street harassment, now with extra sad

Stop Telling Women To Smile - the anti-street harassment artwork of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, photo courtesy of NYU News
Stop Telling Women To Smile – the anti-street harassment artwork of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, photo courtesy of NYU News

A few weeks ago, my friend Emily of Rosie Says almost broke the internet with her article on Role/Reboot, A Letter To The Guy Who Harassed Me Outside The Bar. It’s a fantastic piece that cogently and calmly articulates why being on the receiving end of “jokes” and “compliments” from strange men is rarely a funny or flattering experience. Response was overwhelming and Emily has been documenting a lot of the feedback, both negative and positive.

Today, she posted A Letter To The Girl I Harassed, a response from a male reader that attempts to flip the perspective once again and give us insight into the mind of a harasser. While the letter writer admits that his attitude is not healthy, he feels that other guys will relate to it. Emily says she finds the letter disturbing and a little scary, but mainly sad, and calls for empathy on all fronts. My reaction was less kind. For me, this letter reads as a steaming pile of entitlement and essentialism and I find the “predator/prey zero sum game” narrative kind of terrifying. But there is one paragraph that really stuck out to me.

Being in the presence of a woman can be anguish. It’s loneliness (and sometimes horniness), and all that other Freudian bullshit rolled up into mundane moments. Just walking down the street can make me feel helpless when I pass a woman sometimes. I can’t shake it. If I could shake it, I would. Trust me. It’s no fun. But this is the hand I’m dealt, so I roll with it.”

I have seen this sentiment expressed elsewhere with even more pathos; an extreme example is the Captain Awkward letter writer who decided that he was missing 35% of his humanity because he had no girlfriend and lashed out at anyone who suggested that he might be acting just a tad melodramatic (seriously, delve into the comments in you have some time to kill.) It is sentiment that a lot of pick-up “artistry” is built on. It is this baffling myth that male loneliness – specifically the kind of loneliness that comes from not having a girlfriend or regular sex with a woman – is somehow more profound or deeply felt than regular loneliness. This “anguish” is so all-consuming that it justifies shitty behaviour, like harassment and entitlement and whining about the friendzone, and (when pushed to its logical conclusion) sexual assault and rape. Women could not possibly understand the crippling depth of emotion that these men experience, because if we did, I guess we’d understand why they simply have to catcall us in the street.

Look. I am very sorry that your penis has a sad. I am very sorry that you don’t get as much female attention as you think you deserve. That must be very tough for you.

But guess what? Sometimes I get sad because I don’t get to have regular sex with men! Seriously. I get horny. I get lonely. I get deeply insecure. I get touch-starved so bad that it feels like a physical ache. I get into downward spirals where I feel empty and depressed, and sometimes I feel like the only thing that will fill the void is a boyfriend. Sometimes I feel like I am quite literally the most socially inept person in the world, like I have no idea how to talk to cats, much less other humans of the attractive male persuasion. I have hit on guys who were not into it, and it was mortifying. I have been rejected. I have had raging unrequited crushes. I have gone out hoping to hook-up and I have felt disappointed when I ended up going home alone.

I am a woman and I have felt all these horrible lonely achey insecure feelings. They are valid and real emotions, even though it is hard to admit to them. They are not uniquely male. Everyone feels them, to a greater or lesser degree, and women feel them just as keenly as men.

But also guess what? None of those feelings have ever made me behave as though as I was entitled to male attention, sexual or otherwise. None of those feelings have ever made me shout at a guy or comment loudly on his body or whistle or hoot or follow him down the street making sexual jokes, None of those feelings have ever EVER resulted in me treating a man like he was somehow less than human. The letter writer does not quite say that he thinks his loneliness justifies his behaviour, but his feelings of inadequacy around women are definitely front and centre as he offers his perspective on harassment.

The need for human connection – physical and emotional and sexual – is important. We have all been in that low place where it feels like we will be alone forever and no one will ever love us like we want to be loved. It sucks. It really does. And I have all the empathy for people who spend a significant amount of time in this place. But loneliness and insecurity is not something that women inflict on men, and the minute I hear that tone creep into a conversation about harassment, my empathy starts to drain away.

I think a lot of the myth of Male Loneliness – bundled with Nice Guys and Friendzone and Stuck-up Bitches Who Have The Nerve To Wear Yoga Pants On Their Way Home From Yoga™ – comes back down to the sad reality that some men still do not think women are people. At least, not in the same way that men are people. A lot of the language in this letter – and the language inherent to this view of dating/hook-up culture in general – consistently positions women as something Other than men; as “prey”, as objects, as prizes, as gatekeepers of sex, as beautiful ice queens who constantly have men fawning over them and never have any trouble getting a date. If you think women are people, it would be apparent to you that they are probably also insecure and awkward and lonely for a host of their own private and personal reasons. You would be able to experience the empathy that Emily calls for in her post. You would not be able to read a letter about the persistent and often scary harassment that women are expected to deal with on a regular basis and then turn the conversation back to your boner and how sad it is that you have to be an asshole to all those women who are causing you so much anguish because they don’t want to talk to you. And also because yoga pants.

This post originally ran on my old blog, deathofthenewgods.tumblr.com, and has been backdated to reflect this.

2 thoughts on “street harassment, now with extra sad

  1. Crap like this makes women seem like a bunch of confused and angry little mice who are at the mercy of men and their bad behavior. It takes power away from women and it makes me want to barf. Why? Because any guy who tells you he has not had his slow moving, obtuse male ass kicked all over the sidewalk by a woman is a liar. Stop this incessant whining and let woman do what they do best, kicking ass.

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