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Shroedinger’s Rapist And The Imagined Right To Intrude

October 9, 2009

This may be Part I, because there’s more to this than I have time to flesh out right now.

[Added: Part II is Boundaries.]

First of all, this is full of win. Phaedra Starling guest-posted it over at Shapely Prose, and I just can’t say enough about it.

For the cis- het- men out there, I want to talk about what she says about approaching strange women:

You want to say Hi to the cute girl on the subway. How will she react? Fortunately, I can tell you with some certainty, because she’s already sending messages to you. Looking out the window, reading a book, working on a computer, arms folded across chest, body away from you = do not disturb. So, y’know, don’t disturb her. Really. Even to say that you like her hair, shoes, or book. A compliment is not always a reason for women to smile and say thank you. You are a threat, remember? You are Schrödinger’s Rapist. Don’t assume that whatever you have to say will win her over with charm or flattery. Believe what she’s signaling, and back off.

If you speak, and she responds in a monosyllabic way without looking at you, she’s saying, “I don’t want to be rude, but please leave me alone.” You don’t know why. It could be “Please leave me alone because I am trying to memorize Beowulf.” It could be “Please leave me alone because you are a scary, scary man with breath like a water buffalo.” It could be “Please leave me alone because I am planning my assassination of a major geopolitical figure and I will have to kill you if you are able to recognize me and blow my cover.”

On the other hand, if she is turned towards you, making eye contact, and she responds in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to her, you are getting a green light. You can continue the conversation until you start getting signals to back off.

If she can memorize Beowulf in the original language, I’m hugely impressed. Even in an English translation, I’m impressed. It’s about 3000 lines. I can recite Burns’s Tam O’Shanter, in the original Scots, and that’s just over 220 lines and takes me about ten minutes. It took me a month of work to get it down.

So if I saw a woman on the train trying to memorize Beowulf, I would really want to tell her just that. Wow! Trying to memorize Beowulf! Really cool! I love the Heaney translation! I’ve lifted the opening sentence in a blog post!

But if she’s not open to my interaction, how am I going to get her to do that? Interrupt politely? Tap her on the shoulder? Raise my hand? Blow a kazoo and hope she looks up? Hold up a sign that says “I’m cool and interesting and not a rapist and we have a lot in common so please pay attention to me?”

None of those things.

If I did any of those things, it would mean that I think that “[my] desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone.” And no matter how much I want to send the message that I’m the guy who will respect her boundaries, if I do that then I am not, in fact the guy who will respect her boundaries.

I’m not just sending a signal that I will disrespect her boundaries — I’ve already done it! I’m not saying that I will be that guy — I am proving that I am that guy. So if I now want her to trust me, I’m not asking her to believe that I am who I say I am despite evidence to the contrary. She already has proof that I’m not who I say I am. So I’m asking her to believe that I can change. And she doesn’t even know me.

(I can’t lay my hands on the link at the moment, but the emerging empirical research is that guys who admit in anonymous surveys that they commit acts which meet the legal definition of rape in most places select targets through a process of testing boundaries. So men who violate a woman’s boundaries are mimicking the targeting behavior of a rapist. Because it’s so high-stakes for women, they are much more aware of this then most men. If a predatory animal is behaving towards you in a way that you know means it’s trying to figure out if you’re prey, you get scared and go into a defensive mode. That’s just how it is.

[Edited to add:IrishUp in comments at Shapely Prose posted about the research I was talking about, by Dr. David Lisak. Her link to Lisak's work is in the comment following the one I linked to.]

She’s a person. She has her own thoughts and feelings and wants and standards, and if she is not open to meeting me on the train, then that’s up to her. Surely she knows that she’s as likely to miss meeting interesting people as she is to screen out the assholes. Know what? Her call. She gets to decide what her boundaries are; other people (het men hitting on her especially) do not get to decide her boundaries for her.

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106 Comments
  1. JayJay permalink
    October 11, 2009 12:06 pm

    Hey Thomas,

    I was really hoping for a reply to my last question to you in the feministing community thread about the too drunk to fuck thing. As for this, I don’t completely agree with you.

    “If I did any of those things, it would mean that I think that ‘[my] desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone.'”

    I think there can’t be a rule about this, because headphones or a book aren’t a clearcut indication of lack of interest in a) any conversation or b) a really good conversation *with you*. It may just be an indication of lack thereof or an assumption that such a conversation is unlikely. I’m wearing headphones all the time and that doesn’t mean I *necessarily* wouldn’t want anyone to approch me with an interesting conversation. Maybe so, maybe not.

    It’s just not a reliable indicator of actual interest in any way. You don’t really know if another person is interested in a conversation if they don’t wear headphones, unless they wear a tag reading “talk to me, please” (which, I suppose, would cause the opposite reaction, in most cases).

    That said, while not being a clear sign, headphones or concentration on a book obviously make it a little more likely that the person is not in the mood for a conversation. Which is why I would say that another important variable in this case is the assumed frequency of contact with the person in question. If the cute girl that I see in the coffee shop every day is reading a book and seems lost in her own imagination, there’s no need to approach her right now, as I’m going to see her again tomorrow, and maybe I can ask her about the book that seems captivating then. On the other hand, if you’re seeing a woman memorizing Beowulf on a Subway, chances are you’ll never ever see her again if you don’t politely say hello now.

    So, really I’m with the author of the post you quote and would say that in those circumstances it’s ok to politely interrupt and get some furter indication of whether she was actually avoiding any contact or just waiting for the right conversation.

    “On the other hand, if she is turned towards you, making eye contact, and she responds in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to her, you are getting a green light. You can continue the conversation until you start getting signals to back off.”

    “She gets to decide what her boundaries are;”

    Of course she does, but your argument is based upon the supposition that wearing headphones is a clear communication of those boundaries, and that’s just a little far fetched.

    “If I did any of those things, it would mean that I think that ‘[my] desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone.'”

    I don’t like your choice of words here. The desires of the people involved are initially of equal weight. Your use of “desire” and “right” already indicates your conclusion, and you’re using them the wrong way around. You don’t just have a desire to interact, you also have a right to attempt a conversation (unless you’re subject to a restraining order keeping you off that particular person…). You don’t have a right to *continue* that interaction if the other party makes is clear that she’s not interested. But while she may have the desire to not interact at all (regardless of wearing headphones or smiling *or* even making eye contact with you), she doesn’t have a *right* to bar people from attempting to interact. And – theoretically speaking – her *right* to slap you with a restraining order if you don’t back off is balanced by your right to initiate the conversation that would lead to you being slapped with a restraining order. Initially, theoretically, your right to interact indeed trumps her possible desire to be left alone.

    Back to practice.

    In all but very few (agreed probably scary) situations I don’t think this will ever become a real problem. Most guys are too scared to talk to women most of the time anyway, and making a woman take off her headphones to have a *good* conversation, one that is likely to lead to some form of continued interaction (which, obviously, is the ultimate goal of saying hello in most cases) is certainly beyond the communication skills of about 95% of the male population.

    So, in practice, while not in principle, I would agree with your suggestion. But it’s none the less important to emphasize that this is a recipe for practice, not a theoretical principle.

    • stripey_cat permalink
      October 12, 2009 7:31 am

      Um. If I’m reading or listening to music, I don’t want to talk to people. If I’m wanting to chat to someone, I’ll put the book down, closed, in my lap. I never, ever want to be hit on. Even when I was single, I *hated* being put on the spot by a guy. Most of my friends really, really do not like sexually loaded conversations on public transport, and having to get rid of a creepy guy can upset you for the rest of the journey, especially if he’s still in the seat across from you.

      I’m also rather frightened that you seem to think you have a right, equal to someone’s right to not be bothered by you, to bother strangers without any reason beyond pleasing yourself. I think you’re part of the problem.

    • expatiresse permalink
      October 12, 2009 10:31 am

      Um, actually wearing headphones is a signal. I ALWAYS wear headphones on the subway, much of the time they’re off I’m just using them as a tool to block people out and have some privacy.

    • ktcro permalink
      October 12, 2009 2:19 pm

      jayjay –
      here’s where you’re wrong. i absolutely have the right to not be interrupted/approached by men i don’t know. maybe you missed the part in phaedra’s original post about women being constantly on the alert for potential sexual danger? i’m guessing you’re not a woman, or you’d never have written what you wrote. you do NOT have the right to initiate conversation if you have any indication that i do not want to talk to you. know what’s playing on my headphones when i wear them on a crowded subway car? nothing. because a) i need to be aware of what’s going on around me, and b) I DON’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU. maybe you are a nice guy. i’m willing to withhold judgement on that, even after reading your post. what on earth makes you think i’m looking?

    • Lisa permalink
      October 28, 2009 3:13 pm

      As someone said in comments below, you seem to have a deep misunderstanding of your first amendment rights.

      “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

      Essentially “freedom of speech” means that the government is prohibited from limiting what you may say. Nothing in the Constitution guarantees you an audience for your speech or social interaction with another person. Freedom of speech includes the right not to speak, which the women in these scenarios also have. When you assert that you have a right to converse with women you don’t know who are sending obvious “go away” signals with their body language and lack of eye contact with you, the message you are sending (whether you intend to or not) is that your freedom of speech takes precedence over the freedom of speech of the women in the scenario. This is like the classic example of “your right to swing your arms ends at another person’s nose.”

      Yes, we are all supposed to be entitled to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Look at the order those things are in. When a woman defends her right to be left alone, she is fearful of losing her life or liberty, which takes precedence over your pursuit of happiness.

    • Alex permalink
      February 4, 2011 12:39 am

      I’m sorry JayJay, but:

      If I’m on my laptop, don’t talk to me.

      If I’m reading anything, don’t talk to me.

      If I’m solving a puzzle, don’t talk to me.

      If I’m taking photos out the window, don’t talk to me.

      If I’m wearing headphones, don’t talk to me.

      In any of these cases, I’m either busy, or on a train of thought that I really don’t want to be interrupted, or I simply want to be left alone. I will under no circumstance be pleased with anyone who interrupts me while I am doing any of these things. Likewise, I never interrupt anyone when they are doing such things. A possible interesting conversation is not a reason to interrupt me because the interrupter has now inhibited something I was doing, and all I will want to do is to end that ‘conversation’ as soon as possible. If I am open to talking, my body will be angled slightly towards the person I am sitting near. My headphones will not be on me, my book will be closed, my camera will be off, my pencil will be down, and my laptop will either be closed or angled in such a way that if said person would like to view what is currently on my laptop, ze can. If ze is not engaged in anything and has an open posture, I may just start the conversation myself.

      But, oftentimes, men (I’ve honestly never had a woman do this to me) will interrupt me from whatever I am doing and then take advantage of my politeness to keep talking to me (sometimes, I don’t respond at all, and they continue until I do), which almost inevitably leads to him hitting on me, convincing himself that I’m interested, even after I mention that I have a boyfriend, and compelling me to give him a number (always fake) or to ‘promise’ to meet him sometime. Having survived several sexual assaults and sexual assault attempts in my life, these encounters naturally leave me feeling not only annoyed but threatened. It’s bad enough that I, as an amateur nature photographer, can’t look at the world around me without often accidentally making eye contact with some guy where he invariably thinks I’m interested in him and that I can’t smile at the memory of a happy or funny time without often inadvertently smiling in the direction of some guy, but now you’re saying that even if my body language clearly states that I don’t want to talk to anyone, someone still has the *right* to talk to me anyway?

      I’m sorry, but it’s not enough to initiate conversation anyway and wait to see if the person mumbles in response. Many women, including myself, have been conditioned to be polite, even to the point that we feign interest in order not to hurt the initiator’s feelings, or because we feel intimidated. It’s an ongoing battle. I’ve gotten better at it; I’m not as polite to strangers who bother me as I once was, the most recent time being on a bus where a man boxed me in on the seat and eventually felt so comfortable with me that he put his arm around me and started fiddling with my knees, fingers, wrists, etc. I was so uncomfortable that my voice as I spoke was shrill and enthusiastic with a huge smile plastered to my face and yet I was hugging one of knees and glancing out the window at every pause.

      I, and anyone else really, have every reason to want to be left alone on public transport or in a park, etc. And I have a right to maintain that. No one has the right to interrupt me when I am presenting body language that says I don’t want to be. We adopt this body language to defend ourselves. What right has anyone to take that away from us?

  2. October 11, 2009 2:00 pm

    JayJay, Limesarah said:

    “My entire posture had been designed to say “Yes, I am doing something, but would probably welcome conversation”, which was confirmed when I answered his question enthusiastically instead of just mumbling and turning away.”

    The multi-hundred comment thread over there had a horde of women saying they wanted to make a flier and hand the OP out to every man they could. Obviously, it’s possible that if you get a strange woman’s attention in public, she may want to talk with you. But the major point is that she neither owes you that conversation, nor even an opening to start that conversation, and you ought to start from the proposition that if she doesn’t want to talk she can brush you off.

    I don’t buy this “most guys are too scared to talk to women” stuff. To be blunt, I think that’s projection. Men and women manage to interact when circumstances present themselves, from the F train to the line at the coffee shop to the back of the room at big, boring meetings. Some have more confidence than others and some have more wit, but people meet people. It may be that most men feel some anxiety approaching women they don’t know who they are attracted to. That’s not the same thing as claiming that they are so afraid that they are unable to do so…

    All of which is beside the point. If you see the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen reading Beowulf on the F train, you do not actually have the right to meet her. She does actually have the right not to give you an opening to make contact. If she finds that’s not working out for her, she can change. If you’ve missed your “shot” and never see her again … tough shit. She didn’t “owe” you that “shot”, and any belief that she does is just male privilege.

    • amy permalink
      December 12, 2009 11:52 pm

      Hi Thomas,

      While I thoroughly endorse your overall point, that women deserve inviolable boundaries, I chafe somewhat at the presumption that the most precious commodity to miss out on is a beautiful woman. All women have many more salient traits than their looks, even if their looks get your attention for whatever reason. Just sayin’. I’m especially sensitive to language that objectifies women’s bodies.

      Thanks for the terrific work you do here. I really appreciate it.

      • December 13, 2009 8:54 am

        Point well taken, and I’ll be conscious of the outsized footprint of words like “beautiful.” In the OP, I used reading material as the example, but I was less conscious about it in comments. I’ll keep an eye on that.

    • February 19, 2011 11:46 pm

      Thomas, I am so impressed with you! Anyway:

      If you’ve missed your “shot” and never see her again … tough shit. She didn’t “owe” you that “shot”, and any belief that she does is just male privilege.

      — and magically dood gets to decide for the woman how she should perceive the harrassment. Magically, man gets to decide that she should feel flattered instead of annoyed. No, she gets to decide for herself how she feels about your interruptions.

      Besides THAT, if you are truly so freaking awesome then you should no trouble finding a date from the pool of women you already know. You wouldn’t need to be hitting on random women in the subway. The idea that any woman in public is “your potential date” is just more patriachal bullshit. Go chat up a fence post — that is the only kind of public property which exists to serve you.

      Don’t mean to sound rude, not sure how else to phrase all that. Am I entitled to decide that my comment is viewed in a favorable light? ;)

      • Noah permalink
        July 10, 2011 3:45 pm

        “Am I entitled to decide that my comment is viewed in a favorable light?”

        Lol. :D

  3. JayJay permalink
    October 11, 2009 2:33 pm

    Thomas,

    “you ought to start from the proposition that if she doesn’t want to talk she can brush you off.”

    absolutely, but that’s a given right. That’s a right everyone has. I don’t have to talk to a woman if I don’t want to, but even if I wished she wouldn’t start talking to me, it’s her right to do that.

    “To be blunt, I think that’s projection.”

    Don’t assume to much about me because of what I told you in the feministing thread. A lot of women ask me to give other guys advice on how to interact with women, a lot of women ask me to help translate male behaviour for them. I actually do have quite good “people skills” and I’m also pretty good at flirting, despite the personal issues I alluded to in the other thread. It’s just that because of those issues that it’s usually me who is gatekeeping the interaction…

    “That’s not the same thing as claiming that they are so afraid that they are unable to do so…”

    Agreed, but certainly very few would be able to get a woman from not wanting a conversation to being happy they’re having that particular conversation.

    “If she finds that’s not working out for her, she can change.”

    Just out of curiosity. How would she find out without changing/changed circumstances/etc. This is a chicken and egg thing.

    “She does actually have the right not to give you an opening to make contact. … She didn’t “owe” you that “shot”, and any belief that she does is just male privilege.”

    Of course, she doesn’t owe me anything. But I have a right to attempt to make her see why she would want to talk to me. She can brush off that attempt right away, but she can’t stop anyone from saying “hello”.

    And male privilege, sorry, you can easily make a gender switch on this one. Or make it male-male, female-female. Doesn’t change a bit. Doesn’t even need to be about attempting to create a romantic interaction. That’s also why I find it problematic to put this is a rape context. I understand that women may put any potential interaction in a rape context, because of the Schrödinger-factor, but that really doesn’t change the fundamentals of inter-human approaching, it just requires men/us to be even more careful if we don’t want to f**k a conversation up right from the start.

    • Lisa permalink
      October 11, 2009 10:23 pm

      I ride public transit very often, and I get approached by guys when I am sending obvious “leave me alone” signals. A lot of guys acknowledge that I probably don’t want to talk to them but they “need” to tell me how they feel or whatever as an actual conversation opener. Reminds me of what you are talking about right here.

      Whether you choose to believe it or not, for women rape is always something to worry about when being approached by strange men. A guy approached me acting nice enough only to unceremoniously try to reach down the front of my shirt and grab my tits. I asked him to stop a few times before actually screaming at him. Some guys follow me down the street (occasionally yelling angrily while doing so) because they feel entitled to a conversation with me. This happens with alarming regularity. It feels scary and unsafe for me because it basically tells me that getting what they want from me is more important than my right to say no.

      I actually use my iPod as a way to deter people from talking to me on the bus.

      I just want to commute to and from school. I just want to go shopping with my friends. I don’t want to always fear for my safety. I don’t want to always have to evaluate these situations in the context of whether or not I have to worry about being assaulted. So far I have narrowly avoided getting assaulted, I have been catcalled at, yelled at, harassed, stalked, etc. And I have been dealing with this since I was thirteen.

      Maybe to you not talking to a girl on the train or bus is a missed opportunity, but to those women that don’t want to be approached it’s about peace of mind.

      • JayJay permalink
        October 12, 2009 9:26 am

        Lisa,

        “Whether you choose to believe it or not, for women rape is always something to worry about when being approached by strange men.”

        and I understand that, which, and I think I’ve said so quite clearly, implies to be able to read the signals, and yeah, usually not approach woman who is signaling a higher probability of “don’t approach me.”

        Maybe we’re talking really past each other. When I say “right” I literally mean “right”. I may not want to be approached by someone asking for the time, and I have every right to tell the person to back off after he asked, but, quite literally, “Freedom of speech” maybe unwise to use in specific circumstances, but a *right* none the less. If no one had the right to address someone else, there would not even logically be the possibility for any kind of communication. Even using a very strict protocol, someone – logically – has to initiate communication.

      • Alex permalink
        February 4, 2011 12:48 am

        “Some guys follow me down the street (occasionally yelling angrily while doing so) because they feel entitled to a conversation with me.”

        Totally relate to that! Just yesterday, this guy started chasing me whilst shouting something unintelligible. Luckily, I speed-walk very well and speed-walking in the snow is a lot easier than running in it.

  4. Kristen permalink
    October 11, 2009 4:58 pm

    “But I have a right to attempt to make her see why she would want to talk to me.”

    Sure, but it makes you a creepy asshole. It’s lose-lose. There are plenty of fish in the sea… go bother someone in a venue where they might actually be looking for someone to talk to, not on the subway.

  5. JessSnark permalink
    October 11, 2009 5:14 pm

    JayJay, you can try to make the gender switch and imagine what it would be like for you (male, I’m assuming) if a woman spoke to you on the train, but gender really does matter in this type of situation, precisely because women are many times more likely to be victimized by men than the other way around. In short, sexism exists and sexual harassment exists, and they affect women and men asymmetrically, and that’s why your sentence “I understand that women may put any potential interaction in a rape context, because of the Schrödinger-factor, but that really doesn’t change the fundamentals of inter-human approaching” just isn’t true. It really DOES change the fundamentals of interpersonal interactions. Try being told for your entire life that you have a 1 in 4 (or 1 in 6, or whatever number you’re willing to accept) chance of being raped, and that the assailant is overwhelmingly likely to be of the opposite sex, and see if that doesn’t cloud your interactions with strangers of the opposite sex.
    It’s unclear to me what you mean about having a “right” to start a conversation with a stranger. Legal right? Moral right? It’s one thing to say “I am willing to take the chance of being considered an intrusive creep since I think I can conduct myself well enough to demonstrate to this stranger that I’m actually a nonthreatening friendly person” but I don’t quite get where rights come into it.

  6. Jude permalink
    October 11, 2009 5:24 pm

    /Agreed, but certainly very few would be able to get a woman from not wanting a conversation to being happy they’re having that particular conversation./

    That right there is the problem – if a woman doesn’t want a conversation, you don’t have the right to press on, even if you think you can ‘get’ her to like it. That language just sounds very… manipulatey. You don’t ‘get’ women to like you, you be yourself (and if you have any sense you be respectful and not pushy) and you hope that they do. If they don’t, or for any number of reasons they’re not interested in meeting you at that particular moment of their lives, tough luck. If you think she’ll like talking to *you* even if she’s giving you signals that she doesn’t want to talk you’re essentially telling her you know what she wants better than she does, which, if you are strangers, is highly unlikely.

    The rape thing is not a built-in fundamental of human interaction, it’s a product of rape culture. Rape culture is what makes you Schrodinger’s rapist, and rape culure along with the general patriarchy ensures that interactions where a man approaches a woman are fundamentally different from same-sex or reversed interactions. You cannot get away from the patriarchy or from rape culture, so your responsibility is to be as non-triggering as possible when you are Schrodinger’s rapist.

    Myself as a woman, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, I cannot imagine ever having a relationship or even comfortably having a flirty conversation with someone I met in the street or on public transport. In situations where people are more likely to be there to meet strangers – clubs or bars, for example – I can see where some of this may be a little rigid, but on the Subway? Leave well alone unless told otherwise, I think.

  7. October 11, 2009 7:49 pm

    JayJay, right here is the heart of the issue:

    “But I have a right to attempt to make her see why she would want to talk to me. ”

    That’s exactly what I think you don’t have.

    What, in your view, exactly, does a woman on a subway have to do so that you will not interrupt her and “attempt to make her see why she would want to talk to” you? Wear a trucker hat that says “Hey, JayJay, I’m not interested and don’t want to be interrupted because I’m reading”? You seem to be arguing that no woman can be free of your interruption unless you decide you don’t want to interrupt her.

  8. JayJay permalink
    October 11, 2009 8:36 pm

    Thomas,

    “You seem to be arguing that no woman can be free of your interruption unless you decide you don’t want to interrupt her.”

    Exactly. No one, not me, not you, not anyone can (legally, theoretically) prohibit someone else from saying hello. I, you, everyone else has the right to say no to that particular conversation immediately thereafter. Practically, of course, things are different. If a woman were actually immersed in her reading or nodding to the rhythm of the music she’s listening to, there would have to be some overwhelming reason to interrupt her. I can imagine circumstances where the desire to meet that person *could* be that overwhelming reason. She says no it’s over, but she cannot say no to something that hasn’t occurred yet.

    Framed differently, she can use whatever means she/he deems appropriate to disencourage people from saying hello – and that will usually work -, but before someone has actually said hello, she/he can not make it known to any specific person that she’s not interested in a conversation with that person.

    Again, practically, I completely agree. It’s like Kristen said –

    “Sure, but it makes you a creepy asshole. It’s lose-lose.”

    That’s would likely be true, and it’s not something that should be done. But there is a difference between saying something *shouldn’t be done* and someone doesn’t have a *right* to say hello. No one has a right to a continued interaction, but everyone has a right to say hello. But not every right *should be* exercised in all circumstances.

    • ktcro permalink
      October 13, 2009 1:34 pm

      jayjay –
      you’re arguing yourself into a hole here. you’re not wrong on the freedom of speech bit. sure, as long as your speech is not causing immediate physical harm (i.e. the infamous yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater example), you’re legally free to say whatever the f you want. hate speech is an example of this. you are legally free to post signs like that restaurant owner in georgia, or to use other derogatory labels for groups of people (unless it’s in a situation where you can get sued for discrimination). but if you’re a decent human being, which you seem to imply that you are, why would you do that? likewise, why would you try to make conversation with a woman who is giving off signals of “i don’t want to talk to anyone?” you legally have the right to do all kinds of things – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. little thing called “respect” – see aretha.

  9. Andi permalink
    October 11, 2009 8:36 pm

    As one of those women who reads in public, I can tell you for certain: I don’t want to hear it.
    kay, thanks.

  10. JohnnyRiot permalink
    October 11, 2009 11:26 pm

    “If the cute girl that I see in the coffee shop every day is reading a book and seems lost in her own imagination, there’s no need to approach her right now, as I’m going to see her again tomorrow, and maybe I can ask her about the book that seems captivating then. On the other hand, if you’re seeing a woman memorizing Beowulf on a Subway, chances are you’ll never ever see her again if you don’t politely say hello now.”

    As Thomas pointed you- you do not, in fact, have the right to have a shot at her. It makes no difference if you know you will see her again or not. It is not your right. You are not ENTITLED to every human being, women in particular. As the author wrote- you may know you are not a rapist, but the woman you wish to speak with does not. And you do not know her, which encompasses a wide range of issues including the possiblity that she has been violated & is consequently wary of random guys approaching her.

    I find it interesting that we live in a culture where male privilege runs rampant enough that any man feels as though he has the right to approach any woman, & say anything. Your words indicate you as guilty of this. FAIL.

    Case in point (& I find your use of words creepy, by the way): “Your use of ‘desire’ and ‘right’ already indicates your conclusion, and you’re using them the wrong way around. You don’t just have a desire to interact, you also have a right to attempt a conversation.”

    No. You do not have the right to approach any woman, particularly when she is not sending you any welcoming signals- just because you DESIRE to do so. You do not get to ASSUME access to her like the swipe of a credit card. Sorry.

    Another point that I want to address: we also don’t live in a culture the socializes & encourages girls to grow into women who feel comfortable using the word “no.” I myself have been held captive, so to speak, in coversation because I didn’t want to be “rude” by saying no. I have been held in place by guys wanting to tell me they liked my body because I didn’t want to sock them in the face & start something worse. Saying a woman has the right to say no to continuing a conversation DISINCLUDES the reality that many women do not feel CAPABLE of saying no in the first place. It’s an important distinction of which to be aware, no?

    “I don’t have to talk to a woman if I don’t want to, but even if I wished she wouldn’t start talking to me, it’s her right to do that.”

    I agree with the other commenters who have called the sex/gender issue into play. From your writing, you indicate your sex to be male. A random woman approaching a man is a very different experience than a random man approaching a woman. Thinking otherwise smacks of egocentric fallacy. As the author emphasized, a woman being approached by a man involves issues of safety- both emotional & literal. Rarely does that occur in a female-to-male interaction, though it happens DAILY in a male-to-female interaction.

    As for your attempt to dismiss the male privilege comment, sorry. It applies. There’s a reason why “street harassment” conjures up an image of a man approaching a woman. More often than not, THAT is how it goes. To say the gender can easily be switched is like saying it’s a coincidence that over 90% of rapists are male & over 90% of rape survivors are female. It’s not.

    “Of course, she doesn’t owe me anything. But I have a right to attempt to make her see why she would want to talk to me.”

    Your choice of words here comes off as creepy & even dangerous to me. Make her? She does not owe you anything & you are not entitled to the “right” to “make her” do anything. That’s the sort of thought process employed by the guys who hold me in place against my will because they just really wanna make me see why I really want to talk to them. Um, FAIL.

    Peace.

    • JayJay permalink
      October 12, 2009 10:06 am

      JohnnyRiot,

      You are not ENTITLED to every human being, women in particular.

      Whatever that may mean… There is a right called “freedom of speech”, just as there are other rights. We have ways to deal with harassment and violence, but we have also come to the conclusion that there cannot be a society in which people do not have the right to address each other. Yes. Everyone, female, male, intersex, of whichever gender identification has the right to address another person. That other person has the right to decline the offer to communicate, but no one can logically say no to something that has not occurred yet.

      “as though he has the right to approach any woman, & say anything.”

      Not correct. There are implicit cultural and explicit legal limits to *what* can be said. Moreover, people are interested in actually communicating, which further limits the what can and should be said to the assumed state of mind of the person approached.

      “No. You do not have the right to approach any woman, particularly when she is not sending you any welcoming signals- just because you DESIRE to do so.”

      Forgetting about that demeaning credit card thing, think about it this way. *IF* she’s sending me welcoming signals, *SHE* is beginning the conversation. What gave her the *right* to do that? I can say no by not reacting or by saying hello, but the *initial* step has already been made by her. She has a *right* to make that first step. I have a right to decline the next one. And vice versa. This is what I’m saying. Not all steps are equal, and some that are too large shouldn’t be taken if the circumstancial variables don’t permit it. But that doesn’t change the fundamental right to “walk”.

      “Saying a woman has the right to say no to continuing a conversation DISINCLUDES the reality that many women do not feel CAPABLE of saying no in the first place. It’s an important distinction of which to be aware, no?”

      Well, yes and no. It’s important to keep this in mind for any *actual* approach. It’s not important when it comes to defining abstract rights.

      “As the author emphasized, a woman being approached by a man involves issues of safety- both emotional & literal.”

      Again, these are circumstancial variables that are important for actual communication, but not when it comes to abstract rights.

      “Your choice of words here comes off as creepy & even dangerous to me. Make her? She does not owe you anything & you are not entitled to the “right” to “make her” do anything.”

      Your interpretation. Phrase it differently… I’m making an offer that she has every right to decline. But if my offer is good, maybe she doesn’t want to. Better?

      • doodle permalink
        October 12, 2009 2:53 pm

        “There is a right called “freedom of speech”, just as there are other rights. [...] there cannot be a society in which people do not have the right to address each other.”

        Freedom of speech and having the right to say hello to everyone are two very different things… Freedom of speech means that you have the right to ask for, receive and communicate information and ideas, not that you can try to initiate a conversation with every human being you see.

      • Allison permalink
        October 12, 2009 5:51 pm

        “no one can logically say no to something that hasn’t occurred yet”

        Really? So I should let you kiss me just in case I’ll find out in doing so that I like it, in fact *must* let you do so, as I have no alternative?

        Yeah, you make more coherent statements, but until you get rid of the obvious red flags, I’m not going to be able to hear your argument.

      • jenifer permalink
        October 12, 2009 9:42 pm

        “Freedom of speech” does not mean what you think it means. Please read your First Amendment, and cease referencing legal standards that apply to Congress in discussion that are not at all related to this.

      • JohnnyRiot permalink
        October 14, 2009 4:20 am

        Freedom of speech? I don’t see how that applies at all to interaction- particularly the sort of interaction that does not respect a person’s boundaries. You argue that you have the right to approach any woman at any time if you so desire to make her see why she would want to talk to you– & as Thomas pointed out, the entitlement is indeed built into the very question.

        “There are implicit cultural and explicit legal limits to *what* can be said.”

        See, now that’s interesting. That statement involves more “should” than “actually.” There are “explicit legal limits” that prevent a boss from making sexually explicit comments to employees– but that sort of thing happens every day, without punishment. There are “implicit cultural … limits” to what a man can ostensibly say to a woman walking down the street- but street harassment, too, happen everyday without consequence. Hell, look at rape- when only 8% of rapists ever spend a day in jail despite the crime’s high occurrence… perhaps the cultural & legal limits you reference are not so frequently enforced. Hence, rape culture.

        Let’s talk about credit cards. They are something you possess & can access whenever you desire. You don’t think twice about using it to pay for groceries or a haircut; you simply swipe & go. A lot of male interaction with women these days seems reminiscent of that. Say, for example, if you see a woman engrossed in her book while riding the train… you want to go over & initiate a conversation so you do it. You don’t stop to think about what she wants, or how engrossed she is in the book. You simply think about what you want, & act– assuming access without a second thought. Why? Because the fact that she has the right to be left alone takes second place to what you desire- in fact, the former doesn’t even cross your mind.

        PS- Sending welcoming signals is a hell of a lot different than approaching someone in person. You’re not arguing a right to catch eyes with a woman; you’re arguing that should her eyes not catch yours (be it engrossed in a book or avoiding eye contact all together), you somehow have the right to approach her personal space & attempt to engage her in conversation. Big difference.

        Also, again- the right to say “no” disincludes the reality that many women do not feel as though they CAN say no– which is indeed a powerful social prescription. Sometimes we’re even taught that we should avoid saying “no” lest you turn from Shroedinger’s rapist to real rapist & we anger you to the point of more harm.

        Take street harassment. A guy says something to a woman, & she ignores him. He continues to speak to her, wanting to make her see why she should talk to him. She continues to ignore him, waiting for the signal to change. He gets angry that she’s ignoring him (rejecting power), & switches his approach. Now he’s following her down the street, yelling insults & talking about how she’s “not really that pretty anyway, bitch.” Happens daily. (See: http://hollabacknyc.blogspot.com/)

        “It’s not important when it comes to defining abstract rights.”

        Seriously?! Abstract rights? This very blog & the book that inspired it exist for REALITY. We are having these conversations because of REALITY, not abstract ideals & rights. We don’t live in the abstract. We live in reality. So, YES- it’s VERY important.

        Funny how my interpretation of your words seems to resonate with other ladies, too.

        “I’m making an offer that she has every right to decline. But if my offer is good, maybe she doesn’t want to. Better?”

        So… you’re like a telemarketer, then? Well, sure- everyone loves a telemarketer who calls during dinner!

  11. Lisa permalink
    October 12, 2009 6:10 am

    Thank you, Thomas! It is wonderful to have such a staunch ally helping to fight the good fight.

    I do have a question for you. You seem to really get it. I read the Schrodinger’s Rapist post and interpreted it as pointers to show men who are not dangerous how to not give off the signals that dangerous men give off. The men I have discussed this article with have become upset at the thought and interpret as an assertion that all men are rapists. They also get very hung up on the guilty-until-proven-innocent aspect, which I acknowledge but don’t see a way around without compromising women’s safety.

    Any pointers on how to help them see past those blind spots?

    • JayJay permalink
      October 12, 2009 9:45 am

      Lisa,

      “guilty-until-proven-innocent”

      the way I – who used this argument – see it now is this.

      Not guilty until proven innocent is a necessary notion for a legal process. And that’s where is belongs, where it is one of the cornerstones of justice as we have come to expect it. But outside a legal process, things are different. I think it sucks that women may feel the need to mistrust me until they know me, but I have to understand that this is their reality and not take it personally. I think, when you’re talking about this with men, a lot actually depends on how you say it. A lot of the times, feminists really do use accusing language that does cause a defensive reaction instead of a willingness to engage with the argument.

      I don’t like the whole privilege discourse Thomas applies below, because it’s logically and philosophically extremely unsound, and mostly used as a way to devalue another position by declaring that it’s getting too much exposure elsewhere. It’s a rhethorical framing and shaming device that is bound to cause the reactions you experience when you’re talking to men.

      Plus, there’s really no need to make this argument with feminist vocabulary. Just try and don’t give them the feeling you think they are a rapist. Talk about how they can help other women to not experience feeling unsafe (and while that includes being careful about if and if how one approaches a woman on a train, that doesn’t change the freedom of speech *rights* issue).

      • Christina permalink
        October 13, 2009 1:12 am

        There is no freedom of speech rights issue, because freedom of speech doesn’t mean what you think it means. “Freedom of speech” is about being able to freely express ideas without getting arrested, not about you getting to talk to whoever you want because every word you say is sacred and you have a “right” to talk to people. Also, your rights stop where others’ rights begin. So no, you don’t have a “right” to do anything involving another human being.

  12. October 12, 2009 6:55 am

    Lisa, you’re too kind. My ability to really understand what it’s like in other folks’ shoes is really limited. But I do try to listen, and sometimes I turn a phrase well.

    I think discomfort in inevitable in dismantling privilege. Guys are used to a lot of advantages that they don’t think of as advantages — they got to talk more in meetings, get interrupted less, and their views are not as easily dismissed. If those advantages go away, it “feels” unfair to them because they thought their privileged state was “normal.” And the longer term advantages of dismantling an unequal system are harder to see in the immediate term.

    What cis het men see is the loss of the privilege to intrude on women’s solitude, and I think all the whinging is simply rationalization around reflexive defense of the privilege.

    In fact, I think guys only come to grips with the loss of male privilege when they take a broader view of what is to be gained and lost. IME, either because they have self-interested reasons for thinking patriarchy sucks for everyone; or because they come face to face with what it does to women and can’t tolerate it. The latter is probably the easier sell, and that’s why exercises like getting high school boys to list the steps they take to walk to their car in a dark parking lot (and then hearing women’s lists — I got that from the Shapely Prose thread) are effective.

  13. October 12, 2009 7:31 am

    I felt like this article was good in that it helps het/cismen to realize that most female-bodied-people are terrified of rape and do a lot of weird things to try to lessen their “risk.” Its the “risk” thing that worried me.
    1) If a man rapes a woman, it is not her fault because she had somehow put her self at risk.
    2) Because most rapists are someone the victims knows well, I dont like the perpetuation of the stranger-rape story.

    • October 12, 2009 8:30 am

      Really, really good points.

      (1) should go without saying. That it needs to be said at all is the product of rape culture.

      (2) I totally agree that there’s a wild imbalance in the discourse on rape where stranger rape and rape in public places are overrepresented — but I see this post as not so much talking about the threat of the archetypal stranger rape, but the more general issue of boundary transgressing, which I can see from the comments here and at Shapely Prose are everywhere.

      This isn’t about walking to the car with keys in hand and checking the back seat. Those are narratives that have little to do with the rapes that have happened to so many of the women I know.

      This is about whether men understand women’s boundaries to be real.

      And that has everything to do with how rape happens.

      • October 12, 2009 9:13 am

        Regarding the “stranger rape” versus “acquaintance/friend/relative” rape issue, several people in the comments have pointed out that you only have to talk to a person a few times (maybe even only once) before they no longer fit the definition of “stranger.” They’re not saying the person on the train will rape the woman the day they meet, the argument is that it’s a continuum of action that includes both the violence of disregarding a woman’s right to have you not talk to her as well as the violence of sexual assault, rape, etc. So yes, it is fundamentally more about the boundary transgression.

        Good comments, and it’s good to see this post getting wider discussion. I thought it was excellent, and the comment thread was (and continues to be) very challenging to me.

    • DavidC permalink
      October 12, 2009 1:22 pm

      “Female-bodied” is bothering me here. Is it meant to exclude some trans women? Not being assigned ‘female’ at birth doesn’t exempt anyone from the cultural phenomenon of women’s body being treated as men’s property. Maybe you’re looking for some category that includes women anyone assigned female?

  14. Emily permalink
    October 12, 2009 10:54 am

    AJ, how do you think a person goes from being a stranger to being someone the victim goes well?

  15. Ellen May permalink
    October 12, 2009 11:27 am

    JayJay really doesn’t get it does he?

  16. Uppity Broad permalink
    October 12, 2009 11:31 am

    Hey JayJay,

    I think you sound really hot. I know we’d get along and I’m so happy that you feel I have the right to approach/interrupt you and “make” you see why we’d be so good together.

    I’m 6’5″, 235, blond, and have an absolutely righteous beard. When can we get together?

  17. October 12, 2009 11:38 am

    Moderation note: I allow a lot of leeway to feminist folks who are trying to move the discourse forward. I don’t usually do that for folks invoking the usual panoply an antifeminist “yer makin’ up the whole privilege thing to silence the MENZ” arguments. However, JayJay is acting as such a perfect example of what I’m trying to illustrate that, in his own way, he is serving to move the discourse forward ;-)

    • JayJay permalink
      October 12, 2009 12:00 pm

      Thomas,

      no worries.

      In a different environment your use of ridicule as a rhethoric device will not be sufficient to cover up your apparent difficulty to make a rational argument that doesn’t rely on a problematic set of assumptions.

      This is the kind of group think arguments that will work well in closed groups and echo chambers, yet not with people who are actually interested in seeing both sides and truly move the discourse forward.

      You probably live under the impression that you are doing that, that you are actually taking differing opinions seriously and are engaging. You appear to do that until there is initial dissent. That’s not how debates work in the real world.

      If, one day you’re wondering why there are so few men actually interested feminist discourse, just look at threads like this one and remember how you tried to redefine partly dissenting as “privileged”. Again, that’s exactly the kind of “privileged” behaviour you criticize.

  18. Suzanne permalink
    October 12, 2009 12:52 pm

    JayJay said:
    *IF* she’s sending me welcoming signals, *SHE* is beginning the conversation. What gave her the *right* to do that? I can say no by not reacting or by saying hello, but the *initial* step has already been made by her. She has a *right* to make that first step. I have a right to decline the next one. And vice versa. This is what I’m saying. Not all steps are equal, and some that are too large shouldn’t be taken if the circumstancial variables don’t permit it. But that doesn’t change the fundamental right to “walk”.

    So…is there some reason why you can’t “begin the conversation” in the same way she would? By projecting open friendliness and willingness to chat? Why do you feel you have to go into her space instead of letting her come to you?

    • JayJay permalink
      October 12, 2009 1:23 pm

      Suzanne,

      “So…is there some reason why you can’t “begin the conversation” in the same way she would? By projecting open friendliness and willingness to chat? Why do you feel you have to go into her space instead of letting her come to you?”

      Well, first off, I didn’t say I can’t and I didn’t say I don’t. Because I usually do that, being a good communicator but usually also being on the shy side of things (“to the extent of hearing from women that “I’m not a real man for not pursuing them more aggressively… so, personally, reading some of the responses here is kind of funny).

      I didn’t say anything about the specifics of actual conversations or attempted conversations except that I agree with what Thomas said initially *in practice*, though not in *principle*. I was talking about a *principle*.

      However, if you were to ask me if I think that “projecting open friendliness and willingness to chat” is a good strategy for all men to pursue when it comes to intergender communication in the world as we know it, I’d probably say that depends on how famous they are and how good they look. That’s, sadly, because both women and men have internalised social routines that – while not individually certainly statistically – require men to be the initiator. I don’t like it a bit and I’m often lucky enough to be the one who gets approached, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the general case.

      “Why do you feel you have to go into her space instead of letting her come to you?”

      Again, I don’t feel that. But saying “hello” is about interrupting to capture attention, not about entering her space. And this is unrelated to the right to address someone else.

      • osoborracho permalink
        October 12, 2009 10:59 pm

        JayJay, this whole discussion has been about IN PRACTICE not principle. Yes, in an ideal world a strange woman approaching a man would be no different from the reverse. WE DON’T LIVE THERE, so arguing about it is moot.

        Also, pursuing a strange woman on public transport is very different from trying to impress an interested woman whom you are already acquainted with in a social setting. We’re not saying guys are not allowed to seek girlfriends, but the subway is an inappropriate setting.

        Saying “hello” to capture her attention is still an invasion of her space, in a way. It’s nothing like walking up and groping her, but you would still be interrupting her and forcing her to acknowledge you, for your amusement. Also remember that while riding public transit, one can’t easily escape. In a more open space like a park or mall, this is less of a problem because she won’t be a captive audience. If she thinks you’re creepy she can leave anytime, unlike on a bus.

  19. Alexandra permalink
    October 12, 2009 1:43 pm

    I’m a woman, but I don’t read in public to ward people off. I read in public because I’m effing bored. If you can be a non-boeuf person, then feel free to interrupt my reading.

    Am I just a freak or something here?

    • Allison permalink
      October 12, 2009 5:46 pm

      I sometimes read in public because I’m bored, and sometimes to ward people off. Indeed, I sometimes read in public when I’d rather stare off into space because I have the (apparently mistaken, judging from the responses of older slightly-drunk men on the public transit system) belief that looking exclusively at my book is an effective means of conveying that I am not interested in talking to strangers on the train. If I’m reading in public and feeling open to being approached, I occasionally look up and people-watch a bit. It’s a different thing. Having a book isn’t the signal that you can’t talk to me; the fact that I never seem to look up from it, though, is.

    • osoborracho permalink
      October 12, 2009 10:11 pm

      I like chatting with strangers in public places, actually. Most of the time.

      I usually don’t mind if a strange man tries to start a conversation, but I’ve only been harassed, threatened, or assaulted by men close to me. Other women’s comfort levels vary.

      I don’t mind if someone tries to initiate a conversation, but I hate the ones that are pushy/clingy/oblivious and won’t let the conversation die when the appropriate time comes or if I wasn’t interested in the first place. I want to be polite and exit the interaction on good terms so I don’t want to tell a guy to shut up, but sometimes it comes to that.

    • Alex permalink
      February 4, 2011 1:17 am

      But is your body language closed when you wouldn’t mind an interruption? I don’t want to make assumptions, but I imagine it’s not. Ergo, it’s not the same as someone bothering you when you’re clearly captivated by whatever it is you’re doing, or you’re angled away from hir.

  20. Alexandra permalink
    October 12, 2009 1:44 pm

    I meant non-boring, not non-boeuf.

  21. Annie Mcfly permalink
    October 12, 2009 2:46 pm

    “I’m also rather frightened that you seem to think you have a right, equal to someone’s right to not be bothered by you, to bother strangers without any reason beyond pleasing yourself. I think you’re part of the problem.”

    THISTHISTHISTHISTHIS.

    Hypothetical here, paraphrasing fillyjonk(?) on the Shapely Prose thread: I’m sitting on the train listening to music, and I’m wearing really cool boots.

    Things I already know: I’m wearing cool boots.
    Things I don’t already know: YOU think my boots are cool.

    So, seeing as you’re a stranger, what exactly am I supposed to get out of your comment? I appreciate a compliment on my fashion sense occasionally, but from a stranger, when I’m obviously not sending out “talk to me” signals? I don’t need to hear it. If you feel a need to say it, it’s not because my boots are just THAT COOL that you had to comment on them, it’s because you felt like commenting on my boots and that, to you, is important.

    Newsflash: it’s not.

  22. JessSnark permalink
    October 12, 2009 5:02 pm

    One issue that keeps coming up is that JayJay wants to focus on “abstract rights, not actual approaches” and “principle, not practice.” Sure, divorced from reality, we could say that a man interrupting a woman’s reading in a cafe or on a bus is just the same as a woman interrupting a man’s reading to start a conversation. Either person can shut it down if desired with minimal consequences.
    But this separation from reality is a recurring problem when when non-feminist men insert themselves into discussions of women’s issues. We see it when men want to argue about abortion rights and equal opportunity for moms in the workplace and all kinds of other issues- they tend to act as though this is high school debate club and it’s all about scoring argument points, rather than discussing issues that have real impacts on people’s lives.

    • osoborracho permalink
      October 12, 2009 7:09 pm

      Yeah, in a perfect world a male stranger attempting to start a conversation with a woman would be no different from a female stranger approaching a man. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world and the power dynamic between man approaching woman vs woman approaching man is very different. (JayJay, if you’re reading this is an example of “male privilege.” You haven’t had the experience of being female or unwanted attention in public places and can’t seem to empathize with how annoying or distressing the combination can be.)

    • Noah permalink
      July 10, 2011 4:16 pm

      “…they tend to act as though this is high school debate club and it’s all about scoring argument points, rather than discussing issues that have real impacts on people’s lives.”

      Well said.

  23. October 12, 2009 6:16 pm

    Personally, I am not a mindreader, nor have I ever developed the ability to “read body language”. Many men lack those skillsets, because society expects these skills from women, not from us.

    Yes, that is a privilege – a privilege that many males in this country share.

    In light of that reality, it’s a reasonable presumption that many males utterly lack the mindreading/body language reading skillset the original poster demands of us.

    Add to that the expectation that to be a ‘real man’ you constantly have to be on the prowl for a potential female partner – and the related expectation that if a man is NOT constantly on the prowl for women he is unmanly and/or homosexual, then it is unrealistic in the extreme to expect that men should do a mindreading/body language reading exercise before speaking to a woman on a bus or a subway or other similar public place.

    So, I really think that this post misses the mark totally – because very few heterosexual men are going to follow the long list of rigid demands and orders outlined in the original post.

    • October 12, 2009 7:11 pm

      Long list of rigid demands and orders? Where?

    • osoborracho permalink
      October 12, 2009 8:38 pm

      I think the point of the post is that men should probably just leave strange women they see in public alone, unless the woman initiates contact. I don’t think it is an unreasonable request for a man to understand that to female strangers he may look like a potential threat, and try to show restraint (keep to himself) out of respect for that.

      You are right in that many men lack basic social skills. You yourself seem unwilling to try to learn, though. It’s not mindreading, the post at shapely prose clearly explains what to look for. Woman completely ignoring you, not looking at you, nonresponsive, busy = wants to be left alone. Woman making eye contact with you, smiling, engaging in real conversation and not just polite ‘uh huh’ = interested in chatting.

      However, the main problem is that many heterosexual men feel entitled to attention from strange women in the first place. I’ve encountered a lot of men who started off seeming merely oblivious, but became very pushy or passive aggressive when I told them “I need to leave” or some other firm and unambiguous message to stop talking to me.

      It’s not that men lack social skills, but that they think they have a right and refuse to stop.

    • SofiaBailerina permalink
      October 13, 2009 3:59 am

      Gregory:

      I fail to see how this post missed the mark. I think the whole point of the article is to show heteresexual men how women feel when approached by a stranger. And it does just that.

      The point was for you to understand that women live in an almost constant fear of being raped, and once armed with this new understanding, appraoch women in a more respectful manner, conscious of the anxieties that you represent to them.

      No one is asking you to be a mind reader, but rather they are all asking you to try and see it from the women’s point of view. Stop and think twice before intruding into a woman’s space. Consider how she might interpret your actions. And this has nothing to do with mindreading/or reading body langauge–it’s pretty much common sense.

      Now that you know that women fear being abused and raped by men at a nearly constant rate, especially if alone, you can reasonably assume that a woman who is reading on a bus (which, as others above have stated, lack easy escapes) will most likely interprete your desire to interact as a threat. So it’s probably best that you respect her privacy and leave her alone.

      As to your second point…well, I think it’s very much a cop out. You are hiding behind cultural expectations as if they were truths set in stone. Don’t you think there is something really wrong with expecting “real men” to be always on the prowl for women? Don’t you think that “real men” should be given a better identity and definition than one that demeans women and homosexuals?

      Isn’t it unrealistic to expect “real men” to be unfeeling, apathetic, purely sex-minded with no will-power, inescapably violent, and wholly simplistic beings? Contrary to what society might expect, men are very complicated, with the capacity to embody more feelings and characteristics than our culture or you, Gregory, expect of them.

      I think that this article is very crucial and relevant for men, because men need to understand the way in which their actions affect women. I mean don’t you want to know how your words and actions are perceived by others, so that you can correct them if they have been misunderstood?

      And most importantly, I think you brought up a very important point that male identity continues to be defined as the opposite of all that is female, as if the female were something awful and unvaluable. If we want change, we all have to think of a better way of representing and identitifying men and women and gender in general, and change our expectations for how each gender should think and act towards themselves and others.

      • Bradley permalink
        October 13, 2009 8:49 pm

        > The point was for you to understand that women live in an
        > almost constant fear of being raped, and once armed with this
        > new understanding, appraoch women in a more respectful
        > manner, conscious of the anxieties that you represent to them.

        “Women”, as a monolithic bloc, demonstrably do not live in constant fear of being raped, any more than “women” prefer a certain colour or certain food. Some women certainly do live in almost constant fear of rape, and evidently your membership in this group has led

        But in any case, it’s absurd to manifest this fear of rape as a fear of random strangers on public transport, as opposed to greater wariness of acquaintances, dating or romantic partners, by whom women are far more likely to be raped. It is the same bizarre phobia that leads parents to forswear any situation that might place their children among strangers, when the child stands a greater chance of being harmed by relatives, friends, etc.

        It may be that the unknown is inherently scarier than the known. But that doesn’t mean that we ought to encourage people’s fear to the point of curtailing social interaction.

    • Lisa A. permalink
      December 15, 2009 5:07 am

      This is my first comment on this phenomenal blog, and a very late reply to Gregory A. Butler. (Because I just read it a minute ago.)

      “Personally, I am not a mindreader, nor have I ever developed the ability to “read body language”. Many men lack those skillsets, because society expects these skills from women, not from us.”

      As I said this is my first comment, and I guess this rather confrontational, but I think the above statement is ridiculous.

      It’s said that (approximately) 70% of communication is non-verbal. Are your seriously asserting that you can’t tell the difference between a smile and a look of terror? That men, as a group, share the same difficulty interpreting non-verbal cues as do people with autistic-spectrum disorders? If that were true, most men would face the same problems as people with autism/Asperger’s in social situations such as jobs, school, and other personal interactions. And given that the vast majority of the world is run by men, this is clearly not true.

      Frankly, your comment comes across as less of an insight into the way men are socialized, than a flimsy excuse to ignore the blatant “no” signals women send in the hopes that you can convince them to give you whatever it is you feel you are entitled to.

  24. October 12, 2009 9:01 pm

    I know I’m not the first to be disturbed by the fact that JayJay thinks his “right” to “have a chance” at some woman trumps her right to be left alone if she wants, but one can’t ignore the fact that in doing so he’s dehumanizing the women involved. The way he frames his arguments, in terms of pointing out the necessity at being able to “have a chance” with some girl he thinks is pretty or interesting, demonstrates a very patriarchal, male-privileged view of women. Essentially, he’s saying that women are, above all else, potential girlfriends/fuck buddies/what-have-you and that their own desires and needs, which goes back to the idea of our society that women’s primary goal in life is to land a man, our most important accomplishments are those in the romantic/sexual arena, and our primary existence is to be pretty things to look at, flirt with, or fuck and not as full-realized people with other things (besides romance & sex) that we can contribute to society.

    It might seem like I’m taking a leap of faith here to extrapolate that meaning from his comments, but take some time to think about what he’s REALLY saying in a real-world context: It doesn’t matter what I am doing at the moment he decides to approach me. I could be cramming for a test. I could be in a rush to get somewhere and have no time to stop and chat even if I wanted to. I could have a new idea for my latest song/painting/poem and trying desperately to keep it in my head until I had a chance to write it down. I could simply just be tired and not in the mood to talk. Whatever. NONE OF THAT MATTERS so much as Jay-Jay’s desire to say hello to me. It doesn’t matter what I was thinking about, what I was planning, what I was doing before he broke my concentration. Do you understand how dehumanizing that is? It is, in a sense, saying that my value lies only in your desire to interact with me, and therefore simply pushes further the patriarchal notion that women are only as good as what other people, more specifically het men, think of them.

    Of course, he has no way of knowing what I was thinking about before he interrupted me, but that’s the precise problem. Because the point is it DOESN’T MATTER. He sees me as some pretty girl, perhaps also an interesting girl depending on whatever I was reading at the moment or what my t-shirt says, and that’s all that matters – he already has the right to interrupt me. He’s reducing me to an object by limiting my value as a human being to the fact that I’m attractive and he wants to have “a chance” with me.

    I’m starting to repeat myself now, so I’ll stop. But hopefully I’ve made it pretty clear the extent of how problematic JayJay’s statements are.

  25. dham permalink
    October 13, 2009 1:10 am

    A few days ago, I was walking down the street and I was in a hurry. I passed a couple of men standing outside without even looking at them, because I needed to be somewhere and didn’t want to be harassed (that fear is important here–that fear is something all women have to deal with on a daily basis in their encounters with strange men, whether or not that’s “philosophically sound.”). One of them said “Hey beautiful,” and I kept walking. He called after me again, and I kept walking. Then he yelled down the street at me “I called you beautiful, and you’re not even going to say anything to me?!”

    This was a week after I’d participated in what seemed like a friendly conversation with a male stranger on the bus. I didn’t want to be rude when he started talking to me and he seemed nice enough, so we chatted for about 15 minutes…until I noticed that he was masturbating while talking to me. When I realized this all I could do was get off the bus and walk the rest of the way crying.

    If these incidents don’t illustrate exactly what this post and the Shapely Prose post were about then I don’t know what will get through to the people arguing here.

    • Vval permalink
      November 25, 2009 11:17 am

      Yikes, on both of these, especially the second.

      I’m put in mind of something one guy did that on the face of it seems similar but left me happy.

      I was walking along thinking about whatever, and looking down at the sidewalk. I heard a voice: “You’re beautiful – don’t look down!” and it made me smile.

      Thing was, the guy who said it continued walking past me and made no move to stop and try to talk with me. I must have looked up in time to see him, ’cause I remember thinking he was cute. I’d expect that had I stopped walking he might have as well, but as it was it was the classic drive-by compliment, the kind I usually practice: Say something /and keep walking./

      And maybe that’s part of the deal about public transit. How does the other person know that if she doesn’t want to continue interacting it won’t be forced? She’s in one place, and stuck.

  26. JohnnyRiot permalink
    October 14, 2009 4:44 am

    @Bradley

    “’Women’, as a monolithic bloc, demonstrably do not live in constant fear of being raped, any more than “women” prefer a certain colour or certain food.”

    What world are you living in? Every woman I know gets scared when walking alone to her car at night. Every woman I know gets scared when she’s alone in her house during a power outage. Every woman I know tries to carry her keys in her hands in case of attack. Every woman I know has been harassed on the street or by guys she knows. Every woman I know has to think about going home with someone new. There are self-defense courses in practically every city. It’s called “rape schedule.” Women go about our lives as though rape is right around the corner & it’s somehow our responsibility to prevent the crime. In fact, it’s so prevalent that it’s become normalized.

    Do you think twice about walking to the corner store at 2am? I doubt it. Even if you do- it’s not the way a woman does, if she even decides to go. Maybe most women don’t walk around the mall at 2pm afraid of rape but put her there at 2am & it will always be a different story. You, apparently, do not understand this at all.

    Also, I can’t believe you tried to compare rape & a fear of rape to a color or food preference. How trivializing of you.

    “it’s absurd to manifest this fear of rape as a fear of random strangers on public transport, as opposed to greater wariness of acquaintances, dating or romantic partners, by whom women are far more likely to be raped.”

    Despite facts, everyone keeps that story about the random stranger boogieman raping a woman in the bushes late one night than the acquaintance who rapes you at your house. In fact, that helps lead to the “not rape” epidemic. I think gender more than anything is the key to that sentence. It’s not a fear of random strangers v acquaintances etc- because both camps are male. And those with the fear are female.

    And since stranger rapes DO occur- perhaps we ought respect that fear.

    “It may be that the unknown is inherently scarier than the known. But that doesn’t mean that we ought to encourage people’s fear to the point of curtailing social interaction.”

    First of all, it’s not about the unknown v. the known. Obviously women are not looking to get raped. Therefore, none of us would spend time with any acquaintance etc if we knew he is going to rape us (unknown).

    Secondly, the conversation isn’t about encouraging WOMEN’S fear at the risk of handicapping a guy’s desire to hit on her. It’s about respecting her boundaries & personal space. It’s about recognizing the various shades of harassment that occur. Read dham’s comment. It illustrates my point perfectly. People would probably call that experience “not rape” but it’s clearly unwanted sexual attention- it’s clearly a guy fulfilling his desire without thought to her boundaries, personal space, or desire. I don’t like it when guys come up to me, get in my face, & speak to me about my about in explicit terms. I don’t like it when guys catcall at me while they drive by, or when guys grab me to hold me in place. But it happens all the time because we, as a society (rape culture), permit it. Hell, we even encourage it.

    So you see, it’s not about curtailing APPROPRIATE social interaction- it’s about guys getting a bloody clue about what “appropriate social interaction” IS in the first place.

    • Bradley permalink
      October 14, 2009 8:09 pm

      > Every woman I know gets scared when walking
      > alone to her car at night. Every woman…

      I really enjoy how so many arguments on this thread boil down to one anecdote against another. What do you expect me to say? I’m sure every woman you know DOES feel just as you described. But what bearing does this have on what I said? Do you know every woman in the world?

      > Also, I can’t believe you tried to compare rape &
      > a fear of rape to a color or food preference. How
      > trivializing of you.

      Spare me the outrage. Where did I say rape was similar to a colour or food preference? Oh, that’s right — nowhere. What I did say is that you oughn’t generalize about women, which I see you persist in doing.

      > Despite facts, everyone keeps that story about the
      > random stranger boogieman raping a woman in the bushes
      > late one night than the acquaintance who rapes you at
      > at your house. And since stranger rapes DO occur- perhaps
      > we ought respect that fear.

      I think caution is warranted to the extent that it’s proportional to the threat.

      > Obviously women are not looking to get raped. Therefore,
      > none of us would spend time with any acquaintance etc
      > if we knew he is going to rape us (unknown).

      Obviously that’s not what I said, although I admire your re-purposing of the word “”“unknown”. What is it that makes stranger-rape so much more fearsome than acquaintance-rape? Especially in light of how it contradicts the statistics we know about rape? That’s the point I was raising.

      > I don’t like it when guys come up to me, get in my face,
      > & speak to me about my about in explicit terms. I don’t
      > like it when guys catcall at me while they drive by,
      > or when guys grab me to hold me in place.

      Understandably. But you seem to be are arguing against someone who is not me, since I did not defend unwanted sexual attention or intrusion on people’s personal space.

      • JohnnyRiot permalink
        October 15, 2009 1:22 am

        Bradley-

        1. The concept of “the personal is political” came out of something- the realization that those personal anecdotes represent a larger reality, since they are so commonly experienced. You stated that women as a monolithic bloc do not live in constant fear of being raped- only to say this time, “I’m sure every woman you know DOES feel just as you described. But what bearing does this have on what I said?” You are contradicting yourself, & there is your bearing. Also– “Do you know every woman in the world?” No, but I am one. Do YOU know every woman in the world, to feel qualified to make a similar generalized statement about the collective female mindset?

        2. I’ll spare you the outrage when there’s nothing to be outraged about. “do not live in constant fear of being raped, any more than “women” prefer a certain colour or certain food.” We call that an analogy. Otherwise known as drawing a comparison between things.

        3. “What is it that makes stranger-rape so much more fearsome than acquaintance-rape? Especially in light of how it contradicts the statistics we know about rape? That’s the point I was raising.”

        You mean besides the fact that it’s the story we’re taught to fear repeatedly? You don’t hear nearly as much about acquaintance rape (rather, it seems to fall into the “not rape” category) as you do about stranger rape, despite the significant difference in occurrence. Perhaps what we teach as a society has a little something to do with it.

      • Alix permalink
        November 27, 2009 8:02 am

        *comes in very late*

        “Also– “Do you know every woman in the world?” No, but I am one. Do YOU know every woman in the world, to feel qualified to make a similar generalized statement about the collective female mindset?”

        Surely the point Bradley was making is that neither of you are in a position to state any absolute and universal truths about this, since neither of you know all the women in the world. It is true that some women worry a lot about assault and harrassment and put a lot of thought and energy into controlling the risks. It is also true that other women do not worry quite so much. That’s why the “every woman I know” thing doesn’t work. I’m a woman and I don’t act in a lot of the ways you list there. Does that deny your experience and that of your acquaintances? Of course not, but it does mean you can’t assert that your experience stands for all women, any more than Bradley can or I can.

        As I think Starling observed in the post that started all this, the different individual reactions are probably down to the individual histories involved – i.e. a woman who has been harrassed in the past will have a much lower tolerance threshold for risk than one who has not. When you look at it like that, it would be astonishing if all women thought the same way about these issues.

  27. phrodeaux permalink
    October 14, 2009 11:44 pm

    *Phew* Too many comments here for me to go through them all. My apologies.

    As Ive gotten older I’ve discovered that pretty much every woman I am friends with has been sexually assaulted to some greater or lesser degree. Not necessarily “raped,” but certainly unwelcome sexual advances far beyond anything I could ever see myself doing.

    So, JayJay, when women say that every strange guy they meet is a potential rapist, they aren’t blowing smoke.

  28. estrobutch permalink
    October 17, 2009 8:10 pm

    why are you only addressing cis men?

    • October 17, 2009 10:41 pm

      Because the whole issue in the Shapely Prose post was the limit of men’s understanding, and with cis men, I think it’s fair to generalize that they don’t have an in-person perspective on women’s experiences of fear. With trans men, I think that’s not a fair generalization. At least for a lot of trans men, there’s a history as women, and so whatever issues there may be, in that case the issues are not the same as the ones Phaedra Starling was addressing.

      • estrobutch permalink
        October 18, 2009 8:56 am

        Are you trans. I’m not really sure how you can speak for the differences between cis and trans male experience if your not.

        Your perpetuating the special snowflake decaf man stereotype that straight trans male predators take advantage of. The understanding your talking about is not easily divided along cis/trans lines or even male/female lines. I’ve been out walking down my block with a AG who was cissexual female and she was sizing up every woman and girl we saw and getting in there space with “whats up shorty”.

  29. Lizzie permalink
    October 18, 2009 12:48 am

    JayJay, freedom of speech does not imply the right to an audience. You may say whatever you like. But you may not interact with whoever you like. You may say hello to the air and if anyone wants to respond they will.

    Freedom of speech as a right means the GOVERNMENT can’t censor you (short of libel or incitement to crime). It doesn’t mean that the social contract, not to harass your fellow man (which your initial ‘hello’ is if there are signals not to give it, eg headphones, negative body language), is invalidated just because you are really horny and some woman is cute.

    Your actual rights in law are surprisingly limited (life, fair trial etc) and talking to people of your choice isn’t one of them. Society absolutely could function if nobody had this right, because a lot of the time people want to talk to each other. Again, to be clear, you have no legal right to an audience and to argue for a moral one is asinine. I know it can be hard for men – even charismatic hot men rarely bat higher than 1 in 3 average, as it were – but you can’t take that perceived injustice out on innocent women by bothering them. You no more have that right than I have the right to take out the various rapes of several good friends by macing random guys in the subway. Ultimately what you are saying is the toddler school of flirtation; even negative attention is better than none. Except that out of kindergarten, it really isn’t.

    Just in a spirit of helpfulness, if you really want women to talk to you, the totally failsafe way is to learn a card trick then start performing it for any receptive person, male or female. If the woman of your choice is even vaguely open to the possibility of talking to you she will put down what she is doing and pay attention because what you are doing is so charismatic and cool. Then you can catch her eye after and offer to do it again, or a new one, for her. That is a very reliable “in”, and it is totally creepy-asshole free.

    • Noah permalink
      July 10, 2011 4:35 pm

      Yeah, JayJay, sometime it sounds a little like your saying:

      “I don’t CARE if she has a problem. The GOVERNMENT says I can. And what the government say, goes! And they can’t be wrong!”

  30. Lizzie permalink
    October 18, 2009 1:23 am

    Also – negative freedoms trump positive ones. My right not to be murdered trumps your right to murder me. My right not to be smoked all over trumps your right to smoke all over me. And vice versa. My rights stop at your nose, and yours at mine.

    You have absolutely no legal right to do anything at all involving another human without their prior, proactive consent, other than in self defence (which requires them to be violating your rights first). Smoke away if you must but not all over me without permission. And talk if you must, but not to me without permission. And I won’t do those things to you.

    • Noah permalink
      July 10, 2011 5:00 pm

      @ Lizzie,

      I agree.

      @ JayJay,

      So if you think it’s legal, it must be okay? Right, like slavery, and the Native American Genocide, and the fact that women were/are considered the property of men in certain places. Hey, if the government say it’s okay (or rather, DOESN’T make any law saying it ISN’T okay), then no one can complain. Not even if they are being negatively affected, right?

      I guess women should feel HAPPY that you come up and talk to them, regardless of what they themselves want, because you are demonstrating the BEAUTY of our FREE* COUNRTY!

      *freedoms not applicable to women, LGBTQIA folks, people of color, poor people, children, native folks…

  31. October 18, 2009 9:56 am

    I am cis. I can’t speak to the trans male experience. I am certainly not saying that boundary violation or intrusiveness is a uniquely cis male problem. I’m saying that part of the reasoning in Phaedra’s piece and in mine travels through standpoint theory and the inability of cis men to access the knowledge that comes with the experience of walking around as a woman. If other folks, either women or trans men, are engaging in the same behaviors, I am not at all saying that’s okay. I’m saying, while the behavior may be the same, the mechanics of how they get there can’t be the same, and I don’t know enough about it to explain much about it.

    I’m not saying that trans men are special snowflakes. I’m saying that when cis men act like entitled douches, I think I have a good enough understanding to explain why they are acting like douches and tell them to stop. When trans men act like entitled douches, I don’t understand why they are doing it and I can’t explain it as a failure to understand. So while I can condemn their bad behavior where I see it, I can’t add much explanatory power to a conversation about it.

    • estrobutch permalink
      October 18, 2009 10:35 pm

      Yeah I think your wrong. Men’s misogyny and entitlement is coming from the same place if its cis or trans.

      but I don’t see what that has to do with your post anyways. why isn’t it good advice for all men who could potentially act like assholes by invading a woman’s space and what does it matter *why* they would act that way.

  32. October 20, 2009 2:33 pm

    Quoted in the OP:
    “On the other hand, if she is turned towards you, making eye contact, and she responds in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to her, you are getting a green light. You can continue the conversation until you start getting signals to back off.”

    I hate to say it, but even this is not a foolproof indication that a woman welcomes a conversation with someone. This set of behaviors is often taught as a “green light” signal in general, but for many women it is modeled as simply an intuitive response to social interaction.

    I can’t speak for all women because a) I’m not one and b) women’s experiences as women are tempered by their experiences based on other affiliations. But at the least, white middle-class women tend to smile more often than their male counterparts, and may appear receptive to social exchanges regardless of their actual feelings; either as a defense mechanism, an attempt to look non-threatening (that is, not rejecting male power/privilege), or an ingrained response to awkward social situations based on their socialization.

    I’m not saying that a woman who displays these signals is never interested in a conversation, and I’m not trying to invalidate a woman’s ability to authentically consent to any interaction she chooses to participate in. However, perceiving so-called positive body language is not always an indicator of willing participation in the particular social exchange.

    And unfortunately, attempting to clarify the situation with “I’m not bothering you am I?” or somesuch, while seeming solicitous and reasonable, may also not be an effective tactic; many cultures’ rules of politeness and hospitality, unspoken or explicit, which also tend to fall disproportionately on women to uphold, indicate that the appropriate response to this question is “no, not at all,” regardless of its truth. Meta-communication, while excellent in principle and in many other situations, can backfire in the approaching-strange-woman-on-public-transport situation.

    (Second time trying to post; this was more coherent the first time unfortunately.)

    • February 24, 2010 2:54 am

      I agree with you about this. I think a lot of women are socialized to feel like they have to give everyone a chance to talk with them, and so even if we seem like we’re interested, we might not be – we might just feel like we’re “rude” if we don’t make some attempt to acknowledge the other person.

      In my case, it’s particularly confounded. I have social anxiety disorder, so suffice it to say that my default setting is “I don’t want to talk to you right now.” But I feel that that comes off as mean and unfriendly (partly from being a more introverted kid with extroverted parents), so sometimes I fake a desire to chat with someone when I’d really rather hole myself away in my book, or daydream/look out the window. Sometimes my desire to “not be rude” has put me into dangerous situations when I’ve given another person too much of the benefit of the doubt.

      On that note, I feel like this post could be extrapolated to discuss the issues of female introversion/social awkwardness. While it’s not easy for anyone to be an introvert, or to have social anxiety disorder or Aspberger’s or other similar issues that affect social functioning, it’s confounded when you’re the sex that supposedly is “innately gifted” at communication and people skills, as well as the sex that is not given the right to be left alone if it interferes with a man’s chance to “win” you as a romantic/sexual object (as JayJay’s comments indicate).

  33. October 29, 2009 2:53 am

    nice blog i really enjoyed reading this blog lot’s of good info … keep up the good work…

  34. martha coyote permalink
    January 4, 2010 4:13 pm

    You know, guys, just saying to yourself, “there’s a 1 in 4 chance she’s been raped, and a 100% chance she’s been harassed several times,” might give you some idea of her likely view of you if you interrupt her.

    • Noah permalink
      July 10, 2011 4:43 pm

      Well put.

  35. Eric permalink
    April 12, 2010 8:45 pm

    I am posting here late in the game because I saw this sort of behavior recently on a bus. My fellow males, I would analogize this situation to receiving a call from a telemarketer. How often do you stop to listen to the full details of the sales pitch before hanging up? It doesn’t matter how cool the product being pitched is. You have no obligation to hear the telemarketer out, and I suspect most of you don’t. *click*

  36. ChoCho permalink
    January 27, 2011 1:45 pm

    I know this is an old thread but just couldn’t resist pointing out the absurdity of JayJay’s “right” to converse. I don’t know if he’s all jacked up on the American Constitution, or if he thinks life is one long episode of Friends, where he can smoothly “how you doin’?” his way into people’s hearts, but I’d like to make him aware that parallel universes exist where making conversations with strangers is virtually prohibited. Japan for one. I spent a year there and the only time anyone had a “right” to address a stranger was to be helpful, for example, “You forgot your umbrella”. Even if someone was jostling into you, your right to speak up about it was still pretty limited. Whilst American culture may differ in that very few forms of social interaction are frowned upon outright, just because there’s no rule against something doesn’t make it okay. Similarly, just because someone hasn’t said “no” yet doesn’t mean they’ve said “yes”.

    • Noah permalink
      July 10, 2011 4:46 pm

      “…or if he thinks life is one long episode of Friends, where he can smoothly “how you doin’?” his way into people’s hearts…”
      :D

      “Whilst American culture may differ in that very few forms of social interaction are frowned upon outright, just because there’s no rule against something doesn’t make it okay.”

      Yes! Absolutely.

      “Similarly, just because someone hasn’t said “no” yet doesn’t mean they’ve said “yes”.”

      Absolutely.

      Good post.

  37. July 12, 2011 11:12 am

    I reject the premise that I am not supposed to say hi to a stranger out in public because I may or may not be a rapist until the proverbial box is opened. To apply the Schrodinger Cat theory to this is flawed logic. In the experiment, you cannot know if the cat is alive or dead until you open the box. Once you open the box, you know. However, someone who is a rapist might not rape you right away. Furthermore, since most men do not rape women, the odds are that the man who approaches you in a subway is not a rapist. The two are not even close to being analogous and it suggests that all men have the potential to be rapist and this is absolutely false.

    Does this mean you should just throw all caution to the wind? Of course not. Be as careful as you feel you need to be and ignore who you feel you need to ignore. But the idea that being friendly to someone in public is in any way a negative is one example of what is wrong with society.

    In fact, the only thing that is close to the Schrodinger theory is the idea of if someone wants to be approached or not. There is no way for me to know that unless I open the box. Once opening the box, and I see that there is no interest in discussion, I should at that point leave the person alone.

    Does this mean I would interrupt someone who is reading a book or listening to music? Maybe, maybe not. What if the person is reading a book that I was interested in reading but had not done so? Should I just not bother asking the person on how the book is so far? Perhaps some of the people here would not approach that person and that is their right to do so.

    I also disagree with the premise that testing to see where a boundary is means that you disrespect the boundary.

    • July 12, 2011 3:42 pm

      If you have doubts about a boundary, you can ask. And thanks for the mini lecture on rapists who might rape you later or how not all men are rapists. Tell me, how do we tell which are which? Once you get them to wear signs, your insistence that you can test boundaries might not be as offensive as it is. Does she want to talk to you? No. It’s just not that hard. If she’s reading or listening to music, leave her alone. Duh. I don’t want to rehash all the earlier arguments, but jeez….

      • July 12, 2011 4:24 pm

        Ginmar: The basic idea proposed in the OP was that simply asking the question was a violation of the boundary: From the OP: “If I did any of those things, it would mean that I think that “[my] desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone.” And no matter how much I want to send the message that I’m the guy who will respect her boundaries, if I do that then I am not, in fact the guy who will respect her boundaries.

        I’m not just sending a signal that I will disrespect her boundaries — I’ve already done it! I’m not saying that I will be that guy — I am proving that I am that guy.”

        And I clearly said that when it comes to who might be rapists and who might not be rapists that a person should be as careful as she needs to be and ignore who she feels the need to ignore. So while you cannot know who will rape you and who won’t rape you, I am just pointing out that the Shrodinger analogy is a flawed one because it implies all men have the potential to rape and that is just untrue. Many men, like myself, are sickened by the thought of rape.

        But if I see a stranger reading a book that I am interested and I feel so inclined to ask how the book is, I am going to ask. To suggest that this is a violation of the boundary of the reader (as it was proposed by Thomas) is absurd.

  38. Lora permalink
    July 13, 2011 3:34 pm

    Daniel Z – “I am just pointing out that the Shrodinger analogy is a flawed one because it implies all men have the potential to rape and that is just untrue.”

    That is not what it implies, or what it says. What it actually says is that women have no way to *know for certain* who’s a rapist and who isn’t. You may not be a rapist or even have that potential. The whole point of the post, which you’ve missed, is that I have NO way to know this about you.

    Is it not obvious to you and everyone else that women aren’t psychic and can’t tell who the rapists are? If you don’t have to worry about your personal bodily safety every day, the way women do, then hey, it’s a really low priority for you to sort out men who rape women from men who don’t. That’s fine, but to then expect women to do the same is privilege in all caps. It’s not the life we live at all, or can live.

    Try to understand how stressful it is to daily face the possibility of being attacked and raped by someone you simply *cannot* identify, who’s bigger and stronger than you are. And then to be told by one of these bigger stronger people that you’re not trusting enough. That’s our catch-22: Be trusting and open to all men, or risk offending the ones who don’t rape; but if you trust the wrong man and get raped, it’s your own fault, bitch. You didn’t do the Magic Dance of Flawless Womanhood That Prevents Victim-Blaming before the rape started. Too bad for you. And why are you so suspicious of all men? You’re just *mean.*

    • July 26, 2011 12:57 pm

      Lora: Did you purposefully ignore these words that I wrote? “Does this mean you should just throw all caution to the wind? Of course not. Be as careful as you feel you need to be and ignore who you feel you need to ignore. ”

      Of course women are not psychic. And that is why I continued with the words that you ignored. But the analogy TO Schrodinger’s cat is flawed because of the nature of the experiment. It doesn’t fit. There is no moment where the figurative box is opened and the uncertainty is eliminated.

      “That’s our catch-22: Be trusting and open to all men, or risk offending the ones who don’t rape”

      That is absurd. The decision to be careful in your surroundings is common sense. Nobody says you have to trust strangers. But nobody said that you have to use an analogy that implies that any man could rape under the right conditions. Because that is what the Schrodinger cat experiment represents. Given the right conditions, the cat will be dead. Given the right conditions, the cat will be alive.

      “but if you trust the wrong man and get raped, it’s your own fault, bitch.”

      Anyone who would say this is an idiot.

      • July 26, 2011 4:41 pm

        Yeah, you know what? Barring second sight, to a woman being approached by a strange guy, especially one hitting on her out of the blue, any could be a rapist. She’s got to watch out for herself first. That’s just the world we live in. Your hurt feewings don’t mean squat when compared to the costs women pay by not being cautious.

        Man being offended that in a rape culture women are cautious? Oh, wow, somebody alert the writers of the Geneva Convention that we need to rewrite it so as to address this terrible violation of human rights.

      • July 26, 2011 5:59 pm

        Oh Ginmar, I guess you also ignored this clearly written sentence: “Does this mean you should just throw all caution to the wind? Of course not. Be as careful as you feel you need to be and ignore who you feel you need to ignore. ”

        OBVIOUSLY I believe that the woman needs to take care of herself first and that they should be as cautious as they need to be. So I do not know how you could get the idea that I was offended at the idea that a woman (or anyone for that matter) should be cautious in how they deal with strangers. It could not have possibly come from what I wrote. So it has to have come from your overactive imagination.

        And my feelings are not hurt. I just am pointing out how the comparison is ILLOGICAL. Schrodinger cat deals with quantum mechanics and how you cannot predict when an atom will decay. You have to wait for it to happen. So if you cannot see when it happens because it is in a box AND the act of the atom decaying would cause the device to kill the cat, you cannot know if the cat is alive or dead until you open the box and observe the event. This has no logical equivalence to the idea of someone walking up to you on a bus or subway. This is the problem I have with the analogy.

  39. July 17, 2011 1:51 am

    Almost two years after the original post was published, I’ve finally discovered it.

    Instead of seeing this as a post saying that women should be afraid and take precautions because all men are potential rapists, I saw this as a post saying that an action our culture accepts as normal and good is actually a boundary violation, and thus 1) often a way for a rapist to judge who is vulnerable, 2) a way for a woman to know this is a man who will not respect her boundaries, and 3) understandably upsetting to the woman, even if only mildly upsetting, as her boundary has just been violated.

    (2) is a very important point that gets too little emphasis.

    As humans of any gender, in order to live a healthy and happy life, we recognize that people are not always who they claim or believe themselves to be, and judge the amount of trust we should put in them not by what they claim to deserve, but by what their actions demonstrate they deserve. There is no static answer to how much we might choose to trust a person – it changes as new developments (their actions) roll in. At the first meetings between two people, very small, brief, and low-impact interactions are especially important because they allow us to make a determination of a person’s trustworthiness before we put that person in a position where they are capable of harming us in a higher impact way.

    So when a man approaches a woman despite her sending out signals to the contrary, he has *already proven* that he is not worth getting to know – in fact, that it is worth making sure that he does *not* become any more intimate with her.

    When a man approaches me, I do not see him as Shroedinger’s Rapist. If he is approaching me in violation of non-verbal or verbal boundaries I set, he is already a violator of boundaries, and a sexual violator of boundaries, as I’ll explain below, so he is already something of a rapist. On the other hand, if we met in a consensual way, while I do not immediately trust him, I also do not immediately distrust him or see him as a threat until he deliberately violates a boundary or acts entitled to something that should be my choice. When he does that, there is no reason to continue our acquaintance. Even if that violation or entitlement was low impact, I have every reason to believe that violation will escalate.

    I said that violating the non-verbal boundaries of a woman on the subway is not just an act of (low-impact) violence, but is also a sexual act. Here’s why: Would a het man claim he had the same right to act this way towards another man? A business man in an expensive suit intently reading the Financial Times, for instance – because he felt that if this man got to know him, he would realise what a great business partner he could be? Of course, the answer is “no, he’d think he’s an douche-bag.” These situations do not occur because in such a situation, a man *is* astute at reading body language and *can* predict whether his advances would be well received. This is clear proof that het men have no basic biological or cultural inability to read body language to determine another person’s boundaries. They just don’t realise that women’s boundaries are made of the same stuff as men’s: they are equally important and deserving of respect.

    A final question – if we believe that consent for sex must be enthusiastic – i.e. a display of active choice and desire on the part of both parties – then why are we even having a discussion on whether the woman on the subway has said ‘no’ (non-verbally or verbally) to being approached by a stranger? Any interaction, including a conversation on a subway, should be an example of enthusiastic consent by both parties. In real life, this starts with the non-verbal signals people show each other. She not only has to *not be* signaling “don’t talk to me”, she has to *be* signaling “I actively desire to engage at least a little further”, in order for the het man’s approach to be appropriate. No display of active desire on her part, no approach.

    Many het women would probably argue that’s too high a standard and they’d never be approached by het men if they followed it. I think it’s an excellent standard, and if people followed it, those het women would have to learn to decide what they want and take active steps toward obtaining it – like taking off the headphones, making eye contact and smiling. So in solving this aspect of rape culture and male privilege, we’d also solve a problem of discrimination against men – het women would feel safe engaging with them and even start sending positive signals on occasion.

    • July 26, 2011 1:21 pm

      ethervescent: “So when a man approaches a woman despite her sending out signals to the contrary, he has *already proven* that he is not worth getting to know – in fact, that it is worth making sure that he does *not* become any more intimate with her.”

      But it has been suggested that the mere reading of a book is a signal that one should not be approached. And that is just absurd and a notion I reject.

      “When a man approaches me, I do not see him as Shroedinger’s Rapist. If he is approaching me in violation of non-verbal or verbal boundaries I set, he is already a violator of boundaries, and a sexual violator of boundaries, as I’ll explain below, so he is already something of a rapist. ”

      Verbal boundaries are one thing and should be obvious. Non verbal boundaries may be obvious for you but not so obvious for someone else. That you would call someone who violates one of your non-verbal boundaries “something of a rapist” is just false. If you, like the author, think that the reading of a book is a non-verbal boundary that should tell everyone that you do not want to be disturbed and I approach you because I was interested in reading that book and ask how you like the book so far, I am in no way “something of a rapist”.

      “Would a het man claim he had the same right to act this way towards another man? A business man in an expensive suit intently reading the Financial Times, for instance – because he felt that if this man got to know him, he would realise what a great business partner he could be? Of course, the answer is “no, he’d think he’s an douche-bag.””

      Who is saying that the person approaching you has the intent of forming any sort of relationship with you? Perhaps they just want to pass the time chatting with someone. Perhaps the man wants to ask the other man if he had read the article and if it was worth the read.

      “A final question – if we believe that consent for sex must be enthusiastic – i.e. a display of active choice and desire on the part of both parties – then why are we even having a discussion on whether the woman on the subway has said ‘no’ (non-verbally or verbally) to being approached by a stranger? ”

      Because one is the act of having sex and the other is an introduction? That seems like a pretty simple concept. Yes, sex should be enthusiastic and consent for it should be enthusiastic as well. That has nothing to do with person A deciding to approach person B in a public setting without any sign that such an approach is wanted.

      “So in solving this aspect of rape culture and male privilege, we’d also solve a problem of discrimination against men – het women would feel safe engaging with them and even start sending positive signals on occasion.”

      I have had women send me positive signals in public despite the lack of your so called solution. In fact, when I was single and seeking to get to know a woman that I was physically attracted to, I would often wait for a smile or some other gesture showing a similar interest. However, if I saw a woman on a bus reading a book that I was interested in reading, I would ask how the book was without any second thought. And doing such is in no way immoral, unethical, or an assault in any way, shape or form.

      But let me ask you a question. In our world where we have not solved your perceived problem, is it ok for a woman to approach a man and say hi without any “ok” from the man to proceed?

      • July 26, 2011 4:37 pm

        Wow, Daniel, how many things did you have to trip over to get offended at a really concept? You don’t have the right to hit on women. Spare me whining about how hard it is to understand those mysterious women. I bet you don’t go up to strange men to ‘talk’.

      • July 26, 2011 5:52 pm

        Actually, Ginmar, I have walked up to several strange men and talked to them. I have been involved in politics for a while and it involved me having to walk up to many different people and either asking them questions or trying to talk to them about particular political positions or political candidates.

        And where did I say that anyone has the right to hit on women? I didn’t. So stop manufacturing b.s. about what I have written and please address what is actually typed. Please read this sentence again: “Who is saying that the person approaching you has the intent of forming any sort of relationship with you? Perhaps they just want to pass the time chatting with someone. Perhaps the man wants to ask the other man if he had read the article and if it was worth the read. ” Obviously I am not limiting my discussion on people who are seeking to hit on others.

        It has been suggested by ethervescent that the mere asking of a question by a man to a woman about a book she is reading could be considered rape because the man is “something of a rapist”. Do you support that nonsense?

        And finally, who said I was “offended”?

      • July 26, 2011 6:01 pm

        I love it how Daniel thinks that it’s only true if says it.

        I’m always amazed at how huge a deal this is to some guys, because they want to hit on women. They don’t care about the women. That’s what you’re demonstrating. Oh, by the way? It’s not doing your claim that you were falsely accused any good either. Boundaries, Daniel. Now that you’re demonstrating you would rather argue with women than listen to them…..

  40. July 26, 2011 6:04 pm

    Shorter Daniel: Disclaimer disclaimer wah wah wah wah wah but I want to hit on women! Why should I care what they think?

    Boundaries, Daniel. It’s very apparent that in your case, you’d rather hit on a woman than not. After all, she might be that one in a million who wants some stranger to interrupt her book, her song, her peace and quiet, or whatever because he feels the need to inflict himself on whatever woman’s around.

    And you approached men? Sure. I bet you tell guys to smile, too.

    • July 27, 2011 7:34 am

      Ginmar: Where did I say that I want to hit on anybody? I used to hit on people when I was single. And I clearly stated, repeatedly, that when I would personally go out and hit on women that I would typically wait for a non-verbal cue that someone was interested before approaching them. But you have shown a repeated inability to read so I am not shocked that you would ignore many of the words I have typed. I should have just taken my previous advice from the other discussion and ignored your words as manufactured and imaginary. I guess your ego is so big that you think that everyone who says hello to you is hitting on you. Have you ever just walked down the street and passed someone and wished them a good morning even though they are a complete stranger? I do that to men and women alike, not because I am hitting on them, but because I am a friendly person.

      And yes, I have approached strange men and women in my political life. I guess you think i was hitting on them too. I guess when a reporter walks up to someone to ask them a question, but that question was uninvited, that they are hitting on the people as well. And in ethervescent’s world the reporter is raping the person. God forbid a hungry homeless person asks either one of you for spare change.

      • July 27, 2011 1:46 pm

        I’ve had enough of a conversation that is entirely unproductive. I’m closing the thread.

  41. July 26, 2011 6:13 pm

    I don’t think we will have any success trying to persuade Daniel. His aggressive communication while arguing that his actions off-line are non-violent belie his point.

    The fallacy in Daniel’s thinking is implying that non-verbal communication does not exist. A person is always communicating non-verbally, and learning to be aware that non-verbal communication is vital for success in social situations and human relationships.

    • July 27, 2011 7:25 am

      ethervescent: I never stated nor implied that non-verbal communication does not exist. What I was saying, and implying, was that non-verbal communication isn’t always as clear as the person who believes they are communicating what they think they are.

      But what you are implying is that the simple act of speaking to someone who has not given the “green light” to do so is the moral equivalent of rape. And that is just absurd. And yes, I will aggressively defend my stance that things that are not rape should not be labelled as rape.

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