Monday, August 28, 2006

Grunts and Postures

So, since I have nothing to do at work right now until school gets back in session, I've spent most of today reading some of the archives of Holla Back NYC and mulling over the whole issue of street harassment. Like every other woman on the planet, I've experienced my fair share of it. Guys whistling and shouting something that sounded sort of like "banana taco head" out of their car windows, the scary homeless guy who follows you around muttering obscenities, the 40 year old shopkeeper who kept asking how old you are (15) and if you'd like to go clubbing with him (fuck no), the bad feelings you get in your stomach when you get "that look" on the bus or just around certain guys anywhere. Over time I've learned to give the finger and a witty remark with the best of them which does make me feel better, but I still end up chewing on a nice, gristly chunk of anger and fear with a garnish of shame. Yum yum.

One of the things that a couple of the women mention in the blog is that when you're harassed on the street it's hard to tell if a guy is dangerous or just dangerously clueless. Some men think this attention is flattering and it can be easy to feel like you should be flattered. I mean, someone in possession of a cock has actually noticed you! Hark! He hath deigned to proposition thee! I forget which bad ass feminist said this particular quote, but it's stuck with me for a while: Women fear being physically attacked by men and men fear being laughed at. Street harassment is a perfect snapshot of how those fears play out. The moment a man catcalls me I feel that fear of being assaulted bristle to the front of my brain, but handily enough, it seems like the best defense IS often to laugh at them or make fun of them, which the girls at Holla do such a good job at. But it remains an annoying juxtaposition; to think that while I'm left to worry about my basic physical safety, there's a lot of men more concerned about their egos getting bruised.

Getting back to the dangerously clueless end of the street harasser spectrum of awful though, it brings to mind a particular problem I've come across often in my travels. I have a lot of geek pride (Re: comic book entry of a few weeks ago), so I happen to be friends with a lot of geeky boys that can be real sexists simply because they don't actually KNOW any women besides their mom or their sister. One of these geeky boys once mentioned to me that when a major American science foundation was first getting started, they talked about whether or not they should let women in and they decided not to. They came to this decision not because they didn't think women were fit to join, but because they were afraid of them. They were literally just afraid to interact with women. Whether this story is true or not, it serves as a good example of what I see going on with some street harassment. While most of the guys out there who do it seem like the drunken frat boy type, at least some of these guys just can't actually communicate with women and to make up for that they heckle. 'Cause, you know, yelling an obscenity at someone is JUST LIKE talking to them. And if the woman feels intimidated all the better because they certainly feel intimidated by women ALL THE TIME. This is the type who, when you actually turn around and confront them, will get this look of sheer terror on their face that screams, "Oh my God she's talking to me! Eeeeeeeeeee!"

The thing that really makes me sad about geeky boys is that often the whole reason they are so insecure, is that they aren't the paragons of masculinity patriarchy tells them they're supposed to be and that a lot of women expect them to be. Which isn't to say their behavior is justified or excusable, but I see where it comes from and it's too damn bad that we live in a culture where I see smart men doing such stupid stupid things.


Anonymous Cinder said...

I believe the feminist you were sort-of quoting is Margaret Atwood. something along the lines of:

I asked some men why they were afraid of women, and they said "we're afraid they'll laugh at us."

I asked some women why they were afraid of men, and they said "we're afraid they'll kill us."

*sigh* aaaah Margaret! :-)

nice post. and spot on. it also seems to me that some/many of these men are afraid of women, so put them down or dehumanize them to feel better. yeah. thanks guys. sometimes it feels like the geeky boys are the most likely to be allies, if educated enough. they don't fit in already, so maybe they're ready to reject Manhood and get some feminism on. well, I can dream.

we should toss copies of "Refusing To Be A Man" by John Stoltenberg to all of them :-D

11:18 PM  
Blogger Edith said...

Margaret Atwood ... omg ... I want to have her babies (is that too forward? Like, I wouldn't shout that at her). Thanks for the info, cinder!

9:04 AM  
Blogger Vicky Vengeance said...

Oh My God Cinder you are totally right! Margaret Atwood! Of course. Thank you thank you.

And yeah, the whole fact that geeky boys could be SUCH good allies it's a big part of what makes it so depressing.

9:08 AM  
Blogger ms. jared said...

hi vicky, sorry to derail your comments but i don't know how else to reach edith.

edith, email me and lets get together for a drink or something. my edress is on my blog under the "mememe" section. now that you're officially in SF we need meet pronto! :-)

xoxo, jared

6:46 AM  
Anonymous Cinder said...

yer welcome! :-)

3:34 PM  
Blogger grassisforplayingon said...

Oh yes, I completely agree with your post. I think many men underestimate the effect this kind of attention has on us. Most vaguely feel we should be flattered, or if not, simply ignore it. Because it's impossible for them to imagine the effect of experiencing this day in, day out.

I hate it. I particularly hate the way I don't know how to react. As you say, ignoring these men can sometimes turn cat-calls quickly to insults because their ego is wounded, or they feel stupid in front of their friends.
So, to avoid provoking anger, because I've had enough scary incidents in my life already and don't want anymore, I feel obliged to do a half smile, and keep walking. I suspect they think I'm flattered by their attention. I wish I were brave enough to react as you say you do.

5:33 PM  
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