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Girl stuff.

More Halloween stuff tomorrow. Today, things that make people uncomfortable. I have 600 subscribed readers this morning; I'm sure I'll lose a few with this one.

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.

Comments

( 116 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
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bertana
Oct. 28th, 2008 12:38 pm (UTC)
Brava! Really, really well-said.
ziactrice
Oct. 28th, 2008 12:45 pm (UTC)
You put the point so well, in my poor engineer's brain I have the immediate thought that no one could misunderstand. Then my all-around brain kicks on, and I just know that someone will likely make a comment exactly of the nature you ask and ask him NOT to.

Frankly, I have real fear of such unwanted and unasked for invasions of my personal space, due to having my body pummeled by the unrestrained strength of a man in full fight. I understand just how little chance I have of properly defending myself at arm's length of a man and less.

I probably would have started screaming for help, old man or not...
(Deleted comment)
attack_laurel
Oct. 28th, 2008 12:58 pm (UTC)
It does, and I think you should go ahead and write it.

I could, but one of the reasons for the "gentleman's auxiliary" is that sadly, some people hear it better when it comes from a man. *sad smile*
(no subject) - holyschist - Oct. 29th, 2008 12:48 am (UTC) - Expand
sileas_1
Oct. 28th, 2008 12:54 pm (UTC)
You reminded me of a conference I attended a year or so ago for women in local government. The host town provided "entertainment" for the coffee break. A councillor from the town did a comic routine. He told jokes about naked women in fur coats and similar type crap, and actually thought he was being funny. I was completely horrified and walked out. I found out later that every woman in the room was offended but was at a loss as to what to do. Women need to be able to speak up when this sort of thing happens. I didn't, I hope next time I will have the guts to stand up and say "stop it, you are offending us, demeaning us and belittling us".
attack_laurel
Oct. 28th, 2008 12:59 pm (UTC)
It is really, really hard to break social conditioning and stand up. I think walking out was very brave. :)
drmrsgal
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:01 pm (UTC)
Huzzah
I am a large woman (picture linebacker built) and I still get creeped out when someone by the men that don't take "No, but thank you." for an answer. I have thankfully worked very hard to instill in my boys the respect for human space to ask, "Can I help?" and then respect the individuals answer. (They are young.. I'm still working on it.) Mainly I feel that it's my responsibility as a woman to instill in my children the respect for their and everyone's right to say, "No."

Well written piece, and I hear you about the gotta be the "b" to be heard.
duchesspadr
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:09 pm (UTC)
I don't disagree with you, and I'm disgusted by your "helper's" behavior. Wow, what a way to ignore a woman. I do not have the same reaction to acts of gentlemanly helpfulness as you, but then I've also never had one ignore me when I said no. Guess I'm lucky that way. A friend recently suggested a book to me called "Choosing Civility", which I really want to read. I'm just as apt to hold open a door for someone as have it held open for me. I wish all members of society were generally more helpful to each other. But no menas no, in all situations. Geez, that sucks. Sorry that happened to you.
lorebubeck
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:42 pm (UTC)
I say whoever gets to the door first opens it and holds it for anyone within a reasonable approach difference. Don't care your age, sex or anything else. But then I tend to be very practical...
(no subject) - duchesspadr - Oct. 28th, 2008 04:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nikulai - Oct. 28th, 2008 06:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
tudorpot
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:12 pm (UTC)
In my work I am in people's homes-when I start writing they ask me if I want a light turned on- as I'm very sensitive to light I say No thanks - most of the time I am NOT heard. I'd say it's mostly men who don't hear me.
etinterrapax
Oct. 28th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
That drives me nuts, incidentally, whether it's men or women. My MIL, with whom we lived for a time early in our marriage, is the kind of woman who will see you reading or writing in a room and immediately turn on lamps all around you. She thinks she's being helpful, but I always felt that she was trying to control my environment and by extension, control me. if I want a lamp on, I will turn one on. That's why I have so many damn lamps around my house. So I can have one if I want one.

Sitting in the dark right now, as it happens. :P
gwacie
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:18 pm (UTC)
Ever try holding a door for a guy? Some accept it graciously and some get all bent out of shape about how they should be the one holding the door.

Like many things holding the door has more to do with your intentions and meaning than the actual act. If you're just being helpful because I've got my hands full; great! If you're doing it to show your superiority over me, not so great.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:21 pm (UTC)
I remember teaching a class on courtesy and pointing out that it's not truly a courteous act unless it can be turned down just as easily as it is accepted.
ziactrice
Oct. 28th, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC)
That sentence needs very much to be included in the above-mentioned essay to the SCA general populace, IMHO. It makes the point perfectly... and might even do some good with the ill-mannered, attempting-badly-to-hand-kiss men. I think I'd rather get a limp-fish handshake than a forcibly-applied - or worse, icky-poo WET (nrugh!) hand-kiss.

If only the man in question realized how incredibly creepy and off-putting a badly done hand-kiss is. It is even worse than a good one is good - so fellows, caution really is the better part of valor - and of courtesy, truly it is.
(no subject) - thornbury - Oct. 28th, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - starrfrog - Oct. 29th, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
zihuatanejo
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:24 pm (UTC)
Word.
runolfr
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:24 pm (UTC)
Confessed door-holder, although I *do* take no for an answer pretty well... I think.
florentinescot
Nov. 1st, 2008 01:15 am (UTC)
You do. :-) And I'll say, I'll let you hold a door for me just about any time you want to. :-)
reasdream
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:25 pm (UTC)
Brava! Well said, madam.

An offer of help is an offer, not an ultimatum. It is fulfilled at the discretion of the person to whom it has been offered, not on the whim of the one offering(this comes up on the etiquette board I frequent).

(and, having said that, I hereby offer to help you out at any point when a person, male or female, refuses to listen to you).

And thank you for the link.
vom_schwarzwald
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:27 pm (UTC)
I am AMAZED he grabbed your bags after you objected. Never should have happened. The back up project sounds great but there is a part of me that is saddened that it even needed to be done...it should be second nature to any decent human being.

Actually, I am saddened by this whole post...saddened that you have this fear, that any woman has this fear. "I'm sorry" feels woefully inadequate.

I agree that whatever can be done needs to be done to change this situation and yes, not just hearing but LISTENING is a start. This was a very insightful post...
thornbury
Oct. 28th, 2008 05:53 pm (UTC)
It's really not a new idea, but spreading the word is a good one. I'm frequently called upon to be a defender against men, probably due to my size. I say frequently called upon, because I'm too often oblivious. I make up for it in the fact that I'm easily aim-able by another woman (like one of my wife's apprentices will do) just by saying, "you might want to get involved in that".
chargirlgenius
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:30 pm (UTC)
It's one thing to ask, it's another thing to *insist*. You're absolutely right.

There seems to be this perception amongst the majority that they’re somehow under attack. It’s as if having women/minorities/gays/pagans expect equal treatment is somehow threatening to their existence, or their superiority, or whatever you might want to call it. It would be *wonderful* if we lived in a world where we didn’t have to be sensitive to the needs of others, but the truth is, there has been inequality for so long, and it’s so entrenched, that you *can’t* just run roughshod over others and not get called out for it.

*shakes head* Poor, poor WASP males. [/sarcasm]


lorebubeck
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:45 pm (UTC)
Apparently, in about 40 years, the poor WASP males will be a minority. Won't that be interesting...
(no subject) - sorchekyrkby - Oct. 29th, 2008 04:34 am (UTC) - Expand
hugh_mannity
Oct. 28th, 2008 01:39 pm (UTC)
I'll hold the door open for anyone who's got their hands full regardless of age or gender. And while I won't rush ahead to obsequiously open a door for a lady, if I'm legitimately there first I'll hold it for her. Come to that I check to make sure that the door's not going to slam someone in the face before I let go of it anyway.

If I see a lady struggling with a load of stuff (shopping, laundry, dismembered corpses of her enemies, whatever) I'll usually ask: "Would you like a hand with that?" If she says "no" then I'll bid her a good day and go back to what I'm doing.

Come to that, I've helped guys struggling to load trucks, and on several occasions got out of my car to help some poor bastard push his broken down car to the side of the road. Well, that last on was usually enlightened self-interest because the broken down car was in the way, but I could have sat in my car and watch while he struggled. And honked the horn.

However, I'm not your standard American male, I was raised by wolves feminists. In England. And was around during the whole women's rights/gay rights thing.
gwenhwfyr
Oct. 28th, 2008 02:10 pm (UTC)
It's ok... you can hold the door for me. And I'll even say thank you!
On more than one occassion, I have gotten out and helped a guy push his car off the road when he was struggling to do it alone. Imagine the looks of surprise I got! (I'm 5'2" and was about 25 the last time it happened.)

My mama raised me to "do unto others." She never mentioned that gender or race or anything else should factor into that equation. Because it shouldn't. Courtesy is courtesy.
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