This is what happens when shit gets unreal

Rebecca Watson and the Can of Worms

Several days ago, Rebecca Watson of Skepchick fame posted a video blog about a conversation she had with a man in an elevator. Shortly after, big chunks of the internet exploded into righteous indignation. It was like opening one of those prank cans of peanuts, only instead of a snake on a spring, it was a big, writhing pile of wiggly worms.

Or maybe the spring-snake was a trouser snake. Some of the opinions on the matter seem to think all penises are ready to spring into action given a moment’s notice.

To summarize, Ms. Watson was speaking in Ireland about sexism in the atheist community. A man followed her out of the bar at four in the morning and into an elevator. He said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” Her blogged response to this…

Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 am, in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and — don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.

She’s got a point. Following someone to an elevator so you can ask them out is not the way to make them feel comfortable. Doesn’t matter what his intentions were. It was really stupid. No one, man or woman, should go back to a stranger’s hotel room. This is a great way to wake up in a bathtub full of ice, short a kidney and all dignity.

Her response isn’t my issue with this. She was reasonable, realistic, and polite. No blanket blame of men, no hating, nothing. The community’s response, though… Here’s a little sampling. From a Salon article

Surely not all of the men who reacted angrily to Watson’s video are woman-hating sociopaths. It’s probably the case that many were indirectly responding to past personal rejections that made them feel confused and wounded. I’ve known kind, decent men who express supreme frustration over how unclear women can be. Resentment builds up and some become hypersensitive to any female complaint about being hit on.

From PLoS

Therein lies the problem. Many men who don’t think of themselves as misogynists have a blind spot: they become obtuse about women’s feelings that might conflict with their own desires. The rancor they’re directing at Rebecca now suggests they don’t like being called on that flaw.

From ScienceBlogs, regarding how his wife was harassed for wearing low cut clothes…

That’s just how it is when you show some cleavage. If anything, she felt like it was her mistake not to wear something different, or to have altered the dress to be less revealing.

Ladies: This doesn’t happen to men. Ever. I’ve seen cartoons and stuff from the ’50s, and I’ve watched Mad Men, so I know there was a time when that happened all over the place, but honestly, I thought society had grown out of that. I simply didn’t think this happened anymore to anyone.

Guys: This happens all the frigging time. You don’t know about it, because women don’t do this to us, and we don’t do it to each other, but it’s a real thing.

This is where I call bullshit.

Recently, while working in an office filled with women, my husband and his partner found themselves treated like sides of meat. Whispers. Looks. Women asking them to come fix something underneath the desk, where the “ladies” could ogle their asses better. Women asking the two men to pick things up for them. One woman trapping my husband, who was occupied in an activity he couldn’t escape, and spewing ten minutes of innuendo about blow jobs.

Want something a little more public? How about what happened to Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan in a London airport?

“I was a little scared. Something happens [inside the scans], and I came out. Then I saw these girls – they had these printouts. I looked at them. I thought they were some forms you had to fill. I said ‘give them to me’ – and you could see everything inside. So I autographed them for them,” stated Khan.

Yeah. Women don’t sexualize men at all. Never happens. That’s not what upsets me about all this, though. What upsets me most about all these screeds is this: When did men become the enemy?

Sexism is real. Women do get harassed for showing too much cleavage, for walking through the wrong part of town, for simply being female. They are often sexualized and discriminated against. Take a look at the list Emily Finke has posted of things which have happened to her:

I live in a world where I’ve had to change my work schedule because I was afraid of being alone with a coworker.

I live in a world where I have to (regularly) suddenly find some reason to go back to the lobby because I don’t want some man following me to my hotel room, or grab a random acquaintance to ride the elevator with me.

The list is worth reading. These things happen, and should never be trivialized. No one, though, seems to want to talk about what happens with men. So I’d like to.

We live in a world where even an appropriately worded and timed request, or compliment, can be seen as sexualizing a woman. Where a man protesting his or another man’s innocent intentions earns insulting psychoanalysis. We live in a world where many people seem to assume a man only looks out for what he wants, and no one else.

We live in a world where a man cannot take his child to the local playground without earning suspicious looks from hovering mothers. Where some people will first assume a man is a pedophile, not a father or uncle there to watch his child play. Heaven forbid he stands outside a school to wait for his child to get out of class.

We live in a world where a man cannot stop to help a lost child in a mall, on a street, or at a grocery store without fearing suspicion and arrest.

We live in a world where people think talking like a television announcer makes them sound serious and dramatic.

All these things happen, too. I’ve seen them. Think having a large cross-section of people believe he’s a rapist and pedophile doesn’t weigh on a man? Think having to dress unassumingly and be careful where he stands at a playground doesn’t bother him? Think knowing people are judging him because of his gender isn’t painful?

Women are the targets of attacks in far more cases than men. No denying the numbers. They have to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings in a way men don’t. It’s an ugly fact of the world, and I hope to hell it changes. As we fight toward that goal, however, we have to remember not to create more casualties. No one should have to feel slighted and afraid because of her – or his – gender.

PLoS said it very well:

The principle is: be sensitive to others’ feelings and don’t make them pointlessly uncomfortable. Simple human decency, not some special consideration that some of us should show to the rest of us.

Men aren’t the enemies. Assholes are the enemies. Pussy or cock, doesn’t matter. Don’t be a dick.


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