It’s only eleven-fifteen.

Samantha:  (Laughs.)

Miguel:  (Leans in and kisses Samantha.)  Come on.

Samantha:  (Follows Miguel down the stairway.)

Miguel:  What’s your name?

Samantha:  I’m Samantha.  Nice to meet you, Mr. Miguel Insurance Man.

Okay, so in the above exchange, I have (miraculously) managed to pick up a woman in the subway.  But look how I did it.  Within a minute of meeting her, I try to manipulate her feelings of guilt – “You’re not going to let me spend my birthday all by myself, are you?” – and I plow-through and ignore her when she tells me she’s not interested – “I don’t date guys who are forty.”  You could even say, it’s not that I didn’t understand, I just didn’t like the answer.  I doubt most feminists would be impressed with this kind of pick-up.

Now, some of my readers may recognize the dialogue above from one of the opening scenes in the movie “Milk” – worth watching, btw – because I re-wrote the dialogue and substituted “Miguel” for “Harvey Milk” and “Samantha” for his lover, “Scott Smith” (whom he apparently met in the subway).  And I doubt that most feminists who saw “Milk” walked away angry at the way Harvey hit on Scott in the subway.

What’s my point?  Well, my point is not that Rebecca Watson had nothing to complain about and shouldn’t have said anything.  In fact, I’m all in favor of open communication and think that she had every right to speak up if she felt ill at ease.  Yet at the same time, we shouldn’t cling to the annoying pretense that heterosexual men don’t face different challenges than women or gay men when it comes to meeting and attracting a sexual partner.  They do.  I wonder how many people who went to see “Milk”, and who felt a sense of giddiness at all the joys between Harvey and Scott – the heroic kiss in front of Castro Camera, etc. – stopped to consider that Harvey’s pick-up of Scott could have come in for quite a bit of criticism, if he hadn’t successfully pulled it off.

Also, a word about perceptions here:  One thing Rebecca said in her video was, “… I was a single woman in a foreign country at 4 a.m. in a hotel elevator with you, just you, and I… don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner…”

The “you, just you” line is interesting here, because paradoxically, the less macho and aggressive a man’s self-image is, the more difficult it is for him to imagine himself as a potential threat.  As I’ve written before, a man who thinks of himself as having tamed the beast within would have intuitively grasped Rebecca’s discomfort, whereas a man with a more gentle self-image would tend to think, “it’s me, just me.” 

If men are behaving in such a way as to make women feel “cornered,” as Amanda Marcotte has blogged about here and here, then that’s not cool and men shouldn’t do that.  And I’m sure there are men out there who feign cluelessness as cover for predatory behavior.  But I also know that there have been times when I have made women uncomfortable by being overly forward or behaving inappropriately, and yet I’ve never deliberately set out to make a woman feel “cornered” or afraid.  I’d have a tough time living with myself if I did.  And while lack of evil intent doesn’t excuse poor behavior, reading evil intent into that which is merely boorish is neither justified nor helpful nor practical.  If you see predators everywhere, you won’t see them anywhere.

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38 Responses to Hitting on women in elevators and subway exits.

  1. Larissa says:

    Although I am not willing to concede that there is nothing wrong with the way Milk picked up his eventual boyfriend, I would argue that the situations are not the same. In the initial situation, there is an inherent power dynamic at play- a man, on average, is physically larger than a woman and also stronger. Women are socialized to fear being alone with strange men. Men are not socialized to respond to a stranger as warily as women are. Not all men are a threat to all women. No one is arguing that. What I am arguing is that no woman should be made to feel as if they are over-reacting when a strange man corners them–they are merely looking out for their own safety. When the number of men sexually assaulted (as that is the primary fear in these situations) approaches the number of women sexually assaulted, then perhaps you can use the proposed examples in comparison.

  2. Lathe of Heaven says:

    Where does it all lead? here: http://xkcd.com/642

  3. Thomas says:

    I thought the point of Miguel’s post is that heterosexual men face unique challenges in finding a mate that women and gay men do not face. A heterosexual man who would like to introduce himself to a woman must deal with the fact that just being a male is enough to make some women uncomfortable. That’s not something gay men or lesbians or a woman approaching a man have to deal with. Heterosexual men are alone in that uniquely unenviable position. I don’t have an obvious solution and I’m certainly not suggesting a women should just magically make herself feel comfortable in a situation where she is not. But can we at least acknowledge that there is some unfairness here and at least aspire for a more gender egalitarian state of affairs.

  4. Jim says:

    “And I doubt that most feminists who saw “Milk” walked away angry at the way Harvey hit on Scott in the subway.”

    It’s the gay pass, and it works for everything in cetrtain quarters. I have used it on feminist blogs and it is hard to keep it from being a siliencing technique. Disgusting actually.

    ” Women are socialized to fear being alone with strange men.”
    Well yeah, that’s quite familiar. The Damsel is a foundational part of patriarchal gender roles. Of course, the socialization you get is the socialization you have; not really something that you get to override consciously . It’s just that the person in front is not to blame either. And also, that socialization may lead you to see a threat where there is none. Still if it is guiding your behavior, it can be manipulated against you.

    “Men are not socialized to respond to a stranger as warily as women are.”
    This is not something you are in a position to know, Larissa, and in fact it is untrue. If you observe interactions between men who don’t know each other, a lot of what looks like macho posturing and stand-offishness is in fact simple wariness. And remember that the social sanctions against attacking men in general are much lighter than for attacking lone women, although those sanctions hardly do enough to protect women.
    .

  5. Lynet says:

    There’s a lot to be said for not using a cold proposition in an enclosed space — and lest that sound like another in a long list of restrictions that might close out all indications of sexual interest, I’d like to phrase it positively: there’s a lot to be said for always leaving the person you’re propositioning a way out. Anything you can do that leaves the person feeling simultaneously able to say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is a good idea. Choosing to stand closer only if they have room to shift away is another good example.

    That said, I’d like to point out that Watson’s story also includes her saying in an earlier speech how much she dislikes being propositioned at conventions, and saying, right before she went up, that she was tired and wanted to go to sleep (which she evidently expects to have been believed, rather than having someone hear it as code for “I’m about to be alone, maybe you could proposition me”). In short, it’s not merely that this proposition came in an elevator at 4am when she was tired and in a foreign country; Watson also evidently feels that the propositioner had ample opportunity to hear that this wasn’t something she wanted.

    I’d also like to point out that hitting on a woman in an elevator under these circumstances comes in for a mild rebuke along the lines of “guys, don’t do that”. It doesn’t make you a terrible person or anything.

  6. Jim says:

    “A heterosexual man who would like to introduce himself to a woman must deal with the fact that just being a male is enough to make some women uncomfortable. That’s not something gay men or lesbians or a woman approaching a man have to deal with. ”

    Gay men don’t have to worry about making men they approach uncomfortable ? Ha ha – if only. Never heard of “gay panic”? A gay man approaching a man risks death if he guesses wrong. Women typically don’t face that from men approaching them.

    You don’t know what you are talking about here. This is a good example of going off of assumptions you don’t even know you have. What is different in these two situations is that a man approaching a woman can safely assume she is straight and possibly interested, or at least has some kind of social pressure to maintain some level of civility in turning him down, since that’s just the way the numbers overwhelmingly run. That is not the case when you approach a man. Have you ever heard of “gaydar”?

  7. Miguel, you don’t post often, but when you do, it’s quality.

    That said, I’ve been waiting to talk about this, but I don’t think it’s long enough for a blog post – and I want to ask it TO someone – and maybe the readers of this blog.

    So many people (all of them?) have interpreted RW saying “don’t do that” as a hint to men looking to pick up women (in general) that the technique won’t be successful.

    I think that’s not what she was saying. I THINK she was saying “don’t engage in behavior like this if you want to attract women to atheist conventions and keep them interested once they come.” That is a statement I have a problem with, because I know a handful of women who use atheist events to meet and hook up with men as a side benefit.

  8. AnonymousDog says:

    If one was to ask one hundred randomly selected women “Where is a good place to meet women?”, how many would answer “Oh, just anywhere.”? I’m betting a fair plurality would give that answer. Partly that’s because a lot of them really would have no idea, but would be reluctant to say so, and partly because a lot of them have bought into the Hollywood Rom-com fantasy of being approached by an attractive man as a result of some random, chance situation. And, there also seem to be a lot of people(women and men) who just resist the notion that some places are better than others for meeting the opposite sex.

    What they forget to tell you is that there’s a lot of places a woman won’t want you to approach if you aren’t attractive (to her).

    That’s one way mixed messages originate.

  9. The Real Peterman says:

    I think this touches on something Miguel has often wrote about before: a good man probably wouldn’t think that talking to a woman in an elevator is a threatening situation, because he wouldn’t think to use that enclosed space as a threat. Yet when a lot of women hear this story they think “yuck, what a creep! using the enclosed space to corner her!”

    That’s funny, Lathe of Heaven :)

    “A gay man approaching a man risks death if he guesses wrong. ”

    I submit you are both right. I mean, a man can approach another man and simply strike up a conversation without a whole lot of fear. Now, if that approaching man is gay and wants to have a thing with the guy he’s approached, that’s a whole other ball of wax. But when it comes to a man approaching a woman, like Miguel said, there is a lot of apprehension involved.

    “There’s a lot to be said for not using a cold proposition in an enclosed space”

    I agree. But to defend the guy in the elevator, if he really wanted to meet this woman, maybe the elevator was his only shot. I mean, she gives her talk, then heads up to her floor, then goes in her room. Bam, door shut, window of opportunity gone. Talking to her in transit was his only chance, unless they both happen to go into the hall for ice at the same exact moment.

    “there’s a lot of places a woman won’t want you to approach if you aren’t attractive (to her)”

    I was thinking the same thing. If this guy were George Clooney, this whole brouhaha would never have happened.

  10. Lynet says:

    Every time someone pulls the “If this guy were George Clooney… ” argument, I want to turn around and say “If this guy were Brett Favre… “, because if you take Jenn Sterger’s word for how that one went down, then being a stereotypical “alpha male” (or whatever you want to call it) is no insulation against refusal, nor against being a total creep when refused.

    Moreover, the question of whether you feel free to say no really can be more important than the question of whether, abstractly and without considering the manner of approach, you might be inclined to say yes. People vary on what’s important to them in these situations, but trust can be as important as attraction. So I don’t think it makes sense to say “Hey, if he was really attractive she might not have cared if she could trust him or not.” For some of us, George Clooney might be worth the risk, but not for all of us, that’s for sure.

  11. elementary_watson says:

    Well, a homosexual man who would like to introduce himself to a man must also deal with the fact that being gay is enough to make some men uncomfortable.

  12. elementary_watson says:

    Memo to self: Read whole thread before replying to a point someone makes, to see if someone else already made it.

  13. elementary_watson says:

    I read somewhere on the internet (so, consider this a rumour) that RW met her ex-husband at an atheist convention, where he successfully hit on her. It’s always a bit tough to accept any rules for dating when there are people who were only successful with the person defending that rule because they broke it.

    As for your last paragraph, yeah, that’s something I’ve seen elsewhere before. “Dear single male Mathematics and Computer Science students, please stop seeing every female fellow student as potential girlfriend material, it annoys us and makes the decision to study STEM harder for us.” Which raises the question, where is it okay to look for a potential girlfriend if not among one’s fellow students? (Well, there are hobbies, of course, but … “Dear male single Glee Club singers, please stop seeing every female fellow singer as potential girlfriend material, it is really annoying and turns many of us off doing Glee Club altogether.”)

    And then those men who take these advices to heart and are unable to give clear signs of sexual interest are branded as Nice Guys (TM).

    *sigh*

  14. elementary_watson says:

    It’s funny because it’s sad. I wonder how true it is, i.e. how often women who don’t show any signs of interest are, like, totally interested.

  15. The Real Peterman says:

    And then you graduate, and you hear “please don’t hit on us at work, we’re here to earn a paycheck not to get picked up!”

  16. The Real Peterman says:

    Well, just to be clear: Brett Favre didn’t strike up a conversation with a woman, he emailed her a picture of his little quarterback.

  17. elementary_watson says:

    That’s the general drift … It’s just that I really once read an editorial (I guess) in the Mathematics Department’s student paper doing this “Don’t see female math students as potential girlfriends, it’s obnoxious and holding women back from taking these career paths” argument/admonishment (and a similar piece in the paper of a science club I was in once).

    “Only hit on women in environments where the *only* reason women are there is to get hit on” is idiotic advice, often coming from women who would never enter such an environment (as that would be, like, totally desperate!)

  18. Thomas says:

    Several posters responded that just begin gay is also enough to make some straight men uncomfortable. This is true. If my original post minimized that, I stand corrected. However, I would like to point out three things:

    1) A man can generally approach and strike up a generic conversation with another man without making the second man uncomfortable, thus giving the first man some time to try and figure out the second man’s sexual orientation.

    2) If a straight man was approached by a gay man and then decided to tell the world on his blog how uncomfortable that approach made him, the straight man would largely be regarded as homophobic. A woman’s discomfort at being approached by a man is largely regarded as legitimate.

    3) There are situations in which people are known to be gay so the issue of a gay man mistakenly approaching a straight man doesn’t apply.

    Yes, gay men have their own unique set of issues in finding partners. I’m not minimizing that. But I would still contend that even with those issues, a shy socially awkward gay male would have an easier time finding a partner in this world than a similarly positioned shy socially awkward straight male, for a number of reasons, the approach issue being only one of them.

  19. The Real Peterman says:

    “Only hit on women in environments where the *only* reason women are there is to get hit on”

    Got that, mister aspiring astrophysicist? Get yourself out to the bar on Friday night so you can compete with the handsome frat guys and football Lotharios! And don’t come crying to me if you don’t get anywhere!

  20. humbition says:

    I see a distinction between “generalized prohibitions,” like what you’re describing in these student papers, and what Rebecca Watson was saying, particularly in the beginning. The student papers seem to be saying, “think of these women as sisters and apply an incest taboo.” I think this is harmful, very harmful, more harmful than people know. (And it comes from the same culture as abstinence-only, doesn’t it? Culture is a bigger thing than ideology.)

    The “don’t see your fellow students as potential girlfriends” idea is also a kind of thought control. It is totalistic, and psychologically repressive.

    But it’s always legitimate in principle to say, instead of “don’t hit on women” in general, that there are restrictions on “time, place, and manner.” This is a legal formula which refers to dimensions of context. This is not the same thing as a blanket taboo. Rebecca Watson repeatedly claimed that she was not trying to eliminate all “hitting on,” just not late at night in an elevator at 4 in the morning — by a total stranger with no previous interaction history.

    It can seem to young het men in particular that they get so many time, place, and manner type restrictions that it adds up psychologically for them to be like a generalized prohibition. And that certainly indicates that the “manner” of the education they get on this — infused by panic about young male sexuality — could use some tuning up, some considerateness and kindness in its own right. Nonetheless, women do seem to say loudly and clearly that they want some contexts relatively free from “being hit on,” and I think we have to listen to that too, in principle.

    The thing about time, place, and manner restrictions is that they control overt behavior, not thought (like the generalized prohibitions). I think there are real behavioral issues that the student papers were trying to address when they came up with their clumsy and thought-controlly editorials. But I think that they needed to do the intellectual work and analysis to come up with the specific behaviors — much more specific than the vague term “hitting-on” — that were discouraging women from seeking out these majors or programs.

    We need to think more in etiquette terms than moralistic ones. But etiquette is considered a “nothing” issue in our society. That isn’t always the case for all societies. We shouldn’t be asked to suppress and bury our dreams and desires — never! Those student papers are way out of line. But every human society has placed some kinds of bounds on how we pursue our dreams and desires. In principle, that is what is being negotiated here.

  21. Jim says:

    Memo to EW: When you help someone else make a point they want made, they may just thank you for your help. Thank you.

  22. Jim says:

    “The “don’t see your fellow students as potential girlfriends” idea is also a kind of thought control.”

    Oh please. I wonder aboutt he wisdom of taking any kind of advice from someone who has never heard of the MRS degree.

  23. Jim says:

    “Partly that’s because a lot of them really would have no idea, but would be reluctant to say so, ”

    Why would they have a clue about it – how much experience do they have at that kind of thing anyway? And why should they be reluctant to admit it? is a little honesty just just so far out of reach?

    You’re not going to get any useful inofrmation with a question like that unless you are a romance writer that need to research your audience’s fantasy preferences.

  24. Jim says:

    “A gay man approaching a man risks death if he guesses wrong. ”
    I submit you are both right. I mean, a man can approach another man and simply strike up a conversation without a whole lot of fear.”

    I doubt you would ever walk up to a man you just saw and strike up a conversation the way you would with a woman, because that would look pretty sexual. Have you ever really done that; walk up a stranger and start to chat him up? How’d that end for you? I bet it turned pretty fearful at some point.

  25. para says:

    How much experience do women have in being approached? A ton, at least according to them.

    And if they’re lying, then that’s another mixed message wrapped up in all the others. AnonymousDog’s point stands.

  26. para says:

    And George Clooney would catch a SHITESTORM for something like that.

  27. Men strike up conversations with other men all the time. “Who won the big game?” etc.

  28. Jim says:

    “How much experience do women have in being approached? A ton, at least according to them.”

    Which is exactly not the experience that matters, is it? The experience that matters is experience in doing the approaching.

  29. Jim says:

    So how soon do they segue into asking the guy back to the room for a fling? That’s the chat up we’re discussing.

  30. Jim says:

    “But I would still contend that even with those issues, a shy socially awkward gay male would have an easier time finding a partner in this world than a similarly positioned shy socially awkward straight male, for a number of reasons, …”

    No argument there. Bath houses. Internet hook-ups. Gay men are not indoctrinated with a bunch of market share protecting slut-shaming. Lots of reasons.

  31. April says:

    “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?”

    Wait a second. That’s what the man said?

    Seriously?

    This whole time, I was under the impression that he actually sexually propositioned her, because that is what the rabid reactions that this exchange made it out to be all over the internet for a couple weeks. I didn’t bother looking into it, because I wasn’t very interested. But… seriously? That was it?

    I give up.

  32. elementary_watson says:

    Seriously (okay, not really seriously), you didn’t know until now?

    You didn’t stumble across the arguments of A: “He only proposed talking and drinking a coffee” vs. B: “How naive can you be, that is the oldest euphemism for proposing sex in the book; just because EG cared to keep some plausible deniability doesn’t mean that he totally asked for sex”?

    Actually, I’m somewhat jealous of your ability to keep away from the places of the internet where these argumentative battles took place. And I also find it interesting that you give up: For me as a single man, I could get the message that “no matter how politely you approach a woman, there will be feminists who will find it highly unacceptable”, so it’s rather me who has a reason to give up. Which I don’t intend to, btw :-)

  33. April says:

    Well, and I’m sure you can sympathize, while I read a ton of blogs in the “gendersphere,” there are only so many things one can keep up with. I’m not active (or all that interested) in the skeptic and atheist communities, so the coverage of this was not terribly interesting to me. I briefly wondered what the fuss was about, and saw many feminist reactions, but no, I did not delve any deeper into the controversy. I just assumed that, because the reaction was so huge, that she had a good point. Knowing for certain that what she was reacting to was something so simple and innocent is… well, fucking infuriating. I get the apprehension about being propositioned in a closed space like an elevator. I get the annoyance she must have felt after giving a talk about something similar to what happened to her. But for her to completely fail, practically intentionally, to realize that the elevator exchange with that man was just fucking fine and normal, and then to publicize it all over the internet in what wound up being a big shaming festival, was just embarrassing. That wasn’t sexism, or disrespect, or anything of that nature. I wasn’t there, obviously, but from the information I have available to me, what she decided to do all over the internet was shameful and pointlessly vindictive. I’m just mad about it now.

  34. Adi says:

    Has it occurred to anyone that maybe, just MAYBE, he was NOT hitting on her???
    I mean, I can get myself so deeply involved in a topic that I forget about things like attraction or sex or gender. It’s quite imaginable that I’d ask out a girl without actually asking her out (maybe I’ve done that). For all we know elevator guy might have genuinely just wanted to talk to her about the subject of discussion.

    Besides, this was an international conference so he might have seen this as his last chance to talk to her. I bet the popular romance novels never involve awkward places to meet the first time and the man not bothering taking his only chance.

    Of course, I’m sure if it had been two women or two men or a woman asking a man, then it would have never been mentioned. But because he as a MAN *insert cracking thunder* there can be absolutely no question that he must have had filthy ulterior motives.

    Feminism and sexism – the dynamic duo.

  35. Clarence says:

    I would hope that the owner of this blog would forgive me for pasting a link to my very long and comprehensive post on the subject of “elevatorgate”, one which is probably one of the most comprehensive on the internet. Rebecca Watson never claimed she was sure that elevatorguy was asking for sex, and no one is sure that he heard her say she wasn’t interested in hooking up at the conference.

    http://traditionalchristianity.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/elevatorgate/

  36. AlekNovy says:

    The size dynamic thing is a total cop out… As if men all come in the same size and all women are smaller than all men :D There’s a reason why fighting sports have weight classes… I tackled this here:

    http://aleknovy.com/2011/09/24/rebecca-watson-and-gay-bodybuilders/

  37. Erica says:

    I know this post and most of the comments I’m responding to are over a year old, but I’m posting anyway:

    In response to comments attempting to undermine Rebecca’s response to the man’s preposition: Are YOU fucking kidding me? In what fucking universe is inviting someone to have coffee at their place at fucking four am in the morning NOT a sexual preposition? PLEASE. Even if it wasn’t, a woman, who is all alone, at 4 in the morning, can’t afford to be wrong. To say “yes” and have him take that as an invitation to date rape. I really don’t get why you guys are finding this so hard to understand.

    This reminds me of a study this post discusses (http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/talking-past-each-other/), which shows that people often don’t speak explicitly or literally about sex, but studies show we’re all capable of understanding each other, even when we aren’t being literal or explicit. AND YET, when it suits them, so many men like to pretend they don’t get the innuendos, they don’t understand the polite rejections to their sexual advances, or they dub street harassment “flirting” or well-meaning complements. “Why are you acting like a bitch, I just gave you a complement!!” a man says when a woman reacts negatively to him saying she has a nice ass. Then, two weeks later, he’ll be biting another man’s head off for paying his girlfriend, sister or mother that same “complement.” And he’ll be sure to only pay a similar “complement” to other women when she’s alone, not accompanied by another man–and he’ll often drive away quickly in his car before he can see her reaction to his nice “complement.” Don’t play dumb. We know what a “cup of coffee” at 4 am means. We know what screaming “nice tits!” from your car means.

    Also: I love how this post’s conclusion is to focus on the “hardship” straight men must endure in the form of obstacles to hitting on whatever women they want to. Oh. Poor babies. Meanwhile, guess what issue us women are worried about when you’re cornering us in elevators and on dark street corners? Being raped or murdered or both. So you might have a “harder time” picking up women, but we have a harder time riding public transit, going out at night, being in any enclosed place alone, going out on a jog, taking a walk, reading a book in a public place–all sorts of mundane activities you don’t even have to think twice about–and feeling safe. We have a harder time just being left the fuck alone when we want to be left alone. The problem isn’t what heterosexual men go through, it’s what women go through. And yeah, one side-effect of the fear and anxiety we experience in a rape culture is that well-meaning heterosexual men don’t get glowing reactions from the women they try to engage in conversation at 4am in elevators. But feminists aren’t really your enemies when it comes to that. In fact, we’re trying to help you. We’re trying to change rape culture so that maybe some day, women don’t have to be afraid. Some day, men can approach women at night and have great conversations with them in their hotel rooms at 4AM all the time. But that day is not today. And acting like it is will get you bad responses from women.

    The world women live in is different than the world men live in. That man in Harvey Milk is a man, statistically unlikely to be raped or assaulted. A woman in the exact same situation is statistically quite likely to be raped or assaulted. I don’t care if he’s gay. He’s a white man. He’s privileged in a way that a woman like me can only dream of. Any man who approaches me in an enclosed place like that, particularly at night, is a potential rapist. It’s not that I think all men are rapists or all men are bad. I don’t believe that! But some men are, and I don’t know that this man isn’t one–and the price I have to pay if I’m wrong (being raped or killed) is too high for me to take chances. Meanwhile, the only risk he’s taking by hitting on me is that I might rebuff him (and blog about it). So even if a guy, who has good intentions, approaches me at night, when I’m alone, particularly in an enclosed space, AT ALL, I’m going to be on edge, I’m going to be scared, NO MATTER FUCKING WHAT. When I’m walking home late at night, I don’t want a man I don’t know to preposition me, I don’t want a man I don’t know to give me an unwanted complement, I don’t want a man I don’t know to harass, belittle, hit on, or even speak to me. And I’m not alone. I’m not even in the minority. This is how many, if not most, women feel. Check out this link (http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/) to see what I’m talking about.

  38. Sasori says:

    @Erica your point was interesting, did you read the comments in that yes means yes article you linked to.
    there is an exchange between commenter ‘Sam’ and Clarisse Thorn which give a different interpretation of why men will defend behaviours that are mentioned in the article (and which I find most convincing).
    To quote ‘Sam.’

    “From my perspective, [why men will defend the supposed ambiguity of sexual interactions] that is pretty simple. The narrative of toxic male sexuality is age-old and deeply ingrained, and is repeated by feminist talking points like “all men are potential rapists”. I was raised with thought that there is something in me that I have to suppress if I don’t want to become one of the monsters I don’t want to be.
    I think there is something to be said for the saying “you need to love yourself before you can love others”. With respect to sexuality, that doesn’t work for most men – in the classic narrative of toxic male sexuality, whether religious or feminist, it is really hard to “love your own sexuality”, to think of it as a force of good.
    So, Clarisse, I think this is a very obvious expression of the Foster-Wallace dynamic
    (comment #70 in your manliness thread – http://clarissethorn.wordpress.com/2009/12/09/manliness-and-feminism-the-followup). As long as we’re believing that having sex equals taking more than giving, everytime, then I think I understand why most men would come up with hedging scenarios – 9 out of ten guys may not rape, but they have to live with the thought of getting more than they’re giving, everytime.”

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