Puffins have nothing to do with anything I write about in this post. Puffins are just awesome (despite the terrible puffin memes that floated about on Reddit a couple of years ago; if you don’t know, don’t google it). And this post is heavy. So, puffins.
Whenever I write about misogyny, I worry about the consequences. I worry about the consequences, because I see what happens to anyone who writes things for the internet about misogyny or toxic or fragile or aggressive masculinity. Or who don’t, but who suggest that maybe women aren’t just sex toys and are instead actual living, breathing beings, who are the protagonists in their own stories.
Because, of course.
There are so many men in my life that I love, and not just the usual brother/father/uncle/grandfather/son/nephew variety. Because I’m more complex than that. I like to think we all are.
I texted two of those men I love this weekend. I’ll call them Victor and Michael.
The first text to Victor read, “I hate men,” followed by a text that read “/by which I mean I’m scared of men.” I was livid, and also shaking at the time. I knew that I could send Victor these texts without him taking it personally. He wouldn’t mentally add an “all” to either statement, and therefore change my meaning. I knew that he’d understand that something had happened. And, he did.
The first text to Michael, who is a professional advice-giver, read: “When you’re life-coaching people, do you include how not to be a creep? Because I would really like there to be fewer fucking creeps in the world.” Michael assured me he always encourages people not to be creeps, and later sent a text asking what happened.
I gave him the abbreviated version of this: I met a guy, who came across as friendly enough. This guy was old enough to be my father. In fact, he mentioned he had a son about my age. We talked for a while about common interests and he seemed harmless enough. He invited me to go for a walk the next day, in a local park, with my dog to continue our conversation and I agreed. We exchanged numbers, because that seemed like the easiest way to find each other in the large park the next day at an arranged time. We chatted a few more minutes, then parted ways. He called me within 10 minutes to confirm. He called me again 20 minutes after that to ask some mundane question, to say he really enjoyed meeting me (“you’re so effervescent and warm”), and to confirm, again. He called a third time within an hour of when we parted ways, to make sure that I knew he didn’t have a “secret agenda,” (which I’d begun to wonder after the first time he called) and then went on to repeat that he didn’t have a secret agenda multiple more times in the span of five minutes* before going into a 30 minute monologue about his ex-partner and their kid, followed by name-dropping a few high-level politicians in our town and then some rather notorious folks from the Wolf on Wall Street era.
I tried to end that phone call multiple times before it took. He texted a couple of minutes later. He called about three hours later, and I didn’t pick up. It was late. I wasn’t in the mood for another potentially long one-sided conversation. He texted even later, asking about the time and place we’d meet, despite the fact that we’d already arranged the time in person, and again during two of those phone calls, and I’d told him, in person and on the phone, that we’d figure out the best place in the park to meet the next day.
The next morning he called again, twice, during a time frame I said I would under no uncertain terms, not be available to answer my phone. He texted three times. I texted back and said I was no longer interested in meeting for that walk. That I was uncomfortable with how much he had texted and called (and the fact that he hadn’t ever asked me much about myself, content to let try and impress me with his story). I pointed out, in my text, that I had explicitly said I would not be available to answer the phone between time X and time Y, and that he’d left two irritated phone messages in that time frame (though, he was so interested in the sound of his own voice, perhaps he never heard me). He got angry.
I got scared (which is when I texted Victor). Then I got livid (which is when I texted Michael).
I don’t know how to write about the particular dread I started to feel when I saw his name on my phone the fourth time he called, much less the fifth or sixth, when I couldn’t pick up. I don’t know how to write about how this isn’t the first time that something like this (friendly guy starts coming on stronger and stronger, then makes that right turn into Creepdom) has happened and that I’m sure it won’t be the last. I don’t know how to write about how real women get killed for saying no because just thinking about it makes me panic a little. Women being killed for turning men down is so common, that there’s a Tumblr devoted to it, called When Women Refuse. It is updated with depressing frequency. I don’t I don’t know how to describe the anger I felt listening to his irritated voicemails, where he accused me of not responding to him (both left in the span of an hour). I don’t know how to write about the way that I felt fearful when he sent back angry texts, and the way I wanted Victor and Michael to both know that something was up because I trust, and love, them both and I know they both care about me.
Victor listened, although I was too scared and frustrated to tell him much at the time. Michael, who got the condensed version of the story, advised me to block the man’s number, saying that the man seemed highly neurotic and probably had trust issues, and that if he was right on either of those points, the man would probably only get worse. Things I knew. Things I still needed to hear from someone else.
That afternoon, a woman I’d also told about this — in person, because we were at the same event that morning — followed up with me. “Did he back off?” she asked. I told her what had happened. She responded with sympathy, and empathy. I was grateful she followed up.
I share this because I think, despite the proliferation of personal essays that address shades of shitty behavior, this particular variety of aggressive masculinity is still incredibly prevalent and that it isn’t something that we talk about enough. Women are trained to be polite. To de-escalate. To be aware of the scary ways in which men might react.
Even if we work to break some of these habits — the politeness, the de-escalation — we don’t know how the men we say these things to will react. Because toxic masculinity and misogyny.
I write about it because these behaviors — especially calling to check in again and again — are symptomatic of abusive, controlling behaviors. I write about it because I’m tired of petulant and angry men who believe that my main role is to be a sex thing and/or enraptured by them, who don’t see me as human enough to actually ask me much of anything at all.
*Any time anyone denies something this much, it’s usually the thing they actually do want and are floating to see how you react to it.