Post 9 in an ongoing series. See the Master Post for previous entries in The Problem with Privilege.
In the last post in this series, comments diverged from the topic of overzealous application of skepticism to the idea of whether it’s right and rational for women to assume that all men are potential rapists. I made the following analogy, as regarding a comparison to assuming all Muslims are terrorists:
I also suspect you’re suggesting that there is a visual difference between Arabs and Caucasians, but you substituted “Muslim” for it. Muslims don’t necessarily have to look like brown people in turbans, you realize.
And as for assuming all of them are terrorists, there are just as many non-Muslim terrorists in recent history to suggest that what you mean is that you’re justified in thinking that anyone who is overzealous about some particular dogma is a potential terrorist. Meaning animal rights activists, Christians, men’s rights activists, anti-abortionists, et cetera. The problem with that is, you can’t visually distinguish that someone is an adherent to a dogma unless they do something to self-identify, like wearing some distinctive symbol. And even then, your fear responses shouldn’t automatically trigger or you get incidents like where clerics are arrested for praying in an airport.
And in the States, carrying guns or knives is legal in some circumstances, so even if they were, that doesn’t mean they’re planning on using them.
So, you can get situations where people’s fear responses are triggering unnecessarily. You’re within your rights to be afraid of every person you meet being a terrorist, but unless you see them with a bomb or knife or gun, there’s something slightly irrational about it. Likewise with women who have already been assaulted, or have already been trained by seeing others assaulted, or have been trained by just about every “rape avoidance” sheet, that there are certain behaviours that, to them, are like seeing a gun or knife or bomb.
Following a woman into a secluded area where they don’t have any potential backup and don’t have an easy escape route (like an elevator), making your first contact with them something that doesn’t make any sense outside of being an oblique request for sex (because there’s no coffee maker in the rooms and there was coffee at the bar you just left), or even just waiting until the girl has had a few drinks and is heading to bed because she’s tired — all of those are predatory behaviour. Whether Elevator Guy knew it or not, he was sending off all sorts of signs to Watson that he was carrying a gun or knife or bomb like your hypothetical “potential terrorist”. And just like your “potential terrorist”, he doesn’t have to actually use those weapons to be scary.
I’ve pointed out before that the elevator pitch is a well-known hard-sell technique in the business world, so named because you have a captive audience who can’t get away from you for a minute or so. This is another example of a predatory behaviour, and society has a tendency to look down on such behaviours unless a premium is put on them — for instance, if you’re in an extremely competitive marketplace, using an elevator pitch on someone might be seen as admirable by a sufficiently sociopathic recipient.
The term “predatory behaviour” covers a spectrum of actions that society generally frowns upon, because it involves taking advantage of imbalances of power between two or more entities. Predatory lending, for instance, takes advantage of the poor by offering them a way to get out of their financial situation, but doing so in a way that the loan-taker likely does not understand the risks they’re taking, and where the lender benefits more if the loan defaults than if it is repaid in full. Some predatory behaviour is not so abhorred by society at large, like within the capitalist context of a business: where one advances within a company by taking no prisoners, back-stabbing, lying, cheating, or sabotaging one’s opponents within the scope of their office politics. This will win you no friends but might win you the big promotion. And some predatory behaviour drives steep divides between political parties, like when lies and misinformation peel voters away from their own best interests, eviscerating the social programs that keep them afloat.
In the context of sexual politics, predatory behaviour takes a different cast. With sex, consent is paramount — it is the singular defining factor that segregates acceptable and unacceptable congress. Not everyone understands this point, and in fact, not everyone agrees with it. Some people engage in zoophilia or pedophilia or necrophilia, engaging in sex acts with entities that are incapable of giving informed consent. Society frowns upon these fringe activities more strongly than more common acts, where there is significantly less agreement as to what constitutes informed consent. It was, until very recently, treated as “not rape” to force one’s matrimonial partner into unwanted sex. It is still, to this day, difficult to get the legal system pretty well anywhere in North America to take seriously any charges of sexual assault or rape made by a sex worker, much less a girl that goes to a party and has too much to drink, or who wore a low-cut dress, or anyone else prejudged to be “loose” or “looking for sex”. And attendant to the question of consent is the concept of the “pick-up artist”, the guy who learns psychological techniques to convince women to have sex with them outside the scope of any level of familiarity. All predatory behaviour with respect to sexuality involves finding ways to circumvent consent or to obtain it under false pretenses. This makes it significantly more difficult to obtain justice after a sexual assault has occurred, especially in assaults that do not result in physical harm.
With the difficulty women have in having rape charges taken seriously; with so many of them being classified out as “false reports” for having insufficient evidence, or being summarily dismissed before being investigated at all because the report taker believes it to be invalid; and with the difficulty of providing positive identification resulting in a woman really being raped, and the very real possibility of an innocent man really going to jail; it’s small wonder this culture has developed the nervous tics that it has about the topic. These nervous tics manifest primarily in people completely misinterpreting incidents like the blow-up that has been the blogosphere’s reaction to the admittedly mild Watson elevator incident. I say “admittedly mild” with reservations, because in comparison with genital mutilation, the incident is fairly mild. But then, so’s having your car stolen, on that particular yardstick. And putting scalar values on personal experience is a fool’s errand at best, a convenient way for apologists to piss a lot of people off at worst.
The “disputed” events around Elevator Guy’s actual cold-proposition notwithstanding, if you take every element out of the picture including the prior “no’s” expressed by Watson except for the following facts, the story plays out thusly:
1. Guy and girl who are not familiar with one another get onto an elevator together in a hotel at 4 am after drinking in the hotel bar for multiple hours
2. Guy suggests he has been paying attention to girl, includes prophylactic “don’t take this the wrong way”, and would like to invite her back to his hotel room
3. Girl says no, guy relents without further incident
There’s “no harm” there in that the guy did not actually force himself on her in any way, per 3, but she still has every right to recognize his behaviour as predatory. The facts that indicate predatory behaviour in this attempt are:
1. Girl has been drinking and is probably visibly fatigued, suggesting vulnerability to such tactics
2. Guy has isolated girl in an elevator despite having had other opportunities to make his proposition when others were around in a more public venue
3. Girl does not know guy AT ALL prior to this proposition, no matter what guy knows about girl from observation (because girl has a higher profile in their community)
4. “Don’t take this the wrong way” indicates comprehension that what he’s about to say could be interpreted negatively — meaning, in a manner that might be off-putting to the girl
There are more indications of predatory behaviour in the story though, when you take it all as true, including the high-pressure sales tactic of ignoring blanket statements at two previous points during the day that she’s not interested in being hit on in this way, at all, ever. Apologists might dispute the possibility that Elevator Guy was around to hear either signal, but the only people disputing the core of the story — saying the incident was fabricated from whole cloth, for example — are so far removed from rationality that they truly believe that all feminists want men to be subservient to women, or think that all men are rapists, despite all the evidence to the contrary. In point of fact, Watson gave the mildest of mild rebukes to this man and his actions by saying his actions were creepy, and don’t do it the way he did because it probably won’t work.
Apologists demanding an explanation as to why it’s creepy have been given this exact line of reasoning a number of times already, but each time, it appears they are unwilling to accept the facts in evidence. Stephanie Zvan crafted a challenge for EG apologists asking that they stop arguing the minutiae and accept the premises regarding the story as true, then argue how it was in fact “zero bad”, akin to chewing gum. Many folks stepped up to… dance around the challenge and haggle for a more favorable-to-their-viewpoint set of circumstances, and met with being put into moderation until they could actually bring themselves to address the challenge proper. The howls of censorship have reverberated through the various blogs that the various actors have not been banned at yet. I fully expect one of them to appear and call this a screed against men, in fact.
One of them, in this last post, suggested that I believe all men are rapists. I do not. I don’t even believe all men are capable of rape. I have made the point previously that I will not brook statements that all men are rapists, and I stand by it — if you make this statement and refuse to recant, you will be summarily banned, I don’t care whose side of the argument you claim to be on.
This suggestion about my philosophy is only true in the same sense that I think all people are terrorists, or all people are astronauts, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of people are not terrorists or astronauts. I believe that all people (note, not all men, all people) are POTENTIAL rapists, insofar as there’s nothing a person can do to tell us apart except to watch for predatory behaviour and defend themselves when they spot it.
This statement shouldn’t be controversial, no more than the statement “all guns are potentially loaded”, as made by pretty well every gun safety course or manual I’ve ever been privy to. This safety tip does not stem from bigotry against guns. One does not have the ability to distinguish between a gun that is loaded and a gun that is not from the outside of the gun (assuming an average, modern gun). The consequences of getting it wrong can be disastrous, even if the vast majority of guns are not loaded.
The fact that according to the US Department of Justice, 99% of rapists (in reported cases) are men, strongly suggests that women have more to fear from strangers than men do with regards to sexual assault, though fully nine percent of rape victims are men. Behaviour like Elevator Guy’s, whether he knows it or not, involved doing stuff done mostly by pick-up artists and rapists. He was engaging in predatory behaviour that sent signals that Watson picked up on as creepy. And because of it, feminists like myself would like men to shoulder some of the burden by avoiding sending such signals and ending such predatory practices where they see them. Certain less savoury elements characterize our wishes as misandry or sexist behaviour or an attempt at establishing a female-dominated society. I call bullshit on this particular slippery slope argument.
Since society has placed such a high burden on women to defend themselves from rape, and since failing to do so could come at such a high cost to the woman in question, and since certain men are fighting the necessity to shoulder some of their burden with cries of sexism and abridged freedom, it’s frankly no wonder that so many women react strongly to situations like the elevator incident. It’s no wonder these women treat every man that does not go out of his way to avoid predatory practices as a potential rapist. They’re well within their rights to do so, at that, because too many men have betrayed them by refusing to acknowledge this is even a problem.
We’re better than this, men. We can shoulder some of this burden. We can stop this utter assholery that has spawned from Watson’s mild rebuke of a mildly creepy incident. All we gotta do is take responsibility for our actions and understand that even some of the more innocuous ones might have consequences for women who have been damaged by society at large. And hell, fixing the parts of society that tend to damage these women in the first place might be a good idea, while we’re at it.