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?