It is Absolutely Unnecessary for Men to Touch the Small of My Back

To make these points, I am going to have to rein in my disgust and fury at the very thought of men grazing, slithering, or pawing their hands against the region of my back below my shoulder blades and above my behind. This is because I really do think most men (or at least the men I can bother to try educating) have no idea just how bad it is when they do this to me and other women.

The usual disclaimer applies — a behavior that is gross/scary when it is unwelcome can be comfortable or even exciting when it is welcome (e.g. touching each other’s bits!). And in frequent-enough cases, all that it takes for a behavior to be “welcome” to a woman is for her to think you’re hot. It’s still non-consensual to touch someone out of the blue and you still shouldn’t do it (’cause you can’t be certain she thinks you’re hot) but I’m sure you can come up with a handful of exceptions when a girl has been totally down for you to touch the small of her back (your girlfriend, your prom date, your mutual crush). I’m not talking about these exceptions — except to say, don’t assume you’re an exception, hot stuff.

If I’m being honest with myself, this is what probably actually goes through a guy’s mind when he touches the small of my back (as he passes by me at a party or the club):

blank-mind-dude-has-no-idea-he-is-being-super-creepy

He thinks nothing at all

Regardless of his intent, this is what goes through my mind:

Meanwhile my mind is like: SPIDERS

Meanwhile my mind is like: SPIDERS

Yes, spiders. All I feel are spiders.

  1. Men who do this never make eye contact first and often approach from an angle where I don’t see it coming. Therefore I tend to be caught by surprise and it’s startling. Like with spiders.
  2. Men who do this also tend to use a very light touch (except the occasional drunken paw-ers). I’ll get into why this may be so and why it’s upsetting, but the effect is also: spiders.
  3. I happen to not like being touched by men I don’t know well (‘cuz I’m pretty gay yo, and also rape culture), which reminds me of how sometimes there are freaky little intruders in my personal space, a.k.a spiders.
  4. A lot of men who do this linger like they just wish their hands could hang out on my back for as long as possible and it feels like that slow-mo moment of discovering something is crawling across your body oh holy f– IS THAT A SPIDER?

Look, while some guys are just plain creeps, I’m pretty sure even the most decent of guys (e.g. you) have done or still do this behavior. I think that guys, usually at a preteen or otherwise sexually-awakening age, witness other men doing this to women. They see that and think, gosh, I’d like to touch women, too (I mean, come on, touching women is awesome). So then they try it. And nothing bad happens to them. So they keep doing it.

i-wish-i-could-be-all-the-bad-that-happens-to-guys-that-do-this

I wish I could be all the bad that happens to guys that do this in order to deter them from inflicting back-spiders on myself or anyone else ever again, but there are a couple of things going on which prevent that.

1. It is usually difficult to react due to practical reasons. Guys tend to do this as they are passing by me in a crowded room. It may be too loud to effectively shout my dismay, I might need to focus on getting through a people bottleneck and not getting trampled, and/or I might be carrying a very full drink that would spill if I leapt away in horror.

2. I am not socialized to immediately react to this particular offense and neither are bystanders. If a strange man were to touch my butt it would be “understandable” for me to make a “big deal” out of this, hunt him down, scold him, slap him in the face, and/or sic a boyfriend or security on him, depending on the severity of the butt-touching. The back, however, is not as protected as a “sacred” place and I will neither get sympathy for or even fully understand why it so bothers me when dudes touch it like that.

Ok, but let’s break down why this is so screwy.  A man blatantly touching my butt knows he’s being a perv and knows I know he’s being a perv. A man ever-so-softly touching my back, whether or not he realizes this, is communicating to me that he knows he should not touch my butt (or even my back, really, hence the soft touch), yet wants to get as close as possible anyway. That is scary dude!! You know better but you’re still going to try to get away with something??

I am socialized to think the small of my back is not supposed to be a big deal, but I’m picking up on all these subtle undercurrents and I’m going to feel weird about it anyway. Violated, even.

This is key: whether or not you realize this, you are communicating certain things to me. Look, other men just don’t touch other men on the small of their back like this. Don’t pretend they do. They don’t. Maybe you’ve never thought of it like this, but it is totally a gendered behavior. By that, I mean gender difference is totally involved, and for this behavior, sexual intentions (conscious or not) are totally implied. Whether or not he realizes this, a man touching the small of my back is communicating to me that he has (even the fleeting-iest) sexualized energy for me as a woman, and he feels entitled to act it out in a small way by actually touching me.

Of course, some men don’t particularly have “sexualized energy” for me (or even any women; gay guys touch me inappropriately sometimes too) but what they do still have is that sense of entitlement. That’s even more terrifying, because it communicates uneven power: “I’ll do it anyway and you must accept it because ‘society’ says it is my right.”

The “don’t do this because it makes women uncomfortable” part is thus established, now let’s get back to the “Absolutely Unnecessary” aspect of this behavior. You don’t have to do it. Not ever. Not because you need to get past me in a crowded room. Not because you need to alert me to your presence when you think I can’t see you. Not because you’re worried I’m going to topple over in my high heels (this one makes me the most angry — dude, I am fine, I chose to wear these and I CAN walk in them but it’s kind of my problem to live with if I can’t… AND how is lightly touching my back even going to help me if I am actually falling???).

You don’t have to do it #1 because it’s not consensual and you should not, and #2 some acceptable alternatives do exist, in this order:

  1. Stop being in a hurry and just hover nearby until I notice you and get out of your way, like most folks do (jeez).
  2. Use your words. Speak up, shout if you have to. Hearing-abled people like me like this method the best ’cause it means you’re not doing the touching thing :)use-your-words-right-behind-you
  3. If I can’t hear you (due to environment, deafness, or otherwise)…? Just tap me on the shoulder. Tap tap. There’s a reason why the next thing that popped in your mind was a very polite, “Excuse me miss?” — because polite people put shoulder-tapping in the manners rulebook long ago and manners are really just about choosing actions which should make the most people as comfortable as possible.hand-tap-tap-on-the-shoulder-excuse-me-miss
  4. Didn’t react to your tap or there’s just no time for pleasantries? Use the back of your hand or forearm to respectfully push against the region around my shoulder or my arm above my elbow. Use your palm if you MUST but it’s better if you don’t imply that you are going to grab me. In a crowded room, this movement can be like pushing through a dense thicket. Ah yes, I am simply a branch in your path, not a girl you are going to sneakily touch in her sweet little back parts.touch-here-for-minimal-creepiness

In other words, think about how you would touch a dude if you had to and just stick with that. Oh wow, why did I write this whole blog post when I could have just written that last sentence?

TLDR; If you’re about to touch a woman you don’t know well, think about how you would touch a dude if you had to and just stick with that. (Or just, like, don’t touch her.)

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Why you got SO ANGRY when people were offended by Dr. Matt Taylor’s shirt

You are tired of little things being blown out of proportion. So what, he wore a shirt. The man put a spacecraft on a COMET. Go ESA!

Still, these people have to assault his character and professional credibility. They string up their offense like a banner and expect everyone to just bow down. They use the tiniest little details as an excuse to write raging blog articles about feminism, because they know they’ll get a ton of views. It’s contrived, stupid, and it’s not real activism.

offended-throne-banner-drawing

I hear you. I have feels for Dr. Matt Taylor. When he cried, I wanted to cry.

But, perhaps, not for the same reasons as the rhetorical “you” described above.

I imagine a different story, a bigger story. This man is intelligent. He is creative and believes in expressing himself. I can see by his tattoos he probably never expected to be a ‘role-model.’ I imagine that he even chose to wear that shirt, a gift made by a friend, because he knows and believes that “alternative” looking people can be successful in science, and he wants kids out there to know this too. Fuck the man, I’m going to look the way I want to look, and be proud of myself.

matt-taylor-happy-comet-landing

Then, he heard about the first article. He read it. He looked for another article (this science-loving evidence sleuth). He read that. He read all of the articles on the internet he could find. He read the hate-spewing comments. And what happened?

matt-taylor-shirt-comet-landing-pensivematt-taylor-shirt-comet-landing-disgust

He got past defensiveness (if there was any). He got past indignation, or anger. He, instead, felt mortified. He felt defeated. He realized that he tried to be himself, to express himself, and in so doing, may have made women and little girls feel insecure about their place in science. His innocence was stained. He realized he was part of the problem. He was truly, authentically remorseful, and he expressed it with tears. It was a beautiful, heart-breaking thing to witness, and I wanted to cry with him.

matt-taylor-shirt-comet-landing-sad-crying

This is what happens when an intelligent man is faced with his mistakes. He feels them more truly than those too defensive to see clearly. He sees the thousands of implications of his tiny, tiny, oh-not-so-tiny mistake. He is not just crying for himself, but for the massive oppressions beyond himself that he cannot control, and that he inadvertently added to the weight with a seemingly harmless decision. That is the story I see.

I have explained all this so you know my sympathy for him, and so you are prepared for my explanation of why you were so angry.

I am angry because I am tired of the little things adding up to my breaking point. “So what, it’s not a big deal,” I often hear. This hurts me! I want to scream.

Still, these tiny things assault me even when I think I am shielding myself against them, even when I do not want them to. The way women are drawn in cartoons I try to enjoy. The way writers depict my gender. Thinking I’ve made a new friend, then he says some offhand thing about women being crazy, as if I’m supposed to empathize, as if I’m somehow exempt because I’m awesome and not because I’m in the majority. God, I shouldn’t have this reaction, but I’m annoyed/crying/angry because I had to witness all of these little things and I know I will continue to witness all of these little things and know their implications. Misogynists claim “reason” as their banner and call me insane, over-reacting, say I’m bitching and whining, and expect me to shut up when I try to tell them all the weight of all the ants in the world is as monumental as our own: that these tiny things are not oh-so-tiny.

So I use a popular public topic as an excuse to write a blog article about feminism because I know I’ll get a ton of views. Sometimes it feels useless, pointless, like it’s not real activism. But it’s something I can do against the endless assault, and often people say, “Thank you.”

You and I, we are so angry when the tiny things explode. Neither of us want to have to pay them any attention. For the same reason you are irritated at yet another interruption in your enjoyment of a popular event, I am irritated at yet another interruption in my enjoyment of a popular event. It’s a never-ending onslaught.

We are in frustration-inspiring times. Some of the more obvious issues have been addressed, or at least they seem obvious in hindsight. Bras have been (mythically) burned, women vote, everyone knows women are supposed to be equal to men. Why does everything have to be so “offensive” all the time? Can’t we give it a rest?

No, unfortunately no. Awareness still matters, and awareness is annoying in its methods. We are tasked with the arduous work of “nit-picking” and “micro-analyzing” and “bringing to attention.” The invisible trespasses against the oppressed will not be revealed in a grand curtain fall. They will be drawn out in little bursts. Yes, we have to capitalize on the obsessions of public attention to make a point, and it feels (and reads) like a Trojan Horse. It is wearying to have to read about so much offense. It is exhausting to feel expected to react to each one.

You are tired. I am tired. Yet, I will keep trying until you know me well enough to see how even an image on a t-shirt can hurt me and I know you well enough to see I am invited and safe in your world.

Making Breakfast: Should I say something?

I have less than an hour to meet my Tuesday night deadline. I had another idea for a post, but I need much more time to craft it.  Instead, I think I’ll share a small, personal victory, of sorts.

It’s called “making breakfast,” and it’s a metaphor.

Some time ago, I viewed this drawing/article.

Trigger Warning: Breakfast

trigger warning: breakfast

It has pictures. Please read it. The work the creator has done by making and sharing this is so, so important.

I have been beating myself up recently for leaving things unsaid. Friends have said or done things that I was not okay with, and I pretended everything was okay and did not say anything. Days have passed. Weeks have passed. Months. A year.

Now, I want to say something, but I freeze. Is it too late? What does it mean, to say it now? Is it even worth it? Am I crazy? If it wasn’t bad enough to say anything then, why say it now?

Enter, “Making Breakfast.”

Forgive me for twisting Anon’s original use of “breakfast” but I have conceptualized a way to forgive myself for taking so long to speak up about troubling interactions. Like the narrator, I needed time to compartmentalize. I needed to set the table and serve my friends the same smile and kindness to which they are daily accustomed. It may feel like I was being fake, but I needed time to let my feelings cook. In a perfect world, I would always be open and honest, but I have fears of my own, reasons I am afraid to fight.

“I’m not ready to talk to him because I’m still making breakfast.”

“I don’t think we should push her to confront her assailant because she is still making breakfast.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sooner, but I was making breakfast.”

“I have a feeling there’s something you want to talk to me about, maybe even something I did wrong, but that maybe you’re still making breakfast.”

The power of this idea, for me, is that it allows me to be gentle with myself. Yes, I should have spoken up sooner. Yes, it would be better for my friends if I am always open and honest. But sometimes, and with the best of intentions, I end up taking extra time — to heal, to process, to preserve the status quo, to believe in the possibilities of a happier story. It doesn’t mean it’s too late to speak up now

You Are Not My Boyfriend (Being a Better Ally)

I’m no improv expert, but it’s my understanding that the key (perhaps) ingredient to a good scene is to Say Yes. Don’t immediately shut someone down when they say something crazy, try to welcome and grow their suggestions, etc. My gut reaction to an untruth is to correct it, so in a party atmosphere I try to put on my “improv” hat and encourage, as much as possible, delusional thinking. This means pretending to have the same astrological sign as anyone who asks, and getting excited about their birthdate-based analysis of my personality. This means catching when the ball is thrown, and dancing when my hand is asked. It’s not always easy for me, but when I get it right, it’s fun.

I was surprised, then, when one guy was “bothering” me and another called me his girlfriend, that I immediately rejected the idea. “Don’t pretend to be my boyfriend,” I said. “It doesn’t help me.”

Hi, the weather is great today in San Diego and also I am not your girlfriend.

Hi, the weather is great today in San Diego and also you are not my boyfriend.

Was I being a little harsh? Would I have allowed the play-act with a more conventionally attractive guy, or one with more social leverage? This acquaintance-friend was just trying to help me.

No, I was not offended simply because this particular person claimed me as his girlfriend. I was offended because stepping in as a woman’s pretend-boyfriend in order to protect her from other men is bad feminism and poor allyship.

Had *I* made the improvisational statement (“He’s my boyfriend”) and, seeing my aggravation, he allowed it, then that is fine. Of course, no one is obligated to accept lies about themselves or participate in a boyfriend-girlfriend role play (which could be really uncomfortable). A good ally response to a woman trying to pretend to be your girlfriend could also be: “Hey man, she’s not actually my girlfriend but the fact that she’s pretending to be is a pretty clear sign that she’s not interested in you and she wants you to give her space. Please respect her attempt to reject you in a nice way.”

Had I been more on my toes, I might have said something similar, “Oh, he’s not my boyfriend but it’s obvious he offered to pretend since he can see that you’re bothering me. I was trying to think of a non-confrontational way to tell you to please give me some space, but I think it’s time I just say so.” Instead, I was startled.

Somehow, it did not work when he made the improv-move. By telling another man that he was my boyfriend, he put me in the awkward position of needing to defend my space from not one, but two fronts. If I accepted the role, I would then need to negotiate, such that the other man wouldn’t catch on, the terms of our “relationship.” Would he try to hold my hand (which would make me uncomfortable)? Would he use pet names (this also would be weird for me). Kiss me? He did motion like he was going to put his arm around me, which is why I barked at him. Don’t pretend to be my boyfriend.

Telling someone that you are a woman’s boyfriend to “protect” her also has several, more nuanced problems:

1. It assumes that she “needs” your help.

First, people generally do not like attention drawn to their vulnerabilities or weaknesses. In the case of people with systemic disadvantages due to racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, etc., there are webs of social risks attached to having their vulnerabilities revealed. I know, as a gay woman, I feel a lot of pressure to protect the “problems” in my relationship(s). Marriage is a legal privilege I have only recently been granted in my state, and socially I sometimes feel pressure to “prove” that I “deserve” it. I might avoid talking about my more complex, unconventional, or really any relationship problems, and I might avoid getting help for them, because I often am made to feel I have to be an “example” for all gay women. I don’t want to give fuel to homophobes to criticize gay women.

A woman who is not interested in a persistent man (lesbian or not) faces a fire hose of insults. If she shows or admits that she is unsure, oftentimes a man will use that to assume he has a chance or that she can be persuaded. If she is too dismissive too fast, often he will assume her evaluation of their match potential is wrong because how could she know so quickly, she barely knows me? Any crack is seen as a way for the offending man to blast her defenses and get what he wants, or even feels he deserves. Many women know what they are up against and have their strategies for coping with this, and not all interruptions in their strategies are welcome or even effective.

It is not helpful for someone to focus on and draw attention to my weaknesses when they could instead help me in my goal to represent myself as strong and independent. Even if it seems obvious (to you) that I’m hanging for dear life off the edge of a cliff. I may be perfectly capable of saving myself, or I might just resent the way you made me look weak in front of the other lemmings.

2. Whether or not she can use your help, it does not allow her a graceful way to accept it.

Second, to be a good ally you must offer help in a way that can be accepted or rejected gracefully and, as much as possible, invisibly. Ana Mardoll gives a good example about a co-worker who used his presence and a plausible excuse to diffuse a common uncomfortable situation at a bookstore. The boyfriend play-act is my bad example because it makes too many assumptions, and too obviously, such that if I accept I can’t appear to be independent and able to help myself. It’s either: I have a boyfriend and I accept him interjecting in my conversations with other guys (ew), or I reject the role play and I’m back to finding another way to deter my persister.

Yet, assuming that someone needs help is something that we have to do when we are in situations where we see how our privilege could be leveraged to protect another person, with less privilege, from discomfort or harm. It is a socially risky and necessary part of attempting to be an ally.

I use the word “assuming” because that is exactly what you do. Any time you identify a situation to inject your help, you are making an educated guess that it is needed. The risk comes in for you because you could be wrong, whether or not you are wrong you could be rejected, and whether or not you are rejected you open yourself to the conflict in which you tried to intervene. I say it is necessary to “assume” because 1. People will often not ask for help (vulnerability), 2. People with less privilege than you often do need the help of allies, directly or indirectly, and 3. You must assume that you are even able to give this help. Please always remember that you are making assumptions when you offer help, and use this mindfulness to be gracious and modest.

Many people try to reward themselves at this step by claiming hero-ship or some other gain (getting a super amazing pretend-girlfriend such as myself), perhaps because they unconsciously know the effort it takes to help a person and want to reward themselves. Occasionally, the reward is a by-product of another goal and can be permissible, e.g. posting your efforts to facebook to encourage other people to do the same (awareness) and getting compliments and attention (reward). However, as difficult as it is to stick out your hand for someone, you are not the person who is hanging off the edge of a cliff. Please consider the awkwardness (now everyone knows there’s a problem, great), discomfort (do I have to hold your hand, now?), or danger (did you make him angry at me?) you might put them in by making yourself out to be a hero.

 3. It perpetuates the idea that women should “belong” to men and that other men should respect men’s spaces, not women’s.

Third, using the boyfriend game to attempt to help a woman perpetuates sexism in the long run. It displays to the “predator” that what should really deter him from “bothering” her is that she “belongs” to another man. Resorting to the boyfriend excuse nullifies all of her other attempts to signal to the predator that he should go away. Her comfort, desires, and needs don’t really matter, but what does are those of her imaginary boyfriend.

In a world where, “I’m a lesbian,” works less than half as well as, “I have a boyfriend,” we need more people who are willing to make it obvious that it is simply valid for a girl to reject a man because she says so. No explanation needed. Women are told that they are not inherently sexual creatures, that they are wishy-washy about what they want (and sometimes we are, everyone can be), and if the guy persists long enough he will wear down her defenses and she will realize/admit she likes him. Excuse me, assholes of the universe, you are not an advertising campaign, women are not your consumers, and no matter how obnoxious your commercials are, I will not buy your penis (I swear a lot of commercials these days just try to be as awful/weird/disturbing as possible so we remember that you can get insurance from a talking box with an eyebrow problem, ugh, fuck CGI talking things).

Progressive box guy I hate you and you give me nightmares.

About Being an “Ally” in General

A final note, remember that the final arbiter of whether or not you are an ally is the group of people or person you are trying to support. Oftentimes it is beneficial to publicly name yourself an ally (e.g. raise awareness) but it does not make you 1. an Expert, 2. inscrutable, 3. a hero. While calling yourself an ally could expose you to criticism and even hate, it does not magically erase your privilege. Yes, a business which labels itself an ally to a cause could be a target of vandalism, which is just dreadful. But, a person who has a black friend is not “practically black” by association and does not get to use the n-word (in good taste), for example.

Just think of it this way, a true ally knows that supporting [insert group here] is the right thing to do and everyone should feel the same way. It shouldn’t be special or heroic to support people; society should just change such that we are all allies to each other.

Goodwill to all who made it this far (jeez, what an essay),

Sami

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Comments Policy

This is new for me…. But I like the idea of having post-specific comment policies.

  • As the owner of this website, I reserve the right to delete any comment, for any reason, of course.
  • But, to generate trust with my commenters, it is very unlikely I will delete your comment
  • If I do delete your comment it is because you are not writing in the spirit of the post, as detailed below.

This post is intended for people who are interested in being good allies, promoting good allyship, or deconstructing allyship. It is not intended for people to debate whether feminism is “valid” or privilege is “real.” There are other places on the internet for that! Enjoy.

P.S. Anyone can comment, you don’t need to make some sort of account or “sign up.”

Comment Here

Why does a party lifestyle blog need feminism?

Why does a lesbian need feminism? Why does a lesbian going out to a gay bar during San Diego Pride week need feminism? I mean, I’m categorically sexually disinterested in men, I’m in an environment which should not have friction or competitiveness or predation between women and men, and this week is, in theory at least, all about solidarity in our minority status as LGBTers. So you’d think I could take off my feminist hat and just enjoy my Adios, right?

Actually, my interactions went fairly well last night. The only example I can truthfully give is that a friend-of-a-friend started to tell a story and stopped at the word bitches, “Sorry, I always say that word. Anyway these bitches…” So, at least he was aware. Fuck though, I hear the most misogynistic crap come out of the mouths of gay men.

Part of me wants to give them a break. If the world has been trying to force-feed you women on a platter like they’re juicy delicious burgers (every Carl’s Jr ad, ever) and you finally want to express your right to want something different in life by proclaiming, “ewwww vaginas,” who can blame you, right?

I’m full of empathy until gay men I’ve barely met spin me around like I’m a little doll (ok, sometimes I like that because my shoes are awesome — but it doesn’t matter if I like it; he should get my permission first) or whistle at me in a drive by or slap my butt or (and, of course this happened) touch my crotch. They basically do this because there’s some sort of agreement between gay men and straight women that she can treat him like a little pet –hashtag gaybestfriend!! — in exchange for a boost in confidence from his (male) approval, and he can…well I’m not sure what he gets out of the arrangement but I’ll have to talk to my gay male friends and get back to you. Perhaps the social mobility through her straight world? Anyway, whatever the deal is, I think it’s a weird and kind of fucked up relationship. And it certainly doesn’t work for me when I’m assumed straight and so desperate for validation from a man that I will accept it gladly from one who isn’t even sexually attracted to me. More willingly, even, because I’m not expected to “pay out” for the favor.

Even when I attempt to retreat from the pressures of the straight world — when I try to go somewhere where I’m not going to be bombarded with cheesy pick-up lines or creepy staring — even at a gay bar, my interactions are still colored by the gender roles which filter and mutate into my environment. Sure, I’ll be able to relate with a gay man on many points about our shared queer space. But there are still going to be moments here and there where his viewpoint as a man means he’s going to trample over me. I will grant a few jabs because of my femme privilege — in that I blend into the straight world so easily and by choice of appearance or whatever he might not. But, I think there is a point where a negative attitude against women goes beyond the objection to the oppressive straight culture and into just mirroring sexism from that same culture. There are moments where I am made the object of a joke, or I have to witness a drag performance which is overly mocking of women rather than gender roles in general, or I’m actually molested, or I see other women treated this way. These things remind me of why we need feminism.

Just because it is to a lesser extent does not mean it should be ignored. Party environments can of course amplify misogyny — hello booze and hook-up culture. But environments which are expected to be safe can still host some of my most uncomfortable moments. Even a party thrown by a particularly enlightened bunch of hippies. Not every moment is going to be puppies and rainbows, but as long as the risks are so dire (rape, violence against women) I’d like to not be reminded of them. Not when I’m trying to get drunk on blue liquor, especially.

And that’s just the gay bar. Like I hinted at before, booze and hook-up culture makes for some pretty desperate maneuvers (and upsetting behaviors) at any party. All I really need to say is I live in a world where telling a man that I’m a lesbian does not turn him away; it turns him on.

There is no escape from the restrictive narratives which police gender. There is no escape from the entitlement that many men feel they have in regards to women’s bodies. Not even parties, and especially not parties in a lot of ways. People are trying to get drunk and fuck, after all. So long as I am surrounded by people who are trying to have sex with each other, and our larger cultural example of how to negotiate around sex and gender is so broken, I am going to be a witness, collateral damage, and/or a target of sexism. And I’d like to help fix that. So I can drink in peace.

Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too

…here is Part 2.

You saw in my last post that, “Women Hurt Women, Too.”

Patriarchy hurts men, too. It hurts men because it self-perpetuates. Even women become willing participants in patriarchy. Even women ignore other women’s struggles; even women use #notallmen on their tweets. And a self-perpetuating patriarchy does not give men much room to be their true selves; it punishes men for opposing it.

This is going to be a rather dense post, so here are the bullet points you can discuss on your Facebook walls in lieu of actually reading the whole thing:

  • Patriarchy is a system that, by its own (sloppy yet powerful*) “design,” holds itself together and pops up everywhere
  • Men are hurt by patriarchy, too
  • Patriarchy punishes men who want to be “different”
  • The fact that Patriarchy exists means that women have (valid) reasons to be distrustful of men, for their own safety. For a well written, male perspective on this, I recommend the “Women are Defensive (With Good Reason)” section of Pepper’s larger essay (which, though it is about nonmonogamy, is useful in general)
  • This distrust hurts men (especially those who are sexually interested in women), too. Men have a crisis of identity, because they are told they could be “accidental rapists” and, like, no one wants to be that
  • The Patriarchy protects subtle, hurtful behaviors such that they are supposedly invisible even to the men that do the hurtful behaviors. This hurts men, because men can begin to believe that they can’t trust themselves.
  • Part of the solution is to banish these hurtful behaviors from the shadows. One of the ways to do that is to, as men, call out other men you see doing hurtful, Patriarchy-supporting behaviors.
  • If it is not obvious to you what these behaviors are, spend more time listening to women and to feminists who have spent a lot of time experiencing / thinking about these behaviors

*Sloppy Yet Powerful is my new band name.

Liberal media is talked about like it’s a monolith, a fucking machine or a conspiracy meant to control our brains. Regardless if that is true (and I have my suspicions — a little cog named Jenji Kohan got me fantasizing about conjugal visits with particular jumpsuit-wearing actresses), there’s another monolith that controls our interactions as if by invisible gears — actually, it mostly uses social scripts — and that is Patriarchy. For the benefit of my readers that might not throw around the word “scripts” like I do, they’re not just the things Laura Prepon memorizes for her job. Social scripts are those little memorized stories that tell us what to do when we have to interact with other human beings.

Social scripts tell us that when we love someone, we kiss them, and that when we really love someone, we marry them. They tell us that when someone is being a nerd, and it makes you uncomfortable, you laugh at them. They get rewritten so that nerds can be geeks, and some geeks are cool, and if you aren’t a big enough geek, maybe you’re not cool.  Social scripts are passed down to us from our parents and grandparents and/or other guardians. They play out in our favorite TV shows, and movies, and the movies we hate but we watch anyway because they’re on TV and the remote is too far away.

“Alternative” scripts are shot down, demeaned, framed as a waste of time, and, worst and most frequently of all, not imagined in the first place. Ordinary men are Patriarchy’s unconscious deliverers, because without help, ordinary people cannot imagine their own scripts. Ordinary men aren’t told any other way to be, and are seduced by the charm of stories whose outcomes they know. Any impulse to be otherwise, to be “different,” is squashed, leaving men the apparent choice of a hyper-masculine bravado (and its spoils) or an empty valley (some people call this the “friendzone”). This personality crisis hurts, too.

This is how men do not realize that #yesallwomen experience discomfort at the hands of men. The monolith of patriarchy makes a smokescreen for men like Pan to exist in the “benefit of the doubt” arena where their behaviors are seen as “normal” and not “fucking creepy.” Because it’s “normal” for guys to “sweep women off their feet,” or “seize women in a passionate kiss” — I saw it in all the movies, ever. And it’s “normal” for women to want these things, because princesses.

(Update: when a friend told Pan that “Blotted” was too fucked up and should be left alone, Pan said we are adults and she could make her own decisions. Either he has no idea about “too intoxicated to consent” or he’s using a facade of ignorance to do whatever he wants.)

Patriarchy hurts men too in that it allows these subtle aggressions to live unchallenged. That is: any man can expect that sometimes (or often) his transgressions will be invisible. Predators abuse this system; average men bumble into predatory territory because these walls are kept hidden from them. I have male friends who tell me they worry so much that they could be like the man in the “I Need a Man” story — that someday women could earnestly tell these stories about them.

Part of me is baffled, because my friends are good men, and how could they see themselves that way? Part of me knows that even my most consent-obsessed friends have moments of blindness, where they make other people uncomfortable because they take their sexual agency for granted. The world tells them it is thus, and how can they escape it?

I have a friend that was falsely accused of rape. First, the criminal justice system intervened and found him not guilty. Then, quite some time later, administrators in his college found out about the case and decided to conduct their own investigation and protective measures. This is how his entire campus found out. The administrators’ actions make sense in a lot of ways – they know how ineffective the so-called justice system can be and need to protect their students.

What is most painful for my friend is not the repeat “trial,” though it is stressful and hard and depressing, but the reactions of people he thought knew him better than to mistrust him. That his “friends” are quite capable of seeing him as “the enemy” now, when they happily fell asleep next to him on couches or walked arm-in-arm with him before. Now they are swatting his hands away not just from themselves but from others. I am sure he has even had moments where he asked himself what has he done, no truly, what has he done to deserve this?

Guys, the impulse to fear that you could accidentally be a predator is the right one. The system protects predators, makes excuses for their transgressions. The system will make excuses for your transgressions. It will tell you that you were too drunk, too overcome with testosterone, just trying to be friendly, just trying to have fun, just teasing a little, that girls like bad boys, or strong boys, or confident ones, that nice guys finish last. This same system means there is no easy distinction between rapists and men like you. As long as predators are allowed to lurk in the shadows, the women who have lived in fear of the shadows will see you in them. It is their right to be afraid, lest the shadows devour them.

Proclaiming “Not All Men” is not the answer. Women know not all men are like this, in fact a lot of heterosexual women look forward to the fact that not all men are like this and they might fall in love with one (or more) of them. Yet, for her own safety a woman has to assume the potential for any man to hurt her. She knows that other men and even other women will count her the most responsible for her own safety, rather than protect her from or blame the predators. She should carry mace. She should stand up for herself. She should know better, shouldn’t expect better. The world shows her it is thus, and how can she escape it?

This is how patriarchy hurts men. It assumes everyone is a participant. It tears the ground right out from under them when they resist it. It creates shadows around all of us. The solution is to shine a big blaring spotlight into those shadows. To stop protecting the transgressions of others. I know (some of) you see yourselves in those shadows, are afraid of being called to stand trial for your bumblings. But when the excuses stop, the dark mirror will break, and you will see which pieces of yourself you need to throw away with the shards. I really hope you will.

If you are not sure how to shine this spotlight, stop and listen. There are people out there who can help direct this light. There are people who see the shadows when they close their eyes in fright. It is not their job to tell you, because they have a hard time knowing if you are made of shadows, too. It is merely your job to listen.

Women Hurt Women, Too

Wow.

My last post blew this place up.

I had an overwhelming amount of support, attention, and even a little bit of criticism. I got many private messages saying “thank you,” from women who related to the story. I got a lot of comments in that vein. I also got a few comments from a woman who questioned my tactics, my beliefs, and my grasp on reality. She said she’d rather say something to someone in the moment than write a blog post about it. Sorry, I’m going to write a blog post about it.

This will be Part 1 of a two-part series.  TW: rape, racism.

Instead of breaking down the values and dangers of confrontation, I wanted to go into a realization I had the first time I found myself arguing against women on a matter of gender. That is, women hurt women too. Women protect patriarchy, too. I am seeing it now in the news, with the SCOTUS ruling. I am seeing women standing on the other side of the fence, joyous because to them it is their own victory, they have taken on the fears of reproductive health as their own, they’re saving babies or some shit. Not concerned at all about their own uteruses. Because they’re not sluts. Or something. Anyway.

I was so naive, once, to think other women would understand me by virtue of also being women.

Let me tell you the story.

It was February, Black History Month, 2010, at UCSD. The Black Student Union (BSU) was waiting on an answer for their demands. A party with a racist theme, and some of the things said in defense of this party, and a noose hung in the library, revealed the toxicity of the campus climate against black students. “The University is allowing the African-American students to be racially demoralized by a group of students on this campus,” the demands letter read. This becomes relevant, later.

I’d only been a student for about 1 year. I had joined one of my University’s largest Facebook groups, which mostly posted events. Occasionally, people posted internet articles and discussed them. I mostly did not participate, because I was busy being an art student and doing art student things (read: get fucked up and play Minecraft). One guy posted an article about how chivalry was seemingly dead.

People responded to the post, generally agreeing that chivalry was dying, and it was such a shame. The article stressed that it was women being ungrateful for chivalrous acts that was part of the problem, and why were they doing that? I saw an opportunity to help explain why a woman might feel uncomfortable with chivalry, and I gave personal examples and explained in a rather diplomatic way (or so I thought). I said that it is possible that women could be uncomfortable because they are afraid. That, for example, when I walk to my car alone at night, I put my keys between my knuckles like wolverine because society tells me I should be afraid I could be attacked. So if a guy runs to open my car door for me, I might be unsure of his motives. I may have also said men should pay attention to their surroundings and make sure they aren’t accidentally making women uncomfortable.

People’s responses to my comments stunned me. Two women, especially, picked me apart. I tried to defend my statements, but they told me I was stupid to be afraid. It’s difficult to remember anything but the most horrifying of the things that they said, and that was this: “If you’re so afraid, why don’t you go run to the BSU and use their ‘safe space,’ then? Or are you too afraid of the big black men?”

I deleted everything I wrote. I was humiliated and shaken. I did not expect this from women. I thought all of them knew the fear I sometimes carry with me. I thought all of them had at some time or another distrusted a man who seemed to have “chivalrous” intentions. I thought they would stand up for me, in light of all that has happened to our fellow women.

Just one year prior, a student walked alone to her car at 8:30pm. She was held down in the parking lot, between the cars, and raped.