Monday, November 24, 2014

Guess who's not coming to dinner

When was the last time you watched the clock, counting down the hours until your something wonderful happened?
That's where I'm at right now, counting the hours to a week off work. I need the week so I can get some important stuff done. Important stuff like lounging with a novel, taking off my watch and leaving the news feeds behind for seven blissful sleeps.

I know how badly I need the time off after I scared a lovely couple out of my house a few weeks ago with a rant about male entitlement which became a slanging match about women's safety.

It has been a long year in strained gender relations for me. It started with the #yesallwomen hashtag movement in May after yet another mass shooting, then Ray Rice the NFL wife puncher, which morphed into a non-stop series of upsetting news items before the Jian Ghomeshi revelations in September and now the Bill Cosby allegations. I'm finding it exhausting. I feel like I have only one nerve left and it's raw.

The dinner-party squabble started when I told my friends about an incident that had happened when I was out with my dog on the trails that week. I had been asked for my take on the latest from 'The Jian Ghomeshi thing,' and I said, "Here's the thing: Ghomeshi isn't a surprise to most women. We deal with jerks all the time. Maybe we haven't been actually punched, but the actions of men curtail women's lives every day, and men, even nice ones like you, have no idea that you basically live in a whole different country from women, even the women who live under the very same roof as you do."

I then told the story of my encounter on the trail, to illustrate my point.

It was a Thursday. The guy with the dog and the bicycle had been going east and I was walking west. Our dogs stopped to greet each other. While the dogs romped, the man and I spoke a bit about the weather, and I commented that it had been a lovely fall as the leaves changed colour on the 10k out-and-back I run on these very trails. The conversation was maybe 35 seconds, likely less. The dogs appeared done with their play and I resumed my walk. Rather than continuing his walk, the man fell in beside me, even though he had a bicycle and had been walking the opposite direction when we encountered one another. I had not invited him to join me. After a fairly short distance, I said, "This is as far as I'm going today. Have a nice day," and I turned around and went home. This guy seemed to think that he gets to walk with me simply because he wants to. He did not ask if I wanted company, this guy seemed to think that he was entitled to my time, kind of like the men on the street who seem to think they have a right to demand a smile from any woman passing by. Because of this man's sense of entitlement, I curtailed my outdoor activity and fled home to exercise indoors.

Rather than hearing my story and saying what I had hoped to hear, something like, "Wow, that really does suck," my male dining companions told me in serious, concerned tones that I had made what might be a grave mistake in telling this guy where I run, and that henceforth I should likely run elsewhere, as a matter of safety. Rather than saying it's terrible that we women have to change our behaviour because of men, they suggested I change my behaviour some more.

I like that my friends are concerned for my safety, but in one breath, both men, both my friends, had turned the story of male entitlement into a story about women's victimization, placing the blame for any possible future trouble squarely on the shoulders of the victim. I was flabbergasted (but not speechless) and demanded to know from the men at my table whether they were truly of the opinion that if I were to be assaulted by this guy at some future date, they would deem it my fault for having been forthcoming in a random, 30 second conversation. "Well..." they demurred, "Not really, but, well, kinda..." Things quickly devolved to yelling, with me shouting, "So, I'm in the hospital, having been attacked and you're going to come to my bedside and tell me that I can expect no sympathy from you because the mere act of talking to a stranger on a trail makes it my fault that the guy attacked me? I guess if I'd been wearing shorts, I'd be asking for it! Are you f*&^$#g kidding me?! What you're suggesting is that assaults on women are somehow the woman's fault because the guy who's doing the assaulting is unstoppable and that assaults are inevitable and it's the woman's job to prevent them, to send the predator on to some other, less clever woman. Should it be your daughter to whom he is sent?"

The guests left shortly thereafter, not surprisingly, after making comments about realism and reality and naivete and that the world is the way the world is and we have to adapt to it and while it wouldn't be my fault, per se, it would, well, yeah, kinda be my fault if I were attacked, because I hadn't been careful enough. Because - and let this sink in- while out for a walk with my dog on a sunny Thursday afternoon, I hadn't been careful enough in a random conversation with a man.

It's 2014 and even the best men I know believe it's a woman's actions that lead to assaults, not the actions of the men who do the assaulting. Sadly, the reaction of my friends proves my point about women living in a different country from men, doesn't it, although not quite in the way I had intended.

Yup, I really need a week off. Now, if only all women, even in this great and enlightened country, could get a week off from being put upon, hit on and disbelieved. We're all so bloody tired of being told the cruel and unexplainable things men do are our own bloody fault.

1 comment:

This should really go without saying, but please think twice and be nice when commenting.