Learning to harass

Today as I was walking to the supermarket I happened to pass a group of young men. It was as I was about to walk up a set of steps, and four were sitting on the rails at the base of the steps, and another was sat on the rail at the top of the steps.

These are shallow steps, and running alongside them is a ramp for wheelchairs and prams and suchlike. It was late afternoon. The sky was overcast.

It should further be noted that when I describe these as ‘young men’, I mean they were probably – oh, I don’t know – 13 to 15 years old.

As I passed them heading up the steps a woman was walking down the steps. As she walked past him, the one sat perched on the rail at the top of the steps shouted down to his mates:

Oi Danny! I’d say that was at least a eight out of ten!

Or words to that affect.

In case the context isn’t clear, he was passing comment on the woman’s appearance and shouting his opinion of same down to one of his companions, while she was still very much within earshot.

As I passed the 14 (?) year old boy I considered pushing him slightly so that he fell off the railing. I then admonished myself for even considering such a thing. If I had done so he could easily have fallen onto the tarmac and split his skull. I then admonished myself for not telling him not to harass women in public.

In all honesty, I was never any more likely to give him a Good Talking To than I was to push him off the railing.

Then I went to the supermarket and bought my groceries, and thought no more about it until now.

What made me think of this again was reading this tweet by Laurie Penny:

I’ve seen enough instances of harassment of women by men to know that this must be a severe and ubiquitous problem. The fact that I – a man – have happened to witness this sort of thing going on several times must mean that it goes on all the time.

Cowardice and selfishness will always prevent me from “stepping in” when I see harassment happening*. I know how groups of stupid men act when they can claim to themselves they have been attacked by other men. I also know how individual men act in such circumstances. This is especially true of the kind of men who verbally harass women in the street.

Obviously this demonstrates that I am a terrible and inadequate person; I knew that anyway. But it also demonstrates something else.

What made me remember that particular incident was how young these lads were. I say 14 to 15, but they could have been even younger for all I know. A few years ago they probably thought girls were icky. And now they’ve learnt to treat women as objects in public.

Perhaps this particular chap will grow up and develop impulse control and spend less time hanging around on streetcorners with his mates. Perhaps he’ll learn to behave decently. Perhaps. But there’s a good chance he won’t. But he learnt to behave like this so quickly. It only took a couple of years to transform an innocent kid into a misogynistic gobshite.

This is patriarchy, I guess. Or an aspect of it.

I genuinely don’t know how to solve this problem. I suspect if it ever gets solved it will be through an endlessly frustrating, grindingly difficult process of teaching boys to be better men, and letting the bad men die off slowly.

* Excepting instances of out-and-out violence, where it’s obvious I’m the only person present able to do anything to stop the woman getting severely injured.

Horrible mansplainy comment mark 2

Let me explain my thinking. In society, there is a problem called sexism. In those societies fortunate enough to have achieved a high degree of formal legal equality between the genders (the UK, the USA, Canada, and many other countries besides), there remains the problem of sexism; a problem which takes many forms, such as women being underpaid, under-represented in certain jobs, suffering from sexual abuse and rape etc.

The purpose of feminism is to remove this sexism. The victory condition for feminism is a society without sexism. Fine. But what is sexism? Broadly speaking, it is a set of beliefs and attitudes that are widely held about how women should behave; and these beliefs and attitudes are held by *everyone*, both men and women. These beliefs and attitudes are the *cause* of the various inequalities that exist between the genders (again, this obviously only applies to those countries that *don’t* still have inequalities enforced by law).

In order to combat this sexism, we must endeavour to change people’s beliefs and attitudes. Now, because many people will deny that they *do* hold sexist views, this process of changing beliefs will require that we first persuade people that a problem exists in the first place. A great deal of sexism is ‘subconscious’ sexism that manifests itself in things that don’t happen as much as things that do happen (e.g. women’s lower pay may be attributable to men simply not thinking to offer women promotions. While it is difficult to *prove* that a particular woman has lost out, the macro-level evidence is clear.). Once we have successfully persuaded people that a problem exists we can persuade them to change their beliefs and hence change their behaviour.

But here’s the problem: the vast preponderance of sexist beliefs are held by men, and the vast preponderance of sexist behaviour is performed by men. This means that at some point the feminist movement will have to persuade men that a) many men hold sexist beliefs, and b) that these sexist beliefs cause those men to behave in a sexist fashion.

So yes. The feminist movement needs men. It needs to include men. In fact, the victory condition of feminism would be one in which *all* men were converted to feminism, and in which all men were good feminists (i.e. non-sexist).

I think the problem here is that the OP conception of ‘the feminist movement’ seems to be some sort of army or corporation, with hierarchies and bosses at the top – bosses who OP says can only be women – and which does… something, somehow, to combat sexism. Like as if sexism was a foreign army of people that you could defeat on a battlefield. But sexism isn’t like that.

I sincerely believe that we are more likely to succeed if we are polite, and if we make our arguments rigorously and calmly, because we are right. I don’t think feminism will succeed if we insist that feminism is transformed into some kind of ‘no boys’ social club for women.

In which our hero mansplains to feminists

I left a comment at this post on the blog of someone called Jem Bloomfield:

So this piece highlights a lot of problems I have with the feminist movement, or at least with the online/Twitter wing of the feminist movement. Take this, for example:

They can’t imagine not being the heroes of the movement.

Or this:

For white cis men, one of the most important things we can realize about feminism is that it is not about us. We can contribute, we can co-operate, but we can’t lead it, win it or set the agenda. We can’t embody it or introduce it to the big time. We can’t be feminism. If we ever did, it would stop being feminism.

This strikes me as a deeply counter-productive position. It seems to imply that feminism is some exclusive club, rather than a political ideology. As such, there is no ‘agenda’. There is no need for ‘leaders.’ A set of moral or ideological propositions constitutes an agenda in and of itself. A political ideology succeeds through persuading as many people as possible to adopt its tenets, and not through the creation of charismatic leaders.
Political movements succeed by building coalitions of interests and coalitions of agreement. If feminism is to succeed it must include men, and it must make itself appealing to men.
I know that this last sentence will probably outrage a lot of people, but the facts are that men are approximately 50% of the human race and represent rather more than 50% of the existing power and wealth of the human race. Is this a good thing? No. In the best of all possible worlds, would it be the case that there existed such an inequality of power? No. Do we live in the best of all possible worlds?

To succeed in making a better world, feminists must co-opt men and ensure that men are ‘on board’ with the feminist movement and with its ideals and objectives. As has already been mentioned, it’s mostly the actions and behaviour of men that results in a need for feminism in the first place. If men feel like feminism is ‘something for women’ they won’t care about, or they will dismiss it, or (perhaps worst of all) they will simply continue to be indifferent to it.
Men like to be heroes. They like to see themselves as heroes. Women probably like to be heroes too. So what’s the harm with encouraging people (including men) that they are the heroes of a morally righteous political movement? It’s the sort of thing that gets the juices flowing. It’s the sort of positive vision that people could actually feel enthusiastic about supporting.

If we[1] don’t have a problem taking into account another person’s special expertise in a setting like that, surely we should be even more keen to acknowledge their right to speak about their own experience.

There is a difference between data (e.g. a woman’s particular experience of sexism in a patriarchal world), and doctrine (e.g. feminists must oppose Page 3). The latter, unlike the former, is the subject of debate and argument, and the quality of an argument is independent of the person making it.
Look: I know that this comment probably sounds incredibly trollish, and I apologise for that; but I’d sincerely like to hear someone explain why I’m wrong, if I am.

I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are.

“I’m a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are.”