rachelmanija: (Default)
rachelmanija ([personal profile] rachelmanija) wrote2010-03-15 11:00 am

"Why didn't you kick him in the balls?"

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.

[identity profile] barbarienne.livejournal.com 2010-03-16 06:16 pm (UTC)(link)
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.