Back when I was ten, my parents had a small party at our house. One of the guests was a man who had been to Vietnam. At the time, the Vietnam war was a recent memory for most people, and as a child I had somehow gotten the idea that Vietnam veterans were irreparably messed up for life. I imagined the typical Vietnam vet as someone tending toward irrational and unpredictable outbursts of anger, someone calming his trembling hands with cigarettes and tranquilizers, and someone who should never ever be invited to Fourth of July celebrations.
And so I was watching this houseguest very carefully for any signs of twitching, or incipient anger, or some sign that he might be starting to have a flashback.
As it happened, he acted quite normal. But if he had done anything, if he’d shown even the slightest annoyance at something, I would have said, “Aha! Well that figures.” And my ten year old self might have concluded it was only the tip of the iceberg of a profoundly disturbed and shattered psyche. Because people see what they are looking for.
There was an interesting experiment done a few years back, which you may have heard about, called the Gorilla Experiment. In this experiment, the subjects were asked to watch a video of college students throwing basketballs back and forth, and to keep track of the number of passes made. In the video the subjects watched, there was also a person in a gorilla suit who ambled onto the screen, faced the camera, pounded its chest, then ambled away. About half the people who watched the video and counted the passes completely failed to notice the gorilla.
Now, consider what happens when a young woman, who has just finished reading Andrea Dworkin, walks into a bar or a party and sees an inexperienced young man engaged in a somewhat awkward conversation with a woman with whom he is obviously interested. She’s going to see Male Entitlement and Predatory Behavior. The inexperienced young man’s desire for sexual intimacy and connection may be as obvious as a gorilla in the room, but she isn’t going to see it because that’s not what she’s looking for.