CW: Sexual assault and harassment. Also, this post contains kinda-not-really spoilers for Ghostbusters.
Yesterday, a friend and I went to see Ghostbusters. As we were walking from the ticketing booth to our theater, a man started following us. He stood behind us on the escalator, and tried to interrupt our conversation to ask which movie we were going to see. We ignored him.
We got off the escalator, and he continued to follow us and try to engage us in conversation. We continued to ignore him while continuing our conversation, and he followed us into the theater.
I’m choosing to write about this particular incident because while I feel comfortable talking to a few of the male-folk in my life about street harassment, I don’t feel comfortable having this conversation in person with most of them. It’s not that I think they’ll react badly.
It’s that I don’t want to deal with their feelings of helplessness or guilt–especially the guilt that comes from recognizing some of those patterns in themselves. I often don’t have the bandwidth.
But I’m talking about the man in the theater.
I trust the friend I was with, and for both of us to react if the man had touched either of us. As he continued to talk to, and follow, us I became more and more on edge.
The thing is, it’s not just this man. It’s also two gents on the bike trail this morning, while I was in the first couple of miles of a 50+ mile ride, who called me baby and biked alongside me for a few minutes to try and talk to me. It’s also the guy tried to pick me up in a Goodwill, by trying to sell me on some electronic, and then kept accidentally-on-purpose being in the same aisle I was. It’s construction workers who would catcall me when I was 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17…22, 23. It’s the men who will only leave me alone when I tell them I’m dating someone, even if I’m not. It’s the boys in my high school who talked about my breasts and hips in front of me, who put their hands on my waist, who did all of this without ever asking. There are the rape threats from men I’ve never met, most of which were fortunately filtered from me, over an article I wrote years ago. It’s the man I dated for a while who coerced me into so much of what we did together, and it’s the fact that he was able to do that because society’s message was that this behavior was normal and at the time no one had told me anything different.
It’s so many men, for more of my life than I remember at this point.
When I’ve talked about this to some men, they take this as me saying that I hate men. Which, I don’t. Or, they try to swoop in and save me, which they can’t, because we live in a society that hates people who are not men. Or they see these things as evidence as why I don’t trust men, which is also false. When they assume I don’t trust men, it’s evidence that these men are 1) projecting their own shit on me and 2) not listening to me when I own (and explain) the trust issues I have that directly impact them*. Or, they get mad at me for sharing these things and if not mad, then accuse me of exaggerating or outright lying.
Or they get some combination of mad for me and disappointed in their fellow men. And that isn’t helpful either, unless these men start making the effort to call out their bros for bad behavior. Then sure, great, thank you to those men for having the basic human decency to insist that other people are treated with basic human decency instead of as objects or consumables.
When I publish this, I’ll get responses from folks who care about me, asking about whether or not I carry a gun/knife/mace. They’ll ask if I’m walking places alone or fret about the neighborhoods I’m in (but probably not, you know, my choice about grocery store aisles, because it happens there too). I know that they ask because they care.
But that misses the point. I want to live in a world where I (and many others) can walk around without worrying about being sexually assaulted or raped. And I believe that world is possible, but we have to start having a lot of uncomfortable conversations with our siblings and our parents and our friends–because misogyny runs deep. We have to not elect politicians that spew rhetoric that marginalizes people who identify as female and people who own vaginas. We have to not take those politicians as jokes. We have to assume folks are telling the truth when they say men abuse or rape them, since the rate of false reporting of rape is no higher than any other crime. We mustn’t see our heroes as infallible.
The man in the theater didn’t escalate the situation, which I’ve also had happen, and which is terrifying. My friend and I were probably never in harm’s way (assisted by being white). But there are so many men who assume that bodies that look like mine are something they are entitled to, and women die because of this.
Ghostbusters is actually evidence, in a sense, of how this manifests. SPOILER ALERT: Rowan was picked on, by everyone, apparently. But the only folks we actually see (as opposed to hear) picking on him in the movie are women. His assumed virginity is a joke at one point. Ghost-Rowan goes on a would-be killing spree. Sure, no one appears to die. But we don’t need them to die in the movie. We have manifestos from real life killers about how they couldn’t get laid and so people (often, primarily women) must die. We have e
Men-folk, if you’re still with me, please talk to your brothers and friends and family. Please work to sort out your feelings about the ways you’ve behaved as a misogynist and instead of beating yourself up for it, work to make the world a safe, better place.
*Not that I have to give them an explanation. If we’re to that point, I explain because I want them to know. When I’m not willing to offer that explanation, I trust my instincts.