Monday, December 10, 2012

Screw Nice...I Wish.

[Content note: discussion of street harassment and rape culture.]

I was recently talking with a friend about a situation she's been dealing with in her apartment complex parking lot. A man regularly harasses her. Here's a bit of her back story on him: 
Today when he asked whether I would ever date him if he were single, I did say, "Aren't you a little old for me?" As in, listen you middle-aged weirdo, this is never going to happen, plus you're married! However, he creepily said, "I think I'm just the right age, these young boys don't know what they're doing..."
Initially I was just like, oh he's just a flirty guy so maybe I shouldn't take this stuff so seriously. But he has said some things that are really not okay, like, "What would you do if I kidnapped you and took you away?" And he presented it as though it would be a welcome gesture, like he would be sweeping me off my feet and taking me somewhere nice. Except he def used the word "kidnapped."
I'm sure that most women can relate to this experience. It's sadly common in our society.

In talking with my friend, I began to think more deeply about how women are at a multiple disadvantages in this situation. Not only are men socialized to think that this behavior is acceptable, but women are socialized to just play nice. My friend was having a really hard time not responding positively to these advances--not because she was into it--but because she worries about what might happen to her if she just flat out told him to fuck off. He knows where she lives. Her mind can't help but go to scary places when she's having interactions like this.

And that's how rape culture works, you know. In broad generalizations, it creates a society where women live in fear (for good reason) and men feel free to say whatever they want to the woman who lives a few apartments down.

In an ideal world, people wouldn't experience street harassment. Full stop. In a slightly less ideal world, if you did experience street harassment, you would at least feel free to react in any manner you see fit. Women wouldn't operate under some artificial requirement to play nice. We'd tell the harasser to leave us alone and that would be that. But we don't live in either of those worlds. Like I said before, we live in a society which tells girls not to rock the boat, boys to say whatever they want, and beyond that--one which normalizes rape.

So when I talk to my friends about these situations, I say things like, "Stop being so nice." and "Send him an icy message that lets him know you're not OK with it." But it's more complicated than that, isn't it?

I want to scream SCREW NICE at the top of my lungs.  I want to tell every jackass who's ever told a lady to "smile baby" to mind his own damn business. I want to hold a rally in support of female curmudgeonly behavior. But I know that all of this is so much easier said that done. I wish a "screw nice" mentality would work. And I wish that women could feel safe employing it whenever they'd like. (What obligation do we owe the world to be nice anyway?!)

But the truth is that the more important goal here is for women to stay safe. And that is how it will be until we shift our cultural narrative to tell boys that they shouldn't assert control over anyone and DON'T RAPE instead of telling girls to be nice and don't get raped.

1 comment:

  1. Just yesterday this topic came up with two of my guy friends, who consider themselves feminists and are both (truly) nice guys. I mentioned that I wanted to leave where we had been sitting because a man across from us kept staring at me, and it made me uncomfortable.

    One friend asked, "But don't girls like that attention? Don't they like it when guys check them out or catcall them?"

    It took a moment for the inanity of what my allegedly-progressive friend had just said to register. I replied, "I don't like it. I find it demeaning and frightening."

    The other friend asked, "You're strong, you're confident; why don't you just tell them to go fuck themselves?"

    When I said that it was because I was afraid the man would then harass me further, perhaps going so far as to follow/stalk or attack me, they said, "No, that wouldn't happen."

    I cut my losses then. I was entirely caught off-guard by how anyone could be so delusional. Upon reflection, I realized that is was as simple as male privilege and the perpetuation of rape culture. No one is immune to the effects of this harmful thinking.


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