And then I laughed in the face of a lovely young man for a full minute…
Not terribly generous of me I know. WHY? you may be asking, was I laughing in the face of a lovely young man one Saturday evening in July? What had happened to cause this terrible incident of humourous mocking? What had the poor boy done to deserve such treatment and how did he respond?
Well, the answer to the last question is easy… he walked off in a huff, and some would say, rightly so. Being the hardarse that I am however, I thought; it just goes to show I was right to laugh.
The cause of my laughter was simple, he invoked the age old, patriarchal, male privilege, excuse for not caring, not knowing or not doing anything about a serious issue.
I haven’t seen it so it doesn’t happen
Yes, the endless optimism of the straight, white man in his all knowing, all seeing, all understanding power lives on in the world and I was confronted face on with it in a charming, rather intoxicated but otherwise intelligent and questioning Englishman. It all started in the way that all these things do, with the age old question
What do you do?
I’m finding this question, as time goes on and I get more involved in this site and other adventures like it, harder and harder to answer, but having indulged in a drink or two myself I went with the most fun answer I’ve yet come up with;
I’m a feminist
It’s just such a fabulous way of starting the conversation! Responses to this vary, however generally start with surprise, confusion or elation. I’ve had reactions from;
Oh my god that’s the best job ever
I can’t relate
So how does that work?
From this gentleman the response was slightly different;
Oh really, what are your thoughts about male rape?
FUN! I gave him the only response that I could; that rape in any form is an atrocity, that it’s perfectly possible to rape a man, although the majority of male rape is male to male, not female to male and that it has exactly the same mental, emotional and physical ramifications as does male to female rape.
EXCEPT for one key difference. The majority of male sexual violence is perpetrated by someone who is a stranger to the victim, while the majority of sexual violence experienced by women is committed by someone the woman knows. Boyfriend, father, friend, team mate, colleague etc etc. And this key difference means that while men are generally safe in their own homes, and need only fear “the street” and “the stranger”, women have far greater cause to fear their homes, workplaces, friends houses and other private spaces. Spaces which are supposed to be safe and should represent a place of relaxation and refuge from the big bad world, are thus rendered for many women into the place of their torture and violation. The act of rape and other sexual violence in and of itself is equally abhorrent whether experienced by a man or a woman. The place and perpetrator of that violence however does change the experience and the potential for recovery or further trauma.
The English Gentleman was fairly surprised by both my apparent understanding and knowledge on the subject and my somewhat scientific approach to accessing the severity of each crime. He responded with a question about sexual harassment of men in the workplace. He contended that while sexual harassment of women was outlawed and severely punished, women were allowed to harass men without consequence. My response to this premise was fairly predictable. While I recognised that it was a problem and that it was both unpleasant, made working life difficult and potentially make men fear their workplace, the experience of sexual harassment for men and women were different. Sadly, for many men, reporting workplace sexual harassment can be difficult. Many workplaces don’t even have policies for dealing with female to male workplace sexual harassment (a massive oversight) and socially, for a man to complain about a woman touching him up is challenging and could open him up for ridicule from colleagues. However, the lifetime experience of sexual harassment for men and women is different and I think, this difference should be recognised.
From practically day dot, young girls are educated and socialised to a) need external validation to develop a sense of self worth and b) understand that they are the keepers of the sex AND legitimate objects of desire and should thus protect or promote their sexuality and availability according to whatever influence they are currently experiencing (by this I mean that they have to be both modest and protect their sexuality otherwise to be labelled sluts and simultaneously remain desireable and alluring to men). That unlike violence, women experience sexual harassment wherever and whenever and no matter what they’re wearing, doing, saying or emoting. Here I said, there is no way to protect yourself from street harassment if you’re a woman. Some men will harass you whether you’re wearing a bikini or a burqa. And this is where he said it. He disagreed, he said women who cover up don’t get sexually harassed, they protect themselves. And how did he know this? Because he, white, middle-class, heterosexual, male (and quite a well built one at that) used to be a welfare officer at a university in a diverse neighbourhood and NONE of the muslim women ever complained to HIM about sexual harassment.
He hadn’t seen it so it didn’t happen……..
This is about the place I started laughing and pointing and generally drawing attention to him and me and thus ended the conversation with him getting up and leaving. Ah, a beautiful end to a beautiful conversation.
Have any of you feminausts ever heard the “I haven’t seen it so it doesn’t happen” statement and where? why? how? Write to us and let us know your experiences of monkeys at work.
Image “these boots” taken from Little Shiva’s photostream on Flickr under creative commons license.