Saturday, 18 June 2011

Taking Liberties

Attn to sensitive: subject of sexual assault mentioned in this post.

The way to cultivate happiness about the outside world is to assume that most men are good men. As a matter of fact, men are more likely to be nice to women than they are to other men, which is the exact opposite of the men-are-out-to-get-us assumptions of late-20th century feminism.

Ginger wondering why men are nicer to her than women are at the ice-cream parlour where she works and over the phone at the lawyer's office where she also works reminded me of this. Men are nicer to Ginger, I posit, because she is a young woman, and most men are (1) programmed to be pleasant to young women and (2) don't feel in competition with them. Women (1) aren't and (2) very often do.

So that is my basic starting point. Most men are good men.

Saying most men are good implies that at least one man is bad and, poppets, there's more than one bad man out there 'cause I've dated two very bad men, and I've had some emails about even worse ones. And men can't take me to task for observing this, for it is men who feel the hand of fear grip their hearts when they realize their baby daughters aren't babies any more.

Once upon a time, gently brought up young girls weren't allowed to go anywhere by themselves. Unless they were out with their parents or brothers, they went out with their governess or their maid. This was not for their oppression but for their protection. Nowadays, many people assume that the law and fear of prison is enough to protect young girls, and that they can go anywhere and do anything without risk of seduction or rape. This is, of course, ridiculous, although the laws now make the lives of chambermaids considerably easier.

Rape is, of course, punishable (if the victim can bear to report it and have her attacker brought to trial). Seduction usually isn't (in this life). But the line between rape and seduction is sometimes blurry. If you ask me, sexual consent is a spectrum with a very fuzzy middle area. And as horrible as rape is, I hear being sweet-talked, used and then thrown out like a tissue isn't so great either.

Oh dear. What a downer. Let's move on. Let's talk about Facebook.

People often ask to be my Facebook friend. But I very, VERY rarely become the Facebook friend of someone I have never met. I'm so out there when I write, writing both for Catholic Toronto for money and the Catholics and/or Singles of the World for free, that I protect my privacy on Facebook. I also protect my physical space. I won't go so far as to say that I never talk to strangers, but I certainly never put my private life in the hands of strangers. This is particularly true of male strangers. Unless we've been introduced, I usually don't want to talk to a male stranger. (The local customs of blethery Scotland mean, of course, that I end up talking to older male strangers at bus stops, but I'm married now, and that makes a HUGE difference.)

So the first way I protect myself, as a woman, is to reject Facebook invitations from strangers, particularly strange men. Oh, and I'd rather slam the lid of my laptop computer on my hand than try to Facebook befriend a man I barely know.

The second way I protect myself is to reject dodgy blog comments. My dear ladies, for you are mostly ladies, you would not believe some of the comments I reject, for I try to reject them before you can see them. The worst ones come from men, including Catholic men who think they are righteous before God. Some men think they can come swaggering in here telling me what's what, but they are wrong. There are only four men I have to listen to: my husband, my father, my priest and my editor. All other men can take their scoldings and their "how dare you's" and jump in a lake. I don't permit such liberties.

I treat dodgy comments the way we are to treat obscene phone calls. I say nothing and merely end the call. I hit the reject button. Robbed of seeing their words in print, the men go away. Ta-dah!

The third way I protect myself is with my invisible cloak of reserve. I'm not sure when or where I got it, but it means I am very rarely approached by men. I think I radiate a sort of "If you mess with me, I will rip off your face" signal. It helps to have a keen, smug self-regard, good posture, sense of style and the ability to be nasty to nasty people. Too many girls are trapped by the belief that if they are nice and gentle to everyone, no matter how wicked, they will be okay. No. Not true.

The fourth way I protect myself is not letting male strangers or acquaintances in my living space. This is slightly anachronistic because now I am married, and it is also slightly impossible because I live in a Historical House of National Importance and occasionally curators, workmen, bat conservationists et alia come up the stairs unannounced. Once I was in a bath towel; I was most annoyed, but the definition of a lady is a woman who can make a visitor feel at ease even when she has been surprised in the bath, so I had a crack at it before giving my husband hell for not warning me in advance.

Male friends almost never call when my husband is away, but that's a propriety thing. I am not worried about my male friends, who are all my husband's friends also.

I once went just about out of my mind when a female visitor to my Boston flat, a visitor with persistent bad judgement about men, invited a local man into it. She had met him on some distant holiday some month before, and I had never met him. I came home to find this man coming out of my bedroom.

"Excuse me," I demanded with (I hope) tones of ice. "What are you doing in my bedroom?"

"X said I could go in there," quoth he.

X was in the kitchen. She went on to invite her friend for dinner with us.

I took X outside for a Word, the principal theme being "Never invite men into my space." And I did not give a tinker's damn what her dodgy-looking friend thought about it.

The fifth way I protect myself is to be very careful about female friends who hang out with dodgy men. I don't shelve my self-protection for their sakes. There are women who come down with dodgy men the way other women come down with colds. It's very sad, but I have never been able to figure out how to solve that problem. I do like or love the female friends, but I can't stand some of their men friends. The way to deal, of course, is to treat the men friends warily and then to protest at their first sign of badness or weirdness, whether it is making obscene jokes or appearing before me in their underpants or a dress.* Having bus or taxi fare on hand is essential at such moments. Frankly, the best protest I can think of is a timely cry of "TAXI!"

By the way, I should also mention that some nice men have some very not nice male friends, men who act like great guys around other men, but when alone with a woman, the mask comes off. Keep an eye out for those guys, and if one behaves inappropriately towards you, get the heck out of Dodge, and call up your mutual friend to tell him he shouldn't be introducing a guy like that to his female friends. If he's a good guy, he'll be mortified and apologetic, for being a good guy, he doesn't want to be thought of as a bad guy by association.

Finally, and I think most importantly, I am not afraid of hurting strange men's feelings. As a tiny woman, I always but ALWAYS trump them in the victim sweepstakes, so they can't hold anything--race, class, age, mental health--over me. I care about what my family, friends and readers think of my soul, but that's it. All the general public deserves is a view of a tastefully dressed, recently washed woman who doesn't screech, hoot or reel drunkenly before it or make long, boring calls on her mobile phone. If someone thinks I am racist, classist or homophobic because I get off an elevator early, that's his/her problem, not mine.

The Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan taught that knowledge is a three-step process encompassing Experience, Understanding and JUDGEMENT. Being judgemental, therefore, is a GOOD THING, as long as you are using your reason. NOT being judgemental is insane and even suicidal. You use your judgement before you cross the road, so why not use your judgement when deciding whether or not a man is worth a single second of your time?

When I flip through my mental rolodex of the men with whom I enjoy spending time, I note that all of the non-priest ones--including B.A.--were friends of friends before I met them. I have made many female friends who were strangers to all--in fact, I pride myself on being welcoming to female strangers--but this is not true of the men to whom I now care to speak.

(By the way, not all priests are good men. Almost all of my seminarian/priest classmates were great guys, but not all priests are. Watch out, especially when abroad or among ones foreign to your country, since they may have weird ideas about women who look like you. If, in a non-pastoral situation and apropos of nothing, a priest tells you celibacy is really difficult, say good-bye. "Celibacy is really difficult" is the bad priest's mating call.)

*True story. Same guy. When I suggested to my hostess that he put something on over his underpants, he came back quite unselfconsciously wearing a lady's dress.


Catholic Bibliophagist said...

Most of what you say in this and other posts is simply common sense. It seems incredible that girls need to be told these things. But since it apparently does need saying, I'm very thankful that you're doing so.

And I will second the importance and utility of the "invisible cloak of reserve." I'm not sure that mine was fueled by an air of "I'll rip your face off" since my personal aura was more towards the "demure young maiden" end of the spectrum. (Well, except for the incident with the six foot spear.) But I was told by my female classmates that the males of our acquaintance were better behaved and used cleaner language around me than around most others.

Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Thank you - good advice. :)

And CB, I found the comment about the spear hilarious. :D

I have a few more safety recommendations for situations with unknowns/uncomfortables:
- Have a network of friends ready to call if you're alone and uncomfortable/it's late. I have friends I can call and a guy friend from church who lives near-ish will walk me home if I need it.
- If someone's chatting you up and it's not a good situation/you're not interested, make a firm, "No," early, and if they don't take it, stay in/get to a well-lit public area ASAP.
- Get out or atleast on the phone the minute you get an inappropriate question or comment (whether it's just too personal or obscene).
- If you're not sure a situation is safe, draw attention to it - you can just be loud or, if necessary, scream.

be safe, ladies. :)

Josie said...

Just one question: I don't totally get the propriety issue involving your/your husband's male friends. Whose sense of propriety would be offended by them visiting while your husband is away? Isn't there a presumption in there that something unsavory could happen if they came by without your husband to supervise? Seems sort of strange to me. Just curious.

Seraphic said...

Well, I cannot think of a good reason for my husband's friends to come and visit me when he is not here. It would make much more sense for them to come by when he IS here. I live out in the middle of 80+ acres after all. It's not like they could be out shopping and think, "I want a cup of tea. Why not just drop in at Seraphic's and have a cup of tea?"

As for propriety, I guess it would be mine that would be offended. (She scratches her head.) Mine or my mother's. I may be operating from a Family Script--you know, where you assume things are the way your mother assumed things the way her mother assumed things. And in turn of the century Scotland, I am guessing here, men did not usually drop on the Missus.

I guess it wouldn't be a big deal in modern times. Hmm. Let me ask B.A.

B.A. says it isn't unusual for a single modern Scottish man to drop by on a married woman at home, but it would be unusual for our Catholic set. It's not a self-conscious sort of thing; we're just kind of old-fashioned. It just wouldn't occur to us.

B.A. also points out that almost all my male friends in Edinburgh were his friends first. If it were a particular friend of mine, someone I met before B.A. did, then it would be more normal for him to drop by. And any such male friend who came to see me (me in particular) would probably be a blood relation or a priest. That said, we would think it odd if a male friend visited ONLY when B.A. wasn't at home.

We spent some time frowning over this question. "It's just not done," said B.A, at last. "And that's just as descriptive as it is prescriptive."

Seraphic said...

I suppose, though, if a male friend were distraught and needed my wisdom or my ear or a cup of tea or whatever else, it wouldn't be too strange if he came over, although really I cannot imagine any of our male friends rushing to me in a crisis. To the grocery store for a bottle of brandy, yes. To me, no.