The #yesallwomen hashtag has done what few hashtags do – something useful. Everywhere: on Twitter, on Facebook, on Tumblr. I could talk about what an interesting media-ecology case study it is. But that’s not important.
As background: a lunatic, whose name isn’t worth recording, murdered several people last week, claiming a right to punish women for their disinterest. “You denied me a happy life,” he said.
The only good to come of it was this huge, frank, viral, necessary conversation about how, while there are very few bad people in this world, every single female has – often – felt afraid because of a man’s words or actions. (Two good articles on the phenomenon are on CNN and Mashable.)
The reason I think it needs talking about is that it’s surprising to women that it’s surprising to men.
In my teens I learned how to stay poker-faced and pretend a catcall hadn’t happened. In my twenties I learned how to have pointy elbows in crowded places to get unwanted hands off my chest. In my thirties I learned where to draw the line between keeping my job and calling out the illegal actions of a pervert.
I don’t feel particularly bad about any of that. It’s life. All women consider what to do when walking into a dark parking lot. All women figure out how to turn down a stranger’s advance in the way least likely to get him angry. All women have been sexually harassed. (Yes, all women.) And for one in four of us, all that knowledge and experience won’t be enough, and we’ll be sexually assaulted. So yes, all women worry.
The problem is that it’s automatic for us.
We don’t explain, “Seven is fine, and by the way, I’ll have calibrated what shoes I want to wear against the fact that I’ll be meeting you on a dimly lit street.” We just do it.
Once a colleague asked why I’d shifted out of the back corner of a crowded elevator. He was baffled. He’s also very tall and broad. It never occurred to him to think like that, because he’d never needed to. But it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t have.
Certainly, the fact that women have to think this way is a problem. I think, though, that the way to make headway is to help men see that we do – why we do – when we do – how we do.
Every women gets lectures on rape whistles and holding keys, on pepper spray and groin kicks. (Yes, all women.) We text each other before and after first dates, and we can tell at a glance from fifty feet when our friend needs extrication from a guy who won’t go away.
Most guys don’t know these things. Because they’re unlikely to need to. But is that a good reason?
Margaret Atwood has a characteristically razor-sharp quote:
“‘Why do men feel threatened by women? …’They’re afraid women will laugh at them… Undercut their world view.’ ‘
Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed.'”
…but I may like Louis C.K.’s “There is no greater threat to women” even better. I’m glad he’s talking about it. I wish more dads did. I wish more men did. (Yes, all men.)
Go read those links in the first paragraph. If you’re female, it’s worth remembering. If you’re male, it’s worth realizing. Either way, it’s worth talking about.