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It’s Really Time for the Harassment to End

By Amanda Marcotte
Friday, September 7, 2012 9:23 EDT
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Ann Friedman posted this quote from Ellen Willis recently, and I find myself continually drawn to its eloquence and perfection:

Often men’s impulses to coerce and degrade women seem to express not a confident assumption of dominance but a desire to retaliate for feelings of rejection, humiliation, and impotence: as many men see it, they need women sexually more than women need them, an intolerable balance of power.

Of course, the reason it feels intolerable is that, from the cradle, men are told they are better than women and that women exist to serve them: sexually, domestically, and at times, in the workplace. Growing up and wanting something from women and finding out that they can say “no”—despite the fact that they were put here to serve you!—is often extremely distressing to men.  The invention of the nonsense word “misandry” goes back to this. Men who fling it about are, in my experience, usually referring to women refusing to give them something they believe they’re owed: sex, attention, placating smiles, demurely wiping tables while the men are talking. When women deny them what they believe women owe them, instead of asking if in fact they were owed these things, they instead lash out at women. They sexually harass them, which is a way of saying that you have no right to give them no attention, so if you don’t give them the positive attention they desire, they will extract some attention from you, even if it’s just annoyance or fear. Anti-choice men come from the same mentality, I’ve learned from dealing with them. Their anger at rejection from women gets projected onto the fetus, or even to sperm. They convince themselves that there was some sort of patriarchal paradise in the past when women didn’t get to say no to men, and believe that if they could at least revoke women’s legal right to say no to a man impregnating her, they could have those days back.

So when this man leans across the aisle into my personal space and asks me, yes, what are you reading, I assertively but calmly tell him to please leave me alone, I am reading.  The man stands up, moving to the front and muttering angrily over his shoulder that it isn’t his fault I’m pretty.

Jen McCreight has hung up her marvelous blog Blag Hag, even though she loves writing, because of all the abuse she’s been getting due to the rest storm in the atheist blogosphere over whether or not women are required to give any man attention because he wants it. The feminists say no, and support policies at conventions that state clearly to men that women’s consent matters. If a woman declines to give you anything—sex, flirting, any kind of attention—that is her right, and exacting your revenge by harassing her is unacceptable. A loud minority of atheist dudes find this unacceptable, and refuse to budge from their belief that they are owed women’s attention. They claim “free speech” gives them a right to an audience with the woman of their choosing, and claim that the requirement that a woman consents to an interaction means the end of flirting and sex. They grind their teeth over and over at the nerve of Rebecca Watson saying that it’s not cool to corner an unwilling woman in an elevator; their “right” to have a woman’s attention if they want it means that they are allowed any tactic, no matter how scary, to extract that attention, even if it means approaching a woman when she literally has no immediate means of escape. Hitting on a woman in an enclosed space sends the signal that she is not allowed, in your opinion, to decline the interaction. The anti-feminists occasionally pull sad faces and say they’re sorry that it has to be this way, but a man’s right to “free speech”, i.e. to extract attention from any woman at any time, trumps a woman’s right to free association.

To say otherwise—to say that a woman has a right to decline to give you attention—is “misandry”. The response to women who state boldly that a woman’s consent is required for any interaction has been many variations of “I’ll give you something to cry about.” Richard Dawkins raising the subject of serious oppression of women in some Muslim countries. Translation: “You should be grateful that we’re only demanding forced flirting, because there’s a lot more hellish things we could force you to do.” Many, many rape threats thrown at female bloggers who speak out: “You think forced flirting is bad, but there’s worse things we could force on you.” The notion of abandoning force altogether is preposterous to these men. There will always be force, they seem to be saying. Extracting what you desire from women by force is just the way of the world. You should be grateful that we demand so little of you, in terms of non-consensual interactions.

One of the most common microaggressions women complain about is walking down the street and being told by strange men to “smile”. This phenomenon appears to cut across race, class, and age boundaries. It’s aggravating because it’s an assertion of this male entitlement, of course. The man  is doing what Podhoretz here is doing, which is asserting a right to have women decorate his environment with pretty smiles, whether they want to or not. But it’s also because it’s so fucking illogical. Why on earth would women walk down the street just grinning for no reason? Why should Sandra Fluke smile while she speaks of heavy topics like women’s rights and being the target of a nationwide harassment campaign? The only way you believe that this even makes sense is if you grant women no right to an interior life at all, but instead see women as nothing more than living dolls that exist to serve men’s desires. It’s aggravating.

Of course, Fluke does have genuine smiles in her facial expression repertoire, so the claims of a “perma-smirk” are just a lie. It’s Podhoretz’s sense of entitlement that distorts reality. He believes women owe him light, cheerful expressions most of the time, so when a woman deviates from that script, he convinces himself that is all she does. In the same way, the anti-feminists in the atheist community claim that because the feminists object to non-consensual flirting, that means they must be against all flirting, despite the easily obtained evidence that feminists flirt and date and have all sorts of fun. You know, just consensually. Some anti-feminists, when confronted with this evidence, simply accuse feminists of “hypocrisy”, which only makes sense if you believe that a willingness to flirt with one man means an obligation to flirt with all.  This argument, taken to its logical conclusion, has resulted in many rapists getting away from the charges by arguing that the victim was no virgin.

A quick word about the women: It’s not all men who do this. As the targets of the atheist anti-feminist campaigns know, there are many, many women involved, too. They may even be a sadder case, like this woman:

In my experience, these women are also reacting to deep-set fears of rejection. But women aren’t raised in a culture that tells them they’re entitled to attention from men. We’re told instead that we have to earn it. And one reliable way of earning positive attention from men is to bash other women, especially women who speak out against sexism. If you’re really good at it, you can make a career out of it. See: Ann Coulter, S.E. Cupp and many right wing women like them. But even if you don’t do it professionally, there are many rewards. See this woman’s tweet. For selling out other women like this, she is rewarded by so much positive male attention. Fears of rejection are safely silenced for a long time. Granted, she’s getting positive attention from assholes, but sadly, many women don’t realize that there’s an alternative.

Excuse sexist behavior from men, get to be told you’re the exception. You’re not like those other girls, the bitchy ones. You’re special. It can be very intoxicating.

I have blocked so many men on Twitter for demanding my attention after I withdrew my consent that I’ve lost count. Mostly, it’s conservative men spewing vitriol at me, using me as a hate object to express a lifetime of anger at women for not understanding that our gender requires us to give them whatever they want. But sometimes it’s self-identified liberals. Just the other day, I made a joke on Twitter about how my fate in life seems to be getting yelled at by men who still aren’t over the fact that they didn’t get laid in high school. I can draw a diagram for you showing why this statement in no way says that all men who didn’t get laid in high school resort to yelling at women, but this post is long enough. But of course, some dude started yelling at me about “generalizing”. My guess is that he’s defensive about not getting laid in high school, but he certainly was insistent on getting a cookie for not harassing women. And he was going to harass me until I gave him the cookie, an irony that was absolutely lost on someone who didn’t have the sense of humor to understand the original joke.

I knew right away that he was suffering from serious entitlement issues—you do this long enough, and you can spot these guys from the first words they type—but I played along for a couple tweets, pointing out that “didn’t get laid in high school” and “didn’t get laid in high school and now taking your rejection issues out by harassing women” are two categories that have some overlap, but it’s not complete—but he immediately started with the derailing tactics and so I started to ignore him. Plus, I had a phone interview to conduct. When I got off the phone, I saw that he had flooded me with demands, mostly of the derailing sort, with one actually including the phrase “*tapping foot*”.  Yes, I was ignoring him, and wasn’t going to answer him. But even if I had intended to get into the weeds with this guy, I had a phone interview I had to conduct first. It never even occurred to him that I might have other business to attend to besides arguing with a guy who—oh irony—needed a strange woman to validate him in order to quell his still unattended emotional issues regarding previous rejections (seriously, dudes, women get rejected, too!). It simply didn’t register that a woman might have something else on her plate other than giving him attention.

After all, that’s what women are for, isn’t it?

So, I blocked him. In my experience, these things never end well, even with guys swearing up and down that they’re pro-feminist, pro-choice liberals.

I’m sorry to see Jen hang up her blog. But I get why she’s doing it. This is the noise of women’s lives, and having it turned up dramatically online can be exhausting.

I just don’t see why so many men can’t open their eyes and see what five minutes of rational analysis can teach you: That women are discrete individuals, not support staff for men. And that means that you are not entitled to their affection, smiles, flirting, sexual favors, uteruses, or their submission. You aren’t even entitled to their attention. They aren’t your moms. You are adults now. It’s time to start self-soothing.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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