Monday, April 4, 2011

Me, Me, Me

Emotional reactions.

I have them. You have them. They have them. We all have them.

Moving past the emotion, and seeing the real issue is difficult. For example, I typically have a negative emotional reaction when women discuss "street harassment."

Some men might not know that term. It's the way some women describe the aggressive sexual advances made by men in public. It can range from the simple "Hey, baby you looking good" to "Bitch, you think you better than me?"

Most men pay very little attention to this behavior, and even when we do, we don't deem it harassment. I know I haven't. It was only after listening to women describe the fear and pain these type of encounters brought them that I even considered the term. Sure, I knew that some cats crossed the line and disrespected girls, but I never understood exactly how often it happens, and the way the mere threat of it happening can impact the lives of women. Hearing some of the stories told by women was an eye opener, to say the least.

But, even with my eyes opened, my heart still hasn't changed enough. See, I feel terrible that women feel scared, unsafe and objectified. I don't want men to behave like that. Yet, when I hear women call it harassment, I get defensive. I get angry, and find myself, inside my head, trying to figure out ways to minimize the stories these women are telling. I downplay the threat of violence, I rationalize the disrespect. It all happens in my head, but it still happens.

And I've finally figured out why.

It's about me. I am a man. I objectify women. Since I'm married, I don't try to pick up strangers on the street, but I still examine their body parts with interest. I assess them for sexual attractiveness, and enjoy appreciating their shape. I see this as normal acceptable behavior. I see men trying to get close to them and their shapes as normal, acceptable behavior. While I disagree with the methods, I don't disagree with the mindset.

It makes sense to me.

When I came to this realization, it was easy for me to see why I get defensive. Even though I don't approach women, when I see condemnations of that behavior, I take them as condemnations of me. Even though I can see the larger problem I still get upset at what I consider a condemnation of me because it conflicts with my belief that I'm a "good guy." I know that the women who are sharing their stories are justifiably angry, but since I don't think I deserve their anger, I resent them for it.

I make it all about me.

But, it's not. I only understood this when I substituted "racial harassment" for "street harassment" and began to consider the issue from that angle. I thought about the attitudes of police officers, business owners and regular folks when they see a young black male.

I made it about me, but this time I put myself in the shoes of a group that's been mistreated and disrespected and I asked myself "How would you feel? Would you be kind? Would you be sweet? Would you care about finding terms that make things nicer for folks who look like your oppressor?"

Or would I just want to express my rage, my disgust and my frustration? Would I expect those people who really want to help me to be able to see past those inarticulate emotions to the truth behind them?

How can I have those expectations of others, and not expect them to have those same expectations of me?



LisaMJ said...

It takes a "Big Man" to try to put himself in someone else's shoes like that, even after initally not getting it. As always, thank you for being so thoughtful, introspective and for putting it into words so well.

Sara said...

Got here from the Racialicious street harassment post. I just wanted to say thank you for your honest and thoughtful response. Also, this helps me to understand what's going on in the minds of guys who act like I'm a feminazi when I try to tell them about how just doing my daily business can be a scary experience, or how tired I get of having to cuss someone out when I just want to have a nice afternoon and run my errands. Thanks again for your post.

Fenrir said...

Thank you for this. It's hard to get outside yourself and try and erase your own bias, but something everyone needs to do more, and I try and always do.

seitzk said...

Really appreciated this piece of writing.

tonisjadine said...

Nicely done - thanks for sharing your process here. I haven't read your blog before, but I hope you share your wisdom with young men out there. Lots of them could use your perspective.

Blaque Ink said...

I wrote a blog similar to this. I mentioned that like whites have privileges above other groups, especially blacks, I, as a man, have privileges over women. To go even further as a black man I have privileges over black women.

I felt defensive when I discovered that I have privileges over my sisters. I figured how can an oppressed group have privileges? The truth is that we do, and it must be acknowledged. It was born from the mindset of being "naturally" superior to women. Therefore, men will believe that a woman's mind and heart mean very little, but her body is valuable (enough) for men to use as he pleases.

And that isn't right.

Even as a good man like myself, my perceptions on morality are still warped by the privileges I have over women. Despite who I am, I must realize that women are still suffering from injustices due to a society of male dominance which created privileges in its wake. Privileges blind those from the reality others live in.

Renee said...

I really appreciate this post because I have too often seen street harassment minimized or explained away by men except when it comes to a woman that they care about.

lifelearner said...

As always you hit the nail on its head. Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

Blackgirlinmaine said...

This is a brave piece and truly makes you a big man for having the wherewithal to look deep inside yourself.

Big Man said...

I don't think it was that "big."
Seriously, it's something all of us should do in every situation. I was actually pretty ashamed of my reaction to the complaints about street harassment. I was trying to rationalize and minimize it, even though I know people who deal with all the time.
I finally had to understand that it happens, even if I don't notice or see it, and it's quite scary for many people.
It was only hard to accept becauase I didn't really want to believe it. The evidence was all there.

jon said...

Great post. I really like the way you describe mentally putting yourself in the position of the group that's being mistreated. t's so important for guys to weigh in on this issue ... thanks for taking the time! And yes, it is "big".

Eli said...

What a great post. I'm a white woman and recently went through this process in the other direction...I experience street harassment almost daily where I live and it was/is frustrating to know that despite their best efforts to understand and sympathize, many of my male friends just *don't see* what I and many other women deal with all the time -- and *don't see* how some of their behavior exists on the same continuum as that of the harassers and thus could be perceived as threatening. It was truly sobering the first time I thought about racial harassment, as you say, in those same terms and realized that there are whole spectrums of threatening behavior and interactions experienced my non-white people that I just *don't see* and most likely participate in. I'm now trying to hear these stories in the same way that I hope that men will hear mine.

Big Man said...

Exactly Eli.
That's exactly how it works for me. Whenever I'm having trouble grasping someone else's pain or complaint, I try to turn their complaint into something more personal to me, then assess my feelings.
It typically works.

Anonymous said...

Defending cat-calling or street harassment isn't something most men would do, I don't think. I think you've got to be a pretty bad and aggressive objectifier to do so at all. I think it's funny how black feminists expect so little out of black men and so much out of every other kind of men. Expecting men not to embarrass and intimidate women on the street is not a lot to ask. Women should never be made to feel intimidated by men wanting to get in their pants. Enough with the rape culture.

Big Man said...

Nearly every man I have ever met has made a lascivious comment to a strange woman on the street, in the club or in some other public setting. And the vast majority of them rarely see anything wrong with it.
You could argue that I need to change my circles, and I would argue that my circles are plenty wide.

Raving Black Lunatic