Some Stuff

So, three of us have colds, one of us is out of town and indisposed, and the other one hates you all. (Kidding. Mostly.) Until we’re back into blogging shape, have some links.

I wrote about Lincoln University requiring fat students to take a “Fitness for Life” course before they can graduate here. I’ve got more thoughts, and we’ve got a half-assed SP roundtable going on about it behind the scenes, but that might take a while to get anywhere (see above), so start there.

I’m also writing for Broadsheet 5 days a week now (usually two posts a day), if I haven’t officially mentioned that, so there’s lots of other stuff there. For instance, I wrote today about a British “Next Top Model” kinda competition for women with disabilities, and a couple weeks ago about Candy Crowley’s weight and how The Rules will. not. die.

I would link to stuff other people are writing, but between working and and traveling and getting laid out with a cold over the holiday weekend (and thus spending 3 straight days doing nothing but watching 21 Jump Street on Hulu, which was actually kind of awesome), I haven’t been reading shit. Well, I did read Nick Hornby’s latest novel while I was traveling, and I loved it, but that’s about it.

One more link, though! Women, Action and the Media (WAM!)  is auctioning off a bunch of cool stuff to support their work for gender justice in the media, and one of the items is an opportunity to have me edit any prose manuscript up to 25 pages. I actually used to do that for a living, and I really miss it, so if you need feedback on something you’re writing, support WAM! and give me the chance to have some fun with it.

Relax, He Wants You to Maw Down and Wear Cheap Chonies

couple macking on the beach According to Glamour, there are seven reasons why your “man” adores you as is. I have a bit of a problem with the concept of “as is”. I associate the concept with final sale sweaters with ink stains not coverable by a cabbage rose brooch, not loving relationships. But then again, I’m still doing cabbage rose brooches like it’s 2000. so I might have missed a few things.

John Ortved writes:

It’s not your boobs. Or your butt. Or even your bank account. Sure, we men like all of that. Ultimately, though, we’re in it for exactly one thing: you. As a sometimes sucker of a boyfriend myself, I’m well aware of how tempting it is to try too hard. But I’m tired, and I’ll bet you are as well. So consider this a to-don’t list, and chill.

Holy mansplaining, Batman. I was laboring under the delusion that loving relationships work best as a partnership rather than a dictatorship. I stand corrected.

The article goes on to list seven reasons why you can chill including such gems as:

No need to inhale a steak on a man’s account, but we love women of all shapes—with bodies and legs and soft things to hold on to—and it takes food to get that way. (By the way, your ribs? They’re meant to protect your organs—please don’t make seeing them a fitness goal. Thanks.)

Despite giving the appearance of embracing body diversity, the concern trolling about eating habits and body shapes is rather disgusting. The message is still: I dictated the terms of desirability based on what behaviors, aesthetics and fitness goals I deem valuable.

Then there are quotes from male participants providing supporting evidence of just how open minded and progressive this is article for women.

Charles, 28, from Boston: “My girlfriend was really into trying this move from the Kama Sutra. In order to get it done, all of my focus turned to balance, abdominal clenching and other nonsexual, lifesaving things. Not fun.”

Thanks, Chuck! Clearly the fault lies squarely with the girlfriend who was trying too hard. Ever heard of the statement, “Hey, this ain’t working for me.” Try it. It works!

And forget downstairs grooming. Turns out, it’s unnecessary because he says so!

Let’s be real: At the end of the day, it’s your vagina, and you should give it whatever haircut you want. But “extreme maintenance” should be the name of a reality show on TLC, not something that you do to your body. Men have a range of tastes, everything from full monty to landing strip to a grown-out seventies bush. If it’s that important for your guy to be with the ridiculously clipped, stripped and shaved women of online porn and you’re far from interested in going there, simply point him toward the computer and tell him to feel free to help himself.

While I appreciate the freedom to dress my vagina in corduroy and denim, I don’t need anyone to grant me permission to make my own choices.

“No-frills cotton underwear says that a woman knows she’s hot and she doesn’t have to convince me of it.” —John, 29, Gainesville, Fla.

My hackles go up every time I read this sentiment expressed in articles. A person’s choice of underwear is simply another fashion choice, dictated more by personal tastes than anything else. Maybe, now I know this sounds ridiculous, just maybe, a person rocks sexy chonies because it makes THEM feel sexy, without regard to other people’s opinion. My personal philosophy on chonies comes from Erika Lopez who wrote (I can’t find the exact quote, but this is a pretty good approximation) “Panties would just get in the way of everything we’re trying to accomplish here.” I wonder if I should get some “No-frills” cotton chonies. I don’t think so. If there are chonies to be worn they have got to be show stopper chonies. But that’s just me.

I’m not snarking on the writer, but I am questioning why we need another article telling women in a rather patronizing tone what to do to make relationships work. Placing the responsibility squarely on women gives the appearance of agency when the opposite is the case.

Some applicants are more equal than others

Hey, remember when Sonya Sotomayor was first nominated for the Supreme Court, and the White Dude Cabal attempted to claim that having one fucking Latina justice ever was an outrageous act of racism and sexism, and every thinking person in America was furious that the WDC was unable to distinguish between the concepts of “shameful oppression” and “owning only 99.99 percent of everything”? Tom Mortenson, of the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, missed that day. On NPR yesterday, he had the following to say about the fact that women have overtaken men in college admissions, with the result that some colleges are now discriminating against female applicants:

Mortenson: They graduate from high school at higher rates than men do. They go on to college at higher rates. They complete college at higher rates. And I see nothing right now that’s going to turn that around.

It’s so unfair! Maybe 150 years ago, men were the only people allowed in college, and now they’re not only forced to share, they’re getting outstripped? Someone needs to do something! What could make those ladies stop submitting strong college applications and getting accepted? Quick, deploy a fashion magazine!

Let’s not forget here that we’re talking about higher education — a pursuit that, just a hundred or so years ago, people thought would overload women’s fragile little mind-meat like botulism in a can of soup. Some people thought education would give women brain fever, whatever that is. But when instead of obediently falling down in fits, educated women start clawing their way to equality and beyond, the menfolk (and even some womenfolk, like a dean of admissions interviewed by NPR) apparently get the vapors.

Mortenson: And the people who work on these campuses say that boys, frankly, are not at their best where they are outnumbered two to one by girls.

Yeah, the Beach Boys beg to differ.

Seriously, do we really have to be saying things like “correcting an inequality is not the same as gaining an advantage”? Okay, maybe we have to say that to Pat Buchanan, but do we have to be explaining to researchers and college administrators that when someone climbs out of the howling canyon of disadvantage, you don’t really have to put your shoe on their face? This is like saying that if your broken left arm heals, you should probably rebreak it, because it’s going to get an edge on your right one.

Note to the Dudes in Charge: I understand that it throws you off balance when the people you’ve been standing on finally stand up. But that doesn’t mean you get to kneecap them.

Straw Feminist Weekly: The jealous bitch

Via The Sexist: the astute cultural analysts of The O’Reilly Factor (not Bill himself, but his sub, Laura Ingraham) know why feminists don’t like Sarah Palin (because apparently it is mid-2008 again?): we are just totes jealous of her cute hubby and her cute little babies and her smokin’ bod! Ingraham breaks it down with her guests, WaPo columnist Sally Quinn and Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway. See, it’s simple: all feminists are ugly, barren spinsters who are also firmly supported by the old boys’ network and who require you to have an abortion before they give you the time of day. (If you haven’t yet had an abortion, you should go ahead and get knocked up right quick so you can get the mandatory abortion out of the way ASAP.)

Sally Quinn, lord love her, seems to have both a sense of what feminism is and why Sarah Palin sucks:

QUINN: And most women I know are feminists. So I think it depends on who you call feminist. I think one of the producers was saying the sort of raging crazed pro-choice liberal women. But I have to say that of all the people I know, I don’t know a single person who feels jealous about her. I think that most of the people I know who are not Sarah Palin fans just don’t like what she has to say.

(Emphasis mine.)

But hers is not the voice of reason!  For that we need professional Republicans.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER:Yeah, the qualified stuff is a canard, and it came late after she made many women feel inadequate, Laura. This is a woman who is — her path to power was so unusual for women in power. She didn’t have the money or the power or the access of a father, of a husband. She certainly didn’t go to an Ivy League school. She was a standout athlete. I think of some of the spinster childless columnists who have attacked this woman for her right to choose…

INGRAHAM: Can you name names?

CONWAY: …and have five children. There are too many to name and then it would make them relevant on such a great show.

THE SPINSTERS, THEY ARE LEGION. YOU CANNOT NAME THEM ON A RESPECTABLE SHOW OR THEIR SEXLESS SPIRITS WILL TAKE OVER THE CAMERAS AND SHOW YOU FROM A BAD ANGLE.

Also, you’re fat and your SO is ugly.

CONWAY: …the extended family. He’s cute to go. And look, she lost all her baby weight. It makes some women crazy. They’ve got 1.3 children and a Pilates schedule they have to keep, and it makes some of them crazy.

These, of course, are not the spinsters, but don’t worry — they’re still jealous! You don’t understand how CRAZY you get when you do Pilates. Conway knows. I mean, the name is even crazy, am I right? Pilates. Pilates Pilates Pilates. No wonder feminists are crazy jealous bitches.

Look, you know who loves Palin? Caregivers, that’s who, you selfish jealous feminist fatty.

CONWAY: But the people who love and support her are still pushing babies in strollers and elderly women in wheelchairs just to go see her, just to go buy her book, which is already No. 1 and not even out.

Maybe the babies and the old ladies aren’t that wild about her, but whatever, that’s cool — you can just push them to the side while you coo over Trig and check out Palin’s muscular thighs. Grandma can wait! She doesn’t have an opinion of her own — I mean, she uses a wheelchair.

Palin-hating feminists, let’s just come clean. Sure, we say that we dislike her because she coopts feminist rhetoric to push an agenda that hurts women, or because she encourages her followers to be shockingly disingenuous about reproductive rights, but we all know we’re just blowing smoke. We are just so fucking jealous of Sarah Palin. She has a book and everything! You don’t hear about feminists writing books, now do you?

Now quit being jealous and start making some babies, for god’s sake.

Getting to 101

A Shapeling (who wishes to remain anonymous for the purpose of this thread) has some questions she’s been mulling after some of our recent discussions about gender and feminism. What do you do when the men in your life are only partway to feminism — when they agree that, say, women should have equal pay for equal work, and that rape is bad, but they think the rest of it is silly or overreacting? Or when they don’t accept that some of their own behavior — whether it’s as “minor” as flirting in the street or as major as thinking their sexual needs are more urgent and non-negotiable than their female partners’ — contributes to the culture of sexism?

Our Shapeling asks:

So I guess my question is, how do you navigate this type of territory?  How do you educate a loved one about their own sexist behavior when they don’t believe they are being sexist?  Without any back story, the easy response is that I should just dump him if he can’t learn to respect me and take me seriously…  But what do you do about men you can’t dump?  What do you do if it’s like, your uncle, or your dad, or your brother?  You can’t just dump your family.  So what are you supposed to do when you’re dealing with someone who, for the most part, is on board with your feminism, but still has certain sexist expectations about you, and is unwilling to admit or acknowledge that certain behaviors are sexist?

I’m sure we all have some experience with negotiating our own feminism (and other commitments to social justice) with reluctant people in our lives. What do you do when people you care about convinced they’re not sexist — and are wrong?

Have you tried not being so sexy?

The paper this morning had a wire article about the Navy moving to station women aboard submarines. Apparently, male sailors’ wives are objecting, on the grounds that this is “just asking for sexual harassment cases and wrecked marriages.”

On blogs and online networking sites, wives of submariners have warned that the close contact could lead to sexual temptation and other complications.

“I completely believe this would put strain on some relationships because there are trust issues,” said Jennifer Simmons, whose husband serves on a submarine at Kings Bay. “It’s asking for sexual harassment cases left and right. If you’re trying to go through a passageway together, guess what — you’re going to touch.”

You’re going to touch. And that will constitute an irresistible temptation to something that can either wreck a marriage or lead to a harassment suit. (The harassment itself gets glossed over — what really ruins lives is being disciplined for it!)  Sexual harassment cases and ruined marriages don’t come from unscrupulous men, after all; they come from accessible women. No man has ever cheated with a woman who wasn’t anywhere near him at any point, right? QED.

The assumption that men can’t resist inappropriate behavior made me think of SP favorite Lord Saletan, who has rather unsurprisingly revealed himself to be Team Child Rape. For most of Saletan’s article, the main head-smacker is his atrocious fact-checking — he assumes that a 1977 parole report’s reference to “evidence that the victim was willing” means she said yes, when in fact it meant only that she’d had sex before. The trick of dredging rape victims’ sexual history as though it’s relevant is not exactly a 21st century invention, so while the victim’s grand jury testimony made it painfully clear that she did not give consent, she was also made to admit that she wasn’t a virgin. Apparently, in the minds of the people who drew up the parole report, this meant she was probably panting for it. Saletan’s not the one who made this leap — he just let it be made for him, and didn’t bother questioning it, because he’s an intellectually lazy self-satisfied bag of wind.

The point where my eyes stopped rolling and started shooting fire, though, was when Lord S. pulled out this gem:

A guy who goes after 5-year-old girls is deeply pathological. A guy who goes after a womanly body that happens to be 13 years old is failing to regulate a natural attraction. That doesn’t excuse him. But it does justify treating him differently.

See, if you rape a child who looks like a child, the problem is you. If you rape a child who looks like a woman, the problem is that women are just so damn sexy! It’s just a natural attraction that you didn’t regulate, you wicked thing. We don’t condone it, tsk-tsk and all that — but really, did you see the cans on her? What were you supposed to do? Like the Navy wives, Lord S. thinks that just being near women is enough to turn a man into a bonobo. (Note to Saletan: Yes, there may be a moral difference between sex with a prepubescent child and sex with someone who is a willing and enthusiastic participant but immature. Breasts are not that difference. Oh, and this girl was not that participant.)

This isn’t just a problem if you’re underwater or at Jack Nicholson’s house. We’ve recently had a number of dudes dropping in to complain that asking them to be sensitive to women’s boundaries is essentially cock-blocking them. Sure, they say, if they don’t talk to us when we clearly don’t want them to, they’ll be making us feel less threatened in a world where one in six women is the victim of sexual assault — but on the other hand, they won’t get to talk to us, and how is that fair? Nothing interferes with a man’s ability to score like a woman who doesn’t think his ego trumps her safety. Underlying this argument, along with a host of other scuzzy notions, is the same idea Saletan spikes and the Navy wives catch: that taking a “womanly body” out in public is an a priori invitation for male attention. Of course dudes think they can get up in your grill — you’re standing there being a lady at them, after all. And if you’re on a crowded subway car together, you’re going to touch. We all know what that leads to.

The flip side of this charming worldview, of course, is male anger at women who don’t make themselves available — see many of our friends in that now-closed thread — or women who have the gall to have a body they find unattractive. That’s the real problem with feminism, with fatness, with (for some pseudo-enlightened guys) the extremely thin beauty ideal: it’s a boner-killer, and boner primacy is a paramount law of the dude cabal. You don’t have to read very far between the lines of most troll comments to see that’s what it boils down to: how dare you possess a womanly body I can’t or don’t want to fuck.

Then there were the guys who were clutching their pearls (if you know what I mean) in the epic thread, horrified that women might think they were a danger. After all, it’s not their fault that women feel threatened — they’re decent, humane guys. Maybe some men are dangerous, but not them, and aren’t we really creating the problem by not letting them prove how decent they are all over us?

Those guys are right, sort of. There are lots of great men out there — you can tell who they are because when they read that thread, or Saletan’s piece, they go “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?” And it really isn’t fair that sometimes their wives also think they can’t be trusted in a sub with 138 other guys and a lady. That’s not their fault. But it’s also not their wives’ fault, or the ladies’ fault. It’s the fault of a culture that tells all of us, over and over, that men just don’t have the ability to resist. A culture that assumes it’s women’s responsibility to keep themselves armored and invisible, because sexual violence is a direct result of temptation.

In other words, the same cultural bullshit that asserts men’s right to invade women’s personal space and/or fuck 13-year-olds also perpetuates the notion that men are more dick than brain. That’s why they just have to talk to women, when they can see the women don’t want to! That’s why they get addled by a womanly body when they know it comes with a pubescent mind! They don’t have the willpower or intelligence to not act like cavemen, at least not when faced with feminine wiles.

Fuck that noise! The real decent guys sure don’t deserve that. And the pearl-clutchers, the ones who were horrified by our insistence that rape doesn’t occur in the passive voice… well, who says they deserve it either?

In the epic thread (have I mentioned it’s closed?), Kate explained why men don’t get cookies for respecting boundaries:

[A]lthough you can’t be 100% sure you haven’t missed some sort of opportunity, you can be 100% sure that you haven’t contributed to making a woman feel unsafe in public. Why the hell is that not seen as its own reward?

I promise you, guys, you will not miss out on meeting “the one” by erring on the side of caution here. You will still talk to loads and loads of women in your lives, some of whom will be both attractive and attracted to you, and will make their interest clear. You lose nothing by not talking to a woman when you can’t quite tell if she wants to talk — and you gain the satisfaction of helping to create a culture in which women are treated with respect and can feel safe in public. Why do you keep insisting you’re owed more than that?

But what if that’s not good enough for you? What if you’re the kind of self-styled decent guy who still doesn’t feel like it’s fundamentally worthwhile to contribute to a culture where women don’t feel threatened because they aren’t threatened? What reason do you have to forego the rape-joke T-shirts, notice body language signals, object to misogyny, back off when asked to, maintain a comfortable distance, or any of the other little things you can do to bring rape culture down by degrees? If the well-being of women isn’t enough for you, consider this: patriarchy thinks you’re fucking stupid. It thinks you’re a penis without a brain that’s worthwhile and powerful only because women are vaginas without brains and that’s somehow worse. It thinks you’re untrustworthy, that you can’t be left alone with a woman, that you can’t be left alone with a child. Feminists didn’t make that shit up — they’re just noting it and passing it on. You can decide what you want to do about it — but don’t think you can pick and choose which of patriarchy’s mandates apply to you. This is a package deal, my friend. If women’s worth is only in fuckability, then men are just dumb fuckers. We think better of men. Do you?

Something reminded me of this recently…

…I can’t imagine what.

As bonus weekend fluff, please enjoy this old chestnut from The Onion: Man Finally Put In Charge Of Struggling Feminist Movement. Excerpt:

“All the feminist movement needed to do was bring on someone who had the balls to do something about this glass ceiling business,” said McGowan, who quickly closed the 23.5 percent gender wage gap by “making a few calls to the big boys upstairs.” “In the world of gender identity and empowered female sexuality, it’s all about who you know.”

McGowan, who was selected from a pool of roughly 150 million candidates, made eliminating sexual harassment his first priority before working on securing reproductive rights for women in all 50 states, and promoting healthy body images through an influx of strong, independent female characters in TV, magazines, and film.

“It’s about time,” McGowan said upon returning from a golf game with several “network honchos” in which he brokered a deal to bring a variety of women’s sports to prime-time television. “These ladies should have brought me on years ago.”

Well, that was interesting

I posted the last post because I wanted some peace and quiet for a change (and also because it was easier than any of the other posts I’ve been contemplating, la la la). But instead it just made me confused and kind of upset.

Because the count right now is 32 comments (plus two responses) and two emails to me from readers going “what the hell? How are there so many comments on this?” Reader Olga put it particularly well: “Total conjecture here on my part, but I feel that perhaps this kind of harassment is so systemic that it goes on unnoticed by a lot of people, or that it is tolerated to a point where people wouldn’t even recognize this kind of behavior has violating someones space.”

And she’s right. At first I was policing, and I did delete one comment that said “no, this hasn’t happened to me except the times it’s happened to me,” but in the end I thought it would be more useful to leave them up and say “look what’s happening here.” No, nobody’s ever refused to stop talking to me except old men. No, nobody’s ever called out at me except construction workers. No, nobody’s done this recently. No, nobody’s done this since I was in junior high. No, nobody’s hit on me per se.

Here’s the stat I wanted to give: we have 32 comments and 2,008 views on this post as of right now (it’s only been up a couple hours but I got tired of monitoring comments). That’s about 1.6 percent of readers reporting a harassment-free existence. But of course in the end it’s more interesting to analyze the positive space than the negative, so now I’m more interested in the caveats.

Think about your experience when you read that question. Was there someone you were discounting — people you expect it from, people who were just trying to be friendly, people who weren’t perfect strangers? Did you interpret “refusing to leave you alone” as “hitting on you openly,” and feel bad that you don’t experience that kind of attention? Did you interpret “setting boundaries” as “shutting them down explicitly and decisively” and discount the situations where they kept talking as you kept walking or reading or smiling tersely? Did you wonder what it was about you that kept people from talking to you, as though it’s a failure (or a feature) when other women get unwanted attention?

What are we excusing? Why are we excusing it?

Expecting crickets

Out of curiosity, and because I’m sure we could all use a break from 500-comment threads in which men drop by to deny or devalue our experience: I’d like you to comment on this post only if you are a woman who has NOT EVER had a man continue interacting with you against your will after you have answered tersely, turned away, walked on, put on your headphones, gone back to your book, resumed your conversation, told him you did indeed have a boyfriend, denied his request, or asked him to leave you alone. Comment only if the men you’ve encountered have consistently respected your boundaries and acknowledged your right to have them.

You don’t have to go on at length — just let us know how old you are and where you live.

ETA: For the sake of science I am combining comments from the same person, and deleting ones that say “yes, this has happened to me.” I’m interested in an at-a-glance count. (ETAA: Ok, clearly I gave up on that.)

ETA II: I meant to make this clear but maybe I didn’t — I’m not talking about guys hitting on you specifically. I’m talking about any insistent attempt to insert themselves into your consciousness, positive or negative. Let me know if you want to recant your comment in light of that.

ETA III: SM tried to ruin my extremely scientific and not at all gimmicky comments count by posting the following re: comments like “I must exude a don’t-fuck-with-me quality”:

I appreciate the sentiment behind this, but this kind of statement comes really close to implying that people who do get harassed have brought it on themselves.

I agree with her — I exude a very strong don’t-fuck-with-me quality and I still get insistent positive or negative attention from the kind of guys who don’t care. It’s not about that. You may have some quality that prevents you from noticing when people demand to be acknowledged, but there is no quality that invites or deters it.

Finally, I asked for the negative space of street harassment because I think we could all use a little peace and quiet, but of course if you want examples of what it looks like when it does happen there are more than enough available here.

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.

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