Guys, do you want to know why we get twitchy when you do "gentlemanly" things like help us lift stuff?
I went grocery shopping yesterday. As I was just finishing up loading the bags into the car, an older gentleman (about 60) came up to me, and said something like "pretty girl, do you need help?", and I said "No thanks!" with a smile. He ignored me, said "that's a lot of stuff". I said "No, I'm fine, I don't need any help". He ignored me and bent over my bags, saying "those look heavy". I said "NO thank you, I can manage just fine". He ignored me, reached down, and STARTED GRABBING MY BAGS. I said very firmly "NO. Give me my bag". I have to load the Miata carefully; stuff is packed tight, and I don't want things crushed and I SAID NO FOUR FUCKING TIMES, AND THOSE ARE MY BAGS, WTF?
Bob said "maybe he wanted the cart". No, he put it back in the corral. He wanted to be helpful, and he didn't care that I didn't want help.
In a society where many men seem to feel it's perfectly okay to fuck a woman who has said she doesn't want to, and many, many more men make excuses for the man who did that, saying "well, she was drunk/oh, she's just a slut/she's doing it to get back at him/she's just saying that because she's decided she doesn't want to look bad in front of her friends/she was drunk, so she was asking for it", we cannot trust any man who WILL NOT LISTEN WHEN WE SAY NO.
I can hear some of the men I know now - "he was just being nice/he wanted to help/why can't we be allowed to be helpful?/you're overreacting/why are you being such a bitch about this?". You can make all the excuses for him that you like, but you cannot gloss over the fact that he ignored me four times when I said no. If I can't get this man to listen to me when I am just loading bags into my car, what hope do I have when he really wants something, like my body?
Sadly, we have learned to expect men not to listen to us - as soon as we open our mouths about any feminist issue, there are suddenly ten men in the room, talking loudly about how hard it is for them, too, turning the conversation around to them again. If I talk about rape, a guy will bring up the fact that women lie about rape, as if the fact that some women are flawed negates the overwhelming numbers of sexual assaults perpetrated by men against women every year (men also lie about rape, usually to say they didn't do it). If I bring up harrassment, a guy will bring up the fact that men get harrassed, too. Nothing I say will change this; if I press the issue, I'm overreacting, and with that judgement, they have dismissed me, and no longer need to listen to what I'm saying. I'm not generalizing; this has happened in both my on-line journals.
I cannot even say anything here about how these matters make me feel without a guy in the comments trying to tell me that I'm wrong, and he's not like that, men aren't like that, and I'm wrong. But I'm angry. The vast, overwhelming majority of sexual assault and abuse is perpetrated by men against women. This should make everyone angry; why isn't everyone angry? These abusers and rapists are giving men a bad name - why aren't you going after them, instead of getting angry at women for... having vaginas?
Men will really never know what it's like when I feel my entire body tense up because a man is pressing into my personal space, grabbing my shopping, refusing to hear that I am saying "no" over and over again. If I yell at him for invading my space and not listening to me, I'm a bitch and a ballbuster, and if I'm polite, I'm not listened to. I can't win either way, so I may as well make a scene. Similarly, you're either going to dismiss my polite writing or think I'm overreacting and bitchy when I rant, so I may as well rant. Click the back button, I don't mind. Really, I don't. If you can't relate to what I'm saying, this is not the entry for you. Come back tomorrow when I'll be writing about vampires.
Men can bring up situations where they felt threatened, but that simple everyday fear that many of us (all women) live with is something you can't feel. This abyss between our perceptions of the world is agonizing, in part because I run into a lot of men who badly want to pretend it doesn't really exist.
I'd gladly participate in the fantasy, except that every time something like this (or this) happens, reality smacks me hard in the face and I remember what it means to be female.
To every man that wonders why women don't appreciate their nice gestures, I have this to say: When you can stand beside us and against all the men who rape, assault, and take women, all the men who think it's okay to cop a feel, make a suggestive remark, or speak in sexualized terms to debase or minimize a woman, when you are willing to say rape to a friend who is boasting about fucking a girl who was almost passed out from drinking, when you're willing to yell back at harrassers on the street, and don't try to push yourself even "helpfully" on a woman who has not asked for your help, when you can hear "no" and immediately stop whatever you're doing, when you can respond to us politely and respectfully when we say "no thanks" (just like you would for a man)...
I'd rather deal with heavy bags and doors and changing a tyre and all the things I can do on my own than be afraid that the next man who won't listen to me when I say no is going to be the one who won't listen when I tell him he can't have my body. I'd gladly give up all the gentlemanly acts if it meant I could be free of this fear, but the trouble is, men are not listening to what we're saying when we say we don't want the door held for us; as a group, they are sulking, and abusing us more, because they don't understand that the door is a symbol of centuries of enforced helplessness, of being fragile, minimized, and too "delicate" to do anything but wait passively for a man to choose us.
I know that's a lot of baggage to heap on a poor door, but big ideas often rest on small symbols. We want our bodies, our space, our lives to be our own; we want to know that men aren't making excuses for everything from unwanted flashing to rape and murder. We'd like to go through life knowing that men don't feel like they have a right to own us simply because they want us. And we'd like the men in our lives to take the initiative and stand up as a group against the men who think they have an absolute right to do anything they want to a woman. We don't want to be told we're making a big deal out of nothing. We want you to understand that it is a big deal.
But if I can't get a man to listen to me about my groceries... what hope do I have?
I'm not anti-men; God no, I love men. I love being with them, I love the way they make me laugh, I love the way they play, I love the physical stuff, too. But I really love the men in my life who treat me as their equal. I would carry the heaviest basket all by myself if it meant I could be regarded as an equal all the time, I really would. Having the door held for me is not nearly as important as being heard. It's nice, and I appreciate nice, but I appreciate being listened to much more. I totally dig the men in my life who accept my intelligence, and don't try to top me. I've been with men who couldn't even grant me the power of laughing at my jokes (and I'm pretty damned funny), and it's awful.
You (yes, you) personally may feel that you are not one of "those" guys. If you are, if you really are, can you become part of this? It is an awesome idea and I want as many men and women as possible to support it The men I love and care for are all naturally this kind of guy, but it's important that men speak up against harrassment of women, too. Social pressure is what changes society as a whole.
Please don't argue with me in the comments; just listen to what I'm saying. The fear I feel is real, and I don't care how helpful you think you are; if you won't listen when I say no, you're not helping. That includes commenting.