yesterday I was at a bookstore with a male friend. I was staring at a shelf; he was just around the corner at a computer the store provides to search their inventory. This is significant because as we stood there, a dude just blows in and says, very loudly and intrusively, “Any good books on this shelf?!” It takes me a moment to realize he’s alone and talking to me. At that point I glance over at my friend, who’s wide-eyed at this guy’s arrogance, and boom, intrusive dude realizes I’m with a ~chaperone~. At this point, I was uncomfortable enough that I walked away. My friend comes after me and says, “Wow, that was weird.”
Of course, I then had to explain it wasn’t weird at all; this kind of thing happens to me all the time when I’m by myself. Men come out of nowhere and demand responses from me, knowing that most women are socialized to stand there and giggle uncomfortably while they impose on their space and time. I used to do that, even though I hated every second of it. We are taught to fear leaving and taught to fear staying, and of course, when we relate these stories, the maliciousness is so subtle and context-dependent that people who weren’t there feel free to assert that we must be overreacting.
What suddenly occurred to me was the sheer depth of the danger inherent in fact that men take care not to do this in front of men who might conceivably be sympathetic towards a given woman. It causes men, even men who are quite decent and aware of sexism, to wonder why they never see these things women keep saying are so common. Not only does it cause us to lose credibility, but it also allows the men who DO act this way to maintain the mental division between “having fun” and being a person who deserves to be feared and avoided.
this is really important commentary so I’m reblogging for the bolded, because:
1. when we talk about sexism making women feel “crazy” it’s important to understand that there really is a sort of mass gaslighting (for lack of a better term) going on; incidents like this are part of that. First you induce fear in someone, then you humiliate them for their fear response, and best of all, the whole thing is so context-dependent that when they try to explain that this happens all the time and is a problem chances are, especially if they are trying to explain this to a dude, they’ll be told they’re over-reacting. That is some fucking systemic abusive behavior.
2. there is a real kind of selective sociopathy at play here. Dudes know on some level that this is not okay, so they hide it from their fellow dudes, but they still get their fucking rocks off over it, they do it for fun. To get enjoyment out of a woman’s terror. And these are ordinary dudes, who just deny deny deny that that is fucked up so much and deliberately avoid situations where they might be told by another dude that it’s fucked up so they can continue to do it. Just. Yeah.
some of the comments on the original post reminded me of how, as a teenager, I scoffed at statistics about abuse and sexual assault. “How is this possible when I don’t know anyone who’s been through this?” Of course, the truth is I actually did, but they were too scared to make it known, for very good reasons. Or it was obvious, and I just failed to recognize it. Eventually, I became part of some of those statistics myself. It’s frightening to think of the sheer scale of the gaslighting and terror we live with, and even worse when you think of how thoroughly we have been deprived of credibility and don’t even realize it until we need it.