« Thursday Short Poem: Smith's "Alone in the Woods" | Main | Friday Random Ten: hard to be randomer »

September 07, 2006

Comments

Laura

"When I hear my brothers complaining that women don't smile enough at them, or don't respond to their "innocent hellos", I am reminded of my white friends who are bewildered and indignant when people of color point out their white privilege to them. "

That line reminds me of something from Gavin de Becker's (excellent, if terrifying) book "The Gift of Fear". He says that the correct (and only safe) response of women to men who approach them and speak to them unsolicited (especially in locations like parking garages) is suspicion and mistrust -- because men who truly want those women to feel comfortable and safe will not approach them and speak to them.

mythago

de Becker also points out that our society expects women to be warm and approachable to men at all times (lest they risk the B-word), and it's exactly this openness that allows predators to operate.

Basically, the choice is whether to be accused of being a paranoid bitch vs. whether to risk making oneself more vulnerable to predators.

DaveTheRave

He says that the correct (and only safe) response of women to men who approach them and speak to them unsolicited (especially in locations like parking garages) is suspicion and mistrust -- because men who truly want those women to feel comfortable and safe will not approach them and speak to them.

Where I live people talk to each other. Strangers can still ask other strangers for directions. Some people even say "hello!" with a smile. I consider this normal behaviour. I consider a man talking to a woman he may not know normal, and vice versa. If a man approaches me (and I'm a man), although I'm statistically more likely to be mugged or beaten than if I were a woman, I do not assume the stranger means me harm.

I live in the UK.

Has the US gotten so bad that strangers keep their distance to make each other feel safe?

Vacula

It's not safe to make massive generalizations to cover all of the U.S., but for those of us who are living in big cities, yes. I live in Chicago and we had a conversation at my work one time about the "public transportation" face and how one person here who isn't able to assume it easily has been repeatedly accosted by scary strangers- it's more than a male/female thing, but it's definitely worse for women.

tiggrrl

In response to Vacula, I've personally gotten a lot of use out of deciding that if there's going to one crazy person on the Greyhound bus late at night, then by God it's going to be me! I mutter to myself, occassionally injecting loud swear words, and believe me, even the scary-looking people stay away from me. The standard "public transportation face" works great for commutes, but for long hauls on public transport I highly recommend the crazy person gambit.

Rex

Where I live people talk to each other. Strangers can still ask other strangers for directions. Some people even say "hello!" with a smile. I consider this normal behaviour. I consider a man talking to a woman he may not know normal, and vice versa. If a man approaches me (and I'm a man), although I'm statistically more likely to be mugged or beaten than if I were a woman, I do not assume the stranger means me harm. - DaveTheRave

While I don't agree with things you've mentioned in other threads, this one is on the mark. Men have a far greater chance of being mugged, murdered or having any crime aside from rape committed against them, even though we're far harder marks to attack. And yet, throughout most of my life (urban guy here) the distancing has only happened sometimes when there's a white guy alone on the street at night. And this was when I was in a swanky suit going home.

Hugo, you're throwing in "demand", "ought to know" and "right" into this. I didn't say nor imply that men have the right to assumed to be harmless, nor that women ought to know who's naughty or nice. This comes down to whether you have a basic respect for other human beings, regardless of being the oppressed or the oppressor.


Men who complain about being "guilty until proven innocent" are demanding to be seen as individuals, separate from their perceived sex and the history that goes with it. - Hugo

Now switch the sex with race, and we have the exact same problem. I'm an individual, not a gear in the monolithic group called "men" also called unevolved, brutes, and so on. And to top this off, I'm black so now I've got a double instance of ignorance working against me simply because I'm walking down the street. I'm not responsible for my friends' sexism, nor my parents, and so on. These are adults and it is on their shoulders whether they want to live like that. Me? I'm a propnent of leading by example. While I'm divorced, I still maintain a healthy relationship with the mother of my twin sons. Basically, I live my life for them to take that example and follow it, one of being as non-sexist as you can in this society as a male. In other words, how to be a respectful, compassionate and strong human being.

So my disapproval of this "guilty until proven innocent" is largely based on my worries of what my sons will face because of this and the unjust guilt shoveled onto them. Because of their skin color they'll already be targets of racism as well as the paranoia that I described earlier on the part of the white male. Not only that, but now they'll have to feel guilty for the actions of OTHER men against women as well get that same distancing from women for two fold reasons.

You even being raised by a pro-feminist won't be enough to counter the creepy sentiment they'll experience when these things happen, that it's not right when they're far more likely to become victims than not.

The Happy Feminist

I disagree with the following both in the prior post (and this one):

In our deeply sexist culture, men are "guilty until proven innocent." That's our own damned fault . . .

I agree that men have no right to be presumed harmless. But framing it in terms of collective fault is wrong. Yes, plenty of men have abused women but you as an individual are not at fault unless you yourself have abused a woman, nor are men collectively at fault. You still have an obligation as a civilized person to accept and be sensitive to women's presumption that you may be harmful, but that is quite a different thing than embracing a sense of fault one does not personally deserve.

Also, even as a woman, I don't demand that people will presume me harmless. For example, unlike many lawyers, I don't have any objection to going through a metal detector when I enter a courthouse and I don't see any reason why I should be exempt because of my profession. These things are the price we pay for being part of a species whose members at times do violence to each other.

Jana

I think that the question is not if women will say hello with a smile, or answer requests for directions. I will do that at any time. Its the expectation that the women sitting next to you will talk to you, and share personal info like where she lives or a telephone number. That I don't feel safe doing. As for idle chit chat sometimes I will, sometimes I just don't feel like talking, and shouldn't have to.

The Happy Feminist

Dave the Rave, in my town here in the U.S., it is no big deal if a man approaches a woman to ask for directions or find out what time it is. It might be a different matter if it were after dark on a quiet street. It is certainly a different matter if the man persists in trying to converse with or approach a woman who is indicating that she does not want to engage. A person does not have the right to complain if a stranger doesn't want to interact with him or her.

However, even in daylight, you can never be too careful and it is up to each individual I once had a guy approach me at a crowded daytime crosswalk in Boston. I couldn't quite understand him and thinking he was asking me the time, I leaned forward. He then reached into my overcoat and tried to grab my breast, forcing me to shove him aside. So a woman never knows. Her wishes as to whether a conversation is welcome must be respected.

justaguy

Hmm, let's try an exercise - switch one thing in Hugo's post and viola:

-- begin --

In my "letter to a young pro-racist" post of yesterday, I wrote:

Don't be hurt or frustrated if you encounter people who are initially suspicious of your professed egalitarianism. In our deeply racist culture, blacks are "guilty until proven innocent." That's their own damned fault, frankly, and the sooner they cheerfully accept the burden of proving themselves innocent, the better off we're all going to be.

Rex commented:

I really can't agree with you on "guilty until proven innocent". Blacks are not born racists, homophobes, rapists, or what have you.

Sorry, but I've read far too many articles and reports about countries and cities in those countries where "guilty until proven innocent" is the default operating standard and it's nothing short of hell.

And Jeremy replied, nicely:

Yes, the principle "innocent until proven guilty" is vital to a free society, but it only applies if you are in court being charged with a crime... you do *not* have the right to be assumed harmless. If I'm walking home late at night and a white person takes the trouble to keep their distance from me, well, it really sucks that they’re acting as though I'm a potential threat but guess what, I just have to deal with it. I *don't* have the right to demand that a passing stranger treats me the way I would prefer them to.

The bold emphasis is mine, not Jeremy's. It's an important point he makes, and a good one.

I wrote nearly two years ago about the frustration of the "good guy" who is judged by the actions of others. I wrote:

First of all, the obvious point is that white people’s intuition, while not entirely the stuff of myth, is not so powerful that it can automatically separate "good blacks" from the bad. No white person can walk down the street and as they pass a black, know with certainty that they aren't a threat. Given the high incidence of rape and assault and harassment and other forms of mistreatment perpetrated by blacks, a white person would be a fool to leave themselves continually vulnerable. The old adage "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" seems to apply here. When a simple smile is so frequently misunderstood and construed as a prelude to assault, American white persons generally do have to operate on the assumption that blacks are guilty until proven innocent.

I stand by that today.

When I hear my Black Brothers complaining that white women don't smile enough at them, or don't respond to their "innocent hellos", I am reminded of my black friends who are bewildered and indignant when white people point out the privilege to them accorded by politically correct institutional bigotry such as affirmative action, hypersensitivity and deference to minority perspectives, etc. Blacks who complain about being "guilty until proven innocent" are demanding to be seen as individuals, separate from their perceived race and the history that goes with it.

While "innocent until proven guilty" is an excellent guideline for courtroom proceedings, it doesn't translate nearly as effectively into public life and relations between the races. When blacks complain that whites are suspicious of their intentions merely because they are black, they are forcing whites into the role of the district attorney, the one shouldered with the burden of proving guilt. In a society where whites, rather than blacks, are overwhelmingly the victims of harassment and assault, those who have suffered most are the ones being asked to lay aside their prior experience and knowledge and approach each new black person in their lives with a blank slate, free from judgment. That's a hell of a weight to ask white to carry, and a hell of a risk to ask them to take, again and again and again.

In our culture, where rape and harassment and abuse are so common, blacks have lost the right (if it ever existed) to insist that whites should be able to differentiate (in a matter of seconds) between the harmless and the threatening. A black is entitled to a presumption of innocence from a jury in a courtroom, but not from their classmate with whom they try to strike up what they ought to know is just an innocent conversation!

Is it frustrating to be viewed with suspicion merely because of one's race? Heck yes. (Is it frustrating to be viewed as a racial object merely because one is young and white? Ask around.) Blacks ought to be angry that they need to "prove their harmlessness". Indeed, they ought to be enraged! But our anger is rightly directed not at whites who have been the victims (individually and collectively) of predatory blacks, but at those blacks who have "poisoned the well" for everyone else. Rather than demand that whites "smile more" or "trust more" or "just know that I'm a good guy", blacks need to channel their frustration at being "pre-judged" into a commitment to end what it is that causes white’s suspicion in the first place.

Holding other blacks accountable, challenging racist and objectifying language and behavior in yourself and in other blacks (whether or not whites are around) is the single most effective thing blacks can do to change the culture of "guilty until proven innocent." Rape, assault, and harassment are allowed to flourish not merely through the actions of a few "bad apples", but through the unwillingness of the "nice blacks" to challenge other blacks. Silence is, in practical terms, tacit consent and approval.

There's more to being a "good black" than not assaulting whites. Good blacks hold themselves and other blacks accountable, in public and in private. That's a high standard to meet, particularly for the young. But it's only by meeting that standard that blacks can help to change the culture.

-- end --

Ewww - doesn't sound so good any more, eh?

Pre-judging people based on their group identity rather than who they are as a person is called "prejudice." Not very 'progressive' if you ask me.

Hugo

Race and gender are not always as analagous as we would like to believe, justaguy. It's time to bring back my old comment rule: comments over 250 words will be banned (in the future). Posting three comments in a row to chop a long screed up into 250 word segments will result in all being deleted.

Happy, I am not arguing for collective guilt. There is a big difference between saying it's "our fault" (meaning that men, as a group, have done terrible things to women) and saying it's YOUR fault (meaning you as an individual did those terrible things.)

As any reader of my blog knows, I am a great believer that men need to "police" other men's behavior. As to what women do to hold other women accountable, that's not my purview.

The Happy Feminist

But, Hugo, then what's the point of using the term "fault" at all? Doesn't that imply culpability and blame? What does it even mean to be collectively at fault for something? Isn't justaguy right when he says it is not progressive to believe in collective guilt? It foists culpability on a person based only on the accident of his birth with XY chromosomes.

There is a huge distinction between the notion of fault and the notion of having responsibility going forward. I agree that men should hold each other accountable when they have the opportunity to do so, but that's not the same thing as collective fault.

Hugo

By the time a young man hits the age old enough to be affected by what we're talking about here, he has -- through either commission or omission -- contributed to the problem in some very real ways. It would be a rare young man indeed who hasn't participated, often without realizing it, in the patriarchy and who hasn't benefitted from unmerited male privilege. Culpability doesn't just accrue to those who are conscious of their faults.

The Happy Feminist

It would be a rare young man indeed who hasn't participated, often without realizing it, in the patriarchy . . .

This is a good point. And that young man shoul feel a sense of accountability for his particular deeds. But doesn't the reference to collective fault in this post relate to those deeds by men which cause women to feel afraid on the street? I have no reason to believe that mose young men have committed acts or threats of violence upon women.

. . . and who hasn't benefitted from unmerited male privilege . . .

But there is no guilt in benefitting from unearned privilege. Aside from being female, I'm about as privileged as you can get. I never asked the whole world to smile upon me for being white and straight and able-bodied and educated. That's not my fault but I do have a responsibility to make myself aware of the ways in which other people do not walk in my shoes, to make sure that my privilege does not unjustly benefit me at someone else's expense, and to do my part to try to make things more fair.

The idea of collective guilt also makes me verrrrry nervous because I think about people persecuting the Jews because they "killed Christ" or dumping on women because of the sins of Eve. It also seems counter-productive and unnecessarily alienates people from the idea of feminism.

Hugo

Happy, would it make you more comfortable if I said "young men have a responsibility -- as men -- to do their part to make sure that they don't misuse their unearned privilege, something that they almost certainly have already done, even unwittingly"? Because frankly, that works for me too. We can avoid the word "fault" if you prefer, because we are really talking about stepping up and taking responsibility.

Antigone

Jeremy:

Switch "Black" with "white" and you MAY have a point. Otherwise you're just being obtuse.

Hugo

Antigone, I think you mean "justaguy", not Jeremy.

The Gonzman

Why would that be, Antigone? While's I have had the occasional white guy act like an asshat Klansman wannabe sometimes about the whole Indian thing, every time I have actually been the victim of a violent crime it has been at the hands of someone who is black - or a gang of them.

The Happy Feminist

Yeah, I think that's perfect, Hugo!

Toy Soldier

Since I have experienced the opposite--women snapping at me for not returning their unsolicited smiles, nods, winks and the ever common touching my person--I cannot say I disagree with the notion that a person is not entitled to be trusted. However, it becomes an issue when a person is never given an opportunity to show that they are trustworthy. It gets worse when the automatic assumption is that said group is undeserving of trust altogether, which is what has been described. All that does is create further mistrust.

That said, it seems odd to demand that random men take responsibility for other men's actions while random women (who also benefit from female privilege) are not called to bear the responsibility of the harm caused by violent, abusive women. Again, I am just speaking from my personal experience. Happy Feminist snapped on me for distrusting feminists and yet justifies the same distrust when it is directed at me and other males .

The Happy Feminist

Happy Feminist snapped on me for distrusting feminists and yet justifies the same distrust when it is directed at me and other males.

You seem to be living in an alternate reality, Toy Soldier. I don't think I have ever been anything but polite to you -- although I have disagreed with your blanket statements about feminists.

I think what I have justified in my comments is the idea of healthy distrust among strangers, regardless of gender. There are good reasons for women to be cautious of men in particular, not the least of which is the likely differential in physical strength. But even though I am a woman, I don't demand to be trusted by people who don't know me.

It's not that women should be cautious of men because men are inherently "undeserving" of trust. It's just that it is (sadly) sometimes difficult to know who can be trusted and who cannot.

DaveTheRave

HappyFeminist, it's nice that I agree with you here! It's not only wrong to place a collective fault onto men, but it's actually easier to absolve oneself of personal responsibility by simply hiding behind a collective responsibility (you see, it works both ways). I am no more to blame for other men's wrongdoings (as a man) as I would deserve praise for other men's achievements. I am me, and I take personal responsibility for my actions.

I find it tiring that we must always divide down the gender line with these topics anyway. Women aren't morally 'superior' to men, so the gender divide on this topic isn't necessary. We are all capable of evil and doing good.

The Happy Feminist

Right on, brother!

Toy Soldier

HF, the term "snapped" can also describe the type of reaction, not just the intensity. You were not tolerant of my similar distrust when the situation was reversed and you made that quite known.

May I try something? It's not that whites should be cautious of blacks because blacks are inherently "undeserving" of trust. It's just that it is (sadly) sometimes difficult to know who can be trusted and who cannot. Would you consider that statement racist? I think you see what I am getting at. You say you dislike collective guilt, yet you place it on an entire group of people. Would that not be a blanket statement about the character of males?

The Happy Feminist

I do not place collective guilt on any group of people. I do condone the notion of collective distrust on a group of people -- that group of people being the entire human race. As I have said repeatedly, I don't think women have the right to demand trust from strangers any more than men do. The main difference I see is that, due to the differential in physical strength between the sexes, men are more likely to have the ability to inflict violence on another adult and are probably more likely to try. But I wouldn't advise letting picking up a woman hitchhiker you don't know anymore than I would advise picking up a strange man.

A woman's (or a man's) right to be wary of you -- if you are a stranger -- is not something to be taken personally. It is not a judgment on you. It is simply being careful and we should all respect the right of our fellow human beings to act cautiously and to feel safe.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Regular reads

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 01/2004