It seems we can’t go but a few days without hearing about another famous man’s name being linked to sexual harassment allegations. This has led to conversations from well-meaning men who don’t understand the prevalence of the threat of harassment. Well-meaning men have asked everything from the stupid, “Do I need to apologize to every woman I’ve ever met to make sure I didn’t harass her?” to the absurd, “You need to keep your head down and not make eye contact or you’re going to be accused of harassment.”
What these well-meaning men fail to do is actually think about what it means when they’re hearing these allegations, or consider the sheer volume of them. Instead, well-meaning men are playing “what if” and “Woe is me, women are making it so hard.”
It doesn’t have to be this complicated, ever.
What it boils down to is that some men have a profound misunderstanding of what it means to be a woman. As a woman, even if you haven’t been harassed or attacked, you spend a decent amount of time calculating your surroundings, and the people in them, to ensure your safety. But well-meaning men, and their well-meaning friends, can’t seem to understand or acknowledge this reality.
It’s almost as if they refuse to believe that these things can happen even though there’s plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise. It’s almost as if men don’t believe anything beyond the bogeyman-in-the-dark-alley scenario when it comes to sexual harassment or assault. They can’t seem to consider the simple, small things that women do, almost instinctively, to stay safe.
But let me break it down to the well-meaning men who are perpetually living in the cheap seats. Here are a few examples of things women face, and then do, on a daily basis to ensure that they aren’t preyed on by men:
When getting on a crowded train, positioning ourselves to avoid the hands of the man next to us or the man who wants to press himself on us from behind.
Struggling with groceries or heavy objects and refusing the help of the man who offers because we don’t know him well enough to let him walk us to our door.
When approaching a group of men on foot, crossing the street because we aren’t sure if our presence will make them do or say something crass and stupid.
Realizing we’re low on gas, but waiting until morning to fuel up because it is too late to go to the gas station in our neighborhood alone.
Sending our trip information to a trusted friend when we take a ride service or taxi to ensure that someone can account for our whereabouts.
Wearing headphones, and not necessarily listening to anything, to avoid having to acknowledge vulgar comments disguised as compliments that are thrown as we walk around outside.
Giving our actual phone number to men we aren’t interested in because modern technology has made it such that everyone has a phone so they can call immediately to ensure that the number is indeed ours.
Walking through clubs and parties and slapping away the hands of men who feel the need to grab us as we make our way through the crowd.
Lying about having a boyfriend or husband in hopes that the man who is trying to talk to us will respect that imaginary man more than he respects our saying no to his advances.
Back in kindergarten, we were all taught to be leery of strangers, but what about the people we already know? They can be just as bad, if not worse.
Avoiding the deacon no one lets near the children’s church who always wants to give an extra-long, extra-close hug.
Taking the long walk home to make sure we don’t see the old neighbor who always makes sounds as we walk by and comments on how much we’ve grown.
“OK, I get it,” well-meaning men may say, “but if you have a man in your life, that makes it easier, right?” Not exactly; dating requires even more rules:
Driving ourselves or meeting our dates in public, even when it’s not particularly convenient, so we don’t have to give him our address.
Texting our itinerary in advance to a friend so someone knows who we’re with and where we’re supposed to be.
Providing a detailed description of our date’s clothes and vehicle, including tag number, just in case.
Then it gets real interesting. As adults, eventually you get to the point in a dating relationship where you want to take it to the next level. This level typically requires visiting one another’s homes. Making the decision to enter a man’s home or allow a man into your home is a significant risk.
Sure, you know him, but you don’t really know him. Letting someone in your space or going into his requires letting your guard down and trusting that once inside the door, he won’t harm you. But how can you ever know that? We’ve all seen Law & Order: SVU; sometimes the rapist wears a suit and tie.
It really is a wonder that women ever take this step at all.
Being a woman means that every man has the potential to be dangerous (yes, even you). It means making small calculations, going out of one’s way, checking in and keeping one’s guard up.
So, well-meaning men, instead of making wisecracks and comments, maybe you should take a look around at the hoops women have to jump through. Maybe then you’ll realize that the only way to stop harassment is to check yourselves and your well-meaning friends.