It occurs to me that I may have erred.
Last Thursday, September 6th, I posted an essay titled Those Pesky Other Human Beings. In this essay, I picked apart this tumblr entry, which had been making the internet rounds. I determined the linked post to be misguided, poorly-written, and somewhat condescending, so I eviscerated it in a particularly cruel and nasty style which is de rigeur throughout cyberspace. I didn’t write that way by accident, I’m well aware that I was pushing buttons and being aggressive because I wanted to provoke a reaction. And to that extent, I provoked the desired reactions.
There were a couple of comments on that piece by one Arya Markova, who provided me with a junior year poli-sci class definition of “privilege” and further told me how little I knew about the harassment of females. Her point was that I was blind to the mistreatment of ladies in public because it is not part of my male experience. I don’t argue that. The entire meaning of my initial essay was that UnWinona’s incident had nothing to do with Man’s inhumanity to women and everything to do with crazy people on the subway. Obviously, I failed in making that clear. It is my contention that, even if every sane male in the world was respectful of women’s privacy, never hollered at them or said rude things to demean them in public, that would not preclude some lunatic freaking out on them while riding public transit. No person or people can be held accountable for the actions of crazy people. They operate outside of the spectrum of normal human behavior; that’s why we call them crazy.
I am not dumb to the fact that some men–a large contingent of men, we’ll say–are routinely disrespectful towards women in public. I see it all the time. Indeed, I can’t say that some of my friends have never hit on women while out and about. I can say with absolute certainty that none of my friends have ever started slamming walls and crying out for their dead mothers, but that’s only because I don’t consort with severely mentally ill people. It’s sort of a “thing” with me. Still, even the dudes I know that might harass a female on the street, there would only be a few. And these guys, like most guys talk a good game, would be mortified if ever confronted by the objects of their derision. I believe this to be a fact. It’s a misnomer that most men hope a woman will be entranced by their cat calls and sexual promises, they do this to subjugate women, perhaps even subconsciously remind them of the limits of their power. The last thing they’re ready for is to have a woman take them up on their offers. Mind you, an even smaller subset of men are playing the odds, hitting on a passing succession of women in hopes that one will respond to their advances. But I believe that the vast majority of men who might say something offensive or otherwise approach a lady unsolicited are internally so pathetic that they can and should be ignored. Sure, they may act tough around their buddies or when they think a woman is vulnerable, but at home they’re cuckolded by their wives and their sexual activity is relegated to lonely evenings looking at furry porn on the internet. Believe me on this.
I thought about all of the times I’d been scared shitless by crazy people on the subway. Times I wished I could leap off a moving train as some guy started to scream at his invisible tormentors and twitch with psychotic tics. Times I huddled in the corner of a car praying that a wild-eyed, menacing pacer wouldn’t notice and antagonize me. I wish I could offer some advice on how to deal with these people, but since they are unpredictable there’s really no definite recourse. You might get attacked by crazy people on the subway, it’s an unfortunate fact of life. We can decry the institutions that release these mentally defective people, we can blame society for not providing adequate medical services for troubled subjects. But the reality is that, today, there’s not much we can do about it. In crowded, urban settings we mingle with psychopaths every day, and the best thing to do is avoid these people entirely. So we’ve got a shitty game plan for How to Deal With Subway Harassment: if it’s a guy trying to hurt your feelings by propositioning you, then ignore or glower at him. However, if it’s a crazy, dangerous guy, then your best recourse is to avoid this person entirely, try to get away and avoid his notice.
And then it occurred to me that one wouldn’t know whether a guy was a spineless creep or a violent psycho until they’d already been approached by him.
So with that, I realized the fallacy of my essay, that UnWinona’s tumblr post wasn’t about being frightened by a wacko on the LA Metro, but about the systemic abuse of being harassed by men that, unfortunately, did result in some one flipping out. If it was known for sure that all offensive men were harmless assholes, then there wouldn’t be the same issues. But the reality is that some men will get antagonistic, some men will behave as if women are obligated to pay them attention, and–though relatively few–some men will freak the fuck out, start hitting walls and threatening their targets, muttering about their dead mothers and acting wild. Indeed, some men will physically attack the objects of their passing desires. And to be on the receiving end of not knowing which way some guy will jump is a scary proposition. I wasn’t blind to this fact before writing my essay, but I was blind to its evidence in UnWinona’s post, for which I am very sorry and ashamed.
I’ve taken down my initial piece and replaced it with this tail-between-my-legs explanation as to why it’s gone. If you missed it, you didn’t miss much except for me being an outrageous asshole. There’s lots of other evidence to that on this site. Apologies to UnWinona, and thanks to my friends and Arya Markova, who made me consider my words and the words which spawned them more carefully. I’m not a perfect man, but for whatever it’s worth I have never, ever harassed a woman in public transit. It’s simply impolite.