There's a big deal happening in the skeptics community because Rebecca Watson was propositioned in an elevator at a conference, told the story publicly, and concluded with "don't do that guys"
. The entire community exploded in opposite directions, with clueless men saying "what's the big deal? Just tell the guy no" and women and men who "get it" trying to explain why this was so bad.
The biggest complaint is that poor, privileged men got their feelings hurt by a woman saying "don't proposition a woman at 4 AM in an elevator where she can't escape" because, they think, it must have implied that men can't ever speak to or look at a woman anywhere, at any time, ever, because all men are always a threat to all women. Always.
And that is not what the women are saying at all. It's not that all men are automatically a threat. It's that we have been told BY MEN from the day we are born that someday, some man is going to come along and rape us. Not only is he going to try to assault us, but it will be our own fault. Because of what we wear, what we say, or where we are, some man is going to be so overcome with lust at something that WE DID, that he will assault us, and that it is our own responsibility to avoid this attack by choosing our clothing, our behaviour, our words, our locations to prevent some guy from losing control of himself.
No, it's not that every man is a threat. It's that SOME man is a threat, but we have no way of knowing WHICH man he is until it's too late. And that the reason why he is a threat is because of something that we did to bring it upon ourselves, and that we live in a society that will scrutinize our every move and our every thought to see if it can find exactly what we did to bring it upon ourselves, so that the poor man can be absolved of his responsibility for assaulting us (just ask any woman who ever pressed rape charges how carefully her own background and behaviour was dragged into the harsh light of the courtroom so the defense attorney could find some shred of "she was asking for it" to get his client off the hook).
We are told these very things about ourselves and about men being threatening ... by men. By our fathers, by our police officers, by our clergy, and it is reinforced by every one of those skeevy men out there who responds to our rejections, no matter how polite or careful or blame-shifting we try to make them, with accusations of "slut", "bitch", "dyke", or with pressure to change our minds. First, we're told that men are a threat to us, then we're told that it's our own responsibility to police our own boundaries and make sure that all men know what they can't get away with, and THEN, when we dutifully buck up the courage to reject someone (no one likes to feel rejected so many of us don't like to do the rejecting because we don't want to hurt someone's feelings), we are penalized for it by the man's behaviour. We're called names, we're shouted at, we're gossiped about, or we're ignored by those who have been told that "no" is just another word for "maybe".
We are told that "good girls" don't say "yes", so some men are convinced that we are only saying "no" because we're not supposed to say "yes". Other men believe the "no", but don't believe that it is a permanent state. In other words, if they just keep asking, eventually it'll change into a "yes". So even if we DO manage to reject someone, we're still not off the hook. We still have to vigilantly maintain those boundaries, like a fort with an enemy at the gate, probing for weaknesses, just one little chink in the fence where he can weasel his way in.
I don't like to think of men in these terms; I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt. But this is what I have been told, and this is what many women have been told about men ... by men. Who hasn't heard the line about a father telling his daughter that "boys only want one thing", backing that up with "because I was a boy once and that's how I thought". Rather than an entire nation of fathers trying to change their sons' views on how to treat women now that they have wives & daughters that they don't want assaulted (we'll just overlook, for now, that these fathers didn't care about assaulting someone ELSE'S wives or daughters), these fathers are, instead, trying to lock up their daughters to "protect" them from all those predatory boys and men, apparently just sitting at the front door, panting and drooling, waiting for the daughters to take a step out the front door so they can pounce. Women are penalized by being treated as prisoners for the crimes of all these men that we're led to believe are just waiting for us. We're locked up indoors, under clothing, and behind demure expressions all to prevent some man from assulting us. And in some countries, this isn't even hyperbole.
Young women are given earlier curfews, or made to give the information for where they expect to be and what time they expect to be home, or scrutinized by their mothers to ensure that their clothing doesn't send the "wrong impression" when young men are not often given the same treatment. We are subjected to this treatment because our parents believe that we are at greater risk for assault than our male counterparts, in spite of the fact that men are quite often the victims of violent crime such as robbery and beatings. Even though, statistically, men are more likely to be the assaulter in all violent crimes, other men are not told to fear going into a steambath, naked with other men, on the off-chance that one of those men will try to rape him (unless he's a conservative fundie, who DO seem to think that just because another man is gay, being naked in the same room with him is naturally going to lead to being raped by the gay man), beat him for thinking he's gay, or steal his wallet that he left in the locker room. Women, however, are told that we cannot go into certain areas with men, such as a steambath or a locker room, because one of those men will try to rape us, beat us, or steal our purse.
And I'll even concede that this does happen more often to women than men. I have no statistics at my fingertips and I don't feel like looking it up, so if someone wants to insist that women are assulted by men more often than men are assaulted by men, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, for the sake of discussion. I don't believe this is the case, but I'm not willing to argue this point right now. The main point is that our society's solution to this problem is not to change the society to make this unacceptable, nor is it to tighten up security in these areas to allow women the freedom to move about the country as they choose. The solution is not to frown and shake our fingers at men and call them "naughty boys". No, the solution is to make the WOMEN curtail their activities, their clothing, their behaviour, their speech, whatever they have to do to prevent the rare man who might be hiding amongst all the "nice guys" just waiting for his chance to beat us, rape us, kill us, while men are not given the same effort at telling them not to go certain places or dress in certain ways to avoid an assault. So women have to treat everyone as a threat in order to protect ourselves from the actual threats.
Let me tell you a few stories of some of your oh-so-non-threatening bretheren:
1) I and two of my female coworkers went out to the Hard Rock Casino one night after work to hang out - just us ladies. None of us are shrinking violets and we're pretty well able to take care of ourselves, being all butch and manual-laborey, but we're also fairly easy on the eyes, if I do say so myself, and still subjected to the same social programming as everyone else. So we were hanging out at the casino lounge, having our first drinks (mine was non-alcoholic) when an obviously drunk man came over to our table. I don't recall the exact words he used at this point, but I do recall that he had trouble pronouncing them and that they were supposed to be complimentary. At any rate, he expressed admiration for our appearances and then proceeded to indicate interest in sexual relations.
Well, I was much younger then, and still trying to be polite, and I fell into the same old trap that most women do, of giving an excuse for my rejection that clearly says "no" without saying "because you're a douchebag". Most women use lines like "I have a boyfriend" or "I have to get up early" or some other line that says "I can't" rather than "I won't", to try and soften the rejection. I and one of the other girls told him that we were all lesbians and in a committed slave-relationship with the third girl. She was our Mistress and she did not share us and we absolutely could not do anything without her permission, which she would not give. So A) we were the wrong orientation, B) we were in an exclusive relationship, and C) it was the type of relationship that makes straight, vanilla, drunk fratboys at bars uncomfortable.
He looked confused and wandered off, only to return a few minutes later and press the issue. We continued to insist that we were not interested in men at all and we were "taken", to which he responded by trying to talk us out of both, including the "you just haven't met a Real Man yet" trope. Finally, he leaned over to me and tried to kiss me. Right there in the lounge. I ducked and slid off my chair and ran to the girl who was posing as the "Mistress", where I sat at her feet while she put her hand possessively on my head and glared at the jerk.
His eyes opened wide and he slurred "oh, you mean, like, THAT kind of relationship?" I looked up at him and frowned, saying "yes, I am not interested because you are not what I want" or something similar. He stumbled off with a dazed expression on his face.
I wish I could say that was the end of it.
He came back AGAIN and this time tried to kiss the other "slave" girl. She jumped back and this time all three of us pulled out our knives. At the "snick" of my switchblade, he looked up, put his hands in front of himself, and backed up. We decided we'd had enough and left. We never made it to a second drink.
2) I know a bunch of guys through work or school, and this story is told as though it is a specific encounter, but the truth is that I've had this exact same situation on multiple occasions with multiple people. I decided not to write down each one individually because they really are so similiar that I would end up cutting and pasting all but the age and location.
Hanging out with male friends often involves watching movies. When we are poor, or young especially, watching movies usually happens in someone's bedroom, usually due to sharing living spaces like dorm rooms or apartments with roommates, or even as teenagers living at home with parents. There are some circumstances in our society where mixed-gendered socializing just happens in private rooms like bedrooms and there's nothing inherently or automatically sexual about it. When I was 12, my Nintendo was hooked up in my bedroom because my dad hated competing with me for the TV in the living room. My next door neighbor was male. There was nowhere else for us to play video games but in someone's room. That's just how it was.
So, hanging out with a male friend, watching a movie or playing games, or sometimes just talking, occasionally ended up with him aggressively hitting on me in a bedroom. This almost always happened out of the blue, not as the result of some sexy talk or flirting. It was more like I would say something, then he would say something, and I would look at him because he was talking, then he would launch himself at me. If this was the first time this particular guy did that, I would be startled, and probably freeze for a moment, allowing him to get a kiss in, but then he would press his advantage and try to fondle my breasts. At that point, I would knock his hand away and back up, and we'd probably go back to watching movies or playing games.
If a guy had tried this once, he would almost always try it again. By the second time, though, I would not freeze when he came at me. I would dodge him and tell him "no". For the guy who was willing to try it after having been rejected previously, this type of guy would not fall back at the rejection, but he would continue to lean in for a kiss and reach for a breast. If I managed to block his hand from my breast, he would then grab for my crotch. If I succeeded in blocking him there, he'd go again for the breast. By the time I managed to disintangle myself from Mr. Octopus, he would attempt to keep me from leaving by promising to stop if I would just stay and finish whatever activity got me there in the first place, like the movie or video game. Sometimes he did stop. For that visit.
When I was younger, this was just how things were. So I did not know to not visit that "friend" again. I did know enough to insist that he not treat me that way, to say that I wouldn't come over if he was going to behave this way. He would always say he promised not to, and maybe he would keep that promise the next time, but there was always another encounter with these guys until I learned to cut off friendships with guys who behaved this way.
I'd like to say this was all exclusively in my teens, when boys were clueless and dumb or that I lived in a particularly fucked up neighborhood. But my most recent encounter like this happened 3 years ago. I was 31 years old. I believe he is a couple of years older than me. He is still not an unusual occurance.
3) Back in California, where the public transportation system is actually worth taking, I used to wear a silver band on my ring finger of my left hand. That was because I could hardly ever make it through a bus ride without some guy sitting down next to me, trapping me against the window, and asking for my phone number to "hook up".
As I explained to a friend recently, who had never been propositioned for a purely sexual relationship (she thinks - I think she just didn't recognize the propositions), this is not the same thing as getting involved in a conversation with a person where you talk about yourselves or some topic of interest, and he asks for a communication method to continue to the conversation. When a man sees a girl he thinks is attractive and just wants a physical relationship with her, he won't bother to get to know her at all. He will begin his approach with "damn baby, you're lookin' fine! Can I getcha number?"
Yes, seriously. Often this is yelled from passing cars to women walking on the sidewalk, or from random strangers in a mall. Yes, both occasions happened to me. Yes, more than once. Yes, that was a quote, not a paraphrase.
I'm sure there are some men out there who just don't know about these assholes, and who genuinely see a woman they find attractive whom they want to get to know on a personal level. And these clueless men will ask her for a date or her phone number right off the bat with the intention of actually starting a dialog at a later time or in some other place. But the problem is that, from the woman's perspective, these men are nearly indistinguishable from the "your dress would look AWESOME crumpled on my floor in the morning!" types.
If you are genuinely interested in getting to know the woman as a person, there is no need to postpone that discussion for a later phone call or dinner date. Get to know her NOW. At least ask her name and ascertain just one topic that you might have in common to make it worth both of your whiles to bother with a phone conversation or a coffee date. Because without that, without having something in common to discuss, the both of you are completely interchangeable with any other human since there is nothing about either of you to distinguish each other from anyone else. You are both, literally, nothing more, at that moment, than a body. And THAT'S why this approach is so creepy - it is not flattering in the slightest to most women to be considered as nothing more than a convenient body, no matter how complimentary you think you've phrased it.
4) I'm a huggy person, but like many men, I can't tell when a hug will be well received, when it's appropriate, or when it will be mistaken for a sexual proposition when I don't intend it as such. So I don't hug unless someone offers to hug me first. But I am generally welcoming of hugs.
Many men take the permission to hug as permission to see what else they can get. First, this kind of man will offer a hug goodbye. Since I've accepted, the next time he sees me, he'll offer a hug hello. Gradually, that hug will become tighter and more intimate - a full body hug instead of a shoulder embrace. Then, he'll brush cheeks as he hugs. Soon, he'll start kissing the air by my ear when he brushes my cheek while he hugs me with the entire body touching. Eventually, that air-kiss will turn into a kiss high up on the cheek along with that full body hug. And after a while, I will have to make a concerted effort to turn my head sideways as the kiss migrates further away from my ear and closer to my mouth, to the point where I'm standing in the classic Viennese Waltz pose, bending backwards and tilting my head towards the ground, gazing somewhere just behind my left shoulder, just to make sure he doesn't try to merge with my body right there in public or suck my soul out from my mouth.
And it's always a gradual thing, as the man becomes more and more friendly and I grow genuinely fond feelings towards him, it becomes simultaneously more complicated and difficult to avoid this kind of pressure. When it's a stranger, it's easy to back off and not allow him to invade my personal space. But when it's someone I consider a friend, or at least a friendly acquaintance whom I have fond feelings for, it becomes more difficult to defend my personal space, for two reasons. First, because personal space *does* diminish correspondingly with how close two people become emotionally, and second because now there is a friendship that I might not want to damage in spite of the discomfort of having my personal space be invaded. The more assertive I am, the more potentially damaging it could be to a friendship that I might value, yet the less assertive I am, the more likely it is that someone I am emotionally close to might mistake my friendship and lack of assertion for permission. It can be a difficult conundrum that many of us do not want to have to choose between asserting our boundaries and losing friends, but sometimes, that is the case.
And some may even say that if your friendship is so damaged by one party asserting her boundaries, then it's not a friendship worth keeping. I know I've certainly suggested similar to friends who really feel pressured by people who should not be pressuring them. But the reality is that life and relationships are messy and complicated, and our culture's indoctrination on how Men And Women Should Behave sets up a totally impossible set of contradictory instructions that sometimes, really earnest but clueless people just get tripped up over. Many of the men I know honestly do not want to be sexist and honestly value women, but because of their position of privilege, they have a hard time actually seeing why a casual statement they made is sexist when a woman gets offended by it. Likewise, a given man could earnestly wish to be respectful of women, particularly women he values as friends, but just not realize or understand that something he is doing is comming across as pressure or threatening because *he is not in a position to be on the receiving end of that behaviour
* and so can't see it that way.
I'm not excusing them, don't get me wrong. I'm saying that *wanting* to be non-threatening is not the same thing as *being* non-threatening, and when you mix in contradictory social instructions with personal insecurities, rejecting the physical advances of a person I actually like otherwise is a veritable social and emotional minefield - his advances may be undesired, and maybe even a symptom of a very big problem, but I might still find value in our friendship & in him as a person and not want to damage it irreparably while I am forced to police my boundaries.
5) I used to go to nightclubs more frequently, but especially back in CA where they don't allow smoking in clubs. One night, I was sitting at a table, having a drink & and rest in between dances, when a guy sidled up to me and started hitting on me. I could tell right away that he wasn't my type, only I'd be hard pressed at this late date to remember the details of why. But the bottom line is that he indicated an interest in me and I turned him down. He actually said "what are you, lesbian?" as if he could only comprehend a woman not wanting him if she only wanted women.
I've heard rumors about me from men in my social circles or other coworkers who speculated about my sexual orientation, and these rumors always stemmed from men who I've rejected. I've been called a bitch and a dyke for turning someone down. The funniest ones are when I'm called a slut, since, if I WAS a slut, I wouldn't have just rejected the asshole who just called me one. Pointing that out to a guy in a bar got him laughed at by the other men nearby, so that was a bit satisfying.
But there is a penalty for rejecting someone. Most of the time, the penalty is just feeling bad for hurting someone else's feelings. But occasionally, rejecting someone's advances results in some damned uncomfortable public scenes, and every so often it results in much more than uncomfortable PRIVATE scenes - the kinds that make us fear for our safety.
6) Again, when I was much younger and much more willing to avoid confrontation by giving an excuse instead of a flat-out rejection, my sister and I would occasionally go to nightclubs together, along with a friend or two of hers. On her 21st birthday, she and I and her best friend went out, and she told me that she did not want to be bothered by men that night - this was a Girl's Night Out where she could just dance and drink and forget about things for an evening. She asked me if I would pose as her possessive girlfriend if any guy tried to hit on her, and I agreed because I was young and didn't realize that "sorry, I'm a lesbian" is usually heard as "hey baby, hot bi babe action over here!"
So the three of us got on the dance floor and started dancing. Almost immediately, some big guy came up behind my sister and started dancing suggestively with her - we called it "freaking" when I was a teenager, where it's basically vertical spooning frottage on the dance floor. My sister kept moving away, and he kept moving closer. She started moving towards me & dancing suggestively with me, giving me The Look to indicate she wanted me to intervene. So I moved in between them and said "sorry, she's mine".
As you can guess, that didn't dissuade him. Instead, it seemed to turn him on, as he kept trying to dance between us and saying things implying threesomes. Eventually I had to stop, put a hand on his chest, and say "I told you that she's mine and I don't share, now back off." He got huffy and demanded to know what my problem was. I said my problem was that he didn't know when to keep his hands off someone else's property. By this time, the bartender, who was a friend of my sister's and the reason we were at that particular club in the first place, sent a bouncer over to pull the guy away, who was getting all puffed up and blustery about me cockblocking him. If the bouncer hadn't intervened, this very well could have turned into a physical altercation with a man who refused to accept a rejection, if his assertive body language is any indication.
7) As I mentioned earlier, many women use some kind of excuse that implies that we CAN'T accept someone's advances, rather than we WON'T. I dunno, I guess we think it makes the rejection easier to accept, like it doesn't hurt someone's feelings as much. One of my exes used to be a bouncer in a strip club, and he told me how the dancers were constantly propositioned for more than just lap dances. He says that the overwhelmingly favorite response was to tell the customer that she had a boyfriend. Apparently, it allowed the fantasy that she COULD be more continue to exist while still being clear that she WON'T be more than a dancer. But, almost as common as the boyfriend-response, was the customer's response of "you don't have to tell him!" The private reaction (never to the customer's face!) to that was, as my ex used to say, "well holy shit, I don't? Why didn't I think of that? When I think of all the customers I COULD have gone home with, if only I had realized that I didn't have to tell my boyfriend, I just feel stupid now!" That line should be read dripping with sarcasm for full effect.
There has been a lot of talk about going beyond "no means no" to "yes means yes" and about women being more assertive in their rejections. But a few research papers
suggest that, even if a woman doesn't use the actual word "no", a rejection is still clearly understood by men in general, which means that men who use the excuse that she didn't say "no" really mean that they chose to ignore it. The conclusions in these papers make sense to me. If you take any social situation other than propositioning a woman for sex, most people have no problem understanding a rejection even when it doesn't use the word "no". When you ask someone to hang out sometime, or to go to a movie, or to have coffee, if you remove the heteronormative dating associations and say "my wife and I would love it if you came for dinner" or "a bunch of us are going to this movie, wanna come?", if the person you're asking says "I'd love to, but...", pretty much all of us recognize that as a rejection.
Sometimes, if the rejection sounds too much like a real conflict, as in the giver really does want to go but can't, and the excuse given is one we can solve, we don't just let the rejection lie, we offer a solution. For instance, if you ask a friend to see a movie, and he says he's broke and can't afford it, well, you might offer to pay for him if you have the spare cash & you really want to see the movie with your friend. But whether we try to offer a suggestion or not, the phrase "I'd love to, but..." is clearly understood by all of us that the person you are talking to is, in fact, telling you "no".
Now, there genuinely are times when a person can't tell that it's a no. For example, I have an ex who once asked a girl out on a few dates. One one date in particular, they were sitting on the couch, and he asked outright for a kiss because he couldn't tell from her body language what she wanted. She kissed him, but he said she didn't seem too into it. So he asked her if this relationship was going anywhere or not. Instead of saying "no", or even giving him a "it's not you, it's me ... I'm too busy with work for a boyfriend right now, and my cat needs my attention, and I have to wash my hair every weekend for the next 20 years", she said "well, it's all about the chase, isn't it?" Yes, that was her answer.
How was he supposed to take that? Was that a hedge, a rejection without saying "no"? Or was that her way of saying she wanted to play the coy-maiden-gets-chased-by-assertive-man game? Cuz, y'know, sometimes that's fun. So he said "no, actually, it's not about the chase. If I'm chasing a woman, it means she's running away from me. So which is it, are you interested or not?" I don't think she ever gave him a clear answer, but he took that ambiguity AS an answer (good for him) and stopped asking her out on dates.
So don't think I'm giving all women a free pass here when it comes to earnest-but-clueless men who really want to do the right thing. I'm not. I DO think we all ought to be more clear and explicit about our boundaries - I've written tons on that very subject. And I am a big supporter of the "yes means yes" campaign, which has at its heart the philosophy that only a clear and unambiguous "yes" should ever be taken as a "yes" and that everything else is a "no". It's meant to subvert the idea that men are not responsible for assaulting women if, for some reason, she hasn't uttered that single syllable, because there is a social penalty for saying that word, or maybe she's drunk or high or unconscious. It's ALWAYS a "no" if she CAN'T say "no".
But generally speaking, we have a fairly well-understood social convention of expressing rejection in a myriad of ways that do not use the word "no", and, generally speaking, we all pretty much accept these rejections in all cases, except when it comes to men propositioning women for sex. Only in this one area do people claim to not understand that they were given a rejection and it falls on the person offering the rejection to defend themselves from an actual assault rather than the person being rejected to ask for clarification or, at the very least, fall back on the safest possible interpretation and just assume she said "no" hidden in her "I'd love to, but..." somewhere.
8) Most of my strong opinions come from experiences where I made some bad choices. I'm not sitting in my ivory tower armchair quarterbacking other people's relationships. I learned the hard way how some of these things work. I made many of the same mistakes I try to tell other people they shouldn't do. I've gotten into the very messes I try to prevent others from getting into. I stand here with my strong opinions and my strong will because there was a time that I did not, and I paid heavy prices for it.
I met a guy while working backstage, so you'd think that it wouldn't be a surprise to him that I was a tomboy, right? You'd be wrong - hence my online profiles & dozens of blog posts reminding everyone just now not-girlie I am. I met a guy and we seemed to have everything in common. We were in the same industry, we liked the same movies, we wanted the same things from relationships, we had similar religious backgrounds - we seemed perfect for each other. Except he wasn't honest with me about who he was or what he wanted. He didn't actually want a girl who was better at fixing things than he was. He didn't want a relationship with an equal partner, he wanted traditional gender roles. He didn't like an inquisitive, curious, skeptical girlfriend, he wanted one who accepted what she was told on face value. And he most certainly did not want a partner who viewed her own body as autonomous, he wanted a partner who took "what's mine is yours and what's yours is mine" literally.
After we moved in together, the stress of managing a household, going to school full time and still working to pay the bills but still being the "housewife" and making sure he got fed and the dishes got done and the trash got out, all eventually piled up and my sex drive dropped. I was just too damn tired to be interested in sex. I was only getting about 4-6 hours of sleep every night as it was, and I didn't want to sacrifice any of that time for sex.
After the first few nights of saying "not tonight honey, I have to wake up early tomorrow", he started pressuring me. He'd whine and try to talk me into it. Let me just say that there's nothing more of a turn-off than a guy begging for sex when I'm not in the mood to begin with. After about a week of nightly arguments in bed, he started waiting for me to fall asleep and then started touching me when he thought I was unconscious. When I turned on him & yelled at him to leave me the fuck alone, he said he was only trying to arouse me, that he wouldn't ever do anything against my will or when I couldn't give consent. We'd get into a big fight about it that would end with me telling him not to touch me until I said he could, and he'd finally leave me alone to sleep. That night.
The next night would be the same thing. When I reminded him that I had told him not to touch me, he would say that he hadn't touched me all day, so therefore he held up his end of the bargain, and now it was my turn to provide sex. Naturally, I said that was not what we agreed on, and it sparked another argument, cutting into my valuable and rare sleep time. This argument would end the same way, only to have a repeat the next night.
Some nights I gave in just because my experience had taught me that he could argue for longer than he could have sex, so if I wanted sleep, it would be faster to give in than to tell him "no". Of course, he then got pissed at me for not being into it, which would sometimes spark another round of arguing, as if picking a fight with me would fix the lack of interest in sex or the inability to get aroused. I have no idea how many nights this went on, but it was the same thing every night for weeks.
I was a wreck. I was exhausted, I couldn't concentrate in school, I was depressed, and I started making excuses to be away from the apartment. So he started making rules to prevent me from going anywhere without him. Naturally, I ignored those rules, but that only caused more arguments at home. One night, I finally got out of bed with the intention of sleeping in the living room. He told me that if I did that, he would damage my property in his anger at being rejected. It was then that I finally understood that I was in an abusive relationship without ever having been hit. Between the nightly unwanted gropings, the begging for sex, the threats to my property, and the refusal to allow me to have friends or go anywhere without him, I was well and truly trapped in an abusive relationship.
I spent that night sleeping in the adjoining bathroom, because I could not sleep next to him and I could still keep an eye on my property. That was the first of several such nights. But I started looking for a way out. It was hard to leave. I couldn't afford to live on my own because I was only working part time while attending school. I was afraid to move back in with my parents because it would injure my pride. I moved in with him against my parents' wishes and they continually disapproved of him, so I had spent my whole relationship with him defending my choice to be with him. It made it very difficult for someone as proud as me to come back to my parents and say that I was wrong, can I please have my old room back?
Fortunately, our roommate decided to move out because he couldn't stand our nightly fights. Without him, we did not make enough money to keep the apartment, according to our lease agreement, so we got evicted. I could move back in with my parents under the excuse that we had to move out but couldn't find anywhere else to live in the short time we had to vacate. My parents said that I could come back home, but I would not get my old room back - my sister took it because it was bigger, & I would have her old room - and absolutely he could NOT move in their house with me. I accepted those terms and managed to escape by blaming my parents and the departing roommate. We couldn't move in with his parents because his parents hated me as much as my parents hated him, and I somehow managed to not find any other apartments that would have us before our move-out deadline approached.
That solved the nightly sexual assault problem, but I still had to figure out how to break up with him. Once I was away from him, all my property was safe, and I had a place to sleep without him in it, I found my bravery and I broke up with him on my birthday. It was my gift to myself. But that relationship taught me that even people I trusted, people I had known for years, could still sexually assault me, and that it would be seen as my own fault because agreeing to prior sexual activity is often seen as an agreement of future sexual activity. Many people still believe that sex is an automatic part of the marriage contract. He and I were engaged to be married, therefore I "owed" him sex, and he couldn't assault me because he had every right to expect that he could request sex of me. I dare anyone to go what I went through and come out of that maintaining that position.
So no, not all men are a threat to all women. But all women are under a constant state of threat because that threatening man could be any one of you and we won't know who he is until it's too late. We are under that constant state of threat because some men really do behave in threatening ways, and because we are constantly reminded BY OTHER MEN that this could happen to us someday. We are also told that the only solution to these kinds of threats is to monitor OURSELVES to make sure we do not do something that might provoke an attack.
To those guys who are totally non-threatening in all cases, all the time, with every woman and in every situation, I do understand that it sucks to be thought of as a threat by women when you have done nothing to deserve that assumption - really, I do. But please forgive me if I'm just a little less concerned with your dilemma when the worst that happens to you is that women cross the street to avoid you, when the worst that could happen to me is that I get killed, beaten, and raped - and if I'm lucky, it'll happen in that order.
If you want to see the automatic fear removed from women's eyes simply because of your gender, you'll join in the chorus of female voices demanding that the rape culture be ended. Because a woman making that demand is often dismissed as a shrill, man-hating shrew by those very men who most need to change. But other men who disapprove of rape culture offer a much higher social penalty for those men than women whom we have already established those men don't respect. I suspect that I would like to see the day when I do not have to automatically suspect someone of potential threat just for his genitals even more than you would like to see the day when you are not automatically suspsected by someone of potential threat just for your genitals, so your public support of ending rape culture would be very much appreciated by all except those few who stand to benefit from it.
Anyone who wants to dismiss the use of the phrase "rape culture" would do well to follow Rebecca Watson and see what kind of shitstorm her mild request has started. Keep in mind that she never called the elevator guy a rapist, never compared her situation with the horrors of Muslim women or any other third world society, never said anything about "all men". She only said this was annoying, so "guys don't do that".
For this, she is being accused of being a man-hating bitch, an attention-seeking whore, and she has been flooded with rape and murder threats. She has posted a few screen captures in her various online feeds. Guys who think that my experiences above are rare have never tried being a female on the internet.
Rebecca didn't even post one of my angry rants. She just said, "guys, don't do that". That's it. It IS annoying to have spent all day talking about how many women don't like to get hit on at atheist conventions, to have just left a group of people, telling them how tired you are, to have someone in that group who heard you say how tired you are and how you want to go up to bed now detach himself from the group, follow you into an elevator, where you are alone in a foreign country at 4 AM, and then ask you to come back to his room. Frankly, I think she handled it with much more aplomb than I would have.
But the reaction to her using this situation as an example was so much more severe than either the original offense or her response to it. A "rape culture" is one where its members, male or female, think it is perfectly acceptable to trap a woman alone and proposition her. A "rape culture" is one where it's members, male or female, think it is perfectly acceptable to respond to her offense by threatening to rape her at the next convention. A "rape culture" is one where its members, male or female, think a line like "I'm totally going to cop a feel on @RebeccaWatson at the next con" is humorous and an acceptable joke. A "rape culture" is one where its members, male or female, feel justified in sending messages that say "I want to drug you and fuck you" to ANYONE, but especially to a woman who has just made it clear that this is offensive behaviour.
I get that men can be in abusive relationships too. I've written plenty about that. There's no excuse for abuse, no matter what gender to what gender. But there are very few men out there who have to put up with the sheer volume of "just words" that Richard Dawkins seems to think are so harmless. If I could make these men experience what it's like to be a woman, not for a day or a week, but a lifetime of harassment, I guarantee that they would not find "just words" to be such a minor crime, or that "rape culture" is such an offensive phrase. Rape culture harms everyone, not just women, and it's not just men who commit the crimes and offenses. All reasonable, thinking women understand that. It's only a certain group of men who are reading sexism into the word "rape" who think that the phrase applies only to men as perpetrators and all women as victims. Rape, abuse, molestation, fear, these apply to everyone and they should apply to no one.