Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat so I don’t lose too many readers right away. I don’t hate men. Not all men, anyway. That would be ridiculous and against everything I stand for. I love, hate, like, dislike the men and women I already know with no gender bias at all. But after a very unfortunate incident on the New York subway this afternoon, I’ve come to realize that I’m really beginning to develop an attitude of distrust towards men. Distrust accompanied, increasingly, by down-right anger. See, the men I feel increasingly angry towards aren’t exactly members of a particular club. They come from all walks of life. They aren’t only the most privileged white men who are oblivious to the bullshit that women of even their own social milieu have to deal with that they do not. And they aren’t only the ‘bros’ who stand around verbally harassing ‘chicks’, becoming increasingly louder as they are rightfully ignored. They are literally anyone. From professors to homeless guys, the past years have taught me harsh lessons about the opposite sex and I am taking a stand to say that I am over it.
Before I get deeper into my current feelings of mistrust of men – or as some internet jerks call it: “man-hating” – I think it would be helpful to outline how it is that I’ve come to feel this way. I present you with the evidence;
Exhibit A: The Internet
Ah, the good ol’ interwebs. The utopian world of democracy of opinion: where free speech and hate speech are equally present and equally valid. I regret to inform you that being offended by things you see on the internet is an online faux-pas, ladies. All sexist and rape memes in the world are jokes and all of the commenters who make sexist remarks on pictures on feminist platforms and on the “I fucking love science” page when pictures of female scientists are uploaded and anywhere else for that matter should just be ignored. They are simply sad losers who are completely disconnected from the society in which they, and we, live. A joke is a joke and if you don’t like it you can always click away! Simple as that. Feminists are overly sensitive, and the internet is nothing like real life so everyone should stop taking everything so seriously. Except that, in the service industry – the factories of the developed world – and in research, and in academia, and in government, and all office jobs, and for anyone under 40 in the Western world as well as the elites of the rest of the fucking planet, the internet essentially is real life. We have turned platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter into verbs, people. Wake up and smell the coffee: hate speech on the internet is hate speech full stop.
What’s really hard to ignore about the above is that every time a woman – like the wonderful Laura Bates has done in the UK (with her Everyday Sexism Project) – holds a mirror up to the internet’s horrifyingly sexist ways, she is threatened with (let’s see if you can guess it!) RAPE. Yeah. The real, non-online-I-Know-Where-You-Live type. Now, I’ll admit that a small portion of the people laughing at misogyny is made up of women. But guess what? Cultural norms such as dismissive attitudes, misogyny and the normalization of rape are internalized by women too. And while there are many wonderful feminist men out there who come to these online forums to be an ally to the radically feminist idea that women are people too (I just destroyed De Beauvoir’s quote, but you get my drift), the vast majority of the “go make me a sandwich” types are, regrettably, men. And if the average Joe internet asshole is out there on the street, I have no interest in ever talking to him. But how will I know who he is? I won’t. And so if a man randomly approaches me, I am finding it increasingly hard to be friendly. My mind goes immediately into “what do you want?” mode. I used to smile at strangers who approached me. Now I force myself not to. And that sucks for me too. So there. The internet is real, and its consequences are real to society and also to how it makes me feel about men.
Exhibit B: Academia
I’ll keep this one short because it’s essentially professional suicide, but I’ll say it: academia is a male-dominated world. Even in the social sciences. In my experience, readings for courses are mostly male-authored and sometimes female co-authored. Seldom do you read something that isn’t from the field of cultural studies that is female-authored. Never mind the “most important in the field” type-texts. Or the foundations of Sociology. One of my first sociology text books had a small final chapter called “Feminist theory” at the back of it that duly included De Beauvoir and one or two others who were given so little attention I barely remember them. Our methodology book also had a chapter on feminist theory, but not to worry: we skipped that one. Urban Sociology scored a little better in the female scholar department but at my university there are practically only two women that that everyone will read, and god knows I’ve read their work over and over because they are very important ones: Saskia Sassen and Sharon Zukin. And that’s pretty much all, folks. Meanwhile, the gender distribution of social sciences classes are usually either fairly balanced or skewed towards women – a complaint shared by my art major best friend in her field and, of course, the awesome Guerrilla Girls.
Then there’s the other side of academia. The creepy, power struggle, privileged white man side. Earlier this year, Colin McGinn, a philosopher of the University of Miami was accused of having sexually harassed a female doctoral student. He apparently insisted on the matter even though the student said a stern “no” to his advances on many occasions. The student came forward and the professor agreed to leave his tenured position. Kind of a big deal, to say the least. Now, the thing to understand here is that this accusation did not occur in a vacuum. A blog entitled “What is it like to be a woman in Philosophy?” has started somewhat of a revolution, encouraging women to share their stories of sexual harassment and sexism in general as to empower other women by bringing to light the fact that whatever they have experienced is no “exception” as such. I have had the misfortune of having one such experience myself. The power of a website like this, in terms of contextualizing my experience, is incredible. But it doesn’t help my cynicism towards educated men either. And while I can’t say I know of too many of these stories in my department at my home University of Amsterdam, I haven’t exactly asked.
Exhibit C: Verbal Abuse and Sexual Intimidation
I wonder: does it ever occur to those who think they’re paying a woman a compliment on the street that if they’re in a relatively remote place a ‘compliment’ can feel like a predatory advance, given the shit that she has to endure in other areas of her life? At the beginning of this post, when I said that an unfortunate event took place on the subway, I was referring to one of the many examples of sexual intimidation that I have had the displeasure of being a victim of. From the moment I hit puberty, like most women on the planet, cat calling and the occasional flashing by a weirdo have been a part of life. But this one came at a time when my patience has pretty much reached its limit. I have just moved to New York City and on my long commute from Brooklyn to the City University of New York’s Graduate Center in Manhattan, I was distracted listening to David Bowie and reading New York Times articles on my phone. I was feeling quite content with the state of my situation. I’m finally in New York. And instead of biking through the city like a crazy person as I do in Amsterdam – inevitably arriving all sweaty and slightly irritated by the interactions I have in traffic, I had time to do some reading on world affairs and sit in the air conditioner for a bit. That was, until an enormous man started shouting in the train. At first, I did the ‘New York thing’ and ignored him. But then he parked himself across from me.
I continued reading and he had stopped shouting, so everything seemed pretty much fine. I noticed some motion in my peripheral view but couldn’t identify what it was, so I looked up. This man, this awful man, had started touching himself looking right at me. It took me a good look to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. And I wasn’t. He smiled at me at this point, proudly. I felt so powerless and so incredibly angry at the same time. I can’t say I was scared, because I reacted fairly quickly and seated myself next to two women in the opposite, far end of the car. The car was pretty full in the other end. All of the passengers who noticed my “The Flash”-style move towards them looked up at where I was sitting. They immediately looked at him. He got up very quickly and got out at the next stop, never looking back. I tried to give him an angry look but I was mostly distressed and probably looked scared to him. I hate that. And I hate him for having done that to me. It’s above all utterly annoying that this man left feeling unashamed. The worse part? All I can think about now is how lucky I was that there were other people in the car. I know I’ll have to commute for 40 minutes with strangers every day for the coming months, but I had somehow romanticized this experience as authentic, or something. I certainly hadn’t factored in sexual predators. And now I somehow can’t ignore that possibility. What if I’m alone when it happens?
I really hate that I feel unsafe and react by seeking refuge with other ‘decent-looking folk’. This mistrust of, and even anger towards random strange men goes against everything that I believe in as a human being. I try very hard not to be judgmental, but fellas of the world, you’re making this task particularly hard for me. The way I see it, if you’re not with us, fighting to change all of the things I outlined here, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re against us. And I’m ready to say out loud – or in writing, I suppose – that I am against you. Look, hating is not in my nature. But I also refuse to take this sexist status quo that women have to put up with for granted. I’m done. And if the latter means consciously protecting myself from the omnipresent oppressor then that is what I will do. There’s something about living in this society as a woman and educating yourself that makes it practically impossible not to become an angry, or at least distrusting, feminist.
To the men who insist that feminists take things too seriously, may I advise you to take a hard look at the state of the situation I sketched out here – keeping in mind how privileged my experience as a woman is in so many ways – and imagine how you would feel if your life consisted of trying to break down the structures of society that normalize your oppression and, meanwhile, the vast majority of half of the world’s population stood there laughing at you. Not so funny now, I presume.