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The Blatherings Of A Blitherer

Schrodinger’s Asshole


So if you speak to a woman who is otherwise occupied, you’re sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone. If you pursue a conversation when she’s tried to cut it off, you send a message. It is that your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone. And each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights.

Schrödinger’s Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced, by Phaedra Starling, talks about how to a woman, every man who approaches her is a potential rapist and she has no way of knowing if he’s going to bust out the rapifying or not. Starling talks about the precautions she takes, and the fear she lives in when it comes to dating. I’m not trying to imply that she lives in cringing terror, because she doesn’t. But she absolutely lives a life of fear.

Although I’ve been sexually assaulted and virtually all of the women (and some men) that I know have been molested, sexually assaulted, and/or raped, I do not live in the same culture of fear that she does.

But I really hate being approached by men in public. I don’t immediately think they will rape me or do violence to me, although I have had scary moments. And I’ve had a LOT of men react sexually inappropriately towards me. What I hate is the assumption that THEIR TIME AND INTERESTS are more important than MY TIME AND INTERESTS.

When I’m on public transit wearing headphones and/or reading, I’m involved in something. When I’m drawing or writing, I’m involved in something. And that something? Is not other people. So when a dudely type person sits next to me, my gut clenches: not because I’m afraid he’s going to whip his dick out, but because I don’t want to have to try and turn conversation aside and listen to some bore drone on and on and on about shit or make ham handed attempts at flirting.

It has happened to me, and I’ve seen it happen to other people. One attractive young woman who spoke English as a second language, so she sounded “exotic!!!”. She had luggage with her and looked tired, she was obviously on her way home from a long trip. And this guy just kept talking at her, asking her questions which she answered politely and shortly before literally turning her head away from him. And he kept at it, finally coming up with inappropriate questions about where she lived and who she lived with. Oh, my, that is not at all threatening! He wanted her attention, and his desire for attention trumped her desire to be left alone.

And I know that dudely types struggle to walk the balance between “striking up a conversation” and “being an ass.” It can be hard to know if your interruptions are welcome. It can be hard for lady types as well. I’ve had to make that decision! Someone is reading “Blade of the Immortal” on the train. Do I ask about it and what other books that person likes, or do I sit quietly and let them enjoy their manga? It’s hard!

In my experience, a good rule of thumb is intent. I’ve had people interrupt my reading to ask about the book specifically, to talk about the book, to get recommendations. If it is straight up a dialogue about the book/reading it’s generally fine. I like books! I like book nerds! I like meeting new people! If it is a chance for the interrupter to talk about him/herself or start commenting on my eyes or shoes or something? Fuck that noise. That is being an asshole and I hate it.

And that kind of interruption? Dudely types don’t tend to inflict it on other dudely types.

This post was inspired by I, Asshole’s Personal Space and Being a Lady, which addresses the same original column.

There are exceptions to every situation, of course, but when the light changed and I walked away, I realized that women DON’T do this. Women do not interrupt people wearing headphones unless they need something. I pick a woman to interrupt, and I see other women at places like bus stops do the same. If a woman interrupts me, there is a good chance that she needs directions, the time, change for a dollar. If a man interrupts me, nine times out of ten it’s to say he likes my hair color. That’s nice; I don’t care.

Starling is right: if you behave like this, “your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone.” Put another way, a man engaging in these behaviors is not treating a woman like an equal. Would this man make four attempts to pay a compliment to a man on a corner who was also keeping to himself? If I had to guess I would say no.

We live in a culture that devalues women’s autonomy. Men consider themselves free to encroach upon the personal space of women constantly. They touch women, they interrupt them while speaking, they speak to them while silent, they demand that women smile. It is a basic tenet of the culture we live in, that a woman’s time is worth less than a man’s and that she should be grateful for any attentions paid to her. It’s interesting that I, Asshole notes that she and other women are more likely to interrupt women than men. I don’t think it’s just a safety thing, as in, “it’s safer to approach a woman than a strange man, all men are threats.” I think it’s an unconscious “men are more important than women” thing.

A lot of “rape culture” can be eradicated by one simple thing: treating all people with respect. This includes women. Men are free to walk down the street in tight clothing, read a book on the train, or get drunk in public without being hassled. Women don’t have that same freedom, because they don’t get the automatic respect afforded to men.

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