You knew it was coming… Elevatorgate, Part MLXVI
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Hello all; Dave here.
You knew this was coming eventually. I held off as long as I could, figuring that, even though I was at the conference and was the one who coined the term Watsongate (because of its aural similarity to Watergate, which eventually morphed into the more-fitting Elevatorgate), too much had been said on this already and I had nothing new to add. Well, I have something to add now, so here ’tis:
From a Facebook thread, regarding the aftermath of Elevatorgate:
“…I’m hoping more guys will come forward and say “Look, I realize now that I may have made some women uncomfortable through various social faux pas, and I’d like to explain what I was thinking at the time and clarify that I didn’t mean to cause any harm.” I think it’ll make it much easier for those of us who’ve been on the receiving end of both awkward social advances and legitimately predatory targeting to better communicate our needs without sounding like we have some kind of blanket hatred for people who’ve put us in uncomfortable or frightening positions.”
“I realize now that I may have made some women uncomfortable through various social faux pas, and I’d like to explain what I was thinking at the time and clarify that I didn’t mean to cause any harm. I was born male, I identify as a man, and I will never be able to understand other vantage points firsthand. The best I can do is listen, respond, and adjust my thinking and behavior to the best of my ability.
I’ve considered myself a feminist for about 3 years now (since I started dating a Bryn Mawr alumna) and I’ve learned a lot. I learned not to refer to women as “girls” and, coming from an economics- and anthropology-student’s perspective, I’ve begun to appreciate just how much misogyny (including religious-based misogyny) has harmed society here and worldwide. I would recommend Betty Friedan as well as this book:
to anyone interested in this topic.
Overall I think Elevatorgate is a good thing. We need to be talking about how to talk to someone you find attractive. That is how progress is made. Communication clarifies misunderstandings and it’s only by engaging each other in this way that ignorance can be addressed and give yield to more enlightened thinking and action.”
“If you would just admit to the equal horrors women put guys through, which guys on the whole are usually to tough to talk about or confess for that matter, then maybe your pain, which you’ve dissimulated in abstract blame, will be better used to polemicize against men and women, which would then provide grounds enough for you to channel your volcanic non-verbal, into a more healthy political exercise in ideology, eh? It will be like you cutting the cake, with the small rule that you take the last portion.”
I hope, too, that more women will come forward and say, “Look, I realize that I may have made some men uncomfortable through various social faux pas, and I’d like to explain what I was thinking at the time and clarify that I didn’t mean to cause any harm.”
Women are also capable (and some do) cause harm through their ignorance and in some extreme cases, some do so intentionally. For example, most men will never understand what it’s like to be scared of being raped if you are caught in a compromising situation with someone bigger than you. (I say “most men” because this happens to tens of thousands of men every single day in our prisons, and also, there are plenty of men out there who did not always identify as men).
But please also recognize that (most) women will never understand the fear – yes, fear – that accompanies consensual sex in the minds of many men. The reasons for this fear are layered: Men can be accused, arrested for, and even convicted of sexual assault if a woman changes her mind about consensual sex mid-coitus or even completely ex post facto, especially if alcohol or other intoxicants were involved. Even a not-guilty verdict or a dismissal on the whole can ruin someone’s reputation, ability to date, ability to get a job, etc for life.
Some unscrupulous women even abuse this aspect of our legal system intentionally. (Most) women will never know what it’s like to be afraid of being accused of rape for having what they thought at the time was consensual sex. (Most) women will never know what it’s like to be afraid to say anything at all to a woman because you might not use the right feminist language and risk offending her. (Most) women will never understand the fear that accompanies genuine attempts by men to indicate to women they find attractive that they’re interested in getting to know them better. (Most) women will never understand the heartache that comes from developing feelings for someone, only to find out later that she was “flirting for fun.”
Don’t get me wrong; flirting can be fun, but I protest to the use of the term “harmless flirting.” Flirting if you’re not sincere can really hurt people, and I think it’s important that (especially) women keep this in mind if they choose to flirt for fun.
Unlike many other animal species, humans don’t have abundantly obvious physical signals that the feeling is mutual. Sure, our cheeks and lips redden, our pupils dilate, we get “dreamy eyed,” etc, but these are not only subtle, but unreliable, too. One advantage we have over (all?) other animals is our language ability. If we’re interested in someone, we can signal this with words instead of with some physical sign, and with much better clarity, too, if we decide to be clear.
There is a double standard here that I think we should address. Women can indicate that they think a guy (or gal) is attractive and they don’t have to worry, the way men do, about being thought of as creepy or dangerous. For many men, it’s to the point where we just simply don’t ever hit on women, not for fear of rejection in the classic sense, but for fear that we will be thought of as creeps, especially if there is alcohol around.
I have seen advice in online forums about how a woman should indicate to a man that she is interested in him. Some examples I’ve seen include touching his arm, touching his hand, licking your lips, playing with his hair, etc. Can you imagine if the roles were reversed? If a man (that is, a man you weren’t interested in) touched your arm playfully, it would be reasonable for a woman to feel violated. In many cases he will instantly be written off as a creep or worse. I’m not even going to mention what would happen if a guy, during a conversation, just started touching your hair.
Now, a lot of women may say, “We’re not saying you can’t hit on us.” Well, for many men, please understand that, de facto, that’s what we’re hearing. It’s simply not worth the risk of being thought of as a creep. This is especially problematic because traditionally, the guy is supposed to make the first move. It’s a catch-22.
I am NOT saying this is true objectively, but for the sake of women reading this, here is what goes through many men’s minds after observing something like Elevatorgate unfold: As if we weren’t already scared enough from fear of rejection before, we are now scared to make the first move, ever, because we might get vituperated on the internet if we hit on someone at the wrong place or the wrong time. This is especially true for socially-awkward men, and there, frankly, is an overlap between skepticism/atheism & social awkwardness among men. To reiterate I am not saying that that’s really true. But that is how I’m sure many men feel after hearing all of this. The elevator guy will almost certainly never come forward for fear of being eaten alive by feminists (of all genders), even if it’s just to apologize and say that he meant no harm.
The problem here, I think, is that there is no instruction manual for men about how to ask someone out respectfully or show her/him you’re interested. And there really can’t be, because everybody responds in different ways to different come-ons, some positive, some negative, and it can reasonably be argued that it also depends on the suitor’s level of attractiveness (or even the relative attractiveness of between suitor & “suitee”). This is a problem. I think it’s fair to say that people, generally speaking, want to be hit on, when it’s socially appropriate and not creepy. It can be flattering when someone (attractive) thinks you’re attractive – frankly that is how all relationships get off the ground! It’s a necessary step in the process of beginning a relationship.
But if traditionally, women expect men to make the first move, how are we to know what’s socially appropriate and not creepy when the conditions are in a constant state of flux, depending on
- how attractive you are
- how attractive the other person is
- how much alcohol you have had
- how much alcohol the other person has had
- how many other people are around
- WHO is around
- what time it is
- when you last slept
- when the other person last slept
- whether the other person is in an exclusive relationship or not, which you can only reasonably be expected to know if the information is promulgated, the other person is wearing a wedding ring, or you ask directly
- etc, etc, etc?
I have had more than one woman tell me that she likes it when her suitor “takes charge” as far as asking someone out. For example, saying to someone: “I’m taking you to dinner on Saturday.” I know some people who would consider this the ultimate in flattery. I know others who would consider this the height of misogynistic bullying and anti-feminism. I know some women who would be offended at the very suggestion of splitting the check, and others who don’t bat an eye alternating who picks up the tab, sometimes even planning & paying, starting with the very first date.
There are so many hidden rules, rules that contradict each other, and situation-dependent rules that it’s enough to make a one’s head spin. In addition, a different set of rules apply to overweight, older, or otherwise less-attractive men than those which apply to young, fit, rich, or otherwise more-attractive men.
Folks, men are dense. This is not news. We don’t read between the lines as well as women do. Our brains are not wired that way and it’s not a personality flaw or anybody’s fault. We just work much better with very clear instructions. There is a spectrum of ability in this area and men are simply not as good at it on average.
We don’t want to insult you. We don’t want to scare you. We don’t want to creep you out. We want to be attractive to you, and we want to make you feel good about yourself and good about us. We want to make you feel special and important. But we need help. Your help. If you insist or prefer that we make the first move (I recognize that not all of you do, and I applaud that), you have to understand that sometimes we are going to screw it up. That doesn’t mean we are misogynistic. It doesn’t mean we aren’t feminists. It just means that we’re human.
If we are using language that offends you, don’t stop talking to us. Correct us. (If you actually feel threatened as opposed to just offended, obviously, that’s different). On the whole, we desire to not offend you. This goes for LGBTQ language as well as feminist language as well as any other type of language where the wrong wording may cause offense. If someone doesn’t know to say “a gay man” instead of “a gay,” correct her/him. If someone doesn’t know to say “woman” instead of “girl,” correct her/him. If someone you’re talking to touches your hand, and you’d rather them not do that, just say, “I’d rather you not do that. We can still talk; I just prefer not to be touched. Thank you,” etc, then just continue the conversation. Men need more verbal feedback because we’re just not as good as you are with nonverbal cues. It really is that simple. We want to learn, and we can’t learn if we’re shunned instead of instructed.
If you think I’m saying this because of privilege, I’m asking you not to get pissed at me, but instead tell me so in the comment section below, and tell me what you would suggest instead. I ask that you not tell me I’m obviously not really a feminist – I identify as a feminist, and if you acknowledged me as one when I said so at the very beginning of this post but you don’t now, recognize that you are committing both the logical fallacy of moving the goalpost and the No True Scotsman fallacy. It is not true that only women can have legitimate views on feminist topics. If you think I’m wrong, tell me why, and tell me what to say instead.
Remember, as I said above, communication clarifies misunderstandings and it’s only by engaging each other in this way that ignorance can be addressed and give yield to more enlightened thinking and action.
I look forward to your responses.
Until next time,
Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, and posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is http://www.DaveMuscato.com.
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