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The ubiquity of sexual harassment

Posted by helen on Thu 11 Jun 2009 at 13:43

There are two really worthwhile discussions going on which you should read:

On rape and men by Cereta, challenging the non-sexist or non-sexist-identified men who always protest that "not all men are like that" to stop telling women they're wrong about their own experiences, and start actually challenging sexism where they encounter it.

You're the guy who would never rape a girl passed out on your bed (who, for that matter, knows that such an act would be rape), or the woman in the village your battalion/troop/whatever is overrunning. You're the guy who wouldn't do such a thing even when his buddies were heckling him, telling him he's a fag and a pussy if he doesn't. Even more, you're the guy who would stop his frat brother from raping that girl, and get her home. You're the guy who would stop his comrades, or at least report them.

Now, here's my question: where the fuck are you?

It's a challenging post, and the thread is full of heart-warming stories of men who didn't rape someone, which didn't particularly surprise me. I know an awful lot of men who are prepared to be decent when in a situation with a drunk or vulnerable woman; who will not only fail to rape her, but will look after her and make sure she gets home okay. That's not really the issue, for me. The issue is that I also know an awful lot of men who aren't prepared to be always decent in those situations, and most of my friends have been raped or sexually assaulted once or multiple times, because no-one is prepared to challenge the sexist fuckwits. To tell them to shut up when they make rape jokes. To get them to chill out when they're drunk and yelling at strange women. To tell them to their face that they were out of order when they groped a woman in a club, or pestered someone for sex after they'd already said no, or carried on messing around with her after she passed out.

Before you join in the next conversation about rape protesting that "not all men are like that", think about how much you've done lately to challenge the idea that men are entitled to look at/comment on/touch/fuck women's bodies and if the woman objects or resists she's a stuck-up bitch; as put it, "the idea that if a woman is not actively preventing a man from sticking his penis into her (and even then, if she's an enemy), he is doing nothing wrong, and hey, who can blame him?"

The second post I want to point you at is Perusing Penises in the Park (no, seriously) and some street harassment stories, Khalinche's response to Cereta. This is not so much about sexual violence or living in fear of rape, but the ubiquity of sexual harassment, especially if you live in the city:

I suppose the point of this long, long post is to do what I always try to do - tell a story. Today it's the story of what it's like to live with the constant possibility of having your appearance or person commented on, loudly, by strangers, and of being on your guard many times a day. It is not about my fear of being raped, because that doesn't figure in my life as much as in those of some of the commentators at the linked post. It is about men feeling that they have a right to talk and shout to me about what they want to do and what they think of my body. It is about trying to get through to the men who don't do this quite how common it is and how it affects the lives of most women.

I had limited success expressing this a year ago; and the number of men who told me then that I was wrong, that this was nothing to do with gender, that if I'd only been more sensible I could have avoided it, only proves how necessary this conversation continues to be. Khalinche's post is excellent, and deserves a wide audience.

Edit: Talking about this in IRC, I ended uo looking up this post by Kate Harding, which has a lot of practical suggestions on how men who aren't like that can act to confront harassment and sexism where they encounter it, and why it's important that they do.