8 Jun 2007, Comments Off on I was going to title this Men Behaving Badly but it doesn’t even begin to describe it

I was going to title this Men Behaving Badly but it doesn’t even begin to describe it

Author: Helen

So, I’m standing in the pub having a drink and minding my own business, and one of my dearest friends is standing right next to me doing likewise, when she’s suddenly sexually assaulted (or subjected to high-level harassment and intimidation, I’m not interested in arguing the toss) by a man she doesn’t know and to whom she’s been introduced about a minute earlier. By me. For fuck’s sake.

The man is someone I know slightly; I’ve met him, socially, about four or five times. He’s never given any indication of being anything other than a nice guy. No, make that Nice Guy™. He just walked up to her with no warning and bearhugged her. And then didn’t let go.

Funny how a bearhug can go from slightly inappropriate to downright creepy in ten seconds or so. Thirty seconds to a minute later it’s getting really scary.

Then he whispered in her ear that he’d like a blow job. And then once she shook him off, he stalked her, creepily, until oh-so-politely chucked out by the bar staff.

Now I know that according to Helen Garner, in this situation I’m supposed to just come down on his foot, hard, with a spiked heel or something. (Hi-yaaaa! optional). Unfortunately, not only was I not wearing sharp high heels, but my reaction to this egregious behaviour was my usual: having brought up since birth to be polite, to be nice, incidents like these leave me paralysed, with my brain throwing out its customary 404 error message: This is not fucking happening!?

I didn’t hear the blow job bit, so I’d like to think that if I had that would have jolted me out of my social rictus and prompted me to action. Incidents like these remind me of Germaine Greer’s famous quotation, “women don’t realize how much men hate them.”

You know, even spending hours as I do in the threads of feminist blogs, I constantly forget just how powerful white male privilege still is, once I get back out into the world of my friends and family and workmates. Well, that’s not to say I don’t note it, but I lose the gut sense of it. He didn’t think to ask before touching, because in his drunken state she had become just like a book in a shelf he was welcome to take out and browse, or a chocolate in a box, instead of a human being like himself. That’s the true meaning of that old sixties word, objectification. Objectification in action.

Can you imagine– I’m talking to a hypothetical female reader here, I guess– being so engorged with privilege and dominance that you’d think you had permission to wrap your arms around a complete stranger and whisper lewd comments in their ear? Me neither.

If you think the personal isn’t political, I’m sorry, you’re dreaming. “…[T]he harm of sexual harassment as a harm to women’s citizenship or personhood….We are degraded … when our ‘sex’ is defined, symbolised and treated as antithetical to equal personhood and citizenship.” I’ll also mention that from the little I know about this man, he chooses to portray himself as fully conversant with and sympathetic to the goals of feminism. For which all the more shame on him. It just reinforces what the world has tried to teach me, with so little success: Trust nobody!

I think another ingredient in my state of shock was the fact that my friend and I are over forty, and so we usually fly under the sexual predators’ radar. It’s been a while since I worried about this sort of thing happening to me or my friends. But it brought back the memory that yes, when we were in our teens and twenties and even thirties, we had to put up with this kind of low-level menace all the fucking time. Maybe I lost a lot of my useful anger. Maybe I needed a recharge.

The next day, I rediscovered the wonderful Crimitism, who very much gets it, and read through the comment thread on the YouTube page for the Girls Rock! documentary trailer. It’s disheartening. We all know these attitudes are as strong as ever and there’s still a cohort of boys growing up in the FHM style of relating to women.

Laura has had a different kind of scary brush with bizarro man, too. Different behaviour, same idea: entitlement, entitlement, entitlement. I wish I’d had the guts to respond in the way she did.

Comments (0)

  • tigtog says:

    Oh Helen, how dreadful for your friend, and for you as well. The combination of falling into the “niceness” paralysis and having been the one to introduce him must be a nasty jolt as well.

    You know I’m going to be feverishly wondering who this arsehat is now, don’t you?

  • Helen says:

    Thanks Tigtog.

    I’ve always been that way. Deer in headlights. Then angry afterwards.

    The combination of falling into the “niceness” paralysis and having been the one to introduce him must be a nasty jolt as well.

    Yes, and true to form I spent the next night and day blaming myself for having summoned the person by inviting all and sundry to come along via my blog (see “gig guide”.) And for not having stomped on him with a stiletto heel, etc.

    You know, fuck that.

    It’s his responsibility, not mine. Yet again, I’m falling into the mental trap of making myself reponsible for policing their behaviour. But, I don’t know how I could prevent a thing like that happening apart from making sure that I never have anything to do with anyone I haven’t known since birth. And as you well know, I won’t be able to weed out the eedjits even then. I know you aren’t suggesting I could have prevented it – it’s just my self-punishing self-talk. But (let’s repeat it) fuck that!!

  • tigtog says:

    I know you aren’t suggesting I could have prevented it – it’s just my self-punishing self-talk. But (let’s repeat it) fuck that!!

    fuck that indeed. What sort of divine creator came up with the idea of having arsehats without identifying marks anyway,eh?

  • kate says:

    I was going to comment that you were probably feeling guilty about introducing them, and that you shouldn’t, but the conversation has moved on without me. For all the same reasons that it’s not your fault you introduced him to your friend, it’s not your responsibility to police someone else’s behaviour with spike heels.

    “he chooses to portray himself as fully conversant with and sympathetic to the goals of feminism”
    I used to have a boss who portrayed himself as fully conversant with feminism and discrimination law. He was harassing my (then 19 year old) best mate regularly at the same time.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    ‘Incidents like these remind me of Germaine Greer’s famous quotation, “women don’t realize how much men hate them.”’

    Garner said it too, (I think) earlier.

    ‘ … she picked up off the counter one of those little four-page bulletins on duplicator paper which announce the results of inter-pub darts and pool competitions. There was a joke at the bottom of the page. She read it.

    Gynaecologist to dentist: “I don’t know how you can stand your job, smelling people’s bad breath all day.”‘

    Her legs surprised her: that old, almost forgotten sensation, as if all the blood were draining rapidly out of them, leaving them fragile and chalky, unable to support her. They do hate us, she thought. The weight of disgust that loaded the simple joke made her bones weak.’

    (The Children’s Bach, 1984)

    Just to be clear: I absolutely agree with you about spike heels, etc, but I also don’t think Garner deserves to be a lightning rod for anger at crap male behaviour.

    Disclosure: Garner is a friend and has been since long before the Ormond College fiasco, so of course it makes me sad to see her targeted in this kind of story. You’re right, the harasser in question is the person who deserves your anger. In fact I’m wondering whether pulling the punch by not outing him is part of the paralysing niceness you so brilliantly describe, something from which I too have suffered. Not that I’m recommending outing: the rest of the brotherhood would be down on you and probably by extension the rest of us like a ton of bricks. Which is is just another manifestation of the bind that women are all, even now, still in.

  • Helen says:

    Sorry if I appeared to be targeting Garner per se, Pav, I was just targeting one of her less convincing utterances. I mean, she’s completely right – and also wrong at the same time, because she does discount the years and years of conditioning, and as I say, Teh Entitlement.

    You’re right about the ton of bricks thing.

    Your Garner quote about the joke reminded me of the Kathy Sierra death threats thing (if anyone doesn’t know what the hell I’m on about, start with Wikipedia, and Pandagon’s also a good source.) There were some similar”jokes” made in the course of that. This stuff sure as hell isn’t dying out naturally.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    Oh yes, pussy “jokes” are always current.

    ‘[Garner] does discount the years and years of conditioning, and as I say, Teh Entitlement’

    At that point, indeed she does, and I have always found it puzzling — because other stories elsewhere in the book (the one about the masseur, for example) provide excellent examples of the paralysis thing and show much insight into why we do it.

    This sorry episode with your friend is a very sobering take on the whole notion of online community, isn’t it. One thinks one knows people … and then one turns out to be wrong.

  • Laura says:

    On the paralysis: I was sitting next to my charmer for over an hour before I spoke. If I hadn’t had to sit there I would definitely not have engaged.

    When I worked in retail it was fairly common for men to expose themselves to female shop assistants in the changing room. (Probably still is.) I had the paralysis then, too.

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about this piece in the UK Telegraph.

  • Helen says:

    Pav

    This sorry episode with your friend is a very sobering take on the whole notion of online community, isn’t it. One thinks one knows people … and then one turns out tobe wrong.

    This is the other aspect to this sorry saga, and another reason why I hesitated to post about it. I’ve worked VERY HARD to convince my totally off-line friends that just because blogs are to do with Teh Internets, they are not a place of porn and sleaze and craaaaazy stalkers, and that I’ve made friends through it IRL that I very much value. Thanks Pubgroper man for giving fuel to that stereotype. I just hope my local blog friends aren’t offended or feel smeared by association, and understand that I just didn’t want to be made to shut up about this one

    Look at it this way though. I knew this guy, and I know my blogfriends, in a similar way to knowing
    -my workmates;
    -A sporting team I might play with every Thursday night;
    -A book club;
    .. Well, you get the idea.

    Also, when anyone I’ve met through the blogosphere manages to fuck me over as completely as some people I’ve met first in “real life”, I’ll be… well, very surprised.

  • Oh my goodness, I have so much to say about this, and a comparable tale to add, but partner is hassling me to get ready to go out.

    This is shithouse, and all I can say for now is, power to you, Helen. Hope to come back and add more.

  • Helen says:

    On the paralysis: I was sitting next to my charmer for over an hour before I spoke. If I hadn’t had to sit there I would definitely not have engaged.

    That would have made me more unlikely to speak up because I’d have been scared of his possible reaction, although I would have expected cringeworthy rather than the scary reality. So all the more kudos to you.

    I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about this piece in the UK Telegraph.

    First thought: OMG the poor menz!!!!!!!

    Second thought: This is why I don’t read tabloids, especially the British ones.

    Third thought: Creepy guy acts creepy and creeps out a whole lot of women, but it’s all their fault. Also the Feminists.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    On the Telegraph piece — I don’t think I’ve ever seen a writer in print quite so out of control of his/her tone and narrative voice. It’s impossible to tell how ironic he is being, if at all, and in which bits.

    But on the whole I agree with Helen: it’s Awwwww, the poor menz. And the mean ol’ feminazis — but we all know what they need, hur hur.

    If he were serious about the Jane Austen business he’d know that a gentleman does not address a lady, much less vice versa, until after they have been introduced.

  • Helen – sounds ugly.

    I’m always deer in headlights gobsmacked when things happen that I think are so far out field that no one would do it. I don’t think it’s just a female thing. It takes time to register something over the top. Things that are more subtle or near in context are often easier / quicker to object to.

  • Richie says:

    I had a deer in the headlights reaction about two hours ago. I was out at the shops at the guy serving me launched into this rant about women should never be in management, because they’re all moody bitches who can’t control themselves. My response as “Uh guh mhuh hum uh hmm can I have a bag thanks?”.

    (I’ve been following this thread with interest, I just have very little to add. Also, danke schoen for the link).

  • Helen says:

    I’m always deer in headlights gobsmacked when things happen that I think are so far out field that no one would do it.

    I had a deer in the headlights reaction about two hours ago.

    So it isn’t just me. Thanks!
    I’m like some computer applications, sometimes if things are “so far out field that no one would do it”, to quote FX, I just hang and spew out an error message.

    If I’m crossing a road and I misjudge, or someone is doing the wrong thing and I’m in danger of being mown down, I have a tendency to freeze on the spot rather than jump or dive out of the way! Is that not f##ing terrible reflexes?! No wonder I was never good at ball sports. In prehistoric times I’d probably be dead. Does anyone else react this way to near-accidents?

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    I think there’s a particular kind of deer in headlights thing about women exposed to grossly inappropriate sexual behaviour. Helen’s thing about the error message is right (‘OMG this is not happening’) and so is Tigtog’s astute comment about niceness; I can’t speak for anyone else, but when in those situations myself (I can think of at least five I’ve been in over the years, although nothing quite as gross as having some bloke whip his dick out at me in the clothes-store changing room — what an interesting life you’ve had, Laura!), one of my reasons for pretending it didn’t happen is the fact that I feel deeply embarrassed for the man in question and there’s a kind of not wanting to bring to his attention the fact that he is complete arse kind of thing going on.

    Also, though, I have to say there is an element of fear. Most men if outed in that kind of situation will turn on you and abuse you.

  • Lad Litter says:

    A very disturbing incident. And if your defence had been vigorous, fully justified. I completely understand the deer in the headlights phenomenon, too. You just can’t believe it’s happening. I’ve been the same on many different occasions. Sometimes even when I CAN believe what’s happening. And thanks for the Nice Guy link. It was fascinating and discomforting reading all at once. I don’t like admitting this, but I would have fitted quite a few parts of the profile way back when. Some snap out of it, some don’t. I hope your dearest friend’s okay.

  • Ann of Brisbane says:

    It’s a mixture of ‘deer in the headlights’ and powerlessness….
    This last week or so I’ve had to make a daily trip from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast.
    Along the way the trip takes me through a certain local govt area where I worked back in the 70s as a young woman.
    The names of two senior people are commemorated on signage for local features.
    I am reminded of the bullying unpleasant ways of these two men, not just to me but to other young women who had positions of some responsibility despite their youthfullness.
    We’ve come some way but many women have had to put up with quite a lot of s**t along the way.

  • Laura says:

    Oh, I just thought Telegraph Man was entirely serious. If there’s an attempt at irony there, it’s pathetically weak.

    I found that article because I subscribe to a Jane Austen mentioned in the press feed. Sad, yes, but when Louisa Musgrove jumped off the Cobb and cracked her head open on the stones, and everyone ran round freaking out, Anne Elliot didn’t freeze up or otherwise lose it. So there you go, Jane Austen wrote a whole novel that pivots on how people act in emergencies. I haven’t had many close shaves or near-accidents but I doubt I’d acquit myself very well.

    The changing room flashers would take the jeans into the change room, remove their own jeans and their undies, put on the shop jeans, leave all the fly buttons undone but do up the waistband one, then flop the member out through the open fly. They would then attempt to engage you in conversation about how well or badly the pants fitted. One man I remember especially well also put his hands in his pockets to make the fly gape open extra widely.

    Sorry if anyone’s trying to eat.

  • kate says:

    I didn’t have the deer in the headlights problem when I was younger, it’s definitely something I’ve learned as an adult, as my perception of what an angry misogynist might do in retaliation if I laugh. Which is what I did when I was in year 8 and a bloke at the bus stop started w@nking at the sight of school girls. We were on the bus and he wasn’t, so there was also the safety of the group and the bus door between us. I doubt I’d laugh if I was closer, and without a gang.

    My little sister worked in a jeans shop one summer, in Niddrie, but she told me the biggest problem was being subjected to 3AW all day. I suppose it was a different kind of clientele.

    Last week when we were watching The Amazing Race my partner was deeply shocked by one of the male contestants referring to his female opponent as a hooker (for the terrible crime of being better at the game than him). I wasn’t shocked at all, which lead to a discussion of how I’d concluded quite a while ago that this contestant hated women (including his girlfriend, but I hate her too) while my partner hadn’t really noticed until it involved some ugly language. Probably because my partner has never had a night out ruined by a man like that, and hasn’t been trained to keep an eye out, at all times, just in case.

  • Helen says:

    My pub / party conversations this weekend have mirrored this thread – so many stories. Everybody’s got one.

    Kate, WordPress thinks w@nking is an email address, which is kind of funny. Wonder if anyone would reply to it?

  • I once read a marvellous essay by Pavlov’s Cat about harrassment, not quite of this kind, but still of the kind that gives us this kind of paralysis.

    To this day I have an avuncular male relative who makes inappropriate physical gestures and comments to me, but they’re “jokey” or drunken enough for other relatives to suggest I’m prim or earnest for taking offence. I’ve thought about this long and hard: I don’t THINK I’m prim or earnest, but his behaviour has always felt like icky harrassment, particularly as he’s a generation older than me.

    Whenever this occurs, I’m left feeling that I’m the one who’s being precious.

  • kate says:

    By definition, if it feels icky, and you’ve complained, it’s harassment.

    Helen I didn’t want to compound the issue by finding you some new trolls.

  • Helen says:

    I’m with Kate.
    But it’s always so hard to initiate those conversations isn’t it?

  • Helen says:

    GoTA, you read my moind. I discovered the article you’re talking about (I think) called “Needing His Signature”, while searching for the shoe-heel quote.

    If you haven’t seen this, read the whole thing.

  • Yes! That’s the article! It’s brilliant!

    (Thanks Kate and Helen. I should know this, of course. It’s often difficult to apply theory to personal, nuanced situations)

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    *Blushes*

    I wrote that essay the year after I resigned from academe and plunged blindly into the precarious life of the freelance writer, and it shocks me a bit to re-read it. I’d forgotten how angry I was.

    It’s all true, of course. If anything, I pulled some punches, and I completely left out the most egregious and blatant episode of all … because for anyone who knows me or my erstwhile workplace it’s just too easy to identify the perp. Or mis-identify him, which I would not want to be responsible for either.

    (There’s that nice girl again. Sigh.)

  • Douglas says:

    I’ve read the comments and surprised that no-one has brought up what is an appropoiate response in this situation?
    The high heel may provoke a sharp physical response. A shouted scathing reply would be best.
    I can’t think of a good one, only-
    “I don’t want HIV.”
    “I haven’t sharpened my teeth.”
    “Lose your virginity somewhere else.”

    Any suggstions?

    A little test from real life.

    N****** is a 60yo female taxi driver who drives nights. One night a drunk raised his hand to strike her.
    What would you do in this case? She can’t get away she can only defend herself with her voice. Think about it.

    She said words to the effect of “That is like hitting your Mother.” That stopped him cold. The perfect reply in a split second.

    On the subject of “Deer in the headlights.” (dith) This may also be known as reverse panic. One is overwhealmed by circumstances. If it has a component of learned submissiveness the sooned that goes the better.

    Emergency services, police, pilots and the military practice responses to emergency situations so that it becomes a reflex.

    Letting creeps get away with this only encourages them.

    Douglas

  • Helen says:

    Fished you out of the spam trap, Doug. Sorry.

    I’m afraid had I got over my freeziness, my scathing reply would have been far less respectable than the taxi driver’s. I take your point about the reverse panic – I’d like to do something to unlearn that. If only to avoid being run down by a bus.

  • Zoe says:

    Laura, did you ever say “Do you want them to fit so that everyone can see you’ve got a small penis?”

    Didn’t think so.

    I don’t get my personal space invaded much because I’m 5’11 and very bossy. Doesn’t stop me feeling scared though.

  • derrida derider says:

    Unfortunately its true – a lot of men are just arseholes. I blame their fathers. On behalf of my half of the human race I can only apologize.

    I forbade my own newly teenage daughter to date “until you’re old enough to have the balls to yell out in a crowded cinema ‘get your filthy hands off me'”. Fortunately she’s a pretty assertive young woman, so the interdict didn’t last long (I judged she was old enough when she could stand up to me on this).

    I do think people underestimate the effects of relative physical size here, though – if you’re big it’s a lot easier to deal with deadshits confidently. An unfortunate fact of life.

  • Helen says:

    DD, totally off topic, but Derrida Derider has always been my favourite internet moniker. Partly because a member of my family IS a Derrida derider, it’s always been hilarious to me.

    Mine’s 15 – I guess yours is roughly the same? I’m not sure how to approach this topic with her. She’s a big strong gel and has attitude to match, so would probably roll her eyes and say “please.” But it’s different when you’re actually in the “WTF?!” zone.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    ‘I do think people underestimate the effects of relative physical size here, though – if you’re big it’s a lot easier to deal with deadshits confidently. An unfortunate fact of life.’

    I agree — I’d never given this much thought until the Bloke, who is ginormous, said he’d never felt physically threatened by anyone, ever. It’s not just about it being easier to deal with deadshits, either — deadshits are too scared of him to p*ss him off in the first place.

  • Madison says:

    Trackback

    There’s no system foolproof enough to defeat a sufficiently great fool

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