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11 April 2007

What an empowering thread... It would never have occurred to me that there could be so many ways for a woman to fight back against men who say rude things to her in the street. Unfortunately, the men who say stuff to me aren't doing so at their workplaces. But fortunately, it's usually just a "Hey baby" kind of thing that I can tune out.
I missed this thread. Thanks for posting.

I have terrible memories of being harassed when I was a teenager and young twenty-something. From the age of 12 I was harassed by adult men, mostly all strangers. It scared me back then, but looking back I realize how horrible it was.
posted by LoriFLA 11 April | 22:55
A few months ago, I was in a semi-sketchy part of Hollywood at night, crossing the street in a hurry to get to a concert. I heard a honk and someone yell "hey, hot stuff!" from a car. Without looking or skipping a beat, in an instant I flipped the guy off and yelled "fuck you!"

Turns out it was my boyfriend, horsing around -- which I realized about half a second after I yelled. He was shocked -- because it hadn't crossed his mind that my absolute ingrained response would be to go into complete defensive mode. It's certainly not that he thinks harassing women in the street isn't a big deal (he's actually the kind of guy who will step in to tell other men to cool it if they're being shits to women in public), or actually a joke, or that he thought it would be fun to scare me -- he sincerely assumed that I'd instantly recognize his voice (or at least look over and see that it was him before reacting), and throw back some joke in return. He said it was really eye-opening (and upsetting) to see in practice the sort of primal defensiveness women adopt after years (and years, and fucking years) of this shit -- even to the point that in this case, my instincts overrode my recognition of his voice.
posted by scody 11 April | 23:21
Yeah, I agree with you, Scody, about the years and fucking years of defensiveness. There are times that I think some of my weight issues stem from when I was perfect measurements, and trying to prevent having to deal with the attention it got me. It's definitely easier for me to be overweight now, and not have to worry or deal with it than it was to be in perfect shape and having to fend people off.
posted by Sil 11 April | 23:40
While it was great reading the thread it ticked me off that harassers usually are those out-of-the-blue trolls you never see twice. When I was younger I entertained an idea to have a group of women as bait carrying red spraypaint that would 'mark' all men who cat called, while an ad campaign explained that all men with red paint were harassers, hoping to change public opinion or something. It used to really mess me up sometimes. Once a guy even pulled out a wad of bills to "buy me". Ugh.

I guess I'm old now, the other day when I took my spring heels for a spin a car honked for a millisecond and I smiled at the attention. (Mind you, cars honking and "Hey baybeh I'd like to [censored]" are a million miles apart).
posted by dabitch 12 April | 00:57
(he's actually the kind of guy who will step in to tell other men to cool it if they're being shits to women in public)

A big platonic kiss to scodyboy!
posted by brujita 12 April | 01:55
I was trying to find the video of a guy getting a taser gun right on the dick but I can't find it. So just imagine that.
posted by puke & cry 12 April | 01:57
FWIW, being 50 pounds overweight hasn't stopped me from being hassled.
posted by brujita 12 April | 01:57
That thread had a lot of good advice. But scody was the first to say "If you're going to take his picture, have back-up." (Paraphrasing, of course.) Which is the best way to go.

All that advice made me a little wary. It was all good advice, but a lot of it put the OP in a scary position. If she's going to take the asshole's photo, she needs someone with her. And if she's going to send a letter to the HR department of the construction firm, she needs to find another route to take to work.

She's totally in the right, and all the advice was good, but some of that advice sets her up for retaliation, and that frightens me.

I could have posted that there, but that's something else entirely.

Anyhow, I was glad to see that the responses weren't along the lines of "grow a set."
posted by mudpuppie 12 April | 02:11
I'm glad she's getting so much sound advice and support. Thanks for pointing the thread out, Orange Swan.

Years ago after one too many 'hey baby nice tits' comments I turned to the most recent offender (boarding the bus home from work) and said, "Has that line ever worked for you? Seriously?" He muttered "bitch" and sat as far from me on the bus as possible. It felt good, but I made damned sure he was off the bus before I got out at my stop.

I used to shout back at catcallers (especially those in cars) quite a bit when I was young, until the time that I realized the car I was shouting at was full of frat boy rich kids and I was in a pretty deserted neighbourhood with a couple of friends I could be carelessly dragging into a serious beating, if not worse. I became a bit more cautious after that.
posted by elizard 12 April | 02:12
/me unabashedly cat-calls elizard...

/me hopes this doesn't fuck up the thread.
posted by mudpuppie 12 April | 02:19
hee, brujita -- I'll be sure to pass it on! ;)
posted by scody 12 April | 02:22
I hope the OP posts a follow-up. I'd be fascinated to hear how it plays out if she pursues one of the suggested courses of action.
posted by mullacc 12 April | 06:46
It made me sad to learn that booksandlibretti wears an ipod and carries a huge messenger bag (which she keeps rearranging to hide her body) just to walk down the street.
posted by iconomy 12 April | 08:43
I was gonna post this in that thread, but I didn't think it was really helpful, so I didn't.

About 10 years ago, I was walking down the street in my hometown when I got catcalled by three men in their early 20s, lounging on a bench across the street. It wasn't a new experience for me as it's not for most women, but this time, for whatever reason, I decided I didn't feel like doing the usual: ignoring it.

I turned and crossed the street and walked right up to them. They were, safe to say, very surprised; they just didn't expect any such a thing to happen. I looked them in the eye one after the other, standing in front of them neutrally, and asked "What are you doing?"

It was amazing. They weren't necessarily shamed or anything, but they did find it excruciating to be having this conversation with me, clearly. They looked at the ground, tried to catch each other's eyes, smirked, shuffled. I said "No, seriously, what are you doing? What did you shout at me?"

[I'd love to say I was cool, calm, and collected. I hope I came off that way, and was trying to be placid but insistent, but meanwhile my heart was beating a mile a minute.]

Embarrassed silence.

Finally one offered "Come on, you know, we aren't saying anything, it's like a compliment."

I said "To me it's not a compliment."

More silence.

"It's rude and bothers people. Women don't like it. It doesn't make them respect you or think you're cool."

More shuffling, silence.

"See what I mean?"

Nod, nod.

I walked away at that point. Never raised my voice, never called names, just mainly stood there and looked at them. Not great discourse, to be sure, but it was so interesting to see these guys wither and quail when they had to look right at me. And it may have accomplished nothing, but it helped me learn that part of the power dynamic in this situation depends on the women not reacting. The guys feel safe from any direct challenge. Even if they do think it's a compliment (doubtful) they still don't expect anyone to actually do something about it.

I decided not to post this in the AskMe thread, because it's probably not good advice. There are a lot of circumstances in which it would be either unwise or ineffective to challenge a group of men who were doing this. This happened to be just one case where the guys were on a familiar street, surrounded by businesses and people I knew, and they were too young and slight to be intimidating. I made a snap judgement about whether my safety was at stake and decided it was worth the risk.

Did it save the world? Did those guys turn right around and do it to more women? Did they laugh it off? I don't know, I don't care, I have no illusions that this might have had a positive effect of any kind. It may have been counterproductive, even. I just know that for that one time, I had to take myself out of their category of 'woman on street who we can target for catcalls' and into the category of 'real person you need to deal with in a realistic manner,' if only for a moment. You wonder how things would be different if that was a more common response to harrassment, but I also know that it's mostly not safe or advisable to do. I've never done it again, but always remembered it.
posted by Miko 12 April | 09:26
I've heard that in Italy men can legally touch a strange woman's ass, and she in turn can legally slap his face with an open hand.
posted by StickyCarpet 12 April | 10:06
I wish I could favorite Miko's response above.
posted by chewatadistance 12 April | 10:21
Miko--I have done that too, more than once. Problem is, you're right, you don't always just get embarrassed silence, sometimes you get escalating derogatory remarks or someone deluding himself into thinking it worked and you're picking him up. I've never had it escalate into physical violence, probably because I've only ever responded that way in a suit, in the business district, but I've little doubt it will. The older I get and the less willing I am to fight, the less often I turn and say "I'm sorry? Did you just shout at me? Why?"

I don't know why it is that men, even the good ones, just don't get that there is no difference between the women they dehumanize and their girlfriends, their daughters or their sisters. None. I know men would never "hey baby" anyone and who spend a great deal of time defending some woman close to them against against it, but the slag I've heard the same men tolerate from their friends directed at nameless, famous or just non-valued-in-their-circle women enrages me. I've never been able to convince anyone that there is no difference between dismissing someone faceless with an "I'd hit it" and dismissing someone they love. None. It is the same thing, whether you'd ever treat a woman you knew that way or not.
posted by crush-onastick 12 April | 11:18
Groping was banned in Italy a few years ago.

I wouldn't recommend this either but some time ago in Seattle , I was on my way to a coffee shop late one night when a drunk frat boy yowled, "hey you wanna have sex?" I asked, "How old are you, little boy?" and repeated it. He didn't like that and claimed he was seven years younger than I am. The fact that I LOOK like a naive cow does NOT make me one.
posted by brujita 12 April | 11:22
crush-onastick, I actually think to some extent that chivalry, or the whole "Think of your daughter!" thing, actually perpetuates the mindset that creates the harassment in the first place. It turns men into protectors rather than equals, which in turn gives them more power than women -- even if most men use that sense of power for seemingly good things, like protecting their girlfriends, it still perpetuates a power imbalance in which men have power and women don't. It also perpetuates the idea that women need male protection, which makes targets of women who are by themselves. It perpetuates the whole overprotective daddy, "I know how men think," patriarchal idea that women stay safe only thanks to the largess of men, and that women deserve to be treated like real people only if they have a man (boyfriend, father, brother) to watch out for them.

That's a bit garbled, and probably not exactly what you meant, I know. I just think that a lot of the ways we think about stopping this sort of harassment just reinforce the ideas that create it -- which is inevitable to some extent, I realize.
posted by occhiblu 12 April | 11:39
Well, occhi--you've got a point, but I didn't really mean that in a "Would you kiss your mother with that mouth" kind of way. I can't get my head around the male ability to shove some women (sisters, girlfriends, daughters, usually) into the "human being you wouldn't treat that way category" and yet still put a huge chunk of women into the "nonhuman, three holes without a brain" category. I just don't get it.

The emphasis is not on the defend part; it's that the distinction exists at all. Men are just people to me. How some women can be people and some not just baffles me.
posted by crush-onastick 12 April | 11:45
I see what crush is saying and I hear it as different from the male-protector-of-female-honor phenomenon that is also out there. It is the way that some men compartmentalize women's identities that is bothersome: some women are commodities, while others are people.
posted by Miko 12 April | 11:51
"It is the way that some men compartmentalize women's identities that is bothersome: some women are commodities, while others are people."

I went through a long pre-but-ready-to-be-a-male-feminist stage (waiting, I guess, for my consciousness to be expanded by an amazing woman when I was 19) after my sister was born when I was 10. Once she was about 5, I immediately became aware of how people, including my parents, treated her differently just because she was a girl and how different, and diminished, were the social expectations for her were. I was angry about this. I remember being angry about it for a long time and doing what I could to combat it.

Anyway, my point is that my little sister was, for me, my first route to seeing beyond the sexist cultural norm and thinking about what things are like for females. As I said, I needed someone to come along and challenge me and teach me to really open my eyes and see what the world is like for women. But I was part of the way there just because, for me, my sister was the most important person in my life and it had never occurred to me from the moment she was born not to think about her living in the world and having the same opportunities as I had. Real life kept demonstrating there was a difference, and it really shocked me. Because of this, I do sort of wonder the same thing that crush as wondering. But often I despair that a likely answer to this mystery is that many or most of these men don't really see their mothers or sisters or lovers as truly people, either.

My awareness of the social environment of sexual violence against women came suddenly upon me when I was a freshman at a large state university in 1984, at 19, and during that time when I was strongly influenced by my friend who was a young radical lesbian feminist at Bryn Mawr. I don't recall her talking that much about rape; I remember more the general social critique and everyday examples. But I had a work-study job in the evening as the helpdesk person in a large micromputer lab in the business department at this large university I attended. There was a rapist on campus attacking women at night between buildings and the school had instituted a ride program. This was a very large campus. So, one evening I made the phone call for a young woman for her ride and it just suddenly hit me. I remember this clearly—it was an epiphany. I realized how alien it was to my experience to worry about walking across the campus at night. I realized that this was a fact of life for women. Suddenly the world divided in my head between the reality that men experience and the reality that women experience. I was stunned and angry and terribly sad.

In the coming months, I assimilated a lot of the things that my friend decribed to me. I began watching and listening to how men and women interacted in groups, how professors treated men and women in classes. Everywhere I looked, I began to see how women experience a very different, and oppressive, social environment than men. And my thoughts often turned to my mother and sister and it made me so angry that they had to live in this world.

I was really upset for months, I felt like I had awakened into a nightmare. A part of me wanted to go back into being ignorant. I was overwhelmed with the enormity of the problem and the zero likelihood that I'd live to see it completely eliminated. And almost everyone I tried to talk about it with thought I was nuts. I also felt tainted as a man; although a lot of that had to do with my friend's anger at men. (Though she is a lesbian, she and I fell in love. We had sex and that conflicted her so much that it ruined our friendship. But she was always ambivalent about me because of her anger at men in general. I often was made to stand-in for all other men, I was stripped of my individuality, demonized. It sucked, but I think even then I realized that I was learning something from it, learning from the role-reversal.) After our friendship ended, I went on my own intellectual journey and found my own brand of feminism. By the time I worked in rape crisis, the idea of the ever-present threat of sexual violence against women was very familiar to me. Though I learned a great many other things during that time.

I've known very, very few men who, I think, "get it". It's like a fish in water. It's hard to even see the water, and you have to do that before you can start to understand it. There's so much about everyday life that men take for granted that is very different for women. Men typically will see only isolated differences, usually extreme cases. And I think a lot of the men who are empathic and progressively-minded enough to really see this stuff ultimately shy away from it because it's just too much. Our reality is comfortable. Our reality where we are empowered, where we can be who we want to be, where we are not afraid of half the population, everything the patriarchy offers us, is comfortable. Even those of us who reject it can't really reject it because it provides us with those advantages whether we want them or not. And so the jump to the viewpoint of those without those advantages, those who live in a much less friendly world, is a big jump. And it's such a much less pleasant world. For anyone with empathy, it's deeply disturbing. And the enormity of it is almost soul-destroying. How can you fight what almost no one will even acknowledge? And how do you do this when you are, willing or not, one of those living the advantages wrongly gained? I think many or most men who glimpse this shy away from it. I find that I deal with it by not thinking about it all the time.

But all this is why comments like jonmc's "Oh, I've been catcalled a few times" really get on my nerves. He says that, oh, he knows that it's a lot different when it happens all the time. But that's not the point. And yet such an insight is, in relative terms, more than you'll get from most men.
posted by kmellis 12 April | 12:54
I saw that thread too. I had absolutely nothing to contribute, but it was in an interesting thread to read, especially for a man.

I think the picture taking thing would probably stop the guy from persisting. The thought of being exposed as a perv to his boss, or worse yet to his honey, would probably be as good as any legal action in terms of shutting him up.
posted by Doohickie 12 April | 12:56
But often I despair that a likely answer to this mystery is that many or most of these men don't really see their mothers or sisters or lovers as truly people, either.

kmellis--that is a truly disturbing thought. I think I need to go take a walk now.
posted by crush-onastick 12 April | 13:11
I went through a long pre-but-ready-to-be-a-male-feminist stage

I swear I'm not trying to argumentative here, but while I'm 100% in favor of equal-pay-for-equal-work, right-to-choose, etc, I don't think I could ever call myself a feminist. There's way too big of a anti-male hostility to so much of what calls itself feminist discourse. The fact that I like pornography and cock-rock seems to make me the enemy automatically. I could be wrong but a lot of the feminist stuff i've read online seems to imply that the only roles available for men should be repentant sinner or meek passivity, and I can't live like that, just like I wouldn't expect anyone else to have to conform to some role dictated by anyone.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 13:23
a thought just occured to me: my beef with a lot of feminism is probably just a subset of my beef with 'identity politics' in general in that it reduces human beings to taxonomy.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 13:26
I think there's much less anti-male hostility in contemporary feminism than there was when I came of age. So I think that's less a barrier than it was. And I, too, don't like so-called "identity politics" in many ways.

But you can make up your own mind about the specifics of any social movement you're a part of. Many people try to force you to be doctrinaire and try to purge you if you don't play ball, but that's a life problem you face everwhere, in every group. Either you can withstand such pressures and keep your own mind, or you can't. You've consistently displayed an independent mind, jonmc, it wouldn't be hard for you to stand your ground and reject anti-male hostility in feminism.

That said, you need to be able to differentiate between gratuitous anti-male sentiment and legitimate and true criticisms of male behavior. Many men mistake the latter for the former.
posted by kmellis 12 April | 14:04
I think you just have a limited understanding of what feminism is, jonmc. You have a basic respect for women and an egalitarian mindset, so I'd be surprised if, after reading some more thoughtful descriptions of feminism, you didn't find anything you could embrace.

And it's so strange - you are worried about not being accepted because you 'like pornography and cock rock,' yet you don't like identity politics? Then why do you define and catgeorize yourself by your likes and dislikes? Don't you think a lot of feminist women like pornography too? And 'cock rock'? In the current world of feminism, you'd be hard pressed to find many people defending a point of view that these things are never all right. There are a few who argue that all pornography is always exploitive of all people, but these days that's kind of a minority opinion. There are some important discussions about its use, production, and impact, but I don't think liking those things is necessarily non-feminist.
Feminists believe a lot of different things. Feminism is not Catholicism: there's no central authority dispensing dogma, and no single set of beliefs. Within feminism there is quite a bit of debate, even debate over what feminism is. Men can be feminists. Among the women you and I both know and speak to here, there are quite a few self-described feminists. All have male friends, all are generally respectful of men as a class (though they may have differences of opinion with individual men) many have sexual relationships with men, and many are in warm, long-term loving relationships with men. I can't think of a single feminist whom I know personally who could reasonably be called 'anti-male.'

To me, feminism is pretty basic. It takes as its starting assumption that the lives of men and of women are of inherently equal value. It recognizes that a history of patriarchy has resulted in a society in which that equal value has not been universally recognized in individual relationships or in the law. And it seeks to work continually toward a society in which opportunities, rights, and recognition are no longer awarded on the basis of gender alone.

Here's kind of a good personal perspective from one woman. And I like this non-definition definition.
posted by Miko 12 April | 14:06
To me, feminism is pretty basic. It takes as its starting assumption that the lives of men and of women are of inherently equal value.

That just seems pretty obvious on it's face. I've just heard too many discussions where it seems like no matter what you do or say, you're wrong, and life's too short to sit around begging forgiveness and I have an almost pathological aversion to being told what I can and cannot do, so 'isms' in general don't appeal to me.

You've consistently displayed an independent mind, jonmc, it wouldn't be hard for you to stand your ground and reject anti-male hostility in feminism.

and be dismissed with 'as a middle-class white male, you would say that..' No, thanks.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 14:14
And to follow on from Miko's links, I have posted this before, but I will do so again.

Yes you are.

If you believe in, support, look fondly on, hope for, and/or work towards equality of the sexes, you are a feminist.

It really is as simple as that.
posted by gaspode 12 April | 14:17
But yesterday, you dismissed a bunch of people in a thread as handwringing white middle-class people. I'm not trying to be aggressive here, just wanting to say that part of feminism is about not applying stereotypes to entire classes of people.

that just seems pretty obvious on it's face

But it's still not obvious to a lot of people, and not universally reflected in our laws, beliefs, culture, institutions, or systems.

posted by Miko 12 April | 14:17
occhiblu: I have a very strong reflex in the direction you describe, and I have considered in the past how it perpetuates the woman=victim mentality. Why couldn't my pathological overprotective fantasies involve a woman actually defending herself? But they never do.

I think that this mindset is perpetuated to some degree by social standards, as noted. (Ironically, in my case, much of it comes from the very forceful indoctrination of my older sister, who self-identified as feminist.) But there's a pretty decent argument for at least some of that gender-based protective instinct to be evolutionarily conditioned in some sense.

kmellis: Your writing is very compelling, and I'm not going to give it the response it deserves, here. But you mention that a lot of men don't see women as real people. And you're right -- but it's more than that. A lot of people don't see other people as real people. They have a small subgroup that is "real" to them, and they feel no real empathy for people that fall outside of that, people they meet in different contexts. The gender split is an extreme, pervasive example of this, and there are other things that feed into this, but... viewing others as less than human is very common, and often not gender-based.
posted by coined 12 April | 14:21
That is awesome, pode!

Especially this bit: It is about saying that you are a feminist and just letting the statement sit there, instead of feeling a compulsion to modify it immediately with "but not, you know, that kind of feminist" because you don't want to come off all Angry Girl....

That is exactly the reason I started using the 'f' word again, after spending a few years hedging around it. I realized I was only afraid to use it because I was afraid people would brand me with their particular fear about what feminism was. Eventually I decided that to worry about that was to cede the power of defining the word to others, when I'd rather embody the principles I believe in, and let the definition flow from that.

As in "This is what a feminist looks like."

posted by Miko 12 April | 14:23
Jon, one of the great things about so-called "Third Wave feminism" is that we women can say, "I like to cook, not because I'm a woman but because I am me," or "I want a big fru-fru wedding, not because of my gender role but because I am me." Feminism, for a while, was as militantly constricting as any other social construct - no babies! no housework! no pantyhose! no men! But that's clearly antithetical to the true goals of the feminist movement, which is to show that women are complex, three-dimensional beings exactly like men are. Just because I like to shop doesn't mean that like dresses and high heels! Just because I fight for equal access to education for women doesn't mean that I hate men!

For me, Third Wave feminism can also argue that men can construct their own gender personas. Just because you, Jon, like beer and baseball games doesn't mean you sexually dominate your wife! Cortex's long hair and artistic nature don't symbolize his latent homosexuality! Do you see what I mean?
posted by muddgirl 12 April | 14:24
just wanting to say that part of feminism is about not applying stereotypes to entire classes of people.

and replace them with new ones generally. as for that thread, it was more of an observation that we felt an obligation to tie ourselves in knots over some washed up shockjock who's whole stock-in-trade is being obnoxious.

If you believe in, support, look fondly on, hope for, and/or work towards equality of the sexes, you are a feminist.

and I've been accused of being a sexist and/or a misogynist* more times than I can count, and hey, I plead guilty. I objectify women, I've refferred to certain women as 'bitches' and 'sluts.' If you listen to a lot of people, hey it's inevitable, no matter what you do you're gonna be wrong. Can't win for losing, which is why I won't play ball.

*oddly, I've also numerous times been accused of being 'pussywhipped.' there's that can't win for losing thing again.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 14:28
muddgirl is totally right, but since my mom was a feminist I know that even in the 70s feminism wasn't universally aligned against babies, families, men, or sex. Some radical feminists talked about those ideas, to be sure, but for my mom and millions more women, it was more about child care, medical decision making, equal education, choosing your line of work, being able to represent yourself in business, work for equal pay, all that stuff. It never excluded men, though that idea of bra-burning harridans is the stereotype of 70s feminism.
posted by Miko 12 April | 14:29
Now, I promised Pips I'd wash some dishes if she made sloppy joes, so I'm off to get dishpan hands. I'll check in.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 14:31

If you believe in, support, look fondly on, hope for, and/or work towards equality of the sexes, you are a feminist.

and I've been accused of being a sexist and/or a misogynist* more times than I can count, and hey, I plead guilty.

So you don't believe in, support, look fondly on, hope for, and/or work towards equality of the sexes, then? In my mind this is pretty much a binary thing. I know you believe women are equal so I'm gonna go ahead and call you a feminist and you can start hating me now :)
posted by gaspode 12 April | 14:32
I know you believe women are equal

and yet I still get hit with the accusations, like I said. (and as I said before using any 'ism' as a way of veiwing the world is a recipe for disaster in my opinion.)
posted by jonmc 12 April | 14:37
It really is as simple as that.

*wants to believe*

Good to see you back, EB.
posted by danostuporstar 12 April | 14:38
I guess what I'm trying to get at is that I think, in many ways, the whole chivalry idea is what creates the male ability to stuff one pile of women into the "people" category and one into the "not people" category. That it's actually at the core of a lot of what's going on. That if you grow up hearing that you are expected to treat an entire class of people a certain way, because that's your noblesse oblige (and therefore becomes a symbol of your place in society), then what happens when you meet a woman who steps outside the script? She's undermining your authority -- she's not looking up to you as a big all important protector or conquering stud! -- so you must remind her of her place. Otherwise your own (superior) place is threatened.

It's the idea of, "These are the rules I was taught about how a lady should behave. Any woman, therefore, who does not behave in that way, is not a lady, and is therefore asking for whatever abuse I heap on her."

Or maybe it's just a practical idea, that there are women in one's circle whom one can protect and women outside the circle whom one cannot feasibly protect, so those women must be "outsiders" who don't count.

I don't know. This is something that's been niggling at the edges of my consciousness for a while now, but it's not very well formed, so I realize I'm not being very eloquent about it.
posted by occhiblu 12 April | 14:42
yet I still get hit with the accusations

Well yes, jon, and today at lunch I was told, point blank, by a coworker of mine that the only reason I got this job was to fulfil a government quota for women engineers. We all have to deal with assholes, but I don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.
posted by muddgirl 12 April | 14:43
jon, maybe you felt obligated, but you'll have to speak for yourself there. I'm obligated only to my own conscience and to people I've made promises to. If you felt obligated for some other reason, you can't assume that everyone felt the same way.

You might also want to read about misogyny and sexism before you take those labels on!

Dano, what do you mean by 'wants to believe?' Genuinely curious. Do you think it's more complicated than that?
posted by Miko 12 April | 14:44
or occhi, there's the simple fact that, generally speaking, men are more physically imposing than women and thus better able to protect.

You might also want to read about misogyny and sexism before you take those labels on!

I don't neccessarily think I have a choice from what I've been told. I've been called a misogynist online more times than I can count, and most feminist discourse I've read says that 'objectifying' women is a sexist thing, and yeah, when I see a pretty girl walking down the street, I'm thinking dirty thoughts, I don't buy Playboy for the articles, I go to strip joints and hoot and holler. I've sat around and talked with buddies about hot girls and how great it would be to have sex with them, in graphic terms. Guilty as charged.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 14:49
Yes, more complicated, Miko. I'm a feminist by that definition, but can't shake the notion that I would be a laughing stock to some if I called myself one. Maybe I need to internalize muddgirl's bathwater thing.
posted by danostuporstar 12 April | 14:51
Actually, as far as my understanding of feminism goes, jon, none of those things you have mentioned preclude you from being a feminist.
posted by gaspode 12 April | 14:52
Okay, occhi, that makes a little more sense and might serve to explain the disconnect. It might be a chicken-egg problem. Either way, it's an interesting thought.
posted by crush-onastick 12 April | 14:57
Me either, because if they did I wouldn't be a feminist. And I'd have to throw out all my LPs.

It's too bad it's still laughingstock material. I guess that's why I'm willing to talk about it (ad nauseam..) the hopes that the more we use the words and talk about the ideas, they'll lose their pejorative power.

I, as much as anyone, long for the day when the word 'feminist' is like the word 'abolitionist' - something we just don't really need anymore.

posted by Miko 12 April | 14:59
or occhi, there's the simple fact that, generally speaking, men are more physically imposing than women and thus better able to protect.

And so now we need good men to protect the defenseless women from the dangerous men. By playing up the idea that women need protection, and by assuming that only men can provide such protection, we simultaneously denigrate men ("they're dangerous!") and revere them ("they're our saviors!").

Which is a convenient way for men to preserve their status in society. They're throwing their brothers under the metaphorical bus, of course, by highlighting how awful men are, but then they get to say "So I must protect you" and thus gain ascendancy over the individual women standing in front of them.

It's a system that kind of sucks for everyone. Women get the virgin/whore thing, where they have to keep proving their innocent ingenue frailty or else get abused; men get the knight-in-shining-armor/rapist-in-the-bushes thing, where they have to suppress their own feelings in the face of danger to rush to someone's defense or else be lumped into the category of "assholes" who don't.

It's the whole binary system we've set up that makes life hard for everyone, and labels people by category rather than as individuals.

And that is my rant for the day. :)
posted by occhiblu 12 April | 15:03
"...the whole chivalry idea is what creates the male ability to stuff one pile of women into the 'people' category and one into the 'not people' category."

I think it does and for this reason almost any example of male chivalry really and truly makes my hackles rise.

There's a complex psychology involved in my own feelings about this and it involves the fact that I'm a white, heterosexual male. I constantly fear being patronizing when I engage in a number of issues and for this reason I have a heightened sensitivity to patronization in general. And I have this gut, visceral sense that the flip side of the hatred and rejection of the "other" is a patronizing caretaking that is like adopting a pet for one's own personal emotional fulfillment. I think this sort of supposedly "right" action reifies both the "otherness" and the power imbalance. It is intensely ugly to me because for whatever reason I find that faux generosity and care that is really just disguised self-gratification is deeply repugnant.

And that's how chivalry often comes across to me. I had a big problem on one mailing list with an older man who, in the rough-and-tumble of mailing list discussion, would invariably come to an impassioned, outraged defense of women yet rarely, if ever, do the same for other men. It was transparent. And of course he was a leftist, in many ways an unreconstructed leftist. (Which calls to mind a related, but distinct, discussion going on right now on TAPPED and elsewhere.)

"I'm a feminist by that definition, but can't shake the notion that I would be a laughing stock to some if I called myself one. Maybe I need to internalize muddgirl's bathwater thing."

I feel the sting of such ridicule just a little. I'm not completely immune to it, but it doesn't mean that much to me. The meta of it, though, I do find interesting. I find it interesting that people are so certain that it must be possible to shame me by mocking me in that way, or, for example, with my famous comment about fellatio. Anyway, I think I'm unusual in this way and I don't expect other people to be equally immune. But you don't have to give into convention completely. Call yourself an "anti-sexist", if you like.

By the way, my intellectual and social interest has expanded such that for a number of years until recently I was more comfortable calling myself an "anti-sexist" than "feminist". But several things, including my experience on MeFi, led me to believe that self-identifying as a feminist still has social relevance and is still needed.
posted by kmellis 12 April | 15:05
occhi, I swear I'm not picking on you, but that response is a perfect example of the 'can't win for losing' thing I was talking about. No matter what, we're still sexist. In which case it's difficult not to want to wash your hands of the whole affair.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 15:08
I'm pretty sure occhiblu and jonmc are in total and perfect agreement, btw.
posted by muddgirl 12 April | 15:11
Hrm, and I'm not picking on you, jon, but can you really only conceive of two ways to interact with a woman? Either protecting her or harrassing her? I doubt it. Because that's what occhi was outlining, I think. The binary set-up. So you can win, because there are myriad other ways to interact with a woman.

on preview, yup, muddgirl.
posted by gaspode 12 April | 15:11
No matter what, we're still sexist.

That's exactly what she's saying: you don't like it, I don't like it, she doesn't like it. So let's reject it! The idea is to notice that we have belief systems that cause us to be seen as one or the other, and do something to change the too-simplistic belief systems. People are not classifiable as opposing symmetrical points.
posted by Miko 12 April | 15:11
I'm not arguing against any action, jon. Just actions that support a crappy system.

You can treat people as individuals, rather than as societal roles. That is my point.

Men are more likely to be hurt in public than women are, if I'm remembering my stats correctly. Women can be just as much of a protective factor as men. It's the assumption that man=protector and woman=victim that I'm arguing against, because that assumption also reinforces the opposite assumptions, that man=predator and woman=whore.
posted by occhiblu 12 April | 15:12
aw look. Everyone agrees! Group hug!
posted by gaspode 12 April | 15:13
Whoa. Three comments went up between "preview" and "post" on my last comment.

But yeah, what they said. :)
posted by occhiblu 12 April | 15:14
Miko, my objection was this: I said that men usuaually do the protecting because they are more physically able to do so, which I don't think is an inaccurate statement. Yet by saying that I'm a sexist for reinforcing the patriarchy. If I said 'no, women can protect themselves, none of my business' I'm a misogynist for throwing women to the wolves. Can't win for losing.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 15:15
"If I said 'no, women can protect themselves, none of my business' I'm a misogynist for throwing women to the wolves."

Who says?
posted by kmellis 12 April | 15:17
"This individual looks scared, and maybe I should offer to walk her home."

"This individual woman is a black-belt in tae kwon do, and seems confident and happy and said she'd prefer to walk by herself. She seems ok without me."

"This individual woman weighs a 100 pounds more than I do, has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and used to be a police officer. I should probably ask her to walk me home."

That work for you?

And I in no way called you a sexist. I said that a system that reinforces those roles all the time, even when they're not appropriate, is reinforcing a sucky system.
posted by occhiblu 12 April | 15:20
posted by gaspode 12 April | 15:20
(If it wasn't clear, the "we" in my earlier comment was a real "we, as a society" type of "we." I notice myself falling into the same mental traps, too, and sometimes having to rely on appeals to chivalry in order to get what I need. We live in an imperfect system, which means we all sometimes have to do crappy things or sexist things or whatever things in order to get what we need.)
posted by occhiblu 12 April | 15:22
What occhi said. It's making decisions about individual people as a gender class that's limiting and doesn't work.
posted by Miko 12 April | 15:23
I never said you did, occhi. It's just this general atmosphere around gender issues (to say nothing of race and sexuality) that no matter what you do or say, somebody's going to have a beef with it, which is unbelievably frustrating for someone who's trying to be a decent human being, despite having frailties like anyone else.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 15:24
no matter what you do or say, somebody's going to have a beef with it, which is unbelievably frustrating for someone who's trying to be a decent human being, despite having frailties like anyone else.

Welcome to life, dude. :)
posted by occhiblu 12 April | 15:25
Exactly, and it's pretty much the same all around, and FWIW, I actually go out of my way to see people as individuals which is why I have my own beefs with the various isms.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 15:29
And I in no way called you a sexist.

You mean today, no? :)
posted by danostuporstar 12 April | 15:30
If you take individuals as they come and respect their freedom to be as they are without imposing expectations of gender, race, what-have-you on them, you can't really go wrong. That's definitely being a decent human being.

Though as occhiblu says, we have all been conditioned in a sexist system and, to varying degrees, carry sexism within ourselves. I certainly don't think I'm ready to leap down the throat of men 'no matter what they do or say.' I do take on men and women alike, including myself, when I hear the old tapes playing, though. The thing is, only you can know your true intent. Since the world can't read your mind and won't always agree with you anyway, you've just got to do the thing you've decided is the right thing to do.
posted by Miko 12 April | 15:30
And to be slightly less glib: Yes, of course it's frustrating. But that's what dealing with other people, regardless of the subject matter, entails. Treating them as individuals with individual idiosyncrasies and individual wants and individual interpretations and individual needs. The racism/sexism/sexuality aspect of this just seems heightened because it's fairly new that minorities, women, and GBLT folks have demanded to be treated like real people, too.

Of course it's hard. People are confusing and irrational a great deal of the time. But we all do our best -- at least I hope we do -- to develop a personal code of honor that can help us navigate all that irrationality with as clear a conscience as possible. Which, for me, means making sure that if I've offended someone, I know why and I do my best to make amends.

But I certainly don't expect never to offend people. How the hell do you learn if you don't make mistakes? Because you're right, you have to shut yourself into a box of inaction or apathy if you expect to sail through life without hurting or offending anyone. I'd prefer messy interaction.
posted by occhiblu 12 April | 15:32
I do take on men and women alike, including myself, when I hear the old tapes playing, though.

I was horrified at work yesterday -- I have to call a big list of people, many of whom are at the CEO / Chairman of the Board level, which means that I'm mostly leaving messages and talking to secretaries. I realized about halfway through the list that whenever a woman answered the phone, I had made a note that I had left a message with the secretary. Whenever a man answered the phone, I noted that I had left a message with a colleague.

FUCKITY FUCK FUCK. I had a nice little moment of ranting and raving and cursing myself out in my head.


This was in the midst of complaining about the AA "Women love to ride ponies" site, too.
posted by occhiblu 12 April | 15:36
I actually go out of my way to see people as individuals which is why I have my own beefs with the various isms.

I genuinely don't understand this statement.

wrt feminism, treating people as (equal) individuals is the whole point of it.
posted by gaspode 12 April | 15:37
The racism/sexism/sexuality aspect of this just seems heightened because it's fairly new that minorities, women, and GBLT folks have demanded to be treated like real people, too.

Well, sometimes that means they have to take their lumps just like everybody else and maybe my experience is skewed but too often any criticism of any person who is a member of a marginalized group is met with accusations of 'racist! sexist! homophobe!' which can really be wearying.

I'd prefer messy interaction.

Me too, which is why I say some of the things I do rather than merely say what I think people want to hear, if that makes any sense.

and I hear you and muddgirl on the freedom from gender roles thing. Because of my appearance and some of my tastes people assume that I must be some kind of boorish idiot a lot of the time, even though along with liking porn and cock-rock I also like girl groups and poetry and the Gilmore Girls (and not just because Sookie is hot). as a wise man once said "I'm trying hard to be just how I am and everbody wants you to be just like them."
posted by jonmc 12 April | 15:39
This thread has helped me feel better about participating here, so thanks for that y'all. (And, though, it goes against the 'individuals' thing, I would like to apologize on behalf of my gender for paulsc's comments the other day.)
posted by danostuporstar 12 April | 15:47
I realized about halfway through the list that whenever a woman answered the phone, I had made a note that I had left a message with the secretary. Whenever a man answered the phone, I noted that I had left a message with a colleague.

An interesting, related phenomenon: I find that whenever I refer outloud to seeing my doctor (but don't use a pronoun to indicate gender), invariably the person I'm talking with will respond with a male pronoun ("oh, what did he say about blah blah?"). When I mention seeing my doctor's nurse, the response is always "what did she say?"

My primary doctor, however, is a woman, and her nurse is a man. But even among the most gender-aware people I know, the automatic assumption is always the reverse.
posted by scody 12 April | 15:47
(oh, and the one exception to this is when I mention seeing my OB/GYN -- who, of course, people automatically assume is a woman. Which would come as some surprise to him.)
posted by scody 12 April | 15:49
I would like to apologize on behalf of my gender for paulsc's comments the other day.

he seems to be more about showing how fantastic he thinks he is than anything else, so I wrote him off a while ago.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 15:52
(dano, I'm glad, I was missing you on your self-imposed reduced posting)
posted by gaspode 12 April | 15:56
I'm glad about the feeling better, because I think most of us want the same kind of world, one in which we can be pretty free to define ourselves without being shoved back into some sort of rigid, ill-fitting box. And really, no need to apologize for someone else's actions just because they share your gender.

jonmc, I really hope you don't experience accusatory shouts like that here, though. For what it's worth, I don't think you are a sexist, by which I mean you don't carry the banner for division of the sexes in a hierarchical way. But it's definitely true that we all have sexist thoughts and behaviors from time to time that just come from centuries of barnacle-like accretion of sexist societies. But calling a behavior or a belief sexist is different from calling a person sexist. The latter implies that they embrace sexism as a personal philosophy.
posted by Miko 12 April | 16:00
Yes, what Miko said.

And scody, I know -- I actually still get a bit jarred when some of the more aware medical people on AskMe use female pronouns when talking about hypothetical medical personnel (ikkyu2 and OmieWise are both noticeably great about doing so). Even though all of my doctors are women. It's like it takes a second for my brain to register that I'm being included in the category of "People who might be doctors."
posted by occhiblu 12 April | 16:10
an aside:

Given that I can call myself "Dr. gaspode" with my PhD and all (not that I do), it bemused me when I got married and my grandmother and 2 of my aunts congratulated me on marrying a doctor!
posted by gaspode 12 April | 16:13
An interesting and revealing thing about default gender assumptions is that when "one" (meaning in my experience) does not reveal a person's gender when it's not the default, oftentimes later when the other person discovers the actual gender, they're annoyed because I didn't tell them.

There's really no better example of how deeply entrenched sexism is than language usage and related convention. It is virtually impossible for people to not assign a gender to any specific imagined person, it is unconsciously considered to be of absolutely fundamental importance. While we don't need to know whether your doctor is tall or short, bald or not, blonde or black-haired, or (some of us, anyway) even white or black, we do absolutely require the information about gender. We just refuse to seriously think about a non-gendered doctor. Or any other kind of person, except perhaps babies. There's the rare exception, of course, but this is well-nigh universal.
posted by kmellis 12 April | 16:23
except perhaps babies

But it's always interested me, as a great example of what you say, that as soon as you say to someone "Jim and Jane had their baby!" the very, very first question is invariably "Is it a boy or a girl?"

It is the first thing we feel we have to assign a human, before a name, before a temperament, before a size and weight. It's amazing how consistently this is true. The only thing that may come before the gender inquiry is a statement about its health, but usually only if a problem was expected or known already.
posted by Miko 12 April | 16:39
If you haven't read it, and if you like Jeannette Winterson and/or can put up with postmodern novels, Written on the Body is one of my favorite examples of that need to define gender.

The editors in my head are screaming "SPECIOUS CAUSALITY!!!" entirely too loudly just now for me to fix that last sentence.
posted by occhiblu 12 April | 16:45
I still have to identify myself as "the attorney" on the phone because everyone assumes I'm the law clerk. I still remember the day I realized that I was exhausted at the end of the week solely because I had gone the entire week as the "lone woman lawyer"--I'm not, by any means, but I am the only woman attorney at my last two firms and this particular week I had been the only woman (except for the judge's admin) in every courtroom I was in. I had more than once been greeted with a "did you change you hair?" or something that highlighted how obvious it was who I was and whom I was there representing because there were no other women in the room. I never self-identify as "Other" because in my own head I'm just not "Other" (plus, I'm white, middle class, with a graduate degree, so I'm pretty privileged) but I spent a whole week living as "Other" and it was exhausting.

(and honestly, I think people ask "boy or girl" first because all the other questions (name, size, personality) require a pronoun and people feel uncomfortable referring to a human being, even an infant, as "it".)

This is a total digression, I guess. But this has been an interesting and surprisingly non-strident conversation, so I felt comfortable adding it.
posted by crush-onastick 12 April | 16:47
It's interesting how strongly I disagree with most everyone here (relatively, given our overall agreement) about innate sex differences and yet I completely agree on the wrongness of the primary need for knowing sex and gender. How this is possible probably goes without saying, but it's that just because there are big differences between any two people doesn't mean those differences are always, or even usually, relevant. Yet people think sex is relevant in every context.

My sister just had a baby, as some of you have seen from the photos on my Flickr page, and I admit that the sex of the baby is important to me. But that's because of how strongly boys and girls are socialized into very divergent gender roles and my relative comfort with each. Specifically, there's a lot of things I don't really like about male gender roles. There's lots of things I don't like about female roles, as well, but I can deal with those female traits better than the male counterparts. Probably more causally, however, is the fact that my only sibling is a girl and I have experience with girls. I don't have any experience with little boys and, frankly, they intimidate me. I feel this absurd social pressure to play and relate to them in stereotypical boy gender role ways, like with sports or whatever. In contrast, I don't feel that sort of constriction at all with girls. This is an example of how I've been conditioned to think about boys and girls where my actual experience with girls modified this (I also have numerous several much younger girl cousins—five, with just one additional boy). Perhaps with my nephew this will change for me with boys, as well.

But I can't deny that I would have preferred a niece. But once I get to know the little fella, I bet I'll feel differently.
posted by kmellis 12 April | 17:17
This has been a good conversation.

Most recently, that 'other' experience came to me in a mild way, in a meeting of the programming committee I'm on at the radio station. This committee has one chair, but all members are otherwise level, departmentally, and equally senior (we all started at the same time). Up until the January meeting, I was one of two women on the committee of seven. That month, the other woman rotated off the committee, and her replacement is male, leaving me as the last woman.

The woman who rotated off was the one who had formerly taken the meeting minutes. She had a laptop and had other roles at the station that made this make sense. So at the first meeting we had without her, we came to our first decision and everyone looked around blankly, because no one had started to take minutes. One by one, the others in the group begged off ("I really can't focus when I'm writing as well as talking," "I'm a very slow typist," "I suck at taking notes," etc). Finally I was the only one who hadn't provided a reason as to why I shouldn't have to take minutes, and all eyes rested on me expectantly.

This felt felt sort of unpleasant: as the only woman left in the group, was it coincidence that I didn't immediately have an objection to a secretarial role? I said "I don't want to have to do the minutes just because I'm the only woman left in the group," and everybody laughed. And I didn't take minutes that meeting. But it was a clusterfuck afterward, because then we didn't have any minutes to send out, and nobody knew what had happened in the meeting. So at the next meeting I said dammit, I'll do i, thus enabling the (perhaps) learned helplessness.

I'm still not sure how sexist an incident this was. It honestly might have been a gender-free interaction, but I don't know. I didn't want to take minutes because I am communications person for another group and do entirely too much writing anyway - this used to be a meeting in which I could just listen and talk. Six individuals had a reason as to why they shouldn't be the one to do it, whereas writing and note-taking is an aptitude I do have. Did I get corralled into doing something because of my gender? Am I just too weak-willed to let the natural consequences take place and make someone else step up? Or does it just make sense that I should do it because I have the abilities?

Still on the fence about this one. By the way, the men on the committee are all wonderful, progressive people, but I just wonder if there weren't some traditional patterns at play on both sides in this interaction.
posted by Miko 12 April | 17:22
Good story.

A story I've told before is about when I was part of a small, elite, software group in a large multinational. There were, um, about ten developers and me, who was the the build engineer. Anyway, there was only one woman in the group.

On someone's birthday, we always had a little cake and a party. The female developer baked the cake. One afternoon in her office I privately asked her how she came to be the person to do this task. She said that the product manager asked her to. I asked her if she thought it was because she was female. She said she figured it was. I don't recall if I asked her why she agreed to it—probably I didn't, because I didn't want to make her feel like I was challenging her.

But it bugged me that apparently no one thought twice about this.

Similarly, another view into the sexism in IT is via my father, who was a mainframe programmer and became an upper-level manager, director-level, at a medium-sized company. Mid 80s to mid-to-late-90s. He and my mom divorced in 1994 and he remarried to a senior developer that worked for him. She was one of only a few women developers there—keep in mind that this was in the mainframe world and in the previous generation of computing. She and my dad and I talked a lot about how differently she was treated, sometimes explicit sexism and most of the time implicit and unconscious. My dad has a number of regressive ideas, but to his credit he can really get on the right side of some things when he's really thought about them. His wife's experience really sort of transformed him into something like a feminist in this context, a transformation that was pretty interesting considering he was outspoken against the ERA.

Or here's another professional example I used to think about quite a bit. My grandfather, who died in 1974 at only 52 of a stroke, was arguably one of the two or three most influential bankers in the history of the state of New Mexico. This is a small state, of course. During and after that period, my mother worked as a banker in the small college/farming town we lived in. The president and owner of the bank, an imperious and obnoxious old man, was practically in awe of my grandfather. My mom is bright and a very hard and diligent worker. She managed for a number of years a two-person college branch office of the bank, and eventually was an officer. But I always felt certain that had she been male, her upward movement through the ranks of this small town bank would have been rapid. That's the difference that Y chromosome can make. The professional experiences for men and women are so very, very different. Even today. I'm not sure that much has really changed.
posted by kmellis 12 April | 17:47
I don't have any experience with little boys and, frankly, they intimidate me.

I felt exactly the same way when my first nephew was born -- I was delighted, of course, but also a little shellshocked. I remember being on the phone with my dad to get the news (I was still living in Chicago at the time), and when he announced "IT'S A BOY!!" my very first response was to blurt out, "are you sure?" I mean, I just couldn't fathom it. It had really never crossed my mind I wouldn't have a neice. A boy!? For god's sake, she might as well have had a Martian.

Of course, the minute I saw him when he was six weeks old, I fell hopelessly in love with the little guy, and I about six months later I moved out to California in part because I felt so strongly drawn to being here after he was born (the weather was an enticement, too). And now, with three amazing nephews to call my own, I find I can barely remember what it was like to think I could only relate to little girls.
posted by scody 12 April | 18:10
Here's a great photo of my ten day old nephew, BTW.
posted by kmellis 12 April | 18:30
Way too late, but I can't resit throwing my 2c worth in here.

I actually go out of my way to see people as individuals which is why I have my own beefs with the various isms.
Apart from the "... go out of my way ..." part, I am in total agreement with this - I just see people as people without having to make an effort to do so and have a real problem with any of them being labelled in any way, because that allows people to make a little spot in their mind where that person belongs and therefore filter all future interactions with that person accordingly . For example, anyone who self-identifies as a feminist is less likely to hear jokes related to stereotypical behaviour by women. You may consider this a good thing, but the ability to laugh at our own behaviour is an important (to me) way of being human and applying this filter to anyone means you consider them a little less human. Whether you are offended by these jokes or find them automatically outrageous is irrelevant - by filtering interactions with that person, you are treating them as less than an equal and saying that they must be protected, therefore considering them weaker than you.

Goddamnit, I hate that I can't get what's in my head out into words properly - what I have written above doesn't really say what I mean, but I can't explain it any more clearly.
posted by dg 12 April | 18:43
grab bag of comments:

kmellis- or maybe she'd made the mistake of bringing homemade cookies to the office previously. I've never had a male coworker do that, or rather, if they do, they announce loudly that some woman in their life made them.

jonmc- if it makes you feel better, I get the "you're not a real feminist" crap, too, and I'm female, but pro-porn and pro-gun, and pro-sex-with-men. There's just no making some people happy. And, speaking from my own high horse, those people AREN'T feminists, if they're undermining people who support women as equals. (I also eat meat, although I don't like the meat industry, and am generally pro-fur over synthetic products, although I don't like the fur industry either. For some reason these things and feminism are often grouped together around here.)

Someone told me that a lot of men don't really become gentlemen until they have a daughter. Then they suddenly realize what a hostile-to-girls world it is. It's been amusing to watch this transformation happen to my friends, even men who self-identified as feminists.

-here's ANOTHER NCR link (2 in one day!) on gender equality in Ireland. It's an op-ed. I found it very interesting.
posted by small_ruminant 12 April | 18:44
kmellis: OHMYGOD is that a sweet baby! EEEEEE! cutie cutie cute Noah!
posted by scody 12 April | 18:50
s_r: you sound like a fellow cranky individualist cynic. welcome to the club, your etched martini glass and monogrammed smoking jacket are in the mail.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 18:57
Haha! I'm a lefty, feminist, flag-waving patriot and I dare anyone to tell me differently!

And my manhattan will go in your etched martini glass marvelously- thank you!
posted by small_ruminant 12 April | 19:03
Booze! Bringing isms together since prohibitionism!
posted by Miko 12 April | 19:46
alcoholism: the one good ism!
posted by jonmc 12 April | 19:51
This is a fascinating thread. Reading it, it occurred to me that the disconnect between some of my fellow feminists and jonmc may also be a fish-and-water issue, to some extent. It's just turning over in my mind at the moment, but here goes:

jon and I are both in our mid-thirties. This thread reminded me of how hard it was for socially/politically aware men my age in the 80s and early 90s, when we were refining our social and political identities. So many men I knew felt they couldn't win for losing. Feminism was going through a major shift, and we were all balancing between what we learned from our parents (who, even if they were feminist or left-leaning, for the most part either followed or reacted against traditional roles and so were still defined by them) and the ideas that were constantly evolving around us. The young men I knew seemed stuck between a sincere desire to be aware of and sensitive to feminist issues and wanting sex and maybe a romantic-type relationship, preferably with a strong-minded, independent woman. Many of the men who talked to me about it described those two desires as conflicting, in that the grey area of sensitivity, supportiveness, personal strength and confidence--all of them desirable qualities in any partner--was for them an ever-shifting minefield, bounded by the dreaded 'new-age-90s-type-of guy who you'd have as a friend but saw as sexually neutral' area and the 'knuckle-dragging insensitive boor' area. They never knew when they might misstep, and many were not yet sure enough of themselves to cease to give a crap about such external pressures. Understandably, this bred a lot of resentment against the whole mess. Once I started hearing about this I paid more attention to how people I knew interacted. My friends had a good point, and I never would have realized what a difficult situation they were in had they not told me.

I apologize for the longwindedness, but many of jon's comments reminded me of so many of my male friends at that time, and I think that may be where a lot of that comes from. (Not to presume to speak for you, of course, jon)
posted by elizard 12 April | 21:21
The young men I knew seemed stuck between a sincere desire to be aware of and sensitive to feminist issues and wanting sex and maybe a romantic-type relationship, preferably with a strong-minded, independent woman.

Exactly. We want to respect you as a person and hear all your ideas and be your best friend (I'm being completely sincere here), but at the same time we also want to transform you into a drooling monosyllablic sex beastess. and yeah, we still like our silly guy stuff-our sports and war movies and cock-rock all that jazz, and we love ya even more if you dig it too.
posted by jonmc 12 April | 22:03
Admittedly, I bought it used, because I buy used books over new ones whenever I can, but my copy of the Official Feminist Manual is missing the page that proscribes sports-watching among men.

Perpetuating the myth that feminists' goal is to change men's interests is counter-productive and only leads to more feminism.

I'd personally prefer to live in a world where 'feminsim' isn't necessary. But a lot of defensive men (and some defensive women too) consistently belabor this point: "But I like sports, and tits are pretty!" Which proves to me that, at least in my lifetime, that will never be the case.

And I say this as a sports-watching, tit-appreciating feminist.
posted by mudpuppie 12 April | 22:48
Okay, this is really a response to the original AskMe question. A monologue, of sorts. In my imagination, it's being read by Christopher Walken:

Shhh... quiet.

Do you hear it?

That faint, distant whistling sound?

That's the sound of a bomb dropping.

That quiet turning of wheels?

That's the sound of your health insurance disappearing.

That little snap was your credit rating.

That little "plink"? The sound of your child's heart breaking because We're Not Having Christmas This Year.

That little wet noise? The sound of your dry, nervous lips kissing the feet of someone who isn't going to give you the job, and doesn't like your flop sweat.

The louder grinding noise? That's the U-Haul truck you'll be renting to move somewhere where they don't know about you.

The modem tones... The sound of the people in your new town, checking your employment history.

Soldiers in foxholes say that you never hear the whistle of the shell that hits you. Only the ones that miss. So what do you hear right now? Can you hear them? People are working now - right now - to take away the life you think you own. You may think you have 'buddies' - and I expect your buddies are the stand-up guys who will buy you a beer at the end of the day. But are they going to buy the braces on your kids' teeth? Are they going to make the payments on that Dodge Hemi truck that you just bought? Come to think of it... When you can't get work in construction any more, will you be able to claim that truck as a business expense?

Hmm... It all bears quiet contemplation, doesn't it? Just how much you have to lose...

But it's too late... The bombs are already falling. The taint has its teeth into you. You were so busy being loud and obnoxious... I'm not surprised you didn't hear.

I just love the idea of a colossal hammer of karmic justice seeming to fall from out of the clear blue sky to ruin this troglodyte's life. As far as I'm concerned, folks like this construction worker are incorrigable; best to simply make an example out of them in the hopes of improving the rest of the lot.
posted by Triode 13 April | 01:07
Everything has its time and place, jonmc. ;-)
posted by brujita 13 April | 02:06
But calling a behavior or a belief sexist is different from calling a person sexist.

I understand this distinction, but it can be hard to feel it when people post negative theories about the motivation behind my comments rather than their content. I would like my behavior to be defined by what I type, not by what somebody thinks I meant to type. At times in discussions of sexism, I haven't felt I was getting that.
posted by danostuporstar 13 April | 08:44
And well put, elizard.
posted by danostuporstar 13 April | 08:45
I just wanted to say I really enjoyed reading this thread, and I really appreciate that this is (probably?) one of the few places on the web where this kind of discussion can be (usually) counted on not to devolve into "hurf durf me woman you man lol beez". People beat me to everything else I wanted to say here, and far better than I could have put it.
posted by casarkos 13 April | 09:02
OK, I actually learnt something. Because I completely agree with everything that elizard said, and thought it was well said, but I also thought "duh", and that it didn't need to be said. I thought those ideas and sentiments (ie. women are aware how hard it is and was for men, particularly our age, mid-30sish to absorb all of these sometimes contradictory expectations) were a given. Obviously not, so thanks elizard and I shouldn't make assumptions like that.
posted by gaspode 13 April | 09:29
Yes, but then too, by modifying rhetoric or behavior too much around the reactions men might have to feminism, there's a danger of again focusing on the needs of men, caretaking them, so they aren't too scared of strong women. I wish I could just be strong and confident and rely on personal confidence and strength in the men around me, too. But perhaps we are/have been in an intermediary stage where a lot of men will be more supportive of feminism if women take the time to acknowledge their anxieties. It can be a fine line to walk.
posted by Miko 13 April | 10:28
I absolutely agree in principle Miko, but in practice maybe you end up with the big case of the "I can't win"s as jonmc's been saying.

Bah, I have a whole lot of examples and no time to type them out because I'm busy, and I can never articulate myself well in these threads anyway.
posted by gaspode 13 April | 11:28
I can relate, 'pode. In these kinds of threads (by which I mean 'threads about contentious issues,' or something like that--the Imus discussions also fall into this category), I always wind up typing up a bunch of comments, at different stages in the discussion, and then never posting any of them.
posted by box 13 April | 11:44
(oh, me too box. we really need a metachat conference. we can have social stuff in the evenings and debate the issues during the day. sort ourselves out once and for all. someone get funding!)
posted by gaspode 13 April | 12:12
someone get funding!)

ah, we'd just spend it all on hookers and blow.
posted by jonmc 13 April | 12:24
speak for yourself! I'd spend it on a custom-installed roller coaster. Oh, and blow.
posted by gaspode 13 April | 12:33
Because I am so naturally pure of soul, I would donate my blow to a home for nappyheaded hos.
posted by danostuporstar 13 April | 12:45
It made me sad to learn that booksandlibretti wears an ipod and carries a huge messenger bag (which she keeps rearranging to hide her body) just to walk down the street.

I registered here just so I could clarify this. I wear my iPod because I love listening to music, and I carry a huge backpack because I have to schlep around a lot of heavy books and other junk.

After a while of doing both, I realized that when I had my headphones on, a lot fewer guys would say stuff. However, that is definitely not the reason I wear my headphones. The same kind of reasoning applies to my habit of backpack-wearing.

I realized that if I'm carrying around a giant backpack anyway, then in certain scenarios, I might as well deflect interest by pretending to need something from it. It only really works when a specific set of conditions apply -- several guys with nothing to do are leaning against a building, looking at passers-by with interest, and talking, and I have to walk past directly in front of them. In that case, if I'm feeling uncomfortable enough, I would hitch my backpack around and devote my interest to digging in it as I pass. Although ymmv depending on how often you see these situations, I do this maybe twice a week; it's not like I keep clutching desperately at my bag to cover myself.

I hope knowing all that makes you feel better, iconomy. I just wanted to clear it up because the whole thing is confusing enough (I'm not attractive) without letting inaccuracies stand.
posted by booksandlibretti 14 April | 04:21
I've been reading along here whenever I get the chance, and I have nothing intelligent to add, but I'd like to ask if any of the women here have ever spent an appreciable amount of time in a place (or places) where street (etc.) harassment hasn't been an issue - and if so, why they think that is?

I haven't experienced it at all in Greece, though I can't really speak about Athens yet. I am certainly older now than when I lived in the U.S., and that could be a big difference, but I still occasionally get normal sorts of male attention such as invitations to coffee, conversations struck up needlessly, that kind of thing - but never that aggressive, implicitly hostile/threatening catcalling behaviour... and I haven't ever witnessed it happening to the stunning young women I used to see everywhere in Thessaloniki.

I don't know the reason for this - confirmation bias? Cultural confusion (maybe it happens, but in a way I don't recognize)? Urban anomaly (perhaps the places I have frequented are not the sorts of places this would happen/be tolerated)? Or are the men here just less hostile to women? Or are they constrained by the much stronger social expectations that are created in a society where family/neighbors/friends are so very close knit and intertwined? Maybe it's a matter of feeling a great deal more accountability, generally. Or maybe it's the extremely (sometimes oppressively and/or outrageously) close relationships men here usually have with their mothers, so that idea of "I hope you don't talk to your mother with that mouth" is actually sort of real. Or maybe it's just plain old-fashioned, and in 10 or 20 more years, it will be just as bad as the U.S.

Anyway, it's wonderful! I hope Athens isn't different. It's absolutely fantastic to be able to walk around alone without being constantly on guard and never, ever letting your "game face" slip; just the ability to walk the streets normally seems like such a gift.
posted by taz 14 April | 09:36
Taz, weirdly, Venice was pretty harassment-free, in the catcalling sense. Italy's got the reputation for it, of course, and Florence and Rome were always atrocious. But Venice has a rather old, rather formal population, and while there was certainly all the friendly banter you mention in Athens, it was *never* crude or aggressive.

My favorite: Walking through Piazza San Marco early one morning, an elderly man in a three-piece suit and hat said, "Your eyes are more beautiful than the stars above the Piazza."

That said, two of the scariest incidents I've had of being followed. One late at night, through a looooooong deserted route -- we're talking 20min. of this weird guy following me in the "slowing down when I did" way. When I eventually got to a place with people, I went into a bar and the guy actually sat down on a bench in the square to wait until I came back out. (I told the bartender what was going on, and coincidentally a bunch of police showed up just then, and the guy finally scrammed.)

And a construction worker who thought that my saying hello to him every morning meant that I wanted to sleep with him. He saw me walking around the city one day and we started talking, and I just could NOT get him to go away. Plus, he already knew where I lived (they were working on the convent next to my building), so he ended up taking me home and I actually had to come really close to slamming a big heavy medieval wooden door on his fingers (I would have, but he moved his hand at the last minute) because he had me pinned up against the door -- he didn't realize it opened inward.

So.... I don't know. Freedom from petty catcalls was good. Increase of scarier shit was less good. :(
posted by occhiblu 14 April | 09:59
I'd like to ask if any of the women here have ever spent an appreciable amount of time in a place (or places) where street (etc.) harassment hasn't been an issue - and if so, why they think that is?

Well, as a young gal I lived in both DC and SF, and I found somewhat less street harassment in SF. I am biased (one more SF-o-phile), but I think that the culture in SF is a bit less tolerant of the really raw/bullying kind of harassment.

Now I am an old-ish gal so would be less of a target anywhere, but I not only live in SF but in the Castro. Problem solved! :)
posted by Claudia_SF 14 April | 14:30
I really don't know experience has been that I have been most often harassed (by which I mean leering, following, staring, crowding, telling me to smile, touching me without my consent and propositioning me) by sexist middle eastern, south Asian, Mediterranean, Latino men and sexist white butches...sexist white and African Americans usually have only pulled these things with me when they're wasted. It's only since rap went mainstream that I've had east Asian men blatantly treat me as though I were nothing more than my vagina rather than condescend to me because I had one--as has been the case with sober fundies.

I really hate the attitude in New York.

posted by brujita 15 April | 03:19
Jonestown. || Awwwww!