Harassment and Understanding It (split from Do Men Have a Problem with Empathy)

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Post by nearly_takuan on Fri Oct 24, 2014 4:41 pm

eselle28 wrote:
nearly_takuan wrote:Immediate reaction to hypothetical crowd of women remarking on whether or not I'm sufficiently macho or sufficiently idiotic: who gives a shit? I don't strive to be either.

Is there something that would fit in that category for you? Perceptions about sexuality, maybe? If not, that's actually a really positive thing, because the world is a better place if people don't feel those pressures. The thing I'm getting at is that street harassment tends to remind me that there's not a moment of the day when I'm not judged based on my perceived fuckability, whether I want to play into cultural prescriptions or defy them or just do my own thing, and that it's also not acceptable for me to ignore it. I have to be reminded of it, out loud, over and over, and many of the people who do so expect me to be grateful.

The only thing I can think of that might fit in the same slot is that I get the sense nobody ever considers whether I am "fuckable" or not. Which is communicated by...nobody saying anything. So the closest thing to something happening to you is nothing happening to me, which sounds weird on the surface but is probably a reasonable approximation of truth. I still worry that the example doesn't really extend to (statistically) most men, though.

You're right that I didn't consider context at all. And that probably is what embertine is getting at with the gender differences comment; I have a hard time imagining a context where a "positive sincere comment" is any less welcome than in some other context. Any other sort of comment-from-strangers reads as just slightly more negative than "meh" on my scale, independent of context. So, maybe not such a useful list of hypotheticals after all.

As far as I know, my grandmother is the only person in my life who bothers strangers with unsolicited comments. But I've been in a few situations where certain friends would tell me their judgments about a stranger who had passed us, and that made me uncomfortable too, since I could easily imagine the same remark being applied accurately to myself or someone else I knew and cared about or respected.

embertine wrote:But remember, nearly, you haven't also had a lifetime of being judged solely by your looks, of being informed that your looks are the only important thing about you, that you will only ever be of value for what your face and body can provide.  I do appreciate the sincere efforts to understand, but I think at some point we need to accept that cis men and cis women are conditioned differently as they grow up, and being objectified as a man simply doesn't carry the same implications and threats as it does for a woman.

Have you had a lifetime of being ignored and forgotten by people you care about, or being considered a disappointment by people who overestimated you and were let down when you "only" performed well above average? Does your entire gender or combination of race and sex not even have token representation in your home country's media? Can you bring yourself to care anyway?

'Cause somehow I manage to give a shit about street harassment. But if you were to ask me to explain it to a man on the street, I'd be as lost as you. Wink
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Post by Enail on Fri Oct 24, 2014 4:48 pm

eselle28 wrote:  
 A stranger of the gender you didn't default to imagining, doing the above things.
Most of the stranger behavior you described is still pretty obnoxious if I imagine a woman doing it. I will say the only compliment I've ever gotten from a stranger that I actually did appreciate was a woman on the train who complimented my shoes when I was having a particularly bad day, but I'm not sure if one appreciated compliment is enough to form a generalization about.

I've had a couple of compliments on clothing/accessories from strange women in ways that I didn't find obnoxious, entitled or intrusive, and seen some other women getting them. And I've actually experienced/seen men giving similar compliments that were similarly received - they are different from the 'positive' harassment comments in subtle but significant ways other than simply gender. Mainly, they happen when the compliment-receiver is already in voluntary interaction (however momentary - things like sharing an "oh man, this subway is crowded" look) with the compliment-giver. They are comments that fall within socially appropriate norms beyond the norms of "men get to say these things to women."  

The intrusive ones, however polite or friendly, are not obeying general social norms, they're interruptions, interjections, they shove their way into an interaction without the normal social hesitation and implicit permission-seeking cues that people use if they're asking someone for the time, say. It's pretty subtle sometimes, but I would be surprised to see a man saying the same things, however platonic and gender-neutral, to another man in the same way

I don't feel I'm explaining myself well here. Hopefully there's something understandable.
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Post by eselle28 on Fri Oct 24, 2014 5:05 pm

[quote="Enail"]
eselle28 wrote:  
I've had a couple of compliments on clothing/accessories from strange women in ways that I didn't find obnoxious, entitled or intrusive, and seen some other women getting them. And I've actually experienced/seen men giving similar compliments that were similarly received - they are different from the 'positive' harassment comments in subtle but significant ways other than simply gender. Mainly, they happen when the compliment-receiver is already in voluntary interaction (however momentary - things like sharing an "oh man, this subway is crowded" look) with the compliment-giver. They are comments that fall within socially appropriate norms beyond the norms of "men get to say these things to women."  

The intrusive ones, however polite or friendly, are not obeying general social norms, they're interruptions, interjections, they shove their way into an interaction without the normal social hesitation and implicit permission-seeking cues that people use if they're asking someone for the time, say. It's pretty subtle sometimes, but I would be surprised to see a man saying the same things, however platonic and gender-neutral, to another man in the same way

I don't feel I'm explaining myself well here. Hopefully there's something understandable.

Well, it made sense to me at least! Now that I think about it, the compliment in question came after some mutual disgusted faces at the fact that the car smelled a bit like vomit, so it didn't seem quite so weird for her to say something. Also, that compliment and "Thanks" were all the interaction involved, so there wasn't an interruption or an interjection or an attempt to force a conversation. A lot of what bothers me about stranger interactions on the street isn't just that the person has formed an opinion about me but that they feel it's appropriate to interrupt me when I'm doing something so they can tell me their opinion.
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Post by Guest on Fri Oct 24, 2014 7:08 pm

Have you had a lifetime of being ignored and forgotten by people you care about, or being considered a disappointment by people who overestimated you and were let down when you "only" performed well above average? Does your entire gender or combination of race and sex not even have token representation in your home country's media? Can you bring yourself to care anyway?
I do care, but I can empathise with someone's suffering without necessarily needing to find an exact parallel in my own life which will allow me access to that empathy. And I am not interested in playing the Oppression Olympics game with you, where we talk about who had it worse and cry about our sad childhoods. My point was exactly that: that men may never find an exact parallel to how street harassment makes many women feel because it doesn't correspond to anything in their lives, but they should care anyway because they're good people.

That's why I find this "explain street harassment to me, in a way that I can understand, using comparisons to my life" conversation frustrating. You don't need to have experienced it, or something like it. You just have to listen when we tell you how it makes us feel.

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Post by Enail on Fri Oct 24, 2014 7:38 pm

embertine wrote:
That's why I find this "explain street harassment to me, in a way that I can understand, using comparisons to my life" conversation frustrating. You don't need to have experienced it, or something like it.  You just have to listen when we tell you how it makes us feel.

I understand your frustration with that in the general sense, but at the same time, this is specifically a thread about helping men understand harassment experienced by women, in a generally 101-friendly space - I think that searching for a good comparison is a reasonable part of trying to figure that out rather than a failure of listening or empathy.
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Post by nearly_takuan on Fri Oct 24, 2014 9:19 pm

embertine wrote:
Have you had a lifetime of being ignored and forgotten by people you care about, or being considered a disappointment by people who overestimated you and were let down when you "only" performed well above average? Does your entire gender or combination of race and sex not even have token representation in your home country's media? Can you bring yourself to care anyway?

'Cause somehow I manage to give a shit about street harassment.
I do care, but I can empathise with someone's suffering without necessarily needing to find an exact parallel in my own life which will allow me access to that empathy.  And I am not interested in playing the Oppression Olympics game with you, where we talk about who had it worse and cry about our sad childhoods.  My point was exactly that: that men may never find an exact parallel to how street harassment makes many women feel because it doesn't correspond to anything in their lives, but they should care anyway because they're good people.

That's why I find this "explain street harassment to me, in a way that I can understand, using comparisons to my life" conversation frustrating. You don't need to have experienced it, or something like it.  You just have to listen when we tell you how it makes us feel.

I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you overlooked something.

I am not asking you to explain it to me. I have already said, in many different ways, that I basically just take your word for it that it's as you describe and as bad as you say it is. I'm at least as uninterested in putting things in terms of magnitudes to be compared as you are.

If all you want from us (that is, men as a group) is that we not question anyone's personal interpretation of their own experiences (legal disputes exempt), sure, I'm comfortable with that. It kind of sounds like you want more, though, and I'm not entirely sure what it is or how to give it to you.

The impression I get from the general discussion in this thread and the one preceding it, though, is that there's an interest in helping men understand the issue somehow. So I've talked about how, as one of those men, my experience has been entirely from a distance; due to the nature of the problem, one hears about it after the fact instead of witnessing it personally. I think the closest relationship someone can have to an experience, without having the same experience or understanding that a similar one is in fact similar, is that academic/distant perspective.

I brought up experiences you won't relate to as a way of illustrating that point, not to play Oppression Olympics. The only comparison being made here is that we're both more or less equally incompetent at helping each other deal with these problems, because to be lucky enough not to have to deal with them is to be privileged out of understanding their nature.

So basically, I don't agree that you can empathize. I think the most you can do is take my word for it, if that.
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Post by Guest on Sat Oct 25, 2014 2:32 pm

I see, that seems very reasonable. Sorry if I was unduly tetchy, and I agree that I have probably misinterpreted how you meant your previous post.

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Post by Girlande on Sat Oct 25, 2014 7:29 pm

nearly_takuan wrote: I think the closest relationship someone can have to an experience, without having the same experience or understanding that a similar one is in fact similar, is that academic/distant perspective.

I completely disagree. This is why people love novels, movies, TV, and drama! Exactly because the creative arts offer us a way to come very close to knowing what it's like to have very different experiences from our own. I've never been in outer space, I've never been a man, I've never been a detective or a million other roles—roles that I've been able to imaginatively enter in. It happens all the time.


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Post by Guest on Sat Oct 25, 2014 9:44 pm

Girlande wrote:I've never been in outer space, I've never been a man, I've never been a detective or a million other roles—roles that I've been able to imaginatively enter in. It happens all the time.

But isn't that because we've been socialized to empathize with a male-centric view of the world since this male-centric perspective is dominant in mainstream entertainment?

Since the assumption is that a lot of men aren't trained to cultivate empathy for the struggles women face, sometimes the best a man can do is to understand your struggles from a distance?

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Post by nearly_takuan on Sat Oct 25, 2014 10:05 pm

Imaginatively entering in a role is not sufficient to understand the nuances behind it. Playing at being a detective or undercover cop does not actually do that much to prepare you for the stresses you would experience if you actually were in that role in reality.
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Post by eselle28 on Sat Oct 25, 2014 10:11 pm

nearly_takuan wrote:
I am not asking you to explain it to me. I have already said, in many different ways, that I basically just take your word for it that it's as you describe and as bad as you say it is. I'm at least as uninterested in putting things in terms of magnitudes to be compared as you are.

If all you want from us (that is, men as a group) is that we not question anyone's personal interpretation of their own experiences (legal disputes exempt), sure, I'm comfortable with that. It kind of sounds like you want more, though, and I'm not entirely sure what it is or how to give it to you.

The impression I get from the general discussion in this thread and the one preceding it, though, is that there's an interest in helping men understand the issue somehow. So I've talked about how, as one of those men, my experience has been entirely from a distance; due to the nature of the problem, one hears about it after the fact instead of witnessing it personally. I think the closest relationship someone can have to an experience, without having the same experience or understanding that a similar one is in fact similar, is that academic/distant perspective.

I brought up experiences you won't relate to as a way of illustrating that point, not to play Oppression Olympics. The only comparison being made here is that we're both more or less equally incompetent at helping each other deal with these problems, because to be lucky enough not to have to deal with them is to be privileged out of understanding their nature.

So basically, I don't agree that you can empathize. I think the most you can do is take my word for it, if that.

On this point, I think there's a difference between what I'd ask of men, as a group, and what I'd ask of an individual man. From men, as a group, I'd ask that they try to go through the thought process of taking a message that they feel society pushes at them about their gender that bothers them, and imagining people (some threatening, some not, but most feeling like bullies and enforcers of various sorts) constantly interrupting them throughout their day to talk about that message. That's the closest I can come to describing the feeling, and I appreciate it if someone at least tries to replicate the experience. If they can gain some understanding as a result of that, cool. If they can't because there's no message that they feel is pushed in that way or for some other reason, I'd ask that they'd take my word for it, and if they do that's also cool.

The point where I'm a bit wary about your post is the line between you, as a particular man, and men as a whole. I have trouble empathizing with the experience you described and you have trouble empathizing with the experience I described. I don't necessarily think that all women can empathize with me or that all men can empathize with you, however. I know men who I don't think would identify much with the experience of no one caring whether they're fuckable or not, and I know women who don't experience or see much street harassment and have trouble understanding how it feels. On that same level, I suspect some women might be able to identify with the experience of being ignored, and I would like to hope that at least some men can identify even to a small extent with my experiences. (Can we at least throw out that bone? I find it incredibly depressing to think otherwise.)


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Post by nearly_takuan on Sat Oct 25, 2014 10:20 pm

I'd say probably a large fraction of men wouldn't identify with any of those experiences at all and may have to take your word for it.
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Post by eselle28 on Sat Oct 25, 2014 10:23 pm

nearly_takuan wrote:I'd say probably a large fraction of men wouldn't identify with any of those experiences at all and may have to take your word for it.

I can deal with a large fraction if it doesn't mean all. It's not very encouraging for me to think of myself as being sexually attracted to an alien species that, at best, can never understand where I'm coming from about large portions of my experiences.
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Post by nearly_takuan on Sat Oct 25, 2014 10:30 pm

eselle28 wrote:I can deal with a large fraction if it doesn't mean all.
Your guess is as good as mine; obviously I don't even speak for a small fraction.

eselle28 wrote:It's not very encouraging for me to think of myself as being sexually attracted to an alien species that, at best, can never understand where I'm coming from about large portions of my experiences.
At least we have that much in common.
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Post by The Wisp on Sat Oct 25, 2014 11:09 pm

I must admit that, in my darker moments, I'm often drawn to the even more extreme idea that in some sense true and deep understanding between any two individuals, no matter how similar, is often impossible. I hope it isn't true, either.

But maybe that's neither here nor there.
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Post by Mel on Sun Oct 26, 2014 7:55 am

I dunno, I think maybe this is getting too hung up on the exact details. You don't have to understand why getting comments from strangers in public places makes a person uncomfortable to be able to emphathize with someone feeling uncomfortable, as long as you have felt uncomfortable in other situations. If a woman says, "This experience makes me feel as if only one facet of who I am matters to other people," and you've had any one facet of who you are seem to matter to someone else and know how diminishing that can feel, I don't see why it should matter if the experience that made you feel that way was some other experience or if the facet you were reduced to was some other facet.

I mean, otherwise you may as well claim that no one can empathize with someone else's grief unless they've lost the exact same thing in the exact same circumstances--that someone who's lost a parent to disease can't empathize with someone who's lost a parent to a car accident, or someone who's lost a child to disease, or someone who's lost a spouse for some other reason, or so on. I don't think that's true--you may not be able to relate to every single detail, but if you've grieved for a loved one, you know how that feels on a base level.

I think that's all most of us would really ask of anyone. To try to understand the base level of the sort of feeling provoked, where there probably is some common ground--and to believe us when we say "This experience provokes this sort of feeling in us" even if that exact experience hasn't provoked that exact feeling for you.
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Post by UristMcBunny on Sun Oct 26, 2014 9:41 pm

So I came across this post today, which I feel illustrates one small, useful point about harassment.

It's not just that it happens. It's that it happens repeatedly. It's that you don't know whether this moment of catcalling will be the one that rolls over into assault, or not, until it either happens or doesn't. It's that the ones which end in the most horrible of ways don't necessarily start out any different from the ones that stop at "nice tits, bitch".

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Post by kath on Mon Oct 27, 2014 2:52 am

I also thought that a few pages back we got to this really good place where we were talking about the problem and the benefit not being connected, and I thought that was great, and I'm sort of at a loss for like, where that broke down again?

I do think there's a very clear difference in experience between interactions that are someone imposing their ideas on you - about where you should be, how you should look, their social power and someone not doing that (having a sincere interaction of any kid, whether it includes a compliment or not). And I think people of all types can get those feelings, of having other people harp on them about how they should be or what the other person expects from them, and imposing those ideas on them. That's, I think, a pretty universally unpleasant experience. It wouldn't necessarily take away all the nuance from understanding when one might be doing that, but that nuance is part of how you be a respectful person to others in general.

So like, what happened to that spot? Did I just miss where that fell apart?

(Also, nearly, you've been saying "I'll have to take your word for it" or analogous phrasings a couple of times, and I wanted to point out that that can come off like "OK, fine, if that's how you say it is, I guess I can't completely dismiss your lived experience out of hand because apparently that's not respectful ... but I still think you are wrong." I'm pretty sure that's not what you mean, but that's often how "I'll have to take your word for it" is used.)
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Post by nearly_takuan on Mon Oct 27, 2014 3:46 am

kath wrote:I also thought that a few pages back we got to this really good place where we were talking about the problem and the benefit not being connected, and I thought that was great, and I'm sort of at a loss for like, where that broke down again?

I do think there's a very clear difference in experience between interactions that are someone imposing their ideas on you - about where you should be, how you should look, their social power  and someone not doing that (having a sincere interaction of any kid, whether it includes a compliment or not). And I think people of all types can get those feelings, of having other people harp on them about how they should be or what the other person expects from them, and imposing those ideas on them. That's, I think, a pretty universally unpleasant experience. It wouldn't necessarily take away all the nuance from understanding when one might be doing that, but that nuance is part of how you be a respectful person to others in general.

So like, what happened to that spot? Did I just miss where that fell apart?

Not sure how to recap that will both be true to how I see it and not be mean...

Lemminkainen and eselle bring up a hypothetical male-coded thing that might possibly be comparable to catcalling and so forth.
I briefly state why it doesn't seem like a good analogy to me (and consequently people who would think the way I think) and make preliminary attempts to outline an abstract formula in case someone can find something that does match such a pattern in general cases. Naturally, not stated in quite so clear or concise a fashion.
embertine gets fed up with something else she thinks I'm doing and tells me what I have and have not experienced. At around the same time, similar things come up in other topics.
In the context of a continuing discussion on why men suck at empathy, I get annoyed and lose focus and drag things into the death-spiral. Not by conscious intent, but I kind of think that's what I did.

:silent:

(In this case at least, I do think the fact that I've focused the recap on myself has to do with actually having made most of the odd-numbered posts during said death-spiral, not additional egomania.)

kath wrote:(Also, nearly, you've been saying "I'll have to take your word for it" or analogous phrasings a couple of times, and I wanted to point out that that can come off like "OK, fine, if that's how you say it is, I guess I can't completely dismiss your lived experience out of hand because apparently that's not respectful ... but I still think you are wrong." I'm pretty sure that's not what you mean, but that's often how "I'll have to take your word for it" is used.)

That's a good point. Never mind sarcasm; I think we need some kind of special punctuation to convey sincere intent.
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Post by Guest on Mon Oct 27, 2014 5:23 am

Apart from stating that you had not been conditioned as a cis woman, I'm not sure how I told you what you have or have not experienced.

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Post by Enail on Mon Oct 27, 2014 12:13 pm

<mod>Alright folks, I don't think getting into a discussion on why this discussion is getting heated, and how anyone did/didn't contribute to it, is going to make things any better. Please stick to the original topic of how people who don't experience harassment can better understand it. Thanks! </mod>
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Post by kleenestar on Mon Oct 27, 2014 12:32 pm

One thing I find helpful for getting people to understand the experience of harassment is tying to unwanted stereotypes that they already experience. For example, I have a Chinese friend who really hates the "Asians are good at math" stereotype. He already feels frustrated when other people treat him as if he were their personal math-help vendor, and that's what I drew on when we discussed this.

In terms of execution: first we talked about the experience of having other people impose on his time and attention in a way that made him feel uncomfortable and used. For example, he would get lots of people randomly asking him for help in the stats class we took together, often in a way that didn't respect the fact that he actually had his own homework to do. I was able to make the connection for him that "I feel like a math-dispensing object to these people who don't care about me" is very much like "I feel like a sex-dispensing object to these people who don't care about me." From there it was easy - I just pointed out that the context in which "being good at math" is likely to come up is school-based, but if you're a woman then anytime you have a female body and are in public the "sex-dispensing object" bit can get triggered. We talked out a couple of specific examples, like "Imagine if people were bugging you about their math homework on the bus," and "Has anyone ever insulted, bullied, or harassed you because you wouldn't math for them?" (The answer was yes, by the way, which turned into a really interesting conversation.)

Obviously it's a small sample size but it's a strategy I would try again - I think most people have at least one identity where there's a stereotype that looks positive from the outside, but whose lived experience is pretty miserably negative in practice.
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Post by Guest on Thu Oct 30, 2014 7:00 am

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Post by BasedBuzzed on Thu Oct 30, 2014 12:13 pm

I can't hear that guy saying "Am I too ugly?" without this kicking in in my head: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdflARH06dY

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Post by reboot on Thu Oct 30, 2014 12:18 pm

BasedBuzzed wrote:I can't hear that guy saying "Am I too ugly?" without this kicking in in my head: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdflARH06dY

The one that made me feel squirrelly was the guy who just paced her for 5 minutes. I would have lost my temper in minute two and probably made the situation worse
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