Shroedinger’s Rapist And The Imagined Right To Intrude
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.