I’ve been tinkering with a niggle for a while, running it past some
experimental subjects friends. The niggle in question is the trope of woman-reading-book-in-public-place-getting-interrupted-by-guy-with-“romantic”-intentions. It’s one of those grey-area situations that risks sending everyone into full-on attack or defence mode. Rape culture! Feminism gone mad! Consent! Paranoia! I wanted to make sure that a. I was not full of poop and b. I could put the subject forth in a way that didn’t unnecessarily get people’s backs up.
It wasn’t really working. Or rather, it wasn’t working cross-gender. Talking to female friends about this, we were all on the same page. I haven’t run some sort of large scale study, so the numbers don’t mean anything at all, but I personally know of one woman who’d be not only tolerant of being interrupted by a stranger while they’re reading, but actually glad of it. One. And she’s absolutely bloody awful to men, because she uses them to get ego strokes, and drinks, and presents… she just sees them as interchangeable candy machines. I’m not saying that it is inconceivable that there are women out there who enjoy that kind of interruption. I’m just saying that I know one, and all the female friends I consulted couldn’t add to that list.
Talking to the guys, though, I was getting a two-phase response. The immediate response was, universally “eh what how is that even a thing does that really happen for real? Why would they do that?” It wasn’t that they thought that the act was iniquitous. They just thought it was anti-useful. They were eminently puzzled that a dood with romantic intentions would attempt to bring his hopes to fruition by annoying the bejesus out of his intended. They were all of the impression that if you want women to see you in a good light, you have to avoid acting like a prick. And all of them believed that “nose in book” + “headphones on” + “no eye contact” does not in fact mean “please talk to me”, so there’s just no opening there, no chance of it going well.
Thus far, we were all in agreement. Phew! Unfortunately, the same wasn’t true of phase two.
All the guys thought it wasn’t that big a deal, really. You just tell the guy that you’re not interested, or that you’re busy, and he goes away. And that’s when I started flapping. I could think of a bunch of situations when I didn’t do that, because that didn’t feel like a safe option. Instead, I relied on non-verbal clues, or answering in monosyllables, and hoped the guy got the gist. (That has yet to work for me, which should be expected as the guy had already ignored a bunch of non-verbal clues in order to make his approach. Duh, Anna, duh.) Many women alone in public places often don’t want to tell the men approaching them to straight-up go away in fear of retaliation, or because they don’t expect it to work. It’s not that we don’t want to be rude, but that we know that rudeness could well backfire, or fail to work and be used to put us in the wrong.
Conversations started diverging at this point, with some guys saying “but how often does that escalation/retaliation really happen?”, “then you know that the guy is a problem and can behave accordingly”, “then you can just move”, or “then you can ask for help from bystanders”, and sundry other ramifications. And I kept trying to explain that, personally, I’ve never felt I could rely on that. I’ve never felt that I could rely solely on the fact that I was in the right and a guy was in the wrong to result in a happy ending to an exchange. That bystanders aren’t always there, and even if they are they generally do nothing. That the chances of them doing nothing are often actually greater the greater the threat seems – people are happier being heroes when there’s no obvious associated risks.
I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t understand where I was coming from. And then I realised that there’s a huge selection bias in the people I talk to. I don’t knowingly or willingly befriend people who treat other people with disrespect. I particularly don’t knowingly or willingly befriend misogynists – it’s not that I’m on the lookout for them, it’s that our beliefs and behaviours naturally repel each other. So, when I’m talking about my problems with guys to the guys in my life, I’m not talking to them about them. I’m talking to them about some profoundly different them, them over there. I’m talking about the kind of guy that they themselves wouldn’t befriend, or if they did they would quickly re-train to behave more respectfully to those around them. The kind of guy that, by their own admission, engage in behaviours that they can’t wrap their heads around.
Every time I have a problem with a guy in a public place, it’s never one of “my” guys. It’s never anyone remotely like one of “my” guys. Because “my” guys are not the kind of person who hassles women in public places.
There’s so much gnashing of teeth over the gender divide around creepiness. Now I’m wondering whether this is really a gender divide at all. I am starting to thing that the issue is one of Lizard People – people who look very much like “our” guys, but have such a different psychology that they’re practically a different species. And us gals keep mixing them all up, keep believing that sporting the same style of genitals should make you able to understand and deal with them. And our guys keep thinking that, when we relate our problems, we’re having those problems with people like them, whose behaviour can be explained by the same motivations, and whose reactions can be expected to be similar. Because those Lizard People only show their forked tongues when our guys are not around.