Guest Blogger Starling: Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced

Phaedra Starling is the pen name of a romance novelist and licensed private investigator living in small New York City apartment with two large dogs.  She practices Brazilian jiu-jitsu and makes world-class apricot muffins.

Gentlemen. Thank you for reading.

Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. You respect the elderly. You donate to charity. You tell jokes without laughing at your own punchlines. You respect women. You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know that woman—she isn’t working with you, nor have you been introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So you must look further afield to encounter her.

So far, so good. Miss LonelyHearts, your humble instructor, approves. Human connection, love, romance: there is nothing wrong with these yearnings.

Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.

“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”

Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is. When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?

So when you, a stranger, approach me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?

Do you think I’m overreacting? One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. I bet you don’t think you know any rapists, but consider the sheer number of rapes that must occur. These rapes are not all committed by Phillip Garrido, Brian David Mitchell, or other members of the Brotherhood of Scary Hair and Homemade Religion. While you may assume that none of the men you know are rapists, I can assure you that at least one is. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty. That means four in my graduating class in high school. One among my coworkers. One in the subway car at rush hour. Eleven who work out at my gym. How do I know that you, the nice guy who wants nothing more than companionship and True Love, are not this rapist?

I don’t.

When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

Fortunately, you’re a good guy. We’ve already established that. Now that you’re aware that there’s a problem, you are going to go out of your way to fix it, and to make the women with whom you interact feel as safe as possible.

To begin with, you must accept that I set my own risk tolerance. When you approach me, I will begin to evaluate the possibility you will do me harm. That possibility is never 0%. For some women, particularly women who have been victims of violent assaults, any level of risk is unacceptable. Those women do not want to be approached, no matter how nice you are or how much you’d like to date them. Okay? That’s their right. Don’t get pissy about it. Women are under no obligation to hear the sales pitch before deciding they are not in the market to buy.

The second important point: you must be aware of what signals you are sending by your appearance and the environment. We are going to be paying close attention to your appearance and behavior and matching those signs to our idea of a threat.

This means that some men should never approach strange women in public. Specifically, if you have truly unusual standards of personal cleanliness, if you are the prophet of your own religion, or if you have tattoos of gang symbols or Technicolor cockroaches all over your face and neck, you are just never going to get a good response approaching a woman cold. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of solitude, but I suggest you start with internet dating, where you can put your unusual traits out there and find a woman who will appreciate them.

Are you wearing a tee-shirt making a rape joke? NOT A GOOD CHOICE—not in general, and definitely not when approaching a strange woman.

Pay attention to the environment. Look around. Are you in a dark alley? Then probably you ought not approach a woman and try to strike up a conversation. The same applies if you are alone with a woman in most public places. If the public place is a closed area (a subway car, an elevator, a bus), even a crowded one, you may not realize that the woman’s ability to flee in case of threat is limited. Ask yourself, “If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?” If the answer is no, then it isn’t appropriate to approach her.

On the other hand, if you are both at church accompanied by your mothers, who are lifelong best friends, the woman is as close as it comes to safe. That is to say, still not 100% safe. But the odds are pretty good.

The third point: Women are communicating all the time. Learn to understand and respect women’s communication to you.

You want to say Hi to the cute girl on the subway. How will she react? Fortunately, I can tell you with some certainty, because she’s already sending messages to you. Looking out the window, reading a book, working on a computer, arms folded across chest, body away from you = do not disturb. So, y’know, don’t disturb her. Really. Even to say that you like her hair, shoes, or book. A compliment is not always a reason for women to smile and say thank you. You are a threat, remember? You are Schrödinger’s Rapist. Don’t assume that whatever you have to say will win her over with charm or flattery. Believe what she’s signaling, and back off.

If you speak, and she responds in a monosyllabic way without looking at you, she’s saying, “I don’t want to be rude, but please leave me alone.” You don’t know why. It could be “Please leave me alone because I am trying to memorize Beowulf.” It could be “Please leave me alone because you are a scary, scary man with breath like a water buffalo.” It could be “Please leave me alone because I am planning my assassination of a major geopolitical figure and I will have to kill you if you are able to recognize me and blow my cover.”

On the other hand, if she is turned towards you, making eye contact, and she responds in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to her, you are getting a green light. You can continue the conversation until you start getting signals to back off.

The fourth point: If you fail to respect what women say, you label yourself a problem.

There’s a man with whom I went out on a single date—afternoon coffee, for one hour by the clock—on July 25th. In the two days after the date, he sent me about fifteen e-mails, scolding me for non-responsiveness. I e-mailed him back, saying, “Look, this is a disproportionate response to a single date. You are making me uncomfortable. Do not contact me again.” It is now October 7th. Does he still e-mail?

Yeah. He does. About every two weeks.

This man scores higher on the threat level scale than Man with the Cockroach Tattoos. (Who, after all, is guilty of nothing more than terrifying bad taste.) You see, Mr. E-mail has made it clear that he ignores what I say when he wants something from me. Now, I don’t know if he is an actual rapist, and I sincerely hope he’s not. But he is certainly Schrödinger’s Rapist, and this particular Schrödinger’s Rapist has a probability ratio greater than one in sixty. Because a man who ignores a woman’s NO in a non-sexual setting is more likely to ignore NO in a sexual setting, as well.

So if you speak to a woman who is otherwise occupied, you’re sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone. If you pursue a conversation when she’s tried to cut it off, you send a message. It is that your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone. And each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights.

For women, who are watching you very closely to determine how much of a threat you are, this is an important piece of data.

The fifth and last point: Don’t rape. Nor should you commit these similar but less severe offenses: don’t assault. Don’t grope. Don’t constrain. Don’t brandish. Don’t expose yourself. Don’t threaten with physical violence. Don’t threaten with sexual violence.

Shouldn’t this go without saying? Of course it should. Sadly, that’s not the world I live in. You may be beginning to realize that it’s not the world you live in, either.

Miss LonelyHearts wishes you happiness and success in your search for romantic companionship.

COMMENTS ON THIS POST ARE NOW CLOSED.

1,216 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Starling: Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced

  1. This? Is perfect.

    Is it really that hard for guys to pay attention to the actual fears and feelings of the women they’re trying to approach? The results seem to say yes.

  2. Excellently put. I’m also saving this one to distribute to some men I know. I dare men to read this in full and still insist that women are being unreasonable for not wanting to talk to complete strangers or men they got a bad vibe from.

    And for the record, beginning tomorrow I’m getting a head start on memorizing Beowulf, even though it bored me to freaking tears in high school, just in case I’m on public transportation and not studying.

  3. Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty.

    You know, it never occurred to me before now, but I’ve never seen that “one in six” (or however many) statistic turned around that way, and I think that’s probably the other side of the “how not to get raped” coin. Or… I guess… the same side, but a different part of the etching. I don’t know, metaphor, not my strong suit.

    MY POINT IS:

    When we talk about rape as something that happens to 1 in 6 women, it is something that happens to women. Oh no, women! You have a problem! A women’s problem! That has to do with women! What are women going to do to solve this problem?

    Perhaps if we rephrased that as “one in sixty (or however many) men will commit rape in his lifetime,” the problem might start to look a little different to certain people.

  4. Liza-the-second: I know. Isn’t that horrifying? It’s not even taking into consideration the possibility that some of those one-in-six have been raped more than once. And the one-rapist-to-ten-rapes number is pulled out of thin air. We just don’t know. Because we don’t catch these creeps. We don’t put them in jail. Either there is a staggering number of rapists, or rapists are routinely getting away with numerous felonies. Either possibility is horrifying.

    That, or P. Garrido/B.D. Mitchell et al have some special Santa Claus power that enables them to be in a thousand places at once. Maybe tied to the Homemade Religion? I don’t know.

  5. …oh that’s cool, Starling, I wasn’t planning to ever sleep again anyway.

    o.o

    In seriousness, though, thank you again for making that point. I can’t believe I never thought about it that way, when it seems so stunningly obvious now. And wow, it kind of makes sex offender registries look like a joke, huh? OMG! There might be a RAPIST in your neighborhood! Well… yeah… if there’s more than a handful of people in your neighborhood, there almost certainly is.

  6. “The fourth point: If you fail to respect what women say, you label yourself a problem.”

    This is KEY. I have so many stories about men who don’t respect what I say (mostly ‘no’) in small ways that are later problems. Most recently, a guy who worked at a pizza place I went to to get some dinner before work refused my multiple no’s when he asked me to pick the music to play, and ended up being a problem. As soon as the other patron in the small eat-in area left, he came up to me and wouldn’t leave me alone, asking me where I worked, where I lived, what I liked to do – all as I was trying to read a book and eat in peace. He even offered me wine, which is creepy because the place does not serve wine on the menu.
    That little thing – not paying attention to ‘no’, even when it comes to little things, like picking the music – sets off so many alarm bells in women’s minds.

  7. Starling: Thank you, this is very good and well done.

    Statistic-wise, I did some research, which I’m good at and some math, which I’m not great at.

    RAAIN published the 1/6 women is a victim of rape or sexual assault statistic.
    The census estimates the female population of the US in 2008 was 154 million.
    Which mean 25.5 million women will be raped or assaulted.
    The male population is almost 150 million.
    If we assume, for simplicity, that every sexual assault is reported and, for worst-case-scenario numbers, that every rapist will only rape 1 woman and then stop, then one out of every 5.83 men is a rapist.

    That doesn’t take into account gray rape or men who “convince” their partners to have sex they do not want.

    So, stop living in fear, ladies, everything is peachy here.

  8. This is probably the best thing I’ve read all day. Thank you for writing this. I’ve already sent it along to some people who could use it.

  9. Fantastic. I wish I could give it to every dude in the universe.

    As a paranoid lesbian even the most casual of come-ons is seriously distressing and seriously futile, but I never have the guts to tell guys to leave me alone, because I doubt they’d understand, and until now “making them understand” meant “telling them I am a lesbian made paranoid by a history of assault” i.e., “making myself ludicrously vulnerable to Dude Who Is Creeping Me Out.”

    But now, there is a better way! In the universe where this article is mandatory reading for all who engage in dudely privilege! Maybe as a counterpart to that awkward day in elementary school when they take the girls aside to warn them that their periods are coming (The redcoats are coming! The redcoats are coming!). The boys at my school never seemed to get taught anything exciting on that day, and usually played card games instead. This would be far more useful.

  10. I don’t usually comment, but I just wanted to say to this post: Yes. Just yes. It’s hard to articulate things like this but you nailed it. Fo’ realz.

  11. The funny thing here is I’m a lot less cautious than that in some senses – I’ll walk to Walgreens alone at 4 AM, I leave my door unlocked sometimes if I’m just running out for a few minutes, I walk around at night with headphones on, I hang out in sketchy rock clubs and have been known to drink and do drugs with men covered in tattoos – but the minute I see a man ignore one of those “back off” signals? Red alert. From now on I will make sure never to be alone with that man. Not only will I not date him, I will not be his friend, and I will discourage any woman I know from hanging out with him. He has identified himself as The Enemy.

    And I’m pretty damn fearless, as these things go. But this stuff, the responding to unspoken signals, isn’t just fear – it’s common sense.

    Seriously guys, you know how you tend to insist that women can’t tell if your intentions are bad? Um, yeah, actually, we often can, because we have no choice. We HAVE to be able to read your intentions.

  12. I may print out copies of this to hand out to strange guys who try to talk to me (in place of that monosyllabic response, just hand this out without looking and go back to reading).

  13. Ok, that’s it, I’m making a few thousand copies of this in flier form, and I will give it out to every single man I meet.

  14. It could be “Please leave me alone because I am planning my assassination of a major geopolitical figure and I will have to kill you if you are able to recognize me and blow my cover.”

    Oh great, give away all the secrets!

    How I wish I could have handed this out to some of the guys on the bus back in the day. I had to change buses for a month to get away from this one guy who would get off at my stop and follow me. Hey, maybe he was just looking to cheat on his wife and I wasn’t giving him a fair shake and thus hurt a poor widdle adulterer’s feelings. Maybe he was the sugar daddy of my dreams and I ruined my one chance to live a life of luxury. Certainly he was creepier than all get out though, and I was tired of having to look over my shoulder for him! Thirty days of going home later than usual was better than living in fear.

  15. Well, this kicks the shit out of the Schrodinger’s Rapist post *I* was thinking of writing.

    Part of me still wants to use Schrodinger’s Douchebag as the more general case, but I’m not sure if that isn’t just me self-editing to the inevitable “But “rape” is such a scary word!” reaction. (As well as the “If women were just more confident/knew self defense/carried a gun then they would feel safe and this wouldn’t be necessary” reaction.)

    But yes, this needs to be spread far and wide as excellent reading.

    Bellacoker, I am pretty sure good evidence exists that most rapists rape more than once, so I don’t know if the calculation you did is helpful. I like the “1 in 60″ because it shows that even with generous assumptions, the number is still frightening.

  16. This is brilliant! Would it be ok to reproduce this? I would love for it to be printed in my college newspapers

  17. Actually, if I saw a guy wearing a “rape is funny” t-shirt, I would just assume he is probably a jerkoff such as appear in many internet threads. Most serial rapists would work hard not to arouse suspicion that way. But otherwise, there’s a lot of truth there.

    Of course, you might just reject a guy because you aren’t interested, and that’s o.k., too.

  18. Forget about handing this out to only a few people. This needs to be taught in schools. I wish this becomes widespread, it would save so much to have that happen.

    I say this, as a guy who not only unwittingly emits the creepy vibe sometimes, but has also been a victim: wake up and pay attention to this. Please.

  19. There should really be a special by-law that says women are allowed to kick anyone wearing a rape-is-funny tshirt in the balls. We could maybe sell it as pre-emptive self-defence?

    The most offensive tee I ever saw IRL was one with IT’S NOT GOING TO SUCK ITSELF and an arrow pointing down. Looking the dude up and down, smirking, and going “with your striking good looks and charming personality it’s going to have to, isn’t it?” was one of my proudest moments.

  20. This was fantastic, though I’m not sure moms being life long friends means a man is less likely to do me harm as evident from friends who were assaulted by close family friends. I think the point is women should be in tune to their risk tolerance and that “gift o’ fear” and let that dictate their responses rather than falling into assumptions like “stranger in the alley = bad”/”mama’s friend so-and-so’s son at family picnic=good”

    I tend to take these things on a case by case basis. YMMY

  21. lightcastle: There’s always room for more! I see what you’re saying about the terminology, and Schrödinger’s Rapist felt a little more edgy than I was completely comfortable with, at first–you know, mouth running ahead of brain. But the really problematic thing with strangers is that you DON’T know if they intend criminal assault, right up until you find yourself getting hurt and that information is too late to benefit you. Whereas there is no similar opaque box problem with the douchebag. Sometimes, as in the case of the guy CassandraSays ran into, there’s no element of uncertainty at all.

    Linda: I have this horrible feeling that, given the large number of rapists that must exist to correlate with the large number of rape victims, many rapists aren’t what you would think of as serial rapists trying to hide their criminal intent. I have a terrible feeling that many, many rapists are men who would NEVER haul a strange woman into the woods, but who think that if they shelled out the big bucks for dinner and a show, someone owes them. Or that women who are too drunk to resist are awesome good fun. Or that once she’s come home with him, well, that’s one big yes, amirite?

    So the guy who’s wearing the tee-shirts making light of roofies, or suggesting that gang rape in a New Hampshire pool hall is super-fun . . . yeah, he’s a jerkoff. But he may also be dangerous because he’s endorsing certain beliefs about men being entitled to women’s bodies under some circumstances, and how women really want it to be that way.

    snarkysmachine: Hoo boy yup. Scary men don’t exist out in the wild without friends or family–they have both! Who are often victims! But if you’re talking men finding places to introduce themselves to women where the women are likely to be comfortable, having both mommies present usually ensures good behavior during the introductions.

    [There is the whole other potential problem of mommies who would like you two to get married and produce adorable offspring, but that seemed off-topic.]

  22. Whilst there is some great general advice in the post, something about it bothers me and I am not quite able to pin down exactly what it is. It seems incredibly patronising to both men and women, somehow. Especially the idea of handing it out to someone.

    Plus, the only thing I can see it achieving is showing the bad men how to appear not creepy without actually changing anything about how they really view women and their interactions with them. It might enable them to convince the woman long enough to get close to them and still be just as dangerous.

    There will be decent guys who might just be a bit socially awkward and not read the situation properly, or simply just not realise what they are doing, and they might benefit from this. I imagine those are the ones this article targets, but I believe the men falling in that category to be very small in number. The really decent guys are the ones already not doing any of this crap.

    I’ll have to think about it some more and hopefully come up with some more coherent thoughts. Something just doesn’t sit right with me on this.

  23. You forgot the important statistic though: Three quarters of rape are by men already known to the women. Being a stranger isn’t the big problem.

  24. Thank you for this post, Starling! I immediately thought of so many situations in the past where something a guy did just struck me as ooky and I couldn’t articulate why–now I can!! And living in a rural Southern town where many of the people in positions of power think that 1955 was a GREAT year and we should arrest social progress right there, there have certainly been many of those ooky situations! Few things make my blood boil quite like having a bunch of strange men address me at work as “Sweetheart” or “Darlin” and sitting there mentally weighing the benefit of saying, “It’s Tara” vs. the inevitable raining down of criticism for being “impolite.”

    Sorry, got all ranty on ya. Starling, you rock!

  25. Katrina: I’m not sure that it helps the socially awkward guys, necessarily. As a socially awkward guy, I feel like it means I probably just shouldn’t even try, because not only am I going to sound and feel like an idiot, I’m also going to make her feel like someone was trying to rape her.

    (In fact, reading this, it sounded like a checklist for this comic.)

  26. This is fantastic. Absolutely fantastic.

    And even if it’s only truly helpful to that (theoretically) small segment of awkward good-hearted dudes, that’s still a Good Thing. Maybe it’s not going to revolutionize the world, but it presents something important in a clear, easy to digest fashion. If it gets the point across to someone, then I’m willing to throw a party and bake two whole cakes for it.

    @Lucy: OT, I hear that there have been new translations of Beowulf released in recent years. Much less dry, much more poetic. Look into that for your Awesome Bus Reading!

  27. The most offensive tee I ever saw IRL was one with IT’S NOT GOING TO SUCK ITSELF and an arrow pointing down. Looking the dude up and down, smirking, and going “with your striking good looks and charming personality it’s going to have to, isn’t it?” was one of my proudest moments.

    As well it should be, CassandraSays. You rock, a lot. I’m putting that reply in my mental “Staircase Wit” file where it will await the opportunity to be used.

  28. Starling, you also rock. I really like this because I see it getting the message across to guys who are “low-grade creepy.” That is, they’d probably never intentionally hurt someone, but they ignore or don’t register certain social cues, and then get all hurt and confused when a woman is justifiably creeped out by their standing too close or an uninvited hand on her shoulder or a conversation that she can’t seem to escape from.

    Not to give those guys a total free pass, because it takes at least little bit of jerkiness to ignore the discomfort you’re causing someone, but I think targeting it with the base assumption that a guy’s intentions are good was the way to go. You answered the really common “But…I’m a good guy!!” with “Okay. Here’s how you can prove it.”

  29. Holy shit. I am sending this to every man I know. This exposes their male privilege in a way I could never explain. Wow.

  30. Starling: Yeah, I do see your point, and I do think it was the right word choice in the end. It definitely did give me pause, though.

    Interestingly, I’ve been getting more and more comments from men about how these threads prove that if women just talked back and were confident more, instead of being “polite”, the problem would go away. Oh, and they should learn self defense.

    The concept of “stop being an intrusive douchebag!” doesn’t seem to occur to them.

  31. In a bit of encouraging and related news from BoingBoing.net: “Go Senator Al! Al Franken successfully introduced legislation that denies federal contracts to companies that have policies — anywhere in the world — that punish employees for complaining about rape or discrimination on the job.” Some guys understand. Huzzah.

    When riding on buses I really wish people would just stop assuming that if someone (me) is reading a book then that someone (me) must be SO ABJECTLY BORED that they MUST want to listen to some stranger verbally jack-off to their life story in my ear. Seriously. I’m READING. Happily. Leave. Me. Alone. I don’t care if you’d be my bestest bestest bud if I just gave a flying fart but I DON’T. The worst part is that hunched up defensive preparation for that inevitable “Hey you bitch I’m talking to you” crap that always follows. *sigh*

  32. Katrina – I think the “HowTo” tone is supposed to be a little ironic. This piece isn’t really targeted at genuinely nice guys who want to meet women “in the wild”. It’s targeted at those clueless guys (and women) who still don’t understand what was problematic about the xkcd post. Although they may never approach someone on a subway car, they don’t see why we get so defensive about it. It’s a black-comedy set-up to present the seemingly-simple idea that someone who ignores a social cue to back off is sending the message that he/she will ignore other cues to get what they want. And that is what a rapist does.

  33. Excellent post, Starling!

    Because it’s come up, there is a prof at UMASS Boston named David Lisak who does research into the “undetected rapist”. Estimates are that 15% of rapes even get reported, of those, about 50-70% are prosecuted, and jail convictions occur in only 10% of prosecuted rapes. So only about 1-4% of rapists are actually in jail. Obviously, most rapists are OUT THERE. Which goes to show it’s not just Teh Wimmenz Vapors.

    Anyway, Dr. Lisak conducted research aimed at characterizing the undetected rapist. Briefly, he used a survey that just described behaviors without labeling them. About 120 men self-reported behaviors that would classify as rape. Of these, nearly 2/3rds were serial rapists (76/120), and accounted for an average of 14 victims apiece. So Starling, your guess was right in the damn ball-park.

    I’m linking to one of his reports, as it shows very clearly that Starling has done an outstanding job of delineating WHY boundary violations, even seemingly minor ones, are in fact actually good indicators that you are not dealing with a nice guy, but a NG(TM). From the linked report, undetected rapists:
    • are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;
    • plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically;
    • use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into
    submission;
    • use psychological weapons – power, control, manipulation, and threats – backed
    up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or
    guns;
    • use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or
    completely unconscious.

    So you see, Katrina, there is no way that this post will “help” the men who actually present the most danger to us, because they are already good at what they do. Starlings post was aimed at Nice Guy For Reals. If Nice Guys for reals start to respect women’s boundaries on a regular basis, it provides LESS cover for NG(TM)s, not more. It makes use MORE safe, not LESS. Oh, and it puts men and women on a more equal footing overall, since our communication becomes just as valid as men’s.

  34. This is one of those things where you read it, and it seems so obvious, but no one has ever put it in such an illuminating way before. Thank you! I had an experience just the other day that was exactly what you are describing. If someone can’t show me respect in the first few seconds of our interaction, why do they think I would want to date them? I wrote about it here: http://wp.me/pF0jQ-2f

  35. “Starling, you also rock. I really like this because I see it getting the message across to guys who are “low-grade creepy.” That is, they’d probably never intentionally hurt someone, but they ignore or don’t register certain social cues, and then get all hurt and confused when a woman is justifiably creeped out by their standing too close or an uninvited hand on her shoulder or a conversation that she can’t seem to escape from.”

    This seems to be conflating two things: people who are socially awkward/inability to discern social cues such in the case of Aspberger’s and “low grade creepy” I guess I’m not sure what is meant by this. Could you clarify because some of the behaviors you stated sound a lot like folks I know who are on the spectrum and equating their “lack” in social skills with creepiness or rape culture in general feels pretty fucked up to me.

  36. Thanks for this. I’ve known a lot of women who either do not have these built in fears or ignore them for whatever reason. When comparing my cautiousness to them I wondered if I was not the norm.

  37. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

    Exactly that.

    Actually, if I saw a guy wearing a “rape is funny” t-shirt, I would just assume he is probably a jerkoff such as appear in many internet threads. Most serial rapists would work hard not to arouse suspicion that way.

    I wrote pretty much exactly what Starling said in response to this, before I read her comment. The kind of person who thinks their right to wear a rape jokes tshirt trumps any woman’s right to feel safe around them is pretty much exactly the kind of person who might well be a serial rapist, but would never in a million years realise or acknowledge it, because the bitches wanted it really and he’s entitled to some pussy once in a while, and it sure as hell doesn’t count as rape!

    Interestingly, I’ve been getting more and more comments from men about how these threads prove that if women just talked back and were confident more, instead of being “polite”, the problem would go away. Oh, and they should learn self defense.

    So, they acknolwedge the reality that a strange man in a public space may want to do a woman serious harm (“learn self defense”), but they still can’t see why a lot of the time in that situation, a woman choses to be polite rather than confrontational to someone who is probably bigger, stronger (and more pissed off at being rejected) than themselves? I call bullshit. (And that’s without even getting in to the socialisation women receive to be polite and kind and take care of everyone, all the time, forever.)

    Oh, and it puts men and women on a more equal footing overall, since our communication becomes just as valid as men’s.

    Which, even if it weren’t in a rape/assault context, would be worth pursuing.

  38. Caitlin, not to mention that women who do “talk back” often get verbally berated. Sometimes even if you shut a guy down politely he will get angry and defensive and call you a lesbian bitch or something. People who encourage women to just tell these guys to get lost don’t realize that could put the woman in an even more uncomfortable or dangerous situation.

  39. This is a really great post. Also, regarding creepy Mr. Email, I actually wouldn’t assume that he wouldn’t/won’t escalate. That’s some seriously scary disregarding of boundaries, and it’s something that would make advice columnist Carolyn Hax immediately recommend Gavin deBecker’s “The Gift of Fear.” Quite appropriately so.

    I do have a minor nitpick, though:

    “Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? ”

    Actually … yeah, I do; and yes, it is. Especially at night and if I’m walking alone, I am very aware of how vulnerable I am as someone who is both non-gender-conforming and queer. I have been verbally and violentally attacked for this, and I have been sexually assaulted for this. Intersectionality applies to men as well as to women and, of course, to people who identify outside the binary.

    It’s possible that this comment wanders into “What about the menz?!” territory, but since I wasn’t sure, I thought I’d post to see if perhaps I should have just stopped after the first paragraph. Feel free to delete, mods, if I’ve gone astray.

  40. “Caitlin, not to mention that women who do “talk back” often get verbally berated. Sometimes even if you shut a guy down politely he will get angry and defensive and call you a lesbian bitch or something. People who encourage women to just tell these guys to get lost don’t realize that could put the woman in an even more uncomfortable or dangerous situation”

    I think it depends on the woman. I do not feel uncomfortable telling some dude to back the fuck up off me. I’m not a big person. I’m 5’0 and not especially intimidating. But I do believe my body is mine and I get to choose who has access to it. I also don’t give a shit about being polite. My mama didn’t really socialize me that way so a lot of this is kind of foreign to me.

    That said, I realize it’s not true for everyone woman and everyone has feel empowered to speak up based on their own comfortable level.

    Eh, so I guess we’re not unpacking the “low grade creepy/socially awkward” conflation today. Cool.

  41. Just Some Trans Guy: You’re right, and it’s worth noting that hypervigilance is something I first recognized consciously in cops, not in women. There’s an awareness of surroundings, a tendency to look for exits, and a general level of watchfulness that the rest of the world doesn’t have. I was hanging out with a friend late one night, and he mentioned, “This is an awfully vulnerable spot. If someone came up to the car window, I wouldn’t be able to see him until he was RIGHT HERE. If he had a gun, then I’d be dead.” And I looked at him and thought, “Paranoid much, are you?”

    Of course, the next week, that particular friend was stabbed while at work by a drunk guy who pulled a knife. So, no, not paranoid. Just living his job, all the time.

    Cops, soldiers, people who have been in prison, victims of childhood abuse of both genders, trans people: all are legitimately conditioned to be very aware of surroundings in order to protect themselves. But saying, “Dude, the guy’s jumpy because he’s a Vietnam vet” makes sense to people. Sometimes, saying, “Dude, the woman’s a little nervous because she doesn’t know you” just gets, “BUT I’M A GOOD GUY!”

  42. I have to admit I’m troubled by the idea that somehow every man should be viewed as a potential rapist. Yes, using common sense makes sense. But, to me, assuming that a guy who says hi to you on a bus may want to rape you is taking that a step too far, and isn’t much different from the parents who refuse to allow their 11-year-old to walk two blocks to the bus stop lest they be kidnapped by one of the child molesters hiding in the bushes. Child sexual abuse happens. It’s wrong, it’s tragic, and it should be dealt with so it becomes less common. But, viewing every adult or situation with suspicion is not the best way to go about that, and I think viewing every man or social interaction with a man you don’t know as a potential rape threat is also not particularly productive.

    For me, I refuse to live my life in fear. I also refuse to let the fact that some men are rapists keep me from engaging in a friendly way in everyday social interactions with men, even if those interactions aren’t always the ones I’d most want to be having. Do I take reasonable precautions? Of course. If I get a genuinely creepy vibe off somebody, or I suspect I’m being followed, I take action. But, I just don’t get scared (or annoyed, or put out) because a guy on a bus or at a coffee shop or in the library starts talking to me. Because odds are they are NOT a rapist, odds are I’m in a situation where they could not do me any physical harm without causing a scene even if they wanted to, and I just won’t view others through the lens of fear.

    I mean, yeah, it’s annoying when you are trying to listen to your iPod and somebody starts talking to you on a bus, whether it’s a man or woman. But, honestly, I feel like I see a little bit of trying to justify that annoyance at having your sense of personal isolation/space invaded by treating it as a genuine threat, when in most cases it isn’t. I don’t know, I feel like part of the price we pay for living in a society–like paying taxes–is having to at times endure social interactions we would rather not be engaged in. It means sometimes listening to the woman sitting next to you in the waiting room tell you about her daughter’s wedding or the guy sitting next to you on the plane tell you about his job even though you’d really rather not have to deal with either of them. We are not guaranteed the right, when we go out in public, to not have any social interactions we don’t want to have. We do have the right to not be harassed, of course. But, a guy (or women, or child) saying hello and trying to strike up a non-sexual conversation isn’t engaging in harassment, even if he is annoying. Some people just don’t have the same set of social skills that we might expect, and in general they mean no harm, and really in a public place they could do very little harm even if they did intend it, so I don’t really see why they need to be treated as a potential rapist rather than as a human being who might just want some human connection of some kind in a culture that seems to be sorely lacking in opportunities for it.

    I just see so many people complain about having to deal with other people, and honestly I think it’s something we just need to suck it up and accept as part of life. Some people can’t stand ever having a child make noise around them. Some people (and I admit to being one of them, although I try to just get over it and deal) can’t stand having to sit next to somebody on a bus who doesn’t have the same hygiene habits we expect, or having a fat person near them on a plane. Some people don’t like men talking to them. And while people will have reasons of varying degrees of validity for those feelings, I’m not sure we can expect the world to cater to any of them, unless we go off to live in isolation somewhere, or that we should expect the world to cater to them. I may want to knit and listen to my iPod on the plane, but that doesn’t mean that I have some inalienable right to do so without anybody interrupting me, or that somebody is committing a grave wrong if they dare try to engage me in conversation.

    I live in an area with a really high rate of property crime. And yet I’m not going to approach every male between maybe 15-30 (those most likely to commit the crimes) as if they may or may not be a purse-snatcher. I’m just not. I will not live my life in fear like that. I won’t demean the vast majority of men between 15-30 living here who aren’t thieves by doing that. That is, for me, no way to live. And it saddens me enormously that so many women seem to view every single man they don’t know as a potential rapist, just like it saddens me how many parents raise their children to view every adult they don’t know as a potential child molester. We do need to be aware and alert, but I also think we shouldn’t let that awareness turn into a paranoia that causes us to deny the fact that most people–male or female–are basically good people who have desires and intentions not much different from our own.

  43. So if you speak to a woman who is otherwise occupied, you’re sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone. If you pursue a conversation when she’s tried to cut it off, you send a message. It is that your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone. And each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights.

    Repeated for so much emphasis. I get this all the damn time. “I just wanted to give you a compliment!” No, asshole, you wanted me to talk to you. If all you wanted was to give me a compliment, you wouldn’t have kept talking after I nodded and turned away again.

  44. It’s possible that this comment wanders into “What about the menz?!” territory, but since I wasn’t sure, I thought I’d post to see if perhaps I should have just stopped after the first paragraph.

    No, I wouldn’t say it’s in “what about the menz” territory, but it’s close to another type of derail (not that I think you’re derailing!) where people argue that because they lack one form of privilege, the ones they have are irrelevant. I don’t think that’s what you’re doing, but it’s in that species. Your male privilege lets you walk alone unmolested; your queerness makes it dangerous again. That doesn’t negate the general point about male privilege, it just means that that particular part isn’t about you because you’re in another oppressed class.

    Of course, I think (though I don’t know from experience) that male privilege is complicated in general for trans men — it’s something men will still bestow on you just for being a fellow man, assuming they find you adequately male-presenting, but it’s not something you’ve always had and never questioned. And the queer oppression and male privilege are, in that case, bound up very closely to the point where you probably rarely experience uncomplicated male privilege. But again, that just means this post is not about you.

  45. snarkysmachine: A stranger who doesn’t register your social cues because he has Asperger’s can be just as creepy as the stranger who deliberately ignores your social cues because he wants in your pants. If it’s a stranger, you have no way of knowing he has Asperger’s. He’s just a stranger who isn’t paying attention to the fact that you don’t want to talk to him (or sit near him or give him your phone number). It is unfortunate that certain behaviors of people with autism spectrum disorders can come across as “low grade creepy” when it’s not their fault, but it is the truth.

  46. Great post! As someone who may find herself “dating” sometime in the future, I am a little freaked out now, though.

    This line: “Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones?” reminded me of a poster I saw a couple weeks ago in the women’s restroom at a Marine base. I found it online here:

    http://www.sapr.mil/Images/posters/marines/marines1B.pdf

    Had sorta mixed feelings about it , but I think the part that bothered me the most may have been that the space for including the local victim advocate’s contact info had apparently never been filled out.

  47. Lori, I feel like you’re being a little disingenuous here. Do you really read Starling’s post and get the impression that she’s talking about kindly strangers who want to have a friendly, non-fraught conversation with people who are clearly interested in having a friendly, non-fraught conversation?

  48. Snarkysmachine, I think the problem is that when you are approached by a stranger, you have no way to know whether that person is a rapist, a clueless doofus, a person with a mental illness or disability, or someone having an off day. The only information you have to go on is that current interaction and the person’s ability and willingness to read my cues and respect my wishes. I do feel for anyone with a condition that makes social interaction awkward and difficult, but if I’m faced with someone who is making me uncomfortable, I am going have the same reaction no matter what is motivating their behavior.

  49. “snarkysmachine: A stranger who doesn’t register your social cues because he has Asperger’s can be just as creepy as the stranger who deliberately ignores your social cues because he wants in your pants. If it’s a stranger, you have no way of knowing he has Asperger’s. He’s just a stranger who isn’t paying attention to the fact that you don’t want to talk to him (or sit near him or give him your phone number). It is unfortunate that certain behaviors of people with autism spectrum disorders can come across as “low grade creepy” when it’s not their fault, but it is the truth”

    Hmm, okay. Just checking. So we are just being fucked up. Cool. I’ll be sure to pass that along.

  50. “Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is.”

    Thank you. This is something most men don’t understand.

  51. Thanks for your post. I completely agree with your points in bold — a 100% (especially about reading signals and respecting them). But somehow, as a woman, I do not have this attitude of constantly (or even often) evaluating risk and thinking about the potential to be assaulted or worse. I wonder if I am unusual in this way, but that part of the post — which seems to be the main part and the title — somehow didn’t ring true to my own experience as a woman (although I cannot argue with the statistical arguments, which are amazing and strong).
    I don’t like being talked to by strangers, but it has little to do with the risk factor — I also don’t enjoy old ladies chatting with me (and they do it more often than strange men, maybe it’s the vibe I’m sending out..)
    Am I naive? clueless? lucky? (well, lucky for sure that sexual assault is not something I think about often).

  52. snarkysmachine: I’ll play.

    I think that it’s okay to say that This Action Makes Me Uncomfortable, even if the cause of the action is a problem like Aspberger’s. There are a variety of possible reasons that a guy might do something that makes me uncomfortable, and most of those reasons are actually benign. Still, the possibility of a non-benign reason, combined with other risk factors, may hit a level of discomfort. Everyone’s level of discomfort is different, and some people do have a no-tolerance level.

    That doesn’t negate the difficulty of navigating these waters when you have a condition like Aspberger’s. It does mean, though, that you have to understand that if your actions are causing fear, your intent just plain doesn’t matter, because a stranger cannot be expected to read your intent. She just reacts to the actions.

  53. B. wrote her comment at the same time that I did — the part she quoted, and said men don’t understand, is exactly the part I don’t feel either. So I guess I disagree with the assertion that “for women, it is”. Though based on the responses here, and on the amazing statistics, sounds like for most women, it is (or maybe, “for women, it should be” ? )

  54. “I do feel for anyone with a condition that makes social interaction awkward and difficult, but if I’m faced with someone who is making me uncomfortable, I am going have the same reaction no matter what is motivating their behavior.”

    This logic sounds like the same shit I hear people use to justify their racist, transphobic, ableist, classist and homophobic behavior. It’s a real slippery slope.

    I think there are ways to talk about how women negotiate their safety in spaces without using coded language that seems to suggest that it’s about everything but safety.

  55. “Hmm, okay. Just checking. So we are just being fucked up. Cool. I’ll be sure to pass that along.”

    Wait. What?

  56. Ok, Snarkysmachine, if I am on a bus and someone approaches me, strikes up a conversation, invades my personal space, and ignores my cues that this social interaction is unwanted, what should I do? Should I ask that person if he has Aspergers? If the answer is yes, what impact should that have on my reaction?

  57. Respectful disagreement is certainly allowed. Saying that we’re being fucked up without further explanation–is that respectful? However, I believe I see your point. It is absolutely unfair that a socially awkward person’s behavior toward a stranger may appear threatening or creepy to someone who doesn’t know them. Does that mean I’m going to stop looking out for myself when a stranger doesn’t respect my boundaries? Absolutely not.

  58. Child sexual abuse happens. It’s wrong, it’s tragic, and it should be dealt with so it becomes less common.

    Lori … I was sexually abused as a child, and it didn’t just ‘happen.’ Rather, men chose to do it, and then did it.

  59. I think there are ways to talk about how women negotiate their safety in spaces without using coded language that seems to suggest that it’s about everything but safety.

    I do think there are some interesting intersectional issues here. This is one of them, and the class and race dimensions are another one. As someone who is white and grew up middle class, there is no question that I was trained to be more fearful for my safety around men of color and men who got IDed as lower class, and I think this affects my perceptions to this day, though I try to work past it. For instance, I’m invariably more cautious or on alert on public transportation than I am in, for instance, an airport, even though I think I’ve had more awkward and uncomfortable interactions with men on airplanes than on public transportation.

    I don’t think there’s an easy answer, but I do think that it’s something to remember when talking about this – that one of the thing that often gets factored into assessments of “creepy” or not is the perceived race and class of the person in question.

  60. Lori, having to sit next to a fat person on a plane != a man approaching woman in space where she doesn’t feel safe and attempting to engage her attention.

    One may make your flight more physically uncomfortable. Even emotionally uncomfortable, if you strongly dislike fat people, or you’re claustrophobic and you feel more enclosed/pressured. I suppose, in a worst case scenario, you might experience some anxiety while wondering if they’ll eat your baby donuts.

    The other may make you afraid for your safety, infringe on your sense of autonomy, and/or continue to have long-term effects. (When I’m made anxious by a creepy guy on public transit, I continue to look for him for a while after, with some anxiety each time I go to a bus stop, until I haven’t seen him for awhile and feel “safe” again. Having a creepy guy in your apartment building can be worse.)

    This is not something we should have to deal with. This is not just about me wanting a little peace on the public transit. It’s all very well to say that we shouldn’t assume every dude might be a rapist, except, as Starling eloquently pointed out, this is a guy who is now displaying behavior that matches the attitudes of a potential rapist. So to use your purse snatching analogy, this is a person who not only fits the typical profile of the criminal you’re concerned with, he has just glanced around casually to make sure no one’s watching, lowered his baseball cap, and is now walking purposefully toward you, eyes on your purse.

  61. @Josh: Forget about handing this out to only a few people. This needs to be taught in schools.

    Done. I do a unit with my high school seniors on gender issues (making more transparent the stuff I infuse into the other stuff we do in English all year), and will definitely be linking to this on our class website and discussing it in our class.

    My 17 year old students are generally (initially) alarmingly resistant to discussions of feminism—they’re scared to alienate each other and ill informed about the term. But, a few years ago I decided to start our unit with some basic questions about gender: do you think you should feel safe in your workplace? do you think men and women should have equal access to education? The last question I include on the survey, adapted from Jean Kilbourne’s Can’t Buy Me Love, is “You’ve parked your car in a far off lot at the mall. You’re now leaving, and it’s late. List the steps you take as you walk to your car to keep yourself safe.” In each of the 10-12 groups of students I’ve taught since, the girls scribble furiously for several minutes, while the boys say things like, “Wait, is this a dangerous neighborhood?” or “Wait, I don’t understand the question” or “What do you mean, ‘safe’?”When the girls share what they have written (ways to carry keys, avoiding parking near vans people can hide in and grab you, not walking past bushes, dialing nine-one on their phone and keeping it in their hand in case they need to dial that last one, carrying piping hot coffee they could hurl at someone in a pinch, singing loudly so people don’t walk near them), the boys are inevitably shocked, and say things like “I have never even HEARD of that!” It’s VERY illuminating for students, and often the first time they have ever considered how different the worlds in which we live actually are.

    Thanks for adding another level to our discussion, Phaedra Starling!!!

  62. “Respectful disagreement is certainly allowed. Saying that we’re being fucked up without further explanation–is that respectful? However, I believe I see your point. It is absolutely unfair that a socially awkward person’s behavior toward a stranger may appear threatening or creepy to someone who doesn’t know them. Does that mean I’m going to stop looking out for myself when a stranger doesn’t respect my boundaries? Absolutely not.”

    See Lilah Morgan’s comment. Often these conversations have a weird tinge of class, race, ability and gender identity discrimination. People feel comfortable having certain prejudices which are not allowed to be questioned because it’s about THEIR SAFETY.

    While I think it’s important we should ALL do whatever we need to do to ensure our safety, let’s not kid ourselves that at times some of our perceptions of fear have some problematic origins that need to be unpacked.

  63. Lori, if I truly thought that every person who approached me was intent on doing me harm, the NYC metro area would have a huge increase in the report of dislocated shoulders.

    For all those who don’t live in fear, or don’t think you do, I beg to differ. Do you lock your doors at night? Do you lock your car? Are there things you sensibly won’t do, but your brother or husband or son wouldn’t be concerned about doing? You may call these reasonable precautions, not “fear.” But we’re talking about the same thing. We acknowledge that threats exist, and we take reasonable precautions.

    It is not disrespectful to men to say that some men are a danger to us, and (no offense guys!) we can’t always tell who is and who isn’t by looking at them. When men’s actions edge towards threatening, or even towards being disrespectful of personal space and normal social expectations, we do react, and we have the right to react.

    If you were walking home in the dark, and a large man followed about five steps behind you for block after block after block, would this make you afraid? Would you be concerned? But you have no evidence that the man following you has bad intentions. He could just be a good guy who is going in the same direction you are. He could be trying to return the umbrella you dropped. He could want to compliment your coat. Hell, he could just be oblivious for any of a number of different reasons. Does this mean you have no right to be afraid? No.

    And this is a completely different scenario than walking home and seeing a black man and being afraid because, you know, black! people! OMG! There’s a huge difference between reacting to a real threat (even an inadvertent one) and reacting to a threat *that exists only in your imagination because you are a bigot.*

  64. Re: Shrodinger’s Rapist. In the xkcd post, Bagelsan said

    Yeah, maybe *this* guy was joking but sometimes the guy *isn’t* and how do you know? Joking or serious they sound exactly the same — because they, like Schrodinger’s douchebag, haven’t picked a state of joking or serious until they see how the people around them respond.

    I think that’s the also really interesting other facet of this. Starling’s post looks at Shrodinger’s Rapist from our point of view — that we can’t tell which way it’s going to go until it does, and then it’s too late. Bagelsan’s was looking at the fact that the man himself may not know yet which way he’s going to go in a situation, and will act according to how other people respond. If the woman is sufficiently pleasant and accommodating to his continuous intrusion, maybe he’ll just harrass her a bit and go on his way. Or maybe he’ll think “she wants me” and rape her. If the woman refuses to play along, maybe he’ll be intimidated and leave it, or maybe he’ll hurt the upppity bitch to show her what’s what, especially if a carriage full of people are ignoring (=condoning) their whole interaction, so he must be right to treat the uppity bitch this way.

    A man who would never conciously think of himself as a rapist could approach a woman on public transport “just to talk to her” and have any, all, or none of these motivations in his head, and how it proceeds from there is a random product of her reaction, onlookers’ (usually lack of) reaction and the situation. The terrifying thing is that there is no way of knowing what will provoke this particular “perfectly reasonable guy” into the “attacker/rapist” state, and there is no way for us to win.

    I feel like I’m not communicating this well, but it’s a really interesting aspect of the interaction.

    Child sexual abuse happens. It’s wrong, it’s tragic, and it should be dealt with so it becomes less common. But, viewing every adult or situation with suspicion is not the best way to go about that, and I think viewing every man or social interaction with a man you don’t know as a potential rape threat is also not particularly productive.

    This would be a great point were it not for the fact that the vast majoirty of child sexual abuse, like the vast majority of rape, is carried out by someone who knows the victim (and usually by someone who prompts the response “[X] is a good person, they couldn’t possibly have raped a woman/molested a child!”). You are proving the exact point you think you are refuting.

    Yup, jennykopinski. It’s almost like women might know more about what happens to them than men do, so men shuould sit down and shut up. How I long for that day.

    So we are just being fucked up

    Absolutely, snarkysmachine. Asserting that a woman’s right to determine her own personal boundaries and ride on public transport in safety is more important than someone else’s right (no matter who they are) to force unwanted attention on her is completely fucked up. I’m glad you caught us on this one. Next time a strange man approaches me on public transport and ignores all the cues I am giving out that I don’t want to talk to him, I will absolutely pause to ask “Wait, could it be that this guy is non-neurotypical and therefore can’t help missing these cues? I guess I’d better engage in a conversation I DON’T FUCKING WANT TO ENGAGE IN for the next ten minutes until I can tell for sure.” Because I have no right to refuse time and attention to any man, lest it hurt their poor feelings, and it is absolutely up to me to caters to his wants and needs. I feel like there’s a whole comments thread about this somewhere.

  65. There is a difference between a behavior and a characteristic.

    It is unfortunate that some very kind people who have a certain characteristic (such as Aspberger’s), might present a certain behavior(s), due to that condition, that could be easily misinterpreted as threatening.

    But responding in a guarded or self-protective manner to aggressive behavior is not racist.

  66. You know, if you replace “man” with “young black male”, and “rapist” with “mugger”, and substitute the appropriate statistics, you’ve got yourself an argument you’d see on Stormfront. Is it OK for me to go with “Schrodinger’s mugger” and assume that any young black guy I see on the subway is a mugger until I know otherwise? Because assuming that any man could be a rapist is about the same mentality.

  67. And this is a completely different scenario than walking home and seeing a black man and being afraid because, you know, black! people! OMG! There’s a huge difference between reacting to a real threat (even an inadvertent one) and reacting to a threat *that exists only in your imagination because you are a bigot.*

    Wait a minute, here; I’m not disagreeing with your general point, but I think this vastly oversimplifies things. It’s not a matter of either (a) only being nervous when someone is pacing right behind you for several blocks (and yeah, someone who matches their pace to mine IS one of the things that will get me nervous no matter WHO is doing it), or (b) being a straight up bigot who runs and screams when they see a POC. We all perceive a lot of things every time we go out, and it filters into our brain and then sometimes down into our actions, not even necessarily at a conscious level. And most men of color, I think, will talk about women clutching their purses closely when they walk past them or locking their car doors at intersections and the like, things I think white men get much less of. It doesn’t mean that women are being irrational by being on guard; it means that the prejudices that affect other aspects of our life and thoughts also come out to play in our perceptions of risk, too.

  68. “Absolutely, snarkysmachine. Asserting that a woman’s right to determine her own personal boundaries and ride on public transport in safety is more important than someone else’s right (no matter who they are) to force unwanted attention on her is completely fucked up. I’m glad you caught us on this one. Next time a strange man approaches me on public transport and ignores all the cues I am giving out that I don’t want to talk to him, I will absolutely pause to ask “Wait, could it be that this guy is non-neurotypical and therefore can’t help missing these cues? I guess I’d better engage in a conversation I DON’T FUCKING WANT TO ENGAGE IN for the next ten minutes until I can tell for sure.” Because I have no right to refuse time and attention to any man, lest it hurt their poor feelings, and it is absolutely up to me to caters to his wants and needs. I feel like there’s a whole comments thread about this somewhere.”

    Um, what? I just asked to clarify what “creepy” meant, as it appears it was being conflated with some behaviors attributed to folks on the spectrum. It did seem fucked up. I’m not exactly sure how this request takes a quantum leap to me now believing folks don’t have a right to make choices about their safety. I think I’ve said that over and over again.

    Also, you all can lose the patronizing tone. This isn’t my first ride at the rodeo.

  69. Caitlin:
    So, they acknolwedge the reality that a strange man in a public space may want to do a woman serious harm (”learn self defense”), but they still can’t see why a lot of the time in that situation, a woman choses to be polite rather than confrontational to someone who is probably bigger, stronger (and more pissed off at being rejected) than themselves? I call bullshit. (And that’s without even getting in to the socialisation women receive to be polite and kind and take care of everyone, all the time, forever.)

    Well, in one case (mentioned on the earlier thread), the comment was that while feminists think women are in danger and can be met by violence if they tell someone to back off, in fact this never happens except in cases where the person was obviously disturbed. As proof, he points to the fact that in the other thread, people were proud of the times they told the guy to back off and he did.

    The other case is a self-defense teacher. Since so much of self-defense is mental and feeling confident, women need to be confident and stop feeling like victims. Then they wouldn’t be afraid when nice men come to talk to them.

    In a way, it’s Lori’s argument of “I refuse to live my life in fear”. See, not talking to men shows you have a victim mentality – or something.

    *sigh*

  70. I think it is pretty unlikely that a man will get a date as a result of talking to a strange woman on public transportation or such a setting. So why do they even do it? My guess is that is a combination of privilege and cluelessness.

    I also think women need to stand up to these clods when possible. These guys have no qualms about violating a woman’s boundaries and are probably not even aware of or disregard go away signals such as reading a book. When I was a teenager riding a train on the outside seat, an average looking man pressed his dick right against my upper arm. It took me a few moments to even realize what was happening. I was scared, then angry. Much to my amazement I yelled at him to stop it. He shifted away. I was still enraged so I yelled again for him to move. At that point the train stopped and he literally ran out the exit saying “You’re crazy lady.” I still get mad thinking about it.

    Maybe I am a fool, but I am fairly confident and don’t really feel threatened in such public situations. I once lived in a very bad neighborhood and the skills I learned there are still important to me. Women do need to be careful but we cannot live in such fear that we fail to assert ourselves when it is safe to do so. Yes men and male privilege are responsible for the rape culture but we as women need to stand up for ourselves whenever possible.

    Rapists are predators and they look for easy prey. I know this because I was raped by a person I thought was my friend. I was an easy victim looking back, he knew I was sad and lonely, acted like a friend and offered me alcohol. Then he raped me. I am sure he thought it was sex. He only became violent when I woke up and fought back. At the point of violence I just accepted it and waited for it to end. You can bet I will help my daughter avoid such traps. I will make sure she has enough self esteem so that she never needs such a friend and when it is appropriate; tell her how a predator operates.

    In a way, the doofs on the public bus tend to make my more angry than frightened.

  71. “I just wanted to give you a compliment!” No, asshole, you wanted me to talk to you. If all you wanted was to give me a compliment, you wouldn’t have kept talking after I nodded and turned away again.

    Yes, Laura M.! Exactly!

  72. Starling,
    Thanks so much for the reply! It was just a tiny thing, but it was nagging at the back of my mind. Had my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t be That Dude Who Derails. Also …

    “But saying, ‘Dude, the guy’s jumpy because he’s a Vietnam vet’ makes sense to people. Sometimes, saying, ‘Dude, the woman’s a little nervous because she doesn’t know you’ just gets, ‘BUT I’M A GOOD GUY!’”

    That is so, so true. And so frustrating.

    Unrelatedly, I really do think the onus is on men to not be creepy vs. on women to not be afraid of potentially creepy men. And it’s imminently doable. I knew a guy in college who realized that women were going to be afraid of him when alone at night, because, hi, rape culture. So he tried to mitigate that as best he could–not walking too close to women if he passed them on the street, not staring or really even looking at them, etc., basic stuff like that.

    And he never felt it was a great burden to do and he never took it personally. He’s the kind of guy I’ve tried to be since coming out as trans.

  73. About generally awkward people – just being awkward doesn’t let you off the hook for poor behavior. If someone’s is attempting to interact to get a certain result, and their behavior consistently returns another, perhaps opposite, result, it is their obligation to change that behavior. Period.

    Sure, that person might never achieve suavitude and debonairness, but we should all strive for general non-creepiness at whatever level is attainable.

    It’s like American tourists who go to foreign countries and make no attempt to speak the language at all, they come across as privledged and rude and shitty. There is no need to speak a second language with native fluency, but making the attempt signals that you can see the world from a perspective outside of your head and that you are less of a douche for it.

  74. STARLING THIS IS SO FANTASTIC!

    I have to admit I’m troubled by the idea that somehow every man should be viewed as a potential rapist.

    But every man *IS* a potential rapist… as well as a potential non-rapist, as well as a lot of other things, some of them good. However: lots of women have indeed gotten raped by lots of men, and this has been true for a really really really long time. So yes, in that sense, men qua men are potential rapists vis-a-vis women. And women didn’t cook up this problem. Please don’t suggest that the truly unfortunate thing about the scenario is that it hurts some men’s feelings, or makes them have to try a little harder to gain trust.

    Because if the men are so sad about it they can start using their male privilege to challenge the horrid deinition of masculinity in the dominant culture. Oh, except — THE GUYS WHO ACTUALLY DO THAT tend to have a clue about why women are hesitant to trust them and don’t hold it against them or whine about how it’s so haaaaaard to feel like you’re seen as a potential rapist. (Hint: it’s even worse to be raped!)

    Yes, using common sense makes sense. But, to me, assuming that a guy who says hi to you on a bus may want to rape you is taking that a step too far, and isn’t much different from the parents who refuse to allow their 11-year-old to walk two blocks to the bus stop lest they be kidnapped by one of the child molesters hiding in the bushes.

    Slight derail: You know, I used to like Lenore Skenazy, the “Free-Range Parenting” lady who’s gotten such publicity saying that child abduction risk perception is way overblown. I thought, “At last, someone telling parents that there’s not nearly so much to be afraid of as they’ve been told.” Having read her blog for a while, I’ve changed my mind. She now strikes me as yet ANOTHER person who has gotten one good idea about parenting that might help some parents in a particular situation… and used it as a reason to snicker with her friends and point at “those other mothers” who don’t do things to her specifications. Oddly enough, this does NOT, actually, help the feeling that many parents have that they’re being watched and judged at all times and so had better be hyper-vigilant about NOT SCREWING UP!! Which I *thought* was what Skenazy meant to call attention to in the first place, but I guess not. So, yeah…if you see a parent who is more worried about child abduction than you are, and so won’t let her or his kid do some things, consider that maybe their hypervigilance makes sense to them, in their circumstances. You don’t know but that they might have had a scare or a tragedy. Do you suspect abuse? If not, please please please cut them some slack.

  75. Lori, this post is not an instruction manual to women on why they should regard every man as a rapist; it’s a rejoinder to the scads of men who think women owe them conversation just by being in public.

  76. “Bagelsan’s was looking at the fact that the man himself may not know yet which way he’s going to go in a situation, and will act according to how other people respond. ”

    And *that* is exactly why I feel weird about phrases like “he’d never really hurt anyone” or “he’s harmless.” I mean, how the fuck do you know that? There is a good chance that some male in my extended family raped someone at some point. I don’t know of any incidents, but let’s face facts, right? The odds are pretty good. I find this a horrifying thing to contemplate, because as far as I know, my male relatives are good guys. In fact, I can add all my male friends and acquaintances, who, as far as I know, have never raped anyone. Let’s add all the men on the bus, too.

    I’m up to hundreds of men now, and the likelihood that none of them are rapists is rapidly approaching zero. So while right now I could say in all honestly that none of the men I know are rapists, I’m wrong. And not just a little.

  77. “This would be a great point were it not for the fact that the vast majoirty of child sexual abuse, like the vast majority of rape, is carried out by someone who knows the victim (and usually by someone who prompts the response “[X] is a good person, they couldn’t possibly have raped a woman/molested a child!”). You are proving the exact point you think you are refuting.”

    I don’t think she is. Because the majority of child sexual abuse/rape is carried out by someone who knows the victim, what good does the fear of strangers do you?

    “For all those who don’t live in fear, or don’t think you do, I beg to differ. Do you lock your doors at night? Do you lock your car?”

    No, I dont. I go running alone in the woods and if I’m in the mood, I go for a walk alone at night. Because all of these situations are no more likely to end in me being assaulted then being with an old friend alone in his apartment or visiting my grandfather.

  78. LilahMorgan, yes, it totally does oversimplify, and the fact is that we–as human beings in a culture with a lot of nasty biases–DO make *unfair* evaluations based on race or class or a host of other problems. Sometimes these evaluations are lumped right on top of legitimate evaluations of threat based on location or behavior. Trying to drain out that swamp of social preconditioning is hard and painful, no question. But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

    I am not arguing that men should stop being black, or stop being lower-class, or even stop being different (although I do think that the cockroach tats went a little too far. Dude.) I’m arguing that women have a legitimate right to worry about their personal safety, and that there are actions men can take to make themselves seem less threatening. These actions are rooted in a respect for a woman’s autonomy and wishes.

    What I’m going for is a bit of consciousness-raising for guys who don’t see a woman’s world as inherently a little more dangerous. I don’t object to raising consciousness of other problems. But I don’t think that other problems–bigotry, racism, classism–are made worse by calling attention to this specific women’s issue, either.

  79. You know, if you replace “man” with “young black male”, and “rapist” with “mugger”, and substitute the appropriate statistics, you’ve got yourself an argument you’d see on Stormfront. Is it OK for me to go with “Schrodinger’s mugger” and assume that any young black guy I see on the subway is a mugger until I know otherwise? Because assuming that any man could be a rapist is about the same mentality.

    Right, and if you hang a “Whites Only” sign outside of your house instead of a “This house protected by ADT Security” you’re a racist. Therefore nobody should hang signs outside of their homes, but rather everyone should just open the door to whomever regardless of how they feel about it.

    Rantonimo, seems to me you’ve been a shit-stirrer before. I’m off to check, but consider yourself provisionally on bannination warning.

  80. I love the comment about the 17 year old boys not understanding about the steps girls take to protect themselves in dark parking lots. I was at a graduation after party in a park at night. 2 of the people in our group wandered off and we couldn’t find them. Eventually we ended up sitting in my car hoping they would come back to where they knew we would be, before it had gone on too long and we had to call the cops or something. We were nervously discussing things our mothers tell us to keep us safe. One girl said her mom tells her not to wear her hair in a ponytail when she runs or she’ll get raped. All the girls nod and laugh, and talk about how it sucks because who likes to have their hair down when running? The boys were baffled, we finally explained that hair in a ponytail could act as a handle to pull us back with.

    This is a great post, it’s beautiful and I’m getting annoyed with the people calling this living in fear. I don’t live in fear. I was planning a camping trip with my friends once, all female, all 18 grown feminist women. I get a text from one saying that her mother won’t let us go without a boy because we’ll end up getting raped. I carefully explained that I was bringing a baseball bat and other defensive tools, we’d have a fire, a knife, and our brains. We didn’t end up going, but I wasn’t the one living in fear there.

    Snarkysmachine, I’m not sure what you’re going for, what do you want? If you want the baggage unpacked fucking unpack it yourself. Explain it to us, and explain how we should tell the difference between creepy guy on the bus and autistic guy on the bus. I have friends with autism and other difficulties, I watch out for how they act in public, and I accept their behavoir towards me because I know it’s not violent or dangerous. I don’t think we have to on the bus or train though and sense these are the areas Starling is addressing I see no reason to bring up others. Besides, Sweet Machine has addressed this in regard to her brother in the xkcd post, take a look.

    Also, Lori, we actually do have an unalienable right to not interact with other people if we don’t want to. Life, liberty and property, I think it can fit into one or all of those.

  81. Um, what? I just asked to clarify what “creepy” meant, as it appears it was being conflated with some behaviors attributed to folks on the spectrum. It did seem fucked up. I’m not exactly sure how this request takes a quantum leap to me now believing folks don’t have a right to make choices about their safety. I think I’ve said that over and over again.

    snarkysmachine, I think I took some of my frustration from the other thread out on you, which wasn’t a fair thing to do. I appreciate that for people with Asperger’s or who have other issues with reading social cues, it’s hard to get the messages people are trying to send, and they can come off as “creepy” without intending to do so. The point I am making is that there is no difference, as first glance, between a strange man on public transport who doesn’t understand the cues that I don’t want to talk to him, and a man who chooses to ignore them because as a woman I don’t have the right to refuse to talk to him.

    It is not up to me to take the time to determine which is which before I decide whether I want to continue talking to him. Assessing this discussion as “fucked up” denies the rights of women to determine whatever boundaries they feel they need to determine their personal safety, which clearly isn’t what you’re about, so I think we’re just coming at this from a different perspective.

    I’m not saying no socially awkward (for whatever reason) man should ever talk to any woman ever. I’m talking about a very specific situation: unknown man talking to woman on public transport and continuing interaction regardless of whether she wants to interact with him. If a man can’t understand (because of Asperger’s or for any other reason) why that might be problematic, or how to tell whether it’s okay to keep talking to her — well, hey, here’s a whole post about that. The resources are there, if men choose to use them. It isn’t up to me to cater to them if they don’t, no matter who they are.

  82. Lori:

    For me it isn’t so much about fearing every stranger as it is my right to be left alone. Yes yes YES I do have that right and I think it’s sad that you don’t think that you do.

    Freedom of speech goes both ways. I have the right to say whatever I want and other people have the right to not listen to me. They can turn off whatever media I’ve engaged to get my message across; turn off the tv, radio, shut the book, click off the blog, walk away with fingers in ears going, “la la la la la!!”

    My body, INCLUDING MY EARS, is my property and you do not have the right to access it any time you want just because you feel like it. I’m not saying I refuse to ever listen to some pathetic lady yammer about her daughter’s stupid wedding, or engage a guy or several guys in harmless banter, I do that all the time. What I am saying is if I feel like shutting the conversation down because I don’t want to talk then it is definitely my freakin right to do so dammit.

    As far as little kids yelling? No I don’t like it and it makes me cringe, but that’s what little kids do. That’s also why God gave me fingers I can stick in my ears.

  83. Urrrrrrrgh. Anita’s comment just reminded me that I have an uncle who (statutory? I’ve never really been told the details, just that I should avoid being alone with him) raped a fifteen year old girl and was never charged. I really don’t like remembering I’m related to that.

    More on-topic, the self-aggrandizing bullshit people spout about “choosing not to live their lives in fear” is really, really irritating. I didn’t spend every city bus ride I took to community college terrified of every male on the bus, but I was very aware of where they were in relation to me and got trapped into several conversations with no out (come to think of it, the guy who told me I danced pretty because I was apparently absently moving my head to mentally singing is the kind of drive-by compliment that might have escalated if I had tried to brush him off instead of being as incredibly polite as I’ve been taught and continued the conversation.)

    Argh, I keep knocking myself offtopic. Hope that made some kind of sense. I’m bad about tangents.

    The thing about the seventeen year olds and the parking lot is really interesting! I’ll shup now.

    Am I the only one who read snarkysmachine’s “fucked up” comment as he was going to tell his friends that oh he and they are just fucked up and hopeless and it being a really passive-aggressive comment?

    Time to hit post and hope again I didn’t stick my foot in my mouth. Sorry in advance if I did.

  84. You know, if you replace “man” with “young black male”, and “rapist” with “mugger”, and substitute the appropriate statistics, you’ve got yourself an argument you’d see on Stormfront. Is it OK for me to go with “Schrodinger’s mugger” and assume that any young black guy I see on the subway is a mugger until I know otherwise? Because assuming that any man could be a rapist is about the same mentality.

    This is why it’s important to talk about privilege and intersectionality, and why I’m glad that snarkysmachine has pushed us to talk more precisely about it. White people have a lot of societal reinforcement for their “black people are threatening and violent” prejudices: rates of imprisonment, media coverage of crime, and centuries of racism reinforce the lie that — despite the fact that they are privileged in every aspect of society vis a vis POC — white people are in danger from black people. Institutionalized racism reinforces the idea that “every black man is a potential mugger,” and it also ensures that if a white person really *is* attacked by a black person, the full force of the law will be used to follow up on that crime.

    By contrast, women do NOT have privilege vis a vis men, and attacks on women by men are NOT prosecuted with the full force of the law. This is especially true if the attack victim is a WOC. This means that women must be extra vigilant about their safety around men, because both women and men know that many, many men can and do get away with it. Women know that and may view perfectly nice men — like the ones addressed by this post! — as dangerous; that’s disappointing for those men. Men know that and may choose to rape women whom they perceive as vulnerable; that’s a bit more than disappointing for those women.

  85. Also, sorry, Fillyjonk, I missed your reply:

    “No, I wouldn’t say it’s in ‘what about the menz’ territory, but it’s close to another type of derail (not that I think you’re derailing!) where people argue that because they lack one form of privilege, the ones they have are irrelevant.”

    No, male privilege, I haz it. My trans status complicates it, possibly, but in no way negates it. Just to be very clear about that.

  86. Shiyiya, I agree about “choosing not to live in fear.” What we actually do is usually skate at the edge of our tolerance for risk, which varies widely from person to person. Generally speaking, the fewer really scary experiences we’ve had, the higher our tolerance for risk. But that doesn’t mean that people who have a very low tolerance for risk have “chosen” to live in fear. They have been *made afraid* by people who have done bad things to them. That’s not a choice, that’s the opposite of a choice. And it’s really NOT something to condemn the victim for.

  87. Okay, so I’m noticing people I respect are being nicer than I was to Lori and rantonimo, whom I snarked at. I’m considering that this might indicate I’m just in a pissy mood and may regret having snarked later.

    ::goes off to consider::

  88. Regarding the point of replacing shrodinger’s rapist with shrodinger’s mugger for young black men: sweet machine’s response makes perfect sense, pointing the big difference between the scenarios, where in one the “targeted” group are men (the “privileged”), while in the other it is people of color (the “under privileged”). I agree with that. However, it is still a confusing question (to me) — is it common sense / understandable sensitivity to view young black men as potential muggers, or is it really just bigotry and reacting to a danger in your bigotted mind? Isn’t the danger real in the statistical sense? It seems like sterling and others view the “shrodinger rapist” analogy as completely fine and sensible, while the “shrodinger mugger” as obviously morally wrong and bigotted. Is it really this simple (on both questions)?

    Personally, I do not think of poc as potential muggers (or at least I consciously try to overcome my bias and predisposition as a white person in this society), but I also really do not usually think of men as potential rapist (except in really creepy situation, like being followed in a dark alley — it certainly does not cross my mind on a daily basis).

    Perhaps the answer is that even though thinking of a young black man as a shrodinger mugger is understandable, it should be fought and resisted, *because* of the societal situation and state of bigotry. What do you think?

  89. This is fabulous. Thanks so much for posting it.

    I like running in the park when it’s dark outside. It’s cooler, it’s quiet, I have it to myself, and generally I am much more afraid of the coyotes I’ve occasionally seen there than that there is a scary man hiding in the bushes who might hurt me. I’ve seen the stats, and technically I’m much more at risk staying home in my living room, so I go out for a run. So in that sense I “refuse to live my life in fear.” (I also am blisteringly trusting of strangers in many many ways and it’s usually rewarding but sometimes it gets me screwed–this is a temperament/personality difference more than a difference in reasoning, I think.) But. I am hyper-conscious of my surroundings. I run with something in my fist. I prevent myself from daydreaming and keep my attention focused and present. It’s probably not something a man in that situation would do.

    It hurts to think that 1/10 of the men I know are undetected rapists, according to that link that was posted. I would so love to believe that *my* male friends are special exceptions to this general rule.

  90. Ok, I feel like a dummy being the first one to ask this after over 100 comments but can someone explain “Schrodinger’s Rapist” as a concept.

    Note that I did read the wiki article on Schrodinger and the one on his cat experiment and I am still having trouble understanding why that term is being used in this context. The whole quantum mechanics thing…*woosh*, right over my head.

    Love the discussion. I learn so much here.

  91. @martini: Thanks!

    @nicegirlphd: I think it’s behavior vs. characteristics, again. We should not assume that someone is a mugger because of their characteristics (race or other).

    But it makes sense be on guard against being mugged, raped, etc., based on someone’s threatening/suspicious behavior.

  92. nicegirlphd, I am really not sure what you’re asking. Are you asking about crime statistics? Because Professor Google can help you with that. If you’re asking about whether it’s just *true* that young black men are scary, well, that’s not a question you want to be asking here.

    Can someone who hasn’t taken crazy sudafed this morning explain Schrodinger’s cat to mcm?

  93. Ruth, I agree with you (and indeed in my first comment I said I completely agree with all the bold-face stuff in Sterling’s post) . No doubt regarding response to behavior. And even without any provocative behavior, there is every right for a woman (or anyone) to not engage in conversation with someone else, even if the someone else is interested.

    But Sterling (and others here, such as a sarah) also make the point that just the fact of being a man, given the unfortunate situation in society, makes him already a potential rapist (and many other things). This is the point I both agree with, to some extent, but also struggle with, from a moral standpoint.

  94. The cat has the potential to be both alive and dead depending on unknown factors.

    The stranger has the potential to be both a rapist and not a rapist depending on unknown factors.

  95. Actually, if I saw a guy wearing a “rape is funny” t-shirt, I would just assume he is probably a jerkoff such as appear in many internet threads. Most serial rapists would work hard not to arouse suspicion that way.

    I respectfully disagree. Sure, a premeditated serial rapist probably *would* work hard not to arouse suspicion.

    But I don’t think the vast majority of rapists are premeditated serial rapists.

    I think the vast majority of rapists are ordinary guys — sometimes jerkoffs in internet threads, sometimes not — who have yawning chasms where their understanding of consent should be, and who feel entitled to “apply a little pressure” or “just thirty more seconds I’m almost there” or “could tell she was into it”. Ordinary guys. Which makes it more terrifying.

    I have a terrible feeling that many, many rapists are men who would NEVER haul a strange woman into the woods, but who think that if they shelled out the big bucks for dinner and a show, someone owes them. Or that women who are too drunk to resist are awesome good fun. Or that once she’s come home with him, well, that’s one big yes, amirite?

    Oops. She said it first and better.

  96. Oops, I forgot the part about how you don’t know for sure the cat is alive or dead until you open the box. And you don’t know for sure that the guy is a rapist until it’s too late and you’re already in danger.

  97. mcm: The gist of Schrodinger’s cat is that you don’t know whether the cat will be alive or dead until you open the box, so it’s in a state of being both at once. Schrodinger’s rapist is any man who starts an unwanted conversation like people have discussed – if you ask him to stop, he could back off politely, or he could flip out and try to set you on fire and follow you home, and you don’t know which one it will be. Super condensed version help explain it better?

  98. Since someone brought up this comment, I’m going to quote what I said about my brother in another recent thread:

    I fully understand that people who are not neurotypical may not know or may not be able to attend to typical social cues. My brother, who is cognitively disabled, is one of these people; he often overshares with casual acquaintances or wants to hug people he doesn’t know very well. I absolutely despise it when people say mean things or stare at him in public; however, if he went to hug someone and they said “Don’t touch me” or something much harsher that meant the same thing, I would fully understand. And you know what? So would my brother, if I explained to him afterwards why that person might have reacted that way. He would be really sorry that he had acted inappropriately, because he is a genuinely nice man who respects other people deeply even though he does not always act socially appropriately.

  99. My dad is a physicist, and he routinely explains things like dating to me by starting out, “If the number of men you meet is x, then f(x) is . . . .” Sorry!

    Essentially the point is that the cat in the box is either alive or dead. We don’t know, because it’s in the box. We can calculate the probability, but until the box is opened, the cat exists in a state of uncertainty. Dead? Alive? Somewhere between the two? Auughh! The quantum mechanics implication here is a little mind-boggling, but the metaphorical implication is that there is a certain percentage of rapists in the general population of men. Upon meeting a man, we have no information about him other than the general stats. We collect more information as we go, but that information does not erase the uncertainty. It just changes the odds. The only way we know for sure–the only way the box can be opened, as it were–is if the man proves himself a rapist by committing a rape, either against us or against someone else.

    This is obviously true about murders and all the rest, as well, but the percentage of murderers is much lower, and there isn’t the same social expectation that one will prevent one’s own murder like one is supposed to prevent one’s own rape. Although, since the vast majority of murders among women are tied to sexual partners or sexual assault, that’s an interesting disconnect.

  100. Lori- I didn’t get, from this post, that every person should be treated as a rapist and therefore we shouldn’t talk to people or make eye contact or smile oh God where is the social interaction what is the world coming to?! But I think this post explained in plain language what most women intuit because of rape culture. You may not think that you’re assessing the possibility of an attacker when in public, but I would be very surprised if you weren’t a bit more cautious at night, or if waiting for the bus alone with a stranger. Those are situations where you’re more likely to encounter a rapist, so it’s right to be more on guard.

    When I encounter a person, especially a man, who violates my person space and social cues, I am also experiencing a situation where there’s higher probably that the person is someone who will attack me. That’s raising the risk too high for my personal comfort and safety and, statistically, I have a valid reason to feel that way. I don’t owe anyone social interaction. Whereas, if I’m sitting on a plane and someone doesn’t like fatz, well, that’s tough noogies because I paid for my seat and I AM owed that passage on that plane.

    Snarkysmachine- I’ve tried to find a less assholish way of saying this, but to be honest, it’s not my job to be concerned with WHY someone in public is being creepy. Maybe they have Asperger’s. Maybe they weren’t allowed to play with other kids as a child. Maybe they’re supergeeks who lack social skills. Those are unfortunate situations, but, to be honest, not my responsibility to explore why someone’s being creepy on the bus. I try not to be rude as a general rule, but I have no obligation to make conversation while in public. I certainly have no obligation to make conversation while in public while the other party is making my uncomfortable. I don’t think that’s fucked up, I think that’s common sense.

  101. I’m glad we’re discussing intersectionality on this, because which man I subconciously perceive as a threat versus which man I perceive as an unwanted privileged intrusion who may turn out to be a threat is definitely influenced by race and class in ways I wish it weren’t, and am trying to change. I’m not going to deny that, and it’s something I’m working on unpacking. However, it still doesn’t mean I have an obligation to talk to any man for any reason, which is what we’re talking about here, and Sweet Machine’s point about where the dynamics of privilege lie in each situation is well made.

    A Sarah, I don’t know about Rantonimo, but I haven’t addressed Lori’s comments much because they come from the same place as her comments on this thread and she didn’t listen then. So it is not lack of snark because I don’t have a problem with the notion that we should all live in a world of lovely interpersonal communication, happiness and kittens and that it is up to women make this happen by not being so crazily paranoid, but because Lori clearly doesn’t see where other women are coming from on this and wants to repeatedly tell us how we could handle it better. Eh.

    mcm, Schrodinger’s Cat is in a box and may be alive or dead, and we have no way of knowing until we look inside the box. So up to that point both forms potentially exist — the alive cat and the dead cat — and when we look inside we collapse the potentialities into one of those states. In the same way, we cannot see Shrodinger’s rapist’s intentions. He may be a rapist or not a rapist and we can’t know which (and as mentioned above, possibly neither can he). The only point when we find out which (=look inside in the box) is the point at which he either escalates into violence or walks away, at which point it is too late for us to do anything about it.

    That’s how I understand it, anyway. I am so not a philosopher or quantum physicist!

  102. nicegirlphd,

    I believe that your Schrodinger’s rapist is much more statistically likely than Schrodinger’s mugger for the average person. I think the difference is that the mugger scenario is *made to seem more likely* in the MSM and by patterns of racism in society and ourselves.

    Plus, a mugger is a one-time interaction, whereas a rapist may not rape you that day when they first approach you, but the interaction might be ongoing, with many possible times that they may rape.

    I don’t think I’m explaining things well, I’m sorry about that.

  103. Sure, SM, I’ll take a stab at it.

    mcm, ‘Schrodinger’s cat’ refers to a hypothetical situation set up involving a cat in a box. (Feel free to make your cat macro jokes here.)

    The box is closed. We know the cat’s inside it. In this scenario, there are ONLY two options: the cat is alive, OR the cat is dead.

    Now, the quantum mechanics (and some trippy experiments with radiation) enter the classic Schrodinger’s cat idea here, but *for our purposes of analogy* that doesn’t matter.

    Please note: FOR OUR PURPOSES, the cat cannot be both alive-and-dead — that just doesn’t make any sense outside the framework of quantum mechanics, and we won’t be addressing it.

    So. Moving on with the simplified analogy. Until we open the box, we do not KNOW what state the cat’s in. Remember, it’s either one or the other. When we open the box, we are able to determine the state of the cat.

    Now, let’s tie this into the “schrodinger’s rapist” idea. When a man, any man, approaches a woman, he is either a rapist or not-a-rapist. UNTIL he demonstrates danger, she will not know if he intends to rape her or not. (Demonstrating danger, here, is the equivalent of opening the box in the cat experiment.)

    Therefore, men who approach women uninvitedly in public spaces can be classified as Schrodinger’s Rapist – which means, simply, that a woman does not know if a man is a rapist when that man approaches her without her invitation.

    The post above gives some tips for men so that they may show, via social interaction, that they are in the state of not-a-rapist.

    (Does this make sense?)

  104. Can I also point out that Schrodinger’s Rapist applies to those who are not socially normal, or borderline creepy or whatever due to developmental difficulites or other mental issues? Just because someone has Asperger’s doesn’t mean that he won’t rape you. The issues there are different, but the idea behind the post still applies.

  105. Just on SM’s heels here, the whole question of whether it’s ableist to place primary value on your safety even knowing that some people who are awkward will be mentally disabled or have had hard childhoods has been ably covered by several hundred comments in yesterday’s thread. Caitlin was particularly funny. It’s worth reading.

    Nicegirlphd, it’s not really sounding to me like you got the full thrust of SM’s point? This isn’t like Schrodinger’s Mugger, it’s like Schrodinger’s Racist. POCs are absolutely justified in assuming that any white person they come in contact with has the potential to dehumanize them and there’s nothing they can do about it. The very structure of society is what makes it rational to imagine that the members of the privileged class that you, as a member of an oppressed class, come in contact with may treat you like a member of an oppressed class. That’s sort of what privilege and oppression mean. That’s why the assumption that white people may behave in a privileged, racist, or ignorant way is fundamentally rational, and the assumption that black people will knife you is not. I think the false equivalency between rape and mugging comes from missing the fact that Schrodinger’s Rapist, with a P, is not as much about the violence as about the context of that violence — that you owe a man attention, favors, or access simply by virtue of being a woman.

  106. sweet machine, here’s my question — why is “are men really scary” ok to ask here , while “are young black men really scary” not ok?
    (it seems to me the first question is asked in the post and discussion, and the second question you say in your response I do not want to be asking here).
    Both questions have to do with characteristics (not behavior) of the individual. And both have some basis in statistics.
    I understand why the latter question is not ok, but ambivalent about why the first *is* ok.
    You already gave an answer (in the first case the end of the sentence is “to women” and in the second case it is “to whites” – very very different). I see that, and it does answer my question somewhat, but does not feel fully satisfactory to me — I am still a bit uneasy with the setup of shrodinger’s rapist in the post, for this reason. I’d be very interested in your (personally, and collectively) opinion.

  107. Nicegirlphd: Reframe in the context of privilege (already).

    Are oppressors really scary to the oppressed?
    Are the oppressed really scary to the oppressors?

    Does that make the different meanings of “scary” more clear?

  108. You know, if you replace “man” with “young black male”, and “rapist” with “mugger”, and substitute the appropriate statistics, you’ve got yourself an argument you’d see on Stormfront. Is it OK for me to go with “Schrodinger’s mugger” and assume that any young black guy I see on the subway is a mugger until I know otherwise? Because assuming that any man could be a rapist is about the same mentality.

    Nope.

    See those numbers Starling put in her post? They’re not just there for decoration. The facts bear out that many, many men are rapists and they rape many, many women.

    Whereas the facts do not bear out that white people are more at risk from black people: the facts are that violent crime is overwhelmingly INTRAracial.

  109. fillyjonk: yes. The difference is clear. And still it’s not enough to make me feel comfortable with viewing a man as an opressor just by virtue of being a man (but of course it’s much more understandable than viewing a poc as an opressor!). I am much more comfortable with the characteristic vs behavior framing.

    On the other hand, this (and the bold stuff in the post) completely resonated with me:
    “[the assumption] that you owe a man attention, favors, or access simply by virtue of being a woman” — yes, that’s exactly the problem, and that’s the reason that I still like the original post despite my being a bit uncomfortable.

  110. I think what you’re asking nicegirlphd is why is it not sexist to assume that all men will rape you? I get your point except that we aren’t assuming that all men will actually rape us. We’re assuming that there is the potential for that. You can also assume there is the potential that a black man will mug you, because there is, but you need to see that a white man might mug you too, there is the potential for that as well. This post is largely about cues that make the potential to do so turn into good odds it will happen. If I see a black man walking it is unreasonable to think the chances are good he will mug me, if I see a black man in a ski mask with a gun it is reasonable. The same with any race or gender here of course. If I just see a man in broad daylight I do not assume he will rape me, he might, I won’t know until he does. However if I see a man in the dark in an alley I will assume he might rape me even though I don’t know, can’t know until he actually does rape me.

    I hope I haven’t put my foot in my mouth too much here. Please call me on it if you feel I have.

  111. And still it’s not enough to make me feel comfortable with viewing a man as an opressor just by virtue of being a man

    That’s not really up to you, though. It’s already true. It’s been true. It’s what male privilege and patriarchy and institutionalized sexism and misogyny are about — whether or not an individual man is himself an antisexist or a nice guy is irrelevant to that calculation. If you want to ignore it, that’s fine, that’s your choice, but you absolutely cannot pretend it’s something we made up and expect to be part of the conversation here.

  112. A Sarah, I don’t know about Rantonimo

    Well, I looked up hir comments and I both was and was not thinking of the same person. The comment that had stuck with me was the ““the problem is not that good food is too pricey but that bad food is too cheap. I don’t see a feasible way to make good food cost less, but if we make bad food cost more, it at least becomes a level playing field. one a while back, which made many people pretty pissed-off. But since then zie has had genuine comments, and also, everyone has an off day, and I’ve also made comments that I regretted, and also I was away from the blog for a while because of starting the new job so I didn’t have the context, etc. etc.

    Anyway, Rantonimo, I thought you were someone whose contributions amounted to “let’s make bad food cost more” and “this is the same as being afraid of black people because they’re black,” so that’s where the bannination warning was coming from. Sorry, it was an honest misunderstanding, and I see now that’s not the case.

  113. Alibelle’s points are also good, in the sense that this post is clearly about men who want attention from you and are unwilling to abide by your boundaries. That’s not nearly as simple as saying “you think all men are rapists!” Male privilege and lack of regard for your wishes are essentially weapons they are flashing at you.

  114. This is so wonderful. Especially:

    It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone.

    I’d also like to point out that, when I told people that I was nervous about every interaction I have with a strange man because I am trying to judge my probability of being raped and dismembered, people were just SHOCKED.

    And I was shocked that they were shocked. Past experience is a hell of a drug.

  115. You forgot the important statistic though: Three quarters of rape are by men already known to the women. Being a stranger isn’t the big problem.

    OK, but how do we define “already known to the woman”? Wouldn’t “that who bothers me on the bus every week” qualify? “That neighbor I’ve never had a conversation with” certainly seems to, as does “that guy who was at the party I was at” and “that manager at the restaurant I frequent”, so I think this post is spot on.

    Once someone forces a certain number of painfully creepy and awkward conversations on you, they’re *known to you*.

  116. A great article. I’d really wish to translate it into my mother language and post somewhere with high visit rates. But…

    PROBLEM 1: I don’t think that many guys would read it up to the end (including those “good” guys).

    PROBLEM 2: Those who would care to read this up to the end (as I did) with a frank attitude and effort to really understand and show empathy, would most probably be already knowing and respecting all these!

    So, there may be negligible few people left who would sincerely read and yet haven’t realized these yet before reading it.

  117. You forgot the important statistic though: Three quarters of rape are by men already known to the women. Being a stranger isn’t the big problem.

    Also, no post can be every post. We’re right now talking about the other third. (And FYI, the fact that friends, partners, and family members are frequently the instigators of sexual assault? That doesn’t exactly support the notion that we should all be more trusting of the poor men.)

  118. “Can I also point out that Schrodinger’s Rapist applies to those who are not socially normal, or borderline creepy or whatever due to developmental difficulites or other mental issues? Just because someone has Asperger’s doesn’t mean that he won’t rape you. The issues there are different, but the idea behind the post still applies.”

    please point out where I stated this. i was not liking where the conversation was going in terms of “Creepy” because often times it ends up justifying some pretty problematic conversation, particularly in terms of race. And of course, it looks like a few folks were going in that direction, albeit in coded language. I am super uncomfy with conversations like these because those who ask others to question their language, check their privilege and unpacked their assumptions are shouted down because they are threatening someone’s safety or idea of safety.

    Instead of trying to beat me over the head with some tangent, why not look at the way we talk about threat and how that is tied to things like race, class, gender, ability status, sexual identity, gender identity recognizing that there are some societally sanctioned tropes that might play into how we define “risk”. For example, it’s pretty well established that behaviors of males of color (particularly black and latino) are often interpreted as “threatening” in a way that similar behaviors by white males would not.

    I don’t have the luxury from separating out my safety concerns with how the structure of privilege and oppression impact those I might fear. It’s complicated for me and I don’t always get it right. Still, it’s very important to me to unpack my reasons for why I have reactions in certain situations where I feel unsafe, though naturally, getting myself SAFE is a priority and processing comes later.

    I guess I am trying to find a balance between working “The gift of fear” and not using it as scapegoat for all my fucked up views on other people.

  119. And still it’s not enough to make me feel comfortable with viewing a man as an opressor just by virtue of being a man

    That’s not really up to you, though. It’s already true. It’s been true. If you want to ignore it, that’s fine, that’s your choice, but you absolutely cannot pretend it’s something we made up and expect to be part of the conversation here.

    hmm, interesting — this is getting to the heart of the matter (the matter likely being my not understanding basic feminism 101, I admit). Of course you did not invent opression of women by men (and I am trying to get over the resentment of you dismissing me as a troll who pretends this – maybe written comments do not convey my tone well, and I am not a native English speaker so maybe I give this impression). Anyway, going back to the point: Men opress women, sure. And *every* individual man has male-privilege, yes. But does this mean you can (should?) view an individual man as an opressor? Is it true that every man *is* an opressor already, like you say? I will think about that (truly).

  120. Totally inadvertently followed you here from XX, Starling. :)

    I can’t seem to follow the advice of a very wise ex who very firmly, after sitting quite patiently through an infuriated rant of mine, advised, “Becky, NEVER read the comments.” As such, it’s extreme boredom or passion and little in between that leads me to comment myself, and why I lurk in many more places than I comment. This is purely the Internet, mind you- I’m quite happy to engage in passionate debate in the flesh.

    I’ve been wrestling, since the xkcd-related article (I’m neither particularly passionate about the comic, which I’ve read maybe a dozen times in the past several years, usually because of a ‘thoughtful’ link from someone saying ‘OMG this is totally you!’), about whether or not to speak up, because it, and subsequent ones since, have left a particular kind of feeling in my stomach- a barbed, crawly one, as though you’d swallowed a thumb tack in order to gain membership in the Cool Playground Girls, and were getting this growing sense of urgency and panic, half real and half illusion but all visceral, that you’d made a terrible, terrible, irreversible mistake.

    I reserved comment because it was very clear that it would have been grossly unpopular, possibly very ill-received no matter how respectfully worded, possibly get me screamed at, and ultimately lead nowhere. I then had to wrestle with the feeling that followed: I WAS AFRAID OF OTHER WOMEN PUNISHING ME FOR DISAGREEING WITH THEM. Ironically, what I’d wrestled with putting forward was that I didn’t share the same kind of fear, and felt like the definitions it was being dressed up in seemed wrong somehow.

    I should point out that my fear of posting wasn’t a disproportionate fear. I was afraid of angry response that would simply discourage me from posting again- not that someone was going to come firebomb my house. I was afraid of being called a bad feminist, of being insensitive to victims of trauma, of being insufficiently/incorrectly educated, etc. Possibly even in all caps. It would sting a little bit, and the last few days have been shitty enough that in spiritual economics, I didn’t feel like risking a little sting in my already depleted soul-exchequer.

    I’m not going to flash my life-experience badge to credential my feelings, because Lori and Katrina have shown more courage than I and expressed essentially my sentiments. I dealt with my life traumas by forever assessing threat, looking for cover when loud things happened, mentally gauging everyone. I got called “paranoid” a lot and put a lot of friendships through the wringer.

    Coming out the other side of 30, though, I’ve found that over the course of reluctant adulthood, it was the things I did to build my own confidence and personal power that calmed that. There were a lot of things in life I never wanted to give up completely, didn’t want to sacrifice for not much in return. I love talking to strangers. Some of the most enlightening (platonic- really! honestly!) moments in my life have come from those dreaded conversations in the subway, at the bus stop, in the airport. I’ve learned to say “no” every single time I want to, and to know that I have the skills and wisdom to have a better-than-average chance of backing that “no” up if it isn’t respected- which, 99% of the time, it is.

    A Sarah said it well that “every man is a potential rapist… as well as a potential non-rapist, as well as a lot of other things, some of them good,” but I think I’d take it in a different direction than her. I sincerely hope that I’m never hurt again, and that all the other women in my life have the same safety. Oh, god, where was I going with this again? As Starling said, everyone’s risk calculus is their own. I’ve chosen, for myself, to keep taking the chance, because there’s a lot of good stuff I want to be available for, and that I’ve discovered you can survive a lot of things you thought you couldn’t beforehand.

    This will raise some hackles, but this discussion has gotten me thinking a little bit about “female privilege” in this context. I’ve never been searched at an airport. When I’ve forgotten my employee ID, I’ve been waved through security areas where my male colleagues have been detained or denied entry. When other people’s children smile, wave, or try to play with me in public, their parent permits me to interact with them, often at length, without being terrified, suspicious of my enjoyment of their child, or doing that mental calculus of what atrocities I might be capable of (I say this having looked into the faces of parents, victims, and perpetrators of said atrocities).

    Furthermore, when I walk down the street, even at night, I can smile and say “hello” to strangers. (I often do. I enjoy the hell out of it.) I can tell another woman I love her shoes, or that I read that book, and while it may be clear she doesn’t want to chat further, I know she’s very likely not assessing whether I’m going to sexually assault her (or do anything else along the spectrum of unwanted outcomes).

    Here I am sleeping with the enemy: I feel bad for the men in my life, the many good, honorable, strong, and kind men, that would love the people in the world to feel safe around them, to allow them the unreserved permission to be friendly and interested and engaging that I enjoy. I feel privileged that nobody would ever suspect me of doing things that have been done to me. My heart hurts when I think of how much smaller everyone’ world- men’s and women’s- seems to have become in my short lifetime.

  121. the matter likely being my not understanding basic feminism 101, I admit

    Yeah, this is definitely 101 stuff… let me ask you, nicely, to step away from the conversation until you do some basic reading on male privilege, since this isn’t really a 101 space (and we’ve done a lot of basic education in the last couple threads, so since you seem willing to educate yourself I hope you don’t mind getting the Smart Kid Treatment, where you’re asked to go do your own research while we take care of disciplining the troublemakers).

  122. Snarkysmachine, I understand what you’re saying, now. Earlier you weren’t saying that though, you weren’t saying what everyone assumed you meant either, but it was unclear. You came to the conversation angry and people get defensive. What you said in the last post was an extremely valid point, it however was not what you originally stated. There are dozens of issues lying beneath the surface, when you make a statement that could include many people are going to go for the most obvious one. Sorry if you feel like the people here were cruel, but I wasn’t clear with what you were saying and I don’t think anyone else really was at first either.

  123. I guess I am trying to find a balance between working “The gift of fear” and not using it as scapegoat for all my fucked up views on other people.

    I think this is really important. I just read that book recently, and one of the things that really struck me (and made me angry) was about how all the false fears that are instilled in us culturally — through racism, ableism, and so on — actually distract us from *real* threats (like the “perfectly friendly” guy who is getting way too pushy on the bus, or what have you). It’s very difficult to discern what makes someone seem “creepy” to us, and you’re right that that reaction is not free from oppressive systems of belief and behavior. I really appreciate your comment.

  124. Still, it’s very important to me to unpack my reasons for why I have reactions in certain situations where I feel unsafe, though naturally, getting myself SAFE is a priority and processing comes later.

    Yeah, this is an important point — I think people, including me, were reading your earlier comments as eliding that second point (which is the point of the post, and the point of the many-hundreds-of-comments thread in the XKCD post that dealt with some of what you’re bringing up). I’m glad you’ve been clear that you’re asking to look at the intersectional import of this while still understanding that safety can be paramount. That wasn’t clear and in the previous thread we definitely had people arguing seriously that because some men are developmentally/socially disabled and/or had difficult childhoods, it was unfair for personal safety to be our primary concern.

  125. It’s complicated for me and I don’t always get it right. Still, it’s very important to me to unpack my reasons for why I have reactions in certain situations where I feel unsafe, though naturally, getting myself SAFE is a priority and processing comes later.

    :nods: I’ve been thinking about this too. How do you hold both “Women in public are under no obligation to talk to strange men when they don’t want to,” and “Sometimes the specific reason a woman has to NOT want to talk to a strange man is, or is mixed in with, racism; and it’s not good to be racist, and they should expect to get those assumptions critiqued by antiracists”? I think you just say both. At least that’s the best I can come up with.

  126. “Anyway, going back to the point: Men opress women, sure. And *every* individual man has male-privilege, yes. But does this mean you can (should?) view an individual man as an opressor? Is it true that every man *is* an opressor already, like you say? I will think about that (truly).”

    Yeah. Oppressor sounds all fanciful like a dungeon and a leather hood. Mostly it means who has the societally sanctioned power and the privilege to wield it unchecked. Men have this power over women. But yeah, it seems if your understanding of 101 is limited, there is probably a bit of catch up you’ll need to do in order to get the gist of the post, which is firmly rooted in this perspective.

  127. nicegirlphd, I apologize if this is too 101/pedantic – I just wanted to check something out with how you’re using “oppressor”.

    I wonder if one of things that might help is clarifying how “oppressor” can be used. It can be used in an active sense, as in “The dictator oppressed the people,” where the oppressor takes an active role.

    With male privilege, there’s additional entanglements because an individual with privilege exerts power even when he doesn’t think about it, or mean to, or want to. It’s one reason privilege is a helpful concept/term, because it doesn’t require active agency on the part of the privileged.

    So your question “are all men oppressors” reads to me like you’re asking if all men want to oppress women, or if all men consciously do things to oppress women, which is a different question as to whether male privilege, which all men possess, oppresses women.

  128. I think this is really important. I just read that book recently, and one of the things that really struck me (and made me angry) was about how all the false fears that are instilled in us culturally — through racism, ableism, and so on — actually distract us from *real* threats

    This often bothers me in discussions of women’s risks (not here; in non-feminist spaces, primarily). And I think those false fears are oppressive in two directions, too – they’re directed in racist, ablist, classist ways, and they’re also meant to limit what women do, by teaching them at that it’s not safe to strike out in certain ways, or express themselves in certain ways. Whereas women are perhaps most at risks when they’re in culturally approved situations (at home with their family and partners, on that date with that “cute” guy who’s so “popular.”)

  129. This will raise some hackles, but this discussion has gotten me thinking a little bit about “female privilege” in this context.

    This “privilege” of being considered undangerous is simply the byproduct of having less power in society.

    My heart hurts when I think of how much smaller everyone’ world- men’s and women’s- seems to have become in my short lifetime.

    I really don’t know what you mean by this.

  130. Okay, how about this…

    It’s not so much about men okay? We talk about men because it’s usually men who do not recognize that they simply do not have the right to intrude on a woman just because they feel like it. Forget all that. Forget that anybody even mentioned men at all.

    Let’s talk about strength. Strength as a weapon. Not everyone is going to pick up a gun and use it. Not everyone is going to choose to use their strength as a weapon. A gun is a potential weapon. Strength is a potential weapon. I am strong. The person (woman or man) who is attempting to interact with me is without a doubt stronger than I am. I do not want to interact, but I have no choice but to take into account that this person is stronger than I am. Can I safely disengage? Can I safely confront them with their unwanted behavior? For my own safety I have to observe them for clues. If those clues alarm me, whether that was the intention or not, I must take them seriously. At that point the hurt feelings of the person holding the bigger weapon is at the very bottom of my list of concerns.

  131. “Snarkysmachine, I understand what you’re saying, now. Earlier you weren’t saying that though, you weren’t saying what everyone assumed you meant either, but it was unclear. You came to the conversation angry and people get defensive”

    With all due respect, I was not angry, so please don’t project that onto me. :)

  132. I just read that book recently, and one of the things that really struck me (and made me angry) was about how all the false fears that are instilled in us culturally — through racism, ableism, and so on — actually distract us from *real* threats (like the “perfectly friendly” guy who is getting way too pushy on the bus, or what have you). It’s very difficult to discern what makes someone seem “creepy” to us, and you’re right that that reaction is not free from oppressive systems of belief and behavior.

    I recently read the book too, and had similar feelings.

    Also, to whether it’s worth the effort to examine if your “creepy” meter is set off by some ingrained prejudice: yes, yes, and yes.

  133. Yeah, anger is just fine here, thank you very much — but also, a lot of times people read comments that make them feel *personally* defensive as being much “angrier” than they are (see, for example, my xkcd post).

  134. *breaks anti-social lurking streak to jump in*

    I’ve not read the comments yet. I just want to say I am in awe of this piece. Absolutely brilliant. Thank you for an important part of an important dialogue that I hope continues until resolution (so… until like the year 3013?).

  135. With all due respect, using the words “fucked up,” implies anger. Tone is important on the internet, I don’t know what your face looks like, or your tone of voice. You made it much easier for me to project that onto you by using those words.

  136. Oppressor sounds all fanciful like a dungeon and a leather hood.

    Hee.

    Gail, I like that analogy, assuming we throw metaphorical strength (privilege and social position) into the mix. It also helps tease out the fears that are rational (men are going to be literally stronger in most cases, and have the weapon of privilege, whether or not they’re planning to use it) vs. ones that are rooted in prejudice (black men are not going to be literally stronger than white men, and are unprivileged in significant ways, not least the fact that others will also be suspicious of them for racist reasons).

  137. With all due respect, using the words “fucked up,” implies anger.

    Yeah, I don’t know — we encourage cussing here. Saying “we’re being fucked up” and then going on to explain what you mean by that and how it’s not actually combative in the way people have been reading it… that’s fine by me. I just wish the two hadn’t come quite so far apart. :)

  138. Or I could shut up and let Sweet Machine do the talking. :) Anger is totally fine, you can be angry, I was just explaining how it made me react.

  139. Murasaki, I think you just ARE as afraid or as unafraid as you feel, and I wouldn’t dream of second-guess someone else’s fear or lack thereof. It’s like being thirsty (to use Harriet Lerner’s example about anger). You just ARE thirsty. You don’t say “Wait, I already HAD water this morning. I can’t possibly be thirsty!” The evidence for your being thirsty is the fact of your thirst. Likewise fear. This isn’t a test! :)

    But: there is evidence about how many rapes are rapes of women by men. And there’s a system supporting men’s oppression of women, even if some great individual men recognize it and HATE it and wish it weren’t so, it’s bigger than any one guy. And if that is sad, it’s sad because of a system that benefits men at women’s expense. That’s why it’s not up to women to be nicer, soothe/anticipate men’s feelings for them, FEEL men’s feelings for them, improve themselves so that men will be nicer to them, and generally make the problem better.

    Appreciate your self-disclosure and what reads to me like honest questioning…

  140. “With all due respect, using the words “fucked up,” implies anger. Tone is important on the internet, I don’t know what your face looks like, or your tone of voice. You made it much easier for me to project that onto you by using those words.”

    It’s not really my responsibility to ensure that you don’t perceive me as “angry” nor do I care if you did. I’m just pointing out that I wasn’t. I try not to get “angry” about the interwebz anymore and I have a bit of a potty mouth, which probably makes my tone seem a bit crispy.

  141. Hey, thanks snarkymachine and anita, you know what, I think it was a bit of 101 ignorance, but mostly a language issue! English is not my first (not even my second) language, and I translate oppressor differently than what it really means. Still, I’m off to educate myself as I want to understand why the original post makes me uncomfortable (and it’s not that it advocates “living in fear” – it’s more about it seeming to me a tiny bit “unfair” to men). By the way, thanks all for the interesting discussion (in this thread and on the blog in general).

  142. Also, I didn’t read the comix post. I haven’t really liked that comix (my partner does) and often links them to me and I go, “wait, what.” because there are elements of it that eek me out and I probably should read that blog post because I have some suspicions, based on the conversations happening here it would. I don’t always read every post here and I realize it’s probably an vital part of participating in this community, if only to know where folks are coming from.

  143. Everything I was going to say has pretty much been covered already; but the tee shirt thing reminded me of something I saw at work. There was this guy, sort of average, I think he maybe was bald with a beard; he was having dinner in small town USA with his grandmother. The shirt he was wearing was for some death metal band, had some goofy macabre logo on the front; and it said in big letters on the back “It’ll hurt if you don’t swallow BITCH”.

    I was absolutely speechless. And even in a crowded restaurant, with friends, coworkers, managers, and customers around, I felt slightly unsafe.

  144. . I don’t know, I feel like part of the price we pay for living in a society–like paying taxes–is having to at times endure social interactions we would rather not be engaged in.
    why? this post is about schrodingers rapist, which is a legit concern. but does that have to be the only reason I don’t want to talk to a guy on the bus? Other people have hinted at this, but my issue is that it doesn’t matter. I don’t have to worry about being raped to not want to talk
    nicegirlphd-what? I don’t even understand your last comment. it’s not about treating all men as oppressors so much as choosing which we’re going to interact with-a right they already have. also, see comments about numbers.

  145. I don’t always read every post here and I realize it’s probably an vital part of participating in this community, if only to know where folks are coming from.

    It’s not always, but with these two posts we’ve been having a lot of the same conversations over again. In this case, as it turned out, you weren’t trying to have the conversation some people thought you were trying to have — you were trying to have a much more nuanced one that we didn’t just hash out. Although reading the previous comments thread might have clued you in as to why we were leaping to the conclusion that you were saying it was unfair for women to be suspicious in order to protect themselves.

  146. Ok… Im a little confused by a couple of things; please dont take anything I have to say as a potential attack, as Im purely speaking out of curiosity and confusion…

    Im a guy, and a gay one.

    I’ll get that out first; a great deal of my confusion here clearly comes from the fact that I just dont think of the women in my life or around me as potential sexual partners, and certainly not sexual “objects”; the thought’s just not there.

    Out of that the idea of a “rape culture” bothers me; yeah, my first kneejerk is to angrily dismiss, and say “but men arent like that”, and the immediate following response in my mind is that my own line of thinking is a strawman argument; just because the men I know (myself included) are not like that doesnt mean that they’re even a part of that world. My confusion/curiosity is piqued though and so I have to ask… do women as a whole tend to feel that way about men?

    I can freely understand the thoughts of rape culture in places where its truly culturally ingrained; if one were to look at places like Cite au Soleil outside Port au Prince Haiti, where chances are every woman in the slum has been raped by one of the many roving rape gangs who use it as a form of social control and subjugation, I can understand immediately because of the very widespread nature of the problem; but I have to ask if it is like that here for women who live in the areas Im most accustomed to?

    Honestly, if there’s a woman on the train who for lack of better words is just wearing a fierce pair of shoes, Im more than likely going to tell her so (of course depending on circumstances; if her headphones are in her ears, Im going to assume she wouldnt even hear me so Im just going to leave her alone). Then again, I personally assume that Im going to come across as non-threatening-male as Im not exactly the straightest appearing branch on the tree; again though it leaves me at a loss to understand the thought processes as its a world I generally dont have access to.

    Is it pretty much across the board that women in general just see men in general as potential threats?

  147. snarkysmachine, it’s not so much that we expect everyone to read every post as that that particular post got into very detailed discussions on this topic (and is where Starling coined the term Schrodinger’s Rapist) and generated 600+ comments. It’s very much in the air around here this week.

  148. it’s more about it seeming to me a tiny bit “unfair” to men)

    Having met so, so many women who were raped by their husbands or best friends, I really wonder if it’s possible to be unfair to men as a group. Thirty years ago I would have thought differently. Sigh.

  149. I feel bad for the men in my life, the many good, honorable, strong, and kind men, that would love the people in the world to feel safe around them, to allow them the unreserved permission to be friendly and interested and engaging that I enjoy.

    Okay. I feel sorry for the good, honourable, strong and kind women who’ve been harrassed, attacked, raped and/or murdered, so the feelings of the men in your life are considerably down my priority list on this issue. Plus, if the men in your life are as you say they are, why would they be forcing interaction with unfamiliar women on public transport who clearly don’t want to talk to them?

    You weren’t talking about that situation? Strange, because we were. The fact that you know some nice men who can’t play with kittens in the street or whatever doesn’t really have anything to do with what we’re discussing here.

  150. What actually brought me to this post was an experience I had last night at the grocery store. A dude was trying to get cozy, despite me sending plenty of signals that didn’t want to be arse. We’re talking curlers, housecoat with a puffy vest over it and my “keep away” (fake wedding/engagement band) but he was a total zombie playa; he just wouldn’t stay down.

    There was a second of feeling that female guilt about not being “nice” before I railed into him with all manner of “mutherfucker don’t be mutherfucking blah blah blah” and when it was over and he slunk away I still had that feeling of overreacting.

    Gah. So this post was totally comforting and because I’m me, I couldn’t just sit with my warm fuzzies, I had to start thinking about my own shit and how much of it when into my reaction.

  151. Matt the friendly gay guy, with all due respect, you need to do some feminism 101 and this is not the blog for it. There’s a lot of material about rape culture out there; please read some.

    I can freely understand the thoughts of rape culture in places where its truly culturally ingrained

    Which is why you should pay close attention to the statistics Starling brings up in the post.

  152. he was a total zombie playa; he just wouldn’t stay down.

    And now I’m particularly glad that you weren’t trying to say this was Unfair to Menz, because maybe I love you.

    I had to start thinking about my own shit and how much of it when into my reaction.

    Which is awesome and very much encouraged. I think we’re just bruisy after all the “but what if that man was THE ONE and now your CHILDREN will NEVER BE BORN, you SEXIST BITCH!” conversations.

  153. Murasaki: Hey! Cool! Hi! Sit down! Have a drink!

    I see what you’re saying. Default should be that everyone gets to live like women in the way we aren’t perceived as a threat. The people who have pissed in that pond, though, are not the women who are now legitimately cautious. They’re the men who have done bad stuff. Rape culture: sucks for everyone, not just for women.

    It’s not actually always a privilege to be considered weak and harmless. It may get you past airport security, at least when it’s not your week to be felt up, but it also means that the scary people who want to harass and oppress someone chose to do it to you, because you are less likely to fight. This is true verbally (because women have to be nice, or are expected to be nice) and physically. The reality–that I personally can kick the crap out of a solid 80% of men–does not change the perception, which is that bullies can get away with crap when I’m present.

    It means that the skinny little man who lives next door came out of his building and started screaming “Fuck you bitch!” at me at 6:30 one Saturday morning. Did I have the ability to break both his arms and choke him senseless? Sure thing. Without breaking a sweat. But, you know, I really couldn’t do that. The cops would have been profoundly unhappy.

    Had he believed I might have done so, he wouldn’t have harassed me, though.

    One of the reasons I wrote this post is that I have five brothers and two brothers-in-law, and a father who has never once in his life met anyone he wasn’t delighted to talk to. They learn–they have learned–that there are obscure and arcane rules for interacting with women. I’d like them to see that the rules aren’t that messy, really. They make sense, once you step back and let your perspective shift.

    I once carried a badge in my job. It was a scary federal badge. When I pulled it out, I freaked people out, and it was the least powerful and most vulnerable sections of the population who were most alarmed. When I became aware of this, I made real efforts to make myself as non-threatening as possible, explaining what I was doing, being respectful of people’s boundaries, and generally not EVER doing the law enforcement headfuck thing. The more aware I was to the power differential, the more effective I got at doing my job, which relied on the goodwill and assistance of the people I spoke to. Understanding that my position of power made some people uncomfortable was the key to a successful interaction. It didn’t make interaction impossible, it made it much easier.

    So what I hope is that discussions like this can make interaction easier and more productive for men and women both, instead of entangling the really good guys in the bullshit misery that has been perpetuated by too many jerks to name.

  154. We are not guaranteed the right, when we go out in public, to not have any social interactions we don’t want to have.

    See, I actually agree with this in a sense — because there are some people who think that they shouldn’t have to look at fat people in public, or be in a public place where there are any children making children noises. And some people have white-supremacist goggles on and don’t know it, as has already been pointed out. But that’s exactly why we need to check assumptions and look for privilege.

    Want to say more but have to go deal with a kid…

  155. “I think we’re just bruisy after all the “but what if that man was THE ONE and now your CHILDREN will NEVER BE BORN, you SEXIST BITCH!” conversations.”

    Understood. I just perused a few choice comments. Hot buttered scary!

  156. I just had the disturbing realization that because of my personal experience I tend to trust men I actually know *less*. I’ve had nice conversations with random dudes on the bus…. Why am I realizing all of these creepy squicky things today? Sorry for the bit of OT mememe but urrrrrk.

    Ohcrapnopleasebraindonotstartwiththeflashbacks.

  157. I still had that feeling of overreacting.

    But is that because we’re trained to “be nice” or at least “not be difficult” all the time? I mean, maybe you did look like a crazy lady, and maybe you saved your own life. You can never tell.

  158. Matt: One woman in six. If that number doesn’t feel like rape culture to you, what exactly are the goalposts?

    And I’m glad you’re here, because you’re the man I want to speak to. See, I don’t know you’re gay, that you have no possible sexual interest in me, that you are emphatically not a rapist ever. I don’t know because I don’t yet know you. But you can show that you’re unlikely to be running around over my boundaries and hurting me by respecting my boundaries in our interactions, beginning with the first hello. Yes, this is how very many women feel. It doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to them, just that you have to be aware that you do not have a big old neon sign on your hat that says “HARMLESS GOOD GUY WILL NOT RAPE YOU.”

    Not that such a sign would be reassuring IRL. But you see what I’m saying.

  159. @nicegirlphd
    “The difference is clear. And still it’s not enough to make me feel comfortable with viewing a man as an opressor just by virtue of being a man…”

    Ok I’ve been trying to respond to this for a couple of minutes and all I can say is, maybe you just need to do some 101 review.

  160. Snarkysmachine, I so agree with Fillyjonk! Zombie playa, for real? You sort of rock, and the actual comment you were making was super smart too, let’s be friends? Not even being sarcastic here.

  161. “This “privilege” of being considered undangerous is simply the byproduct of having less power in society.”

    Point taken, Sweet Machine, but it still feels a little tautological. Since I’m part of an oppressed population, attributes that positively enhance my quality of life (disproportionately to others, even?) DON’T count as privilege? I don’t know…

    ‘My heart hurts when I think of how much smaller everyone’ world- men’s and women’s- seems to have become in my short lifetime.’

    “I really don’t know what you mean by this.”

    I’m speaking purely perceptually here, Sweet Machine. My home culture DOES feel decidedly different- more xenophobic, more distrustful, dividing lines more stark, etc. Even when I was younger, and life was personally a lot more dangerous, the world in general seemed fairly understandable in how shitty it was- now I find myself waiting in cynical awe for how unreasonable or disproportionate one group’s responses to another will be. The same old threats were probably there then and now in equal measure (this is reminding me of Suzanne Vega’s “Last Year’s Troubles”)- it just feels, to me, like EVERYone has become so dramatically disconnected and at war with each other on an individual level.

  162. Very well done. We men spend a lot of time trying to figure out what a woman is thinking. It’s nice when it is explicitly laid out, and especially so when it’s in an area like this where such thoughts may not naturally occur to a man. So thanks.

    I am skeptical about the 1-in-6 business, though. The FBI estimates 89,000 women reported being raped in 2008 — 29 women for every 100,000 people. If half those people are women and nobody gets raped twice, that’s 1-in-1724 rapes in a year. Women would have to live to be 287 years old to run a 1-in-6 chance. It’s a serious problem, for sure, and you could argue that anything that helps sensitize women to the threat could help prevent rape, but I think the number is bogus and just used as a scare tactic.

  163. @Matt who likes nice shoes.

    I can’t answer for all women, but I will tell you for me the answer is yes.

    I will not get on a subway car if I am the only woman on that car. I will switch cars if I am the last woman aboard. I don’t give a crap if I’m the only white person on the train, but I will NOT stay aboard if I am the only woman.

  164. Starling: oh believe me Im horrified to hear that number; its an odd area of ignorance to have my nose rubbed in (deservedly, mind) and am currently trying to find more of a break down of statistics; RAINN.org’s stats page on the offenders though was what coupled with my curiosity (http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-offenders), where they state that by far the higher percentage likelihood is that a rape will be commited by a known person, not a stranger (73% of rapes by their stats, reported via the dept of justice)

    a) shows Ive got quite a bit to learn, but b) makes me feel oddly out of sorts thinking that just being seen across a train or public space that the women around me are assessing my threat potential with an automatic bias towards violation or violence. While I think I can safely assume that’s less directly terrifying than being raped, its still in itself a pretty horrifying thought.

  165. curious_sceptic, you understand that rape is a drastically underreported crime, don’t you?

    I let your comment in because of the first paragraph, but any repetition of the second paragraph — i.e., any further rape denial — will result in an instant ban.

  166. “It doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to them, just that you have to be aware that you do not have a big old neon sign on your hat that says “HARMLESS GOOD GUY WILL NOT RAPE YOU.””

    Hahaha! That would be the most awesome The Onion piece. “Area man ‘will not rape you, attack you, or follow you home and peer through your windows’, sign says.”

  167. This thread has suddenly brought up something I haven’t thought of in a long time. 20-something years ago, I was in college and had to work late in the winter, when it gets dark by dinner. I was walking home and realized that the street was really, really empty, except for the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps. Which got faster and faster. My heart started to race and I dove into some snow-covered bushes as something brushed my coat. I looked up and the jogger turned his head and said, “Sorry.” without breaking his stride. I picked myself and went home, still shaking. For that mere 30 seconds I was absolutely terrified. My only thought was, “notagainnotagainnotagain.”

    Funny story. Except that I have tears in my eyes thinking about it. Is this choosing to live in fear? Fuck anyone who says so. I earned my fear through bitter experience.

  168. Awesome post. I have to agree with those who’ve pointed out that the one-in-sixty are rapists reframe is rather stunning.

    @snarkysmachine: hot buttered scary and zombie playa are now officially in my vocab.

  169. ” My home culture DOES feel decidedly different- more xenophobic, more distrustful, dividing lines more stark, etc. ”

    Could that just be because you are older and more aware now? Not trying to be a smart ass, I’m serious. We often have a certain degree of blindness when we are young. As we get older and have more experience with bad situations our eyes are opened and we see things or read different things into situations. A little kid doesn’t see the danger in a hot stove until his fingers get burned. People say teenagers have a sense of “that will never happen to me”, but that’s because usually nothing has really happened to them yet. It’s not real for them yet.

    What a loaded word, YET…

  170. Curious_skeptic and Matt, there’s a nice link at the top of the comments thread provided by IrishUp. It has stats from several different studies over a couple of decades. The statistical evidence is overwhelming, and I’d like to add the anecdotal evidence that not one woman on this thread is surprised at these numbers. Which means we are rape victims and/or we know rape victims.

    In my case, that’s an “and.”

  171. Murasaki, may I ask what definition of privilege you’re using?

    My home culture DOES feel decidedly different- more xenophobic, more distrustful, dividing lines more stark, etc. Even when I was younger, and life was personally a lot more dangerous, the world in general seemed fairly understandable in how shitty it was- now I find myself waiting in cynical awe for how unreasonable or disproportionate one group’s responses to another will be.

    I really don’t know what to make of this. “Unreasonable” or “disproportionate”? Are you talking about the people who’ve been on the smooth side or the rough side of oppression? “One group’s responses to another”? The history is not the same for both groups, nor the dynamics. Do you mean the less-privileged groups are overreacting? Being unreasonable and disprorportionate in their demands — unlike the reasonable and prudent guardians of those old-timey homey time-honored traditional old truths from Back When People Were Nicer And Times Were Simple, like the truth that a man has a right to beat his wife or that queer people are unnatural and an abomination to the most high God? Please tell me that’s not what you’re saying.

  172. Raises hand. Date rape. Never reported because what would be the point? Also: flasher, groper, and verbally harrassed on the streets.

  173. Boy howdy, do I need to go educate myself on Ableism 101, is what I am saying to myself today.

    I can make an observation about men who are not neurotypical/otherwise differently abled: I used to work in a maximum security prison for men. There were absolutely men there who were not neurotypical, and they were usually POCs, which reflected the offender population in that facility and disproportionally reflects the state’s general population.

    This suggests that all the institutional issues we know negatively affect neurotypical men of color in the criminal justice system also affect non-neurotypical men of color.

    I’ve also been going around and around in my own head about unpacking my own privilege knapsack when it comes to assessing risk when engaging with men of color (something I do think about) and non-neurotypical men (something I really need to start thinking about).

    I don’t know if other people have had this impression, but thinking on it, I do feel that men who are disabled can be perceived as a special kind of risk-to-women. They aren’t just mistaken for “actual creepy men,” I think they’re often assumed to be “likely a creepy man” because of their characteristics. (Any one of a number of SVU episodes comes to mind, when looking for a media representation. And that character from Of Mice and Men… Lenny?)

    Aaaand, in addition to questioning my interpersonal interactions, I’m thinking I need better context for getting what’s going on social-system-wise and institutional-structure-wise. Which is why I’d better get cracking on Ableism 101.

    Thanks, SM and snarkymachine for that.

    Also, Starling, this is a hilarious and insightful post. Thanks so much for writing it.

  174. “Snarkysmachine, I so agree with Fillyjonk! Zombie playa, for real? You sort of rock, and the actual comment you were making was super smart too, let’s be friends? Not even being sarcastic here.”

    Chicken Fried Done. Can you tell where my head is? My partner is coming home tomorrow and will cook many foods with butter and batter and my mouth is already watering!

    “I am skeptical about the 1-in-6 business, though. The FBI estimates 89,000 women reported being raped in 2008 — 29 women for every 100,000 people. If half those people are women and nobody gets raped twice, that’s 1-in-1724 rapes in a year. Women would have to live to be 287 years old to run a 1-in-6 chance. It’s a serious problem, for sure, and you could argue that anything that helps sensitize women to the threat could help prevent rape, but I think the number is bogus and just used as a scare tactic”

    You forgot to factor in all the women (leaving aside that men are assaulted too) who fail to report their assault, the hell survivors go through reporting and the fear of having to face their attacker if the case should go to trial.

    I do bedside advocacy at the ER for sexual assault victims for both cisgendered and Transgendered women and I am on call two nights a month and in the three years that I have volunteered in this position I am still waiting for the night where I sit up playing scrabble instead of rushing to the ER to lay the smack down on pushy social workers, brisk clinical staff and holding hands of a woman viewed as stat some folks can’t quite conceptualize.

  175. The FBI estimates 89,000 women reported being raped in 2008 — 29 women for every 100,000 people.

    Yeah, curious_skeptic, it’s the “reported” part of that sentence that’s your problem. But please continue disregarding the words of women and ignoring already-linked evidence that contradicts your personal perception that not that women women are raped really so we’re all just overreacting. You’re in no way part of the problem.

    Also, what Starling said. No woman here has expressed surprise at that number. There’s something for you to think about.

  176. I just wanted to say, snarkysmachine, my experience of your posts today has been very interesting. At first, even though we all swear here and get angry, I somehow found myself put off by the way you expressed yourself (but stay with me here) and saw myself disagreeing. Then I actually troubled my little princess self to think about what you were saying, and when I actually entertained the points you raised, I was grateful you had done so. Your further clarifications about where you were coming from were most welcome and enlightening, and then you proceeded to ice the cake with your leap up to even more vivid and idiosyncratic language. Me like!

    The experience reminded me to not be such a hothead when it comes to language that might hit me wrong for whatever personal reason, and remember
    that there is a person behind it and to wait and find out more.

    @Murasaki, I’m conscious of what I call my “white-girl privilege” (being seen as not a threat gets you the use of bathrooms in stores where you are not a customer, for example), but nonthreatening is always in the eye of the beholder. To many, I’m about as bland and cuddly as it gets, but I’ve been pulled out of airline security lines for baggage inspection and I’ve had little kids shy away from me when I’ve made neutral, friendly, closed-ended (non-response-expecting) remarks. I have to respect that other people may have their reasons for these reactions.

  177. See, I don’t know you’re gay, that you have no possible sexual interest in me, that you are emphatically not a rapist ever. I don’t know because I don’t yet know you. But you can show that you’re unlikely to be running around over my boundaries and hurting me by respecting my boundaries in our interactions, beginning with the first hello.

    Yeah. Like, Matt, in your shoes example. It doesn’t mean that a crowd of women is going to hunt you down and bludgeon you for complimenting someone’s shoes, but it DOES mean that when you honestly intend only to compliment the shoes you can improve your chances of it being received as such. For example, by smiling and saying “Fierce shoes!” as you swing out of the car at your stop, so the woman doesn’t feel like the burden of responding with nice conversation is on her. Or just by waiting till she happens to look at you and then saying “Fierce shoes!” and not saying a word more unless *she* engages *you* in conversation about aren’t they great and she found them on sale and you know where the best place to find fantastic shoes is?

    What I’m saying is, you can telegraph that your intentions are benign by paying attention to her cues, and letting those cues, rather than your desire to be heard about the shoes, lead you.

  178. Thanks, Lu and everyone else. thanks for letting me clarify. I realize I was operating on the assumption that people can read minds. Twitter has me thinking I have to do everything in 140 characters or less!

  179. This seems to be conflating two things: people who are socially awkward/inability to discern social cues such in the case of Aspberger’s and “low grade creepy” I guess I’m not sure what is meant by this. Could you clarify because some of the behaviors you stated sound a lot like folks I know who are on the spectrum and equating their “lack” in social skills with creepiness or rape culture in general feels pretty fucked up to me.

    This has already been discussed a good bit, but since it was my comment that set it off, I should explain myself.

    I’m sorry…I wasn’t trying to be insulting or to draw any sweeping connections between social awkwardness and rape culture.

    Maybe it’s more helpful to explain what I mean by “low-grade creepy” by putting it totally in terms of actions and my feelings about them. A guy stands too close, hugs or touches without any indication that I’m okay with that, keeps talking when I’m making excuses as to why I want to get out of the conversation, etc. Those actions creep me out.

    From where I stand in that situation, I can’t tell if it’s a social awkwardness thing or a rape culture thing or any number of other things. I don’t know if the guy’s missing my body language or other cues or if he’s too self-centered to care, or if it’s a bit of both.

    If he’s missing the cues, I don’t know why that is. (It could be anything from Aspergers to not talking to girls much to the cues not being as obvious as I think they are to him having a particularly non-observant day because he didn’t get his morning coffee.)

    Similarly, if he’s ignoring them, I don’t know if it’s specifically a sexist thing or if he has no regard for other men’s boundaries either. I also don’t know if he’s a jerk continually or if he’s just being jerky today.

    When I referred to “low-grade creepy,” I meant a combination of those behaviors that raise my hackles with other behaviors that suggest that the guy in question is a decent human being and the absence of behavior I’d class as *very* creepy (following someone or yelling at them, threats of violence, all the stalking and harassing behaviors mentioned on this thread). Basically, in that situation, I feel threatened, but not physically threatened (though this may be in part because I’ve never been assaulted in any way). There’s a violation of boundaries and a creepy sensation, but I don’t actually think I’m in physical danger from the person.

    I didn’t mean any insult to anyone with Aspergers or anyone else who has difficulty with social cues. I should probably not have referred to “guys who are low-grade creepy” but to specific *behaviors* as creepy. I think I can reasonably stand by calling those behaviors creepy because, to me, they *feel* creepy. They may be perfectly innocent and well-intentioned, but they raise my hackles.

  180. “When riding on buses I really wish people would just stop assuming that if someone (me) is reading a book then that someone (me) must be SO ABJECTLY BORED that they MUST want to listen to some stranger verbally jack-off to their life story in my ear. Seriously. I’m READING. Happily. Leave. Me. Alone.”

    This happens to me all the time, and not in public spaces either. I was on vacation at the beach, and reading…they don’t call them beach books for nothing…and the family I was vacationing with couldn’t for the life of them understand READING a book means READING a book..not I’m bored, talk to me! One guy actually said, oh must be a good book, aka. “you’re not talking to me, so that book must really have your attention.” It took all I had not to say, no it’s actually a pretty bad book, but I like to read, and I just don’t really want to talk to you! Wish I’d said it now. HS 20/20.

  181. zombieplaya, hot buttered scary, and chicken fried done= superior.

    And now I also wish to eat things that have been dipped in batter and fried and then slathered in butter.

    Maybe a batterfried babyflavored donut?

  182. My own Schroedinger’s Rapists are more keenly felt with folks I know. (I lived in such urban density for so long I’ve not had a lot of “alone with stranger” experiences.) But I’ve had a bunch of experiences like the “first time that the guy comes over for coffee with a mutual female friend but then the female friend cancels and the guy shows up anyway”. That visit will scare me the whole time. Or ending up alone in a room at a party with a guy who’s standing between me and the door. Ditto ending up alone in the house with male relatives in the extended family with whom I’ve not been alone before. (Even the feminist ones.) Those are all really high stress for me.

    Thinking about it, my own thoughts of Schroedinger’s changed a bit since having kids and passing into plus sizes. I read “Fat is a Feminist Issue” when I was a very young person – maybe 12. I don’t remember much from it, and I’m sure I’ve gotten this wrong: but my take away was this – ‘women get fat because it makes them feel secure against rape.’ I was angry at that for so long, because it made my inbetweenie fat something that with sufficient therapy I could change, you know? Fat was somehow in my head and in society, and not of my body.

    But way back when, I decided she was right: that if I were bigger, I could be effective in a fight. I couldn’t imagine anyone getting very far with my mom – we’re fat, but we’re healthy, active, strong. So it gets back to the “that person is stronger than me” thing. So based on the suggestion I took from Fat is a Feminist issue, I’ve decided it’d be harder to push me around. Now, of course I would much prefer that the men in my life are not rapists; but due to a possibly misread suggestion of a theory, I’ve decided that if they were, I’d fight and leave them injured. Part of it is feeling of strength and size; the other part is some kind of permission, like that book gave me a Fat Superhero archetype. Yep. Kickin’ ass and takin’ names.

  183. Wow, I’m far less cautious than the author. I’ve been with my partner for a long time so I don’t go on dates but I do meet strange men for hobbies or professional reasons and I don’t always display the information in a prominent place. Maybe I should make more of an effort to do that.

    This article makes some valid points but it’s very focused on dealing with strangers. It’s also worth talking about the fact that most rapes are committed by someone already known to the victim.

  184. I’m new here, so I hope I don’t do a 101 fail. I’ve been thinking about this since the initial discussion of the comic, and something is bugging me. Here’s the situation: I have moderate social anxiety; it’s bad enough that I identify myself as a disabled person. It has hindered progress in my career, and is probably the main cause of my being single for several years now. I really enjoy talking to people and meeting new people, but it’s nearly impossible for me to make the first move of introducing myself. I have a terrible time making eye contact with people I don’t know. In public places, I sit in a closed-up posture, look down or out a window, and sometimes read a book. All my signals say: leave me alone! But much of the time I actually long to talk to other people, of all genders and ages. All it takes to start a conversation is for someone to ask me some simple, impersonal question, like something about the weather; I respond enthusiastically if I want to talk to the person. If I don’t want to talk, I give a monosyllabic response.

    But the rules being presented here are so strict. A nice person is supposed to read other people’s body language and not say one word to someone who is closed off or looks busy. If everyone followed that rule, I would be even more socially isolated than I already am. Now, I understand that this is my disability and I’m the one who should fix things. I have worked really hard in therapy to get better at opening up to people. I tried medication, but couldn’t stand the side effects. Am I just out of luck here? Couldn’t the rule be: if you see someone who looks like they probably don’t want to talk, it’s okay to ask one pleasant, impersonal question and then stop talking to the person if they don’t respond positively?

    Many of the comments on this post and the previous one seemed to imply that if a normal person wanted to talk, he/she would indicate that clearly in body language, etc. I feel left out of this description; I think it privileges the non-disabled.

  185. snarkysmachine,

    “I guess I am trying to find a balance between working ‘The gift of fear’ and not using it as scapegoat for all my fucked up views on other people.”

    Me, too. I do an internal double-take when my warning alarms go off and I’m not sure if it’s legit fear or bigotry. Often that’s worked well for me–I can usually distinguish between “that group of rough-looking guys isn’t even looking at me, they’re talking and laughing amongst themselves” and “that dude is giving us way too many glances, and I don’t like the look on his face while he’s doing it.”

  186. Kristinc: that I agree with 100%; also with there being no agenda involved, or the need to say anything more, or even the need to say -anything- if it seems she’d just not want to be approached. (yes, even if they’re limited manolos.) I think the only time I myself have acted against that was to say something nice to a woman who was in tears (again on a train; what is it with trains?) in the hopes of at least showing kindness to someone who was visibly suffering; I’d hate to think that would have been perceived as a come on or a manipulation but I can see how that would be possible. (In that instance, she said thank you and the conversation was over; which was fine… it didnt need anything more. )

    I guess my thoughts are that its just tough to be a guy in a scenario where I’m automatically put on the defensive by people who think I’m automatically putting -them- on the defensive by my simply being present. Or Sweet Machine’s statement that power and threat are automatically linked, and to show non-threatening-status one must show a lack of power or strength. I can see how either extreme of behaviour is by itself extremely clear, but it makes us guys ask where the line actually falls between being an outwardly strong male and being seen as a threat, or the boundary line between a positive and a negative male quality; makes me agree with others above who’ve expressed desires that this could be freely taught, but I’d wish to see it coupled with a what-should-be-common-sense approach of how to safely interact -before- it needs to become a matter of what-not-to-do.

  187. 1. Arguing that most rapists are acquainted with their victims doesn’t help our hypothetical man on the train, because he isn’t trying to rape me on the train, he’s trying to get acquainted. The threat isn’t just him following me home, it’s also convincing me to meet him for coffee a few times before he follows me home.

    2. “men are threats” vs “black men are threats.” We fall back on whichever power structures support our relative privilege (hello, kyriarchy!). This means that men who face racist/ableist/cisist/classist/etc discrimination are tempted to assert the one form of power they have: male privilege. I think this might explain why the majority of men hassling me are from a less-privileged class or race. Unfortunately, that reinforces my prejudices and privilege in those hierarchies. As a white/educated/cis/temporarily able woman, I tend to rely on my privilege in those power structures. So it isn’t that I think black men (just using the example because it came up before) are bigger threats, but they’re more likely to assert their male privilege openly (since they lack other ways to assert privilege) and I’m more likely to respond with white privilege.

    Is this right? No. Do my ideas of right and wrong get back-burnered when I feel threatened? Yes. Does that ultimately help stabilize the kyriarchy and prevent meaningful social change? ‘Fraid so. I work hard to overcome my privilege when I am the authority figure, but I really don’t know how to do that on the bus. Suggestions welcomed…

  188. For me, what’s getting left out here is this: In most cases, a man who approaches a woman he doesn’t know and compliments her or tries to start a conversation (as opposed to just seeking information, like asking for directions) is trying, in some way, to pick her up, otherwise he wouldn’t be talking to her.

    If she finds him creepy, for whatever reason, then she’s not going to want to date him. Even if some other woman wouldn’t find his behavior creepy, even if there’s a good reason that he’s behaving the way he is, even if she’s just creeped out because he’s black and she’s racist. This particular woman does not like this particular man, which means that they probably shouldn’t date, because they’re failing to click at a fundamental level.

    So you could even just add that it’s simply *practical* for guys to back off when women are giving the “you’re creepy, go away” signals, because even if the guy is not being objectively creepy, that particular woman is still not going to date him. And pretending that if she just x, y, or z’ed then she’d totally understand what a nice guy he really is, is working under the assumption that men are allowed to be individuals with individual personalities and women are some homogeneous, interchangeable group who should all react the exact same way to everything.

  189. Yeah, but Matt, what if you just didn’t approach women on public transport who made it clear that they didn’t want to talk to you, and then the problem is solved? This isn’t abstract theory, it’s quite a simple concept.

    I guess my thoughts are that its just tough to be a guy in a scenario where I’m automatically put on the defensive by people who think I’m automatically putting -them- on the defensive by my simply being present.

    And it’s tough to be the woman who, in an alternative scenario where the man is someone who looks a lot like you, she might actually be about to be assaulted or raped. So I’m sure you’ll see why my sympathy and focus are not on you in this situation.

    it makes us guys ask where the line actually falls between being an outwardly strong male and being seen as a threat, or the boundary line between a positive and a negative male quality

    Good. I’m really, sincerely glad you’re asking yourself those questions. They are great questions to be asking, and there’s a lot to learn here if you’re willing to sit down and listen.

  190. This is such good conversation here that I hate missing out on it but have been just reading quietly because my nerves have gone raw from all the rape talk recently. It’s firing off all kinds of triggers in my head.

    Plus, every time I think I have a point to make about something, it’s said by someone else, usually much more brilliantly than I could anyway.

    I did want to join in long enough to say thank you for this post though. It’s certainly helped me have a better idea to understand how I feel when I am approached by a strange man and will hopefully help me better frame that to the men in my life who I know are not the rapist and are genuinely confused when they bring up to me how difficult it is to approach a woman.

  191. “Unfortunately, that reinforces my prejudices and privilege in those hierarchies. As a white/educated/cis/temporarily able woman, I tend to rely on my privilege in those power structures. So it isn’t that I think black men (just using the example because it came up before) are bigger threats, but they’re more likely to assert their male privilege openly (since they lack other ways to assert privilege) and I’m more likely to respond with white privilege.”

    This is an interesting point. One of my safety concerns often has to do with how much privilege a person has in relation to me. Meaning, I think about the way a person’s privilege and my lack (in some areas) might contribute to my ability to bring charges against someone if they would do me harm and what are the consequences for them (doing me harm) vs. me (reporting them). In my experience I felt one of the reasons I was easy to “street harass” is because my cultural group (chubby, black chicks) is routinely devalued and othered as women. Therefore assaults, particularly cross-racial aren’t generally viewed from a neutral perspective and even if a perp isn’t conscious in his trading in cultural memes about woc’s sexuality, it’s still a dynamic that comes into play.

    Partly, this stems from the volunteer work I do where I encounter women of varying levels of privilege being attacked by primarily exceedingly privileged men (I live in the least racially diverse state in the country, oh wait, I think Maine one it this year. okay 2nd least. I’m a raisin in the oatmeal.). Anyway, one of the reasons I created this “job” is because of hearing stories of women feeling victimized again when they were seeking help and they weren’t the “right” kind of woman. (insert all the privilege bingo squares) And it did seem to me their concerns weren’t always handled with as much nuanced care as other folks.

    Again, a really interesting perspective.

  192. Ger–sorry, I just barely saw your post way up top. Yeah, no prob, but e-mail me first. It’s firstname dot lastname at gmail dot com.

  193. What do you do to meet men? Your view on us honestly offends me. If you look at every man who comes into your life as a possible threat, unless, of course, you do meet him in church with your mother, what kind of men do you meet?

    I understand the respect men must give to women given the state of the world and its more sinister aspects, but if every guy is walking on eggshells to introduce himself, doesnt that turn into a boring cycle?
    Meeting someone is one of the best parts of a relationship, and can be memorable and exciting. If I had to approach women, and men for that matter, scared out of my mind of being maced, I dont think I would want to meet people at all.

    I know this world/country is slowly falling to shit, trust me, my ex got raped, but it was a family member, in her home. Don’t hold our penises against us for being in public and thinking you look nice.

    Sorry ahead of time, and I might get maced if I run into some paranoid, but I’m keeping the adventure in my life.

  194. In most cases, a man who approaches a woman he doesn’t know and compliments her or tries to start a conversation (as opposed to just seeking information, like asking for directions) is trying, in some way, to pick her up, otherwise he wouldn’t be talking to her.

    This hasn’t been my experience; especially now with kids. When I was younger I had a higher hit on/attempted pick up rate; but it’s been a long time since I got hit on in public. I wonder if there are regional differences in public socialization, as well as differences in things like weight and age?

    Many men in my area, for example, will be extra-solicitous to elderly women – they may be reminded of their mothers or be polishing their boy scout merit badges helping the women across the street; or maybe they’re trying to defraud them of their retirement savings. (I’m not saying it’s all fuzzy Vaseline lens, here.) And I’ve had people tell me all sorts of stories on the bus: I think I look enough like “a mom” – or maybe a bartender – that talk to me about what’s going on for them.

    And since being a mom, I have men and women talk to me all the time about their kids. Some of the talk is distinctly gendered and misogynistic: I’ve passed from virgin/whore to good/bad mother, and this re-contextualization has changed what I cope with in terms of stereotype or misogyny.

  195. ^
    Whoops, got interrupted… Heh. Yeah, kua, thank you. That connection – about resorting to the form of privilege we have, and how that plays out in our subway scenarios – was not 100% clear to me before until you laid it out so plainly.

  196. - Oh, and hey: elderly women in my community also have to worry about rape, just less about the casual pickup by everyone with a penis.

  197. Thank you for this post. Some of the commenters seem to be missing a key point of this post which is many men who view themselves as safe feel they have the right to ignore women’s personal boundaries and/or their safety concerns. And when these men’s self-perceived right is denied they often blame the women whose boundaries they ignored rather than taking responsibility for their own actions.

    It is vital that we address the behavior of men who believe that what they want is more important than what women do not want simply because their motives are positive. Highlighting that this attitude from non-rapist men mirrors the attitudes of rapist men should be a wake up call to men who don’t want to hurt women and who don’t believe women’s feelings are less important than their own.

    The only real solution to men violating women’s boundaries is for men to stop doing this. When individual women successfully deflect boundary violations or successfully project attitudes which deter unwanted behavior that does nothing to solve the underlying behavior problem.

    The criticism that this post only addresses strangers when most rapists are known to their victim ignores the fact that once a man introduces himself he isn’t likely to be classified as a stranger if he commits rape unless he attacks her immediately.

  198. So it isn’t that I think black men (just using the example because it came up before) are bigger threats, but they’re more likely to assert their male privilege openly (since they lack other ways to assert privilege) and I’m more likely to respond with white privilege.

    Interesting point, although my experience (yeah, more anecdata) points to the opposite. I’m white, and almost all the men who’ve assaulted or harassed me have been white. I believe this is white privilege in action (mine, specifically), in that men in racial minorities might not have felt secure enough to victimize a white woman. That sounds really weird, but I can’t think of another way to put it. People intent on harm typically choose the safest available target and in most places I’ve lived, a white woman is not as safe a target as a WOC who will likely have less legal and societal recourse.

    Obviously, the solution is not to change society so that men of all races can happily join together and harass any woman they want. I’m just talking about a couple layers of power and privilege here.

  199. Meeting someone is one of the best parts of a relationship, and can be memorable and exciting. If I had to approach women, and men for that matter, scared out of my mind of being maced, I dont think I would want to meet people at all.

    That is what this guide is for. Listen to yourself! You are saying that if you had to fear for your physical safety every time you approached a woman, you wouldn’t want to do that. This post is saying that many women fear for their own physical safety at certain times when a man approaches them. Why is your lack of safety automatically a tragedy that should be fixed, but women’s lack of safety is just part of the game?

    Don’t hold our penises against us for being in public and thinking you look nice.

    Go ahead and THINK we look nice all you want. We do that too! This post is about what happens when you decide it’s a good idea to talk to that nice-looking woman.

  200. The criticism that this post only addresses strangers when most rapists are known to their victim ignores the fact that once a man introduces himself he isn’t likely to be classified as a stranger if he commits rape unless he attacks her immediately.

    Thanks, abyss2hope. I’ve been wrestling with how to say that very thing.

    Also, strictly-defined rape may be perpetuated more by “known” men, but commentors are also covering a wide range of sexual assault and harassment situations most of which are more often committed by strangers. I think the stories on these recent threads prove that point quite well.

  201. Firstly, awsome article. Any chance for improved understanding is a great thing…..
    But so: Just from using first names… It appears that only one in 20 responders to this article are men. & How many of the rapists are going to read/heed something that you hand them on a bus?

  202. Many of the comments on this post and the previous one seemed to imply that if a normal person wanted to talk, he/she would indicate that clearly in body language, etc. I feel left out of this description; I think it privileges the non-disabled.

    Amy, I feel for you, and you’re right that ableism plays into the emphasis on body language here. We’ve discussed this in comments above and on the recent thread called “Would it kill you to be civil,” if you’d like to read more of what’s been said. These rules are strict, but no one’s enforcing them; there are going to be exceptions, like you, who may not be sending out the body language signal “Feel free to talk to me” even when you would like to. But there’s no way for a stranger to know that in advance, is there? That’s part of the problem we’re dealing with — none of us know each other’s motivations in advance. Men think about this a lot from their own point of view, but many of them haven’t considered that from a woman’s POV, and they need to know.

    I honestly don’t know what the answer is for you. I don’t think you’re doomed to isolation at all. But I also think that being approached on the train is not the only way to meet people, you know?

    I don’t think I’m expressing myself very well, so I hope someone else addresses your comment too.

  203. …and in relation to what abyss2hope said. (I hope this makes sense.) That is a key feature of rape culture — the assumption that women are always “default” sexually available. So once a guy makes “friendly” contact, a woman’s chances of getting anyone to take her complaint seriously goes way, way down.

  204. Matt, the answer is NO. If someone is reading, or looking otherwise occupied, or looking out the window, it means s/he doesn’t want to talk to you. And if it’s a woman, she’ll have some part of her mind thinking that she hopes everyone will just leave her the heck alone and not be all, “Hey pretty lady!” at her.

    No, you don’t get one sentence. You just don’t.

    I say this somewhat hypocritically since I’ve been doing political canvassing pretty continuously for the last two years, but when there’s a “No Soliciting” sign on the door, I respect it and don’t canvass that house. A book is a “No Soliciting” sign. A concerted effort to NOT make eye contact is a “No Soliciting” sign. Respect it.

  205. Larry, we’re kinda hoping the whole “publishing this on the internet” thing will take care of that problem. This is a feminist blog where the majority of commenters are women (partly because we talk about feminist issues, and partly because men often don’t play by the rules), but we’ve been known to be read by, you know, lurkers and outsiders.

  206. Really hope I’m not repeating too much of the awesome comments above, but I wanted to get this in…

    @Matt – Did you ever sit through those “how to prevent sexual assault” classes at a college orientation? They’re always about all women being potential rape victims, i.e., “women: don’t drink too much, don’t walk home alone, don’t do x, y, and z..(subtext: b/c then because you could be raped)” So it’s not too far of a logical leap (for me at least) to start viewing all men as potential attackers. If we’re all possible victims and we all have to think about being possible victims allthetime, then who are the possible assailants?

    Also, big thanks for this piece. It’s awesome. And it brings to light the tiny, constant, almost unconscious checklist women go through to determine danger. I was discussing this with my bf recently and how we both do it when we walk through our downtown neighborhood at night. It was enlightening for him, b/c as he put it, the only thing he needs to check is to see if he’s bigger than the other person. If he is, no big worries.

  207. Sorry ahead of time, and I might get maced if I run into some paranoid, but I’m keeping the adventure in my life.

    Wow, Tom. Thank you for warning me about your inability to respect my boundaries ahead of time. That saves me a lot of work and worry.

  208. A book is a “No Soliciting” sign. A concerted effort to NOT make eye contact is a “No Soliciting” sign.

    Let’s say I’m sitting opposite you on the train, and I’m wearing some fierce shoes, as I often am. I see you glancing at them and I’m thinking “I bet that guy likes my shoes” and you’re not staring at my face or doing anything that sets off alarm bells — you’re just looking at my shoes. Next time our eyes meet, I will probably smile at you. Because I have read the situation. When I smile at you? Then you say “Fierce shoes!” And I will say “Thanks! They look like Fluevogs but they’re really knockoffs” and maybe we’ll talk shoes for a while or maybe we won’t. OTOH, if I’m reading a book intently or clearly not meeting your eyes, ever, then it is NOT a good idea to say anything, and you will just have to twitter “Girl on train wearing amazing shoes and reading Foucault–grad student or pretentious fashionista?” and be done with it.

    Or, as someone mentioned upthread, you say it when you’re leaving — it’s your stop, and you say, “Sorry to interrupt you, I know you’re reading, but I just love your shoes! Take care!” Then maybe the woman is flattered or maybe she’s pissed that you interrupted her Foucault, but either way, you’re not a threat to her, because you’re leaving.

  209. For those who are pointing out that rapists are known to their attackers, this is very true, AND it includes first dates, people known from commutes, internet acquaintances, freinds-of-friends, classmates, dorm-mates, fellow apartment dwellers, etc. In other words, people known to us by casual contact. Known to the victim no more means “my BF for 40yrs” than stranger means “guy hiding behind the bushes”.

    And I think the larger point is this, that in a kyriarchy, most situations are set up so that someone’s rights and wishes are necessarily subordinate to whomever they are interacting with who is on a higher rung. This (largely unquestioned) privilege conferred to the latter allows abuses and attacks to happen to the former in a way that is then very hard for the victim(s) to prosecute or redress. Changing our structures in such a way as to give equal agency and validity to the communications of everyone in a given situation removes much of the camouflage that predators of any stripe (violent racists, rapists, homophobes, pedophiles what-have-you) use to isolate and victimize others.

  210. @Tom:
    “Your view on us honestly offends me. ”

    WHEW, I was really wondering what YOU were thinking TOM. I am SO GLAD you came in here to tell us!

  211. Tom, I don’t give a shit about whether “our view of you” offends you, because you are exactly the person we are talking about. You seem to genuinely think your right to talk to any woman at any time is more important than her right to refuse to talk to you. And any woman who does refuse must be some paranoid crazy bitch because you were just being nice and trying to meet people! You’ve taken nothing from all this except how mean we all are, and a renewed commitment to not caring whether women feel safe in public spaces. Fuck you.

    Why is your lack of safety automatically a tragedy that should be fixed, but women’s lack of safety is just part of the game?

    Aye. Exactly that.

  212. FYI for regular Shapelings: I’m letting more newbies through the queue than usual today because, let’s face it, this post is addressed to them. As usual, anything truly foul is being deleted on sight. But please do not in anyway tone down your usual awesomeness because of this.

  213. Oh but Caitlin, he’s just trying to explain to us silly ladybrains about how SAD and DESOLATE and ISOLATED our lives are because we do not know the magic and wonder that is TOM. I weep for our collective humanity for not knowing the NICENESS of TOM.

    Sorry, sorry. I’ll try to be more productive when the stabby pain goes away.

  214. I consider myself fairly street smart. I also am a survivor of multiple assaults as a child/adolescent. Getting on an elevator with a man/men immediately puts me on guard, I am, without even thinking about it, ready to fight back. Now that it is getting dark earlier, I find myself feeling stressed out more often (walking in twilight, marketing, etc.).

    I am also queer. I don’t know whether you are or not. So, unless you are kiki-ing with your boyfriend, I’m going to be wary of you too. I am not going to smile or make eye contact, not because I’m a bitch, but because I am concerned for my safety and I don’t know what you are capable of.

  215. OH MY GOD!

    TOM IS OFFENDED!

    TAKE DOWN THE BLOG IMMEDIATELY!

    TOM MUST BE MADE TO FEEL OKAY! GOD, HOW COULD WE HAVE A CONVERSATION ABOUT SOMETHING OTHER THAN MAKING TOM FEEL OKAY?

    (Now, women out in public, on the other hand? They can rot in hell. Nobody should worry overmuch about making THEM feel okay. Where’s their fucking spirit of adventure?)

  216. Tom, I’m so happy that you have an adventurous life. I am totally willing to sacrifice my feelings of personal autonomy and safety in order to provide you with that life. You’re welcome!

    You may notice that no one here is advocating that people should never talk to strangers. They are merely saying that you should heed someone’s verbal and non-verbal signals that they do not want to talk to you. It’s pretty simple if you don’t have a major entitlement complex when it comes to access to women.

  217. Ethyl, HOW DO I LIVE WITHOUT HIM? I WANT TO KNOW. HOW DO I BREATHE WITHO- oh wait that’s a song. Never mind.

    Sorry, sorry. I’ll try to be more productive when the stabby pain goes away.

    Please don’t. The mockery does the most to keep me sane.

    Coolio, SM. I’ve reached the stage where it’s just funny. Jellied eels!

  218. Larry, this post isn’t addressed to rapists. It’s addressed to genuinely nice guys who don’t want to creep women out. I would hope that goodwill would carry them to the end.

    If men who rape are genuinely curious as to what they can do, thankfully that article is much shorter. Here you go, so you can copy it onto a small card.

    A rapist’s guide to not raping:
    Don’t rape.

  219. @Faith. Oh I won’t get into an elevator when it’s just me and some dude I don’t know. I often had this issue when I worked at hospital. I would always wait for another one or take the stairs. Sometimes because my “this ain’t kosher” meter was blaring other times I just didn’t want to get stuck in elevator with some douchechow who wouldn’t shut up and like enjoy the silence.

    Even if it’s not a matter of safety, there is this societal agreement that women are available for conversation, sexual favors to whatever johnny no sense that comes a long, and it always feels unnatural for me to be crispy, because I realize I’m fighting against societal training, but I make myself do it because I don’t mind offending someone who didn’t have the right to my attention in the first place.

    Again this is still a struggle because I’m always seeing situations in a bunch of ways, but that’s just how its gotta be.

  220. Caitlin, how could you mock someone as nice as TOM? Maybe if you were nicer you wouldn’t scare such awesome guys as TOM away? Maybe TOM would have totes been an ally except for your horrible no good very bad TONE. Didja ever think about that? Huh? And maybe if you weren’t such “a paranoid” you could have had the impossibly good luck to meet someone just like TOM and your life would even now be complete in a way most of us will never know. Sadly, your horrible horrible tone just make that level of happiness impossible.

    Tom, you are too late for jellied eels. Here, we have only pie. Get used to it.

  221. How many of the rapists are going to read/heed something that you hand them on a bus? says Larry.

    42.8%. What’s your point?

    We’re not trying to get the rapists to read it, we’re 1) trying to explain our lives to men who’re pissed at us for trying to avoid rapists/assaulters/screamers/firestarters and 2) maybe clue in some of the nice guys on what’s happening in our lives.

    I want men to stop telling me that avoiding assault is in my power and that I am wrong when I try to avoid assault. I want those men to read Starling’s post.

    This isn’t just to you, Larry but over and over and over we hear good men saying, “I had no idea.” Well, now an absolutely excellent discussion is going on right here on the internet. And if a woman gives a man a copy of this post or a link, it probably means that she’s hoping he’s not a rapist. And if that woman is someone he claims to love, he needs to recognize that she’s doing it with her heart in her mouth, praying that he’s going to read it and think and hold her and be supportive. And that he’s not going to tell her that she’s hurt him and dissed him and made him feel bad so she should just stop saying this shit because it’s mean and it’s not even true because he’d never hurt anyone.

    And maybe this post could get a few non-rapist men to stop using the same language and excuses and attitudes as rapist men, and, as more than one person has said, that would be very useful.

  222. “johnny no sense” = A+++

    And god help me, any day that someone brings out the jellied eels is a good day for me. JupiterPluvius, where are you in our time of need?

  223. Shorter Tom:

    Okay, so I just skimmed this post and its comments because there was way too much lady-talk for me to pay attention to. But I saw that you might react to me as a threat. How can you be so MEAN and UNFAIR when I’m a GOOD GUY who would never ever hurt a woman or violate her boundaries. And I TOTALLY wouldn’t ignore what she was saying or half-listen and turn what she actually said into what I wanted to hear.

  224. @alibelle

    “I hope I haven’t put my foot in my mouth too much here. Please call me on it if you feel I have.”

    You have.

    It started in one of your previous comments to snarkysmachine here:
    “If you want the baggage unpacked fucking unpack it yourself. Explain it to us”

    In a somewhat blunt nutshell, I don’t believe you’re entitled to have snarkysmachine — or anyone else, for that matter — explain the issues to you.
    Please educate yourself:
    http://delicious.com/katenepveu/race+rhetoric

    I do also believe part of the problem is that the entire gender has yet to settle on a universal definition of “creepy” or “aggressive” behavior. I do think, however, that it’s important to reiterate — as several here have kind of talked around, but I’m not sure anyone has yet said directly — that race and class memberships can inform how those definitions are created.

    These comments also seem to inform the issue:
    And it’s tough to be the woman who, in an alternative scenario where the man is someone who looks a lot like you, she might actually be about to be assaulted or raped. “ – Caitlin

    “One of my safety concerns often has to do with how much privilege a person has in relation to me. Meaning, I think about the way a person’s privilege and my lack (in some areas) might contribute to my ability to bring charges against someone if they would do me harm and what are the consequences for them (doing me harm) vs. me (reporting them).” – snarkysmachine

    I also don’t believe consideration of how those definitions are created takes away, at all, from Starling’s original points.

    [I'm in the midst of a busy few days and am not likely to comment further on this issue, so please don't consider yourself snubbed if you ask me a direct question but don't receive a response.]

    Thank you for your post, Starling.

  225. Tom What do you do to meet men? Your view on us honestly offends me. If you look at every man who comes into your life as a possible threat, unless, of course, you do meet him in church with your mother, what kind of men do you meet?

    1) You’re assuming all of us want to meet men. Lesbians don’t exist in your world, apparently?

    2) If my choices are offending you or saving a woman’s life, I’ll take door number 2, thanks. I don’t really give a shit if you’re offended. I’m offended that globally 1 out of 4 women is raped, so your poor widdle feelings don’t really appear on my radar.

    3) Women get raped in churches, by men they know, and by pastors or priests. So no, just meeting a guy in a church doesn’t mean I trust him.

    4) I understand the respect men must give to women given the state of the world and its more sinister aspects You really, really don’t if you can read this thread and the comments here and say what you said. I’d venture to say you don’t actually get what’s being talked about at all, given that to you it’s a choice between “giving women respect” and you being bored.

    5. If I had to approach women, and men for that matter, scared out of my mind of being maced, I dont think I would want to meet people at all. And yet you think this post and the attitude towards men is offensive? Even stating flat out that if you had to live with healthy trepidation of every stranger of another gender who approached too closely it would make you miserable, your response to that is that women are being too mean and judgmental to men? You couldn’t get 4 if you married 2 and 2 together, could you?

    Your adventure in life? Ignores my inherent right to life and self-preservation, not to mention being peacefully unharassed in public spaces. Your adventures, approaching women who aren’t interested in talking to you, could be hurting women who’ve already been assaulted once, because you’re triggering them. If you don’t believe me, read the comments again and note the women here who are triggered just by reading words on a page.

    Fuck your adventure. I want my safety and sanity more.

    Also knowing one woman who has told you she was raped (which does not mean there are not several other women you know who have not told you their stories) doesn’t make you an expert or give you the right to dismiss the reality of thousands upon thousands of other womens’ experiences. Especially when plenty of them are here on this page for you to read and absorb instead of attacking them for hurting your feelings.

    DRST

  226. Tom: “[if] every guy is walking on eggshells to introduce himself, doesnt that turn into a boring cycle?”

    Yes, indeed. Often I find myself wearied by voluntary conversation and social interaction. Many are the bus rides where I slump listlessly against the window with my NPR and chemistry models, my fascinating novel or my own business, longing for some stranger to intrude on my personal space, ignore my wishes, demand my attention, assure me that meeting someone is the most exciting part of a relationship, and then look deep into my rock-solid malevolent glare and say to me, “Trust me, my ex got raped, but it was a family member, in her home. Don’t hold our penises against us.”

    At which point I might be tempted instead to kick your penis against you (I assume you only have one), and I assume from your adventurous spirit, you’d be all gung-ho for the experience. Or we could skip straight to the macing step.

  227. Yes, Matt, it’s like that for most of us. Rape culture is real and it is all around you. You don’t notice it. That’s the whole privilege thing.

    I love talking to strangers.

    This keeps catching me up, in the comment it came from and also in Lori’s comments (repeatedly). I honestly just don’t see why that’s relevant. I mean, okay, you like to do that, and maybe you like to be polite to strangers and accomodating when they’re being imposing. So what? What does that have to do with the fact that other women protect their space more closely? Are you saying everyone else is doing it wrong? Because, I mean, no, obviously no, if you’ve read any of the other comments on these threads. You like it your way but it’s not universal and it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not most women feel the need to be more cautious than you. Are you just so deeply, condescendingly sad for all these threatened women and victimized men? In that case, I mean, PLEASE, get over yourselves.

  228. Larry, this post isn’t addressed to rapists. It’s addressed to genuinely nice guys who don’t want to creep women out.

    A group which you disqualified yourself from, by the way, Larry, when you threw a tantrum about how it makes your life less fun to think about maybe not creeping us out. So, yeah.

  229. As a male who has been assaulted by other men, I found this post fascinating on multiple levels. I completely agree that people have a right to be left alone: especially when they are in a situation in which they cannot easily escape (such as a crowded bus, elevator, etc.) I am deeply sympathetic to women who are scared as they walk alone to their car on the far side of a dark mall parking lot. I think a lot of the problems well-meaning men encounter is a basic lack of socialization and an unthinking lack of understanding of what it means to feel threatened.

    However, I just want to point out that this post is being read by a lot of people like me who have not had Feminism/Abelism 101 and who had to google the word “Kyriarchy”. Speaking from that perspective, it seems that the regular commenters here may be taking the position of theoretical physicists: why should you dumb down your conversation for the sake of the uneducated? I appreciate that position, but I think that fair is fair: we excoriate scientists who adopt un-falsifiable theories and try to build a small club of people who all agree with them. Some of the ban threats by a sarah and Sweet Machine seem dangerously close (to this outsider) of bordering on groupthink. A reference was made to men not playing by the rules on this blog. I hope that does not translate to: men tend to inject more skepticism into a conversation.

    I referenced falsifiability because I am concerned about the rape statistics quoted in the post and the comments. I have a really hard time believing that 1 in 6 men is a rapist. However, I had a really hard time believing that an electron can be in a superposition, too. In the latter case, we knew how to falsify the claim, and did thousands of experiments to that end. In the former, if the response to any skeptical question is “rape is under-reported”, how do we attempt to falsify that claim (for the ends of proving it true)? I know that I am an outsider here, but I really think a link or even a suggested Google query would help: why do we have confidence that 1 in 6 men is a rapist, if we are not allowed to use FBI statistics?

  230. For men who feel the situation described in this post is unfair since you are nothing like the men who do rape, rather than calling women paranoid, contact your state sexual assault coalition and tell them you want to get actively involved in primary prevention.

    The root source of your problem isn’t women who don’t trust that you aren’t a rapist, it is the number of men who are willing to commit rape at some point in their lives.

    If we work together and stop or significantly reduce the number of attempted sexual assaults then women who meet you on public transit will be less likely to need to assess the probability that you might abuse or assault them.

  231. Actually, I think Larry just left an observation about how few male names he saw in the comments. And a compliment on the good article. Did I miss something?

  232. A lot of these comments have degenerated into “there is no valid reason for a man to start an unsolicited conversation with a woman on the bus”.

    That sort of attitude, well, we are reaping what we sow.

    Something I love about being at Burning Man, and at other burner events, is that that social norm is almost completely inverted. When you get on an art car, or stand in a line, or sit and meditate on a piece of art, and a stranger is there next to you, striking up a random conversation or giving a random complement, or handing out a random gift, is extremely common, expected, supported, and welcome.

    Which society is the more healthy one?

  233. “2) If my choices are offending you or saving a woman’s life, I’ll take door number 2, thanks. I don’t really give a shit if you’re offended. I’m offended that globally 1 out of 4 women is raped, so your poor widdle feelings don’t really appear on my radar.”

    Absolutely. I’ll take whatever door isn’t hiding the bow wrapped goat.

  234. Starling way back at the front, there have been studies at college campuses of self-reporting perpetrators of a long list of disturbing things that fall under the heading of “rape”. Self-reporting rates of ever having physically forced a woman into a sex act are about 6% among caucasian men ages 18-25. So one in twenty is about right for that population.

  235. Some of the ban threats by a sarah and Sweet Machine seem dangerously close (to this outsider) of bordering on groupthink

    James, please read this post, particularly the following paragraph:

    We think about our responses, and we own them. But they’re not up for negotiation. We only get bitchy after we’ve perceived a consistent pattern of disrespect for the comments policy and/or the spirit of the blog. If you don’t perceive the same pattern, then one of two things is happening: you haven’t read all the same comments we have, or you have different standards than we do. Either way, it’s our call, and arguing with us about those calls is far more likely to get you on the shit list than change our minds.

    This is a high-traffic blog, and you have no idea what kind of vitriol never sees the light of day. We’re ban-happy here and not ashamed of it.

    To address your other concern, this is really not a Feminism 101 space, despite the fact that this post is aimed at a 101 level. It arose from another post that was decidedly not 101-level, but which prompted a lot of self-identified male commenters to come in and tell us how paranoid women were for not trusting men and how sad it made the poor men who might miss out on True Love because of that. This post is directed at those men; that doesn’t mean the comments are, and that doesn’t mean we’re ready to relax our notoriously (and belovedly) draconian moderation style to cater to 101-ers. There really is a lot of material out there for men who are new to feminism and who want to think about it more. Professor Google is here to help you.

  236. @James:
    “I know that I am an outsider here, but I really think a link or even a suggested Google query would help…”

    Maybe you could try here:
    http://lmgtfy.com/

    There’s lots of good 101 links in the comments above. You could try there. Or you know, try doing your own research. As has been stated previously by the people who are in charge, this isn’t a 101-level place.

  237. @ James:

    The statistic in the article and comments is an estimate that 1 in 6 women has been or will been raped. Starling estimates that maybe 1 in 60 men rapes (she lays her assumptions out exceedingly well).

    The FBI thing has been covered already – basically, read the fine print about what the statistic is, and it will help you understand. (Hint: # estimated REPORTED rapes reported is probably a drastically different figure than # of ACTUAL rapes.)

    I think if you’ve missed these things in the post/comments, there’s probably other stuff you missed or misread too, so you might want to do some closer reading.

  238. Um, littlem, did you read all the comments? I told her to unpack it herself because she was asking us to unpack it, not because I didn’t understand. I was saying that if there was an issue she had she should explain it to us. Then she did explain it to us, and I agreed with it, and we made up. It’s chicken fried done in fact and I have a slight girl crush on snarkysmachine now. And I don’t like how you decided to edit my comments together. I don’t think you addressed anything I said at all really, and I feel annoyed, honestly.

    Tom, did we even suggest mace at all? Or attacking men? Because I don’t remember anyone advocating violence against men in this discussion. Anyway I prefer pepperspray, I like the kick that it gives my baby donuts.

  239. I think a lot of the problems well-meaning men encounter is a basic lack of socialization and an unthinking lack of understanding of what it means to feel threatened.

    And the solution to this problem is not to come here and suggest we’ve got a groupthink issue. I’m sorry you don’t like the stats. I’m sorry that our life experience leads us to believe that rape is a huge problem.

    Next time I hear the word “groupthink” attached to women speaking of their common experiences I’m going to flip the fuck out. And do you know why “men inject more skepticism” when women speak about their lives? It’s because they don’t believe us. And if there are a lot of other women who agree with me, I guess that’s groupthink too.

  240. I know that I am an outsider here, but I really think a link or even a suggested Google query would help: why do we have confidence that 1 in 6 men is a rapist, if we are not allowed to use FBI statistics?

    Here’s a starting place, and (as I said) Professor Google can take you from there. According to the US Department of Justice, 60% of rapes/sexual assaults are never reported to the police in the first place. 60%. Think about that. Over half the people who are raped do not ever even seek justice. Most of these people are women. Most rapists are walking free right now. Rapists do not look different from other men. I know you say you have a hard time believing that 1 in 6 men is a rapist. Do you have a hard time believing that 1 in 6 women has been assaulted? And if not, who do you think is doing the assaulting?

  241. I just backtracked through the various posts that initiated this.

    When I first saw the xkcd strip a week or two ago it did register as basically a male nerd fantasy. I had thought about drawing an extra panel on the strip which showed the woman imagining the entirety of the original strip — basically showing the girl imagining the nerd imagining him as a desirable to the woman (essentially showing the mind of the strip’s creator).

    Jesus, it sounds so convoluted and confusing, but I assure it would have been funny. Trust me on this.

  242. Okay, Alibelle, I think it’s time to drop it. You said people should call you out if you put your foot in your mouth; littlem did just that. You don’t have to agree with her, but it’s time to disengage.

  243. Tom, did we even suggest mace at all?

    The title does, even though the real-world scenario is more like “how to talk to women without getting them to act a tiny bit bitchy toward you.”

  244. Tom – The chances of a woman you talk to on a short train or bus ride going out with you is next to nil. The chances of her not wanting her boundaries violated is extremely high.

    Do that many men get dates on the subway?

  245. Let me please say that, as a man, I am sorry and shamed that you have to publish this list of things not to do. These things fall into the category of common decency and should be obvious to anyone, as they are to me and, I am sure, to many other men.

    I think any woman is wise to feel threatened by any strange man who attempts to talk to her. There is an old custom called “introductions,” which has worked well for years. My advice to young men is to wait for an introduction, without it STFU. If that woman wants to talk to you, she will.

    I am 72 years old and have never met a woman by approaching her as a stranger. Yet, amazingly, I have led a very happy life, lots of good, some not so good, and one fantasic, relations with women, and have been happily married for 30 years to Ms. Fantastic.

  246. And, in the comment queue, a prime fucking example of why we moderate like the Unruly Bitches we are:

    Way to live in a world of fear. Here’s hoping you get raped..

    Gotta love troll logic.

    1. You’re too fearful!
    2. I hope you are raped!
    3. ???
    4. Profit!

  247. Although some of the comments were a while ago, a few people in this thread have said or implied that people are raped because they act weak or like victims. This really isn’t true. You can be targeted because you look like a victim or an easy mark, or you can be targeted because you stand up for yourself and need to be put in your place. or anything in between, or a dozen other unrelated reasons. If you’ve been assaulted or harrassed, it’s not because you did something wrong. That really can’t be said enough.

    amy, I think that’s a reasonable concern, but I don’t think there’s any way around it when the setting is a public place where people don’t have anything in common (other than taking the bus). I think that the way that you can have a better chance of being approached, when you can’t send the social signals to that effect, is to look for it in other settings. Maybe through activities where it’s safer to be approached, and that also don’t trigger your anxiety if you do them?

    Matt, I don’t think that asking someone “Are you okay?” falls into the categories being discussed here! Asking a person in obvious distress if they are all right is not the same as imposing on a stranger and expecting them to carry on a conversation with you. If you saw a woman crying on the train, I think it’s good to ask her if everything is all right. (And if she doesn’t want to be helped and says so, then you should respect that.) Same goes for seeing injured people, or witnessing assaults or abuse or harrassment — hell yes, step in in those cases, please.

    Uh, Tom… you can meet people who are work colleagues, friends of friends from school or work, people who do the same activities I do, neighbors, friends and work colleagues of family? Also, the internet? I have a harder time making new friends than most people I know, and yet I manage without talking to strangers in public. Bothering me on the train isn’t necessary for your social life.

  248. Do that many men get dates on the subway?

    No kidding! I know exactly one couple who met on public transportation, and they are lesbians who realized they were on their way to the same concert (i.e., a shared activity outside the bus). Who are these people walking down the aisle with the dude who said “Nice hair” on the subway?

  249. SM, have I told you how much I love the Unruly Bitches’ Moderation Policy?

    *snorgles Moderation Policy*

  250. However, I just want to point out that this post is being read by a lot of people like me who have not had Feminism/Abelism 101 and who had to google the word “Kyriarchy”.

    So you are ignorant on the subject matter, and still feel entitled to lecture us about our own lives. I only wish this was the first, or even the 10th time that’s happened today.

    A reference was made to men not playing by the rules on this blog. I hope that does not translate to: men tend to inject more skepticism into a conversation.

    Ahahaha. Because men are SMARTER than us! And better critical thinkers! And what better place to assert that bullshit than on this blog, wich is DEVOTED to critical thinking about the society we live in! How dare the bloggers assert their own rules on their own blog and expect everyone who visits — YES EVEN THE MEN!!!!1 — to obey them. Madness! Groupthink! BURN THE WITCHES!

    Some of the ban threats by a sarah and Sweet Machine seem dangerously close (to this outsider) of bordering on groupthink.

    No, they border dangerously close to women doing whatever the fuck they want, which you clearly can’t handle.

    I know that I am an outsider here, but I really think a link or even a suggested Google query would help: why do we have confidence that 1 in 6 men is a rapist, if we are not allowed to use FBI statistics?

    You’re a fucking idiot. There are links to that information in the goddamn post, which has ALSO been pointed out several times in comments.

    I have a really hard time believing that 1 in 6 men is a rapist.

    I have a hard time believing you’re for real. Fuck off.

  251. I think troll logic needs a little more explication to be perceived in its true glory.

    1. You’re so hysterical. Why do you think every man wants to rape you?
    2. I hope you get raped!
    3. …
    4. I’m right!

  252. Liz: Im on the same page with you on that one; I tried to be pretty clear in stating “If she has headphones on, Im not going to bother her”, same holds true for a book magazine, or any item that has her attention… not my place, not the time to bother her, and no, Im not going to flag her attention down to have her take out her headphones or worse… its her time and she’s spending it as she wills. That’s totally cool, and its an understood fact that its not my time to bother her.

    If you read my question again, I -never- tried to insinuate that I felt the right towards a single sentence or anything like it; I know how pissed I’d be if someone screwed up my commute by being a jerk, and I offer the same courtesy. Not sure where the idea I’d be the insistent party came from; KristinC mentioned one of my thoughts very elegantly in saying if the comment/compliment were passed in a way that there was NO burden of response that that would be a kindly way of presenting a compliment, as it absolves either party of any notion of continued conversation or feelings of obligation/priviledge.

    I got that part. ;)

  253. LOTS of great points, and what a wonderful post. I’ve known way too many guys who just don’t get why they don’t get the benefit of the doubt when meeting strangers – this really sums it up well.

    Tom, what you said reminded me of an obnoxious law school professor who wanted to ‘get the discussion going’ on rape. In a nutshell, he kept saying ‘but if men stop at an initial no, there won’t be any seduction!’ He was largely right – there would be a lot less ham-handed seduction if all ‘no’s were heeded.

    But there would also be a lot more unthreatened women and a lot more interactions that could keep growing at a slower pace, nurtured by mutual respect. If respecting people’s boundaries is ‘walking on eggshells’ for you, then I’d say you need to get used to it, and get some soft-soled shoes.

    Amy, your point is an interesting one to me – I think that a number of people who live with disabilities would be excluded from these general rules (eye contact as a precursor to conversation can’t work if you’re blind), and I’ll admit that I’m not coming up with any panaceas. I can’t in good conscience sign on to your proposal of welcoming ‘one pleasant, impersonal question’ when it’s directed towards someone who doesn’t look like they want to talk; that just opens the floodgates for the vast majority of us who actually *don’t* want to talk. However, I figure you can chat with the gregarious waiters and baristas, while I’ll continue to give monosyllabic answers to them most of the time. :)

  254. 1. You’re so hysterical. Why do you think every man wants to rape you?
    2. I hope you get raped!
    3. …
    4. I’m right!

    5. That should show you to keep your mouths shut, bitches!

  255. @James – “I referenced falsifiability because I am concerned about the rape statistics quoted in the post and the comments. I have a really hard time believing that 1 in 6 men is a rapist.”

    From the body of this post the statistic given was: “One in every six American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.” This statistic comes from RAINN which was derived from data in: National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey. 1998.

    The only claim in the post about the possible number of rapists is: “Consider: if every rapist commits an average of ten rapes (a horrifying number, isn’t it?) then the concentration of rapists in the population is still a little over one in sixty.”

    In the comments someone wrote about a worst case possibility which as that phrasing implied was purely speculative.

    In surveys of men to see how many acknowledge committing acts which meet the legal definition of one or more sex crimes, researchers in multiple studies got positive responses from the rate of 4.8% to 14.9%. These references came from a rape fact sheet by U of Mass Boston prof David Lisak.

    Please note that all of these are higher than 1 in 60 estimate from the body of this post which would be 1.6% but is lower than 1 in 6 which would be 16.6%.

  256. You know, I think this topic and the previous one are helping me understand why I’ve always found “Pretty Woman” such an offensive song. I never really articulated why; but it just sums so much of the assumption that women are available. “Every Move You Make” (I may have the title wrong, it’s by the Police) also has always bothered me as stalkerish, and I got that from the first time I heard it; I’m actually less bothered by it since I was told the idea was to disclose stalkerishness by the art, though lots of people think it’s romantic, romance wasn’t the intent of the artist.

  257. In a nutshell, he kept saying ‘but if men stop at an initial no, there won’t be any seduction!’

    “My definition of romance is heavily informed by patriarchy and rape culture! Without patriarchy and rape culture, therefore, how would we ever have romance?”

    It’s like saying “but if women didn’t diet, nobody would be beautiful, because only very thin women are considered attractive.” AND WHOSE FAULT IS THAT, HUH?

  258. Tom, babe, I wrote this post, and let me tell you: I’ve dated guys I met at the park, on the street, and in the subway. I am not ruining your dating life. I am telling you HOW TO GO ABOUT APPROACHING ME at the park, on the street or in the subway so I look at you and think, “Cool, let’s meet for coffee” instead of “Damnation, another bottle of Mace wasted, and it’s only Wednesday.”

    Capisce? Clearly not. Read it again.

  259. Charles, thank you thank you thank you thank you. I’ve mostly disengaged from this because of other demands on me today, but I was shutting this browser tab and saw your comment. Thank you thank you thank you. I can now leave feeling sort of good, instead of “OH MY GOD, the world is INSANE and I’d better hunker down with the other awesome Shapelings who have a clue.”

    Also — snarkysmachine: dang, nice blog!

  260. These things fall into the category of common decency and should be obvious to anyone, as they are to me and, I am sure, to many other men.

    It is somewhat freaking me out that so many men are coming here to assert their right to infringe on a woman’s space in the name of civility. Thank you for showing them how it’s done.

  261. For a bunch of reasons, I think the “reading body language” bit can be a bit tricky to prescribe – body language is interpretative and cultural both. Eye contact, breath contact, and space all seem relatively contextual, and interpretations are often based in self and experience. For example, someone’s body language here (reading) is not how I consistently signal leave me alone (I’m sometimes happy to discuss books with people on buses) – and so the conditioning over the whole society won’t be precise.

    Damn, if I’m reading, oh say Fat-o-Sphere? I’m practically begging someone to talk to me about it, yeah? But if I and others are “positively” conditioning someone (that interrupting a reader will get your ear talked off on the subject – which may be at least attention) leaves those who read and are signaling “go away” in the category of “bitch”, and rape culture is preserved. This is not good.

    I am really good at standing up to those who hassle the woman – or anyone else – who states something. I will verbally beat down anyone who says “c’mon, why so uptight?” or “c’mon, smile”, or “whatever, bitch”, to the woman whose no is disrespected.

    I think rape culture will be defeated with posts like this one, which I lay out the calculations of a woman on a train really well. I think rape culture will be defeated by people listening to and actively supporting the respect of boundaries, and also by people actively laying down boundaries, especially where it feels like a transgression to do so.

    (Enough of that still doesn’t solve rape, but it helps solve rape *culture*.)

    My problem with body language as the focus, is that, unless it’s extreme and frightening to the more vulnerable – shoving, flipping the bird, etc. – is that it’s not clear when the language isn’t consistently agreed upon, and it’s also a skill on some level – one that some shy people struggle with, and the charismatic are able to use for ever more subtle communications.

    But go away, or no thanks, or go fuck yourself – well, those do have consistent public meaning.

    Of course, as with anything, safety when alone with a threat is doing what you need to do – including body language, earphones, books, a dog, whatever it takes.

  262. It is somewhat freaking me out that so many men are coming here to assert their right to infringe on a woman’s space in the name of civility.

    Civility is where women are considerate and accommodating to men and men do whatever the fuck they want.

  263. Well, I’m one of the people who has gone on dates I met on public transit. My personal record was coming home from a failed subway date (no boundaries–kept pressuring me to go into his home on date 1!!) and getting asked on another on that same trip. Went out with the guy a time or two, he made an incredibly racist remark about “Guidos” (in Brooklyn), and I decided I needed a better vetting process than “rides public transit.”

    I fully agree with the post–I’m not saying this to disagree, just that I kept seeing plaintive questions of “who goes out with these guys anyways?” and was chuckling to myself when I realized it was me.

    NYC was my first shot at living in a big city, from a town where you see someone you know almost every time you leave the house, and there were many things I learned about invasions of space and discouraging contact in my year there.

  264. I gotta giggle for a second…. personally, Ive never thought of a woman being an “unruly bitch” as a bad thing. ;) love it.

    I forgot to log who mentioned it, but someone asked me about college rape prevention classes; all I can really say in response is to reiterate the wish that us as guys would get some sort of positive classes in how to approach, talk to, and effectively communicate cross-gender. (or frankly even same-gender… neither are exactly ingraned in the populace and they should be). I do see the need for this kind of post; Im not refuting that in the least, and even though Ive had questions, I do agree with it even if I do see myself as outside its core issue (as I explained above, Im gay; Im not copping out of the topic by seeing myself outside of it, Im just the last person who would ever see a woman as a sexual object or try to use sex to force a point with her)

    From this side Im wondering how difficult it would be to set up something like a “how to talk to a woman safely and respectfully 101″ kind of class or workshop; I think it’d be hypocritical in a way to have it taught by men as we can never as men experience the nuances of what you ladies do; and I can agree that even for those of us who dont put it to conscious use that male priviledge exists and would undermine the idea… any thoughts?

  265. Crap. Tom, I’m sorry. I just realized that if you are the man with the cockroach tattoos, I did in fact tell you never to talk to women in public. So, yeah, my bad. But I’ll spring for a match.com membership to make up for it, kays?

  266. Man, there are some amazing comments on this post. Thanks so much for the great discussion, (almost) everyone.

    James, I highly recommend doing some 101 reading. There are some 101-level posts on this blog (look in the “101″ category in categories) and there is always the feminism 101 blog. I know that doing this takes a little more effort than simply reading a post and commenting on it, but it is worth it. Believe me, there are very few useful points that can be made on a topic like this without prior education, and the regulars here have heard them all.

    That said, I also had trouble imagining 1 in 6 men as a rapist. I mean, if you just count the men in my family, there’s likely to be an average of 6 or 7 rapists at any given large family gathering. That’s scary! And I have a really nice, close knit family. They’re good people! Maybe *my* family is the exception; maybe there is no one in my entire bloodline who’s ever done ANYTHING bad. I doubt it. But I also imagine that there are actually fewer rapists in a given population than 1 in 6, because from my research and personal experience, I’ve noticed that few rapists are one-time offenders.

    Oh and this is completely irrelevant and I apologise in advance for the derail, but I just wanted to mention that last night a woman named Kate Harding made a reservation at the restaurant where I work. I really, really wanted to ask if it was THE Kate Harding, but I figured it was pretty far fetched that THE Kate Harding would be visiting Deadmonton. So there ya go, you have a name twin who seems to be a very nice lady.

  267. @Sniper – I think Charles was saying that not speaking to strangers who are women is common decency, not that women speaking to strange men is common decency.

    He appears to be an older man; indeed, there are in many cultures the gendered expectation that men don’t talk to women they don’t know, and I believe Charles is claiming experience of such a culture, and is suggesting that’s part of his confusion as to the thread. Because women shouldn’t talk to men they don’t know.

    Am I missing what you’re saying?

  268. From this side Im wondering how difficult it would be to set up something like a “how to talk to a woman safely and respectfully 101″ kind of class or workshop;

    Matt, are you familiar with the group Men Can Stop Rape? They have programs on college campuses… but being by men for men I’m not sure what the programs entail. I’m a FB fan of them and they seem to do good work.

    Okay, for real, I’m getting back to work now.

  269. Sniper: yes, I was just responding to James saying that he can’t believe that 1 in 6 men is a rapist.

  270. Uh. Wow. First, this really is a great post. I keep trying to read to the end, then hit refresh, and I’m just never going to catch up. I do agree that Starling’s article would be good for pretty much everyone to read.
    There was so much I wanted to comment on through all of this thread, but I’m basically too depressed now that I’ve gotten to the end.
    As a man, I feel a deep sense of sorrow that this is part of your daily experience of the world. I’m not going to bother disputing facts, as the greater point to me is that your experience is real, and hence the facts are less relevant (if it’s 1 in 6 or 1 in 20, would it really change your experience?).
    I’m a very big, tattooed, possibly scary looking guy. I think I’ve known all this at least subconsciously (when I’m walking down the sidewalk at night and it’s just me and a woman in front of me, if she starts to seem nervous, I’ll cross the street. And so on). I’ll carry this knowledge with me from now on, and teach it to my sons.
    I’m having some trouble reconciling all of this with my experience however (my shit, I know and accept, just saying). Mostly because this doesn’t seem to be the experience of the woman in my life. I don’t say that as a judgment of them, or of any of you. So my internal question becomes a desire to talk with them about the topics raised here. Would you want the men you know to discuss this with you?
    I want to ask how do we change this, but I guess a better question is do you feel it’s even changeable?

  271. I just want to say thank you for this post, and the previous one about the comic. The first post resulted in a wonderful, in-depth, 3 hour (!) conversation between myself and my husband. It’s amazing because I had never realized just how pervasive male privilege can be. My husband, who is a sensitive, kind person with sisters and many female friends and is as liberal as they come, had NO IDEA that I’ve ever in my life had to worry or think about rape. It had never occurred to him. My husband is a guy that never would have approached a strange woman on a bus, but thanks to these posts he is now much more aware of rape culture and male privilege, and that’s a wonderful thing :)
    I wish I had this post printed up to give to the guy who tried to talk me up from his car, driving along side me while I was on my bike (which resulted in me nearly crashing into another car making a left-hand turn at an intersection). Does anyone really think this would result in a date? Come on people.

  272. I think Charles was saying that not speaking to strangers who are women is common decency, not that women speaking to strange men is common decency.

    Arwen, you’ve misread my comment, which obviously wasn’t clear enough. I was thanking Charles for not being one of the jerks who think it’s okay to accost women in public, because he clearly said it’s not okay to accost women in public.

  273. Tom, you are too late for jellied eels. Here, we have only pie. Get used to it.

    i’m SO glad that this has left the shakesville sphere and entered into the wider web. :)

  274. I think this article oversimplifies the very complicated subject of rape.

    I also don’t think it’s appropriate using rape as the implied consequence of making mistakes while talking to women. I would like to know how many rapes are the consequence of the (fairly specific) social situation you’re giving tips on. As it is now, this article seems to imply that 1 in 6 women are going to be approached and raped by a stranger in public. Surely that’s not the case.

    What am I supposed to take from this article? Be very careful about how you talk to women in public, because they’re going to jump to the conclusion that you’re a rapist? I appreciate that this article means well, and I think it gives an excellent insight into the process of gaining trust, but being told I have to work my way up from the level of a rapist is discouraging.

    This article is clearly more tailored to women than men. Either that, or it’s simply missed the mark.

  275. Yes, I misread “show them how it’s done” as show them how disrespecting women is done

    Oh, crap no. I was thinking maybe Charles could hold a class on Anti-douchery. They’re always looking at community colleges.

  276. regardless of the statistics about how many women will be raped (men get raped (by men), too–so that could lead to another interesting blog)..and that something like the average rape victim is raped 3 times a year (see NCVS site)… i guess it boils down to that really scary things happen to people. SOMEtimes it seems like it happens because of WHO we are. In the case of rape, it seems to be about the fact that we are women.
    Child abuse is pretty common, too. A lot of times, the brutality is happening behind closed doors. Should we assume that all parents are potential abusers? That we should feel uncertain about letting them take their kids inside their house? Should we spy on them to make sure they are not abusing their kids?
    One could take the reasoning and apply it to soooo many situations.
    I liked the posting. It was funny and helpful to men I think. But I am left feeling like it somehow perpetuates a culture of fear, isolation, and distance between people. It is great if a man is sensitive to the experiences and fears of women. I assume that women will be sensitive to his when he insists on a signed consent form before you have sex and a video recording of you just before the act in order to ensure that you are not intoxicated. Because it is a real possibility that he may be falsely accused of rape and his life will be ruined. Doesn’t happen a lot, but it HAS happened. So, it only takes once to ruin his life forever. He should assume that every women is a personality disordered liar who want’s to totally screw him over.

  277. (not so) funnily enough, about that 1 in 6 stat (which btw refers to the survivors, not the men) – I was thinking, out of the 6 men I know in my family, 1 is in fact a molester. I’m the only one who knows it, and it’s killing me since in every other respect he’s a good man, at times a fucking awesome one – but yeah, sometimes they really are our fathers and brothers and uncles.

    Now that’s anecdata, so it’s worth about as much as the thoroughly-masticated gum on my left shoe – but seriously guys, please don’t just assume you’d never actually know a rapist because all the dudes you know are like, cool and decent and stuff, and that all these rapists are just lurking somewhere in our statistically-falsified imaginations. And like, read units and stuff.

  278. Dearest, most loveable Tom.
    Clearly,the author made a mistake by making this post about what women think, want and feel. Who cares about that, right. And she may say that she wants people like you to understand women like her, but that’s just stupid because everybody knows that women are all crazy and can never be understood because their brains don’t work rationally like the menz do, amiright?

    Well ok, let’s put the text into terms that are not about weird women’s thoughts.

    Let’s make t about dogs. You like dogs, right?
    We’ll just assume you do. So, let’s say you are walking around, and suddenly there is this dog. You think it looks like a great dog. You want to play fetch with this dog, and pet it, and maybe even take t home with you. What do you do?

    Do you simply walk to the dog, put it on a leash and take it home? No. It might belong to somebody else.

    Do you just sit down and pet it? No. Maybe the dog bites. Maybe this dog had a bad owner, and dogs like that don’t like being petted by strangers. Maybe it’s a shy dog, and your looming over it will scare it. You like dogs, you dont want to scare them! Maybe the dog thnk you are intruding into it’s territory and it will get agressive, trying to protect it’s space.

    You can’t know how the dog will react. Because you don’t know the dog, or what it likes, or what experiences it has had in the past, or how it will see your actions.

    So you do the sensible thing. After looking around for the owner of the dog, who can tll you if it likes strangers or not, you might squat down, so as not to tower over the dog threateningly. But you only do this if the dog does not look like it is already scared. Or angry. Or feeling threatened. You’re a smart guy, you can read it’s body languge, right? And you will act accordingly. After all, you like dogs. You don’t want this dog to not like you. So you make sure to take your clues from the dog.

    So since always thinking abot why women are doing the weird things they are doing is asking to much, just remember: Take your clues from them. And also, women do not have the option to bite you like a dog can. So maybe give them a little extra room?

  279. He should assume that every women is a personality disordered liar who want’s to totally screw him over.

    Oh for fuck’s sake, get real. This bullshit is tired and has no place here and you have just won the title of My First Ban of the Day (Visible to Commenters, that is).

  280. What am I supposed to take from this article? Be very careful about how you talk to women in public, because they’re going to jump to the conclusion that you’re a rapist?

    Gosh, yeah, it must be awfully oppressive to read an article that says you should be careful how you talk to women in public. It’s almost as though we expect you to care about their feelings or something.

    I appreciate that this article means well, and I think it gives an excellent insight into the process of gaining trust, but being told I have to work my way up from the level of a rapist is discouraging.

    Is it really. Gosh, I feel for you. Here’s an idea: talk to your fellow men about not being rapists. That would be an awesome way to help women stop having to worry that they’re in danger of sexual assault.

    And while you’re taking on the difficult job of working against rape culture — which, be warned, people will drop by and tell you that you’re being hysterical and paranoid and making things up, so enjoy that part — you could try not assaulting women verbally. Don’t get in their space when they don’t want you there. Don’t act like your right to not be “discouraged” trumps her right to be safe. OH WOW SOMEONE SHOULD WRITE A POST ABOUT THAT.

  281. @A Sarah: thank you, muchly. Park up a comfy chair and watch me obsess about pens!

    This thought occurred to me. Over the course of the last month or so, most of the per/blogs I’ve read have had at least ONE post per week about some zombie playa who was trying to breach some chick’s personal bubble. And we probably could spend all day for a good ten billion years recounting every single time a person didn’t quite understand the concept of “get the fuck away from me, mutherfucker.”

    Fuck, I don’t even know how I feel about marriage, but I totally slapped on a “keep away” (fakey wedding/engagement band) as some kind of talisman, which is often NOT a deterrent to unwanted advances.

    It seems like the male trolls are getting bogged down on whether or not these advances or empty clue bongs are in themselves indicative of potential rapes, which of course they might be. As though the fact the advances are UNWANTED isn’t enough reason to learn new mate seeking behaviors, which I wholeheartedly believe it is.

    Of course it’s not “normal” fpr women go through life hyper vigilant, but it’s also a little bonkers for men to assume that everyone person of a gender you’re attracted is required to give an audience for your traveling playa roadshow.

    To a lesser degree I find myself doing battle on dating website forums on this issue as it relates to not getting responses from women and getting all “nice guy” about it. Over and over I hear the same refrain, “If a person is raised with manners, they would respond to my messages even if they don’t want me.” And over and over I say, “Nobody is obligated to give you an exit interviews as to why they don’t want to fuck you.” and really, if we can’t get folks to understand that women don’t owe them a frigging “thanks, but no thanks” email (for one, it doesn’t stop there and if you’re lucky the call you a ‘bitch’ and go on their way, at worse they stalk you all over the internets) it’s probably unlikely they are going to get any of the concepts discussed here.

  282. On another note:
    Since we are dealing whith principles of physics, here is another one that is commonly accepted and that can be appliedd to this issue as well:
    There is no such thing as a positve proof of a theory. Only the negative proof can be absolute.

    So, men who want us to realize that they are Nice Guys For Real: please remember, there is no such thing as a positive proof that you are a nice guy. Or that you would never harm a woman, sexually or otherwise. The longer we know you, the more data we collect that you are genunly a good guy, the better we will feel. But there will never be the one action that proves once and for all that you are a good guy and will not harm us. There will never be absolute certainty. Not to the point where it can’t be refuted. Because no matter how much we want to believe it, you can always still prove us wrong.

    That’s what happens in the vast majority of rape cases. The guy gave the women some data that pointed towards him being a good gy. And then he proved her wrong. And this proving her wrong is the only proof that can not be refuted. Once he has raped her, he has once and for all shown that he is not a good guy and that he can not be trusted to keep from harming women.

    Whether women feel like it or not, the facts make it pretty clear that they are not safe.

    The best thing you can do to make people believe in your scientific theory: Provide as much coresponding data as possible.

    The best thing you can do to make people believe in you as a truly good guy who does not harm women: Act like a good guy. And don’t harm women.

  283. Men who are made uncomfortable by this article, please read this one as a followup. Here, I will even make it shorter for you by quoting the money part:

    You, dear male reader, are totally not one of those men. I know this, and I appreciate it. I really do. But here’s where all this victimy girl shit concerns you:

    • every time you don’t tell your buddies it’s not okay to talk shit about women, even if it’s kinda funny;
    • every time you roll your eyes and think “PMS!” instead of listening to why a woman’s upset;
    • every time you call Ann Coulter a tranny cunt instead of a halfwit demagogue;
    • every time you say any woman–Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Phyllis Schlafly, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, any of us–”deserves whatever she gets” for being so detestable, instead of acknowledging there are things that no human being deserves and only women get;
    • every time you joke about how you’ll never let your daughter out of the house or anywhere near a man, ’cause ha ha, that’ll solve everything;
    • every time you say, “I don’t understand why thousands of women are insisting this is some kind of woman thing”;
    • every time you tell a woman you love she’s being crazy/hysterical/irrational, when you know deep down you haven’t heard a word she’s said in the past 15 minutes, and all you’re really thinking about is how seeing her yell and/or cry is incredibly unsettling to you, and you just want that shit to stop;
    • every time you dismiss a woman as “playing the victim,” even if you’re right about that particular woman

    You are missing an opportunity to help stop the bad guys.

    You’re missing an opportunity to stop the real misogynists, the fucking sickos, the ones who really, truly hate women just for being women. The ones whose ranks you do not belong to and never would. The ones who might hurt women you love in the future, or might have already.

    ‘Cause the thing is, you and the guys you hang out with may not really mean anything by it when you talk about crazy bitches and dumb sluts and heh-heh-I’d-hit-that and you just can’t reason with them and you can’t live with ‘em can’t shoot ‘em and she’s obviously only dressed like that because she wants to get laid and if they can’t stand the heat they should get out of the kitchen and if they can’t play by the rules they don’t belong here and if they can’t take a little teasing they should quit and heh heh they’re only good for fucking and cleaning and they’re not fit to be leaders and they’re too emotional to run a business and they just want to get their hands on our money and if they’d just stop overreacting and telling themselves they’re victims they’d realize they actually have all the power in this society and white men aren’t even allowed to do anything anymore and and and…

    I get that you don’t really mean that shit. I get that you’re just talking out your ass.

    But please listen, and please trust me on this one: you have probably, at some point in your life, engaged in that kind of talk with a man who really, truly hates womento the extent of having beaten and/or raped at least one. And you probably didn’t know which one he was.

    And that guy? Thought you were on his side.

  284. John:

    100%. 100% of rapes are the result of men meeting women and then proceeding in a manner contrary to Starling’s advice.

    The article does not say or imply that all rapes are stranger rape, but how do you imagine people proceed from stranger to not stranger? Magic?

  285. *g*.
    You know I am interested in the intersection of what this means overall, though. Charles does sound to me from a more segregated culture – and it wasn’t the culture we’re in now, but it’s not one I’d want to return to.

    I suppose that’s why the “respect women’s individual voices” rather than “note they’re women and avoid” is my preferred solution. Of course, of course, I do not think women here are *saying* that – for example, Sweet Machine very well laid out her rules for engagement, and in her anecdote there are clear signs and she is an entity. for

    But I personally am wary about overmuch othering women, especially in public, and especially with variable rules in body language. Where “she asked for it” suddenly raises its head: am I, who laughs and talks, asking for it because I am not giving fuck off signals? I know we here don’t conflate consent to conversation with consent to sex….

    Until our voices are better respected, I understand why assuming no to those with lowered eyes makes sense – I’ve been a victim of violence, and have been stalked, etc., and have had rape culture show up in my relationships – but I’m also somewhat wary of saying “women are intimidated and we should treat them carefully/differently”. *Anyone* giving a bright no should be treated with respect – even the talkers like me.

    Of course allies need to be especially careful to support voices otherwise ignored – especially younger women, who are preyed on by every jagoff with something to prove.

    Still, I get weaker/gentler sex horrors.

    In some ways, lots of those old patriarchal constraints were about controlling women, but they were also protective within a very narrow band – of course, with women as chattel, this was all framed within protection of property rackets – but not talking to women was a big part of that. Fuck yes, I want the grad student who has an opinion about Foucault to accost me on the bus if he would a guy in the same situation.

    I’m hearing a lot of buses without any stranger talk – this is why I wonder if bus chat is regional. There are little pockets of conversation break out on buses here.

    The tiresome ones are sports related. *g*

  286. Aww, Caitlin, thank you.

    I do want to say that I feel a little bad for the man with the cockroach tattoos. Were they playful tattoos? I would totally not mind talking to you on a day I feel like conversation!

    I often find that men’s body language can be helpful, too. I think there might be a 102 post in not creeping out women who might be interested. That is, there are tattooed men that I don’t find nearly as threatening as some clean cut business types. I don’t know what this is – perhaps they are doing some sort of eye contact thing I’m interpreting as a friendly signal, plus not engaging until I make the first smile/move/comment? Maybe they’re triggering my queerdar or other codes that make me think we have something in common? I’m not sure. On the other hand, I find football-player shaped men almost always threatening, no matter what their body language, sexual orientation, or distance from me. So I’m guessing it’s a combo of body language and internalized “threat types”.

    @Nathan – Sure! I’d love to have my male relatives/friends coming to me, but generally not as a “now, teach me about rape” kind of way. A lot of us do a lot of 101-type educating, and starting from scratch every time gets old. Personally, I’d welcome it if he did some reading on his own first, and/or came to me and expressed a willingness to listen when/if I felt comfortable doing so, and/or came with specific open-ended requests.

    But that’s me, and this is a really individual thing, so you may need to play it by ear. I often need to work up to talking to women, and much more men, about my experiences with harassment and assault, and my trauma is relatively mild. (One of my neighbors grabbed and kissed me and tried to hold me down when I was fifteen, and I had a stalker in college, and a few very scary incidents, and a lot of minor ones that were still scary.)

  287. Wow.

    I’ve read a lot of the comments on this post, but not yet all. (But I WILL read them ALL, because I VALUE this safe forum for discussion (<3, etc.), and since I haven't yet said this, Starling, WOW, and SM and FJ (and if KH has commented and I haven't read yet, sorry), so insightful!, and of course, snarkymachine, you rock, and who in their right mind WOULDN'T want to be your friend, and so many wise and awesome people here, that I finally have that woman discussion forum I've been LONGING FOR AND LACKING.

    So many great comments, so little time to give them the weight and appreciation they deserve.

    So, let me just get to the point and say:

    I personally, have NEVER had a woman INTERRUPT me, on public transport, when I was reading, or what have you, with more than a, "Excuse me, do you have the time?" AND THEN (and this is important) after RECEIVING answer, silence, OR, (alternate scenario) "I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I couldn't help but notice you were reading…"

    So, just saying, the BEHAVIOR of women IN MY EXPERIENCE has been NON-
    THREATENING.

    So, bottom line, to ME this is still about BEHAVIOR and not CHARACTERISTIC.

    For me personally, if a woman were taller than me by a foot, and seemed stronger than me, and ignored all my cues that I didn't want to engage, and she threatened me, and, and, and…

    I would be just as scared if it were a man.

    But it's never happened.

    Just sayin…

  288. Nothing useful to say, just that this post is soo awesome. And not just as an educational tool for men, but as a guide to me, and presumably plenty of other women, on how to set and maintain boundaries in public places.

  289. Anita–actually, it was the most striking set of tattoos I’ve ever seen in my life. Dozens and dozens of two-inch cockroaches in very realistic colors scurrying (in a very realistic pattern) towards the man’s shirt from his head and neck and arms. As if someone had just turned on a light in the kitchen. It was an incredible visual effect.

    It also made me wonder whether he had taken a vow of lifelong celibacy or something and gotten the tattoo as a way to enforce it. Because it produced precisely the same reaction as seeing a bunch of huge cockroaches crawling into someone’s shirt might be expected to produce. Yikeeeeees.

  290. OMG. I cannot believe the men who come here and say that because they’re made uncomfortable by this article and the comments—which were written by women to address and share the problem of how they are made uncomfortable by male strangers—that THAT is the problem. And they proceed to lecture on how the women are wrong, and doing it wrong, and so forth.

    Filly and SM, I offer you a virtual doughnut of the sweetest, spiciest, and most baby-flavored kind.

  291. I understand womens’ point of view on this issue. But, if this is the case, then why don’t more women approach men? Men are afraid of rejection, but we’re definitely not afraid of being raped or killed by you. We definitely do think about killing or being killed on a daily basis (as crimes against men usually end in death, walking away from a rape or a sexual assault would be a nice change of pace), usually while protecting a woman or family. So, why not stop with all of the rule sets and approach us instead?

    Also, some other guy brought up an excellent point: 3/4 of rapes are commited by someone familiar to the victim. That means that that stranger that’s coming onto you is far safer than your childhood best friend.

  292. Starling – Oh. When you said Technicolor, I was imagining small (inch-long?) rainbow-colored cockroaches, maybe from ear to collarbone. It sounded kind of whimsical and fun, although I could imagine why others might not find an ultramarine cockroach kind of interesting. I also wouldn’t mind sort of a traditional entomology-type illustration thing (in sepia?).

    The scurrying mass is less awesome, and indeed, my willingness to converse would decline dramatically.

  293. Anita–in a weird way, it was amazing. Whoever did it was a master tattoo artist. But, y’know, yikes. And, as I recall, there were little reddish trails of fluid left behind by the roaches. I don’t know, maybe he dated only entomologists.

  294. Good point, Lauren.

    I liked the posting. It was funny and helpful to men I think. But I am left feeling like it somehow perpetuates a culture of fear, isolation, and distance between people.

    No, that would be the men attacking and raping women. You absolutely do not get to blame us.

    Because it is a real possibility that he may be falsely accused of rape and his life will be ruined. Doesn’t happen a lot, but it HAS happened.

    Whereas rape DOES happen a lot, and does ruin lives, but it is apparently excessive to talk about it like the people doing the raping are somehow to blame.

    I assume that women will be sensitive to his when he insists on a signed consent form before you have sex and a video recording of you just before the act in order to ensure that you are not intoxicated.

    A culture of consent? OH HOW I DREAM OF THE DAY. I feel like someone wrote a book about that.

    Fuck, I don’t even know how I feel about marriage, but I totally slapped on a “keep away” (fakey wedding/engagement band) as some kind of talisman, which is often NOT a deterrent to unwanted advances.

    snarkysmachine, I told people I was married while travelling because I wasn’t on my home turf, and it seemed easier to try to deter as many advances as possible rather than trying to negotiate my way through other cultures’ different social rules. My travelling companion (female) couldn’t understand this, at all. She thought it was crazy and paranoid and really rude. Because it…might stop a man I don’t want to talk to from hitting on me? In a country where I don’t know my way around, have no friends and don’t speak the language? She seriously got angry every time I did it. I still don’t understand.

    As though the fact the advances are UNWANTED isn’t enough reason to learn new mate seeking behaviors, which I wholeheartedly believe it is.

    Yup.

    Anita, Starling, I don’t find tattoos intimidating at all unless they are meant to be intimidating tattoos. (My mind immediately jumps to swastikas, gang signs and the sectarian shit that pervades Northern Ireland and Glasgow. Put those tattoos on yourself and I will be nowhere near you, ever.) One of my girlfriends is covered and the other’s getting her first big piece soon, so tattoos aren’t an issue for me. I’m actually far more likely to be cautious of the businessmen types, because I see enough of them in my day job to know that they are often the ones who think they are lord of all they survey, and that is what is scary to me.

    100%. 100% of rapes are the result of men meeting women and then proceeding in a manner contrary to Starling’s advice.

    bellacoker, this is absolutely not the point of what we’re discussing, but men rape men, women rape men, and women rape women. It’s a small percentage and it IS NOT what we’re talking about here, but let’s not leave out the fact that it happens.

    Aww, Ruth, I recognise that happiness of “At last! My people!” I had the same thing. :D

    I cannot believe the men who come here and say that because they’re made uncomfortable by this article and the comments—which were written by women to address and share the problem of how they are made uncomfortable by male strangers—that THAT is the problem.

    THE WOMEN ARE TALKING, LU. AND THEY WON’T STOP.

  295. Lu: not all of us would dare lecture; personally, Im finding it fascinating and pretty helpful; there are a great many perspectives on here and ideas I had never even taken the moment to think about… Im pretty thankful to have stumbled on this via a friend’s reposting of it on facebook.

    Of course it makes me uncomfortable; it also makes me want to change the aspects of myself that cause discomfort… and I think that’s the point of the whole thing.

  296. Of course it makes me uncomfortable; it also makes me want to change the aspects of myself that cause discomfort… and I think that’s the point of the whole thing.

    Well played, Matt. Seriously. Well played.

  297. Caitlin:

    Point taken.

    *revised* –
    100%. 100% of rapes are are the result of people meeting other people and proceeding contrary to Starling’s advice.

  298. Matt, I appreciate that you’re different, but why do I have to acknowledge it? Did I say ALL?

    And I’d like to add that I almost stopped myself from posting this, because that’s the kind of caretaking of other peoples’ feelings that women are expected to do. No, this is not the time or place to expect it.

  299. @bubbah girl – “I liked the posting. It was funny and helpful to men I think. But I am left feeling like it somehow perpetuates a culture of fear, isolation, and distance between people.”

    Talking about the reality of sexual violence and the impact it has on many women is not what perpetuates a culture of fear, isolation and distance between people. The reality of sexual violence does this and not just the violence itself but the way victims are frequently blamed afterwards if they are believed. “You met him on the bus? What did you expect?”

  300. But, if this is the case, then why don’t more women approach men?

    Women not approaching you or your buddies != women not approaching men, period.

    (as crimes against men usually end in death, walking away from a rape or a sexual assault would be a nice change of pace)

    You have got to be fucking kidding me. You did not just say that.

    3/4 of rapes are commited by someone familiar to the victim. That means that that stranger that’s coming onto you is far safer than your childhood best friend.

    No, it does not, because you have missed the whole fucking point of the Schrodinger analogy.

    Dingo, your comment is one of the ones I let through so that the good-hearted men who are reading will see why their “but I’m a nice guy” arguments are just not enough for us to trust them.

  301. Re: saying you’re married when you’re not: this also becomes useful when you’re polyamorous.

    To me, multiple partners means I have less time to get involved with someone new. I’d also want my current partners to get to know and approve anyone new.

    But to hopeful guys who are chatting me up it means that I’m more available because, hey, if I’m not monogamous then I must be willing to sleep with anyone! Including them! Right now! Plus I’m fat and therefore desperate for sex! Now! Right?

    …yeah.

  302. Nah… I wasnt expecting or asking for handholding; and I was surprised actually at my own reaction to the first part of your comment “men who come here and say that because they’re made uncomfortable by this article and the comments—which were written by women to address and share the problem of how they are made uncomfortable by male strangers—that THAT is the problem.” and had to agree with you; I think even the fact that I was bothered by the article speaks a whole lot… my response to you was less about waving my hand and saying whatever excuse I could than it was that Im still kinda stunned by this.

    This kind of topic and the comments that go with it ARE what women think and what women have to say; and generally (at least in what I get to see on a regular basis) there arent enough people knocking this into the heads of the guys around ‘em. We guys dont get this frequently enough I guess.

  303. as crimes against men usually end in death, walking away from a rape or a sexual assault would be a nice change of pace), usually while protecting a woman or family

    Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

  304. Matt, you know what, I thought it over and I apologize. I was exasperated and you weren’t my real target. And I respect you for taking it in stride.

  305. Ah, sorry, Sweet Machine. I see you already covered Dingo’s idiotic, self-serving comment, and with more than one word.

  306. Of course it makes me uncomfortable; it also makes me want to change the aspects of myself that cause discomfort… and I think that’s the point of the whole thing.

    Matt, I really appreciate you saying this, because it’s a very clear articulation of what checking your privilege can feel like.

  307. I understand womens’ point of view on this issue.

    No you don’t.

    We definitely do think about killing or being killed on a daily basis (as crimes against men usually end in death, walking away from a rape or a sexual assault would be a nice change of pace)

    Crimes against men committed overwhelmingly by whom, Dingo? Go on, go on, guess? Did you say men? Did you? Do you see how using that to blame women for protecting themselves against men’s violence is completely ridiculous? Well done, you win a SHUT THE FUCK UP.

    So, why not stop with all of the rule sets and approach us instead?

    Dingo, I am coming nowhere fucking near you, because people as unwilling as you to respect the wishes of women send off “keep away” vibes from a mile away. It’s hilarious that you’re generalising women’s reluctance to be anywhere near your creepy-ass self as some kind of failure on their part. Good judgement, is what it is. You have no idea how much women approach men, because they don’t want to approach you.

  308. Also, Re: saying you’re married when you’re not: this also becomes useful when you’re polyamorous.

    Amen. The guy who feels entitled enough to intrude on my clearly-uninterested personal space and ask “Do you have a boyfriend?” is not going to respond to “No, two girlfriends” in any way that is going to enable me to get my space back.

  309. usually while protecting a woman or family

    Oh I see! So it’s women’s fault that women get raped (she was dressed like a slut and asking for it), it’s women’s fault that men are aggressive on public transit (you just need to take control and tell them to fuck off), it’s women’s fault that we live in a sterile culture where no one knows anyone anymore and we’re all so isolated and lonely (you’re killing random interactions between strangers), and now it’s ALSO women’s fault that MEN kill other MEN.* God. How do we live with ourselves?

    (*Obviously, women also kill, but I’ll assume that in most of the scenarios being imagined by Dingo, this isn’t the case.)

  310. Something I love about being at Burning Man, and at other burner events, is that that social norm is almost completely inverted.

    No, it’s not.

    There’s a social convention which was mentioned either in this thread or the one on the comic – ‘the roof is the introduction.’ This is what you’ve experienced at shared events. It does not typically apply, however, to the street, or to public transportation, which for social purposes should be considered an extension of the open street. The exceptions are rare events such as earthquakes, where the shared event and the potential for need for aid override normal social distance.

  311. @Dingo – “I understand womens’ point of view on this issue. But, if this is the case, then why don’t more women approach men?”

    One of the problems with this as a solution to the issues raised in this post is that some rapists view this as blanket consent and from paying attention to rape cases too many non-rapists seem to agree that women who initiate contact cannot be believed if they report having been raped or that the rapist shouldn’t be convicted because he might have misunderstood her lack of consent in light of the fact that she’s the one who initiated contact.

    These issues are why I am actively involved in my state’s (MN) SV primary prevention efforts.

  312. What am I supposed to take from this article? Be very careful about how you talk to women in public, because they’re going to jump to the conclusion that you’re a rapist?

    Why yes. Yes, as you have guessed with lightning-swift perspicacity, this post was ALL ABOUT YOU and the risks YOU face.

    Except, oh wait, it’s fucking not. You fail, please take some time to review the material before attempting once more to pass the final test.

    3/4 of rapes are commited by someone familiar to the victim.

    Once you’ve harassed someone a few times, believe me, you’re familiar to them. Men who hit on women in public places are attempting to become familiar to them.

  313. Are any of you familiar with the advice people give lawyers and men who are thinking about proposing marriage that says: Don’t ask a question that you don’t already know the answer to.

    That phrase has been running through my head since the beginning of the Would it Kill You to Be Civil thread.

  314. Which society is the more healthy one?

    Oh! Oh! I know this one! A society where 1 in 6 women isn’t raped in her lifetime. Ask me another!

    (And please try to be more of a sanctimonious git. I can see why you would think worrying about trivial issues like routine harrassment, rape and murder is a waste of time. Teach me how to be more like you.)

  315. Also, A lot of these comments have degenerated into “there is no valid reason for a man to start an unsolicited conversation with a woman on the bus”.

    No, they’re stating that there is no reason for a man to assume he has the right to start an unsolicited conversation with a woman on the bus, or to continue it if she doesn’t want to talk to him. I’m sorry if that hurts your precious fee fees, but since it’s true you might just have to deal with it.

  316. Hey… I am in agreement. The thing is, I have male privilege, and I haven’t grown up thinking about these things. So I’m probably not going to be quite as sensitive to cues as women tend to be. For instance, I quite possibly wouldn’t notice if I was blocking a woman’s exit from a room.

    Let me be very clear: I am truly sorry about this. I try to be aware, but sometimes I fail. I do not expect you to mind-read my intentions, and what I want most of all is for you to feel safe. If that means I get my feelings hurt a little bit by a brush-off, so be it. That’s the very small price I pay for you feeling (and being) safe, and I pay it gladly. Seriously, do what you need to do, and don’t feel bad about it. It’s not your fault, so it’s not your guilt.

    Apologies if that comes across as patronising patriarchal bullshit ;-). Jus’ sayin’.

  317. This is so true. Every time a strange man talks to me in a public place, I calculate the probability that he is some kind of creeper, revising the calculation every few seconds. Which is not to say that my suspicions can’t be dispelled. I’ve met strange men in public places who I thought were creepy at first, but showed through non-threatening body language, large personal space, and respectful attitude that they were not dangerous.

  318. I’ve been working so hard to keep my head from exploding on this one. I’m trying to take cues from the many smart women here who keep it together better than I can.

    This reminds me of an old bit by Elayne Boosler: she would talk about the way men would harrass women on the street and from their cars. Then she would point out that women never do that and she would say “Do you know why women don’t tell men to get in our cars? Because men would GET IN OUR CARS.”

    I guess I’m thinking of that because what (many of) the male commenters don’t seem to understand is that we are not looking for a better hook-up, we are actually willing to pass on this one. Comments like “why don’t more women approach men” and so so many others along the “but what should I do? How can I show the laddeees that i’m the man of their dreams if I can’t drive that point home with a sledgehammer” (can’t go back to re-read, head threatens to explode) miss the point entirely that women may not send signals, they may not approach you, they may shut down your initial attempt at conversation and that is OK. She is not killing love, or seduction, or your future happiness (and her own!). She’s willing to let this one go. Her book is more important, her solitude, her music, her mental preparation for the big meeting or her menta relaxation at the end of the day. You do not need to force her to see you so that your destiny may be fulfilled. She is prepared to miss this one chance. Any attempt to force the issue is disrespectful, threatening, and unwelcome. STFU.

    OK – not sure why I had to throw that in there, obviously this has been covered already. This is a terrific conversation and I admire the energy of all of you participating.

  319. “She’s willing to let this one go. Her book is more important, her solitude, her music, her mental preparation for the big meeting or her menta relaxation at the end of the day. You do not need to force her to see you so that your destiny may be fulfilled. She is prepared to miss this one chance. Any attempt to force the issue is disrespectful, threatening, and unwelcome. STFU.”

    :: WILDLY APPLAUDING, CHEERING, AND DOING THE SHIMY-SHAKE HAPPY DANCE ::

  320. Matt wins prizes. Seriously. This stuff is much easier if you’ve had some practice, and he is coming to it pretty cold, and doing amazing.

    Ok, so while I was sitting on the Metro this evening hoping that the woman with the amazing boots would make eye contact with me so I could comment on her amazing boots, I of course thought about this thread and had the opportunity to do some analysis.

    Things this woman already knew: that her boots were fucking hot.
    Things she did not already know: that I thought her boots were hot.

    Seriously, the only way in which that conversation would enrich that woman is by letting her know my opinion on her boots. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing! I often like to hear that people like my shoes, it’s a nice commentary on my taste. But why would I feel that she somehow owed it to me to hear my opinion? Why would I feel it was my right to insert myself into her consciousness?

  321. Don’t get in their space when they don’t want you there. Don’t act like your right to not be “discouraged” trumps her right to be safe.

    The article begins with a thank you that I’m reading. If I’m in a place I’m not supposed to be, then I am mistaken and apologize.

    I’m sorry if you feel I’m trying to detract from women’s safety. This is not my intention. I simply want to point out that, if being labeled a rapist is the consequence of making a mistake while talking to girls, then men are going to stop talking to girls. I would be terrified of talking to many of the women in these comments.

    100%. 100% of rapes are the result of men meeting women and then proceeding in a manner contrary to Starling’s advice.

    I would say that’s demonstrably not true, as rape happens for many reasons in many different social situations. In fact, this advice wouldn’t have helped a single rape victim I know. Like I said, I feel this article oversimplifies rape.

    This is why the article makes me uncomfortable-because it gives tips on avoiding social awkwardness, not rape. Even if a man follows all this advice, it doesn’t mean they’re trustworthy. It just means women trust them more.

    What about date rape? What about child molestation? Those are a significant percentage of the 1 in 6 statistic, yet aren’t addressed here. This article only deals with strangers meeting in public. What are the odds that in his lifetime a man is going to rape a woman he’s never met before in a public place? That’s the statistic I feel is applicable here.

  322. Apologies if that comes across as patronising patriarchal bullshit ;-). Jus’ sayin’.

    Another Matt, I’m not giving you a cookie or anything, but I really appreciate your comment after the day we’ve had here. Thanks.

  323. As a guy with poor interpersonal skills, thank you. That all seems very obvious, but should probably be kept in the front of my mind.

  324. I simply want to point out that, if being labeled a rapist is the consequence of making a mistake while talking to girls, then men are going to stop talking to girls.

    The use of “men” and “girls” here is pretty fucking telling. Also? Why do you think we give a fuck? I would be perfectly happy if I were never approached by a strange man in public again. I am married, but if I were not I would be perfectly happy to meet men online, at work, and through friends. I don’t understand why: “Well this is going to stop me from talking to strange women in public at all!” is supposed to be some kind of threat.

    In fact, this advice wouldn’t have helped a single rape victim I know. Like I said, I feel this article oversimplifies rape.

    This is not a “how not to get yourself raped” article. We have enough of those already. Nor is it a “how not to rape” article because as many people have already pointed out, that one would be very short: “Don’t fucking rape.” This is an article for non-rapist men who are interested in approaching women without making them feel unsafe or uncomfortable. I’m not sure how that could be more obvious, but there you are.

  325. I simply want to point out that, if being labeled a rapist is the consequence of making a mistake while talking to girls, then men are going to stop talking to girls.

    I think you need to practice your reading comprehension. Labeling someone a rapist is not what’s being talked about. Rape culture is. If you don’t know what that is, then please trouble yourself to find out before prematurekly lamenting the loss of all social opportunity.

    Also, “men” and “girls”? Really? Try this: “If being labeled a rapist is the consequence of making a mistake while talking to boys, then women are going to stop talking to boys.”

  326. I simply want to point out that, if being labeled a rapist is the consequence of making a mistake while talking to girls, then men are going to stop talking to girls.

    Also: listen to yourself. “Girls”?

  327. I know the internet is full of idiots, but I’m absolutely floored by the number of damned fools coming in here and talking about the fear and anxiety poor men might experience if women aren’t nice to them at all times; as if this somehow outweighs a woman’s actual, legitimate fear of being raped/beaten/kidnapped/harassed/otherwise assaulted. I feel like going into a full Wrath-of-Khan bellow.

    DOOOOUUUUCCCHHHHEBAAAAAAAAG!!!!!

  328. Also, seeing men quote the “75% of rapes are by someone you know” statistic as an argument is making me want to scream. For years feminists have been pushing that statistic in an effort to get men to take acquaintance rapes seriously. To see those same men turn around and throw that statistic back at us on the occasions we actually are talking about strangers is unbelievably frustrating and enraging.

    Also, also: great article Starling, and SM and FJ thank you so much for your efforts in moderating this thread, it’s raising my blood pressure as it is but I can only imagine how much worse it is for you to read all the comments and moderate them, I really appreciate it.

  329. Thank you so much Starling! This is beautifully put — clear, concise, helpful. I wish I had had something this clear and articulate when I first began to become aware of these issues. And for that matter it’s good to read now to keep conscious and aware of how differently our actions are perceived than they may be intended. And I think the concept “Schrodinger’s Rapist” is very useful to encapsulate the impact of having to move through the world continually responding to such a high-threat environment day-in and day-out.

  330. Also,
    I would be terrified of talking to many of the women in these comments.

    Good! Maybe now that you’ve discovered the ability to project possible consequences to your behavior, you can apply those in an empathetic manner to imagine that the women (oops, sorry, girls) might be projecting their own set of possible consequences onto your behavior.

  331. John, reading is good. I do thank you for reading. I promise you that you aren’t being labeled a rapist when you do dumb stuff. Hell, we women sometimes feel uncomfortable labeling people who *commit rape* as rapists. (Coughpolanskicough.)

    But we’re talking about something very specific here. You would like to approach a woman and get to know her better. She doesn’t know you at all. Her decision–whether to take a risk, which I’ve pegged at around 1 in 60, although stats make it slightly higher–will depend on whether you are able to get past an initial barrier of wariness that is based on the fact that RAPE IS VERY COMMON IN THIS CULTURE. Much more common than murder, for example.

    You see, the woman you’re approaching isn’t just trying to avoid having you haul her off by her hair to your lair in the depth of the opera (or wherever.) She also wants to know that, at the end of date two, you’re not going to push her past her comfort level. At the end of date three, you’re not going to ignore her when she says, “This is going too fast for me.” The first indicators are coming from what you do, right here, right now. So date rape and stranger rape and acquaintance rape are all applicable to this discussion.

    The whole point is to give you, a guy who doesn’t generally think about vulnerability to rape, tools and insightthat allow you to more successfully approach and make meaningful connections with those strangers who are women, and possibly wary. ‘Kay? I am all about people making connections and being nice and falling in love and chatting amicably about books and everything in between.

  332. @caitlin: Thanks.

    This forum is so refreshing. I just don’t get it that it’s so hard for so people to get it.

    Once, I had a man threaten me with a gun (he SAID he had a gun, I DON’T know if he actually had a gun).

    He was driving in a car, and it was daylight, and this was downtown Denver (safe-ish, for a city), and tons of people were around.

    He asked me for directions, and I said something really provocational (if that’s a word), like, “I’m sorry sir, I don’t know how to get there,” and kept walking.

    And he’s starts screaming, “You fucking snotty bitch, I have a gun!”

    And I yelled back. I don’t know why, that was just my gut response.

    And I ran to a parking lot and started ducking behind cars, in case he REALLY DID have a gun (which I kind of doubted, after the fact, cuz it seems like a crazy fucker like that woulda used a gun if he had one).

    And all kinds of people were walking up and down the street and said and did nothing.

    It was surreal.

    It happened around 15 years ago.

    Until reading this post, and reflecting, I had totally blocked it out.

    Too much cognitive dissonance. It was so insane.

    So, why is it so fucking hard for people to accept that women have legit reasons to be afraid (most surprisingly, some women)?

    Why, why, why, why, why, why, why?

    OK, enough for now.

    Could youse guys do an xtra fluffy Fri. fluff tomorrow, PUH-LEASE?!?

  333. “if being labeled a rapist is the consequence of making a mistake while talking to girls, then men are going to stop talking to girls.”
    Oh, if only.

    Also, if the mistake you’re talking about is acting like a rapist, then doesn’t being labeled a rapist make sense? Or, since it’s what were actually talking about, being labeled a potential rapist?

  334. I apologize if I appeared to be hostile. I can only assume it came off as such, as hostility is all I’m receiving. So fuck it.

    I only wished to point out, as politely as I could, that this is a poorly written list of inane social tips thinly veiling a cliche rape culture message.

    Don’t rape? Thanks. The strict laws and social condemnation weren’t enough to keep me in my place, but this stupid little article has completely changed my mind. Thank god you wrote it. There is no other more constructive way to approach gender politics. I need shitty pick up tips.

  335. The article begins with a thank you that I’m reading.

    Well, the article begins with a thank-you to men who like and respect women and care about not making them uncomfortable for reading. Are you sure she’s talking to you?

  336. I have saved John the trouble of garnering any more “hostility.”

    It’s cute, though, how the reason he doesn’t rape women is that it’s illegal and frowned upon.

  337. “This is why the article makes me uncomfortable-because it gives tips on avoiding social awkwardness, not rape. Even if a man follows all this advice, it doesn’t mean they’re trustworthy. It just means women trust them more.”

    Not necessarily. See the other component of this “nice” thing women are taught is to be very adept actors. Women often give the “appearance” trusting people they do NOT FUCKING TRUST. I can think of several men I KNOW PERSONALLY off the top of my head I do not trust. Are they all cruising around in a rapemobile. I don’t know. But I do know it makes no fucking sense to say, “hello, before we go into this strategic meeting. let me start by saying I don’t trust your oily smile or shifty stare for one moment. Okay, let’s tackles these figures shall we?” Instead it’s far more useful to be aware of my space when I’m around them, set, clear direct boundaries and pretty much hope for the best.

    He might think I “trust” him, when really I’m merely managing him for the time we are in each other’s company until I can get the fuck away.

  338. What a catch you are!

    Watch out, you might make him stop talking to girls! That would be a tragedy of epic proportions!

    Also, I meant to say this to a previous commenter who’s also deeply worried about what our social lives might be without him:

    if this is the case, then why don’t more women approach men?

    We don’t want to.

    Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. With your burned lips.

  339. John, the response to you has been hostile because you’re coming off as an asshat. You might want to work on that.

  340. John, this post wasn’t intended to be the definitive post on gender politics! It was intended to be a guide on how to approach women without making them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. If you want a more general post on gender politics, try one of the many, many other posts on this blog, or one of the many, many posts on one of the many, many feminist blogs out there. Coming onto one post and complaining that it doesn’t discuss what you want it to discuss is really fucking ignorant and rude.

  341. [This comment is totally All About Me, so I want to add: great post, thank you.]

    To everyone who says “I refuse to live in fear”: Go fuck yourself. I personally refused to be raped, the first few times. Guess what? Refusal doesn’t work.

    Really, it reminds me of people who say “I’d never allow my kids to…” People do shit they aren’t allowed to do all the time. Allowing has fuck all to do with it. I personally would like the option of not being afraid of strange men insisting on interacting with me when I’m in a vulnerable position, but it doesn’t seem even a little realistic.

    (Also, I adore all you Shapelings’ comments, especially Anita’s guide to not raping people).

    @volcanista: You can be targeted because you look like a victim or an easy mark, or you can be targeted because you stand up for yourself and need to be put in your place. or anything in between, or a dozen other unrelated reasons. If you’ve been assaulted or harrassed, it’s not because you did something wrong. That really can’t be said enough. Oh holy shit, I think you’ve changed my life. I have *always* blamed myself for the times I “was a victim” and let it happen, and *never* for the times I fought back and it happened anyway. And that’s full of shit. Thank you. I need to be sick now.

  342. The strict laws and social condemnation weren’t enough to keep me in my place, but this stupid little article has completely changed my mind.

    Oh aye, absolutely! The rape conviction rate is fuck-all percent and people side with the rapist almost every time (“She must have done something to deserve it”), which is totalyl enough to stop men raping women, as we can see by the fact that no women are raped. No, wait. Wait. There’s something wrong here.

    I would be terrified of talking to many of the women in these comments.

    Ahahahahaha. MY WORK HERE IS DONE.

  343. HEY! YOU! Yeah you! Listen up for a sec Trolly McNoclue. You wanna find your soulmate on the fucking subway? FINE. But let me tell you buddy, you interrupt a woman (get that?? A WOMAN) who is clearly into or doing something else and her first thought on seeing your fabulous manly magnificence is NOT going to be, “Oooooohhh looky looky!! There be my soul mate!!” It’s going to be, “why is this asshole bugging me when I am clearly occupied?????” Not a good start to that dream relationship dipshit.

    One of you brilliant uber nice guys would be afraid to talk to me? GOOD!!! Be afraid douchebag, be very afraid!

  344. John:

    “Even if a man follows all this advice, it doesn’t mean they’re trustworthy. It just means women trust them more.”

    I don’t understand this statement. Isn’t women trusting a man more evidence that they have become more trustworthy? Also, if you don’t count the African-American votes, Obama wouldn’t be President. Do you see the point I’m trying to make? Women get to decide, in this instance, our votes are the only ones that matter.

  345. Also, I heart aleks, whoever he is.

    Agreed! I hope Frosty from the other thread, with her socially impaired weapons-obsessed friend, sees aleks’ classy response to this article.

  346. I do rather like the notion that I might be considered terrifying. Alas, I doubt it. Though my husband did tell me not long ago that I was about was scary as an eclair, which I suppose could count for something in so fatphobic a culture.

  347. See, if I had but known, I can come up with much better shitty pickup tips. Sorry, John! But here’s a free one, on your way out, that encapsulates this entire discussion and would immensely improve your chances of good interactions with women: Stop being an asshole.

    You’re welcome.

  348. aleks and Another Matt are certainly a refreshing change.

    I have *always* blamed myself for the times I “was a victim” and let it happen, and *never* for the times I fought back and it happened anyway. And that’s full of shit.

    Oh god, Ailbhe, it’s never your fault. When you’re placed in a horrific situation all you can do is try to get yourself out the other end. There is no “better way” to handle those situations because they should NEVER HAVE HAPPENED TO YOU. Ever.

  349. When you’re placed in a horrific situation all you can do is try to get yourself out the other end.

    THIS. Repeated for emphasis. No blame, no shame.

  350. Sweet Machine: And they have been doing such a lovely job at it, why would anyone want to change the status quo?

  351. Caitlin: It’s one of those rules that’s easy to apply to other people, but oddly difficult to oneself. But I don’t think “what I did made no difference” ever really struck me before in quite this way. There’s no reason it *should* have made a difference.

    Oh – interestingly (to me) I’m mentally tacking on “I’m lucky to be alive” there and actually, no, and also the “I should really just be grateful I wasn’t killed” is just-er-no too. The urge to minimise is bizarre.

  352. I simply want to point out that, if being labeled a rapist is the consequence of making a mistake while talking to girls

    You are insane if you think you’re going to get away with this utter and pure refined bullshit here. Men never ever ever get labeled rapists for talking to women. MEN GET LABELED RAPISTS FOR RAPING WOMEN. Don’t like that? Stop the men in your life from raping or excusing rape.

    then men are going to stop talking to girls.

    Fine. See ya. Buh bye.

  353. I love this article. I love this discussion. I am slightly disheartened that I have had to explain to a couple of *women* that this line of thought is not unfair or from Mars, but never mind that.

    I also want to pipe in a point that is actually not mine but my husband’s, but he would never bother to post it because he’s a Luddite. His response to my “read this!!” was that not only does this article not go too far, it doesn’t go far *enough.*

    “Because it’s not just that she has the right not to talk to you because she’s afraid you might rape her. She has the right not to talk to you. Period. You do NOT have the right to talk to her. She does not owe you a conversation just because she stepped out in public.”

  354. Dear John:

    I am so very fucking sorry that we did not surround you with adulation and proper concern when you made (remade, actually) the point “that, if being labeled a rapist is the consequence of making a mistake while talking to girls, then men are going to stop talking to girls.”

    Clearly, this is a primary concern for us, as is demonstrable by the near complete lack of concern from women about this pressing issue.

    The fact that it’s “the strict laws and social condemnation” that you cite as preventing you from raping, and not the fact that it’s wrong, evil, destructive, bad, and wrong*, demonstrate clearly one reason that our main concern is about protecting ourselves from men who would rape if they had the chance, and not about your hurt feelings.

    The clear implication here is that if you didn’t have the laws and condemnation, you would rape. As we know, the laws are super-awesome, and arrest and conviction rates are sky-high, and men who rape actually experience social condemnation, and those who are raped are believed and comforted to the full extent of the law and society.

    Oh, except that that’s fantasy land, and you are officially a terrifying human being.

    * Please consult the thesaurus yourself, as I am sort of stumped for words here. I mean, SERIOUSLY.

  355. Question: You and I are on the bus/train/sidewalk. Don’t know each other. I’m just some random guy. Another guy starts hitting on you/talking you up/whatever. You are obviously uncomfortable. Do I say something to him? I don’t want to offend you by somehow suggesting that you can’t handle it. I’m honestly not even coming from that place. On the other hand, I simply think part of the problem is that people keep quite when they shouldn’t. Do I address him or you? By that, I mean do I point out what he’s doing isn’t appreciated, or do check with you about the situation?

    I realize that all situations are unique, but I’m looking for some general guidelines here. My typical experience is I ask the woman “You OK?”, and get the “yesfineit’snoproblem” quick response. What I now understand is she has gone from having one confirmed creep to deal with to now a confirmed creep and a possible creep (me). Not what I was going for, but I get it.

    I’m happy to step in. I’m happy to help. What’s the protocol?

  356. “It’s one of those rules that’s easy to apply to other people, but oddly difficult to oneself”

    I totally get that concept Ailbhe. It’s easy for me to view other people’s experiences with horror and then turn around and minimize my own. I don’t even bother waiting for someone to tell me it was my fault or it wasn’t that big a deal, I do that all by myself.

    It’s not your fault. You did nothing wrong. I believe that with all my heart.

    It’s not my fault. I did nothing wrong. I still can’t quite believe that.

  357. kristinc,

    “Men never ever ever get labeled rapists for talking to women. MEN GET LABELED RAPISTS FOR RAPING WOMEN. ”

    Actually, it’s even more than that–men who rape women rarely get labeled rapists. Which is depressing but true. And makes all these b.s. “Oh woe, I am so afraid of being labeled a rapist for even looking in a woman’s direction!” arguments leave an extra bitter flavor in my mouth.

  358. That’s a very good question, Nathan. You’re right that stepping in can slide quickly into “hey baby, is this guy bothering you?” territory. I’m formulating ideas, but meanwhile I’m going to see if I can smoke out our resident etiquette columnist, who might know the answer.

  359. Actually, it’s even more than that–men who rape women rarely get labeled rapists.

    True, true.

    I’m happy to step in. I’m happy to help. What’s the protocol?

    I think this was touched on in the XKCD thread, but personally what I would most appreciate is the male ally saying something like “Dude. C’mon” in a tone that says you are being inexpressibly socially clueless. As if said dude had put his elbow in the butter dish. It’s lowkey, it’s non-white-knighty, and it doesn’t put me in the position of engaging with an extra guy when I’m already harried.

  360. Nathan, I think that you are honestly wonderful. Thank you so much for trying to understand. You other guys too, you know who you are. I’m going to have to take a trip upthread and make a list.

    As to your question, personally I don’t know how I would react. I haven’t really had that happen before. If I’m feeling cornered there’s no telling what kind of fear dynamic I’m processing. I could weep with relief and be eternally in your debt. I might fall back on my good-girl programming and try to brush it off with the yesfineit’snoproblem knee jerk response. I might be in the mood to say, “yeah fuck off hero! I don’t need you!” Which would be really shitty of me, but cornered animals bite.

    I would hope I would take your gesture in the spirit in which it was offered. I would hope that I would thank you over and over and stick close by you for the rest of the trip. I think that’s what I would probably do, but I can’t say for sure.

    For all the guys who would try to do this for me, I’d like to say thank you right now in case I’m too afraid to later.

  361. Nathan:

    That is a thoughtful question because there is a fine line between assitance and paternalism. I think the answer is be there, be aware, pay attention, let your attention be obvious. If it becomes clear that the lady in question has repeatedly said No, and the guy is escalating the interaction, and you feel safe doing so, step up and say something like: She said no.

    An answer like that reinforces that her wishes should be listened to without making it about you. Then, unless she continues the interaction with you, back off again.

    This was linked above, but it’s relevant: http://fugitivus.wordpress.com/stuff-what-boys-can-do/

  362. A rousing Amen to this and (most) of the comments. This clarified for me my own attempts to explain the same issue to people I know.

    If I could count the number of times someone has told me I didn’t need to worry about unwanted male attention and/or being raped because I’m fat, well, the number would be high, but not as high as the number of times I’ve been on the receiving end of unwanted ANYTHING from a guy I didn’t know and didn’t want to know.

    A lot of times I have friends, even women, tell me that it’s “just because I’m a lesbian” that I’m “paranoid” (i.e. cautious) about men, and from now on I can just point them to this post. No. It’s not a lesbian paranoia thing. It’s a fact thing, a statistics thing.

    So yeah, thanks again to all you brilliant thinkers.

  363. Gah. My memory is like a sieve. I think there’s a project on the streetharassment site where you can upload pictures of harassers. I know there is a harassment map where you can point out where you got harassed so that people can get numbers for how much harassment goes on. It would be awesome if there were, and there might be, a database of pictures of people (male or female) who harassed others at particular places so that they could be identified.

    To the douchhound who would be terrified to talk to any of the women here, please be aware that every woman you are attracted to on public transit or the street is indeed one of the commenters here.

    For Nathan, please go to this link posted earlier in the thread, it’s both heartening and a good example of how to help women in trouble: http://fugitivus.wordpress.com/stuff-what-boys-can-do/ This will give you better feedback than I can on how to help.

    For the anecdata about rapists etc. I know of at least one molester (now dead of old age) in my family. I also know two men that most people would never pick as a rapist. It’s really pretty common.

    Women who cry rape falsely are a big problem for everyone. That doesn’t mean however that women should not be careful around men. That stranger rape is less common than aquaintance rape, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. That murder is less common than rape, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. (There are several examples drawn from the news of women murdered for not responding, or not responding positively, to random men who approached them on the streetharassment blog. That’s in the last couple of years, and in the US.)

  364. You know, I think this topic and the previous one are helping me understand why I’ve always found “Pretty Woman” such an offensive song. I never really articulated why; but it just sums so much of the assumption that women are available.

    Piffle, this surprised me, because I’d always seen Pretty Woman (the song, not the horrible movie) as a great model for how you should treat someone. The singer never actually speaks to the woman, it’s all internal dialogue. When she passes by and doesn’t initiate, he shrugs and keeps going, heads home… I always read the song as she came back and spoke to him because he wasn’t pushy.

    Totally with you on Every Move You Make. Creepy as hell.

  365. Sting has commented on the misreading of “Every Breath You Take.” From the Wikipedia article: Sting later said he was disconcerted by how many people think the song is more positive than it is. He insists it’s about unrequited love (the song was written at the time he and his then wife divorced), about the obsession with the lost lover, the jealousy and surveillance that followed. “One couple told me ‘Oh we love that song; it was the main song played at our wedding!’ I thought, Well, good luck.”[cite this quote] When asked why he appears angry in the music video Sting told BBC Radio 2, “I think the song is very, very sinister and ugly and people have misinterpreted it as being a gentle, little love song.”[4]

  366. Thanks, Fillyjonk. ;)

    “Things this woman already knew: that her boots were fucking hot.
    Things she did not already know: that I thought her boots were hot.”

    That’s what I was thinking about in the first place but couldnt put my finger on it… it reminded me of the “my short skirt is not an invitation” monologue Eve Ensler wrote (my ex’s mom does a V-Day staging up in Camden, Maine every year for valentine’s day)

    I -do- very clearly understand that a hot pair of shoes is certainly a part of a woman’s right to wear whatever the heck she feels good in or feels good about; not my place to ever put insistence in there, but (and totally not to make it sound like Im fixating on shoes… just got stuck in that as an example) a little positive feedback can be nice (I love it when someone says something about my tie if Im wearing one; that kind of thing) In the same vein, though, I’ll admit that I might pull out a “gayer” word than I might normally think of… Im not going to say anything like “Oh my gods those are sexy shoes..” or anything that I know would instantly sound pretty creepy; even as a guy Im a little weirded out in a bar if someone just says “nice ass” to me as it doesnt imply a good choice or being fashion forward, its usually just smarmy… hence I’ll pull out something like “fierce pumps!” or the like as it feels like it automatically points to effeminate-ish gay guy.

    Another honest question though, and Im hoping you take this the way its intended… where’s the line between tough guy and object of fear? “Sensitive” men seem to come in and out of vogue, alternating with the tough guy/greaser/slightly thuggish public image of masculinity, at least in cultural visibility and popular media, which would give young men at least the idea that that’s something worthy of emulation or somehow what’s desired (that quality being somewhere in between I guess what would be seen as “rugged” but at the same time that same threatening quality we discussed before, only with luck without the skeevy creepiness)

    Rhetorically speaking would it be a smarter overall idea for guys like that to let the women around them initiate contact/conversation? Is there an actual truth to what we guys get through media representation that most women would appreciate a NON-CREEPY hello or socially-appropriately-timed greeting from a man like that, or is that just popular media still running on a marlboro man imagery myth?

  367. Oh, and if we actually managed to protect women from rape, if no one ever raped again; I predict that women would be much friendlier to random strangers. I predict this because I do know one male who is invariably treated with friendship and kindness even when approaching women in public places, my five year old son. I think this is because he is so evidently not a danger to anyone.

  368. First-time reader, male, and I just wanted to stop by to say two things:

    1) This was excellent. We should be printing out stacks of these in booklet form and handing them out everywhere.

    2) I apologize on behalf of the stupid men who stopped by to derail the conversation and stupidly flaunt their stupid privilege issues, and who are too stupid to know why they should be apologizing themselves.

  369. Thank you for the respones and the reading material.

    Gail – Thank you for your kind words. I understand how we just don’t know where we are going to be coming from when things like this happen. I think I would be quite understanding of all the responses you list.

    bellacoker – You hit on something that I’ve tried to do in the past, but didn’t mention. Simply exert my physical presense. Nothing verbal, just make it known I’m there and very aware of the situation. I like the idea of not making sure to not make it about me as well. Thank you.

    I feel a greater clarity for what to do the next time the situation arises. The sum of what I’m taking away from this is “be an ally”.

  370. Nathan, I’d combine bellacoker and kristinc’s thoughts and go with something like “Dude, c’mon. She said no/She’s not interested” in the tone kristinc suggested.

    The crucial thing to realise — and this isn’t aimed at you (because you do actually seem to get it) but at other guys who might be reading this and thinking about these questions — is that doing the decent thing in that situation does not then entitle *you* to her time or attention. Step in and do what’s right, then RESPECT HER SPACE, because that’swhat this is about. Don’t take her out of one unwanted situation where she has to entertain a man into another one, with a helping dose of guilt about being “mean” to someone who helped her out. That would not be cool.

  371. …being told I have to work my way up from the level of a rapist is discouraging.

    I was really blown away by this remark.

    I’m sorry my (totally valid) fear of being raped makes the world such a discouraging place for you.

    You could interpret this as being my fault, because I’m some kind of hysterical, paranoid psycho who has overreacted to being sexually harassed and/or threatened and/or assaulted, mostly by strangers in public places, since the age of 12…

    …or you could walk away with the message that misogyny and violence against women hurts everybody. Maybe not to the same degree, but, yes, one of the consequences of living in a world in which women are disproportionately victimized is that men lose a little bit of our trust.

    Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but that’s how the cookie crumbles. And I’d take being mistrusted by strangers over being fearful of strangers anyday.

    Close your eyes, and try to put yourself in our shoes, if you can, for just a second.

    Maybe, just maybe, when you open your eyes, you’ll find we’re all on the same side.

    I know this has been linked before, but it merits another go: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2009/08/terrible-bargain-we-have-regretfully.html

  372. I almost don’t want to comment, since it feels like I am interrupting some awesome “dialogue” with John, but I have now read EVERY SINGLE COMMENT (except the ones that went up since my last refresh) and there’s something I feel got missed up at the top re: the race issue.

    The biggest difference I see between the “any man might be a rapist” and “any black man might be a mugger” memes is that BLACK MEN ALREADY KNOW THAT PEOPLE THINK THEY MIGHT HURT THEM. Nobody has ever had to write a blog post saying “Hey, young black guys, I know it’s potentially offensive and hurtful that I cross the street when I see you walking towards me in a group with your friends, but given XXX statistics you have to understand that I’m concerned about my personal safety …”

    I’m not saying that someone who wrote that hypothetical blog post would be justified. But I *am* saying that it’s never had to be written because DUDE THEY KNOW. They know they’re going to be targeted for DWB. They know not to get “uppity” with the cops (and they know that to avoid seeming “uppity” they’re expected to be totally submissive and polite and non-threatening) because otherwise they end up in jail, or worse. They know if they walk up quickly behind a young white woman late at night on a deserted street that she’s going to be freaked the fuck out. They’re not told it’s fair, but they know what’s up.

    Has any mother ever sat down her little white boy and said “now Johnny, I know you’re a good boy, but the girls on the subway don’t know that. *I* know you’re not going to hurt them. But you’re going to be seen as a potential threat. Here are the ways that you should act around women so that you don’t inadvertently appear to be a rapist.” My guess is … no. And I think that’s a really important distinction.

  373. Raijin:

    Thank you for your impulse to apologize for the dooods on this thread who are making asses of themselves, but it’s really not necessary. They are stupid individuals and not a reflection on you.

    Please remember this the next time you meet a woman who is making an ass of herself, she is not a representative of her entire sex either.

    :D,
    Bella

  374. Actually, I’m having some of those discussions about not scaring girls with my eleven year old son; just today, sparked by these discussions here.

  375. I don’t believe the ’1 in 6 women have been raped’ statistic either. It doesn’t at all align with my experience, what my friends have told me or the sense I get from the way men and women act in public towards each other. It’s just common sense that it isn’t true. No amount of links (all of which are at least partially speculative because of the “underreporting” issue, and because people define rape differently and then there’s the whole “grey rape” thing) are going to convince me, sorry.

    Personally I’m convinced it’s more like 1 in 3, if I’m being optimistic. 1 in 2 on a bad day.

    Nathan, I am just one woman, but I’d be perfectly happy with a ‘you OK’ if you don’t expect anything further than a ‘yesfinenoproblem’ from me. Because your ‘You OK?’, although addressed to me, sends a signal to Other Dude that he’s being policed and you are not on his side. I’m assuming that’s usually enough to get Other Dude to back down if he’s inclined to do so. I’ve seen interactions like that where the simple ‘You OK?’ is enough to get Other Dude to transfer his hostility to you, sadly, but frankly that’s still better from my point of view.

    If you talked directly to him without checking in on me first, I’d be all ‘thanks for trying, but hello, grownup autonomous woman here BACK OFF’.

    So I think your protocol is right on.

    The thing about being ‘possible creep’ is, you’re already possible (Schroedingers) creep. You’re a guy. Checking in like that decreases your creep factor. BUT it doesn’t mean I have to chat to you instead, or give you anything except ‘finethanksbye’. Your intervention has made me safer by signalling to Other Guy to back off. It’s made me walk away from the day feeling slightly more encouraged about humankind. So thank you for doing it. But it doesn’t entitle you to anything. As soon as you start expecting it to, your creep factor goes back up.

    That was a long answer, sorry. Short version: I wish more guys would check in like that in those circumstances, kudos.

  376. Holy crap, so much to respond to, and there will no doubt be a ton more by the time I finish. I made a list of quotes, didn’t write down names, sorry about that.

    It doesn’t mean that a crowd of women is going to hunt you down and bludgeon you for complimenting someone’s shoes, but it DOES mean that when you honestly intend only to compliment the shoes you can improve your chances of it being received as such.

    THIS THIS THIS. I think so many of the guys reacting defensively are missing the point that a woman’s regarding you as Schrodinger’s Rapist does not mean she’s going to scream or mace you or call 911. It means she’s going to be vigilant, self-protective, maybe even defensive — in ways that you may or may not even be aware of. And she will let down her guard only when and if she’s damn well ready, because she feels you’ve earned her trust. (ETA: I originally wrote that backwards. Long week.)

    If you are interested in actually being a trustworthy person, you will respect that and honor her boundaries — even if it means you don’t have a conversation and this stranger never learns how nice and awesome you are, and you don’t get together and have 100 pretty babies.

    This has already been discussed, but… well, everything has, and fuck it, I’m talking anyway. To the representatives of Dude Nation, if it helps, remind yourself that this is not just a man/woman thing. It is an “assessing the threat of a more privileged person” thing. I, for instance, am Schrodinger’s White Supremacist to every POC I meet, Schrodinger’s Homophobe to every gay person, etc. (If you’re white and straight, so are you! Welcome to the club!) Now, because I’m a woman, I’m statistically much less likely to get violent — but enough white, straight women are hateful assholes that I can’t fault anyone who does not share my various layers of privilege for assuming that said layers might, in fact, make me an asshole!

    What’s a gal to do, when people are just assuming willy-nilly that she might be an asshole because of her skin color or her wedding ring and references to her husband or whatever? It’s easy: Don’t be an asshole! And if you do happen to do something that suggests the asshole interpretation is the correct one, you might apologize for it — but if the person is not having it, then the thing to do is walk away. Accept that someone you will probably never see again has gotten the mistaken impression that you are an asshole, and move on with your life. Because trying to convince someone that you are not an asshole? Is a real good way to look like an asshole.

    Nobody owes you their trust. And people who belong to oppressed groups have a damned good reason to be wary of people who don’t belong to the corresponding privileged ones — which means yes, those of us who have the privilege will sometimes have to prove ourselves. Is it unfair? Well, shit yes, systematic oppression is unfair in many ways, most of them far more damaging than that one. But the thing is, if you’re not an asshole, it’s usually not all that hard to demonstrate that you’re not an asshole and get past the initial suspicion (which is not to say earn someone’s trust, necessarily), at least far enough to have a conversation. There are loads of social situations in which this is not only possible but actually quite easy! If, however, the other person shuts down the conversation? You don’t get to keep on with your efforts to get past the suspicion (or the other person’s desire not to talk, which may or may not be the same thing), because that in itself is asshole behavior.

    A reference was made to men not playing by the rules on this blog. I hope that does not translate to: men tend to inject more skepticism into a conversation.

    LOLOLOLOLOL. That’s all.

    Something I love about being at Burning Man, and at other burner events, is that that social norm is almost completely inverted. When you get on an art car, or stand in a line, or sit and meditate on a piece of art, and a stranger is there next to you, striking up a random conversation or giving a random complement, or handing out a random gift, is extremely common, expected, supported, and welcome.

    Which society is the more healthy one?

    The main points of why this reasoning is flawed have already been covered, but let me add this: Burning Man and public transit are not two different societies. They’re different situations within the same society. The same society has different rules for different social environments. Go figure!

    I’m having some trouble reconciling all of this with my experience however (my shit, I know and accept, just saying). Mostly because this doesn’t seem to be the experience of the woman in my life. I don’t say that as a judgment of them, or of any of you. So my internal question becomes a desire to talk with them about the topics raised here. Would you want the men you know to discuss this with you?

    I’m glad you ended with that question, because frankly, there might very well be a big difference between “this doesn’t seem to be the experience of the women in my life,” and “this is not the experience of the women in my life.” I was raped when I was 17 — it’s been long enough now that a lot of my newer friends might not even know that (unless they read this blog pretty closely), because I am past the phase where I constantly wanted to Talk About It, and it just doesn’t always come up. And honestly, that goes double for male friends — conversations about rape tend to come up organically far more often with women, in my experience. It’s not that I don’t trust those men or wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing it with them, it’s that it’s a heavy conversation I don’t usually set out to have anymore, and when chatting with men, queer and straight, I rarely find myself stumbling into it. Sometimes, with women, I do.

    So for me, if a male friend said, “Hey, I read this post that got me wondering if my female friends have a lot more experience with rape than I realize,” I would be more than happy to talk about it — but I probably wouldn’t bring it up myself. And obvs, some women aren’t happy to talk about it, or ready to talk about it, so I’m not sure if I can offer any blanket advice there that won’t run the risk of hurting someone. I think what it comes down to is, use your best judgment about how well you know the friend and how you phrase the question — and then follow her lead in terms of pursuing it. If she clearly wants a change of subject, go with that. Fast.

    being told I have to work my way up from the level of a rapist is discouraging.

    It sucks, doesn’t it? I sure wish there weren’t millions of racist white assholes and gay-bashing straight assholes and ableist TAB assholes and transphobic cis assholes, etc., out there turning me into Schrodinger’s Threat to various populations, too! My only consolation is crying into my multiple layers of systematic privilege.

    No wait, there’s one more consolation: The useful information that not acting like an asshole will usually help me work my way up. I find that encouraging as well.

    OK, I had more, but it’s time for dinner.

  377. Laura: I kinda wish our mothers WOULD take us aside and say that very thing; that’s the very point I was thinking about up above when I mentioned that we (men) really dont get much in the way of being taught about healthy relationships, inter-gender respect, and boundaries. Someone made a point of a gender split in their class, where all of the young women astounded the young men with their points about safety… but if we had some sort of advice freely given or taught, preferentially before we even really have a chance to have feelings of awakening into a sexual identity; well, it would potentially truncate the disasters in relationships and even curtail the kneejerk “why dont you go get raped” reactions we’ve seen peeking out as the moderators show pieces of what they’re not letting through

  378. I wish more guys would check in like that in those circumstances, kudos.

    Seriously, if this had ever happened to me, even ONCE, in all the times I have been bullied by a strange dude in public, I probably would have jumped in the air and clicked my fucking heels for joy.

    It’s funny that this is the first time I’ve ever stopped to think — wait. Why hasn’t that ever happened? And I don’t want to think too much about the answer, frankly, because it’s depressing as shit.

  379. “Has any mother ever sat down her little white boy and said “now Johnny, I know you’re a good boy, but the girls on the subway don’t know that.”

    Those exact words to my son? No. But we have had these kinds of conversations. My son is 17, but even as a baby he was taller, bigger, stronger than his peers. I have always tried to make him see the other person’s point of view, I had to. I have always tried to make him recognize the danger of his own strength, I had to. He’s the sweetest boy in the world (and that’s not mama-talk, you can ask anyone who knows him) but he could very easily hurt someone without meaning to. He could easily intimidate those who don’t know him. I make sure he realizes that.

  380. Just a quick follow up on snarkysmachine’s unpacking of the Asperger’s thing:

    Most Aspies (and for boring genetic reasons, it is mostly men) do have a reduced ability to understand non-verbal behaviour and use it to ascertain the state of another’s mind. So just because – to your way of thinking – you are sending some very clear (non-verbal) cues does not mean that failure to comply with them implies unwillingness to comply. To put in terms of Communication 101 – Aspies have an elevated high noise level that interferes with their ability to sucessfully decode your (clearly sent) signal.

    However, they are extremely good at understanding and following defined rulesets, particularly when they’re explained in a way that can be logically traced from first principles.

    So, if I may (and tell me if I may not!) summarise the article’s advice to its intended audience as the following logical trace:

    1) Many women’s experience is that rape and rapists are common

    2) As a simple and effective method of reducing exposure to the risk of rape, women will avoid situations and people that appear risky, with a high presumption of risk – fairly likely to be higher than your presumption, but different for each individual.

    3) On meeting a woman, that you are not actually a risk is only obvious to you.

    4) Women will use your behaviour as a way of continually (re)evaluating the risk you pose.

    5) The most powerful risk indicator is your compliance with their self-defined boundaries (and this is true whether or not those boundaries make sense to you, or are the ones you would set or are even entirely artificial and for the purposes of evaluating your compliance in low threat situations in advance of higher threat ones)

    6) Those boundaries will be signalled to you; because you may not be that good at understanding them for what they are intended to convey, here’s a cut-out-and-keep guide. With some general advice on making it clear that you pose a (relatively) low level of risk.

    then this is extremely helpful and useful to both me (pretty low level Aspie; although not single I do quite enjoy having conversations with strangers) and my 8yo son (much stronger Aspie traits, who I have to continually coach on understanding others’ behaviour).

    (apologies for Project Manager-y use of Risk terminology – it’s my day job)

    To several people who reasonably asked in various wordings “How would I know if he has Asperger’s?” (or less reasonably asserted that they didn’t care – inability to understand non-verbal signals being just as ‘creepy’/culpable as unwillingness to follow them) the answer is simple: don’t rely on non-verbal cues – deploy a polite (but direct; hints are not much better than non-verbal to Aspies) verbal cue before escalating to the “Back the FUCK off”. This will help you discern the “Can’ts but will if intention is understood” from the “Won’ts”

    (Oh, and I very much like the ‘the roof is the introduction; public transport doesn’t count’ convention. I hadn’t heard it before, but it’s another good coaching point for my son!)

  381. Caitlin, no offence taken. I’m in agreement with you. What I take away from this is that part of being an ally is to at no point make this about me. During any potential conflict, I can make my comments directly to the person not getting it, and don’t need to interact with the woman (or man for that matter), unless they choose to interact with me. Which is another point. To me, I’m not going to use this just interacting in this situation with woman, but with anybody. If someone is harassing someone else, this seems to me to be the way to deal with it. Due to this thread, I just have a (possibly) greater understanding of some of the dynamics going on.

  382. Has any mother ever sat down her little white boy and said “now Johnny, I know you’re a good boy, but the girls on the subway don’t know that. *I* know you’re not going to hurt them. But you’re going to be seen as a potential threat. Here are the ways that you should act around women so that you don’t inadvertently appear to be a rapist.”

    Yes. My wife has. And I have.

    That our son is Aspie means we’re probably having those conversations more often and earlier than would otherwise be the case (and not (yet) specifically mentioning sexual violence), but I’m pretty sure that most of our friends have similar ones with their sons.

  383. @SM–re: Every Breath You Take–I can’t believe anyone would think that was some nice love song! My husband and I used to call it “The Stalker Song.”

  384. Nathan — what everyone else said, but also if you’re for whatever reason not comfortable with actually calling the jerk out on his behavior, one thing that could work well is to find some way to grab his attention about something, anything for a 15-second conversation, allowing the woman to make a discreet and much-appreciated exit from the immediate area.

  385. bellacoker – You hit on something that I’ve tried to do in the past, but didn’t mention. Simply exert my physical presense. Nothing verbal, just make it known I’m there and very aware of the situation

    Oh yes, I was going to say that, too — just make it clear that you’re watching and you care. I’ve done that myself — making eye contact with the woman and nodding or something, so she knows I think she’s handling it fine, but I’ve got her back (and a phone ready to dial 911) if it escalates. I have no idea if that’s been helpful to the women in question, but I know it’s something I’d appreciate. And if it DOES escalate, and you can clearly see that the woman is saying “back off” and the dude’s not listening, then hell yeah, step in there! At that point, I think it’s safe to assume she can’t necessarily handle it alone — not because she’s incompetent, but because Potentially Dangerous Asshole is not taking no for an answer. I would LOVE it if some other guy went, “Dude, come on, she told you to step off” at that point in such a conversation with a douchebag.

  386. It’s funny that this is the first time I’ve ever stopped to think — wait. Why hasn’t that ever happened?

    Yeah, I was trying to remember if it’s ever happened to me, the guy checking in thing, and the only example I came up with I made an oblique reference to above:

    I was on a late night train, New Years Eve, going home with my boyfriend. I was around 17. And a drunk belligerent guy started hassling me – nice lips, bet they’d feel great wrapped around my cock: this was well beyond ‘socailly clueless’ into foul harassment stuff. And he went on and on, and this is in a crowd of people watching this horrible interaction and saying nothing but being amused.

    And the second my boyfriend said Hey, guy, back off, not cool, the harasser turned his attention to him, hostility flaring, and challenged him to a fight.

    Clearly the entire thing was designed to goad my boyfriend. I was the mechanism by which Asshole was demonstrating his intentions, that’s all. The cheerleader, if you will, between the horses. He was attacking my boy, really. And my boy took too long to speak up in my defense precisely because he knew that and was afraid of the confrontation. If he hadn’t spoken up at all, who knows where it would have gone?

  387. Matt: In addition to not being told this explicitly, think of all of the ways you were “shown” that the opposite was true.

  388. rainne, thank you for your response. I think you get the drift of where I was coming from. I wanted the woman and him to both know I was there and ready to be active in the situation (in hopfully a positive way). Yes, it was partly my intention to refocus his attention. It’s better from my point of veiw as well. Am I correct in assuming that the “dude, she said no”, while not directed at you, would still not raise your eire?

    And yes, I get you don’t owe me anything. Not a look, not a thank you. And I wholeheartly agree with that. If I step in, it’s my choice.

  389. I’ve been following the comments to this post since I commented last night (when there were, uh, FIVE comments… don’t know how I didn’t see this coming). I’m not caught up yet, but I want to say two things:

    1. You people are awesome. I mean, not ALL of you. But you know who you are. Thanks for saying all the things that I want to say so my head doesn’t explode.

    2. I love how, once again, we have Trolly McDerailer come in and say, “Blahblah groupthink! Blahblah dissent = bannination! Blahblah hivemind!” in the SAME THREAD where we have people (snarkysmachine et al.) starting out with a pretty vehement disagreement, and coming up friends. Seriously. Awesome.

    3. Caitlin, I think I might be developing a blogcrush on you. You keep making me laugh and say “YEAH THAT” and kind of being generally awesome. You rock.

    (3a. I’m not good at counting.)

  390. Beautiful. Brings to mind Ntozake Shange’s haunting poem:

    With No Immediate Cause

    every 3 minutes a woman is beaten
    every five minutes a
    woman is raped/every ten minutes
    a lil girl is molested
    yet i rode the subway today
    i sat next to an old man who
    may have beaten his old wife
    3 minutes ago or 3 days/30 years ago
    he might have sodomized his
    daughter but i sat there
    cuz the young men on the train
    might beat some young women
    later in the day or tomorrow
    i might not shut my door fast
    every 3 minutes it happens
    some woman’s innocence
    rushes to her cheeks/pours from her mouth
    like the betsy wetsy dolls have been torn
    apart/their mouths
    menses red & split/every
    three minutes a shoulder
    is jammed through plaster and the oven door/
    chairs push thru the rib cage/hot water or
    boiling sperm decorate her body
    i rode the subway today
    & bought a paper from a
    man who might
    have held his old lady onto
    a hot pressing iron/i don’t know
    maybe he catches lil girls in the
    park & rips open their behinds
    with steel rods/i can’t decide
    what he might have done i only
    know every 3 minutes
    every 5 minutes every 10 minutes/so
    i bought the paper
    looking for the announcement
    the discovery/of the dismembered
    woman’s body/the
    victims have not all been
    identified/today they are
    naked and dead/refuse to
    testify/one girl out of 10’s not
    coherent/i took the coffee
    & spit it up/i found an
    announcement/not the woman’s
    bloated body in the river/floating
    not the child bleeding in the
    59th street corridor/not the baby
    broken on the floor/
    there is some concern
    that alleged battered women
    might start to murder their
    husbands & lovers “with no
    immediate cause”

    i spit up i vomit i am screaming
    we all have immediate cause
    every 3 minutes
    every 5 minutes
    every 10 minutes
    every day
    women’s bodies are found
    in alleys & bedrooms/at the top of the stairs
    before i ride the subway/buy a paper/drink
    coffee/i must know/
    have you hurt a woman today
    did you beat a woman today
    throw a child across a room
    are the lil girl’s panties
    in yr pocket

    did you hurt a woman today
    i have to ask these obscene questions
    the authorities require me to
    establish
    immediate cause
    every three minutes
    every five minutes
    every ten minutes
    every day.

  391. Sweet Machine,
    It’s interesting that Sting has set the record straight on that. I always thought that song was about a deceased lover, i.e. “ever since the day when you went away” was about his life after her death. If it’s about a living-but-estranged lover (which I guess it must be) then yes, creepy.

  392. @Ailbhe:

    Oh – interestingly (to me) I’m mentally tacking on “I’m lucky to be alive” there and actually, no, and also the “I should really just be grateful I wasn’t killed” is just-er-no too. The urge to minimise is bizarre.

    Oddly enough, you know how this one clicked for me? Not after I was raped, not after I found my way to feminism, not after all the “it is never the victim’s fault” education–it was after I was robbed, and it was told to me by a cop.

    Weird, I know! But someone broke into my house and stole a bunch of my stuff, and I was kind of self-blamey, because I’d left the front window unlocked, and well that was just stupid of me, and I was lucky I only lost a bunch of my things (and my sense of security, thanks). And he looked at me and said, “You weren’t lucky, you were robbed. You left the window unlocked. You didn’t ask anybody to come in and steal your things. It’s not only a crime if you take every precaution to prevent it.”

    He was, in many many ways, awesome, and never once did I feel uncomfortable, in my freshly-broken-into house, alone, with a single, armed male LEO.

  393. Recent deleted dude comment: It’s not the same level of trauma, but far more than 1 in 6 men will be dehumanized and humiliated (usually publicly) or have the shit beat out of them by other men in their lifetime. We deal with it. You do, too. It’s a damned shame that we’re all so divided by fear and atomized by Modernity (including feminism) but it’s the wasteland we’ve inherited.

    Sexism hurts men MORE, bitches!

  394. About the Asperger’s: As a card-carrying member of Club 299 (Late-DXed Aspie Division), it’s not that we aren’t capable of picking up social clues. It’s that we don’t always know what we’re supposed to do by osmosis, or at least how to fake it by osmosis (which I often think is more the point with NT behavior; a lot of NTs don’t know what they’re “supposed” to do either, but they know how to fake it better).

    Certainly if someone spells out to me exactly what’s going on, my reaction’s going to be “ohhh, thanks for telling me, sorry, I didn’t know.” Personally I think an aspie guy is more likely to have a reaction like that to something like, “I’d really like to read my book, if you don’t mind,” than your basic NT d00d who still has his eyes on you as the belt notch and won’t take that extremely broad hint. NT d00ds are a lot more likely to be concerned about “scoring” to show off for other men (even imaginary men!) than autistic guys are, probably because they know that NT d00ds are never going to read them as entirely “normal.”

    Love this post, Starling. Thank you.

  395. Pre-modern people totally bonded over their non-atomized relationship with fear and early death! They totally got together over mead and celebrated how likely they were to suffer horribly, and created an atmosphere of mutual respect that was only slightly marred by the intermittent raping! Which totally didn’t damage the unity between the genders (two only), because women weren’t so whiny about their trauma!

    Gosh, if only for the good ole days, right?

  396. Sexism hurts men MORE, bitches!

    I felt like somebody punched me and I could do nothing but laugh hysterically instead of cry.

    OMG… Giggle-fit!

    Should I have said HER-sterically? He was being kind of HIM-sterical. I wanna keep being all… What was it? Atomized by something something?

  397. Wait, so now men have to think about not beating each other senseless or humiliating each other AND not raping or harrassing women? All these rules!

  398. Slightly clearer explanation as I think Meowser and I are saying the same thing: Us Aspies aren’t very good at spotting and correctly interpreting social clues that haven’t been explained/can’t be inferred from obvious logic.

    So if I know what clues to be expecting (and knowing the reason behind them helps a lot too), it’s all easy.

  399. This hypothesis needs data to back it up, but is it possible that most rapists don’t conform to preconceived notions of what is a rapist – meaning the real rapists are not the “sketchy” guys, but the friendly, “cute” guys who appear fine? I say this because almost all people (men and women) have fairly nuanced abilities to assess social situations. These help us make good decisions. But all people also harbor lots of irrational biases that impede our abilities to make accurate judgments. Has anyone done research to find out if men most women judge to be sketchy are more likely to rape then other men? It’d be interesting research to try to find common characteristics among rapists. (Sadly, there probably aren’t any.)

    At the same time, it is quite logical that men who do not respect boundaries and social norms for how to act in public, will also not respect private boundaries in a relationship.

    The larger message should be that even if a man’s public actions do not arise from an intent to rape, if they are sketchy/frightening/uncomfortable/annoying, they should not have to be tolerated. Just because you aren’t a rapist doesn’t give you the right to be an asshole.

  400. Nathan,
    Recently riding the bus there was a man making a total fool of himself annoying a woman. She was very very obviously annoyed, and as I mentioned above I’m not good at picking up social cues so if I could see it he really should have been able to. She was trying to read her book and he kept asking her questions about it. So I started telling him about the book I was reading. He kept trying to brush me off and go back to her, but I acted like I thought we were having a nice group discussion on literature, since what other people were reading obviously fascinated him, with no ulterior motives on his part (chatting up the woman) or mine (interrupting). Eventually she got off and I stopped bothering him. I don’t honestly know what she thought of it, maybe she thought I was just another clown joining the circus, but my intention was to take some pressure off of her and it seemed to work.

  401. Starling – thank you for a very interesting article addressing an issue I’ve been exposed to and thought about before but haven’t considered in quite so stark terms. I appreciate the argument that you are making.

    What led me to read the entire subsequent comment section (or tried to) was a concern with the presentation of your statistics. My apologies if someone has already addressed this, although I could not find it.

    I followed some of the links to the originating research and as far as I can tell, the point that incidents of sexual assault and rape being both much higher than people often assume and also largely unreported is quite valid. What did not quite follow from the research quoted, unless I’m misreading something, was equating sexual assault with rape.

    In the article the quoted statistic is that 1 in 6 women are sexually assaulted in their lives. This leads to a conclusion about the occurence of rapists among men. While rape and sexual assault are both awful things that should never happen, they are not equivalent and I’m concerned that the imagery conjured by the term rape is a way of inflating a statistic about sexual assault that should be a sufficient point in itself.

    Following the studies and research, a rough look suggests that studies about only rape/attempted-rape have sigificantly lower (although still alarming) numbers than those that include sexual assault.

    Perhaps I simply have more ease picturing one in six men having groped a woman or exposed themselves than having to picture one in six men as having raped a woman. Perhaps I need to overcome that difficulty. But I suspect that it may also be useful to be careful with the terminology being used in such a charged topic. Or I’m missing something about the research or article above. Apologies if I have.

  402. Starling….

    The general idea of your article is textual gold. You are clearly and concisely detailing what a guy should try to look at and for if he decides to approach a woman that he has not been introduced to and also detailing what said guy needs to know as to cut his losses and LHtFA (Leave Her the Fuck Alone).

    (BTW; LHtFA is not an insult; it is a rule of conduct and a measure of safety for men. If a woman clearly states that she does not want to be bothered, you initiate a full-stop and you leave her vicinity at once if possible; if not, then do so ASAP. In today’s legal climate, a man can’t even play with what might happen, so it’s best to just get clear away from a woman who is not interested in your attention or contact and eliminate any and all doubt that you would be perceived to be a problem.)

    Starling, your rules of conduct/engagement make perfect sense.

    Allow me to repeat this for all of the ladies on this page, who may question what I wrote above.

    Understanding the above-written rules of conduct/engagement for approaching a woman who you have not been introduced to previously, makes perfect sense, especially for a man who wishes to make a good first impression on said woman; assuming that the woman in question is remotely interested in you at the time of first contact.

    I met my wife using the common sense observations that you detailed in your essay, Starling. So I can say with all confidence that what you wrote is “the gospel.”

    With that being said, before I can recommend your essay to other fellows, we do need to discuss the one fallacy in your essay; the assumption that a given man is a rapist until proven otherwise. In fact, this is pretty much where your essay falls apart. Unless your statement of wanting men to read this was sarcastic, you risk alienating your target audience with this fallacy.

    I’m sure that a lot of women are going to say (in fact, many already have):

    “That fact is a harsh truth; deal with it, fella.”

    This is leading into the same logic that is used to circumstantially incriminate ethnic peoples in American society. All African Americans are muggers until they prove otherwise. All Arab men are terrorists until they prove otherwise. While Shiyiya did a good job of condensing your viewpoint, it doesn’t change the idea.

    As an African American male, I have to now deal with two negative stereotypes (racial and gender) that I inherited through no fault of my own or any of my peers or progenitors. Oh, I forgot; three stereotypes. According to the racial stereotype I inherited, we are damned twice over as “potential rapists” because we are African American men and there’s nothing we want more than to “rape some poor, defenseless, white woman.” Do you know how many African American people have been killed because of the kind of logic you are applying here, Starling?

    Let me remind you all of something. Nearly all rapists by nature suffer from some degree of sociopath disorder. A rapist is a person who feels (in various degrees) that their desires/feelings are the only ones that matter in their world. Their victims suffering does not register as the suffering of a “real person.” In fact, regardless of gender, they do not consider their victims as “real people” at all; they are just “something placed on the earth for their personal use.”

    With that being said, if a guy comes up to a woman out of the blue and tries to strike up a conversation and the woman clearly indicates that she is not interested, and said guy continues, then by all means she should do whatever it takes to reestablish her zone of comfort/safety. Because if he breaks more than two of your rules of engagement, you have a right for worry, and if he breaks all of the (except for the tattoo one…that’s more than a bit superficial), he probably is going to be trouble.

    And do you know what? A genuine, dyed-in-the-wool rapist already has a plan that incorporates all of your rules because all he wants is to gain your trust enough so he can stay close to you and wait until he gets his opportunity to strike. According to FBI profilers, Ted Bundy was able to snare more than 30 women without raising any red flags until it was too late for them to escape.

    Nobody (who is reasonable) is saying that women out alone in public do not have any grounds for caution or worry. I would rather my wife (or any woman for that matter) err on the side of caution, than be caught unawares by some monster.

    But you know something, Starling? (And this is also for the rest of the good women who are reading my post.) Your “theorem” is bordering on discrimination and is engendering a very dangerous trend of thinking that is only going to destroy any attempt to eliminate rape culture by alienating the men you need to help achieve your goal.

    For this dialog to be truly successful, you can’t discount the feelings and observations of the “other side,” or else you risk your own feelings and observations being discarded by the people you are trying to reach.

  403. Thanks Gail. Full disclosure, as a recently young man I’ve certainly been the one who needed to be subtly smacked with the “Dude, she doesn’t want to talk to you” sign at times too.

  404. We all do doofy things aleks, the important thing is to learn from it. You now recognize that what you did wasn’t cool and not only are you not doing that anymore you’re actually trying to help in similar situations.

    *ding* You leveled. (recovering WoW junkie)

  405. @Ailbhe – “The urge to minimise is bizarre.”

    As a fellow rape survivor I don’t believe it is bizarre at all and this urge doesn’t come primarily from inside those who are raped. We are repeatedly told to minimize being the victims of sexual violence by the way so many people talk about sexual violence.

    If we report we face blame and possible false accusations that we have made a false accusation and are making it tough for “real” rape victims. We are told that our word alone means nothing and should not result in a conviction. If we don’t report people will say we helped our rapist through our silence and are partly responsible for any subsequent sexual assaults he (or less often she) commits.

    Some survivors have been ordered or coerced post-assault into minimizing or denying our own sexual assaults.

    This widespread minimization is what several men who have commented here have effectively demanded and it is what at least one woman commenter effectively demanded as well.

    Sexual violence is endemic and yet people tell those who think about it in their interactions with the group who commits the most sexual assaults that they are paranoid. As a gay minister in a non-gay friendly denomination (at that time at least) once said, “Is it still paranoia if someone really is out to get you?”

  406. Hehehe I’ve never played WoW because if I’m paying monthly for a game I know I’ll play it all the time. Medieval 2: Total War is the poison of choice that’s currently keeping me from my homework, although I’m dying in anticipation of Starcraft II. Damn I miss Kerrigan.

  407. Ummm, the above was a response to Gail, I realize it looks like I posted some random nonsense to the wrong blog, oh, oh.

  408. Just Some Trans Guy:

    I’m not the mods, of course, but my perspective on this would be not that you’re derailing in this case (altho’ your sensitivity to the possibility that you were committing the classic “what about teh menz?” is commendable) but rather that, by being gender-non-conforming, you de facto *are* part of “our” group (where I deliberately put “our” in quotes to acknowledge the non-binary realities of gender/sexuality) because in the eyes of the sorts of Manly Men who regard female agency as a silly thing to be disregarded at best and something negative to be destroyed at worst, males who *don’t* present as “straight” have become dangerously contaminated with the Feminine Essence in their minds. Worse than merely *being* women (who after all can’t help it, poor things!) you guys [sic] commit Gender Treason, and thereby make a mockery of the whole Grand Scheme of Things with your subversive ambiguities, possibly being even more dangerous than we mere Uppity Ones…

    I am flippant, because I always am, but I don’t kid, really – what I mean is, you come by your “feminine” fear of Reg’lar Guys honorably, the same way we do, and for the same reasons (because they ARE out to get you!) , plus some extra ones which are illuminating of the whole interconnected misogyny-homophobia complex.

    –Starling, this whole post rocks, I just had to lay a “no way in HELL I’d be interested in dating you (even if I were physically interested in you) after you failed to listen to my “not interesteds” six times running AFTER lying to me about wanting to hire me as a freelancer to get my phone number!” smackdown on a PUA-type. I am (now) one of the bolder ones, though not as bold as CassandraSays, the tattoo’d guys don’t bother me having been an art-student-proto-Goth back when – but the smooth/smarmy preppy boyz scare the shit out of me, because the entitlement reeks off them stronger than the Axe and I know just how bad they can be (even short of Bundy).

    Ironically, the “Be afraid-correction, TERRIFIED – of every man who comes near you at all ever because all men only want ONE THING FROM GIRLS and you can’t tell which ones are rapists!” is what my conservative antifeminist father drilled into his daughters as soon as we hit puberty…then he turned around and berated us for “dressing like dykes” and “being scared of men” afterwards, and tried to find other rationalizations for our man-hating feminism. No, Dad, it was mostly you: we had to figure out which sorts of guys were safe and which were dangerous in spite of your “helpful” safety advice!

  409. Nathan, I think the general thing to do in this situation is body language / eye contact: look directly at the offending man so it’s clear you are noticing, and your look says ‘what the hell are you doing?’, and maybe also an exchange of looks with the harassed woman, with this kind of rolling of the eyes about the harasser (don’t know how to explain it in words, but maybe you get what I’m saying). This will allow the woman to give you a signal (with eyes/body language) if she wants more help or wants you to step in more verbally, but if it were me (as the woman) I wouldn’t — I would just be happy you are there. And this is sending a message to the man that what he is doing is not acceptable and not cool, and he may be peer pressured to stop.
    It won’t work for all situations (some guys don’t look around for social cues, like some types of crazy guys in the subway), but I think there are many situations that this would work.

  410. I’m male and though it made me sad to read this, I understood and appreciated every word. Great article.

  411. Dingo sez: I understand womens’ point of view on this issue. But, if this is the case, then why don’t more women approach men? Men are afraid of rejection, but we’re definitely not afraid of being raped or killed by you.

    Y’know what? I’ll play along, just for a minute. WHY?

    1. Because inverting who-approaches-who does not make you STOP being Shrodinger’s Rapist. You are equally unknown to me regardless of who makes the initial contact.

    2. Because my approaching you does not actually make me less vulnerable throughout the course of whatever interaction follows. In fact, it makes me MORE vulnerable. The simple act of a woman approaching a man, to many people (like, the kind who wind up on juries) can easily be twisted into “she wanted it,” whether I did or not.

    Also, by approaching you I am not only opening a conversational door, but thanks to all the other patriarchal bits of social conditioning we have BOTH been saturated with, I have actually made it MORE difficult for me to close that door, should I later decide I wish to.

    But, y’know, thank you for your genius idea on how to fix everything in one fell swoop anyway. Us silly wimmenz and our lady-brains sure never would have come up with that doozy.

  412. I only wished to point out, as politely as I could, that this is a poorly written list of inane social tips thinly veiling a cliche rape culture message.

    Wow, thank you, John! Regardless of the fact that there are hundreds of posts from women here, pretty much all saying “OMG, this is amazing. Every man needs to read this because it’s so true” (and I am yet another), of course WE’RE all wrong and YOU’RE right. Because you’re the MAN and we all know that MEN are 1) always right, and 2) always have the final word, even about living life as a woman. Glad to know that you’re more of an expert on the female experience than any of us. I’m sure we’re all so, so sorry that we hurt your precious little feelings.

  413. It’s a damned shame that we’re all so divided by fear and atomized by Modernity ….

    I first read this as ‘anatomized by Modernity,’ which is fairly gruesome, but then realized – oh, my, atomizers! He’s talking about perfume! And, you know, I would definitely try a scent named ‘Modernity.’ It sounds wonderfully Deco.

  414. If a woman approached me, then decided I was a sketch artist and started making her lack of interest known, I’d be pretty confused about what had just happened and probably think “What the hell did you start talking to me for?” since I wouldn’t know what I’d done to trigger her alarm. Being me, I’d take it stoically and only cry on the inside, but if I were the shouty or worse type this situation would be at least as irritating or worse for her as if I had approached her and she let me know she didn’t appreciate my attention. So no, while women making the first move more would be awesome, it wouldn’t help at all with the problem under discussion.

  415. It is an “assessing the threat of a more privileged person” thing. I, for instance, am Schrodinger’s White Supremacist to every POC I meet, Schrodinger’s Homophobe to every gay person, etc. (If you’re white and straight, so are you! Welcome to the club!)

    This! This is something that actually came up in the same segment with Chris Rock where he talked about Polanski; at one point, he said something about how he’s always surprised when white people are nice to him. At first the comment stung a little, and I thought, “Hey, I’m nice! Just because I’m white doesn’t mean I’m automatically a racist.” It took a moment for me to realize, oh, hey, privilege.

  416. Demosthenes XXI, we’ve had some discussion about race, class, and stereotyping up above; did you see it?

    Let me remind you all of something. Nearly all rapists by nature suffer from some degree of sociopath disorder. A rapist is a person who feels (in various degrees) that their desires/feelings are the only ones that matter in their world. Their victims suffering does not register as the suffering of a “real person.” In fact, regardless of gender, they do not consider their victims as “real people” at all; they are just “something placed on the earth for their personal use.”

    This, however, is just false. Our culture is so saturated with sexism that it is not a stretch for a man to think that women are not “real people” — that is, in fact, what patriarchy is all about. So no, rapists are not sociopaths; they are men who know they can get away with it.

  417. Nathan, either action (addressing me or addressing Other Dude) is so far above the standard I have been used to expecting from male witnesses to harrassment that either would be just peachy with me. Also, this may be the first time I have been asked ‘but what can I do to help’ in a sincere and non-rhetorical (‘yeah, society sucks, what do you expect me to do about it, huh?’) way.

  418. Also, a general announcement: since this thread has over 500 comments (and our last one on harassment has over 600), we are no longer going to approve newbie comments that question the existence of rape culture, argue against the rape statistics cited, or tell women to stop living in fear. Men who would like to participate in this conversation: you have to meet us more than halfway here. If you can’t do that, the internet is a big place: link away and discuss this somewhere else.

  419. Okay. I’ve let this reading error slide at least half a dozen times now, and I can’t stands no more. (I’m a Virgo: bite me.)

    Nowhere in the article does it say that men are automatically rapists. Pay attention, gentlemen! Assuming you have not committed rape, SHE NEVER CALLED YOU A RAPIST.

    What she is saying is that, from a stranger’s point of view, you are neither a rapist NOR a non-rapist. That’s where the whole Schroedinger thing came in, see – we don’t KNOW.

    Now, since we’re talking about risk assessment, let’s follow the consequences of being wrong in either direction. If I treat you like a potential rapist even though you are a non-rapist, then one of two things happen:

    1: You convince me otherwise by your decent human behavior, and we get on fine in the end; or
    2: I miss the chance to make friends with a non-rapist.

    2 might be said to be regrettable, sure. But let’s compare the possible consequences if you are a rapist whom I treat like a non-rapist:

    1: You decide for some reason not to rape me (right now), and I walk away; or
    2: You rape me, and perhaps other nasty things as well.

    Kind of a no-brainer. I realize that as a POC that sounds dangerously like upholding a blind prejudice based on bullshit, but previous comments have explained why this is not so.

    (BTW, there was recently a book published about sociopaths that suggests that they make up 10% of the population, so again, caution would appear to be warranted.)

  420. Laura, thanks for this:

    BLACK MEN ALREADY KNOW THAT PEOPLE THINK THEY MIGHT HURT THEM.

    That’s a very good point.

    And I’m certainly going to sit my boys down and talk to them about this when they are a little older (they are only 1 and 4 now)

  421. Demosthenes XXI:

    I’m mostly done, so please forgive me for not addressing the substance of you post. I just wanted to say, your continual repetition of Starling’s name was very creepy to me.

  422. Derek, while a man who sexually assaults but does not rape a woman is, I agree, not a rapist, he is still someone I desperately want to avoid having any contact with. Sexual assault that isn’t rape is nonetheless deeply traumatizing. I feel like you’re being pedantic, and in this case that comes across as really trivializing of horrible things.

    tinfoil hattie, that poem is amazingly powerful, but good god, so upsetting and triggering for me. After reading it and sitting here crying, I had to go self-medicate with some wine. but still, thanks for posting it. hard but I needed to read it after all of this this week.

  423. This has been, by far, the greatest thing to happen this week. Thank you so much. I would love to point out the best part of this, but as far as I’m concerned, it is perfect. I, also, will be handing this out on the subway, as well as forwarding it to my University’s Women’s and Gender Studies department.

    Thank you.

  424. [TRIGGER WARNING]

    @ John (the banned): 100%. 100% of rapes are the result of men meeting women and then proceeding in a manner contrary to Starling’s advice.

    I would say that’s demonstrably not true, as rape happens for many reasons in many different social situations. …….

    What about date rape? What about child molestation? Those are a significant percentage of the 1 in 6 statistic, yet aren’t addressed here. This article only deals with strangers meeting in public. What are the odds that in his lifetime a man is going to rape a woman he’s never met before in a public place? That’s the statistic I feel is applicable here.

    I’m going to go out on a veeeeerrrryyyy shaky limb and assume you’re trying to ask a real-live honest question here.

    All of the situations in which a woman you know has been raped, some one (generally a man, but since you bring up molestation and I unfortunately know a couple of women whose childhood sexual abusers were also women, I will go with the neutral) first MET her, and later – whether minutes or hours or dates or years – disregarded her clear signals that she was not appreciating the attention she was receiving.

    If you think Starling was writing about some kind of situation where a strange man approaches a woman on a train and, right there in plain daylight, attempts to assault her? You’re wrong.

    Starling was writing about the same sort of situations you describe. Some guy says hello to me on a bus. He may just be saying ‘hello’ and may very well want to invite me for a cup of coffee sometime, and his intentions may be perfectly innocent. However, he may ALSO be saying hello to me as part of his plan to start a conversation, continue it when I get off the bus, and then walk with me until we get close enough to my home so that he can FORCE HIS WAY IN AND ASSAULT ME!!!

    And both of those guys? They look the same. They start with the same line, “Hey, what book are you reading?” or “What are you listening to on your iPod?” They may BOTH show the same unwillingness to leave me the hell alone when I politely try to brush them off.

    Look, pal. I don’t have a crystal ball to see the future with. I don’t have some cool-ass Jedi powers to read your mind. I don’t get some constantly updated list from Feminist Hivemind Central telling me which guys are rapists and which aren’t.

    That rapist over there? He’s wearing the same windbreaker you are, and the same sneakers, and he’s got the same haircut you do. If you want me to believe you’re nothing like him, in the face of all that? Then you’re going to have to do something to show it.

    Because see, if I don’t trust you and you aren’t a rapist, then the worst that happens is I don’t get to go on a date with a guy who maybe likes me, but not enough to make a little extra effort to show he respects my completely rational need for safety.

    But what if I do trust you, and you ARE a rapist? I think you’re smart enough to figure out the answer to that on your own.

  425. I feel like you’re being pedantic, and in this case that comes across as really trivializing of horrible things.

    Totally agreed, and it also misses the point of the post, which is that we don’t know who will hurt us and in what ways.

  426. RE: Volcanista,

    At Feministing they say “TRIGGER WARNING” above posts that might evoke that reaction. Might that be a convention worth adopting? I don’t know enough to have an opinion but it might be worth considering.

  427. I have to say that I have never consciously thought, “This man is going to rape me,” so for me, refusing to talk to someone because I know he is trying to get my number or sell me something or whatever has to do with my RIGHT not to continue a conversation I don’t want to continue.

    It seems like in our society, people can understand the concept of not being SPAMMED, receiving junk mail, or having solicitors knocking on your door to ask you for stuff, panhandlers asking for money, and any other number of interactions.

    Why can’t they comprehend a woman not wanting to talk to a friendly guy?!

  428. NT d00ds are a lot more likely to be concerned about “scoring” to show off for other men (even imaginary men!) than autistic guys are, probably because they know that NT d00ds are never going to read them as entirely “normal.”

    This is why I tend to feel much *less* threatened if a non neurotypical guy talks to me on the bus. I can usually tell pretty quickly if the person talking to me is on the autism spectrum or otherwise not neurotypical (apparently most people can’t tell?), so it doesn’t come across as creepy to me if he doesn’t catch on that I don’t feel like talking.

  429. Frankly, I’m sort of amazed that anyone automatically trusts anyone.

    I did threat assessment on everyone I met, guy, girl, white, poc, TAB, PWD, poor, rich, cis, trans etc. And then, when I started transition, that instinct to do threat assessment saved my life and well being a few times and I learned that certain specific groups of people were waaaaay more dangerous to me than others.

    And the times I auto trusted people, were usually the times I got hurt, badly. Including one particular time that culminated in a year’s worth of domestic violence finished off with sexual assault.

    Tough lessons learned, I do not ever autotrust guys of any stripe nor cis women (and even a few genderqueers who are fine in their bodies). Evidence is required before I begin to trust and I regard any attempt to talk me out of it (when someone decides to center their feelings above my safety) as abundant proof that they aren’t as nice as they think they are.

    Seriously a brill post. Ought to be required reading.

    I also linked this post at my own (http://genderbitch.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/expectation-of-trust/) for further reading. Trackback didn’t go through so I just wanted to let you know. XD

  430. thank you for writing this, it was a thoughtful reminder that i don’t have to feel bad about my paranoia of the “scary guy” on the subway…i don’t have to sympathize, all i have to do is protect myself; the statistics and built-in visual cues only reiterate that fact.

  431. Sure, aleks, but frankly practically every comment on these threads deserves a trigger warning, and I knew that and was reading anyway. I’m not easily triggered, so I take some chances. And while this has been upsetting yesterday and today I also am really glad the discussion is happening, if that makes sense. There are not many groups of people I’d feel safer with discussing this stuff.

  432. Agree mostly. I haven’t read all the comments but the article doesn’t mention one *large* group of men in the descriptions you give. The ones who believe they can “sell” themselves, against any opposition, if they can just get the conversation going. A lot of “Salesmen” get training in different ways of “never taking no for an answer”. Besides the ones that just do it on their own.

    I don’t believe all of them are the type(s) you describe though there *is* going to be overlap. The ones who “never take no for an answer” verbally are on a slippery psychological slope.

  433. For fuck’s sake is right. Hell, this week and my reaction to it have convinced me to finally really stop dating for a while, for real. Take that, assholes.

  434. Derek, you asked about the statistical difference between rape and sexual assault.

    On the offender studies looking at rape only we have: 6%, 6.1%, 10%, 6%, 4.8%, and 5% which gives an average of 6.3% of men (just over 1 out of 16) surveyed who admitted to committing acts which meet the definition of rape.

    Ignoring all sexual assaults other than completed rapes doesn’t paint a safe picture for women when they are dealing with random strangers.

  435. #hsofia Why can’t they comprehend a woman not wanting to talk to a friendly guy?!

    Speaking only from personal experience, I think it has to do with seeing people hit it off brilliantly and thinking “Hey, I could do that too, maybe with this woman sitting right here!” Plus, your female friends tell you girls are attracted to confidence, right? Jasmine told Aladdin to go jump off a balcony and but he persisted and they turned out alright, right? Now, having grown up a bit and learned from past disasters, I understand that this woman sitting next to me is not like any other woman, I am not like any other guy, and this situation is not like any other situation, so the fact that my tall handsome charming friend Jason met his girlfriend of four years and counting by randomly complimenting her skirt AT THIS VERY COFFEE SHOP doesn’t obligate this scenario to develop or this woman to respond in the same way to me now. But, although I consider myself to be both intelligent and full to brimming with the noblest intentions, young men like young women are bombarded with all kinds of contradictory and unrealistic advice and expectations and some of us take awhile to disregard the crap (and obviously some of us never do).

    I’m tired and I don’t know if any of that was coherent. I want to be crystal clear that this has no relevance at all to violence, aggression, or stalking behavior, only to failure to take the initial hint that she doesn’t want to talk to you. I also intend it as an endorsement of, not riposte to, Starling’s guide on how not to accidentally be a dick.

  436. It’s been ages since I posted here (although I lurk constantly), but I just need to chime in on a couple of things.

    1: Thank you for a brilliant post;
    2: Thank you for a wonderful comment thread;
    3: Thank you for your moderating efforts.

    Seriously, would it be helpful to turn the modding into a game, like collect the most absurd ones and post them?

    I love these kinds of threads, because they’re not only amusing but emotionally buttressing–some troll shows up to say stupid shit we’ve all probably thought at some point, lots and lots of brilliant Shapelings squish it, I feel a bit more reassured about myself (repeat x times, where x = many, many individual keyboards).

    Also: OMG, how did I not know about Fluevogs? ::: runs off to engage in furious coveting :::

  437. Sweet Machine: thanks for taking the time to address my questions. I can imagine the number of attacks you get, and moderating them makes sense. The link to Feminism 101 is helpful. You probably feel that most men like me who commented are just trying to raise your blood pressure: but speaking for myself, the way I learn things is to ask skeptical questions. I realize that it is not your, or Caitlin’s, or anybody else’s responsibility to educate me, but your reply was helpful to me, and I hope others who read the comments. If nothing else, my awareness has been raised. So thanks: really.

    abyss2hope: thanks for setting me straight. The claim was: 1 in 6 women has been sexually assaulted, and while reading the comments I confused it with 1 in 6 men is a rapist. I respect and appreciate your straight-forward tone. And yes, girls (women) can do math quite well.

    Ethyl: your suggestion that I just google the claim that 1 in 6 women has been sexually assaulted (a claim which I am otherwise inclined to believe by the way) in no way helps answer my question, any more than would a physicist telling a freshman to just google the claim that we live in a multiverse. There is a lot of unfalsifiable junk physics proffered by Professor Google. I was hoping you, or somebody else, would address my concern: if I tried to publish a physics paper in which I claimed that the number of photons in my graph is actually higher because my instrument “under-reported” them, I would not get far.

  438. Guys can be CREEPY AS HECK on the bus (or train). I don’t want to talk to them. I don’t want to interact with them. But it’s hard to balance my need for burying my nose in a book to indicate “do not talk to me” with my need to keep an eye on my environment, in case someone who looks perhaps not too safe steps onto the bus from either the front or the rear door. I always sit with my back to the window so that I can see. Or in case the creepy guy who won’t stop staring at my breasts gets off at the same stop as me and follows me. (This has happened! More than once!)

    Oftentimes, I will use my carefully-cultivated glare, which reads as ‘fuck off and die.’ I spent years in grade school and junior high being sexually harassed. Trust me, I’ve perfected this glare.

    Unfortunately, the fuck off and die glare isn’t a good strategy to employ when on public transit alone in the middle of the night. That’s when I get the “why do you have to be such a bitch?” questions, and when the men start getting threatening. That’s when I sit by the driver so as not to feel threatened, because, at the very least, the driver is usually concerned about his or her safety on the route too, and there’s a security camera aimed right at the driver.

    Security cameras on public transit: Never not awesome, people.

    That’s also when I start lying. Men strike up conversations with me, because I’m pretty, because I’m alone, because I’m a woman and therefore available. Because I must want their attention, if they’ve deigned to force it on me. “What’s your name?” They ask me that a lot. “It’s Liz,” I tell them.

    My name isn’t anything close to a variation on Elizabeth, of course.

    “What’re you doing out so late, Liz?” They ask me that too, and I know the answer in their mental script is supposed to be completely innocent, but it’s supposed to make me sound fuckable too. Because they want me to be available. Not to mention fuckable. If they’re on the bus and talking to me, they’re hitting on me. If they don’t know me and they’re hitting on me, presumably, they’re aiming for sex. Especially if it’s late at night, because why would a woman be on the bus by herself late at night if she’s not looking to hook up? I usually demur with an answer about how I’ve been out with my friends, and now I’m going back to my parents’ house. Or I have school or work early in the morning, and I have to sleep.

    Unfortunately, mentioning sleep means that these types of men think of a bed, and when these types of men think of pretty girls alone on the subway who want to go to sleep in a BED, they’re not thinking that I really want to sleep. They’re thinking that’s Sekrit Girl Code for fucking. Because, of course, doctors recommend eight hours of sleep a day – and sex with the skeevy guy on the bus who thinks that because you’re out alone, you want to fuck him.

    Sometimes they ask me about my make-up. Sometimes they ask me about my book. Sometimes they ask me about my friends. Or where I work! And what I do! Not to mention where I live! Or my hobbies and habits. They ask me where I go for coffee in the morning. Or sometimes they offer to take me home. My house or theirs. They even offer to pay for my bus ticket. Because I’m a good girl, you see, not a prostitute (and there is nothing wrong with choosing sex work, seriously), so they think they can get off cheap by offering to pay for my bus ticket.

    After all, I’m a good girl, but I can’t be that good. I’m on the bus. Late at night. I mentioned sleeping. Which equals bed. Which equals sex.

    I’m supposed to be flattered by this attention, you see. They want to get to know me. They want to find out if we share a common interest. Also, they want to find out my personal habits and my daily routine and meet my friends. Not to mention stalk me.

    So I smile blandly and demur, because I know the only person I can rely on right now is myself. The adrenaline coursing through my system is enough to keep me awake. I exit the bus a stop or two before my real stop, because I don’t want this guy to know where I live, or to know anywhere even near where I live.

    I hope I can afford cab fare, and I hope that there are cabs around. If I can’t afford it, and if I can’t get a cab, I have to walk extra to get to my place, and hope a coffee shop is open late, and then I can walk in where there’s at least a couple of employees who can call the police.

    If I can afford the cab, I breathe a little sigh of relief once I get in. Then I keep my hand on my cell phone, and hold my keys ready, and I hope the cabbie isn’t a rapist. (If it’s during the day time, I call my mom! My mom gets lots of calls with, “Oh, hi, it’s me, I’m just taking a cab to blah-blah-blah, and I had some spare time before I have to be at my appointment! Where people are expecing me! I will be home two hours from now and call to talk to Dad then! How are things going right now, though? Because I am on this cab ride, and want to have a nice chat that will presumably keep the cabbie from deciding I’m a good target for rape and murder!” I don’t really have an appointment most of the time. But it certainly is good to keep people guessing!)

    I don’t know who’s a rapist and who’s not. Cabbie. Random dude on the bus who thinks my eye make-up is pretty and I would like to introduce him to his friends. Random dude on the bus who thinks I should tell him all about my book. Random dude on the bus who asks me my name, and says he should maybe just call me pretty girl instead. Any of them could be rapists. Or, you know, just really fucked up with zero knowledge of social boundaries.

    Whatever! I maintain my right to lie through my fucking teeth to keep myself safe. Because if I don’t know you, I feel threatened by you. (Sometimes I know you and I feel threatened by you, but that’s a different set of protective mechanisms, and not what this post is about.)

    I know, I do, that not all men are rapists. I know many men whom I’ve been with in situations where they could have tried to rape me, had they so chosen. (Some of them have chosen to joke about it. I have chosen not to hang out with those men any further. Funny, that.)

    But – and this is the whole point of the initial post anyway – I just don’t know the guy who strikes up a random conversation with me in public. He may feel he has the right to strike up a random conversation.

    I just wish he respected my right not to engage him in conversation. Because then I wouldn’t need to have protective mechanisms, or an entire persona created just to use with men who hit on me when I would clearly rather be left alone.

    (I’m just waiting to see who’s going to accuse me of being an evil lying bitch because I made up a persona for public transit encounters. I doubt it’s going to be any of the regulars, though.)

  439. Demosthenes XXI-

    According to FBI profilers, Ted Bundy was able to snare more than 30 women without raising any red flags until it was too late for them to escape.

    Yeah, totally calling bullshit on that. I can’t count the number of times a guy, stranger or within my circle of acquaintance, has raised red flags with me but I said NOT ONE THING to him. I got away as fast as I could, found girlfriends, compared notes, even quietly helped orchestrate a “we can’t let him ever be alone with a woman” campaign. I never actually told the guy “You’re being a creep. Stop.”

    Why? Because that wouldn’t have been nice. It could’ve caused drama.

    And I’m not supposed to do that.

    Your post suggests that (pardon the phrasing) to you rapists are a very black and white issue. Rapists are always easily distinguished by their sociopathic tendencies and it’s also futile for women to try to spot them because they’re going to blend in anyway, so women generalizing about all men as being potential rapists is equivalent to any form of racism and just as unfair.

    This entire post is about the fact that rapist isn’t obvious. The only thing that tells a rapist from a non-rapist is time and behavior, neither of which are traits inherently born into anyone. The situations are not equivalent.

    Kate – Is it unfair? Well, shit yes, systematic oppression is unfair in many ways, most of them far more damaging than that one. The heck you say.

    DRST

  440. Demosthenes XXI–Yes, you’re right. Schrödinger’s Rapist is a really loaded term. It’s actually meant to be, because I think that all of us (men and women) have a vastly unrealistic idea about what a rapist is, and how often one is encountered. The idea I’m trying to lay out is that all strange guys are lumped together in the “maybe a problem” category. Not rapists, so far as I know, but not necessarily not-rapists, either. They’re in the wait-and-see. I want you to know that I’m not excluding my nearest and dearest (my brothers, my dad, my closest male friends) from this label. To strangers, every one of them is still Schrödinger’s Rapist. Still a potential threat. Even though I’d stake my life on them each being not-a-rapist, there’s no way for me to convey that to every strange woman they encounter.

    Now where we have a problem is when I, a white woman, look at a white man on the street and assign him threat ratio 1:60, but look at a black man, identically dressed, on the same street, and assign him a threat level of 1:30. This is bad, bigoted and wrong, and if it happens, it comes from racism.

    But assigning all men a 1:60, and modifying that number as actions show him less or more trustworthy–well, I think that’s okay.

    Let me put it this way: you, a black man, will view the cops in a completely different way than I, a white woman, will. Your caution around law enforcement is a result of a world in which you suffer from exercises of white privilege and racism by law enforcement. Is it nice or fair or right to consider all cops racist sons-of-bitches? Of course not. But is it sensible to consider the possibility that the cop who stopped you will be one? Yeah. You never know. It’s your safety that’s at stake. If I’m a cop, if I carry a badge, I should approach you knowing that I have some ground to make up in trustworthiness. This doesn’t mean I’m a bad cop. It means that I understand and respect that your experiences have made you cautious.

    It also doesn’t mean that you are the one making life hard for the cops or getting them fired or threatening them, just because they might be racists sons-of-bitches. Because they’re the ones in power.

    The same argument applies when it’s women who are cautious of men. Generally speaking, we are on the low end of the power balance there, and so you’re not harmed by my caution. You’re just put to some trouble to dispel it.

    There’s some great discussion of this earlier, as well. Does this help?

  441. James, I’m also skeptical about statistics, especially those regarding notoriously taboo subjects. The thing is, does it matter whether the rape victimization rate is 1/6, 1/10, or 1/4? Can we all agree that it happens A LOT, and that that’s the point here? Women have to survive in a world where A LOT of women are raped, regardless of the exact number. Men have to deal with women acting in the knowledge that A LOT of women raped, regardless of the exact number. Would you or I feel much more confident jumping into a pool with only three sharks than one with four?

  442. abyss2hope – thank you for confirming that I was seeing the right numbers, and also for more clearly making my point – that the numbers are alarming enough, in all respects, that hyperbole is unecessary for the central argument.

    Saying that 1 in 16 women have been raped, and that potentially 1 in 160 men is a rapist (following Starling’s reasoning – not the further inflated 1 to 1 ratio you suggested) makes the same point, with more accuracy and less of the distortion that often leads to disbelief by male readers.

    I won’t argue that this is pedantic, but I do believe that hyperbole, intentional or not, cripples credibility and raises suspicions of bias. I don’t think this was Starling’s intention, so, given the size of the comment thread, I didn’t feel bad about making note of this.

  443. And I’m certainly going to sit my boys down and talk to them about this when they are a little older (they are only 1 and 4 now)

    Start now. You do it differently, of course, but the effect is the same: you model for them in age-appropriate ways that it is very important to listen and look for consent from the little girls they play with, you discuss it when someone else does not pay attention to consent. You stop what’s happening and point it out when a playmate is unhappy or uncomfortable and your child isn’t noticing that. You pay attention to tiny things like giving hugs that someone else may not be enthusiastically happy about. You stress repeatedly and consistently, in other words, how other people’s bodies are not things they have a right to.

    You’re doing the right thing wanting to teach your sons this, but if you just sit them down when they’re 10 or 15 without a lifetime of setting the foundation for it, it’s not going to stick. And maybe you already know that and are doing all these things, it’s just that it really is the little stuff and it really does start when they’re babies.

    I feel like you’re being pedantic, and in this case that comes across as really trivializing of horrible things.

    At Pandagon, they often refer to the type of guy who wants to know, very specifically, where the line is when it becomes rape. “Is this rape? What about THIS? OK, what about if she does this and I do this?” The consensus is that these guys sound like nothing more than rapists who are trying to determine exactly how much raping they can get away with, and people who get cute about the line between “sexual assault” and “rape” are horribly evocative of that same mindset to me.

  444. NationalBlah: “Just because you aren’t a rapist doesn’t give you the right to be an asshole.” FTW!

    Derek: The stats are hard to establish, and I am certainly open to more accurate numbers if they are available. However, you misread Abyss2Hope’s comment–the 1/16 she refers to is the percentage of the male population admitting to behaviors classified as rape, not the percentage of the female population which has been raped.

  445. Wow, it seems I’m late for the party. Starling thank you for writing this, great article, amazing comments. Half of the male comments made me loose faith in man kind, the other half helped me regained it and I feel that they’re noteworthy solely for that fact, so Charles and Matt, thank you for being actually willing to listen, it’s a refreshing change.

  446. Would you or I feel much more confident jumping into a pool with only three sharks than one with four?

    Excellent. Excellent.

  447. Starling – you’re absolutely correct, my apologies to abyss2hope for misreading her comment and for misreading the table from which she drew those numbers.

    For clarification, the research was referenced earlier in the thread by IrishUp (http://www2.binghamton.edu/counseling/documents/RAPE_FACT_SHEET1.pdf) and appeared to be a fairly well done literature survey of an assortment of other studies and further had numbers which seemed to match the statistics you were using.

    To avoid further pedantry and since this is far from an area I know much about, I’ll leave at that.

  448. @ Demosthenes
    I’d say that most rapists, in my experience, are NOT sociopaths. Or if they are, they don’t seem to me, themselves, or anyone else like sociopaths. i’ve been sexually assaulted by three (3) members of various extended social circles. none of them seemed like they had a screw loose. they all seemed like…normal guys.

    when i TOLD people what happened, the reactions were usually:

    a) no! he did that? wow, that sucks. bummer! so, what are you doing saturday? (minimizing)
    b) wait but like…i don’t get why you were alone in the car/apartment/etc with him though? (victim blaming)
    c) are you SURE? (accusing me of “crying rape”).
    d) yeah, i’ve heard that about him (assuming i “should have known”–>victim blaming).

    we live in a rape culture. it’s no surprise that normal guys think that they can do this stuff to women and get away with it. because you know what? they can.

  449. and also: when i worked as a loan officer, I used to go for coffee breaks at a starbucks near work. this one guy constantly would see me there and smile at me. once, i gave a sort of a half-smile back, after i finally started wondering if i was supposed to be knowing him from somewhere.

    he came up to me and asked me for my phone number. i thanked him for the complement, but declined, saying i had a boyfriend (i didn’t. but he didn’t know that).

    the next time i saw him there, he asked again. i said no again.

    the next time i saw him there, he asked again. i said no, this time more firmly. as i was putting my coffee in the cupholder of my car i heard a tap at the window. i jumped, scared, and saw that he had FOLLOWED ME TO MY CAR and was tapping on my window to get my attention. i rolled it down a centimeter. he asked me for my phone number.

    i was a lot younger then. now i would have told him to fuck off. but at the time, i was scared of Making a Scene. or Being Rude. so i said no.

    i told my coworkers. know what they said? that it was romantic and i should give it to him next time i see him.

    this, friends, is rape culture.

  450. First of all, I couldn’t agree more that a woman’s risk tolerance is her own to set, and that demonstrating that you respect boundaries is a good thing, though the paradox of finding just the right level of assertiveness to be attractive to a woman without being threatening is maddening, it’s also been addressed a thousand times before, by more accomplished women than myself (read Julia Serano, “Why Nice Guys Finish Last.”

    Ask yourself, “If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?”

    I have to say as a test the fundamental message is that no space is acceptable space, and sort of reinforces the ‘if you have tattoos only talk to me on the internet’ class-privilege message that I read from the post.

    The message is read by my working-class trans lesbian self to be: Well, if you can afford a space, if you can be inherently attractive as a success object, then women will not feel threatened by you. If you’re working-class however, what with your thug life tattoos and bawdy t-shirts, well, you should recognize that it’s far more likely that you’re a rapist than some sociopathic equities trader in a two-piece suit.

    Again, it’s not more likely, and it’s your hangup, not his, and a good person, while respecting it, can still resent it. “I’m sorry, I think you’re a criminal,” is, well, frankly erasing and offensive to anyone. And no, sociology does not trump someone else’s fundamental right to dignity. It’s no more correct to profile marginalized males as it is to profile anyone else based on readily identifiable features. Does that mean it’s not going to happen? No. I’m not naive. I’m just interested to know at what interval of frequency or what level of threat profiling a person based on their socialization and appearance that they are powerless to help ceases to be an less of an affront to equality than it becomes a blow for equality.

  451. kristinc
    and people who get cute about the line between “sexual assault” and “rape” are horribly evocative of that same mindset to me.

    Ugh. I am a teacher, and it’s my job to be pedantic, and if a student hands in a research paper on rape and sexual assault she/he’d better have the definitions right and solid sources for any statistics. A jury member, likewise, might someday be called to distinguish between rape and sexual assault. But as a man pondering proper behavior towards women, what possible difference could it make where one becomes the other? They both exist on the far side of what should be a pretty damn bright red line that under no circumstances is there ever an excuse to cross. In other words, in a real life setting, from a potential offenders POV, there should be no practical difference. You don’t touch her like she doesn’t want to be touched, and it’s safely neither/nor.

  452. This was a wonderful article. Well written, and it gave me a lot to think about. All men should read this.

  453. Speaking only from personal experience, I think it has to do with seeing people hit it off brilliantly and thinking “Hey, I could do that too, maybe with this woman sitting right here!”

    aleks, I can’t speak for anyone else here, but for me the problem isn’t someone (anyone) saying hello to me or smiling or whatever. I smile at people all the time on the street. Sometimes they don’t smile back, or they look away. I don’t DO or SAY anything about it. I move on! I don’t expect anything in return!

    If your friend met the love of his life by complimenting on her skirt, chances are she wasn’t giving him the stink eye or trying to avoid him at the time he did it. No one is suggesting that all public interactions between human beings ought to stop. Just having some respect!

  454. hsofia: I love your comparison between the irritating chat-up and spam! I’m definitely adding that to my vocabulary.

    Allies, instead of saying “Dude, come on,” you could also go with “Dude, stop spamming her!”

  455. hsofia,
    I didn’t mean that it would happen literally like that (I made up the example although I did have a friend in mind). I was trying to explain the mindset that would lead a well-meaning boy/man to not “comprehend a woman not wanting to talk to a friendly guy?!” Since I’m basing this on my own experiences, let’s also stipulate that he’s kind of socially clueless and she’s being at least somewhat subtle in telling him to piss off. Now, is he doing a dork? Yes. Is he being a jerk? Probably. I was just trying to answer your question on what he might be thinking.

  456. Thanks for all the nice comments.

    And to Arwen: I am somewhat amused that you think I come from a segregated culture. Actually, I do. It’s called the United States. I grew up on the south side of Chicago and have been riding subways for 60 years and seen what can happen. Let me put what I said slightly differently: My advice to any young woman is to not speak to a strange man – period. There is too much danger. I’m not talking about being proper or mannerly or knowing your place, I’m talking about staying alive. I have been with these people in locker rooms, work places, barracks, jails and saloons. I know how they talk, think and act. I can easily believe that one man in 6 is a rapist, as someone stated. But, I also believe that more than one man in 6 is a decent, kind and respectful person. You can find plenty of them without taking crazy chances.

  457. Ok, I’ve been thinking a ton since my last comment, and now I’m back feeling shamefaced. I was hurt and upset at first after Sweet Machine’s comment/modding of my comments. I couldn’t quite figure out what I had done wrong and decided not to comment again until I got it. I get it now, and my face is burning. I act so defensive and angry towards someone doing what I took as criticizing me that I came across just like those guys on the bus who get angry when you won’t talk to them. I’m really sorry. I don’t think I can stop myself right now from being that way, I’m still a shallow 19 year old, and will be for at least a year. So I’m going to not post unless I’m sure I’m not doing it, or until I know I can stop it from just spewing forth. If I fuck up and comment anyway, please call me on it, I don’t want to be that girl, I really don’t.

  458. It sounds like we may need to start Finally! A Sociology Stats 101 Blog soon, with helpful examples. I don’t mean this to come down on any one person, but I’m startled how often men in this thread have misread the numbers to support the point they’re trying to make. I suppose that shouldn’t startle me more than trying to adjust every woman’s experience to fit the point they’re trying to make, but it really does.

    Especially the dude who’s very concerned about his physics paper getting through with the wrong graph. (Doesn’t physics participate in peer review, or is that solely the realm of all the other sciences? I mean, it’s not a perfect system, but it does *usually* catch stuff like that.)

  459. Charles, I admire you, and in 45 years I hope to be pretty much the man you described in your first post. But I’ve made tons of life-long female friends whom I spoke to or who spoke to me when we were strangers. They’ve enriched my life and I hope I’ve added to theirs. Now, I have no idea what sort of vetting process they applied to me before we reached the point where they’d trust me in an isolated setting. I’m sure it helps that I’m a small white guy without a very imposing presence. But never talking to strangers seems like it would hugely crimp most people’s lives. You can talk to someone without following them into a dark alley.