We’ve been having some conversations online about what it means to be a real man, and how to treat women better. And while the choir is cheering us on, it is quite obvious that there is still a whole lot of work to be done.
i am hoping that those who struggle with the race conversations will have a light come on when it comes to these conversations, because in some ways they are the same thing.
i am also hoping that white women who completely get these conversations, because of having lived them so much of their lives, might see the overlap with the race conversations and perhaps get something they haven’t until now.
For example, when it comes to privilege, with regards to race, white privilege is basically a set of unearned benefits one receives purely for being white.
When we look at this week’s conversations, we might see male privilege in terms of the freedom to go to a bar by yourself [or any place really] without the likelihood of being harassed; being able to walk through a street without a stranger commenting on your looks or whistling at you or shouting something inappropriate; not living in fear every day that a stranger might attack you or physically try and push themselves on you. Do these things happen the other way around? In extreme cases, possibly, but from the women i have spoken and listened to, this feels like pretty much an every day thing.
i’m not a fan of the phrase “give someone a voice” or referring to a person or group as “voiceless” because everyone has a voice, but sometimes it can be drowned out, shouted out, ignored or ridiculed. i prefer something like “give space for someone’s voice” or “hand the mic to someone else”.
When it comes to men and women in meetings i have heard about this and i have witnessed it, and it doesn’t look like i’m alone:
Women who speak and act assertively face the “double bind.” If they speak in a feminine way, they are not seen as leaders. If they speak assertively and confidently, they may be judged differently than a man – e.g., “Who does she think she is?” This tightrope makes it riskier for a woman to speak.
What Bik is observing is depressing, but it’s also not out of the ordinary. Study after study has shown that women are interrupted (by both genders) more than men; that men speak significantly more in meetings than women do (one study found they account for 75% of conversation); that even when women speak less they are perceived to have spoken more; and that male execs who talk more than their peers are viewed to be more competent, while female execs are viewed as less competent.
In “Sex Roles, Interruptions and Silences in Conversations” sociologists Don Zimmerman and Candace West recorded and analyzed public conversations between two people: 10 between two men, 10 between two women and 11 between a man and a woman. In the same-sex groups, a total of seven interruptions happened. In the male/female group, there were 48 interruptions. And 46 of them were a man interrupting a woman.
So this stuff is real, yo.
In fact, literally as i am writing this, my wife, tbV, sends me this link: so if there are any women reading this and you have any meetings today, maybe you could test it out for us and leave your results in the comments section. It is basically two buttons with the heading who’s talking? – one that reads ‘a dude’ and the other is ‘not a dude’.
THERE IS WORK TO BE DONE
But that stuff in a sense is the easy stuff – i have been involved in a few conversations [some online, one in my inbox] that caused me a lot of concern in terms of the work that still needs to be done. Some men are in absolute denial and some just propogate the fear and violence by their ignorance or archaic mindsets.
i had one very frustrating conversation with a guy from Stellenbosch in my inbox and i have to hope that he is a troll, because if he is serious about the stuff he says, then that makes me really scared. He started off by agreeing with one of the other problematic people a few of us had been having conversation with online and then spoke about ‘the myth of rape culture’ with one of his comments being the following:
I am not blaming the victim. The man is fully to blame no matter what.
But clothing sadly does influence it. It’s not right, but it happens.
So basically, it’s never the woman’s fault. Except when it is.
He continued on and started comparing men to animals and at one point it honestly seemed like he was going in the direction of ‘We can’t help it – it’s our biology’. Which is where i would dive in and suggest that one of the distinctive differences between human and beast is that we can help it. It’s called self-control. We choose not to use it at times. But even starting to creep along the line of suggesting that something like harassment or rape is inevitable made me so so nervous.
One of the commenters on my blog had this to say:
But a woman shouldn’t be at bars without her husband. You must go with your woman to the bar, so you the one who should get up to going out. Bars for single woman, I mean what the hell, obviously guys will try their luck. So a woman cant complain. If you cant handle then get your boyfriend there.
Women should never accept drinks as it could be spiked. Women must also not accept any drinks as it only encourages then this type of things. So women who want to get laid are to blame as most guys buy them drinks then later end up in bed. So this makes the guys try this move again next times. Women must blame loose women then for this tradition. Men are just men.
So, because men can’t control themselves and are going to be bags of douche, married women should never go to a bar without her ‘protection’ and single women, well good luck to you. You should also have ‘man protection’.
And finishing with a flourish – because ‘Men are just men.’
i don’t buy that. And i certainly don’t settle for that! It’s a #NotOnOurWatch thing. Women should not be forced to hide at home [because as my friend Julia shared in about fifty different examples of different places, wearing a variety of things, looking attractive vs coming in from a long run, there are no safe places] because men can’t get their act together. Other men – this starts with us.
NO SAFE PLACES
As i said in a previous post, i don’t think women should have to be doing the educating on this stuff, but i do think a lot of men really just don’t get it. Even those that get it a little bit do not see the extent of it, because for the most part we don’t witness it. So here are the words of one woman, to give you a small glimpse into the reality so many of them face so often. This in response to a comment from my friend Sindile suggesting one course of action:
Sindile: As an alternative view I’ve always thought that women should organise en masse and refuse to patronize places that refuse to put systems in place that ward off and “punish” rapey and creepy dudes. Afrikaner men were hugely successful with getting Spur to turn because they were organised and understand businesses care about the bottom line.
Julia: Then we would have nowhere at all to go, friend and most women actually like leaving the kitchen from time to time.
I have been harassed in places like bars and clubs where there are obvious groups of single men on the prowl, and I have been harassed by (for example) the manager at a small local cafe where it’s me sitting alone working on my laptop surrounded by a handful of families with kids on a Sunday morning.
I’ve been spat at by an attractive, stylish young man who followed me around Rosebank mall asking for my number for about 15 minutes (i.e. until I said that if I have to say no and ask you to leave me alone one more time I will call security) despite the fact that I wear a conspicuous engagement ring.
I’ve had two sixty-somethings pull up chairs and invite themselves to the (deliberately small 2 person only) table where my friend and I were enjoying tapas and a drink. Because we obviously needed male company.
I’ve had a creep slide into the booth opposite me in the Wimpy just outside of Bloem on a road trip stop while Luke was outside getting petrol – despite being asked, he didn’t actually leave until Luke walked in and I waved at him to indicate where I was sitting, trying not to look like a drowning woman.
I’ve been harassed while reading a book on my own in Delta Park, and while walking my dogs at Emmarentia (grateful AF that I own a terrifying looking GSD who comes when called and reacts aggressively when I feel threatened so I can actually say “FUCK OFF” without fear of violent reprisal).
I’ve been harassed in nice, upmarket restaurants. And in Simply Asia while waiting for my takeaways.
I’ve been harassed with red face and sweaty hair and full motorcycle gear in the petrol station Woollies in Strand.
I’ve been harassed on the beach, alone and with friends, more times than I can count, and once, when we eventually packed up our stuff and moved to avoid the unwanted “flirting”, we had to listen to the ugly words and shouted insults as they followed us up the beach and all the way back to the car park.
I’ve been harassed at the gym, at the local outdoor swimming pool, while running in my neighbourhood, while running races.
I’ve been followed in pick n pay while doing my grocery shopping. And in the Sandton City parking lot, after a movie.
I’ve even experienced it at home, when I’ve needed to hire contractors – seems that inappropriate sexual jokes and innuendos are the customer service norm in certain industries.
Are we starting to get it? Because that’s not the worst of it. This isn’t Julia’s whole life story.
As Julia added: The amazing part is that the above is just some of the stuff that I can recall off the top of my head, since December 2016. Imagine if you got ten women in a room and asked them to document the harassment they’ve experienced in the last 18 months, how many pages it would fill?
Julia then took it to an even deeper level:
And it’s not just inconvenient. Sure sometimes it’s just annoying and puts a damper on your mood. But sometimes it’s truly unpleasant – people shouting insults and swearwords, spitting at you, throwing drinks at you, making threats.
Sometimes it’s actually frightening – like when you are followed home to your gate/door while praying that a neighbour or complex security guard will appear so you aren’t alone.
And sometimes it’s violent and violating. When you are physically grabbed and touched inappropriately by someone who didn’t ask permission. When the offended/rejected man actually takes a swing at you. When he grabs you by the arm and starts to physically drag you towards his car, or the door of the crowded club. When you’re walking to your car trying not to walk too quickly, getting your keys ready in your fist to stab if you have to, because you don’t actually know if the guy who followed you out of the bar an hour or more after you politely but firmly rejected his unsolicited advances is just being rapey, or if he was trying to chat you up in the bar because he’s actually planning a mugging/hijacking, or both.
Let’s be clear about this – none of the above is ‘Men being men’ – that is not a good enough response and we are better than that. Well, clearly a lot of us aren’t, but we should be. And we need to really work towards being better. It begins with seeing women on the same level as men – different in some ways but equally important and worthy of love and respect and being treated well.
i think that when the little things are allowed uninterrupted – the joke, the side comment, the interruption – it feeds the bigger things – when we can joke about rape in any way, shape or form, or even just use the word to describe a bad test or a sports match that was one-sided or anything else, we encourage the idea that it is not so bad. It is so bad and the stats in our country are completely overwhelming and we need to start doing everything we can do to turn this thing around. Beginning with the person in the mirror. Clean up your act. Then work on your friends. Then your work colleagues. Then start taking on strangers in public when you see them act or speak inappropriately towards women because this is not okay. And it needs to end now.