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A page I got linked to the other day: Cat-Calling, "Bystander Sexism," and How Sexual Harassment Hurts Men. The article addresses male-on-female harassment; this is hardly the only form of sexual harassment, but it is by far the most common. (If someone wants to write up a thing, or has resources about female-on-male, female-on-female, male-on-male, and assorted forms of transphobic harassment, feel free to link to the resource or whatever you posted in comments.)

The article is the sort that immediately makes me say "Oh yes, exactly this", but it's also the sort that makes me look at it and realize that there are some audiences who will read it and Just Not Get It, because they've never experienced it for themselves, and never had it explained.



Reiterating from the article: when a man makes a public sexist comment to a woman, even if he means it in good fun, but the woman takes it as a sexist comment, not only does it have an effect on the woman it was directed at, but all the women who witnessed it are affected.


Specifically, women who witness sexual harassment done unto other women are likelier to mentally place themselves in that woman's shoes, identify with them, think how likely it is that they could have been the recipient of this, and add another tallymark to whatever score they may be keeping on the topic of "Men Suck". Not just "gods, that guy's an asshole", but "that guy's an asshole and he's not the only one, and it is increasingly hard to tell the assholes from the decent men." It may even be "It's so amazingly hard to tell the assholes from the decent men that it's safest to assume that all men are assholes until proven otherwise."


This directly affects the ability of decently-behaving men to strike up a perfectly innocent conversation with a woman, let alone get a date. Have you heard the term "Schrodinger's rapist"? It's the sort of thing that can make a decent guy fume: you've never had evil intent in your life, you've never acted on a sketchy impulse, and yet you're part of a larger class that's greeted with distrust and fear, and it may be no direct fault of your own.

Testimonals to your Decent Guy status from people who know and trust you only go so far. That is to say, in some cases they mean exactly jack. Why? Because so many jackasses are given a free pass by their social groups ("Don't mind X, it's just his way", "Yeah, his ex says bad things about him, she's just bitter", "You'll get used to him", "He's only like this after he's had a few too many", "I would never have a rapist for a friend, therefore my friend isn't a rapist"), and so many people would rather make any excuse than think that they'd mistakenly trusted a rapist. A person doesn't want to believe that someone they like and trust could possibly have done such a horrible thing. A person doesn't want to admit that their judgment about a person could have been so horribly wrong. A person doesn't want to face up to the social consequences of either excluding someone from their trust and places they were formerly welcome, or to admitting that there is a known predator in the social circle, and facing questions about why they're still welcome.


So how might this affect you? So you're a man. You're attempting to do everything right. You're not hooting and hollering in public, not playing grab-ass. You've asked five of your female friends to watch your attempts to initiate conversation with a woman (your actual attempts, not just your theoretical conversation-openers) and none of them have said "dude, that was pathetic and/or offensive". (You call them "conversation-openers", not "pickup lines".) None of them made that little wince that says that there's something that they see that they can't articulate that you probably wouldn't get even if they were able to, before saying "I'm not sure what else you could be doing" (if they winced like that, you're probably trying too hard and giving off that specific air of desperation that says you're not interested in her as a person, you're interested in her because she's presenting as a woman and at this point, any woman would do and you are willing to overlook any number of attributes that you actually loathe because WOMAN NEED WOMAN NOW)...

... so you're doing everything right, you're well-groomed, you can speak to a woman without throwing up from nervousness, and you're still getting shot down? Maybe it isn't entirely you. There's enough generalized jackassery from enough men that any given woman is likely to be on the defensive, because she has no way of knowing up front what man is trustworthy and who is not, and because she has no faith that if she runs afoul of an untrustworthy man, that she will be protected, defended, or believed.



I say "may be no direct fault of your own". If you have participated directly in sexual harassment, hello, your chickens are coming home to roost. You are part of the problem, or have been in the past, even if you've mended your ways. If you do it now, stop.


Let's talk about the indirect things that nonetheless contribute. (Some of these, I've done myself, and I hope to not repeat those mistakes in the future.)


If you have stood by and egged other guys on as they sexually harassed women, your chickens are coming home to roost. You may not have been the direct problem, but you provided aid and comfort to those who were. The woman who they were hollering at may not actually have differentiated between the guy who was hollering at her and the guys who were whooping at him. If, as a woman, you are assessing a situation for a possible threat, and a guy has identified himself as a problem by hollering at you, and there are other guys standing around encouraging him: if he gets grabby with you, would those other guys stop him? Probably not. Would they just stand their watching? Possibly. Would they directly or indirectly encourage him to go further than he would have if it were just him on his lonesome? Probably. Would they actually join in and get grabby themselves? This is when someone thinks about whether she is packing some pepper spray, and starts looking around to see if there are other people or somewhere that she can go where trouble is unlikely to follow her.

If you have defended the tactics of a guy who you knew to be questionable on consent issues, you are part of the problem, and part of the reason that testimonials from others are not reliable. You are sending the message that this is okay, that you approve of these tactics, that if other guys use these tactics, they will be accepted, not tossed out of the social circle on their ear, and actively defended.

If you have said "But X is my friend, he could never do such a thing!", without inquiring into the details of the situation, you are part of the problem. It does not matter whether, in that particular situation, your friend was actually innocent of any wrongdoing. Your knee-jerk defense of someone you know, without questioning the details, is a problem. You send the message that someone reporting an assault or a problem will be dismissed without a second thought, and that friendship excuses all evils -- even if you genuinely believe that your friend would never do such a thing. Sit down, shut up, and listen. After you've listened, ask (do not demand) the sorts of details that you feel would help you ascertain the truth. Ask your friend. ("Hey, what happened with what's her name the other night?" is more likely to get an open and honest answer than "DID YOU RAPE WHAT'S HER NAME?!?!!")

If you have stood by and watched other guys sexually harass women, and did not indicate in any way other than your lack of overt participation that this was not okay with you, listen to the gentle rustle of chickens shifting in the night. Sometimes an awkward silence is a social chilling effect. Sometimes it is not, depending on the target's ability to parse a subtle non-response as disapproval. In the aggregate, guys are generally less able to parse subtle social signals than women, so the more subtle your non-participation was, the fewer chances it actually made it through as a message. (A group turning-of-the-back-and-walking-off on the guy who was being a jackass might make it through; just standing there ignoring him might actually not. Depends on the guy. But if he's ignoring social signals from the woman he's pestering, he's either being sadistic, or he's really dense on that front.)


If you complain about how guys who are doing everything right are being treated as if they were personally the wrongdoers, and state or imply that you're one of the Good Guys, you (depending on the situation) may actually not be improving matters. It's pretty easy for a complaint session about being treated as Schrodinger's Rapist to turn into a "we as Good Guys deserve to get a swift positive reception from women despite women having learned to mistrust men" entitlement-encouraging session. Focus on what you can do to improve matters, not what women should do. How can I stop other men from being jackasses? How can I avoid being mistaken for a jackass? How can I stop sending the same signals that jackasses are using and abusing?


So what else can you do?

If you have asked after more details if someone reported to you that a friend of yours had acted inappropriately, and based your reaction on examining the details of the situation rather than knee-jerk defense of your friend, you are working to improve things.

If you have heard about a situation after the fact, and expressed how sketchy that sounded, you're doing good works.

If you have witnessed other guys sexually harassing women, and said something like "Hey, knock it off" or "dude, that was uncalled-for", congratulations. You get a cookie. You are part of the solution.

If you have actively prevented other guys from sexually harassing women, or summoned help to stop things, ditto. You are part of the solution.




It's not always possible for any one person to actually stop a problem in progress. You may be the 98-pound guy who doesn't work out in the company of a couple guys twice your weight who could wipe the floor with you (and would, at any provocation), and it doesn't look like the hollering is going to degenerate into the sort of situation where you'd be justified in calling the police. You may have the sort of social standing in the group where your active discouragement of the scenario would escalate things rather than defuse. You may suspect that if you said something, they might take their attention off the woman and actually physically assault you.

Or it may just be that it would be awkward, and uncomfortable, and you might lose standing in the eyes of people you respect. Consider also the awkwardness and discomfort that the woman being hollered at is feeling. Consider why you respect these people, and whether their current actions warrant your respect. Consider "hey, I think that's enough, lay off", "dude, wtf", "it looks like she doesn't like that". Consider physically getting between someone who is the source of hasslement and their target, particularly if you are larger than the hassler. Consider slipping out and coming back with someone who does have the social or legal authority to put a stop to things. Consider waiting for the situation to pass to say "hey, could you ... holler less? That weirded me out, I don't think she was cool with that". Talk about how you gave the stink-eye to some dudes who hollered at your sister (assuming you did, assuming you have a sister). Talk about how a female friend got hollered at and was upset, and how you don't think it's right for women to get hollered at like that. Talk to the new kid who's emulating the jackass, explain how you guys have been trying with no effect to get the jackass to simmer down, but how you'd hate to see the new kid follow in his footsteps.

Think about the principles of chivalry, which boil down to protecting those who can't protect themselves. Updated for modern times, don't assume that a woman can't protect herself, but be willing to lend a hand to anyone who seems like they could use it.


Casual sexual harassment in forms that are dangerously close to casual conversation-openers is such a pervasive problem that until it stops entirely, and until well after it stops entirely, men who have never done an inappropriate thing to a woman in their lives, knowingly or unknowingly, are going to get the same sort of self-protective brushoffs that greet casual sexual harassment.


And you may be thinking, "What is the big deal with a little hollering at someone? It's not like anyone touched her or anything!"

You may be shocked to learn that some people actually don't stop at hollering, that hollering can be a lead-in to a grope, or to following someone without regard for their signals that the proximity and conversation are making them uncomfortable. It's actually kind of hard to tell the difference between a holler that's not going to lead to some sort of escalation, and a holler that could result in danger. If a woman's had one holler that escalated, she's more likely to view future hollers as possibly leading to escalation. If a woman's known somebody, or witnessed this happening, she too will treat a holler like the opening shot of something more serious, and not just an isolated incident.


Hollering, by itself, may not violate anyone's physical integrity, but it can be sufficient, given the person and their history and the exact scenario, to spoil their day. If you don't know them, you don't know their history. Even if you do know them, it's their reaction, not yours, and it's not your place to say they don't have a right to be upset.

Grabbing or groping someone without their consent is actual assault.

Encountering someone in a public place and then following them may or may not be legal in your area, depending on stalking laws. You may be making conversation with them. They may not want to be making conversation with you, and may actually want to get away from you. If you find it amusing to follow people and cause them distress, I'm not sure if I can help you here.

Pressuring someone for her contact information: dude, if she does not want to give it to you, she does not want to hear from you. If she is reluctant to give it to you, she probably still doesn't want to hear from you but she caved because it'll probably be less trouble to ignore your calls than to ignore you in person. If you want to get in touch with her again but give her a choice about it, offer your own business card, or failing that, your number or email address scrawled on a napkin. If she doesn't want to even take it, she really does not want to hear from you.

Pressuring someone for a date: if she's unthrilled with your presence, she's going to be less thrilled to go with you unaccompanied, be seen with you as her escort, and have that much less attention be paid to her if she's in distress in your presence, because obviously you couldn't be the threat because you're "together".

Pressuring someone to not leave a venue because "it's not safe": if they want to leave, they probably have a reason. Offer an escort, but don't try to hold someone somewhere against their will.

Pressuring someone to allow you to walk them somewhere "because they wouldn't be safe alone": if you've made it clear that it's no inconvenience to you to escort them, and they still don't want you to do so, let it go. It's entirely possible that they feel safer alone on the street with sketchy strangers than they do in your company, especially given that acquaintance rape is more prevalent than stranger rape. They may prefer another escort, or none at all.

"But it was meant as a compliment/as a joke/nicely!" Dude, if it came off badly, either with the target audience, bystanders, or both, it doesn't matter if you had the best intentions in the world. You didn't mean for that ball to hit the window, either, but now the window's broken, and it's still you who threw the ball.



In short: Don't be that guy. Don't let your friends be that guy. Don't encourage that guy. Don't let your friends encourage that guy. Avoid associating with that guy if you can. And maybe, once guys in general stop letting that guy get away with it, the general reputation of men will improve.



This is also informed by the following excellent resources and narratives:
http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/meet-the-predators/
http://kateharding.net/2009/10/08/guest-blogger-starling-schrodinger%E2%80%99s-rapist-or-a-guy%E2%80%99s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/
http://cereta.livejournal.com/652008.html (where are the stories about men doing stuff correctly?)
http://fugitivus.wordpress.com/stuff-what-boys-can-do/ (here they are)
http://feministlawprofessors.com/?p=12965 (Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work!)
http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist/2009/11/09/legal-consent-morning-after-regret-and-accidental-rape/
http://hoydenabouttown.com/20070505.519/its-not-the-empty-street-that-causes-rape/
http://hoydenabouttown.com/20070601.620/rape-resistance-not-rape-prevention/
http://fugitivus.wordpress.com/2009/06/26/another-post-about-rape-3/
http://fightforjustice.blogspot.com/2007/05/rape-resistance-backpack.html

Crossposted. comment count unavailable comments.
Gone away, gone ahead,
Echoes roll unanswered.
Empty, open, dusty, dead.
Why have all the Weyrfolk fled?

Where have dragons gone together
Leaving weyrs to wind and weather,
Setting herdbeasts free of tether;
Gone, our safeguards, gone, but whither?

Have they flown to some new weyr
Where cruel Threads some others fear?
Are they worlds away from here?
Why, oh why the empty weyr?

-- "The Question Song", Anne McCaffrey
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