Two Letters

editorWell that was a bit of a wild ride. The internet is a strange and magical place, this much we know. I spend a truck ton of time on it and I still never really know what’s going to happen when I put something out there. For example, the street harassment piece I wrote weeks ago suddenly went viral on Thursday. I have no idea how, but it did, and with it came letters and emails and tweets of all kind. Insulting mail, unfortunately, of the poorly-spelled variety like “Your blog sux,” more elaborate arguments against my argument, a few nasty notes about what a spoiled bitch I am for complaining about men finding me attractive.

And then there were love notes, intellectual love notes, but love notes nonetheless. There were notes from men about how they first learned to empathize with women by being pawed at in gay bars, notes from women who were grateful to hear the ideas they’d tried to convey before put into words by someone else, notes from guys who had never done the work before to try to see from the other side.

I want to share two letters from opposite ends of the spectrum, to illustrate the range of reactions this conversation inspires. Bad news first:

I read your open letter “To The Guy Who Harrassed Me Outside The Bar”. I did feel for you and other females when you have that creepy “Is this my rape” moment. It cant be easy being a woman. And I dont want to say that you ask for it, but whens the last time you or any of your girlfriends went up to the quite guy in the crowd and struck up a conversation with him? If a guy wants a girl he needs to make sure he is noticed. For a guy getting noticed isnt easy.Sometimes you have to be loud, obnoxious, even rude at times. Now maybe to you what he and the others have done is repulsive. To other girls he might have just been funny(and please dont say yeah those girls are sluts or whores) Also I have seen guys do that, I am one of those friends laughing in the backround, and then to the next random girl treat them in a completely different manner. You cant honestly say that the last guy who swept you off your feet hadnt made an obscene gesture towards a woman. If you really want to make a difference stop talking to the guys who have no problem going up and talking to any woman they can. Go talk to the quite guy of the group who is a little on the shy side. Write an open letter to Victorias secret asking them to stop putting words of the butts of their clothing line. Stop leaving the gym in your yoga pants. My girlfriend has a great body and when she wears my sweatpants for pj’s here lower body couldnt be more unflattering. So buy a big pear of sweats and keep them in your gym bag for pre and post workout garb.

There are plenty of things you can do that you may not even be making an attempt to do to avoid some of this behavior. I know that you cant stop it all but instead of 9 guys being rude to you a week maybe you can cut it down to 2 or 3. Thank you for reading my opinion and I will take your situation into awareness and study the reactions of women to the mannerisms of the men around them and see how I can do my part to make this less of a problem.

You all know what I would write in response to this guy, right? I don’t even need to type it out. It’s not my job to “avoid this behavior.” Duh. You can admire my yoga pants without commenting right? You have control of your mouth, I assume. Oh, and of course, I’m going to go buy a “big pear of sweats” right now, thanks for suggesting it. Etc. Etc. Etc. This is old news.

Now on to the good news:

“As a male that was brought up right by his Mother – it made me proud to not feel like I was reading my biography.  I respect and cherish women.  As a male that has several rowdy, yet well meaning, friends – it made me ashamed.  I passed the note to this particular group of friends, and it sparked a very (shockingly) intelligent, and heated conversation.  Long story short… everyone has been really respectful since our talk.  I’m talking hockey players here – I thought there was no hope.  While I know this doesn’t solve all of the world’s problems – I believe in thinking globally, while acting locally.”

Warms my heart.

Related Post: Notes on SlutWalk

Related Post: “Textbook slut”

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Two Letters

  1. Goodness, there’s a lot of point missage in that first letter. When was the last time I talked to the quiet guy? Well, as a quiet, introverted person myself, I can say that I’d be quite likely to talk to the quiet guy. (And do they really think there aren’t any quiet or shy women in the world?) Can I honestly say that my boyfriend never “made an obscene gesture” to harass a woman? Yes, because not everyone behaves like that. Would I be interested in the loud, obnoxious, rude person trying to get my attention? No, because I don’t like obnoxious rude people. I like nice people. Like my boyfriend, who very successfully got my attention without being loud, obnoxious, rude, or obscene.

    Stop leaving the gym in my yoga pants? Haha…the scariest incident of street harassment I’ve experienced occurred when I was bundled in winter clothing. I guess my wool mittens were just too sexy! Trust me: the problem isn’t on my end.

  2. The first response really reminds me of this piece in Jezebel about OKCupid, “nice guys,” and men who feel entitled to sex since they’re the quiet type: http://jezebel.com/5972788/no-one-is-entitled-to-sex-why-we-should-mock-the-nice-guys-of-okcupid

    But my favorite quotes from this confused man include:

    “You cant honestly say that the last guy who swept you off your feet hadnt made an obscene gesture towards a woman.”

    Uh, actually I can. Because my partner is loving, mature, and most of all, respectful to women and understands that it is 100% unacceptable to harass women in any context, for any reason.

    “There are plenty of things you can do that you may not even be making an attempt to do to avoid some of this behavior. I know that you cant stop it all but instead of 9 guys being rude to you a week maybe you can cut it down to 2 or 3.”

    Wow, so we should go out of our way to cover ourselves up just in case some disgusting misogynist can’t control his desire for the 30 seconds he encounters us? To you, it’s an extra pair of sweatpants, to us, it’s allowing others to make decisions for us from the moment we wake up and pack our gym bags. No, thank you.

    Also, I don’t think this “girlfriend” of his exists, and if she does, I feel incredibly sorry for her.

    Well done, Emily. I’m so glad your writing went viral!

    kelsiebaher.tumblr.com

  3. Emily

    To the first letter writer: by suggesting that we need to avoid your behaviour you are suggesting that you have no control over yourself and that we must take precautions to keep your hormones at bay.

    I have not been able to witness my boyfriends entire life so I can not honestly say he has never cat called, though I highly doubt that he has. That is not the point. The point is that he did not cat call to get my attention. There is such a thing as ‘bad attention’. Yes the girl has noticed you, no she will not be keen to meet you, you have actually ruined your chance with her.
    To the second letter writer: Good on ya.

  4. a

    I’m working on a longer fan letter, because you’ve earned it, but it will take time and I wanted to speak now: As a dude, your essay made perfect sense about something which is dudes can choose to ignore even when it is happening in front of them. It’s been a long time since I first had this issue ponted but regular reminders are welcome because it’s easy to decide such things don’t matter when you feel exempt from them. I’d also like to address one of the many (very many) derailing arguments: “men are subject to harassment”. This is bogus as: a) discussing gender based harassment is not saying other types don’t exist; and b) the most pervasive types of harassment inform and encourage other types. But again, this is derailing, the point is that harassment is wrong and it’s not that dudes can’t understand this, it’s that we choose not to understand and currently the choice is easy and often encouraged..

  5. a

    To clarify my typos- it should read, “something which dudes can” and “issue pointed out, but”

  6. Adam

    For me it’s like this. The look is always there. The default setting is TO look. This is far from black and white though and the look can take many forms, some purposeful, some unbidden, some regretted, and many others including switching the look to OFF.
    Sometimes I come bounding out the door feeling breezily confident, good looking and alive with conversation, I feel fanciable and the look reflects that, unafraid of rejection, cheeky, smiling, playfully tugging at the corner of your mouth hoping for a hint of a smile in return, the sheer fucking joy to see that tiniest turn of the lip, the zing of a mutual attraction, recognised, reflected, savoured, delighted, then gone, strangers again. That is a good look! It is not always reciprocated of course, but it is open to reciprocation, and it is not intrusive in intent, meeting you where (and if) you want to be met. It delights, but it does not leer, it is upfront and honest with its intention, it is confident, but not cocky and it IS sending you a message with a compliment, not weighing you up.
    Sometimes I feel rotten, ugly, unlovable, awkward, out of my depth and my league. I have a sign on my head saying ‘no girlfriend, masturbates too much’ invisible to all but you. I know I have no chance, no one could look at me, still the look snakes out unbidden, with all the flat-eared hope of a beaten dog, the desperate emptiness of a street dwellers hat. The jangle of change is infrequent, small denominations, arriving with sympathy or pity. Still the look persists, a ragged moth eaten thing of no beauty.
    Sometimes I have found myself looking in a way that makes me ashamed, horrified to realise that this time the look had its tongue hanging out, with no life in its eyes, predatory, cowardly, taking from you from afar and without permission. I realise and tear the look away before it can be seen. I am ashamed.
    On occasion I try to turn the look to OFF. To give us both a rest from its insistence on having a say in the direction I choose to point my eyes and the intent behind them. This is the hardest look. The look is always there.

    Apologies if I have been long-winded, I wanted to express a little of what it feels like behind the eyes of a man. I am 39, and I have not ALWAYS had this look, there was a time when girls were just a nuisance who got in the way of football, but the playground is the age at which the look first began to arrive, and I have never looked at you the same way since. It has changed, for better and worse. It has lost its innocence, gained a little wisdom and a sense of humour, been utterly rejected, and has dismissed in turn, but over time it has learned some respect for the object of its intent.
    I write about it in this way not to disassociate myself from it or try to avoid responsibility, but to illustrate that it is a part of me over which I do not always have control. I can, however, choose how I act, and although I will never know what women go through on a daily/hourly basis, I am aware of how my actions can be interpreted.
    I have experienced the aforementioned ‘gay bar’ revelation, and it was uncomfortable, not complimentary as I was sized-up, objectified by uninvited eyes. (maybe it was the peep-hole leather chaps and matching cap?). Humour aside, this has no parallel with reality, unless the whole world was a gay bar and most people were taller and stronger than me.

    I know in myself that the daily bombardment of airbrushed, idealised, increasingly naked images of supposed ‘perfection’ are a terrible distortion of the way we look at each other. I also look at pornography on a fairly regular basis, and this too, I am sure plays its part. I am no angel, I have been an absolute arsehole to women on more than one occasion, I have also on occasion been loving and thoughtful, I am no devil either. I do not hold with the view that women should cover themselves to save us poor men from having to exercise restraint, but I know that if I wear leather chaps to the gay bar I had better be aware of the effect I may be having. I am fairly average in many ways I guess and as such I must assume that all men to a greater or lesser extent can identify with what I’ve written.

    For any women reading I know this contains no great insight, but I felt moved to contribute having read the original post, and recognised in me some of the traits described, even though I am not one of the loud, braying, fighting twats outside yates’s, as I am sure you’re not one of the shrieking, puking miniskirted girls. I am the guy who tries to reduce the perceived nighttime threat, crosses the road so you don’t think I’m following you, but still I am a man in a male orientated world, and it’s influence is so subtle and all pervasive as to be considered ‘natural’. It will be a long, slow lesson for us all.
    Your piece was thought-provoking, and here, as best as I can write them down, are some of the fruits of your labour.

    As I said I am sometimes ashamed of how I’ve looked at you, but I am not ashamed of the look. More often than not you have turned away from the look, told it to fuck off, humiliated its intent and mocked its courage, but you have also desired it, looked for it and sometimes when my look has met yours we have both felt that unmistakeable shiver…
    The look is always there.

    • Adam

      ps, for those of you across the pond and elsewhere, “Yates’s” is a godawful chain of pubs in England where all the pricks hang out…

      • thepaperairplanes

        My reply to your response is actually down there.. apparently, attempting to response to a specific post via the mobile app is completely futile…

  7. Rita

    I just read your piece on street harassment and wanted to say thank you. I have experienced everything that you wrote about and more. I can relate to the fear you feel when a random person says something. I am saddened that the human race has still not learned…from the rape of a student in India on a moving bus to the grisly murder earlier this week in Philadelphia of a young pediatrician in an upscale center city neighborhood by a contractor. Sometimes it seems like no one notices the insanity. Thank you for your voice.

  8. Pingback: “A Letter to the Girl I Harassed” | rosiesaysblog

  9. Pingback: The look « The Paper Airplanes

  10. I’m really heartened by this discussion. I was a teenager in the seventies and early eighties when feminism was more radical and there was a real sense that we could change the world by thinking better about it. Recently it has seemed that people’s ideas have been trumped by biological or pseudo-biological arguments along the line of “I really can’t help it, because it is part of my make-up.” This is what we need more of: good strong women.

  11. thepaperairplanes

    Allow me the pleasure of quoting your reply, something so well-written, elegant in its language, and precise in its construction. As a woman in a male-dominated world, I can’t help but sympathize with your writing. Objectification of the body is not exclusively a behavior of leering men, but also of women. I have heard my own friends make crude, often uncomfortable remarks aimed at the male body before. While they must not invoke the same reaction of fear and paranoia as they do for women, I can agree with the fact that the commercial hyper-sexualization of men and women in this day and age have reduced the human respect in one another’s body, used to be regarded with reverence and now treated as a tool for self-gratification.

  12. Pingback: street harassment, now with extra sad | massive hassle

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