A Male Feminist’s Dilemma


So yesterday I was faced with a big dilemma, both as a man living in a patriarchal universe and as a feminist. I was out tonight with some of my friends to watch a play, after which all of us decided to go out for a quick detour for some drinks, before dinner. After the end of the “detour”, it was decided that I would accompany one of my friends (an adult woman) to the train station in a cab, even though both of us were high if not drunk.

We had to walk for a couple of minutes, to get to a corner of one of the arterial roads, so that we will have a better chance at hiring a taxi that would be willing to take us to the station that my friend had to get to. While we were walking, my friend (a feminist herself) made it very clear that she was both annoyed and offended by my attitude. The fact that I felt it was my responsibility to accompany her to the station at 10:30 pm, was very clearly something that she did not appreciate. All the while she had a very straightforward question: “Do you not trust me in taking care of myself?”. The answer was very obviously that I do trust her to take care of herself (and neither do I believe her to be someone who needs a man to protect her or accompany her late at night). But then the question also had multiple implications, because if I had complete trust in her ability to be self-reliant, what is it that made me feel insecure about her boarding a taxi all alone, at night.

The answer then became very clear to me at that moment. I did not trust the working class, the taxi drivers in this case, enough to not inflict violence on my friend. Neither did I trust them to be human and not opportunistic sex offenders. I realised the prejudice in my reasoning, at the same time I also realised the patronising attitude  that I exhibit quite often towards women around me. I realised that while my elitism did not make me trust the rest of the world to be decent human beings, I was also at the same time guilty of making public spaces inaccessible and insecure to women.

At the end of the road, where we got a taxi that was willing to go to the station, I finally decided that I had to trust both my friend and the taxi driver. At the same time, I had to convince myself to not be an apparatus in perpetuating patriarchal norms and practices, the ones which I so fervently oppose in public. It was very difficult to do and I was restless till she called me from her home, and I am still not convinced that I should have left her alone in the taxi. I will be faced with the same dilemma, the next time a female friend tells me she would be using public transport to reach home without any company. But I keep telling myself that things need to change if we aspire for a better tomorrow.

Comments

  1. mordred says

    I know situations like that myself. When I was younger I was usually the guy to accompany women from the party home or to the station. Usually I was doing this because the woman in question had asked for it.

    Friday or Saturday night we usually had a number of drunken adolescents on the streets, a particularly obnoxious group tended to hang around the station. I never heard of an actual assault happening, but harassment was rather common for the women I knew, so they were glad to have me as a defense.

    Back then I felt a bit like the knight in shining armor, I have to admit. Looking I back I kinda feel like you describe above.

    I don’t have an answer, but I still think I would act like I did back then. Assault and harassment happen, and if a woman asks me to help her against the threat and her fear for a bit, that’s a good thing not because she’s a weak woman and I’m a big strong man (that’s sarcasm, I’m a short, scrawny geek!) but because she’s a human being, but I would not push myself on a woman who does not want me, unless I had a real reason to suspect that she’s unsafe at this particular time and place.

    Come to think of it, I sometimes accompanied a male friend of mine home. He was afraid of the dark.

  2. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    This immediately struck me as exactly the same reasoning of someone arguing that (pretending to be) blind to race is the best way to combat racism. Here, the argument is that the best way to combat the patriarchy is to be blind to the patriarchy and pretend it doesn’t exist. I don’t buy that argument either. I think in order to make the problem go away, we need to fight against the problem in some way, which means recognizing that it is a problem rather than pretending it doesn’t exist. In the end, yes, the kind of reasoning of the OP would then become defunct and would also go away, but I think you’re mixing up the order of policies. First we make the world as safe for women as men, and then do we stop acting to fix the imbalance of safety w.r.t. men and women in the world – not the reverse order which the OP suggests.

    PS: I don’t know if this particular scenario is actually significantly dangerous. I’m making a general point and not discussing the particulars. Also, regardless of whether or not a particular scenario is especially dangerous, I would respect the wishes of my friend once they voiced their objections, and I would immediately change my behavior w.r.t. that friend.

  3. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    First we make the world as safe for women as men, and then do we stop acting to fix the imbalance of safety w.r.t. men and women in the world – not the reverse order which the OP suggests.

    That came out garbled. I meant: First we make the world a safe place for women, and then we stop treating women specially and stop “protecting” women – not the other way around.

    Again, with the caveat that I’m using “protect” in a very general sense to include all sorts of different things. I mean to include fighting rape culture as a means of protecting women, fixing the police, etc. I don’t mean that it’s necessary to specifically chaperone women, especially when a particular women has voiced that she doesn’t want it. The OP’s argument seemed to apply quite broadly, and not just to the specific issue of chaperoning women. I addressed the general point and not the specific point.

  4. AMM says

    Your phrasing “it was decided that I would accompany” left out one critical piece of information: did the woman you accompanied want you to accompany her?

    Assuming she had not drunk so much that her judgement was impaired, it should have been her decision. If she asked you, or freely agreed to your accompanying her, then she has no cause to complain. On the other hand, if you (and your other companions) decided for her (and she went along with it just because it was easier than arguing), then I don’t blame her for complaining.

    The impression I’m getting from what you’ve written is that you feel that it was up to you to judge what risks she was taking and whether she should run those risks. However, she is an adult, and as a woman she probably has a better idea than you exactly how risky or safe the walk and the taxi were for her. And she is the one who has to live with the consequences of her decision, not you. For you to decide for her is treating her like a child. You’re ignoring her agency. No matter how well meant, it’s patronizing and insulting.

    I see no dilemma here. In that situation, you ask whether she’d like you to accompany her, and if you say yes, you go along, and if she says she doesn’t need you to, you assume she knows what she’s doing.

  5. miles says

    It’s not clear from the description if your friend had any say in the initial decision to send you along with her (“it was decided”) but I’d guess no, if she was offended by it. I would guess offering to come along would have been polite (I’m not a woman so that’s a guess, correct me if I’m wrong!) particularly since as I understand it, it can be kinda scary travelling alone at night as a woman in a world where victim blaming like “what were you wearing” is the usual response when they report an assault.
     
    On the other hand, I don’t know you or your friend or how well/long you’ve known each other – but I do know that the vast majority of such assaults are done by acquaintances and not strangers… if you invited yourself along, maybe that in and of itself was a bit on the creepy side?
     
    Like I said, I don’t you or your friend or the circumstances, just figured I’d throw that out in case it was a possibility and you hadn’t thought of it. Either way, sounds like another one of those “alcohol was a factor” encounters that are a million times more awkward the following day!!

  6. says

    I ask but don’t insist.

    I phrase it as “would you feel safer if I walked with you to…” as all the women I know wouldn’t “like” me to accompany them because of all the implications you mention, but some feel happier accepting the offer on that basis.

  7. Thomas Scott says

    Interesting.
    When I was dating my wife, who had lived in Manhatten for eight years, my first action upon going outside was always to look left and right, to get my bearings, and determine which direction I would walk. Her first action was to immediately raise her hand in the air, thus hailing the nearest taxi. The taxi afforded the nearest security and safety from the street. I could never, and still cannot, hail a cab before she does.

  8. JustSomeone says

    Hello!
    I am also a feminist, but I do not see this situation in terms of patriarchal norms. I see it in terms of using “the buddy system” for safety. As a child of outdoor adventurous parents, this was the norm for our entire family.
    It could be that in general men’s safety is often taken for granted. However, there are no guarantees that any of us is safe when travelling alone and impaired on public transportation.

  9. Milind R says

    As a male I haven’t had too many experiences of others firmly deciding for me when I was liable to be wrong, or when I was too confused to be sure but afraid to admit so, mainly because these haven’t really happened to me. I can confidently say that I would appreciate such gestures more than “respecting” my decision-making agency. That is as far as my personal feeling about this goes.

    If we accept that we are not perfect decision makers, then we must absolutely accept that there are cases when one’s friends have better judgement than oneself. Assuming that the above scenario takes place among a group of reasonably good friends, or long-time acquaintances, it is almost always the case that people recognize when one is absolutely 100% certain about something related to their decisions, and they are not likely to question. The interesting (w.r.t the topic at hand) interactions happen only when one is not entirely 100% sure. At such time I find it reasonable to allow the group consensus a certain amount of power. Many heads are likely better than just one.

    In this specific scenario, it’s almost irrelevant that women are generally physically weaker. It’s much more that potential harassers think so, and assume that they would make easy targets. I’m sure a very large number of men will also be as powerless to stop assault in case the potential criminals actually implement it. But it’s the perception that counts.

    The other important thing here is that the penalty for a false negative (accompanying despite dislike by the woman, thus averting an untoward incident), is far far lower than the penalty for a false positive (not accompanying, as per the wishes of the woman, thus triggering a potential assailant on the “edge” to take his (her?) chance). The risks being high, there being potential for lethal damage, it’s highly irrational to do anything other than err on the side of safety.

  10. John Crown says

    The world is a dangerous place. I think it’s always a good idea to stay in a pair or group when walking late at night, and I think more men need to recognize that they’re in danger too when they’re alone. I think a better solution here would be to ensure that everyone had someone to look over their shoulder as they went home, couples escorting the singles to taxies, or two single people pairing up to find two cabs. The gender is not important, it’s just good to have someone there to watch your back.

  11. says

    The fact that I felt it was my responsibility to accompany her to the station at 10:30 pm, was very clearly something that she did not appreciate.

    Your sense of responsibility should not override the free choices and decisions of others. It’s ok to ask or offer, but the choice should be theirs and the accompaniment (if accepted) should be provided without condescension or expectation of reward.

  12. says

    Being in the Army, I wouldn’t immediately see any issue with this. The military puts a high value on accountability not just of oneself but of one’s companions. Being intoxicated in the middle of the city is risky for anyone, and if we go out drinking we’re encouraged to make sure to have a plan and stay with another person (especially suggested that a designated person remain sober) until we’re all in a safe common area, and this applies even back in the States. And, yeah, this also applies even if a person wants to go off on their own despite being drunk, because we don’t set our battle buddies up for failure like that. Now, I know civilian situations can be different, but I think generally it’s a smart idea for friends to look out for each other. It’s kind of like the question of whether one should hold doors open for women. Well, I could stop holding doors for anyone or I could recognize that it’s nice to have a door held for you when you’re coming up behind someone and just do it for anyone directly behind me.

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