On May 27th, Slate.com published a piece titled Why it’s So Hard for Men to See Mysogyny. I know I’m gonna get beaten up for this, but I’ll say it anyway…written by a woman, it gave a lot of the usual “men are all to blame” and “it’s an issue of power” arguments that I’ve heard for so long.
But if I may be allowed to add my own personal, anecdotal, data points, I think we might get a better understanding of why many (but not all...I hate sweeping generalizations) men don't see the harassment that women experience. And while it is about “power,” it's not something insidious...it’s just something that is.
We don’t see it, or understand it unless it’s really obnoxious and obvious, because it’s the kind of attention we think that we’d want.
And here’s where the “power” comes in: As the guy doing the asking, it seemed to me for years that it was the women who had the power. I had to work hard to get up the courage to talk to someone or ask them out, and she had the power of a Caesar to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to what happened next in my emotional life. That’s a lot of power. Boy was I glad when things started changing enough so that women started asking men out...not that that changed my luck much, but it meant that it wasn’t all on me anymore.
We don't get it because we think we’d like to have women hitting on us, instead of us doing all the work, and putting our hearts on the line. And we don’t get it precisely because we're not being hit on all the time, 24/7 from everyone.
Case in point...one day at the library, I was helping a woman learn how to use her Kindle, and as she left, she patted me on the butt. My initial reaction was, “Hey (smile)! She patted me on the butt! No one’s ever done that to me before! She must think I’m attractive!” Of course, she was also a good 10-15 years older than me, but it was still a major first.
And then I realized that had the shoe been on the other foot, and I had patted her on the butt after she’d helped me, she wouldn't be so ecstatic about it...less so from some guy who was 15 years older than her. I realized that technically what she had done was inappropriate, could be considered sexual harassment, and that any of my female colleagues would’ve gotten Security involved had a male patron done that to them. But still...I was on Cloud 9 because a woman patted my butt on the way out.
Now...to her credit, she came back a few hours later and apologized for what she had done, saying that she was treating me like she would her son-in-law, with a friendly pat. Gee thanks…the apology was fine, but don’t take away my ability to think that maybe you actually thought I had a nice butt. In a way, that was worse than had she never apologized at all.
The problem is that we give each other what we want for ourselves. Men hit on women because it’s the kind of attention we think we’d like to have. We’re tired of having to always work for getting attention or proving our worth in one way or another. It would be so nice to have some woman come up to us and talk to us for no other reason than she thought we had a nice butt…and to have her tell us that. So we go up to a woman and try that, and get smacked and charged with sexual harassment.
Women, on the other hand, are tired of being ogled, and looked up and down like “a piece of meat” (although I prefer to the analogy of a fine work of art or engineering); and knowing the kind of attention that they don’t want, they don’t give it to us either, thinking that we want to be respected for what we can do, and not desired for what we look like. Umm...I know that I’m respected for the work I do, but it would sure be nice to have women stare at me, or start conversations with me, because they thought I was attractive. Boy, what a boost that would be to my self-esteem…especially as I get older.
Sigh…can we ever learn that maybe the other person really does want something that we would either find offensive or that would make us feel like we were unattractive?
In any event, I believe that we don't “get it” or “see it” unless it’s really over the top and obnoxious because we think it’s what we’d want for ourselves, and don’t understand what it’s like to be hit on day in and day out 24/7. Maybe if we had to go through it ourselves, we’d change our minds and our behavior.
Or maybe we’re wired differently enough that we’d actually like it.
It’s not insidious. It just is.