Underneath my yellow skin

Reflection and Projection

One of the frustrating aspects of all this predatory men bullshit is how ardent and vigorous randos will defend a man they don’t know. It’s not just with the famous predators, either. It’s in real life, too. Many women have had the experience of trying to explain why they’ve uncomfortable around a man they know for maybe inchoate reasons, and the man they’re explaining it to gives a hundred reasons why the guy is acting the way he is. The reasons may make sense on the surface, but there’s a ‘yeah, but’ feeling inside the woman as she’s listening that she can’t squelch no matter how hard she tries.

I realized a long time ago that the reason some guys are quick to defend questionable behavior is because they can put themselves more easily in the shoes of the man than they can the shoes of the woman. It doesn’t matter if the woman is wearing pumps, flats, or heels, they’re still shoes the man has never worn. Even sneakers, as they’re smaller and tighter and–OK, I’ve taken this metaphor as far as I possible can. They hear about a man catcalling a woman on the street, and they think, “Hey, I’ve talked to a woman on the street before. I’m not a bad guy. Maybe that random guy isn’t a bad guy, either.”

There was a post at Ask A Manager by a woman who was pretty sure a coworker was hitting on her, but wasn’t sure how she should turn him down since he never actually issued an invitation. He didn’t work in the same division (if I remember correctly), but he was above her in rank. They were out of town at a conference, and they had gone out for drinks with coworkers once and another time with friends of her (it was her hometown, I think). The letter writer (LW) includes texts in which the coworker pushes to do things in private and she gives him ‘soft’ nos in various of ways. Reading the texts, it’s clear to me he’s hitting on her, and she’s politely declining.

Predictably, some people picked apart what the LW texted and did (going out to drinks with the coworker and her friends) without concentrating on how he escalated his requests despite her soft nos, even to the point of suggesting she change her flight to a later time so she could watch a game with him! She said no, she was going to stick to her plans, but it shouldn’t have had to come that far. There was far too much focus on what she should and shouldn’t have done, but thankfully, there were people also pushing back on it. They said it was a shame that women couldn’t be friendly to men without being taken as flirtatious.

Side note: I really do think men are told a load of shit about how to tell if a woman is interested in you or not. There was some bullshit about if she touches her hair, she’s interested. Also, there are still too many social strictures saying that if a woman is friendly at all, she’s into you. The most extreme case I can talk about is when I knew guys who went to strip clubs and said how a certain stripper was really into him. I knew three guys who went regularly, and all three insisted one of the strippers really liked him. It was all I could do from rolling my eyes and saying, “Dude. Of course she likes you. She’s paid to like you!” Yes, it’s a small sample, but it’s stuck with me. I’ve seen similar behavior in real life. I knew someone on Twitter who told me about this woman he really liked, and he insisted that she liked him, too. When he told me what she had said to him (showing me some tweets), I tried to gently tell him that she wasn’t interested. He insisted I didn’t understand, and I let it go. Surprise, surprise, she wasn’t interested.

I know women do this, too. It’s a human reaction, so it seems, to want to believe someone you like also likes you. However, in general, women don’t go ballistic and kill people who reject them, whereas it’s too depressingly common for men to do so. Yes, I know it’s not a majority, but the fact that it happens at all puts a damper on the saying no thing, which I’ll get to in a minute. Even if a man doesn’t kill someone who rejects him, he might call her names, tell her he wasn’t asking her out because she’s too ugly to fuck, or a number of other negative responses. To be fair, in heterosexual relationships, it’s still mostly incumbent upon the guy to do the asking, which I think is a shame.

Anyway, most of the women on the thread were like, “He’s creeping on you. He’s a creep. He shouldn’t be pushing your boundaries like this.” As with any other thread about this kind of thing, there were a few guys (and, admittedly, one or two women), who were going out of their way to explain why the guy wasn’t a creep. I didn’t read all the comments, but they basically fell into the camps of the LW was being too friendly, the LW was not setting good boundaries, the LW shouldn’t have invited him to drinks with her and her friends, etc.

I was frustrated reading the comments because it’s more of the same–how women have to change their behavior and not men. To me, this guy was pretty obviously creeping while still trying to maintain plausible deniability by couching everything in terms of what he would like to do. To be fair, the majority of the commentariat said the guy was a creeper, but the ones who wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt were vociferous.

Then, the LW wrote in the comments that she didn’t say he had a live-in girlfriend because she thought it wasn’t important. She’d heard from her friends that all guys try to push boundaries, even those with a live-in. That one detail changed a lot of the commenters’ minds (the ones who were scolding the LW about her behavior), and someone in the commentariat asked why it was necessary for people to have that detail before recognizing that the coworker was a creeper? To be fair, it underscores his sliminess, but that was already present. One of the male commenters (a regular whom I like) mused about how he had been one of the people who thought the guy wasn’t a creeper at first because he had met his wife during similar circumstances. He was very thoughtful about looking inward, and he wondered why it had been so hard for him to see the guy was a creep?

Another commenter said (and I’m paraphrasing), “It’s hard to know how it feels to be a wildebeest when you’re a lion.” That really struck me because it’s so true. It’s also why some guys freak out so much at the thought of being hit on by a gay dude. “They’re afraid of being treated the way they treat women.” That’s another meme that isn’t far from the truth. Guys are going to automatically relate to guys better than they do women, and it’s especially difficult for them to understand why something like being catcalled can feel like a threat. Many guys say, “I WISH someone would hit on me in public!” They’re not thinking that the person doing so might be someone who they’re not attracted to and can break them in half.

When the idea of enthusiastic consent started being floated around, I pooh-poohed it as being too much. Now, with all the stories of predatory behavior coming out, I have done a 180 on the idea. I tweeted about it out of frustration:

Basically, if you have to convince yourself that she’s interested, she’s not (I said that in my rant as well). In addition, I can’t emphasize enough that even if you’re not traumatizing a woman by harassing her on the street, you are very likely not brightening her day, either. I’ve only had one hit-and-run compliment that made me feel good, and there’s a specific reason why. I was in a comic book store with a friend when a guy came up to me, looking very nervous. He blurted out, “I’m sure you’ve heard this many times before, but you’re beautiful.” Then he literally ran away before I could say anything. The fact that he didn’t want anything in return for his compliment is the reason I feel good about it, but that’s out of dozens of times I’ve been hit on in public.

Back to AAM. There was another thread about a (male) coworker acting  inappropriately with a female LW. She wrote that they had a friendly relationship except for one thing–he grabs her by the back of the neck. I cringed as I read this and immediately shouted, “No!” Most commenters were appropriately outraged and said she had every right to shut it down hard. They rightly called it a dominance thing, and most of them were as squicked out as I was. There was one guy, however, who was adamant at defending the guy’s motives. He posted several times whining about how the comments were being soooooo mean to the male coworker. He didn’t deny it was inappropriate, but maybe there’s a good reason for it! As part of his defense, he mentioned the time President Bush (Junior) massaged Chancellor Merkel’s shoulders and asking if that was a dominance thing, too? He seemed to think it was his trump card when in reality, it just underscored that he was full of shit. It was definitely a dominance thing, especially since he didn’t do it to, say, Putin. In addition, it was her shoulders, not her neck, and it still was creepy and icky.

Someone asked the commenter why he was so invested in defending the neck-grabbing guy, and several others chimed in with agreement. Reading his ardent response, my impulse is to think he’s done something similar, and he’s getting defensive about it. Otherwise, there’s no reason for him to get SO worked up about it. I used to say that I could never be in a relationship with someone who is crazier than I am. I also used to have a lead foot, and if someone was driving faster than I was, then I knew they were going way too fast.

Here’s the thing, guys. We women have a ton more experience in this than you do. In the case of sexual harassment, we just do. We can usually tell the difference between a well-meaning compliment and a slimy come-on. We know when someone is being a creeper. Again, usually. We are the fucking experts because we’ve dealt with it a million fucking times. If you have several female friends telling you that one of your male friends is a creeper, he fucking is. You don’t see it because you’re not his targeted demo. He can be a swell guy to you and still be an asshole towards women.

I’m being blunt. If you choose a rando dude or a dude you know over the experience of your female friends, you’re immediately not safe as well. I’m only speaking for myself, but I’m fucking tired of dudes frantically trying to defend their dude-bros. I know when a guy is creeping on me; I don’t need you to ‘well, actually’ me about it. Part of the problem is that we keep giving the benefit of the doubt to guys who simply don’t deserve it. We’re teaching women not to trust their gut, and creepers depend on societal niceties to get away with their bullshit.

Enough. I’m done. Fortunately, I’m reaching an age where I’ll soon become invisible, but that doesn’t mean I will care less about these issues. If anything, I’ll care more. I want the generations of women after me to not have to deal with this shit. A woman can but dream.

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