Thursday, November 6, 2014

Respecting Women

NYC Pride (photo from the website of Hollaback:
"You Have the Power to End Street Harrassment")

My daughter brought to my attention a video that was made by Hollaback to illustrate why women often feel uncomfortable with how they are viewed and treated by men. The video shows 90 seconds worth of the 100 catcalls and verbal harassments that one woman, Shoshana Roberts, encountered in a ten hour walk through different parts of New York City. After going viral, the video began to get criticism. Some said the producers edited the video to make it appear to be a problem among blacks and Hispanics; others criticized the woman for wearing tightly fitting jeans and t-shirt.

Author Steve Santagati, author of The MANual and Code of Honor, in an interview on CNN demonstrated how some men are pushing back against the message of the video and failing to hear what women are saying. His main points were that women should understand that men want to compliment them and that if they don’t like the neighborhood, they should leave. He also obviously thought that women live to be told by men that they are beautiful. In that same CNN discussion, comedienne Amanda Seal made the point that Santagati should be listening to what women are saying about the behaviors they do not like.

A scene from the Hollaback video

Learning to Listen

The point of the video is for us men to understand why so many women feel uneasy with the treatment they get from men on a routine basis. My daughter tells me that it is not a matter of being “offended” by some comments, it is a matter of being fearful for one’s safety. First of all, there is no need for men to be calling out to a woman as she is walking down the street. Second, women fear that responding to such comments could lead to further unwanted sexual advances.

There is a lot that men just do not get. Part of that is due to the fact that men experience the world differently from women. I recall one of the first inklings of realizing that difference in experience when my wife and I first started dating. One weekend, I suggested that we go to one of the parks to spend a leisurely afternoon. The idea of a walk in the park was not a pleasant one for her. I told her that it would be fine and perfectly safe. She tried to explain to me that as a woman, she had to be constantly vigilant in such places because of the possible dangers, and that the park was therefore not a good place to relax. Those dangers would not have entered my mind, and it was only by listening to the perspective of my then girl-friend that I could begin to get an idea of how she was experiencing things.

Stop Blaming the Victim

The criticism of the Hollaback video might also be viewed as the typical response often seen in our society of blaming the victim. Instead of addressing the problem highlighted by the video which is street harassment of women, too many want to focus on the techniques and biases of the filmmaker. Too many want to criticize what Shoshana Roberts was wearing. So many automatically turn to blaming the victim rather than stopping to listen to and address the problem. My daughter brought another video to my attention that was made in India to address the problem of rape. It illustrates how it does not matter what a woman wears, the simple fact that she is a woman in a male dominated misogynous society, makes her in danger of being raped. It also satirically points out the nonsense of blaming the woman in cases of rape. (You can see that video here)

Owning Up to the Problem

Earlier this year I did a blog post on “The Problem with Being Male.” There I discussed the many ways that we see men in all strata of society taking advantage of women. I presented it as “a specifically male problem of men mishandling their sexual drives.” Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution, thinks that it is a problem of modern humans living with “miss-matched instincts.” He says that instincts that served our ancient ancestor well in eons past have become destructive in modern society. Poet Robert Bly, who became a leader in the Men’s Movement, believes that what is missing on our society is a proper initiation of young men with older men as wise mentors. In that same blog post, I said that

It is past time to start holding people accountable for sexual abuse. There is no place for excuses such as “boys will be boys,” or “everyone has their sexual needs.” When we look the other way, people get hurt and we also do a disservice to the larger community. Where can we find the answer to this "male problem?" I do not claim to have the complete answer, nor can we expect a simple solution, but we must acknowledge that the problem lies for the most part in the male of the species. We must also admit that men in power are significant contributors to the problem. As a man, it is not a pleasant thing for me to admit that men are causing such problems. It is a discomforting thing, which may be why we are not talking about the problem enough.

In order to make a difference, the first and most important step for us is to listen to the women who are making the case against the harassment that women are facing in our society. Let’s stop shooting the messenger, and no more blaming the victim.  It is time to stop and listen. It is time to let our laws protect women as much as they protect men. It is time to respect women.



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