Last night I stopped to look at my phone while walking home on a dark sidewalk, which allowed a diminutive young woman to catch up to me and walk past. Since my stride was a good third longer than hers, I caught up with her, but she quickened her pace. This little contest continued for a few seconds, until I decided that she wanted to be out front, probably not out of some desire to be faster or "win" or assert her strength and independence, but because she was somehow afraid of me and didn't want to have me walking in front of her or next to her.
This didn't make me feel any too good, of course.
Once upon a time, and it's still true in other countries, a woman could ask men to escort her, effectively to be her impromptu body guards, whenever and wherever she wanted. In fact, it was probably considered polite in many specific situations for a woman to ask and/or for a man to offer. Such an exchange did not always lead to some kind of sexual interlude or obligation on the part of the woman -- and I know that for a fact.
One pseudo-feminist rallying cry seems to be "more lights on the streets...for women."
What about men? Walking alone on a dark street in America, even in the tiny, isolated town I live in now, terrifies me. I have been severely beaten up (broken arm, etc.) and robbed on the street in the past, so being physically somewhat larger and less likely to be wearing ridiculous movement-inhibiting clothing than the typical woman sure didn't help me then.
The only two countries I have lived in where I don't feel terrified walking the streets alone at night are Switzerland and Japan, and I have been sexually assaulted, sometimes involving the police, in both of those adoptive homelands. Given my experiences in Spain, were I out when the Sun went down, while others were turning into vampires around me, I would probably just lay my wallet, jewelry, and other valuables on the sidewalk next to me, go into the fetal position, and wait for the inevitable.
But I have no social sanction to talk about how scared I am about such things, either in general, or when it's happening. If I were to have said to the young woman passing me, "Excuse me, it's dark out, and I'm scared. I'm not very good at defending myself, especially against multiple attackers, and I've been attacked in the past, and I have no weapon. You look like you can hold you own and we'd be safer together, and I'd just feel safer with somebody else there, maybe somebody to talk to. I'm just trying to get home. Could we walk the next few blocks together, just up to where my house is?" she would at the very least think that I was completely insane, probably dangerous, probably trying to get something from her or hurt her.
Women have always been able to ask men such things, even to the point of walking them all the way home from a party and then returning home by dark of night and expense of cab and train and risk of run-in with drunk drivers and all that. Men don't have that. Men have exactly the same risk, and the terror is probably greater since there is no outlet, no sympathy, even from the police.
The police are supposed to be neutral. I imagine that the police could be more sympathetic towards female victims of assault, particularly sexual assault, but they have to balance the victim's story with the alleged perp's. They don't know a priori that the perp's guilty, they have to get the facts first, and the perp is just as motivated, if not more so, to convince them. That's what goes through my mind. At some point the sense of violation, the humiliation, the terror, all give way to the question of at what point am I going to go to the police. If he follows me for one more block, if he gets back on the bus when I get off and get back on again, if he runs after me when I take off running, if he keeps doing it for two more minutes, if he does it harder, if he touches me someplace else, if he tries to get underneath my clothing, or what, what is the limit? I just hope it will be over soon, so I don't have to confront him in front of the police and hope that they'll believe me, and that they won't just let him go, or tell me that it was nothing, that my ordeal didn't matter to them or to society. Does he have to leave a mark? Leave some kind of physical evidence? Do I have to wait for that before I go to them? When will it be too late anyway? I just want it to be over, for him to go away soon, so I don't have to make this decision.
Police tend to be men, limiting their ability to understand first-hand a woman's sexuality, what it means to be violated. It's a complicated issue -- if men and women understood each other better, generally, certainly in America, then maybe it wouldn't be...such a complicated issue. But how are the police to deal with, to sympathize with a MAN who has been sexually assaulted? Does a policeman have to have been sexually assaulted himself? Admit that he COULD be? Not think about how he would feel if he himself were accused of sexually assaulting another man? Most men, all married men, know what it is like to be with a woman, and probably what it's like when a woman demurs. Most men have probably had the experience of a woman putting the brakes on, however she did it, and dealt with it in one way or another. Most men are not rapists, and so can perhaps imagine what it might be like to push past that refusal, or to recognize that "I would not have done that." At least, that's my experience. I don't intend to tell any women what their own experience was like or what it meant, but I just want to say that it might be a lot of ask a lot of policeMEN, especially from their own experience, or their own admitted experience, to identify in the same way with a man who was assaulted by another man. "Eh, c'est une histoire de pédé..." might be the best to hope for. In other words, utter lack of sympathy and understanding.
Homophobia. Men are taught not to be womanly, weak, ruled by feeling -- all those things that supposedly characterize gays and women (but probably don't, but that's another issue). Men these days are not suppose to get emotionally entangled with other men, or have complicated relationships with them, get in compromising situations with them, even by sharing their innermost feelings.
It's okay for roommates to tease about how the perp might've got let go and might be out there again. If the roommates are male, and I'm male. Otherwise it would not be okay. And, more importantly, there would be other socially-acceptable ways to discuss what happened. Both sides, both men, have to admit that it happened or could've happened to them, and how terrifying that is, not just from a social stigma standpoint, and there is no way to do that, no way to admit that, to discuss that....for men.
And women seem to want this for themselves. This young woman who walked past me seems to want to be terrified and alone and utterly unable to talk about it in the way that we men have been doing for hundreds if not thousands of years, at least, refining it, making it look like it comes naturally.
I think women should think about this a little harder, and maybe then they'd see that it's a completely crazy, mashugana idea.
Simone de Beauvoir indicates in Le Deuxième Sexe that young girls do things like climb trees in order to be like boys, rather than just for their own pleasure or to satisfy their own curiosity or desire for adventure. Or at least they are seen as such. Do things that girls are supposed to do, or do "the opposite," which is, of course, what boys do. Sure. Not all things boys do are stupid and pointless or for establishing the no-girls-allowed pecking order. Science, mathematics, logic, art & literature, team-building, physical skill and athletics, etc., were not invented as tools of "The Patriarchy" to exclude women and girls and to keep them down, no, they are outpourings, outgrowths of the human mind and spirit, vital to building civilization (which would be a good idea, to quote Mahatma Ghandi) and to achieving and realizing the highest ideals of human existence, both as an individual and as a human race.
Yes, by all means, girls, dive in.
To get what you perceive men as having, you don't have to pretend to be men. I admit that this is an article of faith -- and a subject of my research -- but I believe there is another way, and I believe that women have to find it for all of us...or at least they have to be the first ones to step through the door. As a man, I am waiting for women and girls to invent something new, a third way, and to fulfill the as-yet-unrealized promise, that Gloria Steinem keeps tossing out there as one of the justifications for men of the enterprise of "feminism," of a better life for all, women and men. I'm still waiting, ladies, and the waiting is painful.
Just because one says to the Four Winds, "I am a feminist," does not mean that one automatically has a full and complete grasp of the outgrowths of the spirit I mention above, like some kind of Christian dove of the Holy Spirit descending, no, if you are an unimaginative ignoramus, an unimaginative ignoramus you remain, lofty oaths and pronouncements notwithstanding. Just being a woman, or saying "I am a feminist" does not mean you have all the answers, or even any solutions at all, or even really know what the problem is.
You are being led astray. Whether it's down a dark, ill-lighted sidewalk alone and late at night or no, you are being led astray. Join forces with men. We need you as much as or more than you need us. Yes, there is a cause, and you should join it. But unless you have something to say, keep your mouth shut. Don't hurt others just because of who they are, just like you don't want to be hurt or ignored or marginalized because of who you are.
Insist that your leaders give you answers, and that they make sense, and that they work....otherwise, get new leaders, and be willing to throw old, bad ideas on the trash heap.