The other day I had a conversation which reminded me of the enormous differences between the world I live in, and the world most men I know do. In particular, there are several statements which I have heard frequently and which I never want to hear again.

Before I explain why I hate these statements so much and why people shouldn’t make them, please note this disclaimer: I am only speaking for myself. In particular, women who are of color, not American, visibly disabled, old, poor, transgender, lesbian, and/or fall into many other categories to which I do not belong, may have vastly different experiences. I do not intend to speak for them (or for all women who do match my demographics, for that matter.) Please do not take this post to apply or be intended to apply to all women everywhere.

That being said, I do know that some women do feel similarly. So if you’re a man, please consider the possibility that some other women might not want to hear this stuff either.

Second disclaimer: If you, my male reader, agree with what I’m saying and furthermore do your part to educate other men you know, then you are not the men I’m writing about. Carry on with your good work.

Obnoxious statement # 1: “Some guy harassed you/threatened you/cat-called you/insulted you/otherwise menaced you? Why didn’t you just punch him/slap him/kick him in the balls/use your martial arts to beat the hell out of him?”

Why this is obnoxious: There’s so much that’s wrong and insulting and clueless about this question that I have to break it up to respond to it.

“Some guy harassed you/threatened you/cat-called you/insulted you/otherwise menaced you?"

There’s nothing wrong with this part. I’m pulling it out to note that what follows displays the speaker’s failure to take those events seriously. Men often do not realize that threatening and harassing women may be the prelude to stalking, raping, murdering, or otherwise seriously harming women. They perceive it as a minor, harmless annoyance. Women, who tend to know that men who beat, rape, or murder women usually start with a smaller act of aggression, often perceive such events as potentially life-threatening.

Men often find it hard or even impossible to believe that women’s perception of danger is neither cowardly nor irrational. If I could wave a magic wand and change one perception, that would be it, because all else flows from that.

"Why didn’t you…" = “In a situation which was stressful, unexpected, and dangerous, you did something wrong. (I would have done better.) You were a coward. (I would have been a bad-ass hero.) You failed. (I would have succeeded.)”

It is inappropriate, presumptuous, and rude to second-guess the actions of a person in a potentially dangerous situation for which you were not present. They did what they had to do, and you can’t know that you would have done better.

Men who say “Why didn’t you…?” imply that the situation was not dangerous in the first place, and the woman is silly and irrational and cowardly and overreacting. I suggest you not assume that. Is it really so hard to believe that the woman who trusts you enough to tell you about a painful incident is a rational person with accurate perceptions?

“Why didn’t you just punch him/slap him/kick him in the balls/use your martial arts to beat the hell out of him?”

Let me tell you why!

If you believe that the situation was not potentially dangerous, this is merely a stupid suggestion to commit the crime of assault and battery, for which there may not have been legal provocation and for which the woman could acquire a criminal record, at the very least.

If you do believe that the situation was potentially dangerous, then you’re making the much stupider suggestion to escalate a state of potential violence into actual violence – to start a chain of events which could end with the woman getting arrested, seriously injured, or killed. (Possibly by the police. It happens. Especially if she’s a woman of color.)

To start at the beginning, it is unwise to slap or otherwise deliver a blow meant as an insult or punishment. All that does is instantly escalate the confrontation. (I’m not saying that I’ve never done this. I have. It’s still not a good idea.) Now you’re in a fight and the other guy, undamaged by your first blow, is likely to strike back. Possibly with a previously-concealed weapon.

To avoid that situation, you’d have to make your first blow be the one that ends the fight. But it’s quite difficult to take someone out with one blow. (I’m not counting knock-downs, which are comparatively easy but which don’t inherently end the confrontation.) If people have their adrenaline going or have fought before, a hard punch to the face – hard enough to split their lip or give them a black eye or bloody nose – won’t stop them. I could go on in a geeky manner about harder punches and blows to other parts of the body, but the short version is that you can hit people pretty hard without stopping them, and if you do stop them, you’ve probably really hurt them.

I have seen a number of real fights and also a number of sparring accidents, and I have only once seen someone literally dropped to the ground with one blow and be unable to get up afterward. It was a sparring accident, and it was a kick that cracked three ribs. I also know of a couple real-life instances in which a martial artist did drop a real-life attacker with a single blow. In all of those, the attacker had broken bones or died. It’s very hard to take someone out with the first strike without seriously harming them.

(I know that there are many martial arts which specialize in non-violent techniques, that boxers specialize in knock-outs, that you may merely mean to distract the attacker for long enough to run, etc. Rather than get into a long martial arts geek-out, I will merely say that I haven’t studied one of those styles, and that if you’re speaking to a woman who has, she still had good reasons for not wanting to start a fight.)

If the woman is fighting for her life, then seriously harming her opponent is the idea. But does she really want to enter a fight for her life if she could avoid it? I wouldn’t. In any case, it’s way out of line to criticize someone for not deliberately risking her life.

I don’t mean that women shouldn’t physically defend themselves. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But there’s something enormously wrong with telling a woman who successfully managed a confrontation without resorting to violence that she should have escalated it and so risked her own life.

ObNote: Obviously, none of this applies if the woman senses that avoiding violence is not an option, or the man strikes first or is clearly about to. Please don’t take this to mean that I think the onus for avoiding violence is or should be on the woman! But in the scenario I’m discussing, the woman did walk away without it getting to that point. I am only trying to explain why her actions in that particular case shouldn’t be criticized or nitpicked.

Obnoxious statement # 2 (upon hearing of the many precautions women take to try to avoid being harassed, raped, or murdered, or even upon hearing what thoughts go through women’s minds as they evaluate the level of danger of a situation): “You shouldn’t let fear rule your life.”

Why this is obnoxious: It’s calling her a neurotic, delusional coward. It’s implying that she’s irrational and wrong, that there really isn’t any danger, and that taking precautions or evaluating the danger of a situation means she’s terrified. The next guy who tells me this is going to hear it from me when I see him buckling his seatbelt.

Obnoxious statement # 3: “Why didn’t you call the cops?”

Why this is obnoxious: Victim-blaming and second-guessing. If she didn’t call the cops, she probably had a good reason not to. Maybe the guy was already gone. Maybe the guy was a pillar of the community and untouchable. Maybe the woman would lose her job. Maybe she had good reason to not trust the cops to take action, or not to blame her. (Especially if she’s poor, of color, not a citizen of the country, or otherwise not in a privileged group.) Maybe the last time she called the cops, they laughed at her.

If you genuinely want to know the answer, try framing it so it’s less accusatory, like, “Is calling the police an option, or would that not be a good idea?”

Obnoxious statement # 4: "Some people are wolves, and some are sheep."

Why this is obnoxious: Way to dehumanize both men and women, justify the violence of men against women by suggesting that men have to commit violence against women in order to survive, and brag about being a predator while calling women prey! It's biologically and metaphorically inaccurate, creepy, sexist, and gross.

Obnoxious statement # 5: “So, you’re saying that if you wanted to, you could fight off an attacker? Could you take me?”

Why this is obnoxious: The first question isn’t horrible by itself, though it becomes insulting if it’s said in a dubious or mocking tone. It’s also a little clueless, since the answer depends on so many unknown factors.

The second question is extremely creepy given the first question. It’s also like asking, “Have you stopped picking pockets?” There’s no good answer. If you equivocate, you look like a poseur. If you say yes, you’ve just accepted a challenge. Don’t ask this question, to women or men.

The best response I’ve found, by the way, is to shine a spotlight on the obnoxiousness of the question by replying, “Why do you ask? Were you planning to do something to me?”

Since these sorts of posts tend to attract commenters who don’t know me, a few notes and ground rules for discussion:

1. Though trolls and blatantly off-topic comments will be deleted, I don’t heavily moderate. If I don’t reply to a comment, that does not mean I agree with it.

2. The following topics will be considered blatantly off-topic: false accusations by women, and the rape of men by women.

Also, please don’t reference the sexist (or egalitarian) practices of countries that you haven’t ever lived in. Stick to topics that you actually know something about.

3. Victim-blaming will get a thread frozen but not deleted, so the stupidity will be stopped but remain visible for all eternity. This includes blaming me for getting asked these questions. I do not live in a snow globe, and I do not choose my male relatives, co-workers, classmates, partners of friends, gym members, guests at other people’s parties, neighbors, etc.
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dhobikikutti: earthen diya (Default)

From: [personal profile] dhobikikutti

(psst, should we assume you are cross-posting everything, and can therefore take you off LJ reading list, or is there still stuff there that won't be here?)

as I said over there, awesome post.
staranise: A star anise floating in a cup of mint tea (Default)

From: [personal profile] staranise

And yet the same guys who tell me to just punch harrassers also, without a trace of irony, complain about how girls feel perfectly okay to hit guys but get SO OFFENDED when guys retaliate, because they should expect to get treated like equals!
phi: (Default)

From: [personal profile] phi

(here via coffeeandink)
Great post!

Another thing that you didn't mention that really irks me about "why didn't you just punch him/kick him in the nuts/whatever" is the context of the incident. I get cat-called and hit on a lot and about half the time the douchebags involved are friends of friends or semi-professional acquaintances. So even in addition to your analysis, there's also the question of "If I had kicked the best tenor in the choir in the nuts, do you seriously think I'd still be welcome at church?" or "If I punched that guy at the professional networking get together in the face, how many future employers would hear the story from *his* p.o.v. and write me off?" Even if they really really *really* deserved it, and even if I were sure they wouldn't escalate to further violence, it still would be a dumbshit move.
monanotlisa: (ignoranus)

From: [personal profile] monanotlisa


I carefully and rather successfully avoid conversations with the kind of people in my icon in my individual or one-on-one time - but professionally or in groups? Not always so lucky.

[personal profile] rachelmanija, great post. Thank you.
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)

From: [personal profile] holyschist

This is the BEST take-down of these statements I have ever see (the first one is an instant rage button for me these days). Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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ironed_orchid: watercolour and pen style sketch of a brown tabby cat curl up with her head looking up at the viewer and her front paw stretched out on the left (Default)

From: [personal profile] ironed_orchid

Thanks for writing this out so clearly. It is one of the many things that bugs me.

A counter part to #2 is that when you don't let fear rule your life, or rather, assess a situation and decide you can face it, many people including obnoxious guys are all "OMG you are crazy, you should have taken better care eleventyone!"
cereta: Coraline (Coraline)

From: [personal profile] cereta

This is very, very well done. Another ironic counter to #1 is that a woman who even defends herself against actual physical violence, let alone reacting physically to verbal abuse, risks criminal charges. There is a not-so-small percentage of victims of domestic violence who have criminal records for the one time they fought back.
ext_3319: Goth girl outfit (Default)

From: [identity profile]

You are so, so right. And I love your reframing answer to "Could you take me?"

I will add something out of my own experience: there have been times, when a guy has initiated what he may have intended as "friendly" contact -- an arm around the shoulders or a hand on the waist that I Did Not Want -- where shoving him away put him into apology mode rather than attack mode. I can't exactly claim credit for thinking it out as a strategy -- it was a genuine "eek, someone's touching me, red alert, SHOVE!" -- but I hope it's made those guys think twice before draping their arm around the next girl.

If they had taken it as escalation... well. There was a bouncer nearby, and I hope I'd have been okay.

From: [identity profile]

I think in that case, the initial contact wasn't intended as aggression, so your response wasn't interpreted that way either. I didn't think of those cases when I posted, but now that you remind me, I've done the same thing. I have had men respond aggressively, but only verbally, and I was able to de-escalate it from there.

I suspect, though, that there's not only a difference between the man's initial intentions, but between the intent of the response, which the man correctly interpreted and reacted to: startle vs. deliberate attack.

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From: [identity profile]

Guh. YES.

It's ridiculous to insist people master self defense to live a civilian lifestyle. One could easily say the next time someone is in a car accident, "Oh why didn't you -just- master stunt driving?"

And even the "non-injurious" arts rely a lot on grappling- when your goal is safety for yourself, wrestling and locking someone up is not the answer- especially if they have friends. In practice, you just went for a limb break and it was "gentle" because you didn't gut someone with a sword...

From: [identity profile]

I had started to write something similar about grappling, but then I thought I'd leave it to people who had actually studied it. ;)

It's ridiculous to insist people master self defense to live a civilian lifestyle.

I totally agree. Given the time, energy, and commitment required, there's really no point unless you enjoy the pursuit for its own sake.

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side note

From: [identity profile] - Date: 2010-03-16 08:17 pm (UTC) - Expand

From: [identity profile]

I'm suddenly reminded of a time in college when a study group lasted longer than expected and one guy couldn't fathom why another guy offered to walk me to my car. If his moderately muscle-y 6' self wasn't worried, why would my 5'1" self have any concern about dim campus paths at night?

From: [identity profile]

Alas, people see things from their own point of view. I've had to learn as much from these sort of posts as most men. I'm big and strong, and have been told I have a powerful "I will fuck you up bad" vibe (which is funny, because it's not on purpose. I'm actually rather gentle).

Very, very rarely do men harass me. That other women have it happen often enough that they fear it is alarming and eye-opening.

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raanve: Tony Millionaire's Drinky Crow (Default)

From: [personal profile] raanve

Thank you for this post.

I've had it happen both ways - where I ended up physically defending my space and my message got across without escalating things, and where someone was coming at me and my attempt to physically defend myself was essentially useless.

In the first case, it was high-fives all around. (It was a crowded dance floor, and I threw an elbow into some dude's side because he grabbed me.) In the second case, it was assumed I didn't attempt to defend myself because the attacker(s) was successful.

To often, 'victims' (particularly women) just can't win. And I've never understood why the focus is on the behavior of the person subjected to unwanted contact, rather than the person who initiated it. We spend a lot of energy talking & thinking about how to defend ourselves; I'd like to see more energy aimed at talking & thinking about how not to put someone in a situation where they feel the need to defend themselves.

From: [identity profile]

Thank you. And I too tend to throw elbows in the club when necessary. Or use the stiletto heels I favor on his instep "by accident". That usually gets the asshats to back off, and can also be useful when you then see him harassing another woman.

At that point the second elbow from me will be accompanied by a loud comment to the effect that this is not that kind of club. And he can either back off and start behaving or I'll go get James & Abe to remove him.

From: [identity profile]

Amen to all of the above. (Although as a woman I have occasionally asked other women "is there a particular reason you didn't do X?", but that's because I want to KNOW, and especially know whether it's an issue of "I was socialized to put up with shit" or "this guy could get me fired." But I'm pretty careful about how I frame that question.)

What I hate about obnoxious statement #2 is that I'd get it when I talked about situations I had actually evaluated as problematic (why no as much as I like you I am NOT watching a movie alone with you in your house, or my house, sry), but when I did something that I felt perfectly safe about but hit some magical well-understood line of Dangerous For Girlz, I'd get lectured.

Mine was working by myself at night in a cafe on a slightly sketchy-after-darkfall street. The same guys and kinds of guys who would go "omg ur so paranoid" about the part where yes, I'd LOVE to be able to make sure at a glance that my car was empty before I got close enough to it for someone to grab me? Flailed about my working there.

. . . then they went green when I explained all of the weapons I had behind the counter, how I would use them, and got a slightly baffled look when I said "and most importantly, I have the landline RIGHT HERE and dialing 911 is actually quite easy."

(Also, the south american food place around the corner adopted me and were well within screaming distance, and there were six of them, of pretty solidly rough background. . . . oddly, THEY and I got along GREAT in terms of our conceptions of safety.)

Why yes, I DO have hypervigilance. Weirdly, this means that while fear has an impact on what I do, it has a MEASURED impact that actually has to do with REAL THREAT LEVELS, rather than social conventions.

From: [identity profile]

I find it super interesting that the South American food place adopted you--I could make all kinds of generalizations about that, but why do you think that was?

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From: [identity profile]

Obnoxious statement # 2 (upon hearing of the many precautions women take to try to avoid being harassed, raped, or murdered, or even upon hearing what thoughts go through women’s minds as they evaluate the level of danger of a situation): “You shouldn’t let fear rule your life.”

Another reason why that is obnoxious: Every time there is a story in the news about a woman who was raped, all these precautions (and probably more) will have been brought up (often by men) as things, she should have done in order to avoid getting raped. If we do and if we don't, we are wrong either way.

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From: [identity profile]

My general take on the "Why didn't you...?" question is that it not only accuses the listener of error, it is often used to reassert the speaker's control over a uncontrolled situation. It's not just Monday-morning quarterbacking; it's mental self-innoculation by separating oneself from those who have already been stricken.

Which is why women use this rhetorical ploy against one another as often as men do against women: the misconception that if one does everything "right", one will graduate to privilege.

From: [identity profile]

And (I realize I'm going a little OT here) men do it to men, for that matter. Someone was just talking to me about the Massa thing, and going, 'well, if someone groped me--' and no. Just no. You can't sit in someone else's shoes and judge their actions under those circumstances. (And way to reinforce the frame that men are actors and women victims, asshole.)

But it's still a hugely gendered frame.

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ext_28681: (Default)

From: [identity profile]

"Is it really so hard to believe that the woman who trusts you enough to tell you about a painful incident is a rational person with accurate perceptions?"

If that woman equates a cat call with a threat as you appear to here, I would have doubts myself, and I'm a woman.

Human beings are often highly innumerate about actual threats. That innumeracy leads to all sorts of irrational fears. Women are no more proof against that than men are.

From: [identity profile]

I think our replies crossed, so I'll re-post from what I wrote in Sherwood's LJ:

I'm not the person doing that. If you walk up to a cat-caller and punch him in the face, as men have suggested I do, you have transformed a situation unlikely to become violent into a violent one.

That being said, I have had men begin with cat-calls and, when ignored, escalate all by themselves into threats and physical menacing. As I said, if you're not in the situation, you can't perceive the level of threat.

Regarding your note that I conflated situations of varying threat levels, my point was not that they're all equally threatening. My point was that to reply with "Why didn't you punch him" is inappropriate for situations of both low threat and high threat levels. As I wrote in the post itself:

If you believe that the situation was not potentially dangerous, this is merely a stupid suggestion to commit the crime of assault and battery, for which there may not have been legal provocation and for which the woman could acquire a criminal record, at the very least.

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From: [identity profile]


The cynical side of me believes that "You shouldn't live your life in fear" means "The precautions that you take upset me, because they imply that the world isn't as peachy as I'd like it to be; rather than addressing that, I'd rather pressure you into stopping your precautions so I'll feel better."

From: [identity profile]

Got away with a black eye...

Years ago, I was mugged by youths. Looking back, they were slick operators, moving in incrementally to cramp my personal space and freedom of action. While one of them engaged me in conversation, the other punched me from the side, so I couldn't recognise him.

I kept talking - this was just a rerun of the playground for me - and they went away.

I came home with a blackeye, but unknifed and with all my teeth. A clear win, I think.

Now, I think, I am much more dangerous than I was then, Morally - in a hypothetical scenario in which I were armed with a sharp sword, I would have no problem with just cutting them down and stepping over the bodies.

However, in reality, I would adopt the same non-escalatory tactics.

The moment for punching my way out was well before I was actually attacked, and would have left me facing charges and litigation from people who would have had automatic legal aid. Also, there's no guarantee I could have got away.

The issue of space and touching is complex. If we were to legislate for boundaries, the bad guys would simply find ways to exploit this.

From: [identity profile]

Re: Got away with a black eye...

If we were to legislate for boundaries, the bad guys would simply find ways to exploit this.

That's the sad truth -- legislation can go only so far, and at least partly depends on people either being willing to truly abide by them or overtly breaking them. Unfortunately, there's also a subset of people who are natural rules lawyers, and who will happily use society's own rules against it. I think some of them actually enjoy figuring out just how much they can get away with, and how they can use rules to ensnare the very people they're supposed to protect.

From: [identity profile]

*applause* Thank you for the very cogent writeup.

Admission: I have erred in the direction of #2 (though hopefully never as cluelessly as in your examples). When I read or hear about someone getting harassed or assaulted, my reflexive response is to think What if that happened to me? What could I do? Consult memories of class, feel calmer. How about the person who was actually in the situation? Did they handle it well? If not, why haven't they taken a class? Why do we not give every person basic self-training as part of a public school education? ARGH! If I were there, I could've helped them. Maybe even been slightly badass.

At which point it becomes a challenge not to open mouth, insert foot and make Helpful Suggestions. The person who was in the situation (if present) probably does not need or want them at this time. And if we're all standing around talking about what happened to someone else, then my conversation partners most often seem to want me to agree that the world is a sad and scary place where women are helpless. They're startled and sometimes offended when that gets challenged.

From: [identity profile]

Hmm. Honestly, I'm not sure I'd say anything in that case. You might try reframing it to point out that the woman probably acted sensibly and courageously to get out of the situation alive, ie, she was not actually completely helpless.

On the flip side, "didn't win" does not equal "helpless." We don't think of cops as being helpless, for instance, but they can be killed.

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From: [identity profile]

Thank you for this.

The last time a guy grabbed me, a lot of people asked me afterwards why I hadn't hit him, and the answer was in fact 'I didn't want to kill him, and due to previous abuse I have a lot of rage and so I don't have such a good handle on my own levels of violence', and it is amazing how unwilling people are to accept any part of this answer. There's the assumption in Obnoxious Statement #1 that you are okay with beating the hell out of him, and honestly, I need to consider the situation life-threatening before I get there; I dislike who I am when I am violent.

The sort of person who makes Obnoxious Statement #1 tends to have #5 as an operating assumption, the 'if you could, you would, right?' and no, not right, not in the same universe as right.

From: [identity profile]

That was my first thought on reading this - there's a moral dimension to initiatin violence too, and thre may well be reasons other than wimpiness for not hitting someone, if you think it may be possible to escape the situation in other ways. What does it say about your interlocutor if his initial reaction is to hit?

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ext_2414: Brunette in glasses looking at viewer with books behind her ([Other] working)

From: [identity profile]

Another obnoxious comment is when guys you don't know well take offense at your caution: "Oh come on, I'm not one of them! Do I look like I'd do something like that?" I don't know and have no way of knowing, so I am always going to be careful when first meeting you. What's worse is that they act so indignant, as if I've personally insulted them rather than take precautionary measures.

From: [identity profile]


The "nice guy" defense is one of those that guarantees I will never come within ten feet of you again if it's up to me.

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From: [identity profile]

The next guy who tells me this is going to hear it from me when I see him buckling his seatbelt.

God, I fucking love you.

From: [identity profile]

Fantastic post. Thank you.

Unfortunately, since most guys don't have to live with the same day-to-day threat of assault that many women do, some of them have the tendency to think that any woman who thinks about/prepares for assault is crazy and paranoid. I remember a fellow in one of my classes being shocked when I revealed that I carry pepper spray. Dude, I'm a 22 year old woman and I regularly walk around a college campus late at night. You better believe I carry pepper spray! Every time I walk outside at night, I consider that possibility that I could be assaulted. Must be nice not to have to live with that hanging over your head.

What really grinds my gears, though, is when fellows pull the 'well, I would've just beaten the guy up!' thing. No. No, you really wouldn't have. We all like to imagine that we're secret action-movie heroes and if anyone ever messed with us, we'd pull out our katanas and reenact Kill Bill. But that's not how things would go down. Even people who are extensively trained in martial arts or other forms of self-defense can be frozen in fear when they're assaulted. And if the attacker has a gun, forget about it. Most of us would forgo any type of resistance in the hopes of simply living through the assault. Being assaulted is way more terrifying than most people think. So no, dudes. You might like to think you'd be a total bad-ass if you were ever attacked, but I'm betting you'd get your ass kicked just like the rest of us.

From: [identity profile]

I find that there's an inverse relationship between the amount of violence a person has experienced, as victim and/or defender, and their willingness to brag about the hypothetical beat-downs they would have inflicted had they been in your place.

I do think that training helps to prevent freezing in fear. Otherwise no military force could ever function. But training can also help to prevent rushing foolishly into avoidable violence.

I have a reasonably accurate idea of what I'd do in various dangerous situations, because I've been in those situations and I know what I did do. But that doesn't give me the right to tell other people what they should have done.

Incidentally, the people who are most likely to tell me I should have punched someone are the least likely to have had any sort of training at all - martial arts, law enforcement, military, or anything of that nature.

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From: [identity profile]

Our instructor used to say that you can never, ever depend on causing pain in a fight. Because of how adrenalin acts, you must cause loss of function. And he told us he never, ever wanted to hear that we tried to hit someone in the balls, because the odds were damned good it would fail for that reason. Our job was to take out a knee or shoulder instead, and that only if we had no other choice. He ah did tell us that our job was also to make sure the other person would not be chasing us if at all possible. I don't say that is at all good *legal* advice.
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