Here at H-Back O-Town, we want to start meaningful dialogue around street harassment. To do so, we need to tell our stories AND we need to have serious discussions about the systemic nature of violence. Here is the first in our series of special guest posts.
This post comes to us from Trevor, a male ally from Ottawa.
You know, it’s not often I feel compelled to stick up for my sex and gender, because as much as I identify as a good ol’ lumberjackin’, beer-drinkin’, skinny-jeans-shunning cisgendered dude, I don’t get a lot of immediate comraderie out of it. I don’t find a lot of motivation to connect and form bonds simply inherent in my sex and gender. And every so often I want to, really badly. I hadn’t read through the Ottawa Hollaback! pages before today, and some vestigial part of my brain made entirely out of beef jerky, rye whiskey and bullets wanted to get indignant about how negatively dudes are being portrayed.
But here’s the sonofabitchin’ truth about my cisgendered homeboys: even the best of you are occasionally jerks, and that’s no great revelation. But there are a few specific ways of thinking–sexual fallacies, if you will–that are making you do the ignorant things you do to get immortalized in these pages.
And I’m gonna help you out, guys, because you’ve told me some of your reasons and I’m going to tell you exactly why they’re stupid, wrong, sexist, and generally.. well, dudes, to be frank, you’re making me look bad by association. And I really do want to help.
“I don’t know what’s appropriate anymore.”
I’ve heard this complaint from a few dudes after they’ve crashed and burned making unwanted advances and being totally rejected. Often, it only takes them telling me what they’ve done–gone for a premature grab, or commented on the depth of one’s cleavage–to identify why they were called a lech and asked to step in front of a bus.
Now, the excuse given most is that some women like that kind of thing. I don’t mind the occasional appreciative comment about my own derriere, myself, so I can relate to that. But so often this minority position is being trotted out as the reason for this kind of behaviour on the part of said cisgendered homeboys (henceforth to be referred to as “dudes”). “I don’t know what women want to hear,” say these dudes, “because some like it and some don’t. It’s like trying to hit a moving target.” They then throw up their hands, playing the befuddled victim, and say, “I don’t know what’s appropriate anymore.”
The solution to this is don’t say shit you know is inappropriate because some small minority of people respond positively to it. I don’t know a single dude who thinks that the kind of behaviour described hear on Hollaback! is appropriate, but who still occasionally behave that way and then plead ignorance. Not a defence.
“We’re at a bar and she’s dressed like that. Obviously an invitation.”
Bear with me through this explanation, but I think that this particular idiotic argument starts with a grain of validity, even though it sounds awful and it’s poorly articulated. If you’re going to or coming from a bar (dudes included) and you’re dressing up, there’s an expectation of attention. Often, folks, and let’s be real about this, we do invite attention when we go out to a forum like a bar or a club. Those are fora for looking hot, meeting people, picking up, and getting laid. I dare you to argue that. But that’s where invitation ends: at attention. Nothing else. There is no implied invitation for you to act like a dickbag.
Don’t make out like dress is anything it’s not. Yes, it communicates. Sometimes it communicates availability, or an interest in having people be interested. But your interest does not invite unwanted actions. And whether you’re in a sexy environment or not, harassment is still pure wrong.
The other obvious issue is that often this spills onto the streets, and this is where this argument connects to street harassment and is proven to be really fundamentally idiotic. Maybe there’s a grain of truth in the idea that you might be fishing for a bit of attention in a bar or club, because, as mentioned above, those are places for that kind of thing. But as soon as you’re out of that forum, it ends. Sexy environment ends at the door. To wit: if someone leaves a bar and isn’t leaving with you, then they’re not interested in you, period. So walk on, and keep your mouth shut.
“I would want that attention if it was me. I want to hear how hot I look.”
This is one of the most common things I hear, and I often wonder how it’s happened that we as a society so completely miss teaching about privilege and power. There’s something profoundly arrogant about invalidating someone’s reactions and feelings simply because you don’t suffer the same fears and social pressures as someone else.
Once again, let’s be real about something: we all want attention to some extent. Some of us are shy, some of us are exhibitionists, but everyone wants some degree of recognition from the rest of the human race. But what dudes don’t realize (or seem to care about, which is more troubling to me) is that for women, attention comes at a price magnitudes greater than anything we face on a day-to-day basis. It’s bewildering to me that the connection between street harassment and the threat (some say epidemic) of rape is never made by so many dudes. And this is something that we need to start waking up to and recognizing.
Obviously all of these arguments are steeped in privilege, but this one is most so. Where the other two come from some degree of social illiteracy, this one really does live right in the heart of male privilege.
I really don’t know whether the dudes who wander through Hollaback! are the type to try and float these arguments through when confronted about their behaviour, or when discussing women’s issues like street harassment. But I at the very least want the women here who have experienced street harassment and other impossibly inappropriate behaviours to know that dudes everywhere are starting to wake up and think critically about how their own privilege and social misunderstandings.
And this is coming from me. I’m far from being a saint. It’s taken a lot of work for me to get to this point, a lot of expansion of my own horizons, lots of changing how I think and how I process sex and gender. I got there because some really fantastic women called me on my bullshit and helped me understand. I’ve sort of become recruited, I suppose, and I’m meeting more and more dudes who are tired of having their gender so associated with abuses of women. And we’re becoming increasingly vocal about it. And, much like you, we’re not going to stand for it anymore.