Tuesday, November 4, 2014

How YOU Doin'?

Brace yourselves: I want to talk about women.

Now, I love women. My wife is a woman. My mother is a woman. I have three sisters. I have two daughters. Some of my best friends -

Oh, sorry, I was accidentally reading from Being A Patronising Knobend For Dummies. I'll start again.

I want to talk about women. But maybe even more I want to talk about men. The reason is the discussion that I've seen swirling about due to this video:

Now I've seen a bit of debate about the value of the video itself, issues around the making of it and the purpose of it - I'm not going into that right here, right now. I mainly just want to talk about the subject that it raises, which is not a new subject or unique to the video.

I've written about the subject before, but it remains as relevant a subject as ever, and it remains as baffling to me as ever.

What I want to talk about is these dudes harassing women on the street. And by that I mean overt, aggressive harassment, catcalling, whistling, yelling of "compliments", insistently demanding attention from women who are just trying to go about their business...basically I'm talking about men who won't leave women the hell alone.

Now, my experience of this phenomenon is limited to things like that video, and stories told to me by lady friends. Because I don't see it happen. It certainly doesn't happen to me when I'm walking on the street - occasionally someone asks me for directions, and once an old man sat next to me at a bus stop and told me a story about the day he found his mother's corpse - but because I am a dude, and in particular I'm a real big scary-looking dude, I'm lucky enough that I just don't get exposed to it.

So I hear about it secondhand, and I find it unbelievable.

I don't mean that literally - of course it's believable. Just about every woman I know has direct experience of it - it happens a lot. But it's unbelievable because this behaviour is so absurd you'd really like to believe grown adult human beings would not have it in their repertoire.

I'm not saying it's the worst thing a man can do: obviously there are atrocities men are capable of far beyond what you see in the video above. But there aren't many actions a man can take that are more inexplicable than catcalling and street harassment. And if it's not the biggest issue facing us in the world today, it surely should be one of the easiest to fix.

So what I want to do is reach out to the men who do this and say: Why?

Why on earth would you do this? What the hell are you getting out of it? What does it profit you? Wherein lieth the enjoyment of this bizarre practice?

Imagine a drop-down menu of options. In each situation we encounter in life, we see such a menu, from which we may select what we want to do. When we're driving and we see a red light, our options are "Stop" and "Run the red". When we wake up in the morning, we a menu containing such items as "Get up and go to work", "Go back to sleep", "Call in sick and go play laser tag".

We'll get just such a menu when we see a woman on the street. But I am not asking here, "Why would a man choose 'Yell at her' or 'Tell her to smile' from the menu?"

I am asking, "How can these things even appear on the menu at all?"

How does it happen that acting this way is even an option for a man? Perhaps it is my crippling shyness and hatred of human interaction in general talking, but catcalling at a woman is as like to appear on my drop-down menu as "ram-raid the pet shop" is when I see a red light.

So how does it occur? How does a man reach a stage in life where harassing total strangers is one of the actions he's taken under consideration? I often see woman on the street. Often they are women who I find quite attractive. Quietly appreciating their aesthetic qualities is always an option. Attempting to inform them of my appreciation, demanding they engage me in conversation, or passing judgment on their facial expressions never is. Never has been. I would be mortified to even think of doing any of these.

So am I the weirdo, or are they?

A lot of men will say they're just giving women compliments, just saying hi, just trying to be friendly. Furthermore, they will say, it's no big deal anyway, is it? It's harmless. And if women don't like it, they can tell the men involved to faff off.

OK, cool. Indeed it is likely that in most cases these men are not violent psychopaths. It is likely that in most cases there will be no harm done. And if a woman does feel moved to tell a man to faff off, I'll be the first to applaud that lady's actions.

But when a total stranger is accosting you in the street, how the hell are you to know what their intentions are? How are you to know what their reasons for "just saying hi" or telling you you're beautiful are?

Say you're at a party. You walk up to a woman by the punch bowl and strike up a conversation. Unlikely to cause too much consternation. Because it's a party, Striking up conversations is what people do at parties.

It's not what people do on the street. A person trying to strike up a conversation with you while you're just walking along minding your own business is, and I can't stress this enough, WEIRD. There's no context here to make this approach understandable. There's no party, no workplace, no speed-dating night. When a stranger comes up to you on the street and demands your attention, no matter how "friendly" they seem, the question that must come to mind is why are they doing this? And having to ask that question is likely to creep you out. And when you're creeped out you are more likely to want to double your speed and get to safety than you are to want to make small talk with the oddball.

And that's not even getting into the question of the times when it's pure, blatant, unashamed aggression from the man. Which it clearly often is. What I'm saying is, a man interrupting the day of a woman he has never met for no apparent reason is liable to look pretty aggressive no matter what he thinks he's saying.

So why would you do it? Are you just plumb out of ideas about how to meet women? Has your eHarmony membership lapsed? Do you have the world's lowest threshold for entertainment? Did your mum tell you as a child that you were so special that every woman in the world owed you a chat? Do you have an oddly situation-specific strain of Tourette's Syndrome?

Please note what I am asking. I am asking WHY? This is important, because a lot of men are defending this behaviour by saying it doesn't hurt anybody, and so on and so forth. No big deal, no harm done, no need to smear decent men by suggesting nefarious motives behind it, etc etc.

But let's say that's all true: it still doesn't explain why you'd do it. I can see no rational explanation for calling out to strangers in public at all, be it compliments, obscene suggestions, or weather reports. I simply do not know why anyone would want to.

But my confusion grows exponentially when you take into account the fact that women all over the place have clearly stated they don't like it. Women subjected to it react in a way clearly indicative of the fact they don't like it. Whether it is causing serious harm, whether every woman thinks the same way, it's inarguable that many, many women are made at the very least uncomfortable by men doing this.

When you add this to the fact that there is no rational reason for doing it, it surely adds up to behaviour that is perverse to the point of derangement.

So I just ask men, what are you getting out of it? Please tell me. I need to know, what's the pay-off here? Because right now, it seems as if you are bothering people, interfering with their lives, annoying, harassing and intimidating them, in defiance of the obvious fact that they want you not to, for no reason at all. Right now it seems as if there is no pay-off at all, beyond the opportunity to upset a fellow human being.

And if that's the case...

I can only assume that you are doing it because you don't consider these people fellow human beings.

I can only assume that the urge to harass women on the street - an urge which strangely deserts you when it's a man you see walking by - is the same urge that causes people to tease animals.

I can only assume the pleasure you're deriving from your catcalls and your "hey beautiful" and your "give us a smile love" is the vicious pleasure of laughing at the discomfort of a lesser life-form.

I can only assume that you've divided the world into "people" and "women", and one of those groups is here to share the world with and one of those groups is here for your amusement.

In the end, I can only assume that you need to grow the fuck up.


Wanderlust said...


Jill said...

This is sensational!!

Doug Quixote said...

Check out the parodies of it on Youtube.

www.alexsings.ca said...

Brilliant. I've been struggling with writing a blog post about a number of local outbreaks of harassment and your post has helped clarify the argument in my mind. Immensely. Mind if I link to your post in mine when I get it written?