Own JS/CSS options

Friday, August 24, 2012

Is the possibility of sexual harassment part of your daily life?

I recently came across an excellent post regarding "approaching unknown women in public". It did highlight some differences in perceived reality that I found quite enlightening.

The major point of the post is that many women, much more so than men, have to keep the possibility of (sexual) assault from strangers in mind during everyday life. While the "preparations" she mentions seemed a bit over-the-top to me, and I sure hope the presentation was a slight hyperbole to drive the point home, it sure did for me: I never think about possible sexual assault of any kind before walking anywhere or meeting up with anyone. And considering the amount of street harassment and sexual assault I am aware of, including a few cases of actual rape, it does indeed seem quite sensible to prepare for that for women. It just never occurred to me that it, indeed, does.

A few years ago, I was being visited by a good (female) friend of mine and we walked to my place from the train station. My friend mentioned she'd be uncomfortable walking home that way alone. I never had thought about that. It was a backyard alley that was not well-lit. A perfect place for assault, sexual or not. It just never had occurred to me. Assault, especially sexual assault, is just not part of my daily reality. The article is trying to point out that this is different between most men and most women.


After I posted this article to a few friends of mine, they (three men) felt attacked and discriminated against by the "default assumption" of "being a rapist". I think that's a misunderstanding of the point there.

When I walk down a dark alley and some dude walks up to me, he's a "potential robber". If he's wearing a hawaiian shirt and sandals, I'll consider it a pretty low likelyhood of him being a robber. "Low" means not "none", though. On the other hand, if he's wearing military clothing, spikes and brandishing a baseball bat, the potential threat level goes up quite a bit.

That's not discrimination.

My reaction is not based on some sweeping generalization of "everyone out there is out to rob me". It's "everyone out there is potentially out to rob me", and that potential goes up and down with various factors. Consequently, if someone wants to strike up a conversation with me, it's a good idea to try and reduce those factors so I feel more at ease when they want to chat with me.

Part of this is that someone who tries to chat with me needs to be aware of these factors. If he has no clue that baseball bats outside of a baseball field (especially outside of the US where there are barely any baseball fields in the first place) are threatening, that military clothing with lots of spikes are threatening, that dark alleys are threatening - then he will happily combine all of that and be confused why I'm looking at him very, very carefully, try to back off, and avoid the chat. He has involuntarily caused me to react to him in a way that he did not want, because he was unaware of the signs he was sending.


Likewise, if you want to chat up some random woman, you need to be aware that you are a potential threat to her. Just like you are to me, you could be a robber. But unlike you are to me, you could be out for sexual assault. If you want to have the woman react to you sensibly, you need to be aware of this possibility, and make sure you reduce the "threat signs" for that, else you are more likely to have a much more negative reaction than you wanted. And if you are not even aware of the possibility that you could be seen as a sexual assaulter, you have a much lower possibility of defusing that perception.

I liked the way the article drove home that point of different perceptions and realities. It sure worked well for me.

PS. Quick note on "sexual assault"

Sexual assault or rape does not necessarily mean "drop down pants and try to stick it in her." Most rapes happen after people have come to know each other a bit and are at someone's home. At which point one party (in 99 of 100 cases a man) ignores the other party's (in 90 out of 100 cases a woman) "no" and tries to become intimate more than the other side is comfortable with. "No" means "no". And while that is more important for intimacy, it is also true for other situations. If someone does not want to chat with you - stop trying.

Oh, and if the sole reason to "chat up an unknown woman" is to have sex with her, you probably should re-evaluate your perception of women's role in society in general and your life in particular.