What’s wrong with guys?

I hate to ask that question because, generally speaking, I get along pretty well with dudes.

There isn’t a general parking lot where I work, just one for the higher ups.  Because of that, I have to park a couple blocks away wherever I can find street parking.  This is not a great situation, not because I mind the walk, but for whatever reason this particular neighborhood, which is quite nice, has some very not nice traffic in the form of guys who like to harass women.

Up to now, this has only really been a problem in the evenings, after dark, and if I leave particularly late or am parked particularly far away, I can usually get someone to walk with me.  Which I never do because that seems pathetic.  I have been followed by cars, honked at, and screamed at.  It’s usually just a brief scare and it passes.

Not that it matters, and it certainly shouldn’t matter, but I don’t dress provocatively.  80% of the time I’m wearing some variation of jeans, t-shirt, ponytail and glasses.

Anyway, the point is that the summer has been a welcome respite because it stays light longer, so I walk to my car from work in the daylight and it’s all good.  I haven’t been bothered in ages.

This morning, I parked not terribly far away, and someone in a gold forerunner not in very good shape honked at me and waved like crazy as I was walking through a crosswalk.  I looked at them, it was some guy I didn’t recognize and who, even at a distance, looked skeezy.  To be fair, honking at a girl automatically puts you in the skeez camp, even if it is 10AM.

I crossed over another street and saw that the forerunner was driving too fast up that street and quickened my pace a little to be well out of the way.  The guy had driven around like 5 blocks to get back to me.  The guy started screaming at me, but I just ignored him since he was behind me, hoping that he’d go away.

The guy swearved around traffic and pulled into someone’s driveway to cut me off.  He very nearly ran me over.

Creep: Hey, I’m the guy who honked at you.
Me: Yeah, I got that.
C: Do you have a boyfriend?
M: Yes.
(The inflection here has to imply the imaginary boyfriend is a linebacker, very violent, and the jealous type)
C: Does he make you happy?
M: Yes.
C: That’s too bad, I was hoping I could take you out some time.
M: Sorry, you can’t.
C: You could still go out though, right? I mean –
M: Really I couldn’t
C: Do you have a sister?
M: No, I have a brother, I doubt you’d be interested.

Do you have a sister? WTF SERIOUSLY?! Who goes around picking up women on the side of the road?

The Imaginary Boyfriend

The Imaginary Boyfriend

Anyway, this all reminds me of a post on Pharyngula yesterday, about why there aren’t more women who go to conventions. It’s because women deal with shit like that on a regular basis and walking into a room dominated by strange guys by yourself isn’t fun. It’s not fair to the vast majority of guys who aren’t super creepy, but it’s true. Even if only one guy in the room is super creepy, if none of the other people have your back, many girls decide that it’s not worth it.

And if one person comments that I’m lucky to have the attention, I will find you and bring a baseball bat.  I don’t own a baseball bat, but I’m seriously reconsidering my position on that.

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About ashleyfmiller

I write, give occasional speeches, and am currently getting my PhD in Mass Communications from South Carolina. Before going back to school, I worked in Los Angeles in reality tv, web series, and film.

Posted on June 30, 2010, in feminism, Posts Worth Going Back and Reading, Real Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. You may be interested in this article about how Bystander Sexism/Harassment Hurts Men. I think it should be required reading for guys myself, particularly those who have complained about how hard it is to approach women in social settings.

    • ashleyfmiller

      I don’t know that many people think it’s good behavior, it’s the question of what can be done to stop it. Good article, though.

  2. I hate to hear that you have to go through this regularly. I will comment that for whatever reason, in some families boys are brought up thinking that it is okay to disrespect women like that, and it’s wholly unacceptable. The only cure is education about women’s rights and women’s issues.

    However, I will say this. Imagine a blog post “What’s wrong with blacks?” together with comments like the following:

    “It’s because white people deal with shit like that on a regular basis and walking into a room dominated by black guys by yourself isn’t fun. It’s not fair to the vast majority of blacks who aren’t loudmouthed obnoxious pricks, but it’s true. Even if only one black in the room is a loudmouthed obnoxious prick, if none of the other people have your back, many whites decide that it’s not worth it.”

    Like I said, this guy’s behavior is wholly unacceptable. However, this is far more likely to be the product of the guys’ upbringing, education level, and possibly even his religious beliefs, rather than the existence of a penis. Hell, he might have Asperger’s Syndrome and be incapable of understanding that what he did was wrong and why. The male you are describing is a stereotype, and you are aware of this (which is why you qualified yourself with the “it’s not fair to the vast majority of guys” comment) and yet you are still generalizing.

    As an aside, I am not the guy who puts up a front of feminism only to constantly criticize feminism and is secretly a mysoginist. I find myself constantly defending female students (I’m a university math teacher) from asshole male students making comments like “If you shut your mouth for a few minutes you could marry rich and not have to study calculus anymore.”

    However, I find a post like this almost as bothersome as I would find a post describing how hard it is for a guy to get chicks when “girls are so superficial and only want men for their money.” They aren’t equivalent, though, because oftentimes in your situation, you feel as if your life is threatened. However, getting mugged by a black guy is not a get-out-of-racism-free card, right?

    • ashleyfmiller

      You’ve got your metaphor backwards, it’d be like a black person who was constantly harassed by white people complaining that other white people ignore how difficult the racist shit they deal with is to face. If they asked “What’s wrong with white people?” I’d understand why. Privilege matters.

      This guy’s behavior is unacceptable, and unfortunately it is not unique, and I’m not sure how the guy I’m describing, you know, an actual person, is a stereotype, not a real person. And I’m not sure how you think belittling a traumatic experience is in any way going to start a useful dialogue. You start accusing someone of being sexist because they want to talk about how sexist behavior impacts them, and you’re being intentionally obtuse, insensitive, and disingenuous.

      Did I say anywhere that I think all men are awful and behave this way, no. In fact, part of my point is that this behavior doesn’t just hurt women, it hurts men too.

      But I am asking why the hell so many guys do behave this way, what’s wrong with them? And why don’t more guys protest how badly women are treated, what’s wrong with them? And that when guys complain that women aren’t comfortable being approached by strange guys, they have to recognize how women are treated not just assume it’s because women are cold bitches. And if you’re a guy and you see this kind of behavior, if you don’t stop it, women assume you endorse it.

      And if someone got mugged by a black guy, I would understand that they would be wary around black men, that’s the natural response, but it would be a personal response to an isolated incident that that person would have to deal with. There’s a difference between being mugged by one guy once and being mugged on a weekly basis. At some point it stops being an issue you have to deal with personally and starts being a societal one. Not asking why is being PC to the point of harming yourself.

  3. You’re right, my metaphor was backwards. Thank you for correcting me, that was a very useful reframing. Privilege does matter. But, privilege notwithstanding, I don’t think it is ever acceptable to pose a question like “What’s wrong with [insert a heterogeneous population of people assumed to be homogeneous in their behavior here]?” because that sort of thinking leads to the exact sort of behavior that you and I have both condemned here.

    I did not intend to belittle your experience, mock you, be obtuse, insensitive, or disingenuous. I acknowledged that you felt endangered because I know that the experience you described is hellish and horrible. I have no idea what it feels like for you to have gone through that, but I do know what it feels like to fear for your life and fear another human being on an instinctual gut level, and walk away with your legs wobbly and your hands shaking.

    Just to be clear, no, you did not say anywhere that you think all men are awful and behave this way (although you entitled your post “What’s wrong with guys?” and you did unfairly generalize to all of us); I did not say anywhere that you are sexist (although I alluded to it with the get-out-of-racism-free comment).

    In answer to your question, I don’t know what’s wrong with those guys. I don’t know why more people don’t protest when they witness it – it’s most likely bystander apathy and a lack of education about minority issues. I can tell you from personal experiencing talking to my (mostly male) students that their LEAST favorite classes are the ethnic studies and women’s studies courses, because these courses challenge their understanding of the status quo and that goes against known cognitive biases. If the question is “why does this happen?” the answer is because it happened with our great grandparents, so it happened with our grandparents, so it happened with our parents, so it happened with us, because that’s how people are raised and that’s the status quo. It’s (marginally) better today than it was, say, 4 decades ago when feminism started to get on its feet, but these instances still occur on a daily basis. However, the question ought not be “What’s wrong with guys?” it ought to be “What’s wrong with the system that is producing such people?”

    I can say that on every occasion I’ve witnessed this sort of occurrence, I stop it. And I’m really goddamned sorry if I came off as obtuse, insensitive, or disingenuous; it was not intentional.

    • I agree that it’s not useful to insist that an entire population is guilty of a behavior, even by association, but I do think it’s useful to consider an entire population who have a high incidence of a certain behavior. It’s sort of like saying “Why are women afraid of men?” when the reality is not all women are afraid of men. But it’s useful as a hypothetical, why would women be afraid of men is a topic worth discussing, is there something about women in general that leads to this behavior, that makes them predisposed to it.

      But the question “What’s wrong with guys?” is asked by women a lot, and the fact that that question is asked is important. I guess the generalizing I’m trying to do is say that all men should be aware that women think this because of behavior they face. It could have been titled “Why women wonder what’s wrong with guys?” We’re basically addressing the same thing, just from different angles, you’re saying people shouldn’t stereotype guys (I agree) and I’m saying this behavior causes women to do it, and maybe if guys generally were more aware of that, it would be easier to combat it and, therefore, lead to less stereotyping. And that when men are insensitive to it, it only makes it worse.

      Fear is one of those things that’s difficult to logic out of, you know?

      And I’m sorry if I jumped on you, it’s just that you were very immediately defensive and accusatory and made it seem like you thought I was a bad person because I was trying to work through a bad experience with less than perfectly precise language.

      I understand that you, as a guy, hate to be just lumped in with people who behave like this, just like I, as a southerner, hate to be lumped in with people who behave the way some rednecks do. I just hope you can see that it can still be useful to talk about why southerners are such backwards people without it necessarily indicting me.

      And just so I’m totally clear, I like guys, I like men friends as much as women friends, most of my interests are dominated by guys, and I’m not one of the women who feel uncomfortable going to male-dominated events. I’ve had much worse experiences with men than the one I had today, but I also have had every one of my guy friends stand up for me in circumstances where another guy was behaving inappropriately. But even they don’t realize how constantly and consistently girls get harassed.

      • It’s so refreshing on the internet to come to an agreement so rapidly.

        As an aside, I agree that the question “What’s wrong with guys” is implicitly asking “what is it about society that brings some men to harass strange women, and to bring some women to fear strange men?” An inherent assumption is built into the former, though, causing it to be loaded. Just as inherent subservience is built into gendered words like “waitress/waiter” or “stewardess/steward”, and hence gender-neutral words with a greater degree of respect built in like “server” or “flight attendant” are preferable, a question like “What’s wrong with guys” instantly puts males on the defensive (of which I am certainly guilty, and for which I apologize once again) and excludes us from the discussion.

        It is, however, a given that it is (nearly) impossible for us to sympathize with your situation – only empathize – so our contribution to the discussion is limited and often degenerates into misunderstanding. One thing I have learned from this conversation, though is that street harassment is a far bigger problem than I previously surmised, and so I will take that into account in future conversations like this.

        As a tangent, one of my favorite people is a foul-mouthed southerner who happens to be a brilliant algebraist and delights in people assuming he’s a moron before they discover he’s a mathematician.

      • ashleyfmiller

        I like the “ess” words, but I also prefer “miss” to “ms.” so maybe I’m the wrong person to ask. But yes, it is always nice to come to an agreement on the internet, since most people, including myself at times, go around looking to be sensationalistic or offended.

        As a tangent to your tangent, I was a math major before I went into film, but the combined harassment from being a the girl and being from South Carolina made it too tough a row to hoe. It just stops being worth it at some point, you know? I don’t sound southern though, so it is fun sometimes to spring that on people after they know me as a smart person.

  4. You handled that surprisingly well, considering you actually talked back to him instead of ignoring him.

    Perhaps you might be interested in starting up a “Hollaback LA”?

    http://hollabacknyc.blogspot.com/

    • Well, my choices were to talk or turn around and run, ignoring would have been my preferred approach.

      Interesting site though…

  5. I think a better question than “What’s wrong with guys?” would be “What’s wrong with so many of the guys in THIS place?”

    If you really have to live in a place where you’re afraid to walk alone at night, I suggest you learn a martial-art, thoroughly.

    There are lots of cities where women can walk around at night without any fear – unfortunately they’re all quite far from LA :-)

    • ashleyfmiller

      I’ve lived in 5 different places in the US, it’s always a problem. I don’t feel unsafe in the neighborhood in which I live, just the one where I work. LA is like most places, some areas are fine, some aren’t — I don’t know anywhere where you feel totally safe alone at night, if it’s not people that are scary it’s critters. I know some basic self-defense, but I have zero interest in martial arts. They involve way too much woo for me.

      • I actually have the same problem on a frequent enough basis, and I live in Seattle, which is one of the safest major cities in the country. I don’t actually feel as though these men would DO anything to me — because I don’t own a car, the kind of creeps I run into are also carless so I don’t feel as though they could sweep me away in their vehicle and I’d never be seen again, so that helps. But the amount of comments just for being out in public … it’s ridiculous. And, like Ashley, I don’t dress provocatively, and I especially don’t right now because Seattle is still so cold I have to wear a coat outside.

        And honestly, I think it is a legitimate question to say “What’s wrong with guys,” generally. While the level of harassment is sometimes huge on the street, there’s often an undercurrent of it at parties I’ve been to, all my life. Guys assume that because you’re there and drinking, especially if you show up alone or with just female friends, they get to hit on you in a slimy way. The reactions that this Brandon Goodell points to in his math class are in the same vein.

        I don’t think it’s a problem with men’s BRAINS, I think it’s a cultural problem that needs to be wiped out. So I suppose the real question is, “What is wrong with our culture that programs men to do this?” Women reacting with cowardice is as much a cultural problem — I find myself in that bind with unwanted attention at parties, because I don’t want to be a frigid bitch to someone I don’t really know and who is probably inebriated, but it’s annoying. But when you’re told your whole life that you have to ignore or avoid this kind of behavior at all costs, because the man cat-calling you will probably beat the shit out of you just because you’re female … it’s s terrible position to be in.

        In better news on this same subject, there’s a video game being developed by a lady programmer called “Hey Baby,” and it’s a first person shooter where you get to kill the assholes who cat-call you. http://www.heybabygame.com/info.php

      • “I’ve lived in 5 different places in the US, it’s always a problem.”

        Try further.

        I’m male so I can’t comment on the attitude of men to women in various cities, but I can certainly comment on the crime rates and general safety of places I’ve been.

        I grew up in Dublin, where I was robbed many times in the city by junkies with syringes, kids with knives, thugs with bottles. Dublin has a huge problem with violent inner-city kids and drunk people at the weekends.

        I now live in Melbourne, where people are refused entry to a pub or club if they even appear drunk. Police on horseback roam the city streets. People can take out their laptop or iPad on the tram and feel totally safe and unthreatened. If I saw someone using a laptop on a bus in Dublin I would be stunned at their stupidity and would advise them to put it away before they get robbed.

        My wife has lived in Australia for longer than me and has never been threatened or harassed (that I know of).

        There are plenty of cities where threatening and abusive behavior are rare, however I suspect most of them are outside of the United States.

        As for martial arts involving too much woo – that’s very true, but as a skeptic you should be able to filter that out and still get the benefit. I believe everyone should take responsibility for their personal safety and should not be reliant upon the police or others.

      • ashleyfmiller

        As soon as Australia says “Yes, we’ll let you live here forever, no problem, no hassle, no paperwork, no having to prove you’re worth the effort” I’m on the next plane. Promise.

      • Actually they make Americans answer all sorts of embarrassing questions just to get INTO Australia, never mind staying. I think it’s revenge for all the fingerprinting and retina scanning American customs does to us.

        http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/travellers-to-be-searched-for-porn-20100520-vh09.html

  6. ashleyfmiller

    How about the response I got over at OpenSalon:

    you’re a young, attractive woman. whaddya expect? try walking like a movie star. wear dark sunglasses. learn “dont mess with me” body language. you dont even mention if you have a real boyfriend….. I guess you consider that irrelevant? just remember, its just the macroscopic version of the microscopic sperm fighting to get to the egg, wink

    dark glasses plus some kinda hat that would look like something your grandma would wear. think that would do the trick.

    and try asking ppl in your family how they got together. like your mother & your grandparents. the stories might surprise you.

    • Oh right, because if I had the opportunity to ask my grandparents how they met, I’m *totally* sure the story would be, “Well, he screetched to a halt as I was trying to get to work one morning and demanded to know if I had a boyfriend.” Or, “Well, I was drunk at a party and your grandfather date raped me. Once I sobered up and decided to keep the baby, then sent my football player brother after him to force him to marry me, it turned out he wasn’t so bad.”

      Really?!

      Also, I sincerely doubt this has anything to do with attractiveness. Also, I’m considering carrying something innocuous around, like a balloon filled with red paint, and anytime 1) someone cat-calls me, or 2) a car almost hits me while I’m crossing the street, I’m going to throw one of these. Totally water-soluble, but it gets my aggression out.

      • ashleyfmiller

        Yours was the 523 comment, which is my birthday number, so a winner is you.

        I LOVE the balloon idea for serious.

  7. This is one of the best comment sections to a blog post I’ve ever read.

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