(trigger warning: rape, assault, rape culture)
Gentlemen. Thank you for reading.
Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. You respect the elderly. You donate to charity. You tell jokes without laughing at your own punchlines. You respect women. You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know that woman—she isn’t working with you, nor have you been introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So you must look further afield to encounter her.
So far, so good. Miss LonelyHearts, your humble instructor, approves. Human connection, love, romance: there is nothing wrong with these yearnings.
Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.
“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”
Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is. When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?
So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?
Do you think I’m overreacting? One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any rapists, but consider the sheer number of rapes that must occur. These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion. While you may assume that none of the men you know are rapists, I can assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?
When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.
Fortunately, you’re a good guy. We’ve already established that. Now that you’re aware that there’s a problem, you are going to go out of your way to fix it, and to make the women with whom you interact feel as safe as possible.
To begin with, you must accept that I set my own risk tolerance. When you approach me, I will begin to evaluate the possibility you will do me harm. That possibility is never 0%. For some women, particularly women who have been victims of violent assaults, any level of risk is unacceptable. Those women do not want to be approached, no matter how nice you are or how much you’d like to date them. Okay? That’s their right. Don’t get pissy about it. Women are under no obligation to hear the sales pitch before deciding they are not in the market to buy.
The second important point: you must be aware of what signals you are sending by your appearance and the environment. We are going to be paying close attention to your appearance and behavior and matching those signs to our idea of a threat.
This means that some men should never approach strange women in public. Specifically, if you have truly unusual standards of personal cleanliness, if you are the prophet of your own religion, or if you have tattoos of gang symbols or Technicolor cockroaches all over your face and neck, you are just never going to get a good response approaching a woman cold. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of solitude, but I suggest you start with internet dating, where you can put your unusual traits out there and find a woman who will appreciate them.
Are you wearing a tee-shirt making a rape joke? NOT A GOOD CHOICE—not in general, and definitely not when approaching a strange woman.
Pay attention to the environment. Look around. Are you in a dark alley? Then probably you ought not approach a woman and try to strike up a conversation. The same applies if you are alone with a woman in most public places. If the public place is a closed area (a subway car, an elevator, a bus), even a crowded one, you may not realize that the woman’s ability to flee in case of threat is limited. Ask yourself, “If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?” If the answer is no, then it isn’t appropriate to approach her.
On the other hand, if you are both at church accompanied by your mothers, who are lifelong best friends, the woman is as close as it comes to safe. That is to say, still not 100% safe. But the odds are pretty good.
The third point: Women are communicating all the time. Learn to understand and respect women’s communication to you.
You want to say Hi to the cute girl on the subway. How will she react? Fortunately, I can tell you with some certainty, because she’s already sending messages to you. Looking out the window, reading a book, working on a computer, arms folded across chest, body away from you = do not disturb. So, y’know, don’t disturb her. Really. Even to say that you like her hair, shoes, or book. A compliment is not always a reason for women to smile and say thank you. You are a threat, remember? You are Schrödinger’s Rapist. Don’t assume that whatever you have to say will win her over with charm or flattery. Believe what she’s signaling, and back off.
If you speak, and she responds in a monosyllabic way without looking at you, she’s saying, “I don’t want to be rude, but please leave me alone.” You don’t know why. It could be “Please leave me alone because I am trying to memorize Beowulf.” It could be “Please leave me alone because you are a scary, scary man with breath like a water buffalo.” It could be “Please leave me alone because I am planning my assassination of a major geopolitical figure and I will have to kill you if you are able to recognize me and blow my cover.”
On the other hand, if she is turned towards you, making eye contact, and she responds in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to her, you are getting a green light. You can continue the conversation until you start getting signals to back off.
The fourth point: If you fail to respect what women say, you label yourself a problem.
There’s a man with whom I went out on a single date—afternoon coffee, for one hour by the clock—on July 25th. In the two days after the date, he sent me about fifteen e-mails, scolding me for non-responsiveness. I e-mailed him back, saying, “Look, this is a disproportionate response to a single date. You are making me uncomfortable. Do not contact me again.” It is now October 7th. Does he still e-mail?
Yeah. He does. About every two weeks.
This man scores higher on the threat level scale than Man with the Cockroach Tattoos. (Who, after all, is guilty of nothing more than terrifying bad taste.) You see, Mr. E-mail has made it clear that he ignores what I say when he wants something from me. Now, I don’t know if he is an actual rapist, and I sincerely hope he’s not. But he is certainly Schrödinger’s Rapist, and this particular Schrödinger’s Rapist has a probability ratio greater than one in sixty. Because a man who ignores a woman’s NO in a non-sexual setting is more likely to ignore NO in a sexual setting, as well.
So if you speak to a woman who is otherwise occupied, you’re sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone. If you pursue a conversation when she’s tried to cut it off, you send a message. It is that your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone. And each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights.
For women, who are watching you very closely to determine how much of a threat you are, this is an important piece of data.
The fifth and last point: Don’t rape. Nor should you commit these similar but less severe offenses: don’t assault. Don’t grope. Don’t constrain. Don’t brandish. Don’t expose yourself. Don’t threaten with physical violence. Don’t threaten with sexual violence.
Shouldn’t this go without saying? Of course it should. Sadly, that’s not the world I live in. You may be beginning to realize that it’s not the world you live in, either.
Miss LonelyHearts wishes you happiness and success in your search for romantic companionship.
an earlier post brought up this article/blog-post.
yes. yes yes yes. i was mugged and sexually assaulted (separate incidences). you know what’s going through my head when someone i don’t know (and generally male) approaches me? “are you bigger than me? can i fight you? does it appear that i could run faster than you? where are my exits? what’s the best route to get to them? who looks like they’d help me if i needed it?” i’m planning escape routes on my bike rides home so anyone too sketchy following me doesn’t find out where i live. i do the same then when i drive. i do it at work, too, because i deal with strangers all day. and, (since my assaulter was someone i knew and had known for awhile) i would venture to say that the worry doesn’t stop with an acceptable approach; you may be deemed safe enough to spend time with, but i’m still constantly assessing my safety.
i shared this article with a male co-worker. it doesn’t lie when it says it’s something we (grrrls) think about all the time: i don’t know you, i don’t know what you’re capable of. he said it was hard for him to wrap his brain around the idea that womyn worry about this all the time, because it’s never crossed his mind, he doesn’t have to worry.
This past Thursday, a group of men started cat-calling/hitting on a group of women in Chicago. When the women said, no, the men threw bottles and then SHOT at their car as they tried to drive away. One woman was shot in the shoulder, and the driver took a bottle in the head as she tried to drive off. Last month in Washington, DC a Transwoman was shot for turning down a man’s request for sex as she sat in her car. In August a woman in Atlanta was shot for refusing to get in a car with a group of men. In May of 2010 a young woman was shot in the leg for turning down a man’s advances.
Ok, so that was one googling, which also yielded an article on a woman in Australia who was shot in the thigh after refusing to perform oral sex. Many people will claim that these are just “isolated” incidents. But three of those took place in the last two, two and a half months. That’s not really isolated, in fact, that sounds distinctly like a pattern.
When guys complain about women not giving them a straight answer, this is why. Granted, these are fairly extreme. However, on a regular basis women who turn down men, no matter how nicely, are insulted, yelled at, spit on, hit, kicked and knocked to the ground. Most of these assaults go unreported because women know that the police aren’t going to take them seriously, particularly if they’re dressed at all nicely or “sexy.”
This is why the Schrodinger’s Rapist post resonated with so many women.
“Why are you afraid of women?” I asked a group of men.
“We’re afraid they’ll laugh at us,” replied the men.
“Why are you afraid of men?” I asked a group of women
“We’re afraid they’ll kill us,” replied the woman. -Margaret Atwood
When men ignore our boundaries, try to push or test them, we rightfully feel that they are a bigger risk for pushing even more important, dangerous boundaries, like say, raping or hitting you.
Yeah, I know, a lot of you are out there (if you’ve gotten this far) thinking, “That’s bullshit! I’d never do that!” And maybe you wouldn’t, but we can’t take that chance. And when you push boundaries or ignore our “No”s, even about small things, this puts you higher and higher up on the risk scale.
We can’t take those chances because when we’re raped or assaulted it’s always our fault. Everyone tells us so. Every single person who says, “I’d never blame the victim, but if you’re wearing a short skirt, what do you expect?” Every fucking magazine with their “Ten Things You Can Do to Not Be Raped” articles, that place all the onus on women, and none of it on, oh, the rapists.
How do you not scare women?
Respect their boundaries. Take no at face value. As a commenter said over on Pharyngula, you have nothing to lose: If she meant no, you’ve respected her wishes. If she meant “pursue me harder” or whatever bullshit, then bullet dodged. You don’t want to deal with that kind of mind-game playing, anyway.
But in all seriousness, guys, if you ever wonder why women act like their scared of you, read the above links again.
this is basically why i never never make eye contact with men here , why i ignore them always even when they are being nice and why i will never go back to Dagabon ever ….
Yup. No matter how indignant all the Nice GuysTM get about women’s fear of men, the fundamental truth is that we live our entire lives on the defensive because there’s an ever-present danger of rape or assault.
Yes. If you hadn’t guessed yet, now you know.
I WASN’T ASSAULTED AS A CHILD BECAUSE I WAS SEXY / I WASN’T DRESSED LIKE THIS WHEN I WAS RAPED
Today was kind of a big, powerful moment for me…so here you go.
a tangental story: i was catching up with a friend friday night. he’s been out on tour on warped tour, and so it was the ‘what have you been doing in the three months since i last saw you?’ conversation. i told him that i had organized slutwalk denver, and he said, ‘yea, i’ve heard about those. what is it?’ i explained (it’s a rape awareness rally; it started in canada from a cop telling girls not to dress like sluts so they’re not raped, hence the name). continuing on, he eventually asked, ‘so, what did people wear?’ i told him, ‘mostly, t-shirts and jeans. there were a few corsets, a few scarcely clad. but mostly t-shirts and shorts. i wore something similar to the two times i was assaulted. which looked a lot like this.’ i was wearing shorts and a tank top. and he choked on his water when i had said ‘i wore something similar to the two times i was assaulted.’
yup. i am beth and generally perceived as a badass, tough as nails, don’t take no shit kind of grrrl. but, it’s happened to me. twice. this is why slutwalks are important. this is why we need to get together and yell that it’s not a certain kind of girl who dresses a certain kind of way that’s totally asking for it that gets assaulted. slutwalks are important because it’s not our fault, and not only does everyone else need to understand that, we need to, too.