For the Record: A Letter to My Male Friends

Dear Men, our friends,

You are the good guys. We women know you’re out there. Having written all these posts about attacks and violence between the sexes, I’m feeling dragged down and depressed about the relationships between men and women. As male readers, you’re probably not feeling the love either.

So here’s the deal. Good guys, we love you and respect you more than you know. You really make our day and make our lives better in so many ways.

We can’t tell who the good guys are are by looking at you. The stranger who comes up to me wanting to kidnap, rape, and murder me looks the same as the stranger who’s offering to load my groceries into my car out of genuine helpfulness. The guy who has just decided to beat me, rape me, or kill me looks exactly like the boyfriend I’ve been dating for three months–oh wait, it is my boyfriend.

The guy who throws me down in the bedroom intending to rape me looks just like my husband (because he is my husband). The person who only wants to chat with me about the book I’m reading while I’m riding public transportation looks just like the guy who intends to rape me when I get off.

I can’t tell whether he’s going to rape me until/unless he rapes me.

So, good guys, I’m telling you about the love so you can feel the love in spite of the fact that many women you see and meet every day are going to be wary of you. They don’t have any reason to be wary of you, but they don’t have any way to know that. Don’t take it personally.

Put yourself in their situation: Women are responsible for their own safety and –if they’re attacked — will be blamed and shamed for not doing everything right. But they’re also expected to be open and friendly to any man they meet — that’s the social expectation. Of course they’re wary. If you’re a good guy, that wariness isn’t about you.

It’s about my safety, maybe even my life. Those are high stakes. Don’t get upset with me for acting in accordance with how high the stakes really are. Bad guys are just as likely to be bigger and stronger than I am as good guys are, and I’d rather not be attacked, raped, or murdered.

It’s probably easy to think that the women in your life overreact. You may not have realized that in order to protect themselves, women have to react to the maximum threat that an unknown man might pose, not to his actual intentions, because a woman has no way of knowing what his true intentions are. Even if a woman knows a man, he could still attack her. (Most male-female rapes are committed by a man the woman knows.)

There needs to be a developed history of consistent good and non-sexist, non-creepy behavior between the two of them, so that the woman can know she’s safe. Keep in mind that if the man rapes a woman, she gets blamed for not being careful enough. This happens even if the rapist ends up in court, which is rare. So encourage her to be careful; don’t ridicule her for being careful.

If you’re trustworthy, if you’re a good guy, you’ll already understand why I’m nervous and wary, and it won’t bother you because you know it isn’t directed at you. It’s directed at Jack the Ripper down the street–who looks like you. Just a guy. No way around that, but I’m open to ideas.

And know how high you, as a good guy, stand in women’s regard. Being a good guy in a sexist society isn’t easy. Your manhood is the real thing. So you get the real respect. I guarantee you that the women around you who have known you longer — they know you’re a good guy.

In return, know that we as women–women as a group–love you and regard you as men. We love your voice, your shoulders, your guy-ness. It’s different. It’s cool. Nothing in our lives as men and women could ever replace the presence of each other (and that still stands no matter what your sexual orientation is; variety is the spice of life).

So don’t read this blog thinking it’s for man-haters or people who sit around looking for more reasons to blame men. Men are awesome, amazing and irreplaceable. There are plenty of haters on both sides of the gender war. My goal with this blog is to help people who are in trouble by providing information.

Sometimes men are stalked or raped or harassed; that’s why many of the resources on this blog are for both sexes. I’m also trying to help the largest possible number of people, and it is true that women are victimized by men in these ways in much greater numbers than the reverse.

Yet I constantly work to maximize the blogroll and other resources that are available for both sexes. If you know of resources I’ve missed that I should post to support men, let me know.

So please continue to stand with us, and we stand with you too. We’re a team, men and women. I’m not made smaller by your strength and dignity, and you’re not made smaller by mine.

OK, that’s my starry-eyed idealist speech for today. If we don’t dream it today, it certainly won’t happen tomorrow. So today, I dream of eradicating sexual assault — for everyone.

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Define Sexual Harassment

 

Graphic of steps, with text about harassment.

Definition of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment: Persistent or unwanted sexual advances or sexualized environment, whether overt or covert; sexually-based and gender-targeted behaviors that ordinary people (encompassing women’s and men’s differing life experiences, physical size, and social power) find disturbing or frightening.

Types of sexual harassment are many and varied. According to several sources, these include but are not limited to:

  • Street harassment
  • Workplace harassment
  • Initiations or hazing rituals
  • Retaliatory harassment (against someone who has made a complaint or report about the harasser)
  • Cyber bullying
  • Stalking

Many resources have already been listed in this blog. Wikipedia’s sexual harassment page is another helpful information source for a basic definition, although there is more to the topic than what is listed on Wikipedia.

Define Street Harassment

Nametag: Hello, my name is NOT HEY BABYDefinition of Street Harassment

Street harassment: The experience of women from all walks of life of being heckled, whistled at, rated, propositioned, leered at, fondled and in other ways assaulted and humiliated by men as they go about their daily lives in public spaces.

Surprisingly, there are several terrific resources just for street harassment. There wasn’t even a name for this until recent years. It was an experience women had when they went out in public. (And still have routinely today.) Books listed below can be located and ordered through sites such as Amazon.com, Bookfinder, Ashworth Books, and Alibris.

Interestingly, while Wikipedia lists 10 types of sexual harassment, street harassment is not listed. Even under the strict “sexual harassment” item in the list, it says sexual harassment is most common in the workplace and in schools. No reference to the constant and pervasive stress women can experience whenever they walk out of a building into a public space. Its “See also” section even mentions cyber-bullying, historically a very recent development…but not street harassment, which has been around for all of recorded history. We now have resources, but we still don’t talk about it much.

[Update in January 2012: If you type “street harassment” into Wikipedia it directs you to the sexual harassment page. No change there. It no longer has a list of 10 different types of harassment; the whole page has been reworked and added to. It’s a lot longer now. While I’m happy for more information, there is still absolutely no mention of street harassment — the most common, everyday experience of it that women have.]

Having said that–here’s some of what’s now available.

  • Back Off: How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers, by Martha J. Langelan.
  • Her Wits About Her, by Denise Caignon and Gail Groves. Out of print–you can search for used copies at the sites listed above.
  • Tolerance.org, especially this article on street harassment. There are so many links to other resources and other information here that you’ll be here awhile.
  • The Street Harassment Project located in New York. Particularly check out their Links page.
  • Anti-street harassment organization in the U.K.
  • One of my all-time favorites on this topic, Hollaback New York City. Here women share their icky experiences and what they did to fight back. Even better, they snap cell phone photos of their harassers and post them with a narrative of what they did. The women often ask for permission to take the photo and many of these guys are flattered and think it’s a favorable reaction to their behavior. Hard to believe, but true. You can submit your own photo here (they welcome stories and submissions from anywhere in the country).
  • Read this article on activists turning the tables on street harassers.
  • Cool new interactive blog (it has stories, photos, video, you can submit your own) called Don’t Be Silent.
  • One woman’s blog entry about street harassment. Read the responses too. Her thinking on the issue is so clear–she articulately encapsulates the entire issue for women.
  • Article: “Just Looking: A View of Street Harassment.”