Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hitting On and Getting Hit: It Takes Two

There's a disturbing one-sidedness among women blogging and commenting about public, unwanted, but perfectly legal male attention in a way that paints the man as a figurative predator and the woman as a figurative victim. The truth is that genius and stupidity are abundant in both sexes and this leads to plenty of misunderstandings.

The two most recent examples of which I am aware are my cyberfriend Heartinsanfrancisco's So Many Fools, So Little Time, which tells a vignette of an overheard street approach to a "very attractive young woman" by a young man on a bicycle, and Schrödinger’s Rapist, which purports, amid much frothy giggling, to dispense advice to young men in such a situation.

In both instances, there was a chorus of unanimity from women canonizing the notion that in these situations men are always willful and wrong, not merely mistaken, and that women are innocent and hapless, not merely inconvenienced. An approach on the public street that does not involve physical contact or profanity is not morally equivalent to rape no matter how you slice it and dice it, and there are two players in that scene.

Sure, some men are cads. But some women are foolish.

The woman in So Many Fools gave her name to the stranger, first thing, instead of ignoring him. A commenter told of a "friend" (herself?) who allowed a total stranger, a man who was not a professional photographer, to take her picture. Not a day passes, particularly in the summer, that I see young women in variations of near-undress in the public sidewalks of my city.

Why are women surprised that returning the attention of an unknown male contemporary, giving a stranger of the opposite sex a physical image of yourself or walking around half-naked convey messages that they are open to a conversation, to being objectified or to inspiring fantasies of naked activities?

I'm not endorsing the men.

The young man on a bicycle didn't take the hint when the attractive woman clearly attempted to break off the conversation some moments later. The "photographer" was apparently arrested for masturbating in the public company of a whole batch of photos of foolish women who had let him take their picture. And, yes, many men do undress women in their heads due to a huge swath of anthropological reasons that, I agree, do call for change (a whole other post).

Yet in the case of casual, public approaches by men who are obviously physically attracted to a woman -- they do not know whether she has read T.S. Eliot -- the responsibility for decorum falls upon both the man and the woman.

I cannot think of a reason for a woman to let a stranger in a metropolitan area photograph her, other than sheer narcissism. Um, what could that be for? What is being photographed here, her PhD thesis on Francis Bacon? Similarly, I cannot find any excuse for "photographer," other than pathology.

However, if the attractive young woman was slow to convey her disinterest -- Heartin deems that acceptable -- then perhaps we ought to cut the young man some slack for being slow to get the message.

Similarly, if an adult woman wears a low cut dress that does not exactly draw attention to her frontal cerebral lobes, the men might be excused if their fantasies get away from them, so long as they stay as mere fantasies.

Still, might there not be a woman who dresses attractively to attract and, indeed, meet the man of her dreams unexpectedly? Is it not possible that a suggestively attired woman is actually seeking to inspire fantasies in at least one particular man?

MIght we all simply relax a little about the mishaps and miscommunications between men and women? Isn't it possible that women, as well as men, bear the burden of mixed and missed signals?


heart in san francisco said...

I believe the Schrodinger's post conveyed that an unknown man MIGHT be a rapist, not that all such strangers in fact ARE. In my post, I stated that the young woman was probably not thinking clearly because of horrible, blindsiding circumstances in her own life, and reverted to the default setting, which for women is usually politeness. I did not say the guy in question was a predator, only that he might have been, but that he was incredibly stupid and insensitive, which likely doomed his efforts at getting to know whether or not Nicole loved poetry to failure. Plus, she was not dressed like a hooker, for the love of God, she was attired in flattering clothing but also attractive enough that she would have been noticed even in a potato sack. Should she be disrespected for being attractive? I think not, nor should he be punished for his fantasies, no matter how lascivious, as long as he doesn't act on them. If I portrayed her as a victim, that was not my intention, nor did I mean to mobilize armies on both sides of this issue. My point in posting the little vignette was simply that people can be very dense and cloddish with the best of intentions. Finally, it would indeed be wonderful if all people were able to understand each other better than we do. The first step is paying attention, thinking of others, and giving them the respect we desire for ourselves.

Hendaque said...

I am entirely in agreement with the comment above; however, may I say that, in olden times, no man would approach a lady unless they were properly introduced. And there are reasons for that. As a woman who was approached on the street in her younger days, I would like to say that there are approaches and there are approaches. Some men get downright assaultive (yes, legally it can be defined as such) leering and lewd and sometimes touching. Of course this is totally reprehensible. At the age of 18 I found myself being stalked by a large man everytime I went to a class at Northwestern classes in downtown Chicago at night. When the man initially greeted me, I was polite and then week after week, he didn't leave me alone, following me to the subway. I was young and terribly frightened (he was weird)as my my parents were out of town. I had to join up with a group of male Canadian tourists for protection. However, they were leary of me, by the way, thinking I was a lady of the night. I eventually escaped on a train going West instead of North and was able to find my cousin at his job to drive me home

I have experienced several such incidents. I don't think men understand how terrifying this can be, especially for a girl. I have been touched and poked all over the world, so, if you approuch me on the street, I am not interested (although at my age now, I might be a bit flattered). Men who are gentlemen and mean no harm need to understand this, as there are many a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Cecilieaux said...

Someone on Facebook, where I post my blog posts as "notes," had the temerity to write that I was ignoring the fact of rape. Sheesh!


I made the Schrödinger post was a kind of humorous etiquette. Of course, it was built on the assumption that women have an inherent right to judge men guilty unless proven innocent -- with which I disagree.

Going down this path will have us accept every pavlovian reflex around -- including the knee-jerk male notion that every pretty woman sashaying about is begging him to talk to her.

As to your post, I found it striking that you cut her every kind of slack and you did not do the same for the guy. She faced "blindsiding circumstances," but he was "stupid and insensitive."

And how was she "disrepected" by someone asking her name and attempting a conversation?

Sorry, but you did portray her as victimized, albeit a victimization of the hangnail variety.


"An approach on the public street that does not involve physical contact or profanity is not morally equivalent to rape no matter how you slice it and dice it, and there are two players in that scene."

The sentence above (from my blog post) makes abundantly clear that I understand that unwanted physical touch qualifies as "assault" for legal purposes.

Also, in the olden times you seem to hanker for, women were rarely if ever allowed (allowed!) to get a university education or work outside the home. No one seems to remember that all the way up to World War II, only 20% of all women were in the workforce (and we started keeping such statistics in the 1930s, after things had begun to open up modestly).

Clearly, we are in need of a happy medium that allows women to be people, while extending the presumption of innocence to men.