Elaina’s post below refs Kate Harding’s blog, Shapely Prose. This one is a guide for “strange men” approaching women, with an internal reference to something called “Schrödinger’s Rapist,” a clever bit of synthesis if ever there was one.
Gentlemen. Thank you for reading.
Let me start out by assuring you that I understand you are a good sort of person. You are kind to children and animals. You respect the elderly. You donate to charity. You tell jokes without laughing at your own punchlines. You respect women. You like women. In fact, you would really like to have a mutually respectful and loving sexual relationship with a woman. Unfortunately, you don’t yet know that woman—she isn’t working with you, nor have you been introduced through mutual friends or drawn to the same activities. So you must look further afield to encounter her.
So far, so good. Miss LonelyHearts, your humble instructor, approves. Human connection, love, romance: there is nothing wrong with these yearnings.
Now, you want to become acquainted with a woman you see in public. The first thing you need to understand is that women are dealing with a set of challenges and concerns that are strange to you, a man. To begin with, we would rather not be killed or otherwise violently assaulted.
“But wait! I don’t want that, either!”
Well, no. But do you think about it all the time? Is preventing violent assault or murder part of your daily routine, rather than merely something you do when you venture into war zones? Because, for women, it is. When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are…
In view of what is explicated in this post, and further explicated by the link to Schrödinger’s Rapist (linked above) — big hat tip to Elaina for the Shapely Prose link — we might be able to talk about the responsibility of unearned social power, ie, how men can become responsible actors in the face of historic privilege. Part of it is become sensitized to how our presence is received in the semio-verse of women.
The liberal view is that no individual can be held responsible for what preceded him (the person in the liberal universe and semioverse began male, and remains masculine in spite of women being acknowledged… as honorary men). “I didn’t own slaves,” is a good example of the defense against taking responsibility for historical privilege. “I’m not a rapist,” is a version of the same.
Back in the real world, men (myself included) cannot comprehend — on an ongoing and intense basis — how the psychic world of women is a place where people are shell-shocked. We are sensitive to men who are literally shell-shocked, ie, with PTSD from combat, but we seldom think of what the omnipresent threat of rape might be like. Rape is the most common cause of PTSD in our society. I’d suggest that the everpresence of the threat of rape is a source of “sub-clinical” trauma. We don’t light firecrackers near a recent returnee from a war. We oughtn’t approach unknown women when the approach might be regarded as threatening — which is very often. Fear defines both the tangible and semiotic universe of actually-existing women in ways that are completely unfamiliar (and often culturally defamiliarized as part of masculinity training).
On the remark about men’s scary tattoos, which many men get to ward off the danger of other men, these displays of symbolic aggression might serve as a semiotic shield against men, but they are simultaneously signalling aggression to women — where this sign does not say, “don’t tread on me,” but “watch out for me.” Telling women to regard these signs with the same studied neutrality that men claim is an instance of effacing men’s historical privilege, and with it, women’s justifiable danger flags. It’s living the lie of liberal “truth.”
PS – The body mass index (BMI) link is as good a piece of flicker-crit as you’re likely to see anywhere.